On opening day, Baker and Banker faced two problems. First, as there is no lack of mid-priced, neighborhood restaurants serving New American cuisine in San Francisco, how would their food stand out? Secondly, the previous tenant of this space was a lil’ ol’ restaurant known as Quince; Baker and Banker would need to find a way to avoid living in the shadow of such an immensely popular, critically-acclaimed restaurant by quickly establishing their own unique image and reputation.
Apparently for Baker and Banker, the solution was simple: just revamp the décor, ignore the pressure, and serve the kind of food that they love to cook – thoughtful, seasonal, well-executed contemporary American cuisine. Problems solved.
Their particular approach to cuisine was evidenced as soon as the first dish, the rabbit pâté ($12), was placed in front of me; right then I knew that the early hype surrounding this restaurant was warranted. While pâté isn’t the most innovative menu option, it was unique in its composition: neither smooth nor “campagne” (country-style), it instead consisted of exceptionally large chunks of rabbit, loaded with seasoning.
Another appetizer, the smoked trout potato latke ($13) with horseradish crème fraîche, pickled beets, and shaved fennel, is considered a house specialty. While it hasn’t been my favorite appetizer of everything I’ve tried, it’s certainly a delicious, well-executed, well-balanced dish that is a solid choice for almost any diner.
My personal favorite was on the (out-dated) spring menu: the asparagus tempura ($12) served with a Meyer lemon aioli. The combination of these flavors is not a ground-breaking culinary discovery, but the deliberate simplicity and impeccable execution allowed the flavor of the asparagus to take center-stage; the stalks were perfectly crispy and juicy, with an aioli that radiated lemon without it being overpowering. This appetizer takes different form on their current summer menu: Soft Shell Crab Tempura ($15) served with a Vietnamese slaw and sriracha aioli. The flavors are spot-on and the execution flawless, proving that no matter what the ingredients, this kitchen sure knows how to make one mean tempura.
If I could give a diner any piece of advice, it would be this: because the portion sizes are so incredibly large, and because ordering dessert is a must, take a moment after the first course to find your second stomach. You’ll need one.
The thoughtfulness behind their cuisine was especially evidenced in the Pappardelle ($23), covered in porcini mushrooms on the spring menu (a dish that now features chanterelles and summer squash). The porcinis added an earthiness that accentuated the deep, complex, rich flavor of braised shortribs, but were balanced by the occasional bite of bitter radicchio; even the cuts of mushroom and sliced cheese matched the thickness of the pasta. Hearty and rustic, but sophisticated at the same time.
This rustic sophistication was also present in the Pan-Roasted Monkfish, with melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, chorizo, and orange-saffron sauce. This play of potato with chorizo was reminiscent of something hearty and traditional, but prepared in more elegant fashion – like a deconstructed bouillabaisse.
While those entrées are no longer available, the Moroccan-spiced Pozzi Farm lamb loin ($30) on the summer menu is also an excellent option. While it would be more successful if one or two accompanying ingredients were edited out, the lamb is beautifully seasoned, perfectly cooked, and the flavors work well together.
Although after the entrées you’ll probably have no idea how you could possibly eat another bite, you have to order dessert. Period.
On my first visit, Meyer lemon pie ($8), with crème fraiche, Chantilly, crystallized thyme, and candied black olives was the highlight of the meal. “Black olives in dessert?” you ask. I know, right? Who knew? But with their intense saltiness removed, their flavor beautifully integrated with the thyme and Meyer lemon, creating a dessert that embodied restrained sweetness. The next time around it was the Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème ($8), layered with goat cheese mousse, Bing cherries, and pistachio brittle that had me licking every last drop from my bowl. With Baker and Banker’s bakery opening in roughly one week, I predict that it will be solely responsible for the 5 pound weight gain every San Francisco resident will experience in August.
The chefs are constantly walking around the dining room – something that’s rarely seen at similar establishments. Both are very friendly, approachable, and are trying to connect with diners and get real feedback, so don’t be scared to give it to them! With the words “balanced” and “thoughtful” being the descriptions that come to mind after eating at Baker and Banker, the only feedback coming from this reviewer is all positive.
Baker and Banker
1701 Octavia St
San Francisco, CA 94109