Classic steakhouses are few and far between in San Francisco, these days. When The Vault Steakhouse opened downtown in 2019, it was full of retro-elegant promise. Then the pandemic hit, and dreams of our next perfectly cooked steak were thrown into limbo. The beauty of having a steak in a restaurant — not just any restaurant but a steakhouse with high enough heat to do the job right — is that you don’t have to worry about sourcing the best version of the cut you like or nailing the sear, two amazingly difficult processes. At The Vault, you understand as soon as you walk in the door that you’re in the hands of experts.
The look and feel of the space are the form that match the function, rife with metaphor. It’s an underground former bank vault, so come with your spouse or your lover — either way, you’re safe in here (except from the cholesterol). The menu is an aphrodisiac playbook.
And we checked off every box, starting with the potato pave “tots” with creme fraîche and caviar alongside, of course, a glass of the J. Lasalle Chachet d’Or Champagne. The potatoes were carefully sliced with a mandoline and stacked in seemingly infinite layers, deep-fried and as decadent as they sound. We also couldn’t resist the scallop crudo with pomegranate and crunchy little beads of finger lime. And because we were all in from the get-go, the homemade Parker House rolls were also a must.
Given the way I’ve eaten during the pandemic (mostly like a plant-forward bird, standing up), it was as though my entire alimentary canal thought the lockdown was over. It was weird, in a good way. Luckily, we allotted a couple of hours for the immersion experience, and we had really come for the meat, so onward we went — not for the tomahawk, whose legend precedes it, and not for the ribeye, my red-meat go-to — but for the little 8-ounce A5 Wagyu ribeye. And to share. It was the absolute perfect choice for satiation without gluttony. We each had six meltingly tender slices whose fat was fully integrated throughout the cut (as in “move over, foie gras), and the whole affair was a slow, quasi-religious ritual, aided and abetted by the knife-selection process, which seemed like a high-stakes decision.
The server comes around with a box of steak knives of various sizes, shapes, weights and colors and ceremoniously presents them in what seems like a bit of a personality test. I went with substantial heft in the blade and a blue wooden handle whose maker wasn’t named. It suited everything about my mood, and the meal.
I defied the obvious wine choice, a Napa Cab, going instead for a Sonoma Coast Pinot from Ernest Vineyards, balanced and understated in this context. And let’s not forget the classic Caesar salad, tossed tableside and served with boquerones, homemade croutons and soft-boiled eggs.
Don’t ask me why, but we didn’t have dessert.
The Vault is a restaurant for these trying times, classic in all the comforting ways we long for, and contemporary in all the others (e.g., you can bring your resident pescatarian without shame). Give it a try — support a local business doing so much to keep our spirits up, and succeeding in every conceivable way.