The new Bluestem Brasserie, five years in the making, finally opened in an area of The City that sorely needs a neighborhood restaurant — downtown.
San Franciscans used to regard downtown as Union Square. Bluestem is one block away from it, just across Market Street from Grant Avenue. However, these days downtown encompasses the Yerba Buena arts complex, the Museum of Modern Art, more than 1,000 luxury condominiums, and new office towers along and just south of Market Street.
The demand for a multifaceted, full-service restaurant in this area has never been stronger; Bluestem’s owner Adam Jed answered the call.
Now downtown has a go-to place with a bar, lounges, TVs and indoor and outdoor dining, nestled in the heart of the action, at the beginning of sleek Yerba Buena Lane.
The name of this modern concrete-and-glass restaurant refers to indigenous prairie grasses preferred by pasture-raised cattle. The two-story concrete wall of the Olle Lundberg-designed space whimsically sprouts cast iron bluestem replicas. But Bluestem really is more of an American-style brasserie than a steakhouse.
Chef Sean Canavan, a veteran of notable San Francisco kitchens, has a feeling for charcuterie ($8.75; each additional choice $2.50). The pates and terrines come on a board with house-made pickles, each with a different texture.
I wouldn’t hesitate to go for the grand plat ($19) based on some smoky blood and tongue sausage, and a slice of truffled chicken liver mousse I devoured one day at lunch. Canavan’s house-made, lunchtime bratwurst ($16), plump, juicy coriander-perfumed sausages with an arugula, fennel and peach salad, demonstrates his commitment to all forms of charcuterie.
If you’re timid, you can always start with a butter lettuce salad ($9.75) with beets in a tarragon-scented mustard vinaigrette, the perfect everyday salad.
If it is Tuesday, order coq au vin ($23.75), moist, falling-off-the-bone chicken in a rich red wine sauce that lubricates thin, house-made ribbons of noodle studded with mushrooms, pearl onions and carrots.
Every day, mild calf’s liver ($21), pink and juicy, is slathered with sauteed onions, topped with crunchy fried onion strings and anchored with buttermilk mashed potatoes, a signature Bluestem dish.
A thin, chewy, big-flavored 10-ounce rib eye steak ($28) also gets classic accompaniments: watercress and a grilled breadcrumb-topped half tomato. You can opt for a sauce ($3.75), but why? Get a side ($5) instead, like a summery saute of corn, favas and cherry tomatoes.
Save room for one of pastry chef James Ormsby’s huge, whimsical, luscious desserts ($8.50). One of my favorites, caramelized butterscotch tapioca pudding, has a crisp bruléed top, exciting, almost chewy tapioca berries, and two little pig-shaped toffee cookies studded with bits of bacon. It hit all my sensory hot spots.
Ormsby loves cookies judging by his “Cookie Jar,” a mason jar full of fresh pistachio cups, fluffily filled Oreos, candied citrus peel, short breads and toffees — an adult kid’s dream come true.
Bluestem is an ideal downtown meeting spot that’s open straight through, from early lunch to late dinner. For me, it comes off like a 21st-century version of the sadly departed Original Joe’s, moderate in price, meat-centric, unpretentious and indispensable.
Location: 1 Yerba Buena Lane (off Market Street at Grant Avenue), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 547-1111; www.bluestembrasserie.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Price range: Starters $8.75 to $13; main courses $12 (hamburger) to $29 (filet mignon)
Recommended dishes: All charcuterie, bratwurst, calf’s liver, coq au vin, butter lettuce salad, “The Cookie Jar”
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express
Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.