There are some people in the restaurant industry who totally melt your heart, and the kind couple (Kristoffer Toliao and Yuka Ioroi) running the homey ~CASSAVA BAKERY + CAFÉ~ in the Outer Richmond have not only totally charmed me but a whole bunch of other customers and neighbors as well. It’s a tiny and cheerful space, with pretty flower arrangements in Saint Benoit yogurt containers, a rosemary bush in a planter out front, and a smiley staff outfitted in snappy striped aprons and ties.
But charm can only get you so far. You also need some cooking chops, and with one bite of the crust on the quiche, you’ll see they have that covered too. Chef Kris was most recently at Luce at the InterContinental Hotel, but he has also staged at a kaiseki restaurant (and Michelin two-star) in Tokyo, Kikunoi. Which is why you’ll want to consider ordering the Japanese breakfast on the weekend brunch menu. For $10, you’ll get an array of plates: a beautiful “onsen tamago” poached egg cooked sous vide; simmered hijiki with lotus root, carrot, and sesame; wakame salad; top-of-the-line koshihikari rice; a housemade natto with Meyer lemon and jalapeño kosho (the first natto I have ever really enjoyed, truly); and the crown jewel, the ichiban (the “first wash”) dashi miso soup, featuring an exquisite dashi—you can read more about ichiban versus niban (the second wash) here (the onsen egg features niban dashi and soy).
While this isn’t a breakfast for someone who usually likes, say, pancakes, I found it to be elegant and a nice break from the usual lineup. Oh, and I learned a useful tip on eating natto: hold the bowl very close to your mouth to diminish the spiderweb-like strings that can very quickly create their own comedy show. Just try eating natto outside at a breezy table—it was like a runaway train. Trust, I was cracking up at myself.
I will admit I am not a huge quiche fan—the crust is often too thick, or soggy, or just too much. Not so here. It’s a masterwork. Ends up chef uses pâte brisée dough for the crust, which means you get your weekly allotment of butter, all in one fell swoop. It’s flaky and delicate and gorgeous. The quiche ($5) that day came with Roma tomatoes and cremini mushrooms tucked into the custardy eggs, with a slice of melted Vermont cheddar on top and a good grating of pepper. Hubba.
Lunchtime brings a variety of sandwiches (from tuna melts to grilled vegetables on focaccia) and soups (would you care for some vichyssoise?), but the dish you’ll want to strongly consider is the meatballs in curry ($10). The tender and savory meatballs are Yuka’s mother’s recipe, made with a mix of tofu and beef, but the curry is like a good butter chicken curry—an Indian chef pal is behind the recipe. The meatballs come piping-hot with a little browned paneer or queso fresco on top, and you will scoop up every single bite as you start dunking the koshihikari rice into the sauce. I’m coming back for the white wine-poached shrimp and avocado sliders ($10) on challah buns, they look so fantastic.
There’s a pastry case with all kinds of baked goods—I brought the popular curry puff ($2) home to warm up later. After a couple bites, you will soon see why this curried beef and potato pastry is a hit. The peanut butter-cornflakes cookies are crumbly and delicious, almost the texture of Chinese almond cookies. They also serve Ritual coffee, and I was told they are the only ones doing siphon coffee with Ritual beans.
The couple has started special prix-fixe dinners ($45) during the week, but they seem to sell out quickly because the room is so small—follow Cassava on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with all the news.
Since the space is so teeny-tiny, dress warmly in case you have to eat your meal outside. A bonus feature (well, in my book) is how the outside communal tables encourage conversation: I learned some awesome food tips from a couple that has been in the neighborhood a long time. Yeah, I got the hookup on where to find fried king crab. Gold!
If you’re looking for a worthy adventure to the Outer Richmond, maybe for lunch with a friend or a quiet morning by yourself after a walk on the beach, here’s your spot.
Cassava Bakery + Café
- 3519 Balboa St. San Francisco