If you head to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Market on Sunday, you miss out on all kinds of good stuff - Fatted Calf, my very favorite lettuces, the green garlic or fresh berries or perfect pears, the Blue Bottle guys pulling and pouring awesome coffee, the Tierra pepper people, and any number of other treats. But on Sunday? On Sunday, Boulette's Larder serves beignets - and you must eat them.
Welcome to day two of the Second Independent Food Festival Awards! We're so pleased to be participating again; this year the awards are being announced throughout the week. Gastronome is pleased to present Boulette's Larder with the "Best Reason to Go to the Farmers Market on Sunday Instead of Saturday", for their Sunday beignets.
Boulette's Larder is a special place - billed as "Mise en Place For Your Home Pantry", they're tucked away in a corner selling ingredients, building blocks, and even prepped main and side dishes for you to take home and eat. They're also a formidable restaurant, with a big, gorgeous communal table sitting just inside the door next to the huge stove. They serve a terrific brunch, full of tasty sweets and savories, good coffee & European hot chocolate. The decor is simple and charming - gorgeous flowers, piles of dishes on shelves, and a spice rack full of phials and jars. The blend of laboratory and kitchen sensibility makes my heart sing. On the best Sundays, Boulette sits on my feet while the staff smiles at me. If I take you to Boulette's, you know I love you. It's definitely my happy place.
And on Sundays? On Sundays there are the beignets. They're round beignets, served piping hot, rolled in some sort of sugar. I've had them with pistachio sugar, with sugar & pimente d'esplette, with orange sugar, lemon sugar, and sugar mixed with ras el hanout (my fave so far). They release a cloud of steam when you bite in, and just about everyone at the table starts with a generous boatful. (If your neighbors don't have one, offer them one of yours. They'll order up some of their own, immediately.)
It's funny, how much & how instantly I loved the beignets at Boulette's. See, I grew up in a family that loves cooking, feeding people, and eating; my Mom is an excellent cook. I'm an adventurous eater, and an open-minded, scientific cook. Yet there remains a category of foods where it's just Not Right unless it's Mom's. I don't eat lasagne in restaurants. What they serve? It's not lasagne - and just makes me angry. It took me years to come to terms with the idea that while those tasty stuffed pasta dishes weren't Ravioli, they were delicious. (I still have to translate menus quietly in my head to avoid disappointment.)
My Mom makes beignets every Christmas morning (and some other special mornings, if we ask really nicely.) Here's the crazy thing - Boulette's doesn't make my mother's beignets. Mom's beignets are less eggy, more yeasty, and squarish. They're dusted in powdered sugar (good for blowing on your little brother). Cafe Du Monde beignets taste like my Mom's beignets. Boulette's are round, smaller, rolled in granulated sugar & spice, and are moister and eggier - they taste more like a brioche dough inside. And I love them both. And they're both beignets. No naming games necessary. I sit comfortably inside the thing that isn't cognitive dissonance, and happily share my beignets with a friend. And wonder what sugar will be on offer next week. That's magic.
(Also? They press Blue Bottle coffee, tableside - so even if you miss the BB crew on Saturday, you can still drink their coffee on Sunday.)
That would be the Oysters on the Half Shell with Tabasco Sorbet at Blue Plate in San Francisco.
Blue Plate is simply marvellous. They manage to be clever without pretension and inventive without being precious. Their food is tasty, comforting, satisfying, and interesting. It's one of my very favorite local joints. Through partnerships with local farms and producers, they garner and serve top-notch ingredients; their menu changes daily. The room is crazy and cozy - my favorite place to eat is at the bar that wraps around the kitchen.
The staff is friendly, and happy to answer questions. I can always find an interesting and reasonably-priced wine on the menu - if I'm feeling like drinking one of my own, the corkage is fairly-priced, as well. (And there's always a dollar can on the beer list for your favorite anti-snob. Right now, it's Oly.)
And the food. Did I mention the food?
There's always a salad with grilled romaine hearts. This week, it's a "caesar" - nice and simple with some roasted garlic in the vinaigrette, two of the plumpest, most succulent boquerones I've had in a while, grana & crunchy croutons.
Rosemary-skewered scallops. The scallops are grilled perfectly - just to the hair's edge of solid in the middle. They're served on salad that defies me - I dislike fennel, but this one of shaved fennel, blood oranges, tarragon and mint has me clearing the plate.
|Dungeness crab. One of the marvellous things about winter in the Bay Area that removes the sting of the end of chantarelle season is the beginning of crab season. Blue Plate's current offering is a pile of sweet crab meat with vanilla oil, jewel-toned winter citrus, and miner's lettuce.|
|Housemade fennel sausage and manila clams. Corey-behind-the-counter counseled us to try the sausage and clams. He was absolutely right. (What is it with the fennel turnaround, lately?) Served on a bed of celery root purée & spinach, surrounded by clams and clam sauce, and topped with more celery root, they were a fantastic combination of salty sausage and sweet clams.|
|Macaroni & drunken Spanish goat cheese. This is the one dish on the menu that stays, always. I don't have a lot to say about it, other than I make sure to order it everytime I take someone to Blue Plate anew. Sometimes Russell has to get his very own, to hoard.|
|Also to try: The housemade focaccia with crunchy salt crystals and olive oil. Meatloaf. Grilled chicken. Tolinas Farm quail.
Chocolate Baby Cakes. Assorted Sorbets. Pomegranate Crème Brulée. The desserts are tasty, and petit in the nicest of ways. Share one, and you can each have just a few bites. My kind of dessert.
Oh and the oysters? A perfect example of the magic. They're not on the menu just now, but I have it on good authority that they'll be back soon. I look forward to them tremendously. I usually prefer lemon and mignonette on my raw oysters, but Tabasco sorbet spices them up nicely, keeps them cold, and gives a fleeting but captivating mouth feel as it crunches and melts on the way down. Clever, but not pretentious.
You can find Blue Plate at the black hole where Mission and Valencia meet. It's marked simply with a sign that says "Eat", in blue. Go on - give it a try. I bet you'll like it. (My small confession? I like to think that if I ever decided to take the plunge and try my hand in the restaurant business, I'd end up with a place & menu like this. Funky, cozy, inventive, and a labor of love. It's clear that these folks are really into what they do.)
All photos by Kathryn Hill. Rights reserved.