Day 4 – San Francisco: conflicted states

An almost very tasty egg benedict at Zazie in Cole Valley, San Francisco

In search of a nice breakfast place, I scoured Eater, a few out of the way blogs, and, yet again, Yelp. I couldn’t get all the way to Boogaloo, as recommended, so I hopped in a cab and headed out to Zazie. Zazie is a cozy little French cafe in a little community called Cole Valley.  There are no open ATMs nearby during traditional “breakfast” hours, so if you take a cab, get cash before you go. Anyway, Zazie had 1993 recs and 4.0 stars. As Yelp goes, these seem to be reasonable credentials.  If you’ve read other San Francisco posts I wrote you might be doubting my professed disdain for Yelp.  I assure you, it is real. Very, very real.

Quick aside, the website mentions that the employees get full medical and dental, 401K and profit sharing. This seems unheard of at a small independent shop, but I bet it does wonders for turnover. This was, to be honest, a big part of the reason I chose to make the trek. Government compulsion is not the only–and probably not the best or most efficient–way to get people good benefits. That this business has been around as long as it has suggests to me there is another alternative to mandatory benefit packages. That said, we have a massive free rider problem in health care and I think there’s a reasonable chance the President’s solution is far better than what we’ve been doing. I should also point out two other items. First, Zazie adds $1.25/person to the check to cover (or partially offset, I didn’t get to ask) the cost of these benefits. On the one hand, it’s an explicit spreading of the cost of those benefits to the consumer, which I suppose would’ve happened in the form of higher prices if the benefits were to be provided anyway. Perhaps the explicit surcharge makes the 10-15% add on to the bill easier because it is going to an immediately apparent good cause. On the other hand, I tipped a little less because of it. I bet if you ask the servers they prefer this model instead of living off tips exclusively, and I don’t mind paying, so everybody wins. Again, it’s a luxury to choose to support places like this, but if you can do it, why not?

As for the restaurant, well thats another matter.  I walked in and it was a charming little place, about 20 tables of varying sizes, two servers buzzing around, a couple front patio seats and (apparently, though i didnt see it) a heated garden dining area as well.  This cool design was on the wall.

Not really sure what this is, but it looked cool

Down to the food…which is, unfortunately, the disappointing part.  I ordered the Albert, an eggs Benedict (side note: read the origin of eggs benedict) with bacon and fontina that could’ve been quite good. The hollandaise was light and tangy, which was a plus, the bacon was perfect, but the significantly under poached egg spoiled the affair. On the plus side, you have an option of 1, 2, or 3 eggs, which was great because it allowed me to order less of this and get some variety, and a single pancake-an option I also took. My first bite of the buttermilk pancake put Zazie on the road to redemption. It was light and fluffy, but not one of those overly cakey pancakes, and it was actually a little sweet without any butter or syrup. I was feeling pretty good until bite number two…and three…and four. Turns out the pancake, too, was underdone. And I mean underdone as in a couple bites of batter taste and one of that sort of mushy middle ground that is the characteristic taste of that first pancake your kids make for you on mother/father’s day when their six and taking a break from rambunctious craziness. So close, yet so far away. Well, the roasted red potatoes were actually quite good, with a good amount of crisp on just enough of them to mix textures, and the coffee was above average, too (though I have a muted coffee palate, so coffee snobs please don’t hold me to it. I can tell really good from average and bad, but nothing in between).

The whole experience left me a little underwhelmed, especially because I’d passed up Brenda’s a few blocks from my hotel for the much, much farther Zazie. This sensation was compounded by a server who seemed more interested in the conversation with her colleague than my coffee cup that spent most of my meal empty. She almost redeemed herself with warmth and good advice when she did come around, but I suppose it’s true that when it all comes down to it, you want good food and good service first, then things like ambience and social good follow.  My server did, however, give me a great tip, as the “N Judah” electric car picked up at the end of the block, saving me $18 on a cab ride back. I suspect if you take the time to understand it, the bus/train system in San Francisco is such that you don’t need to pay expensive cabs. Everybody uses public transport, so while it can be colorful (see this post from day 1), its generally a good option. And for me the ride back on the electric car was almost worth the breakfast that didn’t bowl me over. (I rode the train, standing, inches away from a German family whose children I’m not sure had ever seen a Black person. Or they were just mesmerized by how fashionable my tie way.  Either way, there’s actually something endearing about close-quarter train rides. Occasional ones, anyway).

A quick note on price. This place was super reasonable. My single egg Benedict was $9 and plenty of food on its own. The coffee was $2, I think, and the pancake might’ve been $5 or $6. The $1.25 surcharge to fund the benefits didn’t put me off at all, I actually liked it better than just a generic higher priced item, so that’s good.  I don’t like writing mediocre or bad reviews, and everyone has a bad day. I’d gladly return to Zazie, so I don’t mean to say its not worth trying. Food is a personal experience, and everyone’s tastes are unlikely to line up. I just want to paint a fair picture of my experience and hope to read about others as well.

I made it back downtown in short order and was ready to embark on my day, which included several interesting legal presentations, a very nice encounter with a Panamanian attorney…and an evening that began with a trip to Toronado–which I write about in my “Personal Pub Crawl & “Authentic” Chinese post. Thanks for reading, how’d you like your last trip to the bay?

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