[MetroActive Dining]

[ Dining Index | San Francisco | MetroActive Central | Archives ]

Eggs Caliber

[whitespace] Cafe Jacqueline Heart-Stopping Goodness: At luscious and intimate Cafe Jacqueline, bring your credit cards, but leave your belt at home.

Photograph by Farika

Soufflés to die for

By Michael Stabile

If you do nothing else at cafe jacqueline, use the restroom. It's through the kitchen, and the trip enables you to get a good look at the heart of the restaurant--a short, heavyset Frenchwoman alone in a homestyle (and home-sized) kitchen with her hair pulled back in a loose blonde braid. She's baking soufflés--the restaurant's raison d'être--and is alone save for her stove, a large bowl of shredded Gruyère and an even larger bowl filled with eggs. I was never all that great at the guess-the-number-of-jellybeans-in-the-jar game at the local bake sale, but a conservative estimate would suppose her bowl held 200 of the better-than-Fabergé darlings.

In the post-Californian decade of vice eating, I've consumed my share of red meat, foie gras and flourless chocolate cakes, but the sight of so many cholesterol treats made my heart skip a beat (quite possibly an arrythmic reaction caused by my entree). I almost felt bad for my overconsumption, yet I was humbled by the simple elegance of the white orbs before me.

Cafe Jacqueline is about as simple and wholesome as the egg. Compact and quiet, with fewer than 20 tables--each decorated with a candle and two coral roses in an unobtrusive vase--the cafe offers a few charming, if basic, starters: onion soup, two spinach salads, figs and prosciutto. It's best to start light here, especially if you are elderly or infirm or have a history of heart problems. I had a ravishing onion soup topped with what seemed like a cup of melted Swiss cheese. I have no complaints, save that Susan Powter would have killed me had she found out. Fat may not necessarily make you fat, but it doesn't shrink a waistline, either. Of course, my date, modern girl that she is, discreetly ordered spinach salad--but with pine nuts, bacon and goat cheese. She was hardly sticking to any diet I know of (and I know of a ton).

From that point on in the meal, the soufflé takes over. Each serves two (or so the menu says--I think three might have difficulty finishing one). They range in price from $20 (basic Gruyère) to $50 (lobster) and incorporate all manner of vegetables and seafood. The special of the day, a garlicky salmon, asparagus and Gruyère mix, was airy, if not entirely light, its hot brown crust topped with paper-thin slices of lemon. The waiter served it with the unpretentious dexterity of a country doctor on a house call, his presence unobtrusive and familial--ahhh, home. We ate two-thirds of it, and would have eaten less if I had refrained from a not-so-wise-for-the-stomach second helping, each bite savory and delightful. Americans seem to shy away from pairing fish with cheese (with the odd exception of McDonald's Filet-O-Fish), but in Jacqueline's soufflés, it's a well-arranged marriage of flavor and texture.

Dessert is a similarly entrancing subject: more soufflés, each just as big as its entree counterpart. Cafe Jacqueline suggests each be split by three or four people, but our raspberry soufflé was almost custardy as it settled, and with only two spoons as our guide (you eat dessert right out of the soufflé dish), we had no problem putting away nearly all of it. We lingered at the table quite a while, giddy with protein, curiously redigging into the dish at 15-minute intervals, amazed each time at the way in which the properties of a soufflé alter as it cools.

Cafe Jacqueline is frequently touted as one of the most romantic restaurants in the Bay Area, and not without reason. Soufflés are sexy when shared, especially in dim lighting. I'm not sure how one is supposed to carry through with the amour inspired by dinner. Getting someone into bed is one thing. Keeping them from tumbling headfirst into sleep after two soufflés is another matter altogether .

Cafe Jacqueline, 1454 Grant Ave. in North Beach, 415.981.5565

[ San Francisco | MetroActive Central | Archives ]

From the August 2, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc.