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Jeff Banker Takes Over Bluestem Brasserie 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2015
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Chef Jeff Banker has made quite a change recently. Last fall, he and his wife Lori Baker decided to close Banker & Baker, their intimate and well-loved Pacific Heights eatery (which later became Octavia) to spend more time with their young sons and evaluate what's next.

What's next for Banker turned out to be taking over recently as executive chef at Bluestem Brasserie, a bustling, two-story restaurant just off Market Street near the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Banker started over the summer, and after taking some time to familiarize himself with the way Bluestem does things —not to mention running a restaurant nearly four times the size of his last one —and with fall produce coming into season, the menu is now reflecting Banker's point of view.

As well as that of the owners, Adam and Stacy Jed, whose commitment to sourcing proteins goes so deep the pair went vegan for an extended period of time, until they could verify that each farm they source from has the same strict standards for animal husbandry that they do.

On a recent visit, the standouts were many: Banker has been known to make dishes inspired by his Jewish heritage, and this was apparent here in a starter of beet-cured salmon tartare with compressed pickled cucumbers, horseradish crème fraîche, salmon roe, rye crisps, and fresh dill. An already vibrantly hued salmon was made even more so with the addition of beet juice, and the roe made the flavors —not just the colors —pop.

A little gem salad not only had roasted and fresh grapes, along with feta, toasted almonds, and a tarragon dressing, but grapes that the chef calls "carbonated." (While we wouldn't have noticed the carbonation ourselves, we appreciate the thought that goes into a course that can often be a bit unimaginative.)

Moroccan braised lamb meatballs were the perfect combination of sweet and savory in their tomato sauce, with dollops of garlicky yogurt on top — although our only complaint here was there wasn't enough yogurt. A Devil's Gulch pork chop was everything a pork chop should be. Served with pluot salsa verde, stone fruit mostarda, and a brown-butter pistachio crumble, we felt the natural sweet and juiciness of the meat was only enhanced by these accompaniments, and made a wonderful farewell to stone fruit as it disappears for another year.

A wonderful fall dessert, called "Honey, I Bruleed the Fig," was as whimsical as its name suggests. Figs were served with honey and fig leaf semifreddo, melon-mint sorbet, honey caviar — which is just as it sounds, some molecular techniques are used here to create caviar like drops of honey —compressed honeydew melon, and lime meringue cookies. This was a knock-out — fresh, flavorful, and not at all too sweet, which is what we look for in a satisfying dessert.(But what's the deal with compressed melon and why is it on every fancy menu these days? Is compressed melon the new kale?)

While a meal like this doesn't come cheap, given its location and its new menu, its whole-animal charcuterie, and lunch and brunch menus, Bluestem should be well-primed to serve both the after-work crowd and tourists alike.

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About The Author

Alix Wall

Alix Wall

Bio:
Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer and certified natural foods chef. Her web site is theorganicepicure.com

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