Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

April 2, 2010 11:55 PM

Restaurant: Baker & Banker

Baker & Banker

1701 Octavia
San Francisco, CA 94109
Many of you were drawn to a restaurant called "Quince," reviewed in the May 2007 issue of WW. It has since moved to another part of San Francisco.

WW's instinct is that there is something special about the former apothecary store located at 1701 Octavia, on the corner of Octavia and Bush.

Stan and Julia suggested that I try the new restaurant in this location. And so, off we went. As always, dinner with Stan and Julia is different and energetic. (Stan remains a bit of a legend in San Francisco, so going to a restaurant with him is always a treat.)

Baker & Banker is quite different than Quince, but in my view equally good, and in some ways better. The food is superb, tasty and creative, but there is a feel to the restaurant that is very comfortable.

The restaurant was opened in December of last year by the wife and husband team of Lori Baker, the pastry chef, and Jeff Banker, the chef. Interestingly, Jeff once worked at yet another restaurant in the same space. Each has worked in a variety of settings in San Francisco and around the world.

The room, which seats about 50 at tables of about 2 to 6, looks different than its previous incarnation. Dark wood has been added, and there are banquettes along both long walls. A series of large chalk boards have been added along the same two walls, on which are listed various beers and wines.

As starters, Julia ordered Roscoe's asparagus tempura with Meyer lemon aioli; Stan had the Jones Farm country rabbit and French prune pate with walnut toasts; and I chose the real winner, House smoked trout, celery root latke, horseradish creme fraiche, pickled beets, and shaved fennel.

For her main course, Julia went with Pan roasted monkfish, melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, chorizo and orange-safron sauce. Stan selected Braised Pozzi Farm lamb shoulder, farro, San Marzano tomato sauce, and Nicoise olives. I picked the Black pepper pappardelle, braised shortribs, wild mushrooms, grilled radicchio, and shaved percorino.

Of course, we all tasted a bit of everything, and I would have been satisfied with any of the dishes, although I was particularly taken with the pappardelle.

And then there was dessert. The owners were taking their first night off since opening the restaurant in December, and decided to have a late dinner in their own restaurant. Stan decided to send them a bottle of wine. They in turn offered to provide dessert. We acquiesced.

A parade of servers then delivered one of each of the eight desserts on the menu. Each was better than the next. They included: Blood orange sorbet with orange chocolate chip shortbread; Chantenay carrot cake, kumquats, rum soaked currants, cashew brittle and cream cheese ice cream; XXX-triple dark chocolate layer cake (there are no combination of words to describe this cake); Rhubarb crisp, brown sugar pecan streusel, pink peppercorn-strawberry swirl ice cream; Meyer lemon icebox pie, creme fraiche, candied black olives with thyme syrup and Frangelico-hazelnut doughnuts with gianduja dipping sauce. (When the take- out bakery opens go for these treats alone.)

The wine person was well informed (according to Stan) but really casual, not one of those “I know better than you” types that so often play that role.

The seating is tight, and because of the closeness of the tables, it is relatively noisy, although I did not pick up on the conversations at the tables around us.

The service was very good. And when I asked why the beer I had ordered had not arrived, rather than one of the lame excuses that come out of the mouths of so many waiters, our waiter blushed and said "I spaced out."

Previously, there was a chef's table in the basement, reachable by some stairs at the back of the restaurant. It is no longer there. It is the plan to have a small take out bakery on that lower level, with an entrance that opens on Bush Street. (I subsequently read that they have received the necessary permits from the city to operate this "store" from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

The decorations in the unisex restroom have changed, but it remains the narrowest restroom that I can recall, certainly in a fine restaurant. It is about 4 feet wide and double that in length. But as it did before, even with its diminuative size, it fits the restaurant of which it is a part.

No surprise, the useful parts of the room (commode and washbasin) have not changed. The wall covering has changed. There are copies of signed menus from various well known San Francisco restaurants.

The restaurant is closed on Monday. Walk-ins are invited, but make a reservation. There is valet parking.

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