Breakfast has been called the most important meal of the day, but few have championed morning fare like chefs Kristina Liedags Compton and Rachel Sillcocks, who are putting their fine dining pedigree to work elevating porridge and pancakes at their new brunch restaurant, Hilda and Jesse, in North Beach.
Both veterans of the Valencia Street eatery Range (now The Beehive)—as well as of the Michelin-starred kitchens at Atelier Crenn and Avery—the chefs found common ground in the day's most overlooked meal, agreeing that breakfast deserves the same enthusiasm and touch of luxury afforded to lunch and dinner.
After years of producing successful brunch-for-dinner pop-ups around San Francisco, Compton (who's doing the cooking) and Sillcocks (who's running the house) are giving breakfast the special occasion treatment at their first brick-and-mortar restaurant overlooking Washington Square Park.
Designed by Noz Nozawa of Noz Designs (Avery, Fiat Lux), the space is a colorful and highly Instagramable nod to the 1950s diner—think checkerboard floors and red vinyl bar stools—but without the kitsch. In fact, it feels like what a breakfast place should look like with a midcentury-meets-tropical vibe that comes in the way of easy-to-greet-the-day pastel hues; walls covered in pink tiles or painted with minty stripes; a leafy/nudie mural by local artist Maya Fuji ; comfy tufted banquettes; jadeite milk glass pendant lights; and framed family portraits painted by Daisy Patton .
All of this sets the stage for a true innovation: an inventive breakfast tasting menu composed of three courses for $45. During my visit, this meant a first course of cured trout with eggplant escabeche and charred zucchini sauce, followed by savory porridge with chicken and brown butter, and capped with manna, a whipped cream of wheat "meringue" with black sesame and coconut fluff. There are plenty of a la carte dishes to order as add-ons for sharing. The popular Pancakes Without Boundaries—a double stack of pillowy buttermilk cakes with grilled cranberries and maple syrup—is not to be missed.
It's easy to see why Hilda and Jesse puts its "avocado toast" in quotation marks: Tempura sweet potato takes the place of bread and the dish is accented with a generous helping of horseradish and dill. (Timofei Osipenko)
Next time we visit, my husband and I have our eyes on their "avocado toast," which is made with tempura sweet potatoes in lieu of bread; the hash browns with pork sausage, Latvian sauerkraut, and apple butter; and the nostalgic Grade School Breakfast with French toast sticks and maple Rice Krispies ice cream.
A hodgepodge of dinnerware is also part of the charm at Hilda and Jesse, adding an extra element of surprise to each new dish that lands on the table. After finding a set of Russell Wright's American Modern plates , the chefs were inspired to source vintage dishes and serveware to mix with modern pieces from Bauer Pottery, Mosser glass, and Fenway Clayworks.
Carrying on the celebratory vibe is the beverage list curated by "guarantor of guzzle" James Butler, which bubbles over with sparking wines. There is also a small selection of low-ABV cocktails, beer, cider, and even mead. And because there's no brunch without multiple drinks, I also tried the Hilda's ice coffee, which comes with malt and homemade oat milk.
All in all, Hilda and Jesse serves up a taste of something familiar, but you'll be hard-pressed to place where you've ever had breakfast like this before.
// Hilda and Jesse is open for dinner 5:30-9:30pm Mondays and for breakfast 9am to 2pm Fridays through Sundays; 701 Union St. (North Beach), hildaandjessesf.com .
Hilda and Jesse's manna reimagines cream of wheat. (Timofei Osipenko)