Ever since the team of Lori Baker and Jeff Banker took over the old Quince locale, I've been meaning to visit. Now named Baker & Banker, the space is darkly elegant, albeit a little cramped (it only seats 40-some diners at a time). My eating buddy, Lisa, had helped me through a hard day at the Cherry Blossom Festival and we were in the classic quandary of where to eat on a Saturday night. Lisa mentioned she became acquainted with Jeff Banker by occasionally sitting next to him at a mutually-favorite sushi restaurant, Koo. It was a long-shot to get a table and calling, we confirmed they couldn't provide a table until 9:00 p.m. but there was always the possibility of grabbing a seat at the bar.
We decided to risk it and walked up the hill, we were rewarded with two of the remaining four bar seats. I think when I go back, I will never bother with a table as we had much more fun chatting with our server, David, the sommelier, Colin, and occasionally Jeff Banker would stick his head out to say hello. While an extensive five-course prix fixe with wine pairing is available, we opted for a smaller tasting menu we which put together ourselves and the restaurant was more than accommodating in pouring us miniature carafes of wine (single pours, actually) for us to share. While waiting for our first official course, an amuse was sent out of spicy ahi tuna with Vietnamese slaw, crispy shallots, and peanuts. We were very happy a taste of this as it was high on our list of one of the courses we wanted. There was just enough light creamy dressing on the bright fresh ahi to complement the crunchy goodness of the slaw and shallots.
To accompany our first course, we ordered a 2008 Matthiasson White Wine from the Napa Valley. A blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc, and ribolla gialla, the nose provided a clean aroma of lemon peel and stone fruit. The entry was clean and engaging and was a spectacular pairing with the house smoked trout on celery root latke with horseradish crème fraîche, pickled beets, and shaved fennel. The sauce was made from concentrated beets but it was the crunchy celery root latke which marveled. This was a great combination of fresh ingredients with rich trout and horseradish cream which could have overwhelmed, but did not. The wine brought out the smokiness of the trout without being oppressive yet also heightened the collection of vegetables. A really great beginning.
Our next course was a torchon of foie gras served with pickled rhubarb, house-made brioche, and Sausalito Springs watercress which we paired with a wine recommended by Colin, a 2007 Domaine Belliviere l'Effraie chenin blanc. The wine produced a rich, tropical aroma and gave a bright entry of kumquat. The foie was simply prepared; a classic example of a properly-prepared torchon, yet heightened with large grilled slabs of the house-made brioche. The true stroke of genius was the pickled rhubarb and watercress. The tangy goodness made the foie that much creamier and also emphasized the exquisite nature of the kumquat tones in the wine. Absolutely lovely pairing with a foie offering that was both wholesome and delectable.
After our two starters, we decided to share an entrée; Black pepper pappardelle with braised shortribs, wild mushrooms, English peas, and shaved pecorino. This was paired with a 2006 Occhipinti Siccagno Nero d'Avola. While we were pretty happy with our first two courses, here we reached a new level of richness. The pappardelle was handkerchief thin, laden with earthy mushrooms which were punctuated by the bright spurts of the English peas. Once again, we had a wine pairing that blew us out of the water; muted fruit of dark cherry and black olive on the nose opened up to earthy tastes of smoky tobacco, mushroom, and a delicate eucalyptus at the very finish. The creamy sauce in our entrée had a touch of truffle oil which provided an exciting counter-balance to the earthiness in the wine. This is a very rich dish and I could definitely see myself ordering it again on my own, but just to assure I had leftovers for breakfast. I am not sure I could see ordering and consuming an entire order in one sitting, but it could be fun to try.
Of course we ordered dessert, strawberry-filled PB&J doughnuts with peanut butter dipping sauce. Our diner completed, David advised us that the doughnuts are normally served in threes and would we like four on our order since we were sharing. Trying to watch the ever-growing waistline, three should be more than enough, thanks. The elongated plate arrived with perfectly round globes of wonder. Warm and crunchy, this was Jelly Doughnut Nirvana with warm, house-made strawberry jam filling oozing out with the first bite (a rarity!). So often with a jelly doughnut, one must eat through a third or a half of the doughnut before the jelly appears. Encrusted with granulated sugar, we took our first bites naked, without the dipping sauce and with that first unctuous fruit hitting our taste buds, smiles and groans were immediately emitted.
The cake structure was light and spongy with a superb amount of tooth to the crunchy exterior. The dipping sauce was made of three simple ingredients; peanut butter, cream, and powdered sugar. The doughnut-alone-bite was perfectly lovely, but laden with the creamy sauce, one is transported back to childhood with a primal memory of wholesome goodness which has been elevated to elegance while still maintaining that sense of familial comfort.
The biggest problem for me is that these are available to me within walking distance and I could see a serious addiction burgeoning.
Dinner pics on Feast and doughnuts pics on FriedDoughHo.
Baker & Banker
1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109