Located in the North Beach area near Chinatown (see map), The Stinking Rose gets its name from a historical term for garlic. And, as you can probably guess, most of the dishes - well, actually, ALL of the dishes - are made out of some form of garlic.
It was our 5th wedding anniversary when we were in San Francisco and we wanted to go to someplace unique. And there's not too many places more unique than The Stinking Rose. The decor is sort of garish, but in a very fun way. There's a long garlic braid that winds all the way around the inside, there's murals and funky lights and there are garlic bulbs sitting every where.
And, of course, the smell of garlic permeates the place. I'm tellin' you - it's better to smell garlic on your clothes than cigarette smoke.
They put Cindy and I in a nice little secluded booth where we could draw the curtains if we wanted. We didn't. Our waitress was friendly and helpful. She suggested getting their signature appetizer - Bagna Calda - which is roasted garlic in olive oil. Spread that on some homemade bread and it was unbelievable!
As it seems from every place we go to a restaurant we've never been to, Cindy always gets the better dish. I had some indescribable pasta dish that was good, but Cindy had the lemon garlic salmon. Oh, God! Was it great! The taste sensation was unbelievable.
We got to talking to our waitress and we told her we were from Iowa. She said that she was traveling across Iowa on Interstate 80 one time years ago and her car broke down outside of Omaha. She said that she had to spend three days in Minden, IA - that just happens to be the hometown of my brother-in-law, Vic. So, that was a small world thing we shared.
We bought The Stinking Rose cookbook for some friends (and we were stupid, we didn't buy one for ourselves) as well as some other funny knick-knacks they had for sale at the front counter area. It was a great meal and a great place.
After dinner, we walked over across the street and onto Grant Street and found a neat little Italian restaurant for espresso and tiramisu, Ristorante Ideale (see map). It was like walking into Italy - the guys out front were talking Italian to one another. We asked if we could go in for just coffee and dessert and the man at the door - in a heavy Italian accent - said, "Yes! Sure! Sure!"
We got a menu with both the evenings entrees and the dessert on it and as much as we liked our meal at The Stinking Rose, we thought Ristorante Ideale would have been a better choice. Everything from their pasta to their desserts are all homemade. We both had tiramisu and a cup of espresso. It was sort of pricey - it was $22 with tip - but it was some of the best tiramisu we've ever had. And it was somewhat romantic in the place. We were really happy we did it that way.
I was in Los Angeles last year for business and I was driving down La Cienega in Beverly Hills and I looked over and there was a Stinking Rose restaurant there (see map). On the outside, it looked a little more upscale than the original in San Francisco, but the inside was even more frighteningly garish than the one in North Beach.
The Stinking Rose is definitely not the best restaurant in San Francisco, but it may be the most fun. And if you love garlic like we do, it's a must visit.