Technically known as Sansome, Blue Bottle Coffee’s latest cafe is an example of what a local business should be: It’s profoundly local in most of what it does, especially in where its cafes are placed and how they’re designed. Blue Bottle has made a business out of recovering classic spaces or carving something entirely new out of Bay Area corners, establishing them as destinations within the new urban fabric all while maintaining and absurdly high level of quality in everything it does. Remember when the flagship at Mint Plaza opened in 2008? That was no man’s land and now it’s an international destination and anchor to an entire urban district. Today Blue Bottle is an international company with locations in New York and Tokyo. But it’s carrying brand San Francisco forward with ever greater confidence. April’s trifecta of mergers with Los Angeles’ Handsome Coffee Roasters and Tonx, then later in the month with Tartine only expands its conceptual identity; globalization as San Francisan byproduct?
The latest addition to the fold expands on the company’s design identity with the slightest variations. Situated on the corner of Bush and Sutter in the midst of old San Francisco the caffe looks out onto the Crown Zellerbach Building’s high internationalism of floating glass and steel as it intersects with the Deco of the Shell building all the weighty brick and stone clad iterations of the earlier city. The cafe itself is within the lobby of a building from an earlier era defined by decorative corinthian columns and lots of marble which the caffe picks up on in its own white marble and spare wood interior. Fortunately they preserved the square tiles on the floor in all their slightly disjointed alignments which make for great staring off into space moments. But let your gaze drift further out the windows to take in all the surrounding buildings, you can grasp two hundred years of neighborhood history without straining your peripheral vision. When you get bored of that the passing human parade is just as entertaining.
Like most Blue Bottles it’s all about the light and the space. Incredible amounts of both which make you appreciate just how much of a design identity is embodied in the place. Sure, it’s a mini-chain but one that came from a human hand. The little tweaks to the Financial District location highlight that this is a very human endeavor – it’s so spacious and organically part of the building that the cafe simultaneously embraces the building’s identity and expands on it. Like most, all?, Blue Bottle cafes the speakers are incredibly distinctive, the models here are wood cased and horizontal ad they pump out the melodic pop of our era. The counter tops are getting sparer, less on them, less to interfere with interactions, less to fill up the space and detract from the space. St. Frank really pioneered this concept, it’s great to see everyone else jumping on board.
And then there’s the coffee, while most of the new roasters in town and across the country really focus on bringing high acidity and fruit to their espressos Blue Bottle consistently focuses on a balance of sweet and round flavors while keeping those sharp and fruity notes to cupped coffees. They managed the evolution of Italian espresso like Vivace in Seattle but enhancing the sensation without really altering it.
The recent profusion of bespoke butchers is only bringing good things to light. The formula is pretty clear, small front of the store featuring house cured salumi, select cuts of locally sourced animals along with local foodstuffs that round out a picnic or appetizer plate like cheeses, butters, and pickles. Fatted Calf was one the style’s pioneers and has now refined it to a model in their Napa store up to the relief casts of bones running along the ceiling. We’re just so fortunate to have all this action and that’s despite all the complaints about the preciousness and expense because the quality is just off the charts.
My latest encounter with this species came over the weekend in Petaluma where Thistle Meats’ tiny store front on the main drag of Petaluma Boulevard checks all the boxes: A trio of cold cases up front with a work area stretching into the back. On Saturday the main butcher table was a study in Nigel Slater minimalism, just a few shanks rested there ready for a photo shoot or braise.
But the real action is all in those cold cases. The cacciatore salume is perfectly fatted, at room temperature it almost melts in your mouth. Their Milano is a reminder of just how negligent we’ve been with simple salumi, Thistle’s version is so fresh and light that it’s a siren call for a glass of rose.
Once you dig further into the meat case the picture only improves. The house made Bologna is a budget steal. It’s all beef and not the fully emulsified meat mixture you might expect. It’s a bit chunky and you can actually taste the beef. Oscar Meyer, eat your heart out.
I could go on, the full range of charcuterie is well represented and the diversity in sausages includes seldom seen European classics like the Bavarian Weisswurst and a Toulouse. Not to say that the meat case is polluted by Eurocentrism, the wave of innovative American sausages are all there like the rosemary scented rabbit which is an instant classic. Then the cuts of meat are just so vividly colored testaments to their freshness. Oh and they carry Andante, one of the prides of Sonoma cheese making. The one weakness is a lack of bread. Fortunately Della Fatoria is right across the street.
Not the town, mind you, but off the same exit to Rohnert Park that hosts the Graton Rancheria Casino. And it’s a fast food place named Amy’s Drive Thru. Yes, that Amy’s. The menu embraces just about every trend in fast and casual dining; burgers, pizzas, burritos, and salads. But they’re all vegetarian and some are even vegan. It’s more than reasonably priced, it’s downright cheap, a family of four can dine comfortably for under $20. And when you consider it’s all organic, healthy enough to encourage sin, and literally encased in the trapping of contemporary sustainability – a living roof – you really have to wonder, did you just hop off a dark desert highway? But no, you didn’t. Neither did everyone else at Amy’s because the place is packed.
That’s quite a contrast to all the beef burger mini-chains popping up and IPOing all over the landscape. Combined with the upcoming Roy Choi/Daniel Patterson healthy fast food creation about to open any day now in the Tenderloin, we may have a trendlet here. Maybe it’s even a sign of salvation just as long as everyone getting there drives an electric and applies the same sensibility at home then we’d really be getting somewhere.
Lest you think this is a one off, Amy’s Drive Thru looks ready to expand and they’re savvy about marketing too. Their preview video gets all those hipster associations right. I’m just a tad concerned that someone might assume they’d get to the coast with a warm burger.
After you finish your burger, chili-fries, etc drive under the freeway and head to one of Sonoma county’s great brewing institutions. Beercraft’s taproom features constantly rotating taps in the back and a retail store up front just in case you need to pick up and go.
Tomorrow: The past of food is still alive and well in Sonoma.
Hexagonal white tiles check.
Air plants check.
Provender recently opened on Potrero’s frequently changing 18th St strip. It brings the best coffee on the hill, to date by serving that Sightglass with just the right pour length. It’s a bit too bright for me but more integrated than the surrounding espressos at Farley’s and Chatz. Even if you like what they offer you have to wonder at the density of decent espresso on Potrero Hill. The Dogpatch side is bustling with Neighbor Bakehouse, Piccino, Front, and Dignita. The North side has Papa November‘s permanent trailer pop up. The Mission side has Sightglass, Blue Bottle, and Coffee Bar. And there are rumors of yet another Potrero Hill caffe up on 20th. For what used to be a quiet residential neighborhood that’s quite a lot of coffee.
Provender replaces Bake which was great, especially for breakfast pastries, but the formula appears to be good espresso + good baked goods + sandwiches for lunch, at least until we see this location rotate along with the rest of the strip. The sandwhiches at Provender are commendably light, especially the beet sandwich. Just don’t expect to eat in. It’s literally a store front so you either eat on the bench out front, drink your espresso at the bar in the window or take it to go.
Pin ball machines go with craft beer, why not espresso? Maybe, especially espresso given how well Scarlet City works. It’s situated on an Emeryville corner surrounded by the out-of-control generic condo developments that are rapidly consuming every bit of open space in the Bay Area. The location isn’t exactly gemütlich, concrete is the governing architectural material, but Scarlet is about coffee, science fiction, and pin ball so you can easily distract yourself. They even have a trailer.
Coffee is in evidence through the central bar which, in contrast to the trend of hosting espresso blends, Scarlet roasts its own. The default Warp Drive blend is rich, sweet, and is rendered with a thick crema by the resident Marzocco. In even starker contrast, they only serve espresso drinks. These are people worth knowing, perhaps even loving. Their roasting schedule is posted on the web site so that you can buy it fresh but really, get out of the house and leave your computer at home because there’s no wi-fi here, and experience a cup of well made espresso. Savor it then proceed to the science fiction theme.
The bar is lined with models from science fiction films, Star Wars and Star Trek are well represented but I’m guessing that Gene Roddenberry is the patron saint since the bar is in the shape of a Star Trek insignia and not the Millennium Falcon. The back walls are lined by science fiction pinball games. On my last visit Terminator 2 and Demolition Man consumed the most quarters which, at a minimum of fifty cents a pop, go faster than when I was young and flipper happy. The Space Invaders pin ball game is the most vintage dated, covered with H.R. Giger inspired/ripped off drawings.
Sweet Maria’s has a great video of the post fermentation processing in the middle of an Ethiopian night.