I still remember stolen afternoons spent ensconced in the red leather booths amongst the smoke and whiskey of The San Franciscan in Torrance. It opened in 1963, and consistently earns the title of “Best Steak” from the local paper. We never went there for birthdays or anniversaries. We never made a reservation. The San Franciscan was the kind of place you just ended up, and it had an air of danger that even an 11 year-old could sense. It was the kind of place men probably brought their girlfriends because it was too dark to tell if they were 21 or not. Or if they were their wives or not. We would usually end up there when school let out early and my mom was feeling wild. Although her brand of wild wasn’t so much about drinking and carousing, but more about buying pricy steaks for lunch without telling my dad.
We recently returned to The San Franciscan while on a bit of a tear, and it was everything I remembered — except for the cigarette smoke. The giant curved bar was surrounded by men who seemed to be forever middle-aged. We were brought crisp, hot sourdough bread that I was told is driven up fresh from San Diego every day. Maybe the server was confused, or maybe there is a kick-ass bakery in San Diego that we need to find. I always size a place up by the quality of their butter, and theirs was as fresh as possible. I guess when you go through that many baked potatoes, the butter doesn’t sit around for long.
I asked what the soup of the day was, and the server replied with a straight face, “Lentil and hot dogs.”
“Did you just say lentil and hot dog soup?”
He confirmed, “Yes. Lentil and hot dog soup,” as calmly as if I had just asked about tomato soup. You can also get a little side salad instead. But you all know which one I ordered, and it wasn’t bad; the hot dogs were pretty much cooked down to their essence, leaving a porky ham flavor. But if the chef is reading this – next time, more hot dogs, less carrots.
The menu has been updated just a little in recent years. The shrimp cocktail and clam strips have been joined by battered green beans and sweet potato fries. But don’t worry; you can still get your Shrimp Louie and Veal Parmesan. There are several red sauce pastas and even liver, but if you order anything other than the “Midwestern U.S.D.A. choice beef, hand-cut and trimmed daily on the premises,” then you are out of your mind. Why are you even here?
It is such a cliche to say that steaks are like butter, but my 9-ounce filet mignon was seriously as easy to cut as butter. Absolute perfection. Charbroiled to a perfect medium-rare, and delicious all by itself. We were offered A-1 sauce. If I were the chef, I might strangle anyone pouring A-1 on one of those steaks. My mother’s 14-ounce rib eye steak was impressively large, and a bit more juicy than my filet. Neither cut had an ounce of gristle or tendon. Pure meaty perfection.
Unsurprisingly, the house special is prime rib. You can order anything from 8-ounces to the 19-ounce “Diamond Jim.” If you really want to go crazy, there is a 20-ounce Porterhouse steak. And just to keep things strange, they offer “The Drunken Sam,” a filet mignon pan-fried in Burgundy wine and Brandy, served on a bed of eggplant, and topped with Ortega pepper and Jack cheese. People say that it’s good. Who am I to argue? There are also the usual “surf and turf” combos.
You have your selection of sides, but the way to go is the traditional baked potato with everything. The desserts are also Very predictable — carrot cake, cheesecake, chocolate cake, mud pie and the anachronistic spumoni. I suggest taking a short drive over to King’s Hawaiian for their Paradise Cake instead.
The most amazing part? We got a 9-ounce filet mignon and a 14-ounce rib eye steak with soup/salad and a baked potato for just under $60. Of course, we only drank iced tea. Whiskey will definitely up your bill. So will spumoni.