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Open since year-end, Breadbelly was my first pick to catch-up over lunch with a chef friend in April. Trying to avoid the crowds, we dropped in mid-morning only to find every table in the small cafe filled. Quite a dilemma as we waited for our turn wondering if we should plan to be eating on the bench outside or would we be able to spread out at a table. Luckily, a two-top opened up just as we started to order and we did not have to hold back.
The foundation of this Asian-Californian bakery-cafe's most popular offerings is the Japanese-style milk bread, so light and tender. Never thought I'd utter this, but it beats brioche any day. You heard it here first.
The day's special was Egg salad pocket, a boatload of dreamy egg salad studded with asparagus disks inserted into a fat milk bread slice and topped with arches of pickled fiddlehead ferms, tomato concasse and crispy panko. A funny moment . . . we both confessed to not ever understanding the attraction of fiddlehead ferns but liking the pickled version here.
This is what the cross-section looked like. I had no Easter eggs of my own, so it was fun to partake of what was always the traditional Monday-after-Easter lunch of my childhood years done up so uniquely here.
Then the kaya toast that I adored even more with its perfect fleck of salting, avocado colored fool-the-eye coconut and pandan jam squiggles and thick griddled slab of ethereal milk bread. It takes nearly two hours of constant stirring over heat to achieve the sublimely smooth and creamy texture of the rich kaya.
The two cappuccinos were as well-made and soul-satisfyingly delicious as they were beautiful. Matcha for her and Wrecking Ball beans for me, though on the small size for the price.
For a second round, the char siu sandwich, again on the delicate milk bread, filled with housemade bbq pork, cucumbers and shredded bok choy with a liberal amount of Kewpie mayo. The pork was slightly dry, but very tasty, and we each had a bite before packing away our enormous halves for later. The peppery accent and crunch of the raw bok choy shreds added a distinctive signature to this combination.
The Breadbelly salad of little gems tossed with a buttermilk dressing, watermelon radishes, asian pear and a blizzard of panko was a letdown. Not enough dressing, the lettuce leaves were fresh but oddly not crunchy. The excess of panko ruined it for me sucking the moisture out of every bite and scraping the inside of my mouth. This was the only real disappointment here. I noticed that the updated menu description no longer lists panko as an ingredient.
The strawberry cake featured much better berries than I would have expected for this time of year, turns out these are from Swanton in Davenport. But the airy cream filling could have used more sugar to set it off from the bland cake layers. And the cake could have been more moist.
The star of this round was the black sesame horchata, split for us by the barista. Not as pretty to look at, yet, this barely sweet, milky cold beverage was so intense with roasted sesame nuttiness and highlighted with a dusting of fragrant cinnamon . . . just WOW!
When we first arrived, the simple menu and small number of items on display in the case made me wonder if we'd find enough to interest us. That first impression turned out to be so wrong. After the first round of bites, we had a hard time restraining ourselves from ordering everything else.
Our conversation was cut short by the arrival of metermaids and a shout out from the staff to move our cars parked in front. We dashed outside . . . I apologized to the meter lady who admonished me for taking so long to notice and quickly drove off. We both got away without parking tickets! But sadly that meant no chance to put together a to-go order of pastries.
The three founders have fine dining cred from Mourad and Atelier Crenn on their CVs. That kind of finesse and exquisite attention to detail shine through here. What they've created for Breadbelly from their own vision and Asian-American experience just sparkles. Very impressive and we can't wait to return for more.
1408 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA
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