I've been meaning to go to this place for almost a year. Ex-chef of Hawthrone Lane scales down and opens her own little cafe. An irresistable proposition. It took me that long to make it there because Desiree is open only from 8am to 4pm from Mon to Fri. But I finally ate there and immediately regretted not going sooner.
Everything about Desiree seems pleasant. There is a sense of neatness in this pretty cafe where even the tight seating feels cozy instead of cramped. Bright touches are everywhere. Charming posters and a vase of lovely flowers bring color, while a small but well edited array of baked goods just behind the counter add a homey attraction to the place. Small is beautiful.
I know it's just one meal, but Desiree just became my favorite 14-seater lunch place anywhere in SF. The food relies mainly on elegant simplicity, but clever touches are scattered across the dishes with thoughtful restraint. The effect is as crisp and refreshing as the little cubes of apples that garnish the curried cauliflower soup I had today. This simple culinary gesture is marvellous for its many contrasts -- the sharp and snappy bite of apples adds a new textural dimension to the thick smooth liquid, their acid plays off the richness of the cream while their sweetness cushions the palate against the coriander and black pepper heavy spice. What minimalistic genius!
The trend continues in the sandwich. Clean flavors from a moist juicy snapper fillet (great execution!), sandwiched between thin brittle slices of lightly toasted white bread. Lettuce and light oily dressing. But the fish is truely transformed into something so desirable but a thin spread of chopped dark olives with a suave and light but distinctly olive flavor (it recalls tapenade in Provence). It's great to see them do so much with so little.
The apple bread pudding was a beautiful dessert, molded stylishly into an oval cylinder and made complete by a dollop of good whipped cream. Bread pudding might be a misnomer here, because what I get is essentially two thin slices of bread that form a crust, between which lie the generous comforts of soft warm apples (and perhaps some peaches as well?). Cinnamon, vanilla and maybe nutmeg dot the fruit like tasteful jewelry. Another simple but deep pleasure.
Service is cheerful and full of little hospitable smiles. I sat at a corner and noticed how many regulars come by for coffee and exchange first name greetings with the owner.
The counterstaff are also super accomodating. There is a lunch option ($10 -- a bargain!) that offers a sandwich, a salad and a little cookie bag, but I was more keen on the soup, which they happily substituted for the salad.
Lastly, I bought a large trangle cookie with sweet fruity dried grapes (still slightly pulpy -- not raisins yet) and hazelnuts for road. They gave me one more free ("it's late in the day"), sending me off with much gladness in my heart and belly.
Prices, as I've mentioned above, are a bargain for the quality of the offerings. The dessert was $4, sandwiches on their own are $7.50 and a large bowl of soup is $5 (I got a small bowl for my lunch). There was also a shrimp and artichoke salad of some sort for $10. The cookie was $2 a piece for something the size of a small pizza slice.
I think I've found happiness in that corner of the city. I'm certainly going to return.
P.S. Desiree is on 39 Mesa (at Lincoln) in the Presido, in the SF Film Society building.