Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to get invited to an event that saw Kevin Bohlin and the folks from Saint Frank team up with Parallel 37 Chef Michael Rotondo, Sommelier Ryan Stetins, and Pastry Chef Andrea Correa to craft an eight-course meal that used and paired coffee, and coffee-related beverages, with a larder’s worth of delicious food. Tucked away in the restaurant’s moodily-lit dining room, a small group of us were treated to a meal fit for both coffee snobs and the more gastronomically inclined. Saint Frank sources its own beans from carefully cultivated producers and then turns them over to the talented folk at Ritual Roasters for them to apply their considerable talents; in turn, Parallel 37 allowed Saint Frank’s team to showcase their own coffee expertise within the restaurant’s space at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco. Presented below is a blow-by-blow photographic account of each course, in order, with a few scribbles of notes I managed to wedge in the margin of my menus when my mouth or hand wasn’t stuffed with some delicious dish.
A smattering of dishes floated around the bar while 12 or so of us sipped beverages and waited for the doors to be thrown open. The pork belly sammie was somehow both crisp and melt-in-your-mouth delicate with just a hint of plum or hoisin to really bring it all home. I failed to figure out what the little ramekin of deliciousness held, but it subtly wove the buttery taste of good fish with ginger, cilantro, sesame seeds, and the biting tang of a vinegar-based sauce. If not for the promise of a stomach-bulging meal in my future, I could’ve just filled up here.
They perched a sizable beignet (its crust slathered in some sugary, sweet, coffee-ish rub) on a bed of almost adorably-sized vegetables (those carrots, c’mon!) and then drizzled a fine line of aged balsamic across it all. The beignet’s sweet and salty crust gave way to an earthy filling of nettles. I ate the miniature garden with my hands and then drew a finger tip across the plate as not to miss a single drop of the aged balsamic.
Coffee Liquor, Orange Bitters, Club Soda
Poured over ice in a small glass, the coffee liquor set a solid foundation of flavor, while the orange bitters and bubbly water made it a nice refresher for the dishes to follow.
One beautiful piece of squab breast, artfully set next to a well-sized rectangle of foie gras, and a thin sliver of biscotti. The squab was near perfect—pink on the inside with skin that crackled when you bit into it—and I happily celebrated foie gras’ return to California by smearing it across the top of the biscotti and devouring it in two greedy bites.
A thick circular cut of hearty venison (from Broken Arrow Ranch in the Texas Hill Country) rubbed with a thick layer of coffee. The venison, bright red from the center out, was placed on a bed of brown quinoa and smoked eggplant puree. At this point, I’ve got five courses of dessert in my future and a belly already set to bursting, but the venison seems to evaporate in a meaty mist in my mouth and I find myself scouring the plate for any last morsel of quinoa.
Saint Frank owner Kevin Bohlin arrives at this point to start wowing the gathered crowd with some truly excellent coffees prepared in novel ways. First up, Ethiopia Hama Cooperative brewed hot through a V60, then poured into a chilled Erlenmeyer flask floating in an ice bath. The coffee is cold, clean, clear, and refreshing—ably pairing with the ovular sphere of grapefruit sorbet tacoed into a thinly sliced piece of grapefruit, a block of custard, and a dash of lemon powder—but still maintains the rough and ruddy edges of a brewed cup of great coffee.
A martini glass an eighth full of creamy, black sesame panna cotta is piled with paper-thin slices of candied kumquat and a dollop of almost jam-like strawberries. A couple of what might be house-made sesame seed crackers line the edges and a spoonful of strawberry sorbet finishes it off. It ends up tasting like some heavenly take on a yogurt parfait. For coffee, Bohlin serves up a cup of Rwanda Gihombo that’s both bright and berry-like and nicely complements the last scrapings of the panna cotta.
The granita, a sort of ice-y slush of jasmine flavor, joins a thickened glob of sherry and a crumble of rosemary pudding on a teardrop-shaped white plate. The texture is like a granola smoothie with just a hint of booze. It’s paired with an unfiltered French press of Colombian coffee of the Tabid variety. Bohlin lets the coffee and hot water mingle in the French press before scraping the top of solids and then pouring it into a decanter. The result is a coffee with the same body of one prepared in a French press, but with a cleaner taste.
It looks a little like a dessert Stonehenge on the plate with a mound of bitterly sweet chicory ice cream cozying up with a lightly burned slice of orange, a thick line of sweet chocolate cream, a building block of custard. With a few deft stabs, the structure collapses in a delicious melange of flavors that end up tasting like a three-scoop coffee sundae laced with caramel. Accompanying it is a Guatemala Don Guayo coffee, immersion-blended with a touch of xanthan gum to give it a big, frothy mouthfeel. It’s almost like a cappuccino, but with none of the flavor-diluting milk.
Because it’s a requirement of all coffee-related food that at some point someone is going to pour a shot of espresso over a couple of scoops of ice cream, the meal ends with an affogatto. This time the espresso, a long shot of Honduras Las Nubes, is slowly drizzled over a few scoops of Douglas Fir ice cream, plopped on top of a thick layer of rhubarb jam. The big berry notes of the espresso bridge the gap between the Douglas Fir and the rhubarb, forming a sharp, but floral finish in your mouth.
I’m stuffed and my mouth tastes like a dessert buffet bar exploded in it. Let’s chock this one up as a successful first go for Saint Frank, and hopefully the first of many such nights in the Bay Area.