Life is short, people, so let’s start with dessert first.
That’s not to say that the rest of the food at the three-month-old Bluestem Brasserie in downtown San Francisco isn’t worth crowing about. It is.
But oh my, the desserts.
Can we talk cake just for a moment? A cake with the irresistible name of “Honolulu Hangover” ($8.50)?
It’s a generous wedge with considerable height. The chocolate rum layer cake is super moist — everything you want a great chocolate cake to be — with a boozy back note that doesn’t overwhelm. It’s enveloped in a fluff of marshmallow meringue torched until toasty brown and enormous shards of toasted coconut. It’s one of those cakes, where you take the first forkful and your willpower is defenseless. You might tell yourself you’re only going to eat half of this huge slab. Uh-uh. You’re going to finish it — every last crumb. And you’re not going to regret it in the least.
The cake and the rest of the desserts are the creations of consulting Pastry Chef James Ormsby. His name may be familiar to you because he was formerly the chef at PlumpJack Cafe, Jack Falstaff and Bruno’s, all in San Francisco. Ormsby may be most known for his savory cooking, but he did pastry back in the day.
Of course, most of you will most likely want some real food to go with all that cake. Bluestem does a fine job with that, too, as evidenced by what we tasted, when my husband and I were invited in as guests of the restaurant recently.
The two-story American brasserie, with soaring windows, was built in what was once merely a storage area for the Marriott Hotel. It took four years to complete, including two and a half of construction, according to Adam Jed, the restaurant’s operating partner, who used to work for the China Grill Group and the PlumpJack Group.
The restaurant, named for the indigenous North American grass favored by cattle ranchers, features a roomy lounge, dining room and large bar (with a cool, sparkly top) on the first floor. We sat at one of the tables on the airy mezzanine, which has a bird’s eye view of the floor below for great people-watching. The decor is modern with cocoa, caramel and white hues.
Bluestem does its own in-house butchery, so you can’t go wrong with the charcuterie, especially the Grand Plat ($19), which includes a little bit of everything available that night. It’s a large selection, one that would make a fine meal on its own in the lounge with a glass of wine. Selections included rustic country pate with pistachios, truffled chicken liver mousse, duck rillettes, blood & tongue sausage, pig’s head terrine and calf’s liver sausage. Each was fabulous, especially with accompaniments of stone ground mustard, sweet mustard pickles and sweet-tart fruit chutney.
The restaurant offered a special appetizer that night of scallop ceviche brightened with a rousing chimichurri vinaigrette and my favorite Spanish Padron peppers.
Apple-fed pork with Anson Mills cheddar grits and pickled plums ($24) was listed on the menu, but you have to inquire about the specifics because the various cuts of pork included vary each night.
On the evening my husband was there, the plate spotlighted a chop, a loin and a roulade. Each piece was juicy and rich with porky flavor.
My Loch Duart salmon ($24) was one of the best renditions of salmon I’ve had this summer. Silky flesh, still a little pink in the center, took center stage, while a lively heirloom tomato panzanella tossed with olive vinaigrette that added bright acid and fruitiness.
You’ve already heard enough about the cake. But get a load of the granita my husband enjoyed. The flavor du jour was watermelon lemon verbena ($8.50). This was no dainty scoop. No, this was an enormous goblet that looked like it had just been Fed-Ex’d straight from a tiki bar in the tropics. It was decorated with bright blooms and crisp cookie rolls that looked like big straws sticking out of it all. The icy granita, which had chunks of watermelon in it for a nice textural contrast, was as refreshing as it gets.
Whether you come for cocktails or a full dinner, whatever you do, save room for dessert. Trust me, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
Other Downtown San Francisco Restaurants: LarkCreekSteak
And: Fifth Floor
And: Chez Papa Resto
And: Bourbon Steak