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Birdsong (San Francisco, CA)

Birdsong… where do I begin? As my most beloved restaurant in SF, and possibly in the US, there are so many praises I have to sing about this place and their food philosophy. I’ve eaten here 3 times (the first in their first week of opening), the most number of repeat visits I’ve accumulated for any Michelin restaurant, and have tried nearly every item on their takeout menu during quarantine. This review will be focused on Birdsong’s dining options during quarantine; I hope to do a fully-fledged tasting menu review once dining experiences return to normal!

Birdsong hasn’t been an exception to the number of fine-dining restaurants that have had to rethink how they share their work with the rest of the world, and I’m enthralled to say that I think they’ve risen magnificently to the challenge. They started with an upscale casual Birdbox, and have since expanded to providing meal kits, pastries, desserts, and even offering meat from their dry age room. Though I’m looking forward to eating in their beautiful dining room again, a small part of me will be sad when they don’t have the bandwidth to be making these wonderful entrees anymore. They’ve done a standout job of experimenting with different approaches and food that both deviate from their usual style, but maintain the quality and care they put into their cooking. I’ve had Birdsong 5 times during quarantine already (and a 6th if you count ordering a fried chicken Birdbox and delivering it for a friend’s birthday), so I’ll do a quick summary of items I’d recommend.

Fried Chicken Birdbox

The fried chicken Birdbox at Birdsong was the first item that came out on the menu when shelter-in-place began. It comes with a giant slab of fried chicken – with the claw included! Let me begin by saying I’m not a fried chicken person, and clarifying why. I know there are fried chicken aficionados out there, but I’ve always found the combination of overwhelming grease, kinda soggy skin, and pretty dry meat to be massively unappealing. It doesn’t taste good, and makes me feel even worse. All of that changed with Birdsong’s Birdbox.

The chicken was crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside; it was as perfect as fried chicken could be, with substantial breading, but none of the dreaded excessive grease. Accompanying the chicken is their house-made hot sauce, which I loved, though my dining companion said that the chicken was good enough on its own that the hot sauce was unnecessary! Dipping the chicken in the hot sauce and following it with a bite of cornbread and a sip of champagne* was all I needed on a delightful Sunday evening at home.

If you’ve been to Birdsong before, you’ll know that one of the most famous items on their menu is the Peruvian cornbread. The third time I ate at Birdsong, my dining companions and I may or may not have wielded so much unfettered enthusiasm for the cornbread that they gave us another piece. Needless to say, I was over the moon to see this included in the box of goodies, and each bite of that cornbread was accompanied by closed eyes and a smile, savoring the perfect collision of taste and texture.

*Champagne and fried chicken is definitely a thing, because the acidity and fizz of the champagne cuts the richness of the chicken and cornbread. I figured that eating Michelin-grade fried chicken warranted a bottle of Veuve to be enjoyed alongside.

Duck Pot Pie

Pot pies are predictable comfort food, in the same category of excitement as chicken noodle soup. It’s pretty hard to get a pot pie wrong, but it’s equally as difficult to take a pot pie to a new level. Birdsong’s aged duck pot pie is an adorable single-sized pastry. The mousse inside is made with duck breast, duck leg confit, duck cartilage, carrots, onions, and cauliflower, mixed together in a Parmesan bechamel sauce.

The pastry was perfectly flaky, but held its structure well, as evidenced by the photo above where the pot pie was able to be cut easily without self-destructing. The creaminess of the bechamel sauce and duck mousse coated the root vegetables well inside of the tart, and it wasn’t as runny, something I often find is the case in other pot pies. The parker house rolls with whipped butter reminded me of brioche–slightly sweet and full of air, it felt like I was eating a cloud.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

One of my favorite sweet treats on their menu is the strawberry rhubarb pie! Its flaky¬†pie¬†crust is lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, filled with vanilla cheesecake, and topped with strawberry rhubarb jam, made in-house with fresh, farm-picked strawberries. The pie feeds about 4 people, so when it comes to my appetite, it feeds me, and me alone. I love that the pie isn’t too sweet – the slight bitterness from the dark chocolate combines wonderfully with the fluffy texture of the cheesecake layer, and the strawberry rhubarb jam adds a tart acidity to balance out the richness of the pie crust and cheesecake. It has texture, flavor, and depth. I often feel like desserts are too rich, too sweet, or just overdone to the point of feeling sick when I consume more of them, but with this cheesecake, all of the different elements felt like they played nicely together for each bite.

While I have tried other items on the quarantine menu (the lamb kit, as well as the 200-day aged ribeye), I can’t quite speak as highly of those as I can of the options in this post. I have a feeling that this has to do with cooking methods, and not the kits themselves. It’s difficult to replicate the precise cooking methods Birdsong is well-known for, and reheating foods can only get you so close to the coveted real thing. I’m sure my opinion of the aged ribeye would have been much higher if Birdsong had cooked it instead of me, so I’ll leave more cumbersome experiences for when dining in-person is an option again.

Parker-Lusseau Pastries and Cafe (Monterey, CA)

I’ve been trying to squeeze as many trips into the end of summer as I possibly can, and managed one pretty well-planned daytrip to Carmel–you can find some snapshots and words here. Carmel is a trove of delicious food because almost everything is local. When I go places, I gravitate to places utilizing local, in-season produce, ideally from farmer’s markets. Not only are you supporting local farms and agriculture this way, but flavors that shine through are worlds apart.

Although we went to a number of restaurants in Carmel that day, I wanted to single out Parker-Lusseau. The original Parker-Lusseau opened in 1998, and is still a family-run business today. Anne Parker originated from LA, and met her husband Jean Lusseau while she was training as a pastry chef in Belgium. Guess where Jean Lusseau is from? Brittany, France, which also just happens to be the birthplace of my favorite chef, Dominique Crenn (of Atelier Crenn). Parker-Lusseau is the best bakery I’ve been to outside of France. And France has an absurdly high number of patisseries that are delicious. This quaint little shop bakes fresh bread every morning and it’s pretty much unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. I frequent Vive La Tarte and The Mill in San Francisco, but Parker-Lusseau easily blows them out of the water. It’s very much a small shop feel where people ask you what you thought of the pastries and keep up with what’s going on in their neighbors’ lives. I absolutely loved it and am certain I’ll be back during my next trip down to Carmel.

Kougin-Amann: A caramelized croissant made with extra butter and sugar so the outside gets extra crispy. In other words, an accelerated heart attack in baked form–one that is well worth the premature death. I had never had a Kougin-Aman before, and have to say that my life was changed. In the similar vein of how Atelier Crenn and Jiro Sukiyabashi changed the way I felt about fine dining and sushi, the Kougin-Amann at Parker-Lusseau redefined what it meant to be an exceptional pastry. The pastry is actually a specialty of Brittany, where Jean Lusseau is from. It tasted less like a croissant and more like a flaky donut; I think this is what the cronut was supposed to emulate, except the French have been doing better it for centuries!

Fruit Croissant with Fresh Peaches: A quintessential example of local produce incorporated into pastries. Summer is peach season, and the way these peaches from the local farmer’s market were folded into a buttery, flaky croissant was fantastic. Croissants are incredibly delicate in their texture and tastes, and I’m actually not a fan of the supremely oily/buttery ones because it tends to overpower the natural sweetness of the yeast. I’m partial to lightly accenting flavors such as apricot or peach. The tough thing about fruits in pastries is that most mediocre pastry shops tend to reduce and glaze them to a point of unbearable sweetness that sends you spiraling into a sugar crash induced food coma. That, and you can tell the fruit isn’t fresh, which is what makes all the difference in how Parker-Lusseau executed this gem of a croissant.

Apricot Pistachio Tart: So we already know I’m a sucker for apricot and peach flavors, but what you also probably know about me is that I have a mild obsession with trail mix, and make my own (because I hate picking out all the pieces I don’t like). It’s some gourmet trail mix that I do plan on sharing here at some point, and one of my favorite nuts is pistachios! I’ve found apricots to be slightly more subdued than peaches in flavor, which nicely offsets the density that pistachios can sometimes hold. I hesitated on this one because I tend to shy away from tarts, finding most of them to be horribly overprocessed and far too sweet, but the lady who didn’t judge me for coming back for a second order of pastries encouraged me to give this one a go. Unlike most tarts I’ve tried in the past, this one didn’t overpower with glaze and sugar; again, crediting this to their emphasis on fresh fruits.

Bichon (Puff Pastry with Lemon Cream Filling): I ordered this because I’ve seen a variety of meyer lemon and lemon in all sorts of things lately (ice cream, croissants, etc.). The tart/sweet combination works wonders when done right, and this bichon was no exception. Perfect puff pastry enveloping a lemon cream filling that clung delicately to the different layers of pastry. We have a lemon tree in our backyard, so I know what a good lemon tastes like! Good lemons are almost sweet, but not in the same way that meyer lemons are. The acidity is higher, but there’s none of that bitter aftertaste on your tongue.

Conclusion? Go. If there’s one place you must stop at in Monterey, it should be this one.