Hoofing it in The City by the Bay

We walk from our hotel to Rocco's, an Italian cafe on Folsom that comes off like a little bit of North Beach south of Market. One of those long, narrow joints with old photos all over the walls, Rocco's is pricey for dinner, but we liked their breakfast last time we were in town. We find it's closed for remodeling.

Hungry, we wander east down Folsom and stumble onto the SoMa Inn Cafe, another long, narrow, hole in the wall. It claims home cooking and WiFi, and it's clean and nearly empty. We split a big Greek omelet (feta, olives, green onion, tomato) and have good coffee, good green tea and an extra side of home fries that are to kill for. At my wife's request, the cook even shows us the seasoning they use.

San Francisco is a terrible place to drive but a great town to walk in.

If you hoof it you can't help adding to your personal list of hidden gems. Pleasant cafes and clean, well-lighted watering holes lurk here and there behind nondescript fronts on funky streets.

The next afternoon we walk from the Presidio to Fisherman's Wharf and succeed for the first time in beating the daily lineup of diners and actually get into Scoma's. The secret seems to be going to dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon, a la Jerry Seinfeld's parents in that old "Seinfeld" episode.

Scoma's squats at Pier 47 on the water behind Jefferson Street down a narrow little lane called Al Scoma Way. It's a family place that started with six stools in 1965 and seats 350 now. My daughter has been after us to eat here forever. No wonder. It is probably the best seafood in San Francisco, which is saying something. The cioppino, the crab cakes, the clam chowder are all legendary.

The risotto is excellent. The snapper is the best. Scoma's has a receiving station where you can see wild salmon and Dungeness crab being off-loaded from the boats by fishermen. You'll pay maybe $100 for dinner — it's our one departure from the bargain theme of my travel story — and be glad to.

We find another little gem, the White Horse Tavern and Restaurant, after showing up early for a play in the theater district about a block and a corner from Union Square. The woman taking tickets at the San Francisco Playhouse recommends it. A block up Sutter Street, it's a bit like walking into an English country pub but without the darts and the drunks.

I have a classic draft of Anchor Steam and my wife a generous drink mixed by the big, friendly bartender as curtain time looms. It turns out many actors are regulars, and a couple of local women enjoying the bar's free hot dogs are going to the same play. The place suits our purposes.

We see Sarah Ruhl's "Dead Man's Cell Phone" at this tiny, intimate theater a couple months after seeing it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It is a decent production of this play about the longing for connectedness. Director Susi Damilano has staged the ending perhaps more smoothly than Christopher Liam Moore's OSF production.

But the bottom line is unmistakable: Seeing it here after OSF is like going to the ballpark in Medford after seeing a game at Yankee Stadium.

"You saw it there?" the woman in the bar had said. "Why are you seeing it here?"

If you have to answer that, she probably wouldn't understand. But the sensation of the difference is vivid and does not change as we skirt the Tenderloin walking back to the hotel.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

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