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Food & Wine: Ladies Who Brunch

by Carolyn Jung

Hilda and Jesse’s tasting menu delivers three delectable courses that change seasonally. | Photo courtesy of Timofei Osipenko.
Hilda and Jesse’s tasting menu delivers three delectable courses that change seasonally. | Photo courtesy of Timofei Osipenko.

A new restaurant upholds the notion that the first meal of the day is the most important — and the most craveworthy.

Brunch is having a moment. A bim bam boom one.

Consider that in 2022, HBO Max will launch The Big Brunch, a cooking competition centered on that languid midday meal. Its host and creator is Dan Levy, whose character David Rose on Schitt’s Creek famously possessed such lackluster culinary skills that he was completely baffled when instructed to “fold in cheese.”

Ponder that post-pandemic, 75 percent of consumers are eager to eat breakfast or brunch at their favorite restaurant, according to a recent nationwide Harris Poll (albeit commissioned by General Mills Foodservice). It also found that 62 percent of respondents consider breakfast their favorite meal of the day, and 56 percent love breakfast more now than a year ago.

For even more proof, look no further than the recent debut of San Francisco’s audacious brunch-only restaurant, Hilda and Jesse, which features what is thought to be the only brunch tasting menu in the Bay Area.

Chef Kristina Liedags Compton and operations director Rachel Sillcocks, co-owners of this novel North Beach restaurant, have gone way beyond boozy buffets and banal eggs Benedict to reimagine what brunch can be.

“We want to change the way people look at this meal — period,” Sillcocks says. “You wouldn’t think twice about enjoying a tasting menu or sipping a great wine in the evening. Why not have that type of elevated experience during the day, too?”

Folks are clearly hankering for it. The cafe is an extension of their pop-up of the same name that started in 2019 and regularly sold out with 50 orders each time.

Their cheery, retro yet modern spot with checkerboard floors and red-chrome diner chairs may have opened only in November, but some customers are already returning three times a week. The majority opt for the $45 three-course tasting menu, which is available in the daytime as well as on Monday nights only for those craving breakfast for dinner — especially alongside a curated list of sparkling wines. The restaurant is closed all other nights, providing the opportunity for the space to host private dinners or pop-ups.

The tasting menu premiered with celery root cake, a play on the dim sum classic turnip cake; a congee-like dish made with hominy and chicken, and lashed with fermented black bean and brown butter; and manna, a traditional Latvian mousse from Compton’s heritage made of cream of wheat whipped to an airy meringue, then finished with apple syrup, black sesame and coconut fluff.

The crowd-pleasing Pancakes Without Boundaries includes a double stack with grilled cranberries, maple syrup and butter.
The crowd-pleasing Pancakes Without Boundaries includes a double stack with grilled cranberries, maple syrup and butter.

The á la carte menu is also full of surprises. The “avocado toast” has no toast whatsoever. Instead, its base is crisp, tempura-fried sweet potato adorned with horseradish and dill for boldness. The signature Pancakes Without Boundaries is a double stack enriched with buttermilk and embellished with grilled cranberries doused in maple syrup. For a splurge, ask for shaved white truffles overtop ($50).

The restaurant is named for Compton’s hardworking, no-nonsense grandmother Hilda, who lived to 100 and greeted customers at Sam’s Club with free food samples until she was 80; and for Sillcocks’ late grandfather Jesse, whom she’d accompany as a child to his favorite diners for breakfast, where he loved nothing better than dipping Portuguese rolls into a hot cup of black Sanka.

The idea for the venture, the first that’s their own, developed from the many breakfasts they shared together pre-shifts at San Francisco’s now-shuttered Range, where then–executive chef Sillcocks, 44, hired Compton, 33, as her sous chef.

After all, for them there’s no question as to what’s the most important meal of the day. “People should create time for something both fun and nourishing,” Sillcocks says. “If you put intention into how you start your day, you set yourself up for the best possible version of that day.”


Day or Night

Hilda and Jesse
701 Union Street, San Francisco
Hours: Fri–Sun, 9 a.m.–2 p.m.; Mon, 5:30–9 p.m.
hildaandjessesf.com

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