The House of Prime Rib (HPR) is a San Francisco institution that has been open almost 70 years. Food trends come and go, but the cuisine is as solid as the bedrock on Nob Hill where the restaurant is located.
The present owner, Joe Betz, has been at the helm of HPR for over 30 years and has really been the force behind what the restaurant is today. The menu is simple, has no pretense and revolves around one, and only one thing; standing rib roasts that are USDA Prime.
Prime rib can be referred to as a standing rib roast as the cut can be placed on it’s rib side when cooking to keep the meat off the pan. Often cut into rib eye steak, the prime rib at HPR is treated a bit differently. It is cooked in a salt crust which seals in the moisture and maximizes the effect of any seasoning added to the beef.
As you walk into the restaurant, you are transported back in time. Some have likened the interior to men’s clubs of yesteryear. I thought it dated, though not in need of an upgrade. The retro look of the interior serves to buttress the fare served and makes the dining experience that much more fun.
As with many restaurants in San Francisco, reservations are a must. HPR is no exception but in a pinch, they can usually accommodate you if you have a bit of patience. My dining companion and I arrived about 9:15 that evening (Friday) and after ordering a beverage at the bar, waited in the lounge area and were seated by 10 PM. The joint was Jumpin’ and it was interesting watching both servers and patrons.
The menu at House of Prime Rib offers five flavors of prime rib. The city cut, 6-8 oz.; the House of Prime Rib and English cut, both 10-12 oz. with the latter cut thinner; the King Henry the VIII cut, 14-16 oz. and bone in. There is also a children’s prime rib dinner, 3-4 oz. and served with milk and ice cream. All of these dinners are priced in the mid $40.00 range with the exception of the children’s portion which is just under $14.00.
All come with a retro, but very good salad, mashed or loaded baked potato and either creamed spinach or creamed corn. Plenty of au jus comes with your mains as well which is de rigueur for the type of food served here. Should you not want meat, other protein overload options are available to you. Grilled salmon, halibut or sea bass can be ordered depending on what is available that day.
The servers at HPR revel in showmanship and theatrics which just adds to the overall ambiance and fun dining here. A metal salad bowl placed into an ice bath is brought to your table on a serving cart. The salads are made from iceberg and romaine lettuce, chopped pimentos, beets and watercress. After many spins of the metal salad bowl in the ice bath, dressing (a sherry vinaigrette with an apple cider base) is theatrically poured onto the salad, the salad plated and a chilled salad fork handed to you. It has been many moons since I had a salad served table side let alone a chilled salad fork but it was a great start to a very entertaining and delicious meal.
Now for the mains. A number of large serving carts filled with beef and au jus floated around the restaurant and we were very happy when one came in range of the radar of our table. We decided to split a Henry the VIII cut, which added a $10 split charge to the bill. That was ok though, as our waiter assured us we would be getting the same portion of sides (creamed spinach and mashed potatoes) that are served with a normal portion. The mashed potatoes were heaven, laden with butter and slathered with au jus made with soy sauce and beef drippings. The creamed spinach was equally as good, incorporating crumbled bacon, Lawry’s seasoning and black pepper. I was not used to creamed spinach with bacon but it was delicious.
The star of the show was the prime rib which can be ordered in shades of rare to well done with end cuts if desired. Aged at least 21 days, cooked in a salt crust and swimming in au jus, this was the best prime rib I have ever had. Even better, the beef is served with your choice of hi test horseradish or medium to mild horseradish sauces to put onto your meat.
I can see why the restaurant goes through 800-1000 pounds of beef on a weekday and from 1400-1500 pounds on weekends. For those adverse to spinach or mashed potatoes, creamed corn or loaded baked potatoes can be substituted. All told, the meal as split (less martini) was an incredible bargain costing $30 per person.
Although the restaurant has an extensive wine list, I decided to travel further down this culinary road of perdition and order a dirty martini. With the Cobbler Shaker left table side, the pour was enough for two glasses of this decadent libation; a perfect accompaniment to the remainder of the meal.
We did not delve into their dessert menu (it was not physically possible) but I have no doubt there would be something there for everyone.
The House of Prime Rib in San Francisco is a wonderful journey back to North American fine dining in the middle of the 20th century. If you go there, close your eyes at your table and take a bite of their prime rib. Suddenly, you could be back in the summer of love. I certainly was as I was in love with the dining experience we just had.
As I walked out to our Uber at the restaurant this meal will be remembered for some time to come. HPR is highly recommended and hope if you go, you enjoy it as much as I did.
It’s a wrap for another post on Forks.
House of Prime Rib
1906 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94109
House of Prime Rib Website
All major credit cards accepted; valet parking; kid’s meals available; Monday-Thursday, 5:30 -10 PM; Friday, 5-10 PM; Saturday and Sunday, 4-10 PM