eater's digest: boulette's larder

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

When I was growing up, I would do anything I could to avoid eating breakfast. It wasn't for a lack of hunger. Rather, I disliked the foodstuffs that made up this iconic meal. Scrambled eggs made me nauseous. Toast, pancakes and waffles, a bit bland. Even my 5th grade invention convention entry spelled it out: a "sog-no-more" cereal bowl, crusading against soggy breakfast. On weekends, I opted for leftover chili or other savory foods.

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So when 101 Cookbooks recommended I eat this most mundane of meals at Boulette's Larder, I didn't even consider it. But my sister (older and, in this instance, wiser) noted the tip.

Our trip to San Francisco was a last minute plan, sprung from a work trip to the annual IACP conference. Being that I haven't been to SF since I was 13, I enthusiastically tacked on a few days vacation to fully explore the city, and Lauren was all too happy to come along.

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Breakfast at Boulette's, which I experienced twice - on my first and last days in the city - is nothing short of a revelation. I try to reserve such seeming exaggerations for true stunners, and this is one of them.

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From the dreamy open kitchen - complete with copper pots and other elegant details - to the intentionally brief, curated menu, everything was rave worthy. The nauseating scrambled eggs of my youth are not remotely the same species as the impossibly light and creamy eggs at Boulette. Drizzled with lemon or mandarine oil and served with a dollop of fresh chevre, they were the single dish for which I returned a second time.

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The sheep's milk yogurt and quinoa granola that I sampled the first time were also more than noteworthy. Extra-tangy, luxurious yogurt was served with a nutty, crunchy crumble of home-toasted grains and seeds. It's hard to describe how something so simple can be so exquisite, but that's the essence of Boulette's.

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Perhaps the most fun thing to order is the many-grain porridge, which is served with an assortment of little wooden boxes, offering nuts, seeds and dried fruits, such as currants. While these three stand-bys tend to be offered in different iterations each day, the extended menu changes constantly, based on the local offerings in the market.

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As for the ambiance, the unusually tall and elegant waiters are as pleasant as the food, and the prime communal table seating offers a front-row view into the kitchen. Housed in the Ferry Building, which also hosts the city's best farmer's market, there is little not to love about Boulette's.

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If I had to offer one critique, it would be of the restaurant's sweets. Both the brown sugar/kumquat and the lemon meringue tarts (which I bought on other mornings for breakfast) were a bit too sweet for my liking. It's not that they were saccharine, but rather that the tart citrus accent I had hoped for was muted by other elements. That said, the textures, crust and meringue of both tarts were among the best I've ever eaten. So if you've a sweeter tooth than I, do dig in.

Boulette's Larder
1 Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 399-1155

eater's digest: new york city wine & food festival, part 2

In the flurry of activity that is the New York City Wine & Food Festival - from dinners, to lectures, classes and parties - there is one central stronghold : The Grand Tasting. This tented festival at Pier 57 takes place over two days, featuring small bites from some of the city's best restaurants, as well as cooking demos from the Food Network's band of celebrity chefs. It's an almost overwhelming celebration of the city's food, but somebody's got to taste it. Lucky for me, I'm that somebody. Here's the rundown on my favorite small bites:

I've always been a fan of thai/larb-inspired lettuce wraps, but Kittichai's version was more refreshing than most. An excellent choice for an over-saturated tasting event, with acidity and spice that cut straight to the palate.

This is the second time I've sampled newcomer AG Kitchen's cuisine, and I have to say, I'm impressed. Sandwiches usually don't strike me as addictive, but I had to stop myself from grabbing seconds of this spicy, tangy medley of pork, ham, swiss, pickles and hot mustard.

My main complaint at such tastings is that there's usually too much meat. But in the case of MexiBBQ, I was more than pleased by the unusual tequila/oregano sauce. Hot and herbaceous in the most unusual way, this was elevated Mexican - comfort food 2.0.

One of the major surprises of my second day at Pier 57 was Benares' lentil and potato dumplings. A medley of textures differentiated this surprisingly sweet - but not saccharine - dish from the Indian food I've eaten in the past. Definitely a restaurant I've added to my list.

I love lobster bisque, as I do most things seafood-related. But I've had enough bad bisques to last a lifetime. Not so with Brasserie Cognac. This thin soup beats out its creamier cousins with the distinct addition of umami, from mushrooms meant to mimic the texture of tender lobster meat.

At an event where most chefs come at you with a one-two punch, it's always a surprise - and often a relief - to taste something subtle. Nios set itself apart with medley of fresh, mild flavors that proved more isn't always more.

Ian Kittichai managed to show up his namesake's dish (the aforementioned lettuce wraps) with an even more spicy thai dish from Ember Room. At first, the spice startled, but was quickly - and cleverly - cooled by the bitter crunch of an endive leaf.

In the end, however, there must be a winner - or at least, a dish I wish I could taste again. For me, that was Northern Spy's soup. Pickled, but not so much as to be briny, it was an enticing spoonful and a palate cleanser in one. To boot, I've yet to taste a less-than-impressive bite at Northern Spy's day-to-day digs, making for an extra-confident endorsement.

travel notes: paris

At the end of August, I took an impromptu trip to Paris, Geneva and Franche-Comté. I couldn't be more grateful for this francophile trip, and I've been eager to share my new finds - from a zany barbie artist in the Parisian puces, to an old-timey Besançon patisserie that serves up one hell of a chocolate/meringue bomb. First things first? Paris.

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EAT Comme à Lisbonne: A tiny boutique specializing in Portugeuse pastels de nata. I first tried these flaky, flan-filled tarts in their hometown (Belem, Lisbon - near the breathtaking Jeronimos Monastery) and was delighted by the Parisian reproduction. Moreover, the accompanying espresso was top-notch, a true find in the notoriously coffee-challenged city of lights.

Chez Jeanette: A very hip, low-key bistro with impeccably fresh cuisine. The saumon en cocotte blew me away, and I also loved their just-rich-enough nutella tiramisu.

Neva: Neva may be in one of the less-traveled neighborhoods of Paris, but it merits the detour. It was my "splurge" this trip, but the prices were more than reasonable, considering the exquisitely balanced flavors and textures of each carefully crafted dish. I was especially impressed with the ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) and the meringue-topped lemon tart, but every dish was outstanding.

Les Petits PlatsThis unassuming, lovely bistro is a favorite among locals, and it's easy to see why. With charming service, vibrant flavors and beautiful presentation, it's a close contender for my favorite lunch spot in the city.

DRINK Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis: A strip of bars where patrons spill onto the sidewalks, drinks in hand. It was a bit of a gritty scene, with lanky, attractive bobo boys abreast seedier sorts. I loved the relaxed, pro-mingling vibe, and the bars themselves were actually somewhat charming, should you prefer to drink indoors.

BarbershopA French interpretation of a "Brooklyn bar"...which looks a lot like a Brooklynite's version of a Parisian bar. Clustered seating, a solid wine list and decent cocktails. Basically, it a was a hipster hangout and became a victim of its own trendiness as the night went on. (The solitary bartender served both diners and late-night drinkers, which meant by 11pm, you were literally waiting a half hour to get a drink.)

Grazie: An open, industrial pizza joint/cocktail bar. The kitchen closes late-nights, but I did enjoy an earthy, walnut-infused negroni.

VISIT Puces de Vanves: I had previously biked through this noteworthy flea market, but never really stopped to look. Among the piles of curiosities, I fell upon the aforementioned "zany Barbie artist" (apparently, the president of the market). He doesn't sell his imaginative works for profit, but rather, hopes they attract further visitors to the market. I applaud his efforts and urge you to go, if only to check out his sculptures for yourself.

Chez Chartier: A self-consciously touristy spot, this restaurant is far from the best in Paris. That said, the historic interior merits a look, and the crème chantilly (whipped cream) at Chartier is utterly addictive, so I'd recommend stopping in for dessert.

Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor: I discovered this footbridge by accident, as a study abroad student, and did not revisit it until this last trip. For the most exciting views, enter on the lower level from the Tuileries. Then climb to the upper arch, where you will find far more "love locks" than on the nearby (and better known) Pont des Arts.

Saint Sulpice: This has always been among my favorite churches in Paris, but for the first time, I got to see its facade fully restored. Enjoy the lovely plaza, then head inside - not for the Delacroix paintings, but to see the gorgeous, undulating statue of Mary in the chapel behind the main altar.

For more of my favorite spots in Paris, click here.