Monday, April 26, 2010

Burgundy at the Sixteen Mile House

During these heady foodie days of hip, purveyor-driven food (Berkshire, Rancho Gordo, La Quercia, Farmstead, Marin Sun, Soul Food, etc.), molecular gastronomy, and small plate cuisine, the local steaks & chops joint is a total relic. Yet, there is something retro-comfort, if not retro-chic, about dining in these disappearing American gut-busting institutions.

One of the Bay Area's classic steaks & chops joints is the Sixteen Mile House. This historic location started out in 1877 as a hotel on the El Camino Real route, then afterwards a stagecoach station for Wells Fargo. Along the stagecoach run from San Francisco, mile houses used to dot El Camino; the surviving Sixteen Mile House was the 16 mile marker from the city.

I'm not sure when the building got converted to a restaurant, but it's been at least a few decades. I first laid eyes on the landmark in the late 1980s when it still had hitching posts on the front curb. About two years ago a local restaurateur took over and remodeled the place to its current glory.

Frankly, I was initially hesitant whether I should feel proud or scared about having this former gambling house and Prohibition-era speakeasy, now throwback restaurant, in our town, just some blocks from the wine store. I'd never set foot on the place. Somehow, the dark, noisy bar in the front room with smokers spilling out on the sidewalk just isn't my scene. When walking past the restaurant at night I usually quicken my pace, fearing either a brawl could break out among redneck patrons or a hairy-chested, tattooed, biker dude might take fancy on me, a scrawny, Asian kid.

But these silly fears proved to be all just my wild imaginings, perhaps from watching too much "Kung Fu" TV series and Quentin Tarantino movies. When I walked in with my bottle of red Burgundy on a recent night, the place was packed with families and polite, middle-aged couples enjoying a drink while listening to a three-piece jazz combo. I found my mates in the cozier dining area in the backroom

We started with plates of fried calamari, pan-friend sand dabs, crab cocktail, and crab cakes. I liked the sand dabs best, a dish that I somewhat regard as a San Francisco specialty, but sadly absent in today's trendy menus.

With these starters I enjoyed a glass of 1971 Remoissenet Pere & Fils Meursault "Cuvée Maurice Chevalier". Its color was deep gold, with a musty smell that gave way to marzipan and almond paste. Though past its prime, it still had good energy left. Soft pears, grapefruit, and creamed corn, still powerful and long.

Amy and I shared a 22-ounce Porterhouse steak with sides of rice pilaf and veggies. In my twenty-something days I put away this slab of beef myself but I'm less Rabelaisian these days. The steak was cooked precisely at medium-rare and attractively cross-marked but I found the taste dull and too chewy. I think the 22-ounce rib-eye sounded better. Anyway, it wasn't bad, but decent at best.

From a little-known négociant house, distant relatives of the more famous Bouchard Pere et Fils, the 1959 Paul Bouchard & Cie Bonnes-Mares had amazingly deep, dark color and a strong funkiness in the nose of metallic notes and onion powder, but in the mouth has nearly opulent black cherries and licorice, fleshy and concentrated with a lasting finish. Red Burgundy never ceases to surprise me!

Simply awesome was the 1995 Domaine Leroy Clos de Vougeot!. This wine exemplified the greatness of this vintage for reds. Magnificent concentration, powerful, and structured. But this Leroy was so well proportioned. Very, very youthful but totally luscious and seductive. I don't know if there's any Clos Vougeot that can exceed or even match a Leroy this good.

Finally, the 1993 Frédéric Esmonin Griottes-Chambertin. Hardly anyone knew the young Frédéric Esmonin at the time this was released, and so this was an obscure label and languished on the shelf. We used to sell it at not much more than $40! This was dark, rich, and powerful, with particularly firm tannins and very good freshness. Still drinking young, I agree with Clive Coates' assessment that this will easily evolve another ten years from today.

We shared a decadent, dark chocolate cake for dessert. I was full but the chocolate was irresistible.

Sixteen Mile House
448 Broadway
Millbrae, CA 94030
Tel 650.697.6118
Closed Monday, lunch Tue-Fri, dinner Tue-Sun


  1. I am glad you overcome unfounded fear and enjoy yourself. Throughout the years I patronage this restaurant, i saw allot of Chinese people order rack-of-lamb there. I definitely agree with you the ribeye steak is good.

    6 days a week, they have the early bird special for $14.99. Choices include petite-cut prime rib.



  2. Thanks for the tip! I will check out the early bird special one of these days.


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