Restaurants

Food Should Taste Good Brunch with Tablehopper!

It’s been three weeks since I was invited to brunch at the Cavalier in downtown San Francisco, hosted by Tablehopper Marcia Gagliardi and the Food Should Taste Good (FSTG) snack food brand. It’s never too late to write about great food, right?

The brunch was part of FSTG’s national promotional tour that’s been challenging star chefs, like the Cavalier’s Jennifer Puccio, to make inventive dishes featuring FSTG’s products. Obligatory disclaimer! The brunch was entirely free. The invitees were a fun mix of new media types in a variety of industries, and we were thrilled to be ushered into a reception in Marianne’s Room, a speakeasy-style nook concealed from the restaurant proper and full of lush red furniture and saturation-drenched artwork.

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As we mingled, Bloody Marys and Pimm’s Cups flowed.

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Our expectations rose with our hunger; the Cavalier was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Best New Restaurant award last year, after all. Light appetizers included FSTG peppercorn crackers topped with deviled egg salad, provolone, and pickled jalapeno and FSTG’s “the works” chips with smoked salmon, avocado, spices, and sprouts.

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Both provided an appeasing nibble before the much heavier—and mouth-watering-delicious—roasted garlic and cheddar fondue appeared.

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The fondue was served with FSTG sweet potato kettle chips. While great on their own, the chips weren’t really large enough to hold up to fondue dipping. But that didn’t stop us from making messy attempts to scoop it all out anyhow. Hot cheese! Must eat hot cheese!

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Mac & Cheese Night #8 at Fat Angel

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Fat Angel’s menu is focused on nibbles to go with their exceptionally long list of beers, wines, and meads, including after-dinner selections for all of their beverage categories. As usually happens, that leads to meat and cheese boards, nuts and olives, and in their case, a selection of fancy butter schmears served with Firebrand breads. Because they also offer flatbreads, salads, and a trio of larger plates, Fat Angel doesn’t operate quite like the typical trendy wine/beer bar. They do, typically, not take reservations, but you don’t have to fight for elbow room and hunker over a tiny corner of surface space and can instead enjoy your meal with friends in relative peacefulness after your wait is over—ours took about 20 minutes for 3 people at 8 pm on a Saturday.

The main dining room.

The main dining room.

We opted to start with one meat and one cheese, choosing the El Trigal semi-hard sheep’s cheese and the salametto piccante for $10.25 total. I don’t think I’d order either the meat or cheese again—the meat was too dry and thinly sliced to leave an impression, and the cheese had good texture but not much flavor.

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The most memorable part of the cheeseboard was the jam, which was overloaded with vanilla bean. Like wow. That was a lot of vanilla! Perhaps lovers of vanilla would be pleased? For me, it was too much, especially in light of meat and cheese that couldn’t stand up to it.

Of course, the mac and cheese was the real reason I was there. It’s one of Fat Angel’s larger plates.

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Price: $12. Worth it.

Cheese: Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cheddar stood out most, which I consider essential for a good mac and cheese. I’ve had enough at this point to know cheddar really is better.

Creamy vs. Stringy: Creamy. I have had few stringy contenders during these mac and cheese nights. I guess the Bay Area prefers their mac and cheese saucy? This béchamel cheese sauce was possibly too thick, in that it threatened to congeal fast. But it did taste luxurious. Of note, a ton of cayenne is mixed into the sauce as well, making for a very spicy dish! We loved the spice. It actually tasted more like jalapeno than cayenne, to the point that I wondered if jalapeno had been pureed into the sauce, but the ingredient list verifies cayenne as the spice factor.

Noodles: Corkscrew, cooked almost to the point of falling apart. I have learned that overcooked is a good thing for mac and cheese, as it contributes to making it all come together as one dish rather than disparate elements.

Breadcrumbs: Sparse, fine dice, and toasted croutons of bread. Just the right amount not to detract from the dish.

Grease: None.

Verdict: This is a definite contender for best mac and cheese. The heat of the cayenne made every bite stand out and it did the important job of cutting through the rich sauce. Great cheddar flavor. Will happily eat again.

My husband, who’s cut carbs out of his diet, went for the romaine salad instead ($12).

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He added roast chicken for $3, and without the chicken, the salad would be on the boring side. Interestingly, the salad includes fried capers, whose texture and salty flavor actually gave a nice approximation of anchovies. It’s a unique caesar but could use livening up.

Friend #1 had the chicken pot pie ($13; I mainly feasted on mac and cheese).

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It used the same roast chicken as the salad and boasts of carrots, sherry, and tarragon on the ingredient list. Perhaps unsurprisingly for our Fat Angel experience, it needed more flavor and we had to hunt down the waiter to acquire salt and pepper. Good chunks of chicken and a nice pastry crust, but not a stand-out selection.

Now that I’ve written up the review, my impression of Fat Angel has become clear. While offering some inventive ingredients, most of our selections underwhelmed. But the drink offerings are great, and the mac and cheese is worth coming for all on its own. Pair all that with a pleasant atmosphere and sure, I’d drop in again. As long as an order of the mac and cheese is placed for the table.

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Fat Angel
1740 O’Farrell St.
Fillmore District, San Francisco
Website
$12–$15

Reviewed 21 March 2015.

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Sweet Bar Bakery

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There’s a lot that I love about Sweet Bar Bakery: their commitment to locally sourced, fair trade, and cage-free ingredients; that they know the difference between a latte and a cortado; that you can usually get a seat without too much of a hassle on a weekday. But I’m befuddled by how their baked goods, with bakery as part of their name, have continually been dry.

Case in point, the “whoop-ass” mocha pie.

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Obviously meant as a play on a whoopie pie, I was so disappointed to bite into dry, dry chocolate cake rather than the moist sponge cake I’ve come to expect from that particular sweet sandwich. Perhaps the bitterness of the coffee flavor affected my perception? The middle frosting layer was rich, but more like a dense, hardened frosting than the fluffy ones I associate with whoopie pies. It was also a skimpy helping of frosting.

Luckily, the day I had the “whoop-ass” pie, I also had an amazing cortado, thus sparing the café from my sour impression.

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That cortado is on the top. The one on the bottom is from my second trip to Sweet Bar Bakery. Slightly less impressive than the first, it still did the job of giving me the milk to espresso ratio I most prefer. The first was a touch sweeter and more beautifully layered. I will continue to order cortados with confidence at Sweet Bar Bakery.

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