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Julius’ Castle

A San Francisco Institution, Perched in the Past

Roosted cliffside on Telegraph Hill below Coit Tower, Julius’ Castle is all about panoramic eye candy. With unmatched bay views to the north and east, no other restaurant can rival the landmark vistas, including the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, and Alcatraz. While the food might be considered good by small-town U.S.A. standards, it won’t entice the discerning San Francisco crowd. On our visit, we did see fellow San Franciscans sitting at a few of the tables, but on the whole, the diners were not from the city.

Opened in 1922, Julius’ Castle is an official San Francisco Historical Registered Landmark restaurant that closed in the summer of 2006 and reopened in May 2007 under new ownership. The Victorian décor and elaborate moldings contrast significantly with the sleek, modern, exposed-brick trends of late and is one reason why dinner here feels like stepping back in time.

Chef Gerry Lee, who’s cooked in various North Beach restaurants, offers an Italian/French menu studded with old-school classics, including: escargot, clams casino and Caesar salad for appetizers; pasta, risotto, osso bucco and filet mignon as entrees; and tiramisu, crème caramel and chocolate mousse for dessert.

To start, we opted for the Dungeness crab cocktail ($14) and the insalada Toscano ($10.75), a caprese-like salad alternating mozzarella and tomato with anchovies on top. The tomatoes -- of a crisp-apple consistency -- were surprisingly unripe for being in the heart of tomato season. Luckily the main courses fared better.

The steak au poivre ($36) was a generously sized, boneless New York strip in a peppercorn cream reduction. The juicy portion was easily large enough for two, with sides of potatoes gratin and sautéed vegetables. The Pacific halibut ($29) was also a hearty serving; however, the light, flaky fish topped with a chunky tomato pomodoro sauce wasn’t nearly as filling. Dessert was a fresh berry tart ($7) topped with rows of raspberries and blueberries and a drizzle of chocolate scattered around the plate.

The service, while friendly and well-intentioned, is anything but seamless, as we had to flag down our server several times to remind her of previous requests. Our wine glasses were empty when our entrees were served, despite having ordered replacements. Speaking of wine, the list was extensive -- featuring mostly California and Italian wines by the glass and bottle. Additionally, the list showcased some well-priced sparkling wines and Champagne, including several splurge bottles for a special occasion.

This landmark dining institution is ideal for sharing some of the best sights in the city over a bottle of bubbly; it's even better after a lazy stroll around the bohemian Filbert Steps nearby. However, be aware that the food at Julius' Castle will play second fiddle to the views. Indeed, this is a good spot to mark a special, memorable occasion, if cuisine isn't you number one priority. In fact, my dining companion, a Bay Area native, actually came here for his junior prom.

While the décor at this approximately 150-seat restaurant is a tad dated and the service a bit spotty, the entrees are tasty enough to redeem disappointing appetizers, and the panoramic views are magical. Request a table next to a window -- or reserve the turret room that seats eight -- to take advantage of this rare treat.

Telegraph Hill

Reservations recommended.