It’s been a long eight years since husband-and-wife Jeff Banker and Lori Baker closed their eponymous San Francisco restaurant, Baker & Banker.
Now, they’re back — in a big way — cooking and baking as partners alongside good friend and fellow pastry chef-restaurateur-owner Aaron Toensing at Maybeck’s in San Francisco’s Marina district.
It’s a reunion for the three, who first met way back when they were all working at iconic Postrio in San Francisco.
Banker and Baker, who did private chef gigs and consulting in the ensuing years, are clearly happy to be back at a restaurant, as was evident from their smiles last weekend, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
If you’re like me, and still dining primarily outdoors, you’ll be glad to know that Maybeck’s recently added a couple of outdoor tables on the sidewalk. They might look a little spartan, as they’re small high-top tables with bar stools. But they’re dressed up with a bud vase and a heater in case it gets chilly.
Plus, if you haven’t been to the Marina lately, you’ll discover it’s really hopping post-pandemic, especially with outdoor dining. Many of the restaurants have sidewalk tables or parklets, creating a very festive street scene that can’t help but draw you in.
Maybeck’s is renowned for its beef Wellington, but it’s only available on Wednesdays. So, on a weekend, enjoy either a la carte dishes or the chef’s tasting menu ($95 per person), which is served family-style.
The latter is what we decided upon after ordering drinks, which included the pale-lavender, bubbly Mission Blue ($15) that gets its hue from peaflower, and its herbaceous, nicely bitter finish from gin, lemon, prosecco, and absinthe.
The tasting menu allows you to enjoy bites from much of the menu, though Banker added a couple extra dishes, including a couple not on the regular menu.
The dishes start coming out almost immediately, often in trios, starting with demitasse cups of bracing watermelon gazpacho that was sweet, tangy, peppery and spicy, and garnished with compressed melon relish and tiny croutons.
That arrived with a pair of Beausoleil oysters on the half shell from New Brunsweek, drizzled with ponzu mignonette that added a citrusy-briny umami boost so good that you’ll never want to go back to the traditional French shallot-vinegar version.
Also placed on the table were two shrimp chips standing in for hard-shell-like “tacos” to cradle beef tartare dressed in lemongrass vinaigrette, toasted rice powder, crispy garlic, and micro greens. It makes for a fun way to enjoy the fleshy raw beef.
Up next was another trio of dishes, starting with hamachi crudo, with slices of raw fish curled atop sticky rice cooked in kombu and drizzled with ponzu, and strewn with bits of dried tangerine and shisho leaves for a clean, bright, savory tasting dish.
Alongside were plump mussels eschabeche, chilled and tinged yellow from saffron with tender cooked fennel and their fresh tops adding a subtle anise note. It was served with Della Fattoria bread that was grilled.
Additionally, there was thin slices of sweet, melt-in-your-mouth Serrano ham atop creamy buffalo mozzarella with a jammy, peach gastrique that almost ate like a savory version of a peach cobbler minus the pastry with its intense peach flavor.
That was followed by another trio that included a grilled Brokow avocado half that was stuffed with hijiki seaweed and showered with housemade furikake and puffed rice. It was at once smoky and umami-forward, and creamy and crunchy.
It was accompanied by Korean fried potatoes, crunchy on the outside and creamy within, that were coated in sweet-spicy-funky fermented gochujang and nuggets of spicy pork reminiscent in taste of bulgogi. Think of it as Korean poutine, as it was just as addictive in taste.
Last in this trio were incredible sweet and spicy duck wings that were fall-off-the-bone tender. They boasted a sticky, sweet, spicy, caramelized glaze with crushed peanuts all over the top. Yes, you’ll get your fingers dirty eating these, but it’s well worth it, especially since wet-ones are thoughtfully provided, too.
Not on the menu, but presented to us was a striking vegetarian pasta dish. A large sheet of pasta, vibrantly decked out in a deep red-orange tomato sauce covers the plate, hiding ratatouille underneath and loads of creamy, tangy goat cheese. Dehydrated tomatoes and fried basil leaves dot the top. The tomato taste is profound. It’s a rich, cheesy dish that’s soulfully satisfying.
The main course presented was duck, with a thigh deboned and pressed so that it took on the texture and depth of Chinese pressed duck. The rosy slices of breast were flavored with five-spice and tasted hauntingly of the warmth of cinnamon and star anise. The garlicky fried rice was cooked in duck fat, creating crispy bits here and there. Dribs and drabs of black bean sauce here and there added a pungent salty, fermented taste. The sunny side-up egg overtop was perfection with an oozy yolk surrounded by a crisp, lacy-edged white from being cooked in duck fat.
A tangy, refreshing scoop of citrus yogurt sorbet was served to cleanse the palate, before the mother of all dessert platters arrived.
As a long-time fan of Baker’s desserts, especially her cakes, I had been eagerly anticipating this part of the meal.
A big stoneware platter that took up most of the table arrived with both Baker’s and Toensing’s creations that were well worth waiting for.
The Brooklyn blackout cake is a chocolate lover’s dream with incredibly moist layers of dark chocolate cake interspersed with chocolate pudding. Oh, my, is it fudgy and dreamy. Rightfully, it comes with a bottle of vanilla malted milk to complete your nostalgic trip back to innocent childhood.
The matcha almond petit four cake arrives coated in a dramatic green glaze, garnished with both fresh and roasted strawberries, plus a scoop of black sesame ice cream..
Lastly, a “study in roots,” as Toensing refers to the deconstructed root beer float. It starts with salted white chocolate chunk root beer ice cream, cream soda granita, and a swipe of torched malted vanilla marshmallow fluff, and ends with black licorice mochi morsels.
I can’t say I’m usually the biggest fan of black licorice. But these mochi, with their irresistible gummi bear-chewiness, are not overpowering in taste. In fact, the whole dish made me realize just what natural — and wonderful — partners sassafras and black licorice make.
The same can be said of the trio of Baker, Banker and Toensing. Welcome back to the restaurant world, Baker and Banker.