“When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.” Alice Waters
This past Sunday, my husband and I attended a luncheon at Boulevard for Alice Waters, who was promoting her new book “The Art of Simple Food”. A few years ago, the World Affairs Council organized a program where Alice Waters spoke about Slow Food and her involvement.
Her discussion was engaging; she was warm in her delivery. As a champion of Slow Food, she is a passionate supporter of all things organic, sustainable, and delicious (and simple). I walked away in earnest evaluation of my daily food consumption and curious about her edible education movement.
When I heard that Book Passage was hosting an event with Alice Waters, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to see her in a more intimate setting – not a small room but not an auditorium either (And, I really enjoyed their lunch event with Anthony Bourdain a few months ago.). I guess, as intimate as I could get aside from dining at Chez Panisse. Her talk was not as long or detailed, and she answered just a few questions. That being said, she did touch on some interesting subjects like the success of former Chez Panisse chefs – she applauded their successes and described the flexible program in which each cook follows upon entering the restaurant. If I remember correctly, 9 months in the restaurant and 3 months to “discover” (e.g. cooking abroad). Someone asked why there are no edible schoolyards in San Francisco, similar to her famous one in Berkeley. Without getting too political, it came down to how the local government chooses to spend our money. I’ll stop there.
Here’s the fun stuff – the uncomplicated menu! All dishes are from “The Art of Simple Food”.
Marinated Beet Salad
Herb Roasted Almonds
Stuffed Eggs ~ This was such a nice way to begin lunch - the simplicity! - yet each dish was fresh tasting as well as lovely to look at. I like small dishes that have lots of flavor, color, but aren't heavy - the mix of cold beets and warm salty olives as well as warm almonds were the perfect play.
Sauteed Scallops with Salsa Verde
Celery Root Remoulade ~ The scallops looked whimsical among the greens. A nice match with the salsa as well as the celery root.
Braised Duck Legs with Leeks & Green Olives
Soft Polenta, Broccoli Rabe with Garlic & Hot Pepper ~ If you know me, you know dish was a winner. The duck was tender and savory; dare I say comfort food. And, who doesn't like a little comfort?
Tangerine Ice ~ a citrus burst that was also felt quite cleansing on the palate.
Ginger Snap Ice Cream Sandwich ~ I do love the spicy flavors with vanilla.
I really wanted to love Farmer Brown - great name: we have a farmer brown in one of our children’s favorite books, ambitious intent: use organic, biodynamic, and/or sustainably raised foods, and beverages whenever possible, poignant interior images: life-size personalities and other subjects, good music: melodious, moving, and an all-around soulful vibe. And, with good company, you have a perfect evening. Farmer Brown has been open for a couple of years. Though, I don’t typically walk beyond Fish & Farm – which I love – so was unaware of this place until now.
We settled in with a few starters: plump shrimp cakes, Chesapeake Bay blue crab puffs, and BBQ Berkshire spare ribs. Shrimp cakes and crab puffs were nice but not as memorable as the spare ribs. The ribs had a good thick flavorful coating, which made eating them such a delight. Meat was tender, just slightly dry. I would order this again.
For my main, I had the Fulton Valley Fried Chicken with greens and macaroni & Tillamook cheddar cheese. I have to agree with Amy, the chicken was not as tender as I would have liked. The batter was light but a bit salty in spots. The mac&cheese was fair; I didn’t finish it. So a word about Tillamook cheese. My kids love sharp Tillamook grilled cheese sandwiches because of its mild cheddar flavor. However, as a stand-alone cheese in my mac&cheese, they surprisingly find it a bit bland and won’t eat it. My point is that I think you need partner this cheese with more intense cheddar to get a powerhouse mac&cheese, like nice aged Grafton cheddar – always a winner in our house. It’s not for everyone, but this is what my family and I like.
Dennis commented, “My catfish breading and deep fried okra was dry… I didn't enjoy my meal like I did the first time ... the ribs and drinks were very good though and the vibe is cool of course.”
Amy had this to say, “I have to admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the food, either – my chicken was dry as well…. I loved the wine and the company, though!”
Lastly, for dessert, the rhubarb pie. It’s all about expectations, and I was expecting that same pie filling taste and consistency enjoyed in past establishments. The same sugary-tart flavor was there. The marmalade-like filling, that I enjoy so much, was not. Jennifer, who was just as disappointed as I was, aptly described the filling as, “gelatinous.” Not a fan.
Ending on a positive note, I’d come again but perhaps order a few different items. More importantly, we all had a fantastic time… but we usually do no matter where we are.
As much as I love a menu that reads more like long poem and wine list that could be mistaken for a movie script, there’s something very special about small menus featuring fresh simply prepared food that one can enjoy in a warm and relaxing environment. Places like Manka’s, Lucques, and Chez Panisse immediately come to mind, but there are more. While the mentioned restaurants are at a different comparison level, Bar Jules has managed to add some value to my little list of cozy spots (Laura, thanks for your review).
I arrived early for lunch and was able to sit at a small table along the window. The chalkboard menu changes daily; "it is what it is" and if you don’t like any of the four dishes, it’s time to go. While waiting for Mariangela (fashionably late), I had a glass of prosecco with elderflower syrup. Mmmm. This was nice, but only if you like a floral liqueur-like alternative to sometimes cloying champagne cocktails. And, did you know… elderflower syrup contains lots of Vitamin C! This was a win-win for me.
Next, the escarole salad with Parmesan, mandarins, and walnuts. This little salad was just what I needed – simple and delicious with just right amount of dressing. Mariangela had the cauliflower soup with harissa - nice but I think she wasn't expecting a cream of cauliflower. For my main dish, I had to get the fried egg sandwich with La Quercia proscuitto and arugula. Let me backup a bit… My husband has a book called “Everything Tastes Better with Bacon” and, while I agree, I am also convinced that almost everything tastes better with an egg. And, I love sandwiches, even hamburgers, topped with fried egg. The sandwich was what I expected in flavor and texture: salty, nutty, peppery, and a bit gooey with a crisp crunch. Sure I can make this at home, but it’s nice to find some of the same comforts outside.
Finally, dessert and coffee (no espresso machine so we split a cup of Blue Bottle coffee). Sadly, the “River Café” chocolate nemesis was defeated.
Some interior shots at about 2:00pm.
Bar Jules 609 Hayes Street San Francisco, CA 94102 415.621.5482 www.barjules.com