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Baker & Banker

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.

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Baker & Banker
1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

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    1. re: Cicely

      Isn't the correct link inline in the first paragraph of the original post where the name of the restaurant is mentioned? I'm seeing it now, but these things come and go.

      Note to Carrie, you can click on "remove" at any time to delete the Balkh Bakery link attached to your post.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I'm not seeing any links attached to my post whatsoever...

        Is this something the automated link feature is doing?

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          "Balkh Bakery & Deli
          32730 Alvarado Blvd, Fremont, CA 94555"

          I'm seeing this just above your name in the original post.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            How bizarre - I only see it if I log-out. When logged in, I see nothing. I'll guess it is too late to edit it and at least Cicely has added the correct one.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              Now, that's a new bug I've not heard of before. No, not too late to edit, you can remove links at any time in your own posts, no time limit. But since you can't see it when you're logged in, I guess that wouldn't work. And my point was that the correct link is already shown, but maybe Cicely can't see the linking either and felt she needed to add one. I should point out that adding a url as she has done is not really linking, since that action won't cause this thread to be displayed on the R&B page for the restaurant.

    2. After reading the OP's comments on Baker & Banker, we made reservations for an early dinner on Friday with friends from Manhattan; musts: excellent wine list/duck. B&B scored on both counts. Colin Casey guided us well to the 2008 Thierry Puzelat 'le Telquel' Gamay and the 2005 Georg Breuer Spatburgunder Pinot Noir. The Gamay was a blend of Gamay, Pineau d'Aunis, and Cot(Malbec with a soft fruit, a rosy bloom, complex and delicious from cold carbonic maceration. We followed it with the Pinot Noir, deeply hued, more acidic in balance, more tannins - leaving us curious about the Thierry Puzelat la Tesniere Pineau d’Aunis, Loire, France, 2008 for another visit.
      The warm breads were challah and a dill brioche; a basket of seductions - coming in from a walk in brisk winds.
      The menu beckons with a siren's call to starters of onion soup, soft shell crab, smoked trout, ricotta cherry crostini, and bone marrow!

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      Baker & Banker
      1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

       
       
      2 Replies
      1. re: Cynsa

        This is a delicate onion soup and tickles the palate with its essence; the soft shell crab is a version of tempura, perfectly fried crunch shatters at first bite; the composition of the smoked trout, potato latke with pickled beet and shaved fennel made us sigh; the crostini is topped with a homemade ricotta and pickled cherry - but the table's winner was the bone marrow, delectable in its melting richness.

         
         
         
         
         
        1. re: Cynsa

          The staff is to be commended; friendly and professional - they made the evening a very notable visit for our friends. Not missing a beat, we continued on with black cod, duck, lamb and NY Steak.... sharing the doughnuts with peanut butter creme and strawberry jam and the nectarine apricot crisp— five-star dishes inspiring smiles and sweet dreams.

           
           
           
           
           
           
      2. As a visitor to the Bay Area I stumbled upon Baker & Banker as I was going to the theater in the area (I was looking for Quince, which I gather closed a year ago), and while I was not astonished by the restaurant, I was pleased. It reminds me of a restaurant that one might find on Brooklyn's Smith Street row. Sophisticated, casual, a little clubby, with competently prepared modern cuisine with a few gaffes. As was noted, the wine program is very fine. I was directed to an excellent red Languedoc. The food was creatively designed although the execution was more casual (On a four-point scale, I consider B&B to be a solid two star restaurant - on the five point scale, I awarded a third star, just to be congenial). The appetizer was a octopus and watermelon salad with sea beans. I was startled that the watermelon cubes were not seeded. Surely one would expect this at a more ambitious restaurant (or perhaps this simply meant that the dish was "interactive"). The main course was pork cooked three ways - an excellent and robust pork belly, a tasty spiced lamb shoulder sausage, and a rather dull and slightly dry pork loin. These were covered with a fig salad, which had the effect of leaving a pool of liquid upon finishing the dishes. It was a nice conception but an execution that needs work. B&B serves a very fine slice of warm sweet potato bread. Oddly it was placed in the same bread basket with a room temperature slice of wheat bread, which became warm in contact with the yam-slice. Choose a temperature and have at it.

        Dessert was sweet and tasty, if somewhat unambitious: Doughnut holes with ice cream and pluot jam. Sweet as a summer day, but working within the conventions of dessert.

        In all, Baker and Banker is a solid, cheerful neighborhood restaurant. If I lived in the area (near Van Ness and Bush), I could see myself dining there regularly, but it is not quite a destination restaurant.

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        Baker & Banker
        1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

        6 Replies
        1. re: GAF

          "I was looking for Quince, which I gather closed a year ago"
          Quince moved to the old Myth space in October 2009.
          Apparently still in business, I did see a note that the person taking reservations was implying that jackets for the men were desirable. This would make Quince and TFL unusual for the Bay Area.
          http://www.quincerestaurant.com/quinc...

          1. re: wolfe

            Recently, I made reservations for Masa's, and the website stated that jackets are recommended for men; but when we arrived, I could see that the rule is not enforced--not by a long shot.

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            Masa's Restaurant
            648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

            1. re: Rapini

              Good to know, my dress Izod shirt will be back from the cleaners soon. ;-)

          2. re: GAF

            Interesting to see how people have different opinions. Had my mom in town recently and for her, Baker & Banker was very much the food highlight of her trip. Both food and service were impeccable and the wine pairings were both fun for me and accessible for her.

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            Baker & Banker
            1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

            1. re: GAF

              Thanks for your report. I've been wanting to try B&B and was in the neighborhood last week when I spied their new bakery.

              I stopped in, thinking I'd pick up something. It's an inviting space until you see the prices: $4.50 for a baguette. $8 for a challah. And $3 for a smallish cookie. I left without buying anything.

              1. re: Windy

                I agree about the prices...stopped by yesterday and picked up a fantastic muffin for $3.50, which definitely seemed appropriate. I was going to add a cookie to the order but as Windy said, they were around $3 for a small cookie and I wasn't about to spend that!

            2. Although I have been to earlier incarnations of this space dating back to Chez Michel, this was my first visit to Baker & Banker and I was blown away. My friend and I each had 2 glasses of wine, an appetizer, and main course, and the bill was $150, which I consider a bargain because the food was as good as any of the top San Francisco restaurants. We shared the smoked trout/celery root latke and pork belly/winter vegetable salad starters; then I had the duck breast and wasn't willing to share, nor did she want to part with her black cod. Everything was perfect, as was the service. (I think I insulted one of the owners by trying to tip her for my coat.) I would rank this food well above Quince and Spruce, for example, and it seemed like less money
              .

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              Baker & Banker
              1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109