SAN FRANCISCO—After spending hours in line at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco with hordes of angry people wanting to get their visas processed in a flash, we decided to grab a bite to eat before heading to a farmer’s market.
We didn’t want to take the easy way out and eat Japanese; the Chinese Consulate is across the street from Japantown. We took the advice from a Russian guard who worked at the front entrance of the Chinese consulate.
He suggested we walk to a little place called the Red Door Café.
In feng shui the front door to a home, restaurant, or business is believed to be “the mouth of chi” (the circulating life energy in Chinese philosophy). Painting the front door red is supposed to bring the inhabitants good luck. We were afraid that a popular café in Pacific Heights would be very expensive and difficult to get into during the late morning hours.
We were wrong on both counts.
We spotted the fire engine red door from a half a block away. Red Door Café is a very cozy micro-restaurant with two employees.
There was a very engaging, friendly, and energetic young man who served as maître d’, waiter, barista, cashier, and owner. He represented 50% of the working staff. The other guy was cooking.
When our Russian friend told us it was a small café, he wasn’t kidding. The Red Door Café is tres petite, even by San Franciscan standards.
When you walk in, the first thing you will notice is the eccentric collection of art that is affixed to the walls. There are paintings, drawings, photography, antique mirrors, and a disturbing array of dolls and the subtly unnatural placement of their parts. We wondered if the décor was in alignment with the principles of feng shui.
The next thing one notices is the creative use of counter space. Coffee condiments, fresh pastries, napkins, stir sticks, and utensils, are all carefully and thoughtfully placed on every available surface.
The Red Door Café plays funky music from the 70’s and 80’s. We heard Michael Jackson, the cast of Fame, and Diana Ross. There are 4 small octagonal tables made of tile and rustic wood. The seating is handled by a combination of long benches and a small collection of matching retro red vinyl chairs. Sixteen patrons can be seated comfortably if strategically placed.
Patrons do not come to the Red Door Café for private conversations. Because the seating is so intimate, it is normal for conversations to fuse together into one unified discussion shared by the entire restaurant.
Though the staffing is small and the space is limited, the taste of the food is inspiring. We ordered a large café mocha, and a dish called the Mexidilla (pronounced mex-i-dee-ya). Often, mochas are overly sweet and too chocolaty. Mochas are usually viewed as coffee for people who don’t like the taste of coffee. The Red Door Café mocha is a coffee drinkers mocha and we recommend it.
The Mexidilla (pronounced mex-i-dee-ya) is presented on a bright fiesta ware plate. It included a fried quesadilla served with homemade salsa, mango and apple. The tortilla was crispy golden brown and not greasy.
The Red Door Café menu seems to take advantage of what’s in season. Every selection at the Red Door Café is hand crafted and artistically presented. The portions are large without being too much.
Red Door Café is well known for their French Toast Josephine. It is served with caramelized bananas and fresh seasonal fruit. The French Toast Josephine is so good that some people describe it in religious terms. It is not uncommon for patrons to travel great distances to indulge themselves.
We have been fortunate to visit during the week when there is a minimal wait. During the weekend, it may take an hour or so before a table becomes available. The owner is likely to serve you coffee to pass the time and hopefully suppress your hunger. Although the walls include toy paraphernalia, Red Door Café does not easily accommodate families with young children.
We think of it as the Spider Velocé of Cafés; it’s an experience you love sharing, but when you involve more than one other person, it can get uncomfortable and feels slightly illegal.
We salute the Red Door Café. We have returned there often and have always had a cherished experience, and frequently recommend it to visiting friends.
It is a one of San Francisco’s simple culinary treasures. The Red Door Café is located at: 608 Bush Street San Francisco, CA 94109 (415) 441-1564
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