Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Butler & The Chef Bistro, San Francisco CA

Quaint, tucked-away, the kind of place you have to know about or go out of your way to find – the definition of “a neighborhood gem.” No tourists, ample parking, lots of locals dining inside…I went to Paris when I was 17 years old and my palate was unrefined – The Butler & The Chef Bistro gave me a chance to realize what I probably missed out on while I was there.

Walking into the small dining room we were instantly greeted by a friendly server who took us to a table in the middle of the restaurant and handed us menus – a great looking pastry case was noticed on the way by. After seating our water was filled immediately and after a couple minutes the server returned to take drink orders - a large fresh orange juice and two bold coffees were ordered, served immediately, and the coffees were refilled abundantly.

After taking a few moments to browse the unique layout of the restaurant – wide open kitchen with 3 men speaking primarily French, a back garden with tables, a pastry and coffee bar up front, and some kitschy signs posted throughout – orders were placed for main courses and two pastries which were delivered warm within minutes, one literally less than 10 minutes from the oven.

Pastry one was a delectable almond croissant that some say is made by the people at Boulangerie. Given the difference in appearance and improved taste/texture I personally do not believe this to be true, but I cannot guarantee it – regardless the flavor was spot on and the almond paste was perfectly mingled with the buttery croissant. Pastry two, a nectarine Danish, was certainly house made as we actually saw a second batch come out of the oven 5 minute later – and it was excellent. A similar buttery pastry, this time housing a small dollop of creamy cheese and an incredibly sweet nectarine, was one of the best danishes I’ve ever tasted and the simple fact that it was still warm from the oven was a mere bonus.

Pastries finished, I once again stood up and actually went to watch some of the kitchen action take place as our meals were prepared. Moving with much skill and precision, each chef took to their task at hand mixing flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and fruits from scratch while additionally chopping vegetables for the omelets of other tables. Watching the great finesse in the preparation of a perfect crepe made me realize why so many of mine end up burned or stuck to the pan.

Approximately 15 minutes later our breakfasts arrived; for my aunt the Myrtilles - French Wild Blueberry Waffles made with the highest quality wheat flour and corn meal, blended with nutritious malt and a secret mix of flavorings was selected and was easily the best waffle any of us had ever tasted. Surely not as gluttonous as the Chocolate waffle at Payard or PB+C at Norma’s , this buttery round with hints of malt plus essences of what I believe were nutmeg and cinnamon was perfectly complemented by the Blueberry compote that I watched the chefs render in the back. Fresh, delicious, and not overly filling.

My mother’s dish, Pain Perdu of French Toast made with organic French bread dipped in organic egg & milk with real vanilla served with 100% pure maple syrup was equally wonderful in preparation, flavor, and freshness though the dish was vastly better suited to my tastes than my mothers. A fan of crispier “American” French-Toast, my mother did not realize that the French version is generally soaked overnight giving a more crisp outside with mushy bread-pudding interior. In my opinion, outside of the absurdly overindulgent versions at Griddle Café, this is what French toast should taste like.

My selection, completing a sampling that began with the Ham and Cheese croissant at Tartine and the Croque at Bouchon and Boulangerie, was the Croque Monsieur with Baked Niman Ranch ham and emmenthal cheese on organic white bread with creme fraiche and cornichons plus organic greens salad. In a word – perfect. Niman Ranch ham with a smear of Crème Fraiche was stacked between two slices of buttery bread baked in house and then covered with emmenthal and quickly baked till bubbly. Served with a salad (much more logical than the 1lb of fries at Bouchon) the taste, texture, and portion was perfect – the best croque I’ve ever experienced, hands down. I only wonder how amazing it could’ve been as a Madame.

Meals finished the miniscule bill was delivered along with a to-go cup of coffee and three house made truffles dusted in dark cocoa. Mignardises at breakfast – be-still my heart. All told I would strongly recommend The Butler & the Chef to anyone, local or tourist, American or Parisian. Organic food at a great price, wonderful service, and a setting that seems miles from “Americanized food” is something I think we need more of - nationwide.

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