I would skip the food car on Amtrak and take the RN74 any day of the week. The restaurant was clearly decorated with the Route Nationale 74 (french road/railway that goes through Burgundy) theme in mind. With luggage tags around the napkins, numbered tables, french dialogue playing in the bathrooms, and a wine board that actually flips like the signs in a train station, the attention to detail (at least in terms of design) is impressive to say the least.
Although I was there for dinner, there was a lot of seating around the bar, and I would certainly go back for a drink/app after a long day of working on the tracks. Overall, the food was pretty impressive. The clear savory standout of the night was the beef carpaccio, which took me on a yum rocket to the moon. Or, maybe I should say on a yum train, next stop yum town. The other appetizer, the pork belly and clams, would've been better just as a clam dish (this dish has actually been changed to big fin squid with pork belly since my last visit). Everyone knows that I'm pork belly's #1 fan, but I must say, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed with how it was cooked. Although, I really liked the smoked paprika sauce, a departure from the standard "cooked in white wine" preparation.
For entrees, the rib eye was good, but needed salt. Nothing to blow your socks off. On the other hand, the duck cassoulet was perfectly cooked (confit) and melted in my mouth. Well not mine, as it wasn't what I ordered, but I did get to steal some after cleverly making my date look in the other direction.
Now, I'm usually not a big fan of beignets. Sure they are tasty, but I think that much like profiteroles, they are often overrated and not a good indication of how adept a pastry chef is in the kitchen. However, RN74 has steered me in a new direction. The beignets were so mouth wateringly delicious that I started crying on the spot. Well, that's not true. I just had to take a moment of silence. Paired with a mascarpone semifreddo, fresh blueberries, and something that tasted of lemon and thyme, this was one of the best desserts I've had all year. This is certainly a place where you should not skip dessert!
Oh, and don't skip the Pimm's cocktail ether (I certainly didn't!) - it's like sangria but more refreshing and not made with red wine.
The service, although a little bit too formal for my taste, was quick, attentive, knowledgeable, and accommodating as we didn't have reservations and made a little bit of a fuss about where we wanted to be seated.
Great ambiance, solid food, and delicious cocktails. What more could a boxcar hobo want?
301 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 9410