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Dining with Musical Benefits

How live music complements the meal
Dining with Music Berber belly dancer
Deborah Grossman
Deborah Grossman

Decades before communal tables and cactus centerpieces proliferated, a piano player accompanying the meal implied, “This is a classy restaurant.”

In San Francisco several popular restaurants have re-invented the concept of dining with musical benefits. Venues may have different programs, but one thing is clear—management sees value in presenting musicians and entertainment. In each case the setting and location is key to guest interest in the music. One Market, Berber and Le Colonial’s 721Lounge pay attention to top quality food and drink menus. Meanwhile the music mirrors the concept in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

One Market, mellow piano music

The melodious sounds of pianist Billy Philadelphia adds to the ambiance of One Market. Known for 26 years for California fresh cuisine, the majestic, grand room features high ceilings, ornate columns and windows overlooking the Ferry Building foodie destination. The location attracts a mix of high-tech workers, entrepreneurs, dedicated locals and tourists.

Dining with Music: One Market / Billy Philadelphia playing  (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

Philadelphia keeps the energy up, mixing up the songs from jazz to Latin, pop and R&B.  “I like to keep things moving and changing from fast to slow tunes. I stick with instrumentals—and don’t encourage guest singing due to some off-key experiences; sometimes couples dance. Whether the guests are gourmet diners or tech hipsters, I consistently get positive feedback and occasional special requests for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or “New York, New York,” said Philadelphia.

For the 25th Anniversary Legends dinner in 2018, jazz singer Paula West and her ensemble added to the festivities.

Dining with Music: One Market / Paula West ensemble (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

While enjoying the music, we savored Pt. Reyes blue cheese soufflé, Champagne poached lobster and dry-aged prime New York steak with sides such as chickpea fries and fried green tomatoes with remoulade. To top off the meal, desserts included butterscotch pudding, chocolate gateau and fruit galettes.

Dining with Music: One Market / Blue cheese with souffle blood orange gastrique  (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

An early proponent of farm-to-table, the menu highlights the season and Chef-Partner Mark Dommen’s classically-training cooking style. Dommen is well known for his grilled Spanish octopus, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, ahi tuna and Angus New York steak with béarnaise relish. 

Berber supper club
Moroccan-themed Berber presents a full-on supper club dinner show with a five-course prix-fixe meal and dancers between four of the courses. Opened in 2018, Moroccan and Northern African food is available à la carte in the lounge and restaurant. Berber brings the Middle Eastern culture to a climax on Friday and Saturday nights with the dinner show.

When we arrived at Berber, the excitement soon began as the aerialist dancer began preparing our outstanding cocktails. The Song of the Bulbul with rum, rose, lime and egg white was frothy and balanced while the Royal Bazaar is a Middle Eastern take on an old-fashioned: Bourbon, cinnamon, vermouth, Berber bitters and orange zest.

Dining with Music :Berber Aerialist making cocktails (Credit-Deborah Grossman


The wine director offered eclectic pairings with dinner. Starting with a Palestinian wine from Cremisan Cellars in Bethlehem, then a Moroccan GSM selection from Domaine Val d’Argon. The next wine was a silky Hahn Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands—all well matched to the dinner. The first course of delicious dips and crackers was followed by asparagus soup with medjool date and fennel. The semolina bread with nigella and mint served as an excellent dipping agent.

Dining with Music: Berber appetizers (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

Choreographically timed with the meal service, the belly dancer arrived as all the plates were cleared and enthralled the crowd. When her twirling ceased, we were served Zough shrimp with smoked eggplant. After a ballerina gracefully danced, vegetable bastille and lettuce with pistachio, grapefruit and avocado arrived. We were delighted by the return of the belly dancer performing an exciting sword dance.

Dining with Music: Berber Ballerina twirls (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

We then devoured our lamb tagine and couscous. Next up, the entertainment pièce de resistance—the aerialist who made our cocktails—swirled in and out of a large hoop. The crowd applauded her mix of athleticism, artistry and charisma. The desserts of pistachio gelato and chocolate-walnut bar with spiced strawberries were sweetly calming.

The doors were closed to the restaurant, but the lounge diners and imbibers in the front of the house could hear the crowd swoon over the dancers. According to operating partner Borhen Hammami, many guests at the front of the house make reservations for the dinner show when available. “The dinner show is an essential part of Berber, and we hope to increase them.” 

The evening felt like a trip to Morocco. We shall return to try the à la carte options grand tasting menu.

721Lounge at Le Colonial, jazz and more

Le Colonial, known for Vietnamese French food, has been a stalwart of the San Francisco dining scene since 1998. The venue offers a hybrid approach to dining. Downstairs, the restaurant presents full meals. Upstairs the newly rebranded 721Lounge offers a bar and dining lounge with its own menu and the full menu of Le Colonial downstairs.

General Manager Howard Cummins opened Le Colonial and then returned two years ago. With a vision in mind for the lounge upstairs, he rebranded the large room as 721Lounge, created a new entrance, yes, at 721 Sutter St. with easier access for pedestrians and ride share drop offs. Cummins created a new lounge menu and brought back the musical component. “Music in the lounge reflects the art scene of San Francisco,” said Cummins.

Dining with Music: 721Lounge guests and musicians (Credit-721Lounge)

Though he schedules a mix of musical styles, Cummins emphasizes upbeat jazz. On Monday 721Lounge hosts a piano player; Tuesday through Saturday the sound segues from jazz trios to swing jazz and other artists which are listed online. “Bands have followings, so we watch to see which bands attract folks on certain nights,” said Cummins.

Dining with Music: 721Lounge musicians (Credit-721Lounge)

Guests come for the food along with the music and drinks. From the lounge menu, popular options are the salmon bowl and the pupu appetizer platter. But many guests order from the downstairs menu. Favorites include twice cooked pork belly with salad and caramel sauce, and steamed seabass wrapped in banana leaves with sweet potato noodles and veggies in a black bean coconut sauce.

Dining with Music: 721Lounge pupu platter (Credit-Deborah Grossman)

Renewing their commitment to diners and musicians in delicious, creative ways, the restauranteurs agree that a dose of live background sound adds to the dining experience.

“The personality of San Francisco is all about art, said Cummins. “The music fits our city and our lounge. Plus, we give back to the community by offering opportunities to local talent. The musical element definitely attract guests.”

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