Baker & Banker — A cozy neighborhood bistro in San Francisco

Fillet of black bass

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Country rabbit and French prune pâté

Baker & Banker? That would be Pastry Chef Lori Baker and her husband, Chef Jeff Banker, who opened their convivial namesake restaurant, Baker & Banker two months ago, not far from the Hotel Kabuki.

The convivial restaurant serves New American dishes that are both familiar yet freshened with real flair. The restaurant, with its blackboard walls adorned with the day’s cheese offerings and specialty beers, was bustling on the weeknight that I was invited in as a guest for dinner.

The meal started with a bang, with probably my favorite dish of the night — silky house-smoked trout atop a crispy celery root latke ($12). A tangle of shaved fennel was strewn over the top. Pickled beets added a zippy and colorful note. Horseradish cream gave it all a bright bite. But what really made the dish was the drizzle of fuschia-colored beet syrup. Thick like a molten candied apple, it was sticky, fruity and sweet. The dish was so many things — smoky, sweet, tangy, crunchy, soft, cooked and raw — that all came together for a lively, exciting taste sensation that changed with every bite.

Jones Farm country rabbit and French prune pâté ($11) was served in an adorable little glass canning jar. Its surprising loose and fluffy texture made for a lighter-tasting pâté. Pink peppercorns added a spicy floral quality.

For entrees, we chose the quail ($23), partially boned for a neater presentation, which was stuffed with wonderfully moist cornbread-pecan stuffing redolent of sage. A mulled red wine-huckleberry sauce was the epitome of winter.

A fillet of black bass ($26) was nicely moist with a crisp skin. Crispy shallots and a lemongrass-infused broth gave it Asian flair. The foundation of Thai shellfish risotto with bay scallops was tasty, but a little gummy.

Dessert time brought three brown butter doughnuts ($8) — among the most ethereal I’ve ever had — that were filled with huckleberry jam and accompanied by zesty lemon curd for dipping.

House-smoked trout
Kumquat-prune sticky toffee pudding

Kumquat-prune sticky toffee pudding ($8) arrived warm, soft and punctuated with that irresistible bittersweet taste of citrus rind. Because the pastry chef thought we needed just a little more sugar, she sent out a scoop of her housemade Bailey’s toasted almond ice cream. Rich and smooth, it was like a boozy, creamy frozen cocktail.

Indeed, had I had a cocktail, I would have drunk a toast to the new Baker & Banker, a neighborhood place with a surfeit of charm. Instead, I happily finished my last spoonful of ice cream in tribute.

– Carolyn Jung of FoodGal

Photos courtesy of the author