Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Like my earlier review, Brenda’s is the most authentic and delicious Creole and Cajun dishes I’ve found beyond Louisiana in seriously a long time. The fact they have grillades & grits for brunch, and all the dishes cost $10 or less…man, this is a little treasure indeed.

Grillades & Grits, Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Grillades can be made from beef round steak, or sometimes veal or pork, depending on the local corner store butcher who makes them…and they’re best made at family-run stores with butchery back rooms in Louisiana. The meat’s generally pounded a bit and cooked in a tomato and onion gravy (or local variations thereof) until very soft and tender. Then the meat & dark gravy’s hit with grits. One of the rare occasions when you can lay off the grits butter.

Detail: Grillades & Grits, Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Detail: Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

The grillades (in this case, beef cutlets) are another awesome dish from Brenda’s. Paired with two unnecessary eggs and addictive, hockey puck-sized buttermilk biscuits that would be a wondrous meal unto themselves, the grillades & grits made my 45-minute brunch wait entirely satisfying. An incredible treat.

The Grade: Excellent / Awesome
The Damage: $10.50
The Tip: Brenda’s is CLOSED TUESDAYS and only open until 3pm
The Skinny: 
Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102-3328
Phone: (415) 345-8100

Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food)

BRENDA’S FRENCH SOUL FOOD, SAN FRANCISCO CA

Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda's French Soul Food - SF)

Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food – SF)

Like most sane people, I rarely eat Cajun food outside of Louisiana. I’ve had awful “Cajun” food in New York and Los Angeles, and even Cajun food in Texas and Mississippi can be suspect. I also think blackening fish is criminal, and chain restaurants with anything Cajun on their menu need some schooling. By schooling I mean an old nun with a cane cut from a pecan tree bent on a proper instruction, the kind one remembers for life.

But when somebody moves to a city from New Orleans or Lafayette or any little town in between, my interest is piqued. Brenda’s is just that: literally a hole in the wall run by a New Orleans transplant who puts out authentic Southern, Creole, and Cajun style cuisine.

Only open for breakfast and lunch, Brenda’s has a 45-minute wait at any given brunch time on weekends. Minimum. Definitely worth it, if you had some breakfast already. (Do the folks outside Brenda’s windows look like Tenderloin locals or very hungry hungry brunch-sters? Yep, you know it.)

So, with the caveat that I’m not on a gumbo run, I can authoritatively say this is the best, most authentic gumbo I’ve had east of Lake Charles in as long as I can remember. Seriously good chunks of smoky sausage, juicy chicken, and okra in a nice, moderately dark roux: that little bowlful is richer than it looks, y’all.

The Grade: Excellent / Awesome
The Damage: $7.25
The Tip: Brenda’s is CLOSED TUESDAYS  and only open until 3pm
The Skinny: Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102-3328
Phone: (415) 345-8100

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (Fringale SF)

BACON-WRAPPED PORK TENDERLOIN

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (Fringale SF)

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (Fringale SF)

The pork loin at Fringale is about as good as any pork dish I’ve had at a restaurant all year.  Thick, hammerhead-sized slices of tender pork are choked by their semi-crisp bacon muffler and, with a swirl through the braised savoy cabbage and a semi-sweet caramelized onion jus, it’s simple and sumptuous. What a treat to get cabbage when it’s done so miraculously: tender, crunchy, and looks like little bits of braised apple in there to complement the pork. It’s a perfectly balanced dish.

Fringale’s been around for over a generation in restaurant years; doesn’t get the yelpies or real press it deserves; but retains a status as a SOMA neighborhood gem and still serves up awesome dishes like this one. The owner is often there and when he’s not, un autre bon ami amicably fills in, and they are great fun to hang out with at the bar. They’re good storytellers, manage a busy tiny space with calm and grace, and make you want to go back just for an appetizer and glass of wine.

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (Fringale SF)

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin (Fringale SF)

And, not for overkill, but if the mood strikes…the potatoes gratin are wicked. See below for your personal ramekin of cheesy potato glory.

Fringale's got wicked au gratin

Fringale’s got wicked au gratin

The Grade: Awesome (highest grade)
The Damage: $19 (great deal for SF)
The Skinny: Fringale restaurant
570 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Phone: (415) 543-0573

Duck Prosciutto – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

HOUSE-MADE DUCK PROSCIUTTO – ANNABELLE’S BAR & BISTRO, SF

It takes a lot of effort to make prosciutto. Generally about 18 months or so, and some serious patience to watch it hang until it’s ready. But when it comes, it makes patience aphoristically virtuous. But thankfully, we can just order prosciutto without the watch and wait.

Duck prosciutto - Annabele's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Duck prosciutto – Annabele’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro recently offered a small plate of their special house-made duck prosciutto, paired with sweet, thick cantaloupe slices. It was more colorful than a circus: bright green, orange, purple-black, various hues of brown and tan, and blush. The duck was lush and not exceedingly smoky, striped with translucent fat. A small hailstorm fall of smoked almonds were scattered across the plate, most within a dazzling verdant swathe of arugula puree. And fig vino cotto, like an indigo oil spill, haunted the plate as a fabulous substitute for aged balsamic. A panoply of great color, taste and texture; a memorable prosciutto platter from Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro. (The dinner menu has a more Mediterranean prosciutto platter appetizer with pecorino cheese, olives, roasted peppers, and crostini for $15.)

The Grade: Excellent

The Damage: $15

The Tip: Annabelle’s has a three-course prix fixe nightly ($33)

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200
Website: http://www.annabelles.net/

Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy of Annabelle's Bar & Bistro

Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy of Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro

Pork Chop (Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro, SF)

GRILLED PORK CHOP – ANNABELLE’S BAR & BISTRO (SF)

When a pork chop (or a pork loin, for that matter) is properly cooked, there’s not too many more things more satisfying. I’ve been rolling around (figuratively) on a pork chop run, and I find the pork chop at Annabelle’s to be very tasty and very satisfying. It’s nicely grilled with the familiar char-diamond argyle pattern, and slices open to a perfectly pale rose pink interior with lots of natural juices inside from proper rest.

Glazed baby carrots add curious color and crunch, and a mound of organic mushroom rice provides the starch to sop up the fantastic bourbon jus. And Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus. He can pour out some mean (I mean absolutely delicious) jus for his meat dishes, and works the natural flavors together wonderfully. His pork chop is another great dish to eat at Annabelle’s.

Grilled Pork Chop -  Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Grilled Pork Chop – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Damage: $25

The Tip: Annabelle’s offers a three-course, prix fixe menu for $33.

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200
Website: http://www.annabelles.net/ 

Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus.

Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus.

New York Steak (Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro, SF)

BASEBALL CUT NEW YORK STEAK – ANNABELLE’S BAR & BISTRO

Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy came into Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro not long ago, and has been humbly building a menu of terrific, all-natural meat dishes (and other dishes, of course). It’s about time he got some kudos. From the handful of dishes I’ve eaten there, all were winners.

New York steak (baseball cut) - Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

New York steak (baseball cut) – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Recently an evening special was a baseball cut New York steak. (This fist-sized steak comes from the top sirloin, one of the favored and thus more expensive cuts of meat.) Served justly medium-rare, bisected on a bias and leaning toward its other half, it looked like a meaty Richard Serra sculpture. Piaskowy serves all-natural beef sourced from a sustainable ranching co-op called Painted Hills. The tenderness of the baseball cut generated moments of closed-eye bliss as I swirled bites through caramelized onion jus and drippings. Paired with a low stack of spinach to ground the bliss in some earth and crunchy chew, and a gruyere potato cake that’s lighter and more well-balanced than its name implies. It’s a great little gratin that’s not too heavy. The steak was capped with some wispy, crispy onion strips.

I’m generally greeted (or interrogated) by the “So what’s the best steak?” question and I rattle off my short list, depending on what type of steak someone can qualify they like most. Now I get to add Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro to that short list, no matter what steak people like.

The Grade: Awesome (highest grade)

The Damage: $33

The Tip: Annabelle’s has a three-course prix fixe nightly ($33)

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200
Website: http://www.annabelles.net/

New York steak (baseball cut) - Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

New York steak (baseball cut) – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

ANCHOR STEAM BRAISED SHORT RIBS

ANNABELLE’S BAR & BISTRO, SAN FRANCISCO

Anchor Steam Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Anchor Steam Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro is a hidden gem in plain view, with a solid selection of all-natural meat dishes that are carefully crafted by Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy. The pork chop is great there, and the steaks are amazing. But I can understand whey the Anchor Steam-braised short ribs might be the dish diners would talk about.

The short ribs have about a 4-hour braising period in the Anchor Steam bath, as it were, and are crisscrossed with a benediction of horseradish creme fraiche. (I think the creme fraiche is probably the right amount from a chef’s perspective, but it’s so good I really wanted a few spoonfuls more.)  The ribs sit folded over a structure of green beans like thick, dark teepee flaps. Actually, it resembles a hiding place of the princess in Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress,” but that’s what you were thinking when you saw this photo anyway, right?

Braised short ribs - Annabelle's Bar & Bistro

Braised short ribs – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro

These are fuzzy-looking mud flaps, quite unlike any braised short ribs you’re ever likely to see. And the meat’s texture is remarkably like velvet, again unlike the chunky, canyon-like renderings typically seen of short ribs. It’s an extraordinary feeling to the palate and the combination of the ultra-soft ribs in jus, crisp green beans, and a little horseradish pep makes this a really outstanding dish.

The Grade: Awesome (highest grade)

The Damage: $25

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200
Website: http://www.annabelles.net/

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