Monday, January 18, 2010

Paris: L'As du Felafel

Much has been written about the superb quality of this mostly takeout falafel joint in the Jewish quarter of Paris and I am telling you that it’s all true. The lines, the heft of the sandwiches, and the deliciousness.

We stopped by for the first time on Saturday afternoon, forgetting that of course a kosher restaurant would be closed on Saturday, and went back on Sunday about 2. Even at that time there were probably 25 people in line but it moves reasonably quickly and we weren’t in line more than five minutes or so. The staff is brusque but friendly in a Jewish-deli manner. The falafel sandwiches were delicious, a fresh pita bread stuffed with crispy fried falafel and topped with a delicious red cabbage slaw, tahini, and as much harissa as you care to ask for. It was so good that we went back on Monday for another visit….Michael had the schawarma this time which he raved about, while I stuck with the basic falafel. At 3:00 on a Monday, there was no line. We briefly considered going back for seconds but thought better of it…probably a bad decision.

Anyhow, it’s everything they say it is, and must be the best 5-euro lunch in Paris.

Paris: Les Bouquinistes

For our last dinner in Paris, we were at a bit of a loss, having uncharacteristically not planned ahead. I had neglected to call our first choice, Chez Josephine, on arrival and since they are closed on weekends, I wasn’t able to call them until Monday afternoon – only to find that they were completely booked for that evening. Suspecting that perhaps our rejection was due to my request being made in English, I called back a couple of hours later and asked again in French, but with the same result.

In any case, we settled on Les Bouquinistes, an offshoot of the Guy Savoy empire and within walking distance from our hotel. It was a bit pricier than we really had in mind but no attractive alternatives presented themselves and we were open to a little bit of a splurge for our last night. Besides, they could take us at our preferred time of 9 pm.

After a stroll through St Germain, we arrived at the dining room just about on time. The décor – a modern idiom with shades of faux-distressed plasterwork -- seemed a bit dated but we were there for the food.

And we did find the food, in general, excellent. We both had the menu degustation, which seemed like a good value at 75 euros. We started with an amuse-bouche of lobster puree thickened with cream, then the fun began. The first course was a few coins of foie gras, just the right amount, rich and creamy with good coarse bread on the side. It was followed by a lobster and crab salad, a small oblong of sautéed sea bass with uncommonly crispy skin (Michael passed on the skin), a creamy chestnut soup with wild mushrooms, sauteed chicken breast, and a melted chocolate cake with a vanilla shooter and pistachio ice cream. None terribly innovative, all very delicious…with the one notable exception of a tasteless and mushy stalk of artichoke heart accompanying the crab salad, which had no obvious reason for being there.
With the meal we drank a 2007 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru from [ ] which was rich, unctuous, slightly sweet, and an excellent pairing with the food.

Service was friendly but somewhat off. The wine wasn’t immediately available (the captain had to go fetch it from the cellar down the street, he explained) but he was nice enough to pour each of us a glass of the same wine from a bottle standing on a nearby table (leftovers from another group? It was never made clear) while we waited. The first three or four courses came out very rapidly, then there was a long pause before the chicken course and an almost interminable wait for dessert, this despite the fact that the dining room was more than half empty at that stage. Our very young waiter seemed a little overmatched, as though perhaps some of the staff hadn’t shown up when expected or perhaps if every table came at once, which didn’t seem to be the case.

All in all a delicious experience, but not a particularly polished one. Of course one doesn’t expect 3 star service at one star prices but this suggested a lack of organization uncommon in Paris in our experience.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Paris: 404

Very fun dinner at 404 on Saturday night. We were talked into the house “special cocktail” which turned out to be two of the most delicious mojitos we’ve ever had (and they ought to be for 11 euros each – that stung a little). We then had what amounted to chicken in wrapped in feta and fried (delicious) and Moroccan lentil salad (also delicious, but I thought a bit underspiced) as starters. For main courses, we both had tagines, Michael’s was chicken with preserved lemon and mine was lamb with prunes and raisins, both of which were awesomely tender and delicious. The restaurant is very atmospheric with stone walls, Moroccan lanterns, and music almost drowned out by the buzz of happy eaters.

One situation at the end marred the experience a little bit. One of the waiters…who spoke very little English, or claimed to…brought the bill and when confronted with a credit card, asked “how much should I make it for”. Well, this is not how it is supposed to work in France, where the tip is by law included in the price of the food. It seems uncommon for people to tip over and above the set amount…and if they do, it is by leaving a few euros in cash. So this rather blatant attempt to solicit a tip was rather offputting. What was worse is that Michael, a little confused, asked this server “isn’t the tip included in the bill” and was told “no”…which is clearly wrong. In fact so wrong that we mentioned it to the host on the way out and he kind of shrugged off our concern, saying “yes the tip is included but some people like to leave a bit more …it’s optional”.

Well, the meal wasn’t cheap at 118 euros including a bottle of pleasant but non-memorable Tunisian rose, but it was altogether enjoyable except for the shenanigans with the bill. However, the tip incident combined with the upsell on the expensive cocktails kind of leaves the impression that the restaurant has its hand in your pocket. On the other hand, as we joked on the way back, from what we’ve heard, that’s kind of how it is in Morocco.

Anyhow, a very atmospheric, attractive, and fun restaurant with very tasty food. Just keep your hand on your wallet while you’re there, and watch out for those cocktails!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bofinger: Good food, terrible service

We met up with our friends the celebrated artists Andrew Zega and Bernd Dams for dinner on Saturday night. They were nice enough to come by our part of town (the Marais) and to pick a restaurant, Bofinger, that was both atmospheric and within easy walking distance.

Well, with one thing (mostly champagne) and another we didn’t get out of the apartment until nearly 9:30, Andrew having explained that Bofinger was not taking reservations that evening by the time he called so we would have to take our chances. Fortunately the heavy rain of that afternoon had mostly stopped as we headed out and it was indeed only a five minute walk from our apartment.
We arrived to find a mob scene in the best French ski-lift tradition, with the “line” representing a mob in a roughly circular pattern around the host’s desk, spilling into the miniscule bar and out into the street. Being the best French speaker, Andrew was dispatched to see what he could do while Bernd went across the street to Le Petit Bofinger to see if things were any better (even worse, he reported). While we considered a “plan B”, we were told that we would probably get a table in 15-20 minutes, so it was not worth leaving and going somewhere else, which would take even longer. And we were all delighted to find our table ready just a few short minutes later, to the discomfiture of the many paired-off folks waiting in the bar.

The short report on Bofinger was good food, terrible service. Michael and I had the choucroute, a specialty of the house, and I can report that the sausages were excellent, even (or perhaps especially) the boudin noir, which even Michael enjoyed. There were at least four kinds of sausages, smoked pork loin, pork chop, smoked bacon (a bit fatty for me) and a mass of sauerkraut about the size of my head which even I could not make a serious dent it. For starters I had six impeccably fresh (and quite expensive) oysters and Michael had a nice salad. Andrew and Bernd had salads and a steak and steak tartare, respectively, which we did not taste.
Unfortunately, the wait staff decided, about halfway through the meal, to totally ignore us, to the point that we started pouring our own wine, and tried in vain to order dessert before giving up. I don’t know whether we annoyed someone or they got distracted with somebody more important, but I have rarely felt more ignored in a restaurant. Being with friends whom we didn’t want to embarrass, I was not tempted to make a scene, but it would have been the kind of situation where one was called for. And of course with the tip included, as it is in France, you can’t even make a point of your displeasure on the tip.

We had a perfectly serviceable bottle of Alsatian Riesling (somewhat less astringent than most) and a reasonable value from the mostly short and expensive list.
We had a lovely time catching up with our friends, and the company made the dinner memorable, but given our experience I cannot recommend Bofinger to anyone else. Perhaps not on a busy Saturday night…

Friday, January 15, 2010

Paris: Le Gaigne

On Friday night we ate at Le Gaigne, following a rave review from Mark Bittman in the New York Times in 2009. Well, Mr. Bittman’s taste is usually good in cooking and no doubt he had a very nice meal there, and there was nothing really wrong with our meal. Probably the biggest problem is that the restaurant got a rave review in the New York Times and therefore the clientele consisted primarily of Americans, which is not usually a good sign and not what we are looking for a Paris restaurant. I know, as American tourists it is somewhat hypocritical to rail against the presence of other American tourists, but nobody said we were logical all of the time.

Now, I must say that the welcome at Le Gaigne was charming and accommodating. I called at 7 pm looking for a table for that evening (!) and was delighted to be told that they could indeed fit us in, but only if we came at 7:30. Well, here it was 7:00 already, we weren’t exactly in our party clothes and had only just opened a bottle of celebratory champagne, so that was going to be tough. I managed to wheedle Madame into letting us come at 8:00 (plenty late enough for our first night). She was nice enough to explain that she had a party coming at 9:30 and we could come whenever we wanted as long as we were out by 9:30, which seemed reasonable enough. As it happened we were able to enjoy the second half of the champagne as a post-dessert treat.

To my discredit, I slightly miscalculated the distance and despite rapid walking, we arrived a few minutes after 8; I was apologetic and Madame was most gracious about it. She did blanch, however, when we tried to order the five course tasting menu, but I promised that we would eat quickly and would be able to accommodate their 9:30 deadline.

Le Gaigne is a tiny restaurant, with only 20 seats. The décor was minimal (Michael felt it was negative décor, as in “they would have been better off doing nothing than doing what they did” but it wasn’t really objectionable to me). As noted above, when we arrived it was populated mostly by other Americans but I was relieved to see that as the evening wore on the ratio of French to Americans improved. The meal was a good value at, I think, 35 euros for the menu. Unfortunately the food was only pleasant, really not memorable. Indeed, as I sit here four days later, I cannot remember a single thing we ate, except for a dessert of sautéed mandarins atop vanilla ice cream which I thought was a perfect light ending to a nice meal.

And we did finish and vacate right at 9:30, making everyone happy.
We both felt that Le Gaigne was a perfectly pleasant and I was pleased with it as a non-taxing choice for our first night in Paris, when we lacked the energy for anything more exciting. Perhaps our compressed schedule put unreasonable demands on the kitchen, but someone going and expecting the meal to be the high point of their trip to Paris might be disappointed.

Paris: Chez Georges

We landed in Paris at about 7:30 a.m. after a long, terribly uncomfortable, and mostly sleepless flight from New York, yet after taking the metro in from the airport, finding our small but rather charming rental apartment at the edge of the Marais, getting settled, and making the obligatory visit to a nearby patisserie for croissants and coffee, we felt energized and ready to spend the day wandering around Paris. The weather was cold and gray but that did not stop us from putting on our walking shoes and making tracks for some of our favorite haunts, including legendary kitchen store DeHillerin.

Michael suggested lunch at one of his old favorites, Chez Georges. He had had several memorable meals there in the past and had taken me there with great anticipation and enthusiasm on our first visit to Paris together in 2006. Unfortunately, that meal turned out to be flat and distinctly un-memorable, so it was with some concern that I agreed to the suggestion.

As it turned out, there was no reason for concern. We arrived a few minutes after 12 to find a completely empty dining room and actually took a turn around the block to see if anyone else turned up. Ten minutes later we walked in, were cordially seated at a small table in the back and joined a few other patrons…but by 12:30 the restaurant was packed. And this is French bistro-packed, where there is literally less than an inch of space between your table and the next one. The French figure that if there isn’t going to be walking room between the tables (and there’s nowhere near enough..the whole table has to be pulled away from the wall before the person on the wall side can get in or out), why bother to leave any space at all? The better to pack in a few extra tables.

We were taken over by a bossy but motherly waitress who clearly was not on her first day on the job. Michael ordered the signature frisee salad, which we had previously found inferior to the version at Petit Louis in Baltimore but which had perked up considerably since 2006, while I threw caution and my cholesterol count to the winds and ordered the goose rillettes as a starter. What arrived was a large crock…I mean large…maybe a pint of moist goodness. The idea, clearly, is not to eat the whole thing but to take as much as you want..the crock is then topped off and refreshed for the next patron. I did valiantly address the crock, putting away (with Michael’s help) perhaps a quarter of it, and was tempted to continue, but I knew there was a rich main course coming.

Michael had the “sole Georges”, a specialty of the house of course, which basically consisted of a generous piece of sole…probably a whole filet..swimming in a butter sauce in the best old French tradition. He raved about it. Michael likes sole more than I do, so I limited myself to a few bites, but I could see why he was so taken with it. I preferred my own entrée, scallops in a somewhat similar butter sauce, the scallops perfectly browned on each side and yet not in the least bit tough. My portion was similarly generous – probably a dozen good sized scallops…and yet I had no trouble finishing them off.

We tried to get a carafe of house white but Chez Georges’ wine list is heavily oriented toward reds and they don’t offer much in the way of whites. Our motherly waitress brought us a bottle of crispy and grassy Sancerre with instructions to drink as much as we wanted and she would charge us appropriately. Well, naturally there was very little --- which is to say, nothing – left in the bottle by the end of the meal!

We skipped dessert and coffee and yet the bill came to 120 euros, one of the more expensive lunches we’ve had lately and certainly in fairly modest surroundings. On the other hand the food was impeccable and incredibly delicious in a very old-fashioned French way that probably Julia Child would have loved, had she been there, so we treasured every moment and I was very glad that I had agreed to Michael’s wise suggestion.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Boston: Surprisingly good lunch at Kingfish Hall

After some business meetings in Boston's financial district, I had some time to kill before my flight home, so I wandered up to the Faneuil Hall area to grab a little lunch. I briefly considered the Union Oyster House, previously a favorite spot for dinner with the parents on their occasional visits during my tenure here many moons ago, but I decided that I didn't want to be that much of a tourist. The theme-park atmosphere seems to have taken over and I am no longer as enamored of the flour-thickened variety of clam chowder as I used to be, now that I (occasionally) make my own. Durgin Park was also considered but rejected as being too depressing for a solo diner.

Most of the eateries in the area are either fake Irish bars (or real Irish bars, for all I know) or variations on the theme park tune. I did happen on a place called Kingfish Hall, an offshoot of the burgeoning Todd English empire, and decided to give it a try. Not without misgivings, mind you, as our last foray to one of Mr. English's eateries, the flagship Olives restaurant in DC, was very disappointing if not an actual disaster.

The room was OK looking but undistinguished, with canvas-backed chairs and faux-rattan fans overhead. I feared some cuisine along the line of Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory or some other monstrosity, but gee, it was only lunch, and I didn't have that much invested in it. I took a seat at the long, virtually deserted bar and decided to go for the full New England experience, ordering clam chowder and a lobster roll.

Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by both. Neither was the best I have ever had, but certainly respectable. The chowder was creamy and rich, with a reasonable amount of salt pork and potatoes in the bottom. I would have preferred more clams and the whole thing could have been improved by a richer fish base and a bit less cream. It was topped by a single perfect cherrystone clam, steamed, which was superb.

The lobster roll was also a pleasant surprise. Plenty of lobster in the proper top-split, buttered roll. The roll was a little too deep for the amount of lobster so I ended up leaving the bottom third, below the split, but that's a minor critique. It also had lettuce on the bottom which no Maine purist would tolerate, but at least there was no celery or other undesirable filler. It came with cole slaw that perfectly balanced the creamy and tangy (although the dressing was too watery) and some baked beans that had a nice bit of barbecued something mixed in, plus a generous portion of house-made potato chips seasoned with Old Bay that I ate more of than I should have.

The lobster roll was $21, which isn't bad when you consider the one at Red's Eats in Wiscasset is $17 and that's with no chips, no cole slaw, no beans, and no place to sit, and no service, and you stand in line to get it. It was not the best lobster roll I have had, but far from the worst either...even in Maine it could hold its head up with pride, if lobster rolls had heads that is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

San Francisco: Short takes from a long trip

Short Takes in San Francisco

Here are some comments from recent dining experiences in the City that for one reason or another did not, in my view, merit a full-scale writeup.

1. Gold Mountain: We actually ended up eating here twice, once on Christmas night (when there was almost nothing open after our long flight from the East Coast). We had hot and sour soup (not adventurous, I know, but Michael had a craving and it was a model of its kind), crispy shrimp, and some kind of pork. I would rate the food as a 9 out of 10 and the ambiance as a zero out of ten. Of course it didn’t help that it was near closing but by the time we ate (quickly) and left we were the only people in the place, surrounded by a sea of empty tables (the dining room must easily seat 100) and linoleum. We went back for dim sum on our way to the airport. Quality, excellent. Ambiance, somewhat better since the room was more than half full (and with very few Caucasians, always a good sign). Selection, rather disappointing. Some tasty shu mai and buns appeared fairly early but much of the rest was a parade of uninspiring chicken feet, congee, sautéed bok choy, and those odd Chinese sweetened bean paste items. On the other, if we had been a little more patient or adventurous we could have stuffed ourselves for a fraction of the Yank Sing price…as it was our snack, hardly skimpy, was less than $18.

2. Yank Sing: Our usual go-to place for dim sum and we joined our good friends John and Glenn for a traditional New Year’s morning celebration here at the “new” location in the Rincon center. As usual it was clean, refined (by dim sum standards) and delicious but you really pay a price for it…with a Bloody Mary each and a good but not overwhelming assortment of stuff, it cost nearly $50 per person, which is staggering by dim sum standards. And not all of it was great, the Peking duck in particular which combined a doughy pancake, runny hoisin sauce, and skimpy duck pieces. I am not sure Yank Sing is going to be our go-to place for dim sum much longer if this keeps up.

3. Bi-Rite Ice Cream: Just to finish off our decadent New Year’s morning (or to start the year off right, take your pick) we went straight from Yank Sing to this little place in the Dolores Park area. Delicious ice cream in very unusual flavors. I had a wonderful combination of chocolate, toasted coconut, and roasted banana. Michael had a salted caramel that he raved about (apparently a specialty of the house). It wasn’t crowded when we were there…around 1 p.m….but I can imagine that it would be mobbed on the average summer evening. In fact they seem to be expanding into the next door space.

4. Dynamo Donuts: Rusty and JP insisted on taking us there on our first morning together and we were very glad they did. A little hole in the wall in the Mission near a plethora of Mexican and other Latino eateries. Michael and I split four of the unusual flavors: chocolate rose (chocolate cake with rose-flavored icing), bacon maple walnut (raised donut with maple walnut icing and bacon sprinkles), strawberry filled, and Meyer lemon with a huckleberry glaze. We liked the last one although the flavor could have been more pronounced. The strawberry filled wasn’t a winner (Rusty and JP concurred)…not bad, but the filling was overly sweet and it just wasn’t exceptional. The first two were terrific. Well, they can’t all be good when you’re trying to do something new. I was very content when we left (although sorry I hadn’t ordered a sticky bun to go along with…next time).

5. Garibaldi Café: We met a new friend, Grant Gibson, who writes a very interesting blog of his own (see blogroll) at this pretty little place in Pacific Heights. It does strike me a bit as a ladies-who-lunch kind of place but there is nothing wrong with that…if the shoe fits and all that. All three of us started with a carrot-saffron soup which was quite tasty. Michael and Grant had the house signature salad which was quite an impressive looking mound with plenty of grilled chicken scattered around. I was craving a burger and the Garibaldi version was truly excellent, cooked just as I ordered and so juicy that I had to eat it leaning over the table to protect my sweater. The terrific brioche bun caught most of the juices, but not all. The burger came with a nest of frites that as we all know can range from excellent to ho-hum. These were excellent, crispy and hot and totally addictive. They disappeared before I knew what had happened to them. Based on this one, rather undemanding, meal, I would be eager to see what else Garibaldi had to offer.

6. Sunflower Café: This is a little Vietnamese place within (strenuously hilly) walking distance of our hosts’ apartment. We popped in there on Sunday night for a casual dinner and had terrific food. JP, Michael, and I shared an appetizer sampler platter which included some grilled shrimp (nice, not exceptional) but the highlight was a make-your-own roll setup including 8 (!) rice paper wrappers, a large stack of impeccable romaine leaves, some shredded and seasoned carrot (not enough) and some crispy beefy chunks on a large bed of eminently edible rice noodles. The three of us had a ball making our rolls and adding some of the tasty fish-based sauce…the combination was delicious and quite filling. For entrees Rusty, who was avoided meat, had some sautéed eggplant which was among the best I’ve had. JP ordered grilled lemongrass chicken and was quite taken aback when it came in the same format as the appetizer…rice paper rolls, romaine, and all. It also seemed to be sautéed (and in small chunks) and not grilled. Tasty to be sure, but rather a repeat performance of the appetizer. Michael and I did better with a “shaking beef” and curried shrimp dishes both of which were both large and very tasty. More food than the four of us could eat. Great neightborhood place.

7. Goat Hill Pizza: Rusty, JP, and I wandered over there Monday night with two other friends of theirs. It is on the opposite corner from Sunflower…in fact that intersection is kind of restaurant central for the Potrero Hill neighborhood with three of the four corners being popular restaurants (the fourth corner has an Asian-themed bar with an attached restaurant seemingly in dormancy). Monday nights turns out to be “all you can eat night” at Goat Hill (a phrase that always sets my heart aflutter). Naturally it was mobbed so we had to repair to the aforementioned Asian-themed bar for a liquid libation while awaiting a table. The format is kind of frat-partyesque. Waiters emerge periodically from the kitchen with a pie of one kind of another and announce the selection (Hawaiian, pesto, onion and mushroom, or whatever) as they approach your table. If you want a slice, you take one. Otherwise, you wait for the next option. No judgement on those of us (no names mentioned) who may have had two or three pieces at a time piled on their plates simultaneously. Great format, great fun. Honestly, I didn’t think the pizza was compelling, the crust being a bit tough and thin for my taste, but the whole experience was a blast. Being with fun people helped of course, but it seemed like everybody there was having a great time. Really, how could you not?

8. Tartine. We were on our own for our first full day in San Francisco, Rusty and JP not having yet come back into town, so we drove over to Tartine, a famous bakery/breakfast café in the Mission District. I think Michael had heard of it but either hadn’t been there in years, or never, and I’m always up for a visit to a bakery any time. We got a bit of a late start and parking was a nightmare. Fortunately Michael dropped me off so I could get in line, since the line just to get in the door was easily 20 minutes when we arrived (and got longer). Tartine does not distinguish between those eating in and taking out. You shuffle around the perimeter of the room choosing items from the glass cases in front of you. If you want to eat in, you then grab a seat from among the scattered tables (despite the crowds, we did not have trouble finding seating). For some reason Tartine’s website advertises full breakfasts (e.g. cooked entrees) so we – Michael in particular – were quite taken aback to find when we got there that with few exceptions, it is baked goods only. (Not a problem for me, but I hate to see him disappointed). Well, having stood in line for 20 minutes, we were going to eat what they had. I started with a pain au chocolat, the standard against which all breakfast pastries ought to be measured, and Michael ordered a bowl of muesli. Further down the cafeteria line, we both ordered a piece of a tasty-looking quiche but I had a last minute change of heart and switched to a kind of open-faced croque monsieur. The verdict: Croissant was B quality…good size, using bittersweet chocolate (a nice touch), reasonably flaky, but nothing exceptional about it. Muesli was very Swiss in character, a bit sour in taste as though sour cream was mixed in with the yogurt, not a big hit with Michael. The quiche was delicious, very rich and eggy, and the croque monsieur was terrific, a kind of open-faced grilled ham sandwich and very generous with the ham by the way. All in all, Tartine was a nice neighborhood place with tasty food but we both agreed, certainly nothing that either of us felt warranted a 20 minute (or more) wait in line. It’s just not that special.

Out the Door for Breakfast

On our last day in San Francisco, we got out the door uncharacteristically early, no doubt to the vast relief of our hosts, and had a busy schedule before heading to the airport for the long trip home.

Since we are big fans of the food at Slanted Door, although not the ambiance, we were eager to see what Charles Phan, the owner, had cooked up in this more casual, less touristy venue. We had a delicious, very non-traditional breakfast there.

We started with a steamed chicken and steamed pork bun, which we shared. I thought the chicken bun was a little bland and a bit more doughy than ideal, although Michael disagreed. We both felt the pork bun was delicious, with the meatier and juicier filling being just right for the slightly sweet wrapping. I do prefer the baked buns to the steamed ones, I think, but I wouldn’t turn down one of these at any time. We also had a coconut pull-apart bun (one each) which was along the same model but delicious in a sweet rather than savory way. On first bite it was tasty but not exceptional, with a slightly sweet dough complemented by toasted coconut on the top, but further exploration yielded a treasure of sweet coconut paste in the center which was just the right amount. Delicious!

For main courses, Michael had the slow cooked eggs, the most expensive item on the menu by a significant margin ($13) which was paired with slow-cooked brisket and crispy potatoes. I am not sure what was slow cooked about the egg…barely cooked seemed to be a better description, along the lines of a very runny poached egg. It was a tad underdone for Michael’s taste (mine too, really, although I only got a small bite of it) but the beef was delicious.

I decided to go in a non-traditional way and had beef pho soup. The first spoon yielded some of the richest and most savory broth I have ever had. It was stuffed with thin white noodles and a modest amount of very tender beef, both fully cooked brisket with fat attached (even the fat was good, meltingly tender although normally I would have cut it off) and a couple of slices of very thin, almost raw, tenderloin which cooked in the hot broth. It was also served with traditional pho accompaniments of basil leaves, bean sprouts, lime, and sriracha sauce but I passed on all but the last two. What a delicious and filling dish!

With the meal we passed on juices but did have a large French-pressed pot of coffee which seemed rather weak and which wasn’t a good pairing with the pho in any case, although I think Michael liked it.

The room was empty when we walked in although eventually we were joined by two other couples. Service, being unstressed, was pleasant and professional. The room is very cold…literally…with the door open on a chilly San Francisco morning and me sitting on an uncushioned metal bench, it was quite definitely nippy. Like the Slanted Door there seems to be absolutely no consideration of acoustics as every surface is hard so I can imagine there being quite a racket when the room is full.

Great breakfast; I will be thinking about that pho on the cold winter mornings that are sure to be coming up in Washington.