Monday, April 14, 2008

Cherry Blossoms and Brunch at Bushi-Tei

There's something about those extravagant pink blossoms bursting out in springtime that makes me incredibly happy.

It was quite unseasonably spring-like and warm for the weekend here in SF (fear not, things were back to the normal 40s as the fog swept in Sunday night), and for once, there were actual cherry blossoms out simultaneously with the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown.

So on Sunday, we followed the Pied Pipers (the Wickered Pipers?) down the street and headed off to get some brunch at Bushi-Tei, one of our favorite little neighborhood joints.

I kid. It's actually a Michelin-starred restaurant serving up an Asian-French fusion along with an absolutely FASCINATING Toto in the bathroom. We've been a few times -- to the restaurant, I mean, although, we've been to Bushi-Tei's bathroom a few times as well and if you've ever been there, you know how intriguing it is. But I digress. Point is, for some reason I've never remembered the camera.

This time, we were looking for a relaxing lovely brunch -- our last before we head into that time of year when neither my Omnivore, nor I have a Sunday morning free (a circumstance that continues from roughly now until, say, October). So, we decided to treat ourselves a bit.

At $25 prix fixe for two courses, it's a little pricier than a Grand Slam at the Denny's just around the corner, but um...way better... and a decided cut above almost every restaurant brunch I've had in San Francisco, not that I've had that many.

I take a quick glance at the menu and I realize that I pretty much want everything that's on the menu. Is there a tasting menu like that? An "I'll Take One of Everything, Thanks" Omakase? No? I have to decide and not be ridiculously greedy, you say? Ppfffft. Okay. Fine.

I order the Jamon Serrano, which comes around a little mound of mixed greens and perfectly blanched, crisp green beans in a Champagne vinaigrette. There's a soft-cooked quail egg on top and generous dollop of sliced almonds to boot. I love jamon serrano and if I'm being perfectly honest, I think it was sliced a little too thickly. It was dressed with olive oil, which did give it a silky texture, even if it was a little hard to cut into. The salad inside though, was fantastic--light and with a satisfying mix of "crunch-types"-- a light flexible crunch from the leaves, the moist firm crunch of the green beans, and the dry, deeply-flavored crunch of the toasted almonds.

My Omnivore ordered the Salade Maison, with bacon, tomato and a soft cooked egg in the center and little splashes of creamy light aioli, described as a "BLT" salad by our server. I guess the old adage is true, that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the table, because my Omnivore really loved my salad, and I really LOVED his. The bacon was sliced extremely thin -- actually as thin as I think the jamon serrano should have been -- and fried perfectly crispy, not burnt, but flavor-packed. And if I may say, his egg was even more perfectly cooked than mine, with a just runny yolk of gorgeous orange-gold. I was jealous, and actually reached over in a very unseemly way to pathetically pick at the molecule or two of bacon left on his plate when he finished.

The breads-- a sort of cinnamon sugar palmier, some brioche style bread with chocolate chips and chocolate mini-croissants-- arrived perhaps a little late, but were homey and delicious. Gone, in probably six seconds.

For his main, my Omnivore ordered the pork cutlet, succulent and fried with a perfectly browned crust of panko perhaps, with a mustard sauce and a little cluster of beautifully dressed, complimentary greens, watercress, finely chiffonaded radicchio, and a few extremely delicate batons of Granny Smith apple, all of which contrasted well with the pork. Oh, and I would dearly love to know in what light and greaseless oil they fry their French fries.

For my second course, I ordered the Crab Cakes, served kind of eggs benedict-style. I was impressed with the dense and rich crab cakes, which went quite nicely with the herbed Hollandaise and soft cooked eggs--again, not quite runny in the center, but obviously from pastured chickens, because they were thoroughly delicious.

I think maybe one of the highlights of my dish, though, was the little plate of fresh fruit at the side. It sounds ridiculous, because you're likely to get a smattering of fruit as a garnish with practically every brunch dish you order in the City and County of San Francisco. But the berries were mouth-wateringly succulent, the strawberry smelled and tasted fantastic and the pineapple was luscious without a hint of acidity. I have no confirmation on this, but I suspect that one reason they were so good is that they have never met with a refrigerator. They came to the table at room temperature and the warmth reminded me in a weird way of picking berries on a hot summer day, with that great aroma, and the satisfying POP! of fruit juice exploding in your mouth.

I was actually moved to ask the server where they source their fruit, and she told us that though the Chef often goes to the farmer's market, he also apparently also "picks up products from the local markets."

"Really?" I say with some surprise.

My Omnivore and I are thinking the same thing -- that if he shops at the Nijiya Market, it just went up another notch in our estimation.

She said she'd find out for us, but swept away by the busy brunch crowd, she never did come back to tell us. Oh well, I suppose we have to leave the chef his secrets.

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