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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It's Good To Be Green At 20th Century Cafe

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge 20thcentury_soup.jpg

Now that Earth Day and the latest Muppets movie are behind us, we can refer to "going green" as something other than turning off the lights when you leave the room or Kermit's lament that it's not easy to be like him. Like spring produce, for example. While the East Coast goes crazy for ramps, San Francisco chefs bask in the glory of asparagus and peas at their peak. Now is prime time to celebrate the heart of this summer-ish spring by seeking out these two glorious ingredients -- like in the beautiful and soothing fresh asparagus and English pea soup at 20th Century Cafe.

It's a challenge to avoid dessert first when ordering at the 10-month-old cafe in Hayes Valley. Briefly study owner Michelle Polzine's desserts, but first focus on the lunch task at hand. There are gems (and little gems) to be found from the open kitchen's lunch specials.

The forest green soup, served warm but not scorching hot ($12.50), is a hearty, balanced combination of pureed asparagus and peas, thickened with just a little cream. Polzine's brilliant stroke comes by incorporating a generous amount of sliced asparagus and individual peas into the soup for texture and vegetable emphasis. Every bite is a doubleheader of asparagus and pea. If you really covet your late April produce, you won't be cheated.

A delicate poached egg resides prominently in the center of the bowl. Some ground pepper as a garnish livens up the soup as do a few artistic dots of olive oil. Before puncturing the egg, sample some of the soup on its own. Have a spoonful with olive oil for a rustic-edged dimension. Then stick a fork in the egg, stir the liquid yolk around, the soup becomes thicker. The broth and the vegetables in the broth perk up immediately when married with the egg for a delightful brightness that also becomes luxurious. The only addition we'd like to see added is a slice or two of house-baked bread served on the side for swiping the last drops of the soup.

Despite the soup not being chilled and the temperature outside more Mojave than San Francisco, there's a refreshing nature to the soup that makes it perfect whether it's foggy or more like the current summery conditions.

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The ideal companion to the green soup is, yes, an all-green salad. It's a little gems number with avocado cubes, the crunch of pumpkin seeds, and shavings of powerful Fiscalini white cheddar.

Lunch specials do rotate all the time and aren't updated anywhere but at the café. Other days you might find a kale sandwich with Hungarian pepper relish or wild nettle soup with yogurt and Meyer lemon for lunch. No matter what, the bagels made in-house will delight most diners, though it would be nice to see a vegetarian topping option besides just plain cream cheese as a partner to the current smoked salmon offering.

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Of course we didn't neglect dessert afterwards and neither should you. Polzine served as pastry chef at Range, receiving numerous accolades for her sweet creations in the Mission before branching off on her own. Good luck choosing between the bestseller, a ten layer wedge of Russian Honey Cake or our new favorite, the Rakott Palacsinta, a multilayer, labor intensive cornmeal crepe cake from Berlin with Meyer lemon cream and another springtime favorite, strawberries.

But don't forget to have your green veggies before the pastries. The asparagus and English pea soup should serve as the symbol of spring's darling green duo. Yes, it's great to be green.

198 Gough, 621-2380.

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Trevor Felch


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