By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
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By Max A. Cherney
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By Alex Hochman
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While shared breakfasts seem reasonable in price compared to dinner out, solitary breakfasts feel luxurious, even a trifle decadent. When I take myself to the tiny cafe called Desiree, tucked away in one of the Presidio's buildings (otherwise occupied by film offices), I feel like Alice at the tea party -- especially since my feet don't touch the floor once I've tucked myself snugly into the corner of the burgundy-upholstered banquette. (There's room for eight at four tables for two, and another eight at two tables for four, across the room.) You order at the long green marble counter, where the women greet nearly everyone by name, as the place serves as a de facto canteen for the complex and there are lots of orders to go. The coffee is strong and superb, the orange juice freshly squeezed, and, though I usually don't send things back, my eggs are so clearly scrambled hard that I dare to do so. The replacements are perfect, moist and with the extra snipped green onions that I had requested, and they come with generous slices of beautiful buttery house-made gravlax, ripe melon, berries, and grapes, buttered sourdough toast, and raspberry jam so good that I assume it, too, is house-made (but no, explains the waitress, "It's French"). Everything is of such delicacy, such seriousness, that I wonder if I will have the Irish oatmeal with golden raisins and brown sugar or the scrambled egg with goat cheese and Swiss chard sandwich when I return. I linger over my coffee. And this time I leave with an apricot-hazelnut scone and a slice of plum-almond tart, mindful of my earlier error.
As I exit past the alluringly huge black-and-white photographs of directors honored by the San Francisco International Film Festival (Clint Eastwood, Michael Powell, Abbas Kiarostami) that line the hallway, I think that out-of-towners would be charmed by this hidden-away treasure. Not, I recall with a shudder, like the time I invited David and Jeffrey to meet me at Sears Fine Food for breakfast -- a place I remembered with pleasure when, decades ago, my grandma Sara and I would pause from our labors at I. Magnin and the City of Paris and treat ourselves (well, she would treat me) to plates of tiny Swedish pancakes. That day I got there early and was shocked by how grungy and badly cared-for Sears seemed. The multicolored carpet was worn and dingy; there was grimy duct tape patching a telephone booth in the entrance. "Cash only" signs sent tourists fleeing to the dual ATMs outside. I didn't like either the harsh overhead lighting or the clear plastic covering the white tablecloths. When the boys showed up, I whisked them off down the street to the St. Francis, where the breakfast room was windowless but considerably less alarming.
Berkeley, CA 94705
Spinach-and-cheese omelet $7
Sam I Am Scramble $8.75
Erica's French toast $6.50
Ham and fontina egg sandwich $9
Rose's French toast $7
Assorted baked goods $7 each
Scrambled eggs and gravlax $8
Apricot-hazelnut scone $2.50
Rick & Ann's, 2922 Domingo (at Ashby), Berkeley, (510) 649-8538. Open daily for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Reservations accepted for dinner; for breakfast, Monday through Friday only, for parties of six or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Noise level: moderate.
Rose's Cafe, 2298 Union (at Steiner), 775-2200. Open Monday through Friday for breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. and for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday through Thursday for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reservations accepted for dinner only. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 22, 41, 45. Noise level: high.
Desiree, 39 Mesa (at Lincoln), Suite 108, 561-2336. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: easy. Muni: 29. Noise level: low.
Sears Fine Food, 439 Powell (at Sutter), 986-1160. Open Thursday through Monday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 2, 3, 4, 76. Noise level: moderate.
Weeks later, I returned on my own to try the "internationally famous 18 pancakes." They were decent, only $5.75, served with real butter and maple syrup (U.S. Grade A Dark Amber), and the coffee was strong. But as I passed the lineup of breakfasters waiting to serve their time in the charmless setting, I wished I could slip them the addresses of the places where I'd had my blissful morning meals.
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