I was so bummed when Quince moved out of its Pac Heights location to take over the Myth space closer to the Financial District. Then again, I was bummed when The Meetinghouse left the same space, upon which Quince took over. In any event, I was curious to see what kind of place would pop up as The Meetinghouse was such a neighborhood go-to and Quince was more of a special occasion kind of joint. Well, Baker & Banker came along, a new enterprise by a culinary couple (there’s the baker, durrr, and the chef) and it warmed my heart a little to find out that the chef was once a line cook at The Meetinghouse (whose to-die-for bisquits can still be ordered at Sweet Jo’s in the Jewish Community Center, of all places). Having eaten here already once when they first opened (and experiencing the kinks of a new restaurant), I was anxious to give the place another try once they had a few more months under their belt.
The menu feels sort of all over the place, with spatterings of Asian, Italian, Middle Eastern and American influences. This all made me a feel a little schizo, but I did clue in that it’s not really a lack of focus, so much as a focus on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. So it’s not about following a single culinary influence, but about following one’s culinary locale. And for that, I have to give them props, multiple personalities and all.
We did the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which is a total steal at $55. They served a nice little amuse bouche, which was a panko crusted mozzarella on a San Marzano tomato sauce with a single leaf of fried basil. I mean, it’s fried cheese. Do I even need to say it was good? Next up was a tuna tartar for my companions, but my fetus dictated a slight menu change, and I had the (so-in-season) grilled asparagus served with 2 slices of hearty hand-pulled mozzarella (that had a lot more chew to it than I was expecting) with a drizzling of balsamic (I only wish the balsamic was evenly drizzled over both slices of cheese), plus an acidic little watercress salad with pickled ramps. Since I usually only have watercress in my huo guo (hot pot for you non-Chinese speakers out there — which is hilarious, since I don’t speak Chinese…well, except for food dishes, which is all I really care to know), this was a refreshing taste for my buds.
The next course was a dazzler, and had those Asian influences I mentioned. Seared Thai snapper served over a bed of homemade curried rice noodles with cilantro oil and fried ginger slivers. Holy goodness. I mean, seriously, I could have slopped up an entire family plate of these noodles, they were so supple and slurpilicious. The final savory course was a New York steak, sliced to a perfect medium rare, served with a mushroom, pan-fried gnocchi, short rib (that’s right folks, I said short rib!) concoction that was earthy, salty, and made me feel like I was sitting in front of a ski house fireplace. Oh yes, there was also a nice little bordelaise sauce decorating the plate along with a charred ramp.
To clean our palates? Banana sorbet. Not exactly what I usually think of as a palate cleanser, since bananas have the tendency to sort of coat the tongue (don’t you think?), but it was still pretty yummy. And to finish off, 2 4″ diameter chocolate chocolate chip cookies with fleur de sel, straight from the oven and served with the cutest little malted milkshake you’ve ever seen.
After that meal, I feel fat. Oh wait! I am fat! I’m 6 months pregnant!
This second run at Baker & Banker was far more successful than my first. I think perhaps because I had the tasting menu, everything felt very cohesive and steady, whereas in my first visit, the bold flavors of my appetizer and entree clashed. In any event, I was pretty excited by the end of the meal, knowing that such a great restaurant has taken over a space for which I have a lot of fondness. I also learned that apparently, with the right company (two great friends with two little ones, who happen to be great friends to my two little ones…are you confused yet?), you can tell your birth stories (including number of hours in labor, crowning moments, and afterbirth deliveries) during dinner and nevertheless eat every single piece of food on your plate!
Bauer’s two cents here.