Warm Bagel with Herbed Farmers Cheese and Pickle
at Marla Bakery
Amy Brown, baker and co/owner of Marla Bakery, brought matzoh to Passover dinner this year. Matzoh are usually square, bland, unleavened crackers that taste like processed white flour, but Brown’s matzoh were round, paper-thin, crackly, olive oil-infused flatbreads that were so divine, they made me a believer–in matzoh. I found out that you can order them all year for pickup at Marla’s almost hidden bakery window on York Street, south of Market.
At the window I discovered that Marla Bakery makes the best bagel I have ever tasted, a judgement based on a lifetime of bagel eating in Chicago, New York and, currently, Oakland. You can’t buy them by the dozen, only as a sandwich ($5), split and warm, spread with soft, white farmers cheese mashed with fresh dill and scallions, haunting pickles from Brown’s chef/partner, Joe Wolf on the side. The Marla bagel has a thin, crisp crust with a delicately chewy, hugely vivacious interior. The cheese adds just the right amount of salt and the pickles– tender baby carrots or tiny halved turnips tinted with turmeric–contribute the subtle perfume of sweet spices.
There are many reasons to seek out this exceptional bakery, such as small round loaves of savory cheese bread; puff pastry turnovers with miraculously buttery, gazillion-layer crusts, filled with farmers cheese and scallions; and melt-in-your-mouth alfahores, two butter cookies sandwiching a layer of fruity caramel.
The couple is about to open a full-scale bakery and restaurant on Balboa Street across from the Balboa Theater, but do yourself a favor and get to the window as soon as you can. You don’t want to miss one day without Marla. The window will remain in operation even after the restaurant opens.
613 York Street (between 18th and 19th Streets) San Francisco 415 824-2253 Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Farinata and Roast Chicken
at Bar Agricole
Bar Agricole’s new chef/partner, Meilssa Reitz, was schooled in the
ingredient-driven tradition of the East Bay’s Camino and Pizzaiolo, with stints at Zuni and Quince. Her cooking style and menu particularly capture the ethos of this groundbreaking bar, which practically invented the meticulously sourced and composed cocktail right down to custom-cut ice.
Her farinata, a crisp-sided, custard-centered chickpea batter pancake ($23), rife with vegetables and herbs, like one with arugula and anise hyssop I had recently, is a revelation, not only for its ethereal texture but its full, earthy flavor and olive oil richness. Complete by itself, it partners compatibly with family-style platters of juicy roasted chicken from the wood oven] ($24/47). The roasted new potatoes that come with the chicken only add to the party.
With transcendent cocktails, nibble on pig’s head fritters ($6), super- crunchy nuggets with coarse bits of cheek, jowl, tongue and creamy brain inside. They are as unusual and winning as this now classic San Francisco bar that sets the standard for all others.
355 11th Street, San Francisco 415 355-9400 Food service Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Frozen Custard and Hot Crullers
at Fog City
There are many reasons to visit the revamped Fog City: chef-owner Bruce Hill’s 21st century comfort food, emanating from a dramatic open kitchen aglow with blazing wood fires; up-to- the-minute composed cocktails; a long, convivial V-shaped bar with two sports TVs at its base; and a sleek new decor that somehow keeps the sound level bearable. This low-ceilinged space surrounded by windows with panoramic views of the Embarcadero truly accommodates walk-ins. Street parking is downright easy at night and totally possible during the day.
This means that I can drop in for Hill’s frozen custard anytime I want. Made with Straus organic milk and cream in a special machine modified by Hill, the custard has a firm, silken texture somewhere between soft-serve and regular ice cream. It has half the calories of premium ice cream but you would never know it. I order a generously rounded bowl of vanilla ($6) with two little pitchers of warm topping, egg yolk caramel ($1) and hot chocolate ($1). Chocolate frozen custard is also available. But even better is pairing the frozen custard with hot crullers ($7)– French doughnuts. These are airy and crisp, made with egg-rich pate a choux (cream puff) batter piped in circles into the deep fryer. The pastry puffs up into a tall, ridged doughnut that lets out a warm breath when you break into it. Where else in the world can you get hot, cooked-to-order crullers with daily- churned organic frozen custard? I love this foggy city.
1300 Battery (at the Embarcadero) San Francisco 415 982-2000. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Shaanxi Hand Made Noodles
at Xi An Gourmet
Visitors to the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, drawn by a vast army of startlingly realistic underground terra cotta warriors sculpted in the third century BC, often are surprised to find wheat noodles and flatbreads on the table instead of rice. This city in northeast China also happens to be the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked East and West, and a center of centuries-old, east-west culinary fusion.
At Xi An Gourmet, a nondescript storefront at 2nd avenue in the inner Richmond, you can get a taste of what may have fueled that historic army. In the fantastic Steamed Cold Noodle with Sesame Sauce ($5.25, #6 under House Specials), wide ribbons of toothsome handmade noodles, bean sprouts, shredded cucumber, cubes of soft, bread-like wheat gluten and bits of red chile dressed in a creamy, cool, sesame sauce with a pleasing edge of rice wine vinegar. The flavor and texture contrasts in this spicy, juicy noodle salad thrill, but the soul of the dish comes from the rustic chewiness of the noodles.
Shaanxi Sandwich with Cumin Lamb ($5.95, #4 in House Specials) brings a sloppy joe of juicy, cumin-scented, chile-spiked chopped lamb in a split, hot flatbread. The pork sandwich ($3.95, #3) reminds me of good old pulled pork, here seasoned with citrusy, tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorn. I personally am partial to a dish posted on a sheet of pink paper on the mirrored wall called Shredded Turnip with Pork ($7.95), a big pile of fabulous, salty julienned daikon, translucent yam noodles and ground pork. Irrationally, it reminds me of spaghetti bolognese.
3741 Geary Blvd. (at 2nd avenue) San Francisco. 415 668-5888 Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.