It’s been a long time, too long since the grand weekly finale recap of the tastes that mattered most graced these pages. Without further ado, here we go through the first half of October.
And no, none of these dishes have pumpkin in them. Perhaps San Francisco’s Mission Bowling Club should start putting a pumpkin aioli on their beloved burger?
Bar Tartine, San Francisco: Smørrebrod of Lox, Onion Quark, Beet Relish, Horseradish, and Dill on Open Faced Rye Bread
We’ve mentioned before the myriad reasons smørrebrød are superior to traditional sandwiches. But, then are smørrebrod and there are smørrebrod of the caliber presented by Nick Balla at Bar Tartine’s lunch and brunch services. From the robust rye to the edible Monet landscape presentations to the spot on combinations, lunch doesn’t get better than this. Ask me to choose? You can’t go wrong with a variation of a cobb salad or the version that makes dessert for lunch very acceptable with chocolate mousse and a schmear of hazelnut butter. But the smørrebrød is most at home with smoked salmon, especially with some beets and strong notes of horseradish and dill. Marvelous work by Balla.
Chez Panisse Cafe, Berkeley, CA:
Every year or so I check up on Alice Waters’ destination cafe (much less often for the gastronomic centerpiece dining room downstairs) for some reliably excellent, and of course seasonal, salads, pizzas, and a close to transcendent, beyond simple to describe fruit galette. This lunch was hit or miss with a dry grilled Riverdog Farm chicken breast that shared the plate with exquisite corn studded crispy polenta. Pizzetta this time was topped with shimmering chanterelle mushrooms, but the crust was too brittle. I adored a lemon cucumber and gypsy pepper salad with farro, creamy ricotta, and a sprinkling of marjoram.
But nothing speaks of Fall and Chez Panisse than this magnificent work of pastry art. If possible, it’s even better than it looks. The caramelized outer edge leads to the sturdy, tender body. I don’t know if in my time living in Paris I found a galette of this quality. Très bien Alice.
Craftsman and Wolves, San Francisco: The Rebel Within
Former Quince pastry chef William Werner’s new Mission pastry shop looks more like an Armani store meeting a software start-up firm’s offices instead of a wholesome bakery, and the forward thinking baked creations are almost universally terrific. I didn’t go crazy for the signature chocolate-caramel-Vietnamese cinnamon cube cake, but the other signature, this beast of a savory muffin, is one of San Francisco’s standout dishes already. A muffin (more like a buttermilk biscuit in composition) made from asiago cheese and green onions is studded with sausage, then inside is the rebellious sous vide egg, spilling out on cue when divided, ready to be conquered. Be sure to have it with some warm sipping caramel to be extra rebellious (and smart).
Dynamo Donuts, San Francisco: Apricot Cardamom Doughnut
The Mission’s adorable doughnut stand recently was batting about .500 in terms of flavors hitting the mark. Spiced Chocolate and Vanilla Bean that actually tastes vividly of vanilla prospered, while Maple Bacon tastes of nothing but bacon bits (not bad, just not special) and Molasses Guinness reminded nobody of either in the duo. Best? That would be this alluring mix of fruit and spice, perfect for a jazzy morning after a Four Barrel espresso.
Foreign Cinema, San Francisco: Balsamic Fried Eggs with Roasted Garlic Potato Hash, Treviso, and San Danielle Prosciutto
The specialty of the unofficial Capital of Brunch in San Francisco, perfect fried eggs are glazed with balsamic vinegar. The excess vinegar then pools with the yolk to become a sauce, with salt provided from the prosciutto. The key to the dish? The bitter treviso ( a relative of radicchio), cutting bravely through all of this, along with bracing jolts of burnt garlic in the otherwise banal potato hash.
An order of seasonal fruit (now peach or strawberry) pop tarts is mandatory of course here. Don’t believe the naysayers. They are wonderful, much closer to regal French pastries than the glazed supermarket versions.
Mission Bowling Club, San Francisco: The Mission Burger
Anthony Myint’s famed burger delivers with a 1/2 lb. aged and granulated patty topped ith various sized strips of slightly funky Monterey Jack, caramelized onions, and caper aioli. Sweet, salt, meat, funk collide into one beautiful burger message. The pivotal part is the tender meat itself, almost resembling a Porterhouse filet instead of a burger, slightly saltier and juicier than most other high end burgers. Everything clicks, even the bun and the fries. And be sure to enjoy this with the “TBD” jalapeno-tequila cocktail. Now that’s a strike for a meal.
Nopa, San Francisco: Smoked Trout with Housemade Bagel, Dill Farmer’s Cheese, Cucumber, and Radish
Nopa and Foreign Cinema are 1a and 1b for San Francisco’s premier brunch. One has the pop tarts and the spectacular patio, the other has the far superior Bloody Mary (get it with Mezcal). It’s Nopa that wins on the bagel front, truly a winner because of the smooth, robust farmer’s cheese that puts all cream cheese to shame.
Nopa: Custard French Toast with Matsu Apples and Maple Butter
Consider this dessert instead of brunch. The focus here is the central custardy portion of the sliced brioche, along with the wondefully autumnal notes of the apples and maple butter and syrup. This is a denser French toast than most, taken to a far more special place.
Rich Table, San Francisco: Sardine Chips with Horseradish
The essential bar snack with the “Big Night,” Rich Table’s essential cocktail. Potato chips serve as the base for the gently fried sardines, a fishy bacon, all held in place by a little fried potato chip strap. Think of the sardines as the foot and the chips as the sandals. Then dip into the not so mild horseradish crême fraîche, this is chips and dip in the hands of a chef who certainly has learned from the masters of New York and San Francisco. Coi should serve this, no?
Rich Table: Rigatoni with Sea Urchin and Pea Shoots
A dish that would be at home at a rural trattoria in Puglia or the formal dining room of Quince where Evan Rich once cooked. The sea urchin lends a briny element and buttery component to the dish, finished with a flourish of garden and spice from pea shoots and red chili pepper slivers.
Tacolicious, San Francisco: Cochinita Pibil Taco
Some of the tacos weren’t as (taco)delicious as they should have been, with a bland corn and peppers based vegetarian version and a not much more exciting fried rock cod one. Everyone rightfully loves the guajillo braised beef short rib tacos. Even better are the cochinita pibil tacos, with a knockout version of the Yucatan masterpiece slow cooked pork shoulder with achiote, lime, and orange. It’s even better with a splash of the chipotle salsa (the center one above). A “Pasion” cocktail is required, wonderful with tequila, habanero, and passion fruit. And be sure to start with the “Contramar style” tuna tostada with the fish on top of chipotle mayonnaise and avocado. You have to love a place that calls its non-alcoholic drinks section for children, drivers, and recovering bartenders.
Wise Sons Jewish Deli, San Francisco: Pastrami on Rye
Maybe not quite Katz’s or Langer’s, but not far off. San Francisco finally has a bonafide Jewish deli, and an excellent one too, with a bit of an edge in the gritty, Latino heavy Mission’s 24th St. corridor. The pastrami is cut a touch too thin and thankfully not stacked a foot tall. You can actually finish a sandwich here. The meat never is dry, but never has quite enough smoke or pepper to elevate the sandwich to the top tier. Until, all is saved by the superlative double baked rye bread. Bonus points for the excellent matzo ball soup and house cured pickles.
Wise Sons: Chocolate Babka
Coffeecake has never tasted or looked groovier. From the truffle caliber chocolate ganache spirals to the streusel topping, nothing comes close to the average dry cake we unfortunately see too often. A slice is roughly half my height.