Best celery ever, Bouli Bar, SF Ferry Building

Before Bouli Bar opened, it was just Boulette’s Larder, serving breakfast and lunch, and occasional private dinners. I had enjoyed numerous memorable meals, one of which was stuffed pigs feet (I will always remember eating stuffed pigs feet during a weekday lunch). I was also lucky enough to attend one private wine dinner, also outstanding.

After Bouli Bar opened, I was eager to try it out, and excited about broader access to the restaurant. While the food was excellent, the menu’s focus on pizza and mezze was not appealing for repeated future returns.

Last week, a last minute decision to visit Super Bowl city meant that I needed to find a dinner location quickly. Reservations were readily available at Bouli Bar, and I was happy to see that the menu had changed slightly to incorporate more entrees. I expected a very good meal.

We started with the tartare and seafood salad, both excellent. I find 90% of US tartares offensive, and Bouli Bar’s version was nicely done. Even more impressive was the seafood salad which had a great emulsified sauce and squid cooked to a kind of perfection that I didn’t realize existed. This was not the typical blanched seafood/vinaigrette dressing type of seafood salad.

For entrees we had fish and chicken. The fish was accompanied by celery and fennel, while the chicken was served with cashews, and some kind of pineapple chutney and guava. I don’t remember the exact description. The two dishes couldn’t have been more different in style, the fish dish was delicate and classically French. The chicken dish was full of spice (capsaicin related and otherwise) and complexly flavored. I can’t come up with more specific descriptors for the chicken dish, either due to the chef’s spice blending skills or due to my sparse knowledge of African and Middle Eastern spices, likely both. As mystifyingly delicious as the chicken was, the “simple” fish was the standout dish of the night. The perfect bite comprised of fish, sauce, braised fennel, and braised(?) celery, with the celery being the star. I thought I was going crazy to be so delighted by such a mundane vegetable. Ten minutes after we finished our entrees, the table next to us received the same fish dish and had the same reaction to the celery, so at least two other people are just as nuts. As an aside, my last and probably final meal at Coi included a celtuce course that was a failed attempt to elevate a mundane vegetable.

For dessert we had the lemon meringue tart, which was perfect, and the chocolate custard, which was good but not the best of their desserts.

My biggest complaint about the restaurant is the restrooms. There was a huge line (10+) for the restroom in the hallway, and at this price point, there really should be easier access to restrooms.

This meal brought me back to the strengths of Chef Schwertner’s cooking. The brilliance of her cooking does not shine brightest in the pizzas and pita and spreads; it’s the design and execution of main (or otherwise substantial) courses that I find extraordinary.

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― Jonathan Gold