Sitting atop the very busy, and seemingly always crowded main floor at the Boudin Bakery is Bistro Boudin. A considerably less hectic environment than the cafeteria style setup up down stairs, the bistro expands on the basic shrimp cocktail and chowder-in-a-bowl menu by offering a full selection of items. With a few visits to the bakery during our trip as well as some serious carb loading, Sarah and I decided to head upstairs one day in hopes of filling our stomach with something delicious. If the bakery is world-class, the food should be half decent right? I mean they even say on the website, “If you’ve been to the Bistro, then you have truly been to San Francisco!”
With most customers hoping for a view of the bay (there was an actual queue for these seats), Sarah and I were seated immediately on the street side where plenty of tables were vacant. I have no idea why they sat us at the table they did though, as we heard the server who was responsible for the area tell the customers around us that it was break time and they would be gone for a bit. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think it sets the restaurant, and the experience on an upward battle from the start when you sit new customers during a server’s break. And believe me, service was not great during the visit.
No surprise that a young man was walking around handing out baskets of fresh sourdough from the bakery downstairs. Chewy, with a nice crust, it was good. Not warm mind you. And you can eat all the bread you want, because like so many restaurants here, they’ll just keep bringing it. Now, I’m going to digress for a second. Maybe I expected more from the bread here, but after a few days in and more than enough chewing to induce jaw pain, Sarah looked across the table and mentioned that the sourdough I’ve been working on at home was just as good or better. For whatever reason, I hadn’t compared any of the bread here to my own, but what Sarah said made me think that with all of the bread baking I do, it makes any fresh bread experiences a bit harder to judge; with fresh bread almost every day around the homestead, it’s not like this experience is something new..
Knowing that we hadn’t conquered the chowder bowl on this trip yet, Sarah spent a good 10 minutes contemplating her choice. Finally realizing we could just grab a bowl downstairs if we really needed to, she ended up with Wild Caught Halibut – pan roasted with crisp polenta, sauteed spinach and a slow roasted tomato broth. The bottom of the fish had a nice crust, but was cooked to the point of breaking apart which always makes me sad. The spinach and polenta were both just ok, and while Sarah nibbled away on her last bite, she gave me the, ‘should have ordered the chowder’.
After the glorious cioppino I had at The Fish Market, I couldn’t stop myself from ordering it again. Call me a fool, but when this dish is good, it’s almost addictive. Cioppino – dungeness crab, shrmp, calamari, mussels, and fish simmered in a spicy saffron-tomato broth. Maybe it was the lack of clams, scallops and cockles here, or the bland garlic sticks, but when this broth based version arrived on the table it felt underwhelming from the start. Compared with the thicker style tomato base at The Fish Market, the broth here did little to cling to the seafood. The crab was probably the best part of the meal as it was cooked perfectly, while the shrimp and calamari were rubbery and the the mussels were similar in size to a pez. I don’t care that it arrived in a Staub pot, as the $10 price premium here, smaller size, and overall disappointing dish also had me saying, ‘should have ordered the chowder bowl’. Next time I find myself walking by the Boudin Bakery, I’m going to stay downstairs with the massive line of tourists and get a fresh bread bowl stuffed with chowder.