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  • Courtesy of Westin St. Francis

    The grand dame St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in San Francisco, shortly after its grand opening in 1904.

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St. Francis Hotel is serving dishes from a 1910 cookbook

Published: Thursday, Jul. 31, 2014 - 8:47 am

Few pastimes are more entertaining to chefs, home cooks and other foodies than reading vintage cookbooks, marveling at classic recipes, ingredients and techniques. Actually, we can think of one that’s better: Tasting the dishes made from those retro recipes.

Now you can do both, as the Westin St. Francis hotel on posh Union Square in San Francisco continues to celebrate its 110th anniversary.

Let’s start with some history: Envisioning San Francisco as the “Paris of the West,” railroad pioneer Charles T. Crocker and his monied posse built the St. Francis for $2.5 million – a staggering sum in the day – and christened it in 1904. It quickly set a new standard for luxury and became a social hub for the city’s upper crust. It was widely known as “the heartbeat of San Francisco.”

Two structures now constitute the Westin St. Francis. The best one is the original 12-story grand dame, which underwent a $40 million “transformation” a few years back. It’s loaded with character and charm, and takes visitors on a trip back in time.

Let’s turn the page: The Hotel St. Francis set the standard for city dining, thanks to French master chef Victor Hirtzler. He ruled the dining scene there from 1904 to 1926, and was known as “the Escoffier of the Golden West.”

“The 1910 Hotel St. Francis Cookbook” is his compilation of “3,000 recipes and 1,000 menus for breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and special occasions,” and was published in 1988 (Windgate, 424 pages, $37 at The original version was titled “L’Art Culinaire,” published in 1910. The hotel does not have the 1988 edition for sale on site because the minimum order would have been 30,000 copies, explained a spokesperson.

Thumbing through our copy, sourced online, we were struck by the gastronomic marvels back then, compared to how most of us cook and eat today. In the old French tradition, fat and calories didn’t count for much.

We found dishes such as Lamb Chops Sauté: “Season eight lamb chops with salt and pepper and fry in melted butter. Then place the chops on a platter. Put two ounces of butter in the frying pan, cook until the butter is brown and pour over the chops. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, chervil, tarragon and the juice of a lemon.”

How about a bowl of Cream Countess: “Make a cream of asparagus soup, and before serving bind with the yolk of one egg for each person. Color with green spinach coloring.”

One of many lunch menus offers this spread: “eggs Celestine, fried chicken Villeroi, flageolet beans, mashed potato salad, French pastry, demitasse (espresso).” The eggs Celestine call for poached eggs, ham, butter, cream sauce and cheese.

Let’s grab a bite and sip a drink: The St. Francis continues its anniversary celebration throughout the year with historic tours, a pre-fixe menu ($45) and complimentary canapes. The dishes are made from recipes in the “1910” cookbook. The hotel’s “Historic Cocktails” program features the Cable Car, the 1904 St. Francis Martini and the Gold Rush.

For more details:, (415) 397-7000.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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