photos from Myth website
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to stage twice at Myth, a French/California restaurant in San Francisco’s Jackson Square area. I will get to the food very shortly, but I also wanted to mention that Myth is one of the loveliest restaurants I’ve been to, both cozy and elegant, grand and intimate at the same time due to the clever use of space and materials. The main dining room is pleasingly impressive, with its high ceilings and exposed beams over a sea of banquettes. Bookending the room are two rows of wood-paneled booths that add heft and geometric contrast. There is also a private "chef’s table" in the corner (see second picture), and space in the back of the dining room has been converted into some sexy, intimate alcoves that overlook the main space. I absolutely love the use of natural materials: the exposed stone and brick walls, dark gold wood paneling, the stained glass partitions, and those shimmering, ephemeral gold fabric panels hanging from the ceiling that help reflect and diffuse the warm golden light throughout the place. A perfect date restaurant indeed!
As if there wasn’t enough seats already, there is also a plush lounge area with a full bar, and Myth is also turning some additional space in the back (it’s like a magic cavern, how they keep uncovering more space) into a wine bar that will serve a separate tapas menu. Much of the staff here, including executive chef Sean O’Brien, hail from the renowned Gary Danko, but the food and atmosphere are a bit more casual and eclectic. Disclaimer: I haven’t eaten a full meal here yet, but I have eaten at the bar, and the food is elegantly presented and singularly satisfying.
Unfortunately, there are no tempting photos of desserts to follow, since I was staging, but I can say that Reneé Atkins is a wonderfully talented and generous pastry chef. She creates pastries for Myth Cafe (oh yes, did I mention they also have a cafe next door that serves lunch? This kitchen has some serious output!)and the desserts for the restaurant menu. I came once in the morning to help with production for the cafe and again at night to help with the dessert plating. Pastry is lucky enough to have its own little space out of the way of everyone else, with a big worktable and natural light from a wall of windows – one of the nicest areas in the kitchen in my opinion. Most of the savory items are fired in an open area at one end of the dining room – if you’re facing it, you can see the stairs going up to the rest of the kitchen and off to the left is the pastry area, partially partitioned off. Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of Reneé and her staff working their magic:) The rest of the kitchen is actually rather serpentine, a series of corridors sandwiched between the restaurant and cafe, with numerous doors to the dining areas; really, this whole place is like a labyrinth!
Some things I have learned from working in kitchens:
– Always be aware of where you are and where everyone else is. Say "behind" and "hot" loudly to prevent collisions.
– Space is always at a premium. Don’t take up more counter space than necessary, don’t leave your dirty tools lying around – put things away as soon as you are done.
– Time is always at a premium. The more organized you are, the less chance of mistakes and running around willy-nilly. Always think of how you can work faster and more efficiently.
– Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s better than messing a whole batch of something up and having to redo it. At the same time, be observant. If the chef is busy, wait for the right moment to ask or talk to someone else. Also, you learn a lot just by watching – as a stagiere you’re meant to observe as much as do so take a look at how everyone is working.
Some of this stuff may seem really obvious but there’s a big difference between knowing and doing – as I’ve found out. Watching a good kitchen crew hit their stride, putting plates together without wasted motion, or multitasking several jobs while coordinating stoves/ovens/tools with everyone else, is a marvel to watch. Even in the luxury of my own home, where I can spend all day making one dessert and monopolize the oven and dirty as many dishes as I want, I’ve become much more aware, after going to pastry school, of how much more efficiently I could work. It makes everything easier and lets you concentrate on your product – which is what we’re all ultimately concerned about, anyway!
So which did I like better, AM production or PM plating? The two are pretty different but I enjoyed aspects of both. In the morning it’s more of a steady workflow, constant mixing and baking off of various cookies, tarts, and cakes for the cafe as well as components for the evening desserts. There’s a pleasant satisfaction in finishing off a big batch of fruit tarts or mini cupcakes, and moving on to another batch of cookies or ice cream. I definitely learned a lot about baking technique. Once late afternoon comes around, prep for the dinner service begins – making sure all the components are set up, garnishes are in the proper place, etc. Then it’s waiting for the tickets to come in and the plating fun begins! If everything is in its place, the process is quite smooth – assemble the various components on plate, drizzle sauce, add garnishes, send out the finished dessert. Of course there is a bit of artistry involved – I had to practice running vanilla caramel sauce in a straight line down a plate or arranging ice cream quenelles in a bowl. It’s more stressful since you have a specific window of time to get your product out, but it’s a good challenge to your skills.
For example, if you in an order for a raspberry souffle, strudel, chocolate cake, and ice cream, you’ll want to put the souffle in the oven first because it takes the most time to bake off. The strudel takes less time but in the meantime you can plate the other components of the dessert. You can scoop the ice cream, but don’t leave it out for too long or it might start melting while the souffle is baking. The most important thing is that everything has to go out at once, so it’s always a matter of juggling items so they finish at approximately the same time. And, of course, anyone who’s ever worked in a service position knows that you’ll have no customers for a while, and then all of sudden ten orders will come in at once! That’s when the importance of having everything prepped and in its place suddenly becomes very apparent.
You can see Myth’s dinner menu here (note for many dishes you get the option of small or large plate size – very nice! And may I say the scallops were fantastic!) and the dessert menu here. The flourless chocolate cake is the one that requires the line of vanilla caramel sauce, along with the cake, some caramelized bananas, some butterscotch brittle, and a quenelle of vanilla ice cream. Really fun to plate. I also really liked the strawberry rhubarb strudel, which is looks like a little flaky pyramid on top of a little sandwich of honey-lavender ice cream between pistachio tuiles, resting on more strawberry and rhubarb in pool of strawberry essence. Strawberry and rhubarb – some of my favorite flavors!
My thanks to Reneé, Ryan Scott, and the rest of the staff at Myth for giving me such a great staging experience. They are a very warm and friendly crew, and I had not only an educational but a fun experience working in the pastry kitchen. I will certainly be going back for the full dining experience soon, and I encourage you to go too – it’s a lovely place in every way.
470 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
open Tuesdays through Saturdays
The Myth Cafe is open next door from 8 AM to 4 PM Mondays through Fridays and serves breakfast and lunch.