San Francisco's Embarcadero hosts one of the waterfront's newest additions in Lafitte, a restaurant in its infancy where Chef/Owner Russell Jackson's innovative cooking is coupled with charming architecture and ambience. Decoratively a dead ringer for one of our east coast favorites - Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen, Lafitte places itself in good ranks. The spacious and tranquil interior, its concrete floors, high ceilings and open-for-all-to-see kitchen are to be marveled over, as are the restaurant's exceptional views of Coit Tower (below left, if you squint) and the Bay Bridge (below right, also seen by squinting).
A soundtrack of Radiohead's post-modern 'Amnesiac' buzzed overhead as we we perused the brunch menu. The ink was still fresh on the paper as the final ingredients had likely been procured just moments before at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market next door. While the menu came hot off the presses, the drink and dessert menus were presented by iPad- hardly the only sign of the La Fitte's modern flair. For more evidence of how LaFitte is shaping the model of the new American kitchen, just check in with them from home on their live streaming kitchen webcam (I hope for their sake, Chef Jackson's crew doesn't have any stalkers... other than me that is).
The service was friendly, knowledgeable and engaging. There's a detectable sense of pride in the air when you step through the door. When the table next to us had a question about an ingredient, the server notably brought out the product in question for display. This tiny gesture was one of many that, in the course of an hour on a slow Saturday afternoon, evidenced Lafitte's commitment to a greater dining experience. Wether it be through an iPad or a raw root vegetable brought table-side, I found myself engaged with the menu, the process and the kitchen in ways contrary to most restaurants' one-way-street approach to serving food. Dining out can be about so much more than just great food, and for my money, Lafitte gets that.
Oh, and we haven't even talked about the food! We started out with some french press coffee to share and a pair of complimentary rolls (below). Expecting the rolls to be warm and moist, I was surprised to find them dense and delightfully sweet.
Angela embraced the cool, gloomy morning with the Winter Cassolet (below) - a hearty stew of porc-almond sausage, guineau hen and flagelot beans. This dish was the very definition of rusticity and heartiness, with juicy meats and a nice depth of flavor. Angela's one concern was that it could have been a little more exciting, but for a dish eaten after a long night out, it was just what her stomach was calling for.
Like a shark smelling blood in the water, I was roped in by the Lafitte Foie BLT (below) - how could I not? You don't understand. I had zero choice in this matter. This was a decision that was made months ago, when the mohawked chef decided to combine a BLT sandwich with foie gras. Me coming to San Francisco to eat it was merely the actualization of my previously determined destiny. Served alongside some lightly dressed butter lettuce and crispy, house-made, sweet potato gaufrettes, Lafitte's trademark Foie BLT keeps things simple. The creamy foie gras is topped with thick, juicy cuts of bacon, fresh greens, heirloom tomato and a grilled bun brushed with whole grain mustard. I went gangbusters on this sandwich and the gaufrettes didn't last much longer. Destiny never tasted so good.
Of course we had to take a peek at the dessert menu if not just for another chance to play around on the iPad. The cookies, brownies and milk (below) caught our collective eye above all else and we munched on a fresh assortment of peanut butter nutella and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate harissa brownies. The soft chocolate chip cookies were a favorite, though I was briefly saddened that the bacon chocolate chip cookies I'd ogled on the menu weren't included in our selections. It is fair to assume that I'd already eaten the poor restaurant out of their bacon, or I surely would if given the chance.
Jackson's menu changes daily, which can certainly make for an ambitious roller coaster ride. Some may frown upon the lack of structure, routine, and the general absence of the 'dress rehearsal'. In my limited experience, I may not be able to comment on the consistency of quality but can say that I appreciate the ever-changing adventure provided by the hands of a talented chef.