: views from the Hill

Thursday, December 21, 2006

[FOOD] Earthshaking food at Cafe Bastille

We still had a few odds and ends to get for gifts. Our extended family downsized the gift giving last year so the adults have a gift exchange. Only the offspring under 18 are exempt.

We'd sent off the gifts for the much-loved wicked stepdaughter and her family back where it snows a couple weeks back. But still.

Jettison. Jettison. Jettison. Let's see. I'd decided unilaterally to heave-ho the stockings from Santa this year. After more than thirty years of stocking prep, I was tired. Santa's elf was retiring. I haven't told the younger nib yet. He flies in on the 23rd and I'll break the news then. I don't think my mom will miss hers. No more windup Godzilla monsters or reindeer meatballs for Dad's stocking. It's just not the same. His nibs and I decided heave-ho it was. No need to find little somethings to stash into stockings. Scratch that off the list.

There are still three under 18 who need gifts. A gift for me to give to Mom. A gift for his nibs to give to my bro. Or maybe it was the other way around. We needed gifts for the younger guys and one for the older younger guy's guy. Gifts for each other except we already gave each other gifts and are more into the random gift giving than not. Some of my gifts, already purchased, needed a specific x to finish up the package.

So we walked downtown to Stacey's Books (581 Market Street ... support your local bookseller) yesterday afternoon, a mile or so. Found what we needed at Stacey's, except that they didn't carry a magazine I wanted a copy of to accompany the subscription I'd bought for one of the youngsters, so it was off to Fog City News just down Market Street where I found the magazine I wanted. If you are ever looking for an obscure magazine, stop at Fog City and see if they have a copy in their racks. Amazing place.

It was a bit early to eat (6p or so), but not too early and we were done shopping, heading home.We had a choice of places to eat on the way home (Sam's, where we'd eaten just last week, any place on Belden Place, The House, and a couple hundred other choices). We opted for Belden Place and, specifically, for Cafe Bastille, where we'd eaten once before.

Cafe Bastille
22 Belden Place SF 94104
(415) 986-5673

French. Duh. All of the restaurants on Belden Place have an interior room or two and an outside eating area in the Belden Place alley. We walked in off the street without a reservation but we were early enough in the evening that that was no problem. Last night the weather was getting nippy, so we opted for eating inside. We were seated near the bar, rather than down in the cellar where we'd eaten the other time we'd been in.

I hadn't remembered the food being as good that time as it was last night.

Last night it was very tasty.

His nibs started with Dungeness Crab Cakes served with french-fried fennel sticks, a mashup of greens and a spicy Pineapple and Chipotle Salsa. I had the Foie Gras Terrine served with orange marmalade (really!) and a basil-aioli swish on the plate. At the side was a puff pastry stuffed until it ooozed with cheese. We swopped halfway through. Both were delicious.

The two crab cakes were mostly crab with just enough filler to hold them together. The salsa was spicy enough to warm all the way down. The terrine was delicious and who would've ever thought that an orange marmalade would go well with it? The puff pastry was delicious and only about a thousand calories.

His nibs had the Braised Lamb Shank with an incredible sauce. Baby carrots and boiled new potatoes were added separately just before serving and so were crisp, not soggy. The lamb melted in your mouth. I had the roast duck, cooked medium rare (and, by golly, it came out medium rare!) sliced with sauce and with a scrumptious lentil dish spread underneath. [Update: and steamed asparagus spears. Peeled stems! I never go to the effort to peel asparagus stems. yow! How could I forget!] We gave each other bites for tastes but didn't swap the plates.

We had a bottle of red wine from Cahors, imported by Kermit Lynch, the astounding import guy and wine merchant in Berkeley. Clos la Coutale. 80% Malbec, 20% Merlot. Way different from any Argentinian malbec blend we've ever had. Smooth and tasty enough that we decided we need to track down which San Francisco wine merchants carry Kermit Lynch imports. (Looks like San Francisco Wine Trading Company fer sures. I don't know if K&L or Wine Club have any of his imports ...)

For dessert we split the cognac creme brulee. The top cracked just as it should and the creme inside was soft but not oozy -- not thickened excessively with carageenan or whatever, like you often find. Alas, no Bonny Doon vin glaciere on the dessert wine menu and nothing there seemed an acceptable substitute so I continued nursing my glass of water.

The service was excellent. The guy who came by to take away plates and fill water glasses was always there immediately when he should be and never hovering when you wished he'd be gone.

The only shadow on the meal was a loud-ish patron at the bar who was overly effusive and talky-talky with the staff, talking about buying her skirt in Paris (a short short short mini skirt that she was wearing over black pants) and introducing herself to other people who came to wait at the bar for their tables. I know her name. I know her grandfather's name. I know what her boyfriend said when she bought the skirt. She reminded me of someone. Who? Who? Finally, thanks heaven, I realized right before we left that she reminded me (mannerisms, brain power, personality, mental whee!) of the woman who lives across the street from my parents. Man, that would've kept me awake all night.

So, why was the food so earthshaking at Cafe Bastille?

My seat shook. I looked down the banquette to see if someone'd just plopped themselves down or hauled themselves up. Nope. I looked around. I noticed his nibs looking around. "I felt a shake," I said.

"I did too," he answered.

No one else seemed to notice.

3.7 in Berkeley last night. 7:12 p.m.

[Update: For those folks unfamiliar with our earth cracks, that tremor (followed by a 2.2 aftershock at 00:55 this morning) was right, smack, dibby-dab on the (affectionately known as "Susan") Hayward fault, it was.]

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