We're hitting a springtime pattern of warm, sunny days and cool, windy nights this week (though there might be a spot of rain this afternoon), and whether you're getting a bout of seasonal allergies or just trying to stave off an evening chill, I want to point you to one of the best chicken broths I've had in a long time, featured as the gullet-warming base of the chicken soup on the daily menu at Hayes Valley's new Little Gem. The restaurant, which was inspired in part by co-owner Eric Lilavois's gluten and dairy intolerances, tries to take a casual approach to "healthy" food, with dishes from former Ad Hoc chef Dave Cruz that reflect simple California cooking done with great care, attention to ingredients, and execution. As they put it in one of their taglines, "Thoughtful, simple food that happens to be good for you."
Entrées you'll find to be surprisingly satisfying, from a Tuscan-style, slow-roasted pork shoulder to a "meat and potatoes" dish of flatiron steak, russet potato rounds, and watercress.
But some of the shining stars of the menu are among the smaller plates, especially the bright, multiply crunchy and eclectic seasonal salads, and a highlight for me, the simple but deeply delicious chicken soup.
Says Chef Cruz, the secret may just be in the quality of the 12-hour-brined Marin Sun Farms chickens themselves the same ones they roast whole for the 101 Chicken entrée and in what he does with the bones afterwards.
"Our chicken broth is fairly simple," says Cruz. "The only real difference (not a secret at all) might be that I roast the bones a second time after having removed the meat. This allows for a deep browning of the bits that remain on the cage, as well as the cage itself. Then when the water is introduced, that wonderful flavor is transferred."
The broth, as dark as it is perfectly well seasoned, is aided by well caramelized aromatics (onions and carrots), and a slow two-hour simmer. It's then strained and reduced even further, for richer flavor and viscosity, and served with bits of shredded chicken, sliced scallions, and sliced crimini mushrooms.
Little Gem - 400 Grove Street at Gough - Open six days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays.
Related: Michael Bauer's full review of Little Gem [Chronicle]