At 1409 Van Ness sits House of Prime Rib, looking more or less unchanged since the day it opened in 1949. Above the bright red awning are painted windows with silhouettes of revelers toasting champagne. To the right of the door are the starting times for cocktails (4:30 pm), dinner (5:30 pm), and Sunday seatings (4 pm).
Inside, there are five rooms and 178 seats that are always full. You check in (reservation extremely necessary) on the right, and will almost always have to wait, even if you’re right on time. No matter. Choose a spot at the beautiful bar or one of the tall lounge tables. The people-watching is excellent: The House of Prime Rib attracts just about every type of San Francisco local and visitor. There are families, dates, groups of friends, business dinners. Everyone is having a great time, ordering strong cocktails and basking in the warm, old school hospitality.
We get a corner booth in the back, lined with red leather seats and framed with magnums of wine. Our cocktails arrive and are shaken table-side, then poured in chilled martini glasses. Each drink is about two-and-a-half pours, so our shakers stay on the table, allowing us to have more as needed. Then comes a warm, fresh loaf of sourdough bread with salted butter. There’s a huge amount of food after this, but a bite (or five) is definitely a must.
Our waiter pushes over a cart with a huge silver bowl that sits atop a bed of ice. Inside are iceberg lettuce, matchsticks of purple beets, bits of hard boiled egg, and a creamy 1,000 Islands dressing. Plus House of Prime Rib seasoned salt, which our waiter plucks from our table before sprinkling generously on top. Then he spins the salad, tossing all the while. It’s a weird combination, but delicious enough that we finish every bite.
The House serves 21-day aged marbled prime rib in the English tradition, selected from the top 2% of all marketed beef. Because the time between carving and consumption is essential, chefs in tall white hats push around shiny, steel-domed “meat zeppelins” that hold the precious prime rib, un-cut until it arrives next to our table. Our chef confirms the cut we want then slices it right in front of us.
With our meat, we get mashed or baked potatoes, creamed spinach or corn, and Yorkshire pudding. The potato is huge, piled with butter, sour cream, crunchy bacon, cheese, and chives. The spinach is light but flavorful, with bits of bacon and fresh cream. The Yorkshire pudding arrives in a cast iron pan before it’s cut into fours and added to our plates. It has a golden brown crust and fluffy insides that are perfect for soaking up the au jus, which is both on the meat and in a little silver gravy boat.
“The English Cut” is three thinner slices. The House of Prime Rib cut is heartier, with the bone in. With the flavorful meat are three dishes of horseradish: one is creamy and whipped (mild); the next is slightly spicier and thicker; the third is straight horseradish. All are great with the meat. Fun fact: If you finish your slice, you can get another one at no extra charge. Good luck with that.
The service from start to finish is excellent, efficient, and friendly, never stuffy. It feels like a club you need to belong to — but in reality, everyone is invited to enjoy. A true San Francisco legend.