If ever you need reminding, in fact, why good beef is the chef's best friend, an elegant food that barely needs salt and pepper and scarcely any cooking, then a visit to HPR is in order.
And if you happen to be in the company of small children who don't like vegetables, then HPR's vegetables will appeal. The mashed potatoes are buttery, while the baked potato is topped by a flourish of sour cream. The spinach and corn are as creamy as their names suggest. We did indeed see a number of tables featuring small children, none of whom seemed to be squalling or otherwise rejecting the food being set before them. They were under the spell of fat.
Is HPR a kiddie restaurant, then? No, though kiddies are welcome; so too are tourists from foreign lands (or people we took to be tourists, on data that included their slow, accented English and strange shoes), family groups of various ethnicities, and that increasingly rare bird here plain, middle-aged, middle-American folk, people for whom a nice dinner must include meat and potatoes in some recognizable form, in a handsome but not overwrought setting with the warmth of Grandmama's dining room.
House of Prime Rib is, in this sense, one of the dwindling number of outposts of this city's dwindling middle class. Youth and wealth and our peculiar, much-celebrated amalgam of the two congregate elsewhere. Beef, meanwhile, doesn't command the audience of yesteryear; the food cognoscenti tend toward fish (for reasons of health and vanity) and often away from flesh altogether. Dinner, under the new regime, no longer must include a big slab of red meat and a blob of potatoes. In fact, it probably shouldn't.
Still, we all have our cravings for those very foods from time to time, and for an old-time atmosphere to enjoy them in. House of Prime Rib's pleasures might be atavistic, but they are real enough, even a form of time travel, back to an era when the youthful rich weren't quite so much with us. 2
HOUSE OF PRIME RIB
Dinner: Mon.Thurs., 5:3010 p.m.; Fri., 510 p.m.; Sat., 4:3010 p.m.; Sun., 410 p.m.
1906 Van Ness, SF