For anyone with a sweet tooth like mine, it’s a fantasy come true to eat to your stomach’s content in a bakery after it’s closed for the night.
I wasn’t exactly let loose to scour the pantry, though. Instead, I was invited recently to dine as a guest of the restaurant with a few other food writers in what is essentially the private dining room at Baker & Banker in San Francisco.
The acclaimed restaurant in Pacific Heights, owned by husband-and-wife Pastry Chef Lori Baker and Chef Jeff Banker, also has an adjacent bakery. After closing each night, the bakery is available for private parties. It has to be a small one, though, as there’s enough room for only eight at the one table set up right by the bakery counter. There’s also a minimum of five diners required.
To get to it, you walk into the restaurant, head to the back, go through the small kitchen, and walk down a few stairs right into the heart of the bakery.
A $75 per person chef tasting’s menu is offered. Wine pairing is an additional $35 per person.
And if you’re really lucky as we were, you just might have Baker serving you, herself.
Dinner that night began with an amuse of albacore cured with bright lemon verbena and dressed with a creamy watercress creme fraiche sauce.
Next, a voluptuous late-summer gazpacho with a chunk of tender lobster and roasted grapes. It was a velvety, tangy, fruity mouthful.
Then, a brilliant heirloom tomato salad with unagi, miso vinaigrette, yuzu-tofu aioli and shiso scallion oil. In terms of weight on the palate, it was a light dish. But boy, did it have a powerhouse of flavor thanks to its layers of umami goodness provided by the tomatoes, the smoky eel and the miso.
When Baker delivered the soy and mirin braised black cod with Mendocino uni, she explained, “We used to do this dish with foie gras. But I think it’s even better now with the fish.”
California’s new ban on the sale and production of foie gras may have curtailed that practice. But Baker is correct in that the dish, itself, hasn’t suffered. The black cod was so buttery and moist that it practically melted in your mouth. Shiitake sticky rice and charred bok choy rounded out the dish.
That was followed by duck two ways — the leg done confit-style and the breast cured, and accompanied by a fabulous creamy puree of turnips and a blackberry gastrique.
Lest you forget you’re dining in a bakery, the dessert course no doubt will remind you just where you are.
That’s because what followed was a parade of sweets all worth their frightening amount of calories: A regally tall slab of “XXX Chocolate Cake” (flourless chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake and Devil’s food cake); the oh-so-rich peanut butter milk chocolate fondant with playful caramel corn ice cream; a nectarine and pluot crisp with brandysnap ice cream (because we should have some fruit, right?); and the totally outrageous maple-glazed, candied bacon donuts with centers of bourbon cheesecake.
If dining in a bakery after hours is your fantasy, too, you now know where to make it a reality.