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Joe DiMaggio’s Italian Chophouse
Swanky Steakhouse Opens in Former Fior d'Italia Space
by Nish Nadaraja on Oct 12, 2006
Joe DiMaggio doesn’t need an introduction to your average San Franciscan. This is the guy who grew up in North Beach and dropped out of high school in 1930, making his debut as a shortstop with the San Francisco Seals two years later. He set numerous hitting records during his career -- mostly with the New York Yankees -- but gained as much infamy for marrying Marilyn Monroe in 1954 in San Francisco, a marriage that lasted a whopping nine months. “Joltin' Joe” certainly lived big, and it’s no surprise really, that the restaurant that bears his name, seems set to carry on that tradition.
Taking the place of the venerable Fior d’Italia with a masculine, retro-modern remodel, Joe DiMaggio’s Italian Chophouse has already made an impressive mark on its North Beach digs, right on Washington Square Park. The interior is bedecked in rich, deep reds and browns, with large black & white photos and portraits of old San Francisco throughout. The smooth granite bar is macho and sexy at the same time, and the huge dining booths in the main dining room leave you with the impression that members of the Rat Pack might walk in at any time. Indeed, on any given evening, jazz standards or the sounds of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra evoke a certain swankiness.
The space is fairly huge -- aside from the bar that greets you upon entering, and the main “North Beach” dining room, guests might find themselves in side rooms like the “Manhattan Room” and “Tony Bennett Room” that offer more intimate experiences, or might be perfect for a larger private gathering.
With an ambience and atmosphere like this, one might wonder if the culinary experience comes as an afterthought. Not so at Joe’s, where if anything, the food takes precedence over all else.
While you can eat at the bar off the lounge menu, you’d be doing yourself a small injustice. Still, there is some crossover and it’s hard to resist Joe’s classic takes on the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($14) or the Dungeness Crab Cake ($13) served with a delicious tomato chutney and lemon butter sauce. Made under their own wood-burning oven, a signature Pizza Margherita ($10) or Pizza Salami ($12) are meals in themselves.
Again, the true way to experience Joe’s is with a fine-dining experience. If you can, request one of their leather tufted booths, which are perfect for a party of four and allow great views of the rest of the restaurant, not to mention ideal people-watching conditions. Service is unobtrusive but available, and the servers have an unpretentious but welcoming attitude. Complimented with choice flatware and glassware, you know you’re in for a serious, ruggedly elegant meal.
The Antipasto for Two ($15) offers a nice selection of cured meats and seasonal vegetables. If you’re going for a homerun, however, the Chilled Seafood Sampler ($18 per person) -- a medley of fresh lobster, oysters, mussels, and prawns -- is the way to go.
Vegetarians might have a hard time at Joe’s, but there are some decent options like the Grilled Vegetable Platter ($18). That said, you might want to leave your herbivorous friends at home; after all, this place is a chop house.
Joe’s steaks are hand selected and center cut from aged Midwestern Angus Beef. Each cut comes with Parmesan Potato Gratin and Seasonal Vegetables as well. Beef lovers, choose your preference. The 16 oz. New York Strip ($38) is served a perfect medium rare, buttery soft. Even the biggest boys will have trouble finishing the juicy 24 oz. Porterhouse ($49), but the effort is well worth it. For something “lighter,” the Double Cut Pork Chop ($28) is another succulent option, as is the Rabbit Three Ways ($26).
Cocktails are another part of this culture, and their list is a time-honored one, with modern touches. A Classic Gin Martini ($11) is a great way to start, but so is The Streak ($9), a cocktail “tribute” to Joe D.’s unparalleled 56 hits in 56 games.
To pair with your dinner, the wine list has some nice surprises, balancing old and new world selections with a strong focus on Italian and Californian wines. Most are served by the glass and there are some decent values like the Trinchero Family Cabernet ($28 a bottle).
It’s worth somehow finding room for dessert (all are $9); the Hot Chocolate Souffle is worth the wait, and Joe’s Frangelico Cheese Cake is something unearthly.
Joe’s seems to be quickly settling into its own amongst both foodies and regulars in the neighborhood. What makes it succeed is that it’s a restaurant for all seasons -- you can order a pizza and beer at the bar, or go big on a steak and full-out dinner -- it’s about good times either way. Larger than life but a regular Joe too, original and iconic; whether we’re talking about the baseball legend or the restaurant, it seems in both cases to amount to the same thing.
by Nish Nadaraja on Oct 12, 2006