The Marina District in San Francisco is nice, quaint, and white. There aren’t any minorities except for an occasional Asian American. One would think San Francisco is an artist driven progressive city but when it comes to the actual color of the rainbow of people, it just features one. Its food scene is different.
It might have to do with the clouds that come in and out and back in again over Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge or the money that all of the Facebook, Google, and Apple execs are pouring in that keeps the restaurants one-upping the dining scene across America. There are many benefits to having some of the nation’s best food housed in one city but there are downfalls too. The biggest one is smugness. From the patrons to the chefs themselves. When it comes to food, they carry it on the tips of their noses, almost like an elitist French person.
The restaurant business is hard in any city and San Francisco is one of the most intimidating to set up shop. It is even scarier to try to sustain a restaurant that might just serve meat and potatoes when new capital is pouring into behemoth, millennial, farm-to-table tasting menu types. I’m not condemning those places, it’s just a bit scary for a no frills place to be plastered up against the haute and trendy that receive local, national, and international accolades.
Salingers is that place. Nestled between the “poppin” Cow Hollow, the elderly and historic Pacific Heights, and the touristy Marina is the comfortable upscale classic American diner. It’s not hip. It’s not fleek. It’s warm. It’s inviting. It’s calm and soothing. These kinds of places are hard to come by in this town.
Being trendy when one believes they are original is the definition of a hipster. Being punk is different. This is when people either disregard or they are the only ones doing whatever they are doing. That’s the true definition of being original. I felt punk going into Salingers because no one else was doing it. All of the pretty party people were dining along Union and Fillmore Street.
Salingers has been around since the 80s and has survived without any press or social media activism. It is a restaurant that keeps going because of the best form of marketing still around, word of mouth. For most of the 90s, the restaurant went through some growing pains to say the least, but now, it is run like a well-oiled machine.
Two hostesses of proper age greet you in the dark-wooden-toned restaurant. You traverse through the maze of booths and tables while the front-of-the-house staff stops and greets you no matter who you are. I usually refrain from dark mahogany places. Restaurants that have this sense of style appear too masculine for their own good. Handcrafted pulp original drawings of the Gold Rush, the Wharf, and even the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory make the dark environment welcoming. Chairs are pulled out when you first sit and can fit the skinny jean wearer to the 64oz soda drinker. The hostess asks all parties to turn off their phones and put them away. That was a new twist to the restaurant scene I was impressed with. I’m pretty sure any other “now” restaurant would abhor such an abomination.
The service is something to be noticed. Salingers is run like a democracy. The runners, the waiters, and the bartenders all do the same tasks. No one looks up or down at one or the other. It makes it feel that the wait staff is one good dream team. There is a button slit in the napkin. Its little things like that that give Salingers it’s own voice among its bustling competition. I haven’t ever personally seen a man or woman button their napkin onto their shirt or blouse but it is a charming, old school touch.
The menu is simple and being in San Francisco they also use farmer’s market grade ingredients. Appetizers include a grilled artichoke spinach dip, hummus with homemade laffa bread, an 8-shrimp cocktail, grilled oysters, and a fresh half dozen. Salingers is one of the few spots that isn’t known for its seafood. Yes, they have it and it’s good, but every restaurant has the bivalves from the Pacific Coast. There is one salad, a hefty garden salad mixed with what I counted to be 20 components and one dessert, a homemade slice of key lime pie. For main courses, they carry two steak options, rotisserie chicken, a half slab of baby back ribs, fatty burgers featuring a homemade veggie which had delicious ground up pieces of portobello and the highlight of the whole shebang, The French Dip sandwich.
Even though a particular restaurant might claim fame to be the originator of an item, and in this case, a food item, does not mean they perfected it. Salingers has done just that. The quality, flavor, tenderness, and portion size of Salingers thinly sliced prime-cut, well-marbled, dry-aged, prime rib roast puts the founding fathers of the French dip to shame. One is not going to be eating chewy leather anymore. Two golden, crispy brioche and challah hybrid halves come slathered with Salingers’ own smear, a concoction of creamy horseradish and mayonnaise goodness. They turned the au jus from being a necessity in order to moisten the stale bread into an added bonus. Their au jus only serves one purpose; it is the cherry on top.
The humor of Salingers comes in the bathrooms. Everything is well marbled and every stall is separated by permanent floor to ceiling walls. As far as the men’s is concerned, when we do our business standing up, we get the opportunity to read authentic copies of the San Francisco Chronicle from the 1800s. The newspapers are framed on the back of the doors inside the actual stalls too. The GM told me that they are changed daily and none of them are reprints. Just like with the rest of America, it’s surprising to see how much San Francisco has changed and how much it hasn’t.
I’m not a wine drinker, but the wine list features many notable California classics and new age organic blends. On a nice Memorial Day Monday, I stuck with a Bloody Mary and vodka soda with lime. Salingers’ well is Grey Goose, everywhere else you’ll be paying a premium for the stuff which usually rests on a bartender’s top shelf. I needed a shake with my French Dip, and the thick Bloody Mary was a fine substitution. The vodka soda with lime cut everything down afterwards. It made my system feel pretty good while still keeping my buzz afloat.
Lindsay Wolfington, the acclaimed music supervisor for One Tree Hill who put The Fleet Foxes on the map in the early 2000s designed the low-key yet eclectic range of needle drops that fill the speakers. Another fine element that gives Salingers an original voice and sets it apart from its Spotify and Pandora listening neighbors.
All in all, I don’t denounce anything about San Francisco or what it has become over the years, but I have to say there are places where you can have an exquisite meal and be comfortable at the same time. I just hope these places don’t become the hip thing.
ATMOSPHERE: 30-60 year olds in business casual find comfort in a low-key restaurant to escape the “scene” from everywhere else that San Francisco has become.
SERVICE: The best. It’s consistently good. Every one is attentive and knowledgeable without being pushy. They truly care about the restaurant, a rarity these days for the wait staff to have.
SOUND LEVEL: Calm. You can feel that everyone is having deep conversations, but they don’t advertise them to the world.
RECOMMENDED: The French Dip, the Veggie Burger, and the Spinach Dip
DRINKS: Full Bar and extensive wine list. All drinks are made with fresh juices and herbs with top shelf liquors
PRICES: Food $10-$50, Drinks $3 for a soda pop and up to $90 for a bottle of wine.
OPEN: Monday-Sunday from 11am-10pm.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes