By Steven J. Moss
THE POTRERO VIEW
Last month Bonjour Restaurant opened at 655 Townsend Street, along the small commercial strip that houses a hair salon, computer repair store, Starbucks, and Holy Grill. The restaurant is a kind of permanent popup, with Bonjour Patisserie vending macaroons, cakes, and croissants by day, and the bistro serving Full Belly Farm Goddess Melons and Petrale Sole, among other delectable offerings, by night.
And what a night it is! Bonjour, the restaurant, staffed by Chef John Reyna, offers a tasty menu, with perfectly paired wines selected. On a recent night, the Grilled Octopus was sufficiently succulent to, well, induce one to eat grilled octopus, and ask for more. The Monterey Bay Halibut, with blue lake beans, "forbidden" rice, and port wine-grape sauce was sublime.
At $16 to $20 an entree, and $12 to $13 for first courses, the menu reflects a solid value, given the quality of the food. In addition to the wine pairings, wines by the bottle are available for a minimal mark up. For example Laurent-Perrier Brut, Maison Fondee, typically priced at $125 or more, are on offer for $52. The interior tables and chairs are lovely, as is the selection of background music, though the pastry display cases don't add to the elegant dining atmosphere. Diners seated facing the large front windows are treated to views of the red brick building across the street, as well was a steady parade of Adobe, Zynga, and other technology workers making their way home or to their favorite watering hole ager a hard day staring at their screens.
Bonjour is definitely worth a try, and chances are, once you've tasted one of the impeccably crafted entrees or extraordinary deserts, you'll return.
John Bio: Chef John Reyna, a native of Philippines, began his culinary career in 2002 at the California Culinary School in San Francisco. John moved to Las Vegas to work with acclaimed chef, Roy Yamaguchi. At Roy's, John fell in love with the unique combination of French technique and Asian sensibility. Returning to the Bay Area in fall 2002, John found an outlet for that experience at the Blackhawk Grill. Beginning as a chef d’parte, he quickly became Senior Sous Chef, bringing his distinct style of cooking to the East Bay landmark. After 3 years of at the Blackhawk Grill, John joined to open new restaurant as opening Sous Chef for Pres-a-Vi in the Presidio of San Francisco. In 2005, John was hired as the Executive Chef of Grand Puh Bah. His able hand and considerable experience helped launch the restaurant successfully and garnered him a 2 ½ star review from San Francisco Chronicle food write, Michael Bauer. In 2008, John was hand-picked by Chef Joseph Humphrey to be Executive Banquet Chef for Michelin-starred Cavallo Point. As Executive Banquet Chef, Chef Reyna brought his refined cuisine to large events, heading a kitchen responsible for over 5 million dollars a year in sales. Chef Reyna now resides in east bay with his wife and three children. When not in the kitchen, he enjoys going to local markets with his kids and eating out at local restaurant.
BEYOND PAD THAI: GRAND PU BAH'S UPSCALE EXPERIMENT
Michael Bauer Published 4:00 am, Sunday, November 4, 2007
When I saw someone had named his restaurant Grand Pu Bah, my first reaction was to roll my eyes, reminded of a "Flintstones" cartoon. Yet, putting aside my first impression and doing a quick drive-by convinced me it was a destination worth serious consideration.
Both the decor and imaginative Thai food belie the kitschy name, which supposedly means "great, crazy crab." The restaurant, in a newly constructed building in the design district around Division and Rhode Island, has an interior that's fun and sleek. It's a sophisticated blend of hanging silk lanterns, die-cut walls resembling coral lit from beneath, cream-colored flagstone accent walls, a large bar that attracts design center workers and the sort of open kitchen not generally found in Bay Area Asian restaurants.
Its modern sensibility parallels the menu crafted by John Reyna, who previously worked as a sous chef at Bong Su. The food is billed as Thai beach cuisine, emphasizing sustainable seafood and a full-service oyster bar. However, a large section of the menu is labeled "Thai street food," including expected items such as basil chicken, curry and among the best stir-fried green beans I've had. They're tossed with garlic and chili sauce and cooked until blistered and then combined with either tofu or chicken ($10).
While not every combination shines, even the unsuccessful dishes show that the kitchen is trying to think beyond the boilerplate version of pad Thai. In fact, the less-familiar combinations often outshine the standards.
The impressive oyster bar often features five varieties displayed on mounds of ice set up next to the cocktail bar defined by a glowing wall of bottles. Each order (price varies) is presented on crushed ice with wedges of lemon, accompanied by a half dozen toppings: chili sauce, spicy lime garlic dipping sauce, kaffir lime granita, sriracha sorbet, an Asian hot sauce and fried shallots.
What sounds like a boring dish, Golden Carrot ($6), is actually a star. Carrots are shredded, battered, fried to a golden turn and stacked on a hammock-shaped wood rack, with a sauce of lime, cucumbers and peanuts. Sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy and warm all come together in this one humble dish, showing off the chef's ability to balance flavors.
Reyna takes liberties with classics. The samosas ($7), for example, filled with curried Yukon gold potatoes, have the texture of really good puff pastry. Grapefruit salad ($8) is tossed with roasted coconuts and toasted pine nuts and accompanied by a small pile of crispy noodles so diners can spoon the ingredients onto the accompanying butter lettuce leaves and eat them out of hand. The vinaigrette gives the seemingly mild salad an explosive flavor.
One of the most stylish appetizers is the GPB Blissanova ($8); the owners obviously have a sense of humor. It consists of thin grilled slices of beef wrapped around marinated carrots and daikon, with puddles of creamy wasabi between. Reyna also reinterprets the traditional Thai beef salad ($9), arranging slices of grilled New York steak in a circle and surrounding them with watercress and mint, with a fish sauce vinaigrette.
I'm impressed with the way the kitchen fries, particularly the whole tai snapper ($25 for a 1-pound fish). It's served with the head on, but the flesh is partially removed from the bone and fanned like wings, with a warm garlic brown rice and mango salad on top. A spicy lime dipping sauce that takes on a creamy texture from extra-virgin olive oil completes the dish admirably.
Braised lamb shoulder ($14) has a bistro sensibility. The round slab of meat, fork-tender and infused with a mild, sweet flavor, is topped with thin slices of mint-marinated cucumber and crispy chips of plantain, all resting on a bed of polenta flavored with lemongrass. The chef also uses Western techniques on the pan-seared halibut ($17), accenting it with a Port ginger sauce and a puff pastry tart filled with Thai eggplant.
Dish after dish shows creativity. The organic pork short ribs ($15) are braised in a five-spice mixture, and accompanied by tamarind apple chutney and spears of fried okra. Slices of still-pink duck breast ($16) are draped over a delicious scallion potato cake, surrounded by orange-accented panang sauce.
The more classic combinations are well done, too, particularly the soups: a sweet but balanced version of tom kha ($6) with coconut, lemon-grass, galangal, kaffir lime, mushrooms and chicken; and tom yum, a hot and sour broth with some of the same flavorings but a much clearer citrus-like effect.
A tendency at many Thai restaurants these days is to emphasize sweetness, but fortunately only a few dishes at Grand Pu Bah suffer that fate. One that does, though, is the spicy sweet-and-sour taro ($13) with bell peppers, onions, grilled broccoli and shiitake mushrooms, where the sweetness rendered the other ingredients one-dimensional.
To enjoy the meal, ask the waiters to pace the order, or everything may arrive at once. Waiters are pleasant and helpful, describing the combinations and determining the spice level each diner can tolerate. However, it was so noisy it was hard to understand them. On two occasions, the waiters gave verbal descriptions instead of bringing the menu; on another visit, we got the check even though no one had asked if we wanted dessert. It's too bad, because other than that, the staff is good.
On one visit, I could have sworn our waiter said the chocolate sorbet would take about 15 minutes to make. They were obviously made to order, I reasoned, so I was surprised to be served a chocolate souffle ($10), even though the timing for that made more sense. The souffle was good, but tasted more like the molten chocolate cake served at LuLu and other places. However, the dessert staff under Dennis Leung makes its own ice cream: a Singha beer flavor that's served with fried bananas, pineapple ginger caramel sauce and cashew coconut brittle ($8). He also makes creme brulee ($8) flavored with Thai iced tea and cinnamon, and traditional mango sticky rice ($8) accompanied by a tom kha sorbet, which evokes flavors of the soup.
It may sound strange, but the combination comes off very well. With a name like Grand Pu Bah, you have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously.
Food: Rating: TWO AND A HALF STARS