House-smoked trout at Baker & Banker

Photograph of Baker & Banker's house-smoked trout by Katherine Sacks | Starchefs.com

ONE GREAT DISH | Michele Mandell

The rapid-fire pace at which new restaurants open in San Francisco can make a three-year-old spot seem like yesterday’s news. But Baker & Banker, named for its husband-and-wife team — pastry chef Lori Baker and chef Jeff Banker — opened to critical fanfare in December 2009. And the place shows no sign of slowing down. On a recent Friday, the cozy, stylish dining room at Octavia and Bush was already packed by 6 p.m.

The dish not to miss here: house-smoked trout ($15). The delicately smoked fish is served on a potato latke with horseradish creme fraiche, pickled beets and shaved raw fennel. It’s been on the menu since opening day, and demand is as strong as ever. An average of 115 orders are sold every week.

This is not your grandmother’s crisp, thin potato latke. Baker & Banker’s version is thicker and more pancake-like, making it a substantial enough base to support a generous portion of smoked trout and pickled beets. The horseradish cream lends a kick and cuts the richness of the trout and potato, while the shaved raw fennel adds a fresh, crunchy accent. The disparate flavors and contrasting textures keep the palate interested.

The ample latke alone puts this dish firmly in comfort-food territory. But make no mistake, it’s an elegant dish, and beautifully composed. When I first saw it on its way to another table, I mistook it for a fancy dessert. The multicolored beets and pretty mound of fennel ribbons on top make it look like a little cake.

I can put away a staggering amount of food, so when I say this dish is filling, you can take that to the banker — or baker. It could serve as a light meal for someone with a smaller appetite. It also makes a great shared starter for the table, since it’s fairly easy to split.

Whether you’re sharing it or enjoying it yourself, you’ll appreciate that it’s served with a steak knife the size of Texas. You’ll need that to cut through the hearty elements on the plate.

The smoked trout is available at dinner and brunch. Tip: The full menu is served at the small bar, where seats are not reserved.

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