Sometimes I really hate traveling, especially cross-country. The combination of packing, getting to the airport, being stuck in a flying potential death-trap for 6 hours or more, and adapting to the time change results in more stress than the term "vacation" might suggest. Our most recent trip to San Francisco (for my grandfather's birthday) was even more stressful than most - after changing plans repeatedly in order to fly out on Thursday night, and dragging ourselves (and our luggage) out to Dulles in scorching temperatures, we were bumped from our United flight and couldn't get another flight out until the middle of the next day. This unexpected hitch then resulted in us having to cancel our lunch plans at Boulevard, about which I had been really excited. Needless to say, when we finally walked out into the ridiculously, blessedly cool weather of San Francisco, we were exhausted and ready for a good meal. We met up with my parents, dropped our stuff off at the hotel, and headed to our early dinner reservations at Bix, tucked away in a little alley on the edge of the city's financial district.
We walked into the darkened interior and I was immediately struck by the gorgeous, golden-hued, Deco-inspired decor - this "elegant saloon" was ornate, yet cozy at the same time. Similarly, the serving staff was efficient and relatively formal, yet pretty friendly (even in the face of a spilled water glass).
We got into the spirit of this "civilized speakeasy" by ordering a couple of Bix's cocktails: a Bix Rickey, enlivened by fresh strawberry puree (below, left), and a refreshing Ginger Gimlet (below, rigth).
As so often happens during our dining experiences, we had a bit of trouble narrowing down our choices when faced with the extensive, regionally-focused appetizer menu. We started with deviled eggs with chives, summer beans and truffle shavings (below). We've had some great deviled eggs on our culinary journeys together (the eggs at Woodberry Kitchen come to mind), and these are right up there - the earthy richness of the truffle shavings melted luxuriously into the creamy filling, and the chives added just the right touch of freshness.
Mark suggested an injection of greens, so we ordered a salad with locally grown baby lettuce with Marcona almonds, manchego cheese, nectarine slices, and a sherry vinaigrette. The individual ingredients were top-notch (particularly the Marcona almonds, which I am in love with) and prettily presented. Mark loved the combination of the nectarine with the almonds, but I was a little bored by the flavors. Nevertheless, it was a completely respectable salad.
For our final appetizer, we gave Bix's mini lamb burgers with cucumber, dill and harissa a shot. We've got pretty high standards for lamb sliders, and these were very good, juicy, well-seasoned, and nicely proportioned. The dill and harissa were a little too muted (in my opinion, when you're dealing with sliders, the bigger the flavors, the better), but the coolness of the cucumber was a welcome note.
Compared to the appetizer list, the entree offerings are slightly more limited. Mark, my mom and my dad were all drawn to the American Kobe bavette steak with pommes puree, roasted cipollini onions, and natural jus (below). The beef was really tender (without being mushy), flavorful and juicy, and the cipollini onions were sweet and buttery soft. Mark felt that the accompanying mashed potatoes were a little uninspired, but generally, everyone was fairly happy with the dish.
I broke from the pack and ordered the sauteed Alaskan halibut with butter beans, roasted squash, tomatoes and spring onions. The fish was flaky and buttery, and the accompaniments were garden-fresh. Again, the dish was perfectly executed, just a little unexciting (to my mind).
As stuffed as we were, we couldn't leave without getting a couple of the desserts. Mark ordered for the both of us getting the dark chocolate mousse with local bing cherries and sea salt (below, left), and the warm chocolate brioche bread pudding (below, right). The richness of the silky mousse was nicely cut with the tart cherries and sea salt, and the bread pudding - with a texture more like a souffle than a bread pudding - was really decadent, almost to the point of overwhelming. If it tells you anything, we couldn't finish either dessert (though Mark made a valiant effort).
All in all, we had a solid meal in a beautiful setting. I think that sometimes, unless a kitchen gets really creative with its flavors and ingredients, Mark and I get a little burned out on contemporary American dining options - after a while, they all seem to offer the exact same dishes, which is why we've been trying to sample more ethnic cuisine as of late. Bix offered us more of the same, and I just think we were expecting a little bit more, given San Francisco's reputation as a foodie destination. That being said, each dish was technically very well-executed, and I always applaud the use of regional ingredients. And given that we had the best company in the world, the dining experience was enough to make my traveling woes start to melt away.