In February, veteran sailors from around the world converged on San Francisco to scout the course they'll take for the two upcoming America's Cup World Series regattas on San Francisco Bay.
The exact dates of those races are still anyone's guess, as America's Cup officials play back-and-forth with the city over a possible (or not) multimillion-dollar renovation of Piers 30-32. Who pays what?
Meanwhile, we spotted plenty of promotions for this year's races during our rain-soaked visit last weekend. So we wondered: What restaurant-bar would be a great perch for fans to watch the action on the bay, while nibbling and sipping?
We conducted our own scouting mission and agreed that McCormick & Kuleto's seafood house in Ghirardelli Square is a solid candidate. Note the restaurant is part of the Portland-based McCormick & Schmick's nationwide chain, which includes a unit in Sacramento and here's a surprise the formerly legendary Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley (1926 to 1998). It was absorbed in 2000 by M&S, which wisely decided to keep the Spenger's name.
Back in San Francisco, the movie-star handsome M&K dining room is filled with swooping wood-and-copper handrails, redwood paneling and plush booths. Faded-brick walls complement lifeboat-shaped light sconces. Giving pause in the bar area is an array of pictures from "the day," many featuring bearded co-founder Pat Kuleto in various partying and fishing scenes.
Best of all is the array of tall windows looking out on the bay, and down on San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Because of tiered seating, there's not a bad view in the house.
We sampled a number of items off the high-end menu ($6.25 to $62.95), and left thinking that corporate needs to shake out the tablecloth.
A New England clam chowder with odd texture was "like eating cream sauce," said one lunch pal. Delicate beer-battered rockfish (a.k.a. rock cod) was hidden beneath too much crisp breading and served with dense tartar sauce.
We expected greatness from the ahi tuna melt with Gruyere on toasted sourdough, but individual flavors were lost in a gummy melange. A Caesar salad with fried calamari sounded innovative, but the rubbery squid rings and heads didn't work with the dressing.
"With this view, everything else is forgiven," said a second lunch pal.
We figured the best way to watch America's Cup action here is behind an array of appetizers interspersed with plenty of beer.
McCormick & Kuleto's, 900 North Point at the corner of Beach and Larkin streets; (415) 929-1730, www.mccormickand kuletos.com.
Good ol' Blue Mermaid
We dropped by other spots that face the bay, though their views of the race will be nonexistent. Still
A short walk downhill from M&K brought us to a longtime favorite, the Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar, hard by the historic red-brick Cannery Building. The Mermaid is rustic and loose in that "old San Francisco pub" way, with a scarred-wood bar and nautical decor.
Eight award-winning chowders fill the starring role, with the three-chowder sampler a good buy for $12.
Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar, 471 Jefferson St., (415) 771-2222, www.bluemermaidsf.com.
Bit of waterfront history
Move through the lobby of the adjoining Argonaut boutique hotel to find the (unrelated) San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center, essentially a nautical museum.
Its new "A Walk Along the Waterfront" exhibit is a multimedia marvel that could easily be a Disneyland attraction. It tours visitors along the San Francisco Bay waterfront as it has changed over the decades, and features 360 artifacts from the park service's collection. Free.
Visitor Center, 499 Jefferson St., (415) 447-5000; www.nps.gov/safr.
Deck makes the Ramp
South of the Embarcadero and next to China Basin is Mission Bay, home of the legendary Ramp, a place unlike any other on the waterfront.
The Ramp began as a bait shop in the 1950s and was reinvented in 1986 as a restaurant-bar. Inside is a small dining room dominated by a long bar with stools. The meandering outdoor decks and tiki bar are where patrons rock on fair-weather weekends.
"The beauty of this place is the funky deck environment and (the fact that) we don't cater to any particular group," said Joan Robins, general manager for 25 years.
The compound looks like a movie set, in a good way. Plan on live music Friday and Saturday evenings, with killer cocktails and seafood dishes. Sunday barbecues complement the dance-club feel when musicians play Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and Caribbean tunes.
We knocked back a cup of brothy clam chowder and a very good burger and fries. Weekday specials have included grilled tri-tip sandwich with blue cheese butter, and sautéed fish over shrimp fried rice.
Ramp, 855 Terry Francois St. (formerly China Basin Street); (415) 621-2378, www.theramprestaurant.com.
By Allen Pierleoni