Every now and then, you discover a place you're reluctant to recommend even to your close friends, for fear that the precious "hidden gem" quality will be corrupted by noisy patrons and lines gathering at the door. Two Sisters Bar & Books, the new restaurant and watering hole in the heart of Hayes Valley, is exactly that. Even during brunch service (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday), with only a handful of tables available for seating, Two Sisters is a haven of quiet comfort, the walls lined, unsurprisingly, with dusty hard-cover books and a customer sipping coffee in a pillow-filled window seat as light pours inside.
At first glance it might all seem a bit predictable: steaming teapots, bright printed wallpaper, antique-style wooden chairs, Edith Piaf crooning softly through the speakers, the picture of quaint Parisian perfection. In reality, though, there is nothing cliche about Two Sisters. The owners (two sisters, of course) describe the inspiration behind the space as a true melange: a bookstore in Krakow, a Vienna coffeehouse, a Parisian bar, the DIY Brooklyn restaurant scene, and their own NorCal roots.
Similarly, the decor avoids a "cutesy" look by keeping the space minimal, letting rustic wood elements stand alone, and doing little to conceal industrial pipes at the back of the room. The effect is inviting and pleasantly down-to-earth. And when it comes to the bar, fruity mimosas take a backseat to more exciting concoctions, such as the Breakfast Martini ($10), a gin cocktail flavored with pear, lemon and fresh rosemary. After all, you can get a Bloody Mary almost anywhere, but how often do you see a breakfast martini?
Even during brunch customers can also order off the regular cocktail menu, which includes a variety of seasonal beverages. The Spring's Arrow ($10) strikes a perfect balance between sweet fruit and prominent booze, starring gin (again), strawberries and lemon, the glass' rim coated with a refreshing blend of sugar and black pepper.
The kitchen offers only five brunch entrees, all distinctive, from baked eggs and quiche to an amaretto-chocolate French Toast Bread Pudding. The Warm Lentil Salad ($9) is light but satisfying, with the heat of the lentils wilting the arugula just so and a tangy, mustard-laced vinaigrette adding punchy flavor. The salad is topped with shaved radishes and simple goat cheese toasts to give the dish some heft.
The Madame Rarebit ($10) is another win, just unexpected enough to keep things interesting. The open-faced sandwich is topped with two fried eggs and pickled onions, but the real standout is a cheddar-ale sauce that stands in for the usual Hollandaise you see on brunch menus. It's cheesy and mustard-y with a potent beer taste, soaking into the sandwich bread and spilling deliciously onto the bright side salad of arugula and radishes.
Of the sides, the Potato Latkes ($4) are exactly what they should be -- patties of shredded potatoes with crisp, golden brown edges -- but it's the spicy ketchup that makes them really seductive.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations, but at least for now, they aren't necessary. They also accept cash only, so plan accordingly or use the ATM in the back. Take out enough for a second cocktail, and pick out a book by the door -- you'll want to hang around a while.
Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog The Blender.