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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Q&A with Bar Bambino Chef Lizzie Binder: Part 2

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 10:00 AM

  • Photos by Alanna Hale

This is part two of SFoodie's conversation with Bar Bambino executive chef Lizzie Binder. Part one is here.

What would you say are the main ingredients of the kind of food that you're doing now?

Things like vinegar and beets as I mentioned before, as well as stone fruits, pumpkin seeds, walnuts ... plus seafood from the Adriatic. Oh, and all your grains: barley, rye, farro, spelt, whole wheat.

We've since done quite a bit of traveling to that area, and for me, Alto Adige and the whole Tyrolean area has really beautiful bread. They remind me so much of the South African breads that I grew up with. I think it must be the German influence. Lovely nuts and whole grains and things I just adore.

Have these ingredients changed your cooking approach or technique?

We've always supported long, slow braises, and so we still do that. If anything, we're doing more braises and certainly a lot of grilling, especially in the summer.

Dill, beet and vodka-cured salmon on grilled flatbread
  • Dill, beet and vodka-cured salmon on grilled flatbread

When did you and (owner) Christopher (Losa) get to travel around those areas together?

We went at the beginning of this year. We did a big trip, almost 10 days, and it was the first time I've been away from my kids. I have a little boy who is five and little girl who is two. I think it was harder for me than it was for them. They were fine.

What was it like after making this food based on research and then actually going to the places where it originated?

It was just awesome to see it. Like, "Oh gosh, okay! That's how they did that!" I found it very relaxed, rustic, and gentle.

Did seeing the food firsthand change your approach upon returning?

No, I was simply inspired by things. Especially the breads. I mean, who knew this bread would take me home? I loved seeing all of the little producers that you can't get here, people in tiny villages producing amazing things in the bottom of their homes. And then, oh my god, I had this amazing cucumber preserve with ginger. It reminded me so much of home, and I've since recreated it here.

Did you bring lots of things back?

Not a huge amount. Christopher brought that pumpkin seed oil back from his first trip after eating it in the market drizzled over fromage blanc and some rye bread. We're doing a lot of those kind of things on our menu. Maybe that one's just a little too simple, perhaps, but we're starting to do our own pretzel dough, we're using a lot of paprikas and we make a lot of dumplings. In that whole area there are so many different types of dumplings. They all think it's their recipe, but it's all pretty similar crossing and back and forth over those borders, whether they're made with semolina or with potato.

Roasted beet, cucumber and pumpkin seed salad
  • Roasted beet, cucumber and pumpkin seed salad

What's your favorite ingredient right now?

That's a tough question, as we get such fabulous produce. If I had to choose one thing, I'd have to say the wild blackberries that we are getting at the moment, just in season and beautiful. They are foraged and picked for us locally in Sonoma.

What are you doing with them?

Right now I'm using them for a bacon-wrapped quail dish on the menu. Inspired by the region of Pardenone in Central Friuli, known for its beautiful fowl and wild berries. The quail is roasted to perfection, served over grilled radicchio and dandelion greens, and finished with a deep blackberry jus.

I understand you will be opening a café in the ODC building. What will you be serving at Pronto?

As Bar Bambino is sort of the higher end, the café will be more low-key. We're going to be serving the same boxed lunches we used to do for lunch here at Bar Bambino. It's the best deal in town: a divine little box with one of our paninis, a salad of the day, and these amazing little cookies that our pastry chef makes. Initially it will be a kiosk, and then once the construction goes into action we will open the café.

What else can we expect from the café?

We're going to serve dishes from our old menu that people used to love, like our polpette, and our eggplant meatballs. People used to go crazy for those. Our bucatini with cauliflower, currants, pancetta, pine nuts, and our trofie pasta with sausage cream sauce. Things that are delicious, but not very sophisticated. We're definitely moving in a sophisticated vein here, so it will be great to bring some of those old, signature favorites. Fingers crossed it goes well!

After all this, what do you cook at home?

Lots of pasta, usually made on our hand-cranked pasta machine. It's great because the kids can get involved. It gets wildly messy with flour everywhere. My other favorite at the moment is a grilled prosciutto-wrapped peach salad. We have the most amazing peach tree, I think the best in Napa, even our neighbors talk about it. The peaches are perfect now and there are loads of them. A simple recipe that's to die for.

Where do you like to eat?

I love La Ciccia in Upper Noe. Noe Valley was my old neighborhood, and I couldn't resist getting Massimo's gnochetti with pork sugo, to go, all the time. For casual family dining, Gott's Roadside at the Oxbow market in Napa. Outside under the stars, 'Burger, french fries and chocca shake' go down as a treat.

Tomorrow: Binder shares a favorite recipe.

Alanna Hale is a writer and photographer whose work can be found at

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