Though I have often walked by Blue Barn Gourmet, a salad and sandwich shop in the Marina, schlepping dying computers to the madhouse otherwise known as the Chestnut Street Apple store, I never thought about walking in. Then two slim guys I know, a 27 year old and a 40 something, mentioned Blue Barn.
So I stopped in late one afternoon during my latest computer crisis, approached the counter in great need of comfort, and ordered The Big Cheese ($8.50). The nurturing young woman at the counter suggested I get this melted extravaganza of brie d’affinois, havarti and swiss with the $1.50 addition of heirloom tomatoes. I said sure–after all I’d just dropped two grand on a lap top. I settled in at the high communal table on a straw-seated stool in the small dining area.
Barn-themed decor not withstanding, nothing thrills me more than the secure stowage of my purse: there was a hook beneath the table. I was beginning to like this place already.
The Big Cheese was creamy, not over full or too buttery, the toasted bread crisp and crinkly from the sandwich press. A big slab of warm, juicy tomato buoyed it. This was a clean, elegant grilled cheese sandwich, simply presented on a white plate. A good cook had thought about the details–proportion, level of richness, methodology for consistent execution. The Big Cheese projected an aura of goodness.
I returned, without computer, for Blue Barn’s Summer Heirloom salad ($10). A huge bowl of mixed greens, carefully torn into bite size pieces, was tossed with small, exactly measured amounts of minutely crumbled blue cheese, minced Niman bacon ($1.25 extra), half inch cubes of meaty tomato, toasted pine nuts, little lengths of green and yellow beans, big, crunchy olive oil roasted croutons, and a whisper of fresh basil, all barely moistened by perfectly balanced balsamic vinaigrette. Each bite tasted complete.
So it went with fattoush salad ($9.25), a crunchy mix of chopped chicories and romaine with a Middle Eastern cornucopia of vegetables. You can guess what goes into the ever popular tostada salad ($9.25), but I particularly liked the way pumpkinseeds added toastiness and crunch, and the way a teasingly sweet, hot and smoky chipotle-agave vinaigrette pulled it all together.
As in the salads, everything melded in the Kickin Chicken sandwich ($9.50), a crunchy, warm, Acme ciabatta roll sopping up the wet stuff: caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, creamy cole slaw dressing, all lubricating generous, moist chicken breast.
If you come here during prime meal hours, you will wait in a fast moving line with the uniquely homogenous Marina crowd, 30 year olds in Lulu Lemon workout clothing with sun glasses hooked onto necklines. I admired the way some brought their own plastic containers to take home these enormous salads, and that some ordered $30 boxes of produce brought to Blue Barn every Thursday from Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, the family farm of chef/owner Sam Josi. A pro, Josi also created The Tipsy Pig and Mamacita, two of my other faves.
Concept, inspired recipes and solid technique are all important, but Blue Barn’s ace is ingredients–truly fresh and whole. If you’re running around the Marina Green every day and like the look of spandex, you can eat here. Sam Josi’s salads and sandwiches keep everyone viable.
Blue Barn Gourmet, 2105 Chestnut Street (near Steiner), San Francisco
Contact: 415 441-3232; www.bluebarngourmet.com
Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Price range: salads $8.25 to $12; sandwiches $5 to $11
Recommended dishes: pressed kickin chicken sandwich, summer heirloom tomato salad, the big cheese grilled cheese sandwich, fattoush salad
Credit cards: Visa, Master Card
Reservations: not accepted, order ahead food to go