No. 5: Mushroom Soufflé at Cafe Jacqueline

Categories: SFoodie's 92
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justafoodie/Foodspotting
The mushroom souffle at Cafe Jacqueline, $28.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

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The reason that Cafe Jacqueline still shows up in most-romantic-restaurant lists isn't the fact that Jacqueline Margulis makes each of the savory and sweet soufflés on her short menu for two people. It's that diners are there for the evening, spending a few hours splitting a bottle of wine and waiting for their soufflés to be made to order, the conversation becoming as intimate as their familiarity with the cafe's weathered wood floorboards and pale blue-green walls. It's no surprise that a couple of plaques above the tables commemorate several wedding proposals and one "handshake of monogamy."

Margulis has operated her North Beach restaurant since 1979, and while she's the same age as the grayer-haired Supreme Court justices, her technique is just as sure as ever. With its refusal to compromise and its single-minded focus, Cafe Jacqueline is as suited to the indie era as it was to the glossy-eyed Francophilia of the 1970s.

For all that, Margulis's mushroom soufflé is as deceptively modest as the restaurant itself. The mottled golden dome begins to collapse the second the waiter with the curled mustache spoons out a little onto your plate, where the scoop slumps, emanating the homey smells of warm eggs, melted Gruyère, and sautéed mushrooms. Yet the spectacle doesn't end with the sinking of the dome. The soufflé doesn't fully deflate until you put it into your mouth, when it dissolves into air and eggs and mushrooms just as quickly as you sense it passing your lips. It takes several bites, in fact, to realize how rich it is.

If Parisian chefs hadn't invented the soufflé in the early 19th century, it's the kind of dish Heston Blumenthal or Grant Achatz would be astonishing diners with now. The fact that Margulis can still astonish diners, 32 years later, is a remarkable accomplishment. One woman, one dish: Surely, there isn't a better way to celebrate a handshake of monogamy.

Cafe Jacqueline: 1454 Grant (at Union), 981-5565.

Other favorites in this series:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square
42: Nopalito's quesadilla roja
41: Croissant from Sandbox Bakery
40: Cultured's burdock kasu-zuke pickles
39: Sticky chewy chocolate ice cream at Swensen's
38: Maverick's warm Brussels sprouts with slow-cooked egg
37: Roast chicken from Limón Rotisserie
36: Seven Hills' raviolo uovo
35: Morning bun from Pinkie's Bakery
34: Kaw soi dok at Mandalay
33: Fatted Calf's meatloaf sandwich
32: Duck larb at Thai House Express
31: Lark Creek Steak's burger
30: Barbacco's chicken thighs with olives and almonds
29: Mow Lee's lap cheong
28: Dollar oysters at Bar Crudo
27: Fava greens from Tairwa'-Knoll Farms
26: Nopa's mussels with harissa
25: Salt-and-pepper crab at Kam Lok
24: Recchiuti Confections' caramels to the third power
23: Mandarin lamb from Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
22: Tataki and Tataki South's faux-nagi
21: Blacksmith Cellars' chenin blanc
20: Sardine and avocado toasts at Contigo
19: Chocolate babka French toast from Wise Sons
18: Pralines from Southern Sweets
17: Wayfare Tavern's steak tartare
16: Russian River Brewing's Consecration Ale
15: Kimchi burrito from John's Snack and Deli
14: Adesso's lonza
13: Bean-paste stew at To Hyang
12: Stuffed apricots at Pera
11: Chicken milanesa torta at Boos Voni
10: Oboro tofu at Eiji
9: Chocolate-pistachio landscape at Atelier Crenn
8: Pork skewers at Halu
7: Aunt Malai's Lao sausage sandwich at Pal's Takeaway
6: Gialina's Atomica pizza

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