Bluestem Brasserie on a Friday night is quiet and packed, with soft conversations that feel even more hushed beneath Bluestem’s moody lighting.
It’s a calmer atmosphere for sure, which is neither bad nor good — just really different when you’re trying Bluestem’s flavors, which are always loud in unexpected ways. Bluestem Brasserie, the upscale American restaurant located right in the middle of some similarly upscale dining spots on Market Street, has been described to me as a place that just knows how to do food right.
And for the most part, that’s true. When Bluestem swings and hits, it’s always near perfect — just take a look at their most recently added cocktails, bites, and starters. The Yardsale cocktail ($14) is a sweet blend of spiced rum and sherry. Their seared pork belly ($18), a familiar menu item with a slightly updated recipe, rests on a punchy, fresh bed of brussel sprouts, shallots, pomegranate seeds, mustard, and biscuit croutons that provides an interesting refresher from the anticipated fattiness of pork belly. (In all honesty, the vegetables are good enough to stand alone.) The grass fed steak tartare ($16) diverges a bit from traditional recipes with chunks of nutty parmesan, a welcome textural addition. And the smoked salmon mousse ($16) is fluffy, soft, and light, sitting atop sourdough bread with arugula, smoked trout roe, and bright bites of pickled fennel.
New additions to their larger plates include a bone-in roaster pork chop with persimmon chutney ($35), roasted maitake mushroom ($23), and seared black cod ($34). We were told that the latter two (the mushroom and the cod) were meant to be vegetarian and meat complements to each other, and after trying both, it was clear that the roasted maitake mushroom was the winner of the pair. Presented like a lone bouquet of flowers, the mushrooms were salty and seared across the caps, paired with sweet delicata squash, pomegranate and toasted pumpkin seeds, and kale that had been cooked to a delicious, seaweed-like consistency with its smoothness and pull.
But the standouts of the dinner are still the Bluestem classics: the Brasserie Burger ($21) paired with truffle-parmesan fries (add an extra $2), and the cast iron cornbread ($8). The Brasserie Burger is grass-fed beef with tarragon aioli, pear mostarda, pickled mushrooms, and brie. Order it with the truffle-parmesan fries, which go strong on the truffle oil and make a really good case for splurging those extra two dollars. Its cast iron cornbread is still the star though, and if you order it, you don’t really need to order dessert, which in my experience at Bluestem has always fallen a little short of expectations compared to the rest of its offerings.
The cast iron cornbread though — it’s made to order with honey butter and served in an individual cast iron pot. When it comes to your table, it’s still cooking in its little pot. Let it sit for a few minutes before diving in with a spoon: The result is buttery, gooey, warm-to-hot, lightly sweet goodness.
Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.