I don’t know if Jonathan picked Baker & Banker for our four-year anniversary dinner because he feels like we’re a baker and banker ourselves (I like to get baked and he likes to shove cash under the mattress), but it was the perfect place to celebrate the sacrifices I’ve made for the past 48 months.
It’s no surprise Baker & Banker is on so many top Bay Area foodies’ lists, because…well…quite frankly it’s fantastic. This small restaurant has only 15 mahogany wood-stained tabletops and a small bar (seats less than 10) in back, but it packs a big punch when it comes to flavor. The restaurant itself is inviting with its plain white exterior blending seamlessly with the surrounding residential architecture of the unassuming corner it sits on at Octavia and Bush streets in San Francisco’s Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. If you blinked you could miss it (thank god for the valet sign), which would be a shame, because it’s not easy getting a reservation for two on a Thursday night here.
Once inside and out of the cold SF wind, we were immediately warmed by the friendly staff. They guided us to our table amid the dining room of comfy banquet seating, chalkboards full of handwritten daily food and beverage specials, and dark whisky and cognac colored woods, trims and accents. The painted steel pipes that made up the industrial lantern tracks used light bulbs reminiscent of the prohibition era, which splashed just enough of an intimate golden glow that we didn’t feel overexposed in such a small space.
I find some restaurants use a lot of splash and pizazz in their décors because they want to ignite your senses before you’ve even ordered. In my opinion (and this certainly isn’t always the case, but happens a lot in Los Angeles), I find this tactic usually means the restaurant has something to hide or they’re just trying to distract you from the fact that their food can’t stand up to criticisms on it’s own. Well that is definitely not the case at Baker & Banker. Proprietors Lori Baker and Jeff Banker (yep that’s where the name comes from) are a husband and wife dynamic duo. Lori bakes all the desserts and any artisanal breads served during dinner or brunch (she also runs the bakery next door….post to come shortly), and Jeff is the Chef de Cuisine. Their menu is playful and creative, but doesn’t lose focus of the main ingredients. All their proteins and veggies are locally sourced and their wine list is a good mix of international and domestic wines from $35 per bottle and up. Our waitress (Anna) was very knowledgeable when it came to the wines and helped us select the perfect Beaujolais Domaine de Colette Morgan, which was light and fruity without being too austere and earthy in the finish.
We started with the mix of artisanal breads: nutty dense olive bread, buttery pastry twists, freshly baked focaccia bread, and fennel crisps. Our taste buds’ journey had begun.
Then came the house smoked trout, potato latke topped with horseradish cream, pickled beats and shaved fennel. Regardless of the fact that Hanukkah was just around the corner, we ordered this menu staple because everyone we talked to had raved about it. And with good reasons too. The salty trout was perfectly balanced by the gentle sweetness of the baby beets. The hint of horseradish peers out from behind the tangy crème fraiche giving it a bright freshness to cut through the oil. It was heavenly and I only wished there were two on the plate, because it took a lot of restraint to leave half of it for Jonathan.
We ordered the county line carrots with Straus yogurt and Medjool dates, which reminded us of a carrot and fennel salad we loved from Bar Jules. The carrots were perfectly blanched and a sprinkle of rye bread crumbs added a nice little crunch to every bite of rich creamy yogurt and pasty dates.
Poured tableside was the sunchoke velouté (a thick creamy soup) with a little butter poached Dungeness crab, chanterelles, and lightly roasted apple, all garnished with a celery leaf. The soup certainly lived up to its name, which is derived from the French word velour, which means velvet. This was rich and creamy (an edible velvet if you will) and the crisp tart apple cubes helped cut some of the richness of the sunchokes and buttery crab. Yum! (sorry I didn’t take a picture of the velouté, but you can imagine a creamy artichoke green sauce).
For entrees we couldn’t pass up the famous mirin and soy braised black cod served on a bed of Mendocino uni and shiitake mushroom sticky rice with a garnish of charred bok choy. I’ll admit, the dish sounded like a lot of the miso and soy glazed black cod dishes that have been all the rage (played-out) since Nobu started serving the dish over a decade ago, but this was unique. The mirin and soy flavors permeated the entire fish filet leaving the meat dark all the way through; almost as if it was sous-vide. The fish was moist and barely cooked all the way through. The skin was soft, not crispy like you’d expect when left on, and just sort of dissolved into the rice as your fork tore into this tower of umami goodness. The rice was amazing, and I learned they use a little sake in giving it some complexity and depth; a little sweetness with a tinge of yeast. Kind of like a more sophisticated version of using rice wine vinegar for sushi rice. To say the least I wanted more.
We also got the Liberty Farm duck breast with seared confit, celery root, roasted quince, Bloomsdale spinach and mitake mushrooms. The duck was cooked perfectly with a medium rare center and crisp skin. The roasted quince was the sweetness that pairs well with the gaminess of the duck.
I find that sides are often times some of the best tasting items on the menu and at the least expensive price, so I always throw at least one or two into the mix. We chose the caramelized cauliflower and chantenay carrots with currants, toasted almond slivers and chili oil. The crunch and the sweet and spicy play between the dried currants and the chili oil were awesome.
For desserts we had the XXX-triple dark chocolate layer cake. It’s three layers of chocolate with a flourless chocolate cake layer at the bottom, a chocolate cheesecake layer in the middle and Devil’s Food chocolate cake cap, all covered in a chocolate glaze. As chocolate lovers there was no way we weren’t going to order this cake. I will admit, the bottom flourless layer seemed dry and almost too crumbly for my liking. It tasted find, but was a little difficult to fork.
We also had the brown butter doughnuts filled with huckleberry jam and a meyer lemon curd and crème fraiche for dipping. The curd was not your typical curd. It was light, fluffy and full of air. I didn’t really taste the brown butter, but the doughnuts and berry filling were fried warm balls of heaven doused in sugar, which tasted awesome. Really delightful!
All in all, our experience at Baker & Banker was great. I want to thank the staff in both the front and back of the house for the wonderful service and mouthwatering meal. We enjoyed the meal so much, that we immediately made plans to walk the dog to Baker & Banker Bakery over the weekend for some breakfast breads and such.
Thank you Baker & Banker.