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Effortless Sexiness

Booth Dining at Bruno's Nightclub at a Compassionate Price Point

Take a date to Bruno's, get in one of those high-backed, semicircular red leather booths, put back a few Manhattans and tell me you don't feel something excellent afoot. There are tons of "romantic" restaurants in San Francisco, but you don't really want to go all Barry Manilow with the white tablecloths on, say, a first or second date. You do, however, want your business to be hot business. Someplace cosmopolitan yet old-school. Low lighting. Booth seating. Good design. Cocktails. Cool music.

Joining the post-downturn price-slashing trend in San Francisco restaurant culture, Bruno's has lowered prices and revamped the menu, courtesy of chef Chris Pastena (formerly chef de cuisine at Eastside West). Whereas a year ago you might find yourself dropping a hunj on esoterically named haute cuisine dishes by Chef James Ormsby (a talented fellow), these days you can slash that in half or more for a full dinner for two with cocktails at this Mission grand dame of hipster havens.

Citing a Caesar that doesn't disappoint and a plate of gorgeous little mussels in a spicy tomato concasse, the starter list is SF tradition to the core, replete with fried calamari and marinated olives. No surprises here, but all solid choices for people who want to eat instead of gawk at culinary architecture.

Entrees range from nine bucks to fifteen, with offerings that would make Tony Soprano a man at home in California. Spaghetti Bolognese and Canneloni a la Romana, linguine with clams and fettucini alfredo are hearty standards and priced below ten dollars. Fancier bits like braised pork stew and veal osso bucco with cous cous and braised chard come off the menu at $14-$15 each. There's a steak sandwich, there's a chicken cacciatore, and there's a risotto. We tried a roasted red pepper risotto on a recent visit and found it to be quite fine; nothing to die for, but delicious all the same. Similarly a-ok feelings were had about the cioppino, a Very San Franciscan tomato-based seafood stew which, at Bruno's, is fine and full of fresh treats, but again, nothing to flip out over.

But my sweethearts, who cares about the food if you're sitting next to some seriously hot date property, cocktail in hand, the night laid out before you like a Tarkovsky battle epic, except without the medieval Russian soldiers or the interminably boring parts. Instead, with the sounds of live Brazilian music or a local bad-ass jazz trio starting up in the connected barroom next door, and beyond the doors, a city alive with rock shows and dance clubs and makeout rooms and all the rest of the things that have kept us all here even after everything went to hell in 2001.