There was a welcoming sense of familiarity when we approached the small building that stands in the corner of Octavia and Bush. Nested right in between the lively Polk and Fillmore streets, this is by comparison a much quieter side of Pacific Heights. A century-old San Francisco residential neighborhood filled with slivers of Victorian heritage. And right there, surrounded only by houses, no other business in sight, is a facade that previously housed two of my once favorite restaurants.
Not much has changed on the outside; the red awning was replaced by a new one, dark brown. The discreet sign printed on it gave place to a bold new logo with the new neighbor’s name as if saying Hello, I’m Baker & Banker and you’re welcome inside.
The small square room I first visited under the name Meetinghouse six years ago or so was made famous by its next tenant, Quince. Both restaurants tried to make the most out of the small space by creating an intimate atmosphere, each in its own way. While Meetinghouse was simple and understated, Quince offered a welcoming white linen elegance under dim lights. Both were true neighborhood restaurants and in that sense, Baker & Banker is no different.
The new interior is reminiscent of a contemporary British pub with dark leather banquettes, gold leaf moldings and Edison bulbs hanging form the ceiling on thin black pipes. On the walls, chalkboards display wine and dinner specials.
The dim light of Quince gave way to a brighter atmosphere that still feels intimate but allows you to better see what you eat (and take better pictures, of course).
It looks brand new yet feels like it has always been there. The warm atmosphere gives the room a nice sense of familiarity only awaken by a hint of wet paint that still hung on the air (should be gone by now).
Baker & Banker is the brainchild of the namesake couple, Jeff Banker and wife Lori Baker; while both worked together at Home, him as executive chef, her as pastry chef; previously in his career Jeff was a line cook at Meetinghouse where he fell in love with the space. A few years later, the prodigal son came back home. You can see them busily running the back of the house and often checking in on their guests in the dining room.
The chefs serve an appetizing, very San Francisco New American fare that brings together Italian inspiration with the occasional Asian flair. The one-page menu created with sustainable ingredients from local farms features six starters ($8.75 to $12), six entrées ($19 to $27) and six desserts ($8). A tasting menu is also available ($55 + $35 for wine pairing).
Dinner begins with a basket of house made bread. Sliced whole wheat and pumpkin-rosemary rolls served with soft butter and fleur de sel.
From the daily specials, Dayboat scallop crudo with watermelon radishes, tangerines, yuzu ponzu, microgreens and sea salt. Delicate scallop slices, blanched in salt water for 10 seconds and served with paper-thin radishes that bring a nice textural contrast to the dish. Flavors are well balanced with the acidity of the different citruses and the delicate sweetness of the scallops.
Chicken liver pate, dried fruit mostarda, grilled house made brioche. The pâté is creamy and tasty and is nicely complemented by the sweet fruit compote. The chef’s choice of serving it with toasted brioche (a classic accompaniment for foie gras) is smart as it elevates the dish.
Soy and mirin braised black cod, foie gras shitake sticky rice, grilled bok choi. Cooked in mirin, a rice wine similar to sake but sweeter and with lower alcohol content, the cod melts in your mouth. With flavors and ingredients inspired by Japanese cuisine, this is a very successful dish. A contemporary rendition of a delicious bento meal.
Seared Liberty duck breast, duck and sweet potato hash, star anise port sauce. Beautifully cooked, the duck breast is juicy and tasty. Served with tender pieces of the bird’s dark meat and a rich, flavorful sauce.
After a very successful meal by Banker, the proof that two head chefs are better than one. Enter Lori Baker with some of the city’s best desserts.
Blood orange balsamic brownie, salted caramel-cocoa nib ice cream, dark chocolate sauce. A delicious dessert that brings together layers of complex flavors with an irresistible comfort food feel. The cake is impossibly moist and chewy, bettered with a generous scoop of house made ice cream.
The “Uncle Henry”; Belgian chocolate mousse, coffee ice cream, orange-espresso pirouettes. Another very successful dessert built on the classic combination of coffee and chocolate. Beautifully prepared.
When Quince departed to take over the old Myth space, we wondered who would take over Quince’s famed corner building. A charming location but not an easy act to follow. Enter Baker & Banker, a creative new American restaurant that in the hands of their namesake chefs promises to become not just another true neighborhood gem but also a San Francisco favorite.
Baker & Banker is at 1701 Octavia Street