The Vault Garden

Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron since there’s little sunshine in the typical vault, but no, it’s a brand new restaurant, a spinoff from The Vault, a popular underground restaurant under the Bank of America building at 555 California. It’s now closed owing to the pandemic.

Anticipating the opening of restaurants for outdoor dining, they changed their name to The Vault Garden and vaulted up to ground level at the near end of the plaza containing “The Banker’s Heart“, that iconic sculpture renamed by Herb Caen.

They opened last Thursday, and I got a reservation for Sunday, making it my first foray into pandemic era al fresco dining. No parking place was visible as we drove around the block, so we parked in the ridiculously expensive but very convenient garage beneath the building and soared to the plaza in the elevator. You’re at the edge of the plaza there, and as you walk onto it, The Banker’s Heart is straight ahead and The Vault Garden is on your right, a handsome setting with striking outdoor heaters.

In recognition of the pandemic, the tables are spaced well apart, and you keep wearing your mask until your drink arrives and put it back on before you ask for your bill.

We arrived a full thirty minutes early, but they seated us immediately, perhaps because the day was totally socked in and some people might have cancelled their reservations. When the city first allowed restaurants to open outdoor dining, I fretted over the blunt fact that we are often so windy, so foggy, or so both that dining outside wouldn’t be enjoyable. And yes, while the breeze was tolerable, our meal would have been even better without it.

The menu is carried over from the underground restaurant and is not long. The beverage menu offered a good range, and I settled on the Goat Rock Dry cider, which was delicious.

For an appetizer, I had the Lemon Pepper Fried Calamari. Oh my goodness on a couple of levels. First, the portion size was enormous, appropriate for an entree. Second, it was superb. The batter was delicious and the squid was cooked so that it was crispy, seriously crispy, so crispy that I can’t imagine how they did it without turning the squid rubbery. This was the best calamari I’ve ever eaten. By itself, it was a bit too salty, but the stingy little bit of JunJu Chili Dipping Sauce somehow cut the saltiness. I’d order this over and over but as an entree.

I went in with the idea that I’d have the hamburger because it was praised in the reviews and I hadn’t had one in ages. I shouldn’t have because even though it was a very good burger and came with a mountain of good fries, there were other entrees vastly more interesting.

Oh, and even though both of us ordered the hamburger, I threw in an order of the Parker House rolls because, like the burger, they got a good review. This goes to show that we must never completely trust the reviews because the rolls were just OK, much inferior to my mother’s owing to neither being yeasty nor soft. Would not order again.

Unfortunately, we both chose the calamari as an appetizer, so we were way too stuffed to even consider a dessert.

So the bottom line is that the service was pleasant and attentive but unobtrusive, 9 out of 10. Ummm, 9.9 since I could not find a single flaw. The ambience was quite good at about 8, and the food ranged from barely 5 on the rolls to 8 on the burger to 9.9 for the calamari.

This was a very good dining experience that I recommend with one caveat: look at the weather forecast and make your reservation for a day when the wind is projected to be low. I would not want to eat there on a windy day.

Meanwhile, speaking of restaurants, here’s the back door to the Zuni Cafe.

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