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Cliff House primed for comeback

Owner of Tarantino’s in San Francisco takes over reigns
By: Jim Ratajczak, The Telegraph
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He might have left his heart in San Francisco, but Tim McDonnell definitely brought his vision and appetite to Folsom. For the last 25 years, McDonnell has owned hugely popular restaurants Tarantino's in San Francisco and The Spinnaker in Sausalito. He's also the owner of the Sudwerk Brewery in Davis, and as of Feb. 1, McDonnell is the new owner of the Cliff House of Folsom, the restaurant that was once as famous for its cuisine as it was for its serene views. We're interested in serving the best food (in Folsom), and that's what we're going to do, he said. McDonnell has been living in Folsom for the last four months or so, taking the time to learn what the dining public wants. I like the location, he said. I like Folsom. I think (the Cliff House) can be a good spot. The restaurateur has had his eye on the Cliff House for years, and for McDonnell, finally owning it is a victory as sweet as any dessert imaginable. I'd seen it a few years ago and I always liked the location, he said. I knew that with the right menu and right décor, we could make it better than it was. So when it came up for sale, I knew I wanted to buy it. One reason he was anxious to buy the restaurant was the famous view of the American River. That's definitely a big plus for the location, he said. But McDonnell knows, at the end of the day, good food will trump a good view. Even the best views won't keep people coming back, said McDonnell. (The restaurant) needs a facelift and a new menu, some energy and interest on the part of the owner. As such, a new menu is one important area of focus as he readies the restaurant for its total makeover, which he expects to begin next month. McDonnell said the restaurant plans to specialize in prime rib, but will also have a myriad of options such as steaks, salads, pizza, and pastas to make even the pickiest of diners happy. We're going to expand the menu so it appeals to a wide variety of people, he said. In terms of updated décor, McDonnell plans on giving the Cliff House new interior, fixtures “all the things that make it comfortable inside, but admits he's still in the planning stages. Truly, McDonnell has big plans. But even he knows it won't be easy. I know what the competition is, he said. There's some good restaurants in Folsom. I just want all the people in town to come by and try it out. I want to bring in a lot of new people. McDonnell's grand vision for the Cliff House isn't an elitist, over-priced eatery. Rather, he wants it to be a mid-range restaurant with good food, and he hopes his plan will return the Cliff House to its former glory. It's not going to be just a stuffy special-occasion restaurant, he said. I'm hoping people see it as a great restaurant to come to for all occasions. I want them to be comfortable there and come there often. Nelson Julien, manager of The Spinnaker, is excited for the people of Folsom. He thinks the town is in for a real treat once McDonnell completes his renovations. He's going to be hands-on up there, he's a very good business man, said Julien. He's very good in terms of service and listening to what people want. He's first-class all the way.