Carnelian Room calling it quits

Thursday, September 3, 2009


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One of San Francisco's white-tablecloth institutions is calling it quits. After nearly 40 years of business, the Carnelian Room (555 California St.), with its jaw-dropping views of the city's skyline, is planning to serve its last dinner New Year's Eve.



The Question

Carnelian Room to close:

Sad sign of the times
Victim of changing tastes
Herb Caen's town is melting before our eyes

"We arrived at this difficult business decision after considerable discussion," says David Freireich, spokesman for Aramark, the restaurant's operator. Freireich says there were a number of reasons for shuttering the Financial District establishment, including the economy.

"People are spending less on fine dining," he says.

Over the years, the restaurant's food has had its ups and downs, but the Carnelian Room remained a mainstay for special occasions. Perched 52 stories above San Francisco in the Bank of America building, the place had become a favorite for weddings, anniversaries and sophisticated gatherings.

"It's provided guests and employees with countless memories, and we intend to both honor and celebrate the longevity and rich history of the restaurant prior to its closure," Freireich says.

Aramark is working on the details, so check back.


Another casualty: An expansion in the middle of a recession turned out to be a fatal combination for Cafe Saint Rose (9890 Bodega Highway), the artsy Sebastopol eatery owned by chef Mark Malicki. The restaurant closed last week, with Malicki citing substantial debt and a poor economy.

When the eclectic California cuisine-themed restaurant opened in downtown Santa Rosa in 2006, it had but 15 seats crammed into a storefront. Unable to enlarge the property, Malicki relocated to a former roadhouse in west Sebastopol in May, with two 30-seat dining rooms and a 55-seat patio. But he also got a less-traveled location, four times the staff and a demanding new menu that offered multiple a la carte offerings instead of his previous, informal fixed-price meals.

While things started out well, recently business crashed. "This time last year, I was doing $15,000 to $18,000 a week," Malicki said. "Last week, it was less than $4,000, with the same fixed costs. I just couldn't keep doing it."

Malicki plans to return to catering full time and has already picked up five major jobs, he says. "There's work out there, that's the good news."


Good news: While some are closing shop, Tanya Holland, chef-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, is planning to open a second restaurant in April. This one's a Creole-style bistro in Jack London Square (66 Franklin St.). Holland has a name in mind, but she's keeping it under her chef's hat until she's dealt with all the red tape.

Designer Sheri Sheridan is going for a romantic, "been-here-for-a-while" bistro look, says Holland. The place will seat about 100, including tables outside and a horseshoe-shaped bar.

"I'm looking for this to be my sexy restaurant," says Holland, who plans to delve back into her French cooking roots but add lots of Creole flair.

Expect dishes such as "bayoubaisse," Holland's take on bouillabaisse; steak frites; gumbo; and assorted fish plates. While she waits for the restaurant's build-out, Holland says she plans to study up by visiting France, New Orleans, Savannah and the Caribbean.


Creative financing: Fish & Farm is the latest of several San Francisco restaurants to follow a new trend of opening small lunch and takeout counters to bring in more business during tough economic times. On Tuesday, the Tenderloin hot spot is planning to launch American Box (339 Taylor St.), open from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Operating out of a small room (the fishbowl) adjacent to the restaurant, chef Chad Newton plans to offer six to 10 boxed lunches - sandwiches, salads, soups, tacos and even a version of the restaurant's popular hamburger (ranging from $7-$9) - a day. Customers can take their boxes to go or eat them in the Fish & Farm dining room.

"We'll play a really cool soundtrack," says co-owner Frank Klein. "We really weren't making use of the space before. But given that there aren't a lot of quick lunch spots near the Union Square area, we thought it was a good idea."

San Francisco's Farmer Brown (25 Mason St.) also thought it was a good idea. Not too long ago, the full-service restaurant opened Little Skillet (360 Ritch St.), a small takeaway counter, where the lunch crowd can fill up on fried chicken and waffles. Places such as Town Hall (342 Howard St.) - with its barbecued ribs and fried chicken sandwiches - are doing the same.


Back by popular demand: San Francisco's Big 4 Restaurant (1075 California St.) plans to bring back lunch - at least two days a week. In response to hard times, the restaurant cut midday service in January to save money. But business, especially breakfast, has picked up, so starting Sept. 17 on Thursdays and Fridays, lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m and the bar will also remain open all day.


Bill's return: It's been a couple of months since produce expert Bill Fujimoto parted ways with his family business, Monterey Market in Berkeley (1550 Hopkins St.). But Berkeley's loss is Lafayette's gain - Fujimoto is consulting with Diablo Foods (3615 Mount Diablo Blvd.) to strengthen the market's produce section.

Fujimoto says he's looking to make the selection more seasonal. "I'm just trying to celebrate what's going on outside," he says. "It's been very satisfying for me."

Got a tip? A comment? E-mail food@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page E - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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