It was fun to buy my wine at Kermit Lynch’s store in Berkeley and tasty to get my dungeness at Mt. Diablo Foods in LaFayette and yes we frequented the Food Hall just opposite the BART Rock Ridge Station which is also easy walking distance to A Coté which unfortunately isn’t open for lunch, at least not on the day we tried. We did get to a couple of new restaurants for us and a couple of old standbys.
After stocking up at Kermit’s we walked about twenty feet and entered the Acme Bread bakery and purchased what was the best baguette that I have had this side of the Atlantic. I also bought a whole wheat, raisin and walnut boule for breakfast toast which was exceptional as well.
Not sure how to get back to Orinda from there, I took a right out of the parking lot and after a few blocks ran into Bistro Liaison. I had been wanting to go back here for quite a while and so took advantage of our good fortune and whipped a u-turn into a convenient parking spot. It was a very enjoyable lunch, punctuated by good service, additional glasses of wine and baskets of bread. I had a very traditional Tarte Flambée (caramelized onions, fromage blanc, smoked bacon and Emmenthal cheese) and my navigator had a classic Salade de Chevre. They frequently have wine nights where producers and importers will present their wines and guests can sample. Recently they have begun culinary trips to Southwestern France for a limited number of participants. Even though it is easier for me to get to Paris than Berkeley, I remain on their email list – one can dream.
I had not gotten around to making any reservations before we left and with Valentine’s Day creeping up it became harder and harder to find a decent time and restaurant. I did finally get into Gitane the night before Valentine’s. Although they refer to themselves as a Spanish restaurant, they do have an excellent Spanish wine list, the menu for our evening was decidedly Basque influenced. I started with Salt Cod fritters with an entree of stuffed squid and squid ink pasta. my partner had the Seafood Basquaise which we accompanied with a bottle of Hondarriribi Zuri a very nice dry Txakolina white. The threesome at the adjoining table had a selection of appetizers including a grilled octopus and a house made merguez. The food was expertly prepared and the presentation was very artistic. The service was more informal than I had expected for the Union Square area, the restaurant seating was somewhat cramped and fairly noisy. However, I would certainly go back.
The next week we ventured into the SOMA (south of Market) towards the new ball park for dinner at Fringale. They refer to themselves as a bistro with basque inspired cuisine but I would suggest that they are clearly haut cuisine in every meaning. The craftmanship embodied in the presentations were worthy of a full-page layout and the preparation of the food was just exceptional. I look forward to going back. I started with the Assiette de Charcuterie which really is sufficient for two and finished with the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin sitting atop braised Napa cabbage with onion and apple marmalade. My companion started with the Endive and Arugula salad which included persimmons, goat cheese, piquillo peppers, candied walnuts and champagne vinaigrette and finished with the Salade Niçoise – very fresh Ahi tuna with seasonal vegetables and an olive oil and lemon dressing. The service was commensurate to the cuisine. What surprised me however was the meager wine list, I would have like something more complementary to the cuisine.
Finally we returned to Bouche for their Sunday morning brunch. Don’t even think about going without a reservation. It is a very small two-story restaurant with 14 to 16 covers upstairs and bar style seating downstairs for maybe a dozen. I have seen office cubicals bigger than the cooking space shared by 3, yet they manage to turn out meal after meal highlighting local meats, fishes and vegetables. This is my definition of a French Bistro and the wine list matches with various lesser known French regions being widely represented. We have eaten here and enjoyed their wines may times now and have never been disappointed. The meals and wines are modestly priced for San Francisco, the restaurant sits opposite the Stockton Street Gate to Chinatown.