Classic SF

Power Lunches and Popovers

by Kendra Boutell

If you’re in the know, you know the Ro. It’s where Aubrey Brewster dines daily at his designated table complete with a small brass plaque bearing his name. Brewster— San Francisco native, Dior devotee, bon vivant and one of the city’s best party hosts—noshes on fried Lobster Spring Rolls, followed by California Tsar Nicoulai caviar with a side of potato chips and crème fraîche. His friends Sonya Molodetskaya and Farah Makras often join him at what they call “The Mother Ship.” Overlooking Union Square, Neiman Marcus’ Rotunda Restaurant (affectionately dubbed “the Ro”) is a go-to meeting place and event destination for many a mover and shaker. Brewster and other regulars share their favorite moments under the glass dome.

Aubrey Brewster

Man about town

Besides the picturesque and historic room, the ever-evolving menu and the happenings at the bar, where seasoned mixologists Shaun Nguyen and Brian Walker delight guests with classic and trendy libations and an entertaining tidbit or two, it’s really about the guests. You never know who you’ll see, from socialite Denise Hale to jazz singer Paula West with French bulldog, Satchmo. There are the special occasion diners whose holiday and birthday lunches are “tradition.” Afternoon teas (don’t ever call it “high tea,” a faux pas) with mom or “the girls.” The colorful cast of regulars represents all that is San Francisco.

Jonathan Rachman

Interior designer

The Rotunda is one of the last old-school lunch spots in San Francisco where you always feel elated­—light as if you are on a cloud, even if the only thing you drink is bubble water or bubbly! For a moment, I always feel that I am in Monsieur Dior’s atelier. Parties at the Rotunda are always chic. The most meaningful one for me was the launch party of fashion illustrator Gladys Perint Palmer’s book Adam & Yves. There I was reunited with Gladys—my teacher and mentor along with Elisa StephensWillie Brown and Yvonne Lembi-Detert.

To be honest, the menu may evolve or change, as long as the popovers and the strawberry butter stay (to be enjoyed only with rosé champagne!).

Navid Armstrong

Woman about town

In January, Joel Goodrich and I celebrated our birthdays by hosting a luncheon for 12 that included Clara Shayevich, Orkut Buyukkokten and Heide Betz. It was magical.

I first visted the Rotunda in 1992 when my future husband Bill Armstrong took me on a date there. He called it the City of Paris Rotunda [the Ro’s former home, the City of Paris department store, was demolished in 1980 and replaced by Neiman Marcus, which kept the skylight]. I have been taking our daughter Catherine there for years. We enjoy the “Puffs Puffs” as I call the popovers. Recently Catherine invited me, Samantha Bechtel and Elizabeth Zambricki for afternoon tea. My daughter is 12 and wore a beautiful red dress from Rome.

Mark Rhoades

Publicist and event planner

One time I ordered a Cuban sandwich on the Ro’s menu—I love a good Cuban sandwich! I was having lunch there with my dear friend Josh Morgan (VP at HSBC Private Bank) and only ate half of my sandwich. Our waiter packed up the other half along with desert in a beautiful Neiman Marcus box and bag.

On the way home I saw Calvin, a homeless man who lives in my neighborhood. All of the neighbors look out for him, and I ended up giving him my Neiman Marcus doggie bag. I wanted that Cuban sandwich and dessert for dinner, but it is not every day Calvin gets to eat from the Rotunda, but that day he did.

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