Pin It

Welcome to the Neighborhood 

Baker Street Bistro strikes a low-key Parisian note in Cow Hollow

Wednesday, Jul 17 1996
A squadron of tots -- rosy-cheeked and saucer-eyed -- reconnoitered the Memoirist and me as we sat in the Baker Street Bistro over a recent noon hour. Their mothers may have stopped in (as had we) to lunch on a beautifully crusty croque monsieur and exchange a bit of tart chat, but the little people were far more interested in climbing over and under the tables and chairs and along the window ledges. It was like being on 24th Street in Noe Valley on a bright summer's day: lattes and baby-stroller gridlock, the dynamic of a residential neighborhood in the city.

The restaurant occupies a double storefront in a hidden corner of Cow Hollow, the streets serene (by city standards) and lined with tall trees and handsome homes. The place would seem quite at home in a remote quartier of Paris: tiny, modestly decorated, and friendly, with the sort of flawless food that brings out the exclamatory in customers. Baker Street Bistro looks like, and is, a homey neighborhood spot, but it also brings an enthusiastic precision to its food that's distinctly French.

The Memoirist was in an abstemious mood, and he settled for a simple omelet with mushrooms and ham ($5.75), which he pronounced "excellent." The grilled potatoes on the side had been cut into quarters and nicely crisped up to give the perfect potato effect: an instant of satisfying crunch, then a melting flash into nothing.

For some reason (to offset my companion's lack of appetite?) I was ravenous; after a cup of porridgy potato-leek soup ($3), in which the subtle onion scent of the leeks was faint but clear, like a whistle over the pleasing roar of the potatoes, I moved on to the daily pasta ($5.50), a plate of spaghetti with a blood-red Bolognese sauce whose meatiness was satisfying -- but not satisfying enough.

So, under the scrutiny of the tots (who, from various redoubts near their mothers, kept an eye on me as if they were prey and I the predator), I also had the croque monsieur ($3.50), a simple grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich whose glory far exceeded its humble ingredients. Like the potatoes, the sandwich produced the same gratifying crunch-melt in the mouth, with the additional, sinful pleasure of being the ideal un-diet food.

(America, the Memoirist and I agreed, is a thoroughly bulimic culture. We sin, by enjoying high-calorie grilled sandwiches or adulterous affairs; then we feel guilty, confess, tell ourselves and everyone who'll listen that we won't do it again; then we do it again. The French make much less fuss, at least about adultery and fat in the diet, which they enjoy as the necessary pleasure it is.)

The meal's only flaw was the creme caramel ($2.75) for dessert. The disc of custard was fine, but the caramel sauce drizzled around it was runny and lacked the concentrated flavor of thicker stuff.

Dinnertime found the restaurant free of toddlers, and the effusive maitre d' seated us with a flourish at a table that afforded me an unobstructed view of the finishing kitchen and its array of chinoises in various shapes and sizes.

The menu offered a fixed-price option: four courses (soup, main course, salad, dessert) for $14.50; a great price and a deal I would ordinarily find irresistible. But the nightly specials tempted us away. The quiche monegasque ($5.75) was studded with chunks of tuna and perfumed with basil -- almost like a salade nicoise (without black olives) baked into an egg-and-cheese pie.

And the mousseline of scallops ($6, from the main menu) consisted of three ocean scallops cut in half crosswise and sauteed until they were just creamy. The accompanying lobster sauce (the reddish-orange color of cooked lobster shells) actually tasted like the pricey crustacean, while a little triangular pastry and a fine julienne of carrots finished the plate.

If a menu includes grilled duck breast, my friend will order it (in much the same way he will always order tiramisu). The specials menu did, and he did. Duck breast is almost like beef filet, and the kitchen understood that it's at its juicy best when cooked rare. The slices were arrayed in a purplish-red half-moon around a mound of smoky ratatouille and dressed with a green peppercorn sauce whose flavor I couldn't quite make out. A slice of potato au gratin (again, crispy-creamy) met the starch requirement.

The boneless chicken breast with ginger sauce ($8.75) sounded plain, except for the ginger -- one of those Asian staples the post-colonial French have found a place for in their own cooking, and an ingredient whose nose-filling sweet tang can lift an entire dish. The kitchen placed the thinly sliced, pinkish ginger in the middle of the plate, so that some might be folded into each bite of chicken. At the side: scalloped potatoes in a cream sauce and a bright medley of root vegetables (a little wintry for a mild summer's evening, but tasty all the same).

The couple sitting next to us were well into their desserts as we were deciding about our own, and we ended up having exactly what they had. Creme brulee ($4.50) left nothing to be desired: lovely gooey custard under a brittle cap of caramelized sugar. But the tarte tatin ($4.50) was a masterpiece: the pastry tender and flaky, the apples still slightly firm, and a drizzling of mint creme anglaise a mischievously decadent metropolitan touch. It was the sort of dessert that put out of mind, at least briefly, the prosaic matters of paying the bill and getting up to leave; it lingered in the memory.

A perfect dinner is a kind of tonic after the sort of exhausting days many people regularly endure, and Baker Street Bistro -- with its mix of Parisian service, French comfort food given a beguiling city spin, and an arboreal setting -- delivers the goods. For amazingly little money. It's the sort of place that deserves to be in business a long time.

Baker Street Bistro, at 2953 Baker in S.F., is open daily save Mondays. It serves coffee and pastries from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. (8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends); lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. (5 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays); and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 931-1475.

About The Author

Paul Reidinger

Related Locations


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed