The smell test

Pub date November 28, 2007

Old joke: If you want to hear God laugh, make plans. (A tip of the trilby here to the Chronicle’s Jon Carroll, whose recent and perfect phrasing I borrow.) In the alternative, open a nice restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf: our very own cross between Vatican City and the Potsdamer Platz of Cold War Berlin, except with seagulls instead of barbed wire and searchlights. It is so different from the rest of the city that it feels as if it should have its own time zone and area code. It is a place where city dwellers do not tread, unless they aren’t paying attention and find they’ve ridden the cable car all the way to the end of the line.

And yet, there is a lovely, improbable restaurant in this precinct of gift shops, rental car lots, and tourist hotels. Its name is Bistro Boudin, and it can be found on the second floor of the Boudin Bakery, a handsome and fresh-from-the-ground-up building that opened about two years ago and is, against all odds, a fairly large-scale working bakery in the midst of the city.

Another tip of the trilby, then, this time to Boudin for investing in the city, and for making pretty good bread while they’re at it. Boudin, like Parisian, is one of the city’s old-guard bakeries, and building your new bakery in the heart of Touristan could certainly be seen as making a statement, or maybe just a pitch. If there are outposts of Tartine and Bay Bread in the area, they keep a low profile. But Boudin knows what it’s doing in the bread-baking department; its sourdoughs are soft, tangy-fragrant, and the loaves out for butter like the Sirens of the Rhine.

Bistro Boudin is on the second floor of the spiffy bakery. The large windows command a view of the bay and Alcatraz. The dining room seems to consist largely of glass, leather, and honey-colored wood: a traditional San Francisco look, subtly freshened. The executive chef, James Chan, was sacked from Harrow for undisclosed offenses, only to turn up in our little corner of the New World with a sophisticated menu that blends elements of New World and Old.

But can he blend locals and tourists? To find out, he will need locals, and what better way to draw them but with the smell of baking bread?

Paul Reidinger