Magazine article Sunset

Close-In Counters: Take a Front-Row Seat at These San Francisco Restaurants

Magazine article Sunset

Close-In Counters: Take a Front-Row Seat at These San Francisco Restaurants

Article excerpt

Dining at a restaurant counter is not for the timid. Let others huddle around the table, safe in the companionable crowd. At a counter you'll find independent folks who enjoy being close to slinging hash, feeling the heat of the grill, and watching the transformation of ingredients from raw state to dinner plate. At five San Francisco eateries, take a front-row seat to see a riveting choreography of cuisine.

A steamy drama unfolds on the other side of the counter at Ella's, where a fast-stepping staff prepares fixings for the evening meal while you're chewing breakfast. Peer over your plate to see the deft hands of prep chef Samuel Ramirez shape cornmeal-molasses dough into fat hamburger buns. Behind him, fellow cooks pull some of the 22 chickens for tonight's pot pie from a boiling vat.

At Swan Oyster Depot, the lunch line stretches up the block as seafood fans wait for a coveted seat at the long marble counter. Hulking guys serve up platters of prawns, steamed crabs, and just-shucked oysters glistening in brine. If you have a soft heart, be forewarned: The food's so fresh that your lobster will wave goodbye as it heads to the kettle.

St. Francis Fountain in the Mission District serves a scoop of nostalgia with your banana split. Aside from the prices, hardly anything has changed since it opened in 1918. Your root beer isn't poured from a can; it's mixed individually with a squirt of syrup from the silvery array of dispensers behind the laminated counter. Even the cash register is hand-cranked. …

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