Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pan Bagna at Cafe de la Presse

I had to get downtown today for a workshop, and was able to fit in lunch afterward at Cafe de la Presse. It's at the corner of Bush and Grant, across from the gates of Chinatown. It's a combination of a cafe and a newsstand, which happen to be two of my favorite things lumped into one. Who doesn't want to eat a croissant while paging through Australian Elle?

It appears that everyone who works at Cafe de la Presse is foreign, and at least half the people that go there are too. I'm 100% Californian and not well traveled, so when I go there I feel a little sheepish, as if for some reason I should be more cosmopolitan just to go there. But the staff is very friendly and warm, and I always shake that feeling quickly. Today I got waited on by a 20-something waiter with an ambiguous foreign accent and the appearance of having just finished skiing the Alps; he was very tall, tan, and blond, but not in a California way--a French or Swedish way. His smile was blinding. I felt a little like a hobbit.

Hobbit or no, when I'm there, I take care of business. They do a great croque monsieur and the loveliest, saltiest cornet of fries, but I usually get the pan bagna, which is olive oil-poached tuna on ciabatta, with butter lettuce, sliced fennel and cucumber, red peppers, tomato, egg, green beans, and very light pesto. It's like a salad Nicoise, but layered into a stunning and delicious sandwich, the primary lingering impression being of really good olive oil and good, crunchy vegetables.

The sandwich reminded me that as much as I like strong flavors, some of my favorite things are very delicate, like cucumber and celery. Celery! I could put celery in everything! I love its mild, grassy taste and pale, watery color. In my head, I lump these vegetables together, mostly for that summery, washed out shade of green, but also for having a very distinct but delicate flavor. I also include fennel in this group, and to some extent artichokes. (Incidentally, I just about lost my mind when I discovered cardoons, which, just like the Internet said, look like celery but taste like artichokes.)

No photo of the pan bagna, though. I guess technically I can take photos with my phone but I don't know how to get them from my phone to the computer. Ultimately, my technical abilities are pretty geriatric--I can type, and that's about it. But, I'm planning on changing this, starting this weekend. The husband and I are in search of some camera equipment. So, stay tuned.


  1. That sandwich sounds so perfect for today. You had me at oil-poached.

  2. I love that place. I do believe that, despite all the foreignness, they prepare the best cheeseburger in all of SF

  3. Never had the burger there. I'm deeply devoted to the burger at the Slow Club, but maybe I will branch out next time I'm at CDLP.

  4. Hey Samantha, I love the idea of this place too, but agree it's a little too... continental? for comfort. Hope the photo advice I gave Danny was of some help. I'm thinking of upgrading my equipment, too, come May []. Trade you an afternoon of shooting for a lesson in oil poaching fish ;).

  5. Birddog, sounds like a good swap. Let's set it up.