If for no other item on the menu, get to Bluestem Brasserie now for new executive chef John Griffiths’ chicken liver toast. This delectable dish will be the best thing you taste all summer: two thick pieces of toasted levain bread spread thick with chicken liver mousse pate, and topped with diced pickled peaches and rosemary. Griffiths changes the fruit topping seasonally (previous incarnations have included a currant/pecan relish, blueberry mostarda, and sautéed apricots) but it’s hard to imagine anything complimenting the dish as well as the current fresh peaches.
Griffiths is new to the Bluestem kitchen, where he replaces the respected Jeff Banker, and continues to work with Banker’s wife Lori Baker, Bluestem’s consulting pastry chef. Griffiths has put his own spin on the hyper-seasonal and ever-changing Bluestem menu; his overhaul is modest yet perceptible, with a concentration on fresh ingredients and bright flavors that enliven the restaurant’s popular, signature dishes. His new menu also places more emphasis on shared plates. During our recent visit, we never even made it to the “Bigger” entrée portion of the menu, so satiated were we with the variety from the “Small” offerings.
In addition to the amazing chicken liver toast that he brought with him from his last stint at The Advocate in Berkeley, other Griffiths’ highlights on the Bluestem menu include: octopus with braised potatoes, olives, orange and espelette, roasted cauliflower with green harissa, and lamb tartare with snow peas, smoked egg yolk, yogurt, and scallion-chile relish. Bluestem signature items also now feature Griffiths take, including the popular duck confit salad with haricot vert, fried duck egg and mustard-herb dressing, the roasted half chicken with chilled Balakian Farms summer squash, nicoise olives, harissa, feta and yogurt, the brasserie burger—house-ground grass-fed beef, swiss cheese, pickled mushrooms, candied bacon, tarragon aioli, au jus.
“We are lucky to live in California and have access to local and unique ingredients,” says Griffiths, whose aspirations in the kitchen echo his aspirations in life. As an avid climber, his approach to cooking is derived from his healthy lifestyle. “When creating the menu at Bluestem, I wanted to embrace a broader Mediterranean palate with some emphasis on vegetable cookery that supports and interplays with a variety of local meats and seafood while not losing sight to our urban location and French heritage of a brasserie.”
“This is an exciting month for us as we are not only welcoming an extremely talented chef and introducing a new menu, but also celebrating Bluestem’s fifth birthday,” says Bluestem owner Stacy Jed. “We have been exploring the way people dine, which led us to create a menu that features more shareable plates, as well as offering more vegetable-centric dishes that complement proteins. John’s healthy lifestyle and approach to cooking shines in the new menu at Bluestem.”
But even the healthiest of diners craves a post dinner sweet, and that’s where Baker comes in. Most recently the owner/pastry chef of the former Baker & Banker, where she was known for her innovative, flavorful desserts and baked goods, Baker incorporates delicate, bright seasonal flavors in her playful desserts. Highlights include the strawberry tall cake with layers of vanilla bean cake and strawberry cheesecake with strawberry compote, Arachibutyrophobia – which translates to a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth – peanut butter semifreddo, roasted banana caramel, flourless chocolate cake, dark chocolate glaze, peanut brittle, banana chips, and the nutty blue, warm blueberry brioche bread pudding, buttermilk bourbon caramel, toasted almond, vanilla bean ice cream.
Bluestem Brasserie, named for a prevalent and highly desired Midwest prairie grass, is located at 1 Yerba Buena Lane, between 3rd and 4th Streets. Its big city vibe contrasts engagingly with a welcoming earthiness suggestive of its name, and set off by reclaimed hardwood table tops and floors, soothing earth tones, and soft lighting. When you arrive to claim your order of chicken liver toast, don’t miss a peek at the artistically LED lit bar, designed to mimic firefly light in a meadow.
Photography by Kathleen Ensign