Though I have often walked by Blue Barn Gourmet, a salad and sandwich shop in the Marina, schlepping dying computers to the madhouse otherwise known as the Chestnut Street Apple store, I never thought about walking in. Then two slim guys I know, a 27-year-old and a 40-something, mentioned Blue Barn.
So I stopped in late one afternoon during my latest computer crisis, approached the counter in great need of comfort, and ordered The Big Cheese ($8.50).
The nurturing young woman at the counter suggested I get this melted extravaganza of brie d’affinois, havarti and swiss with the $1.50 addition of heirloom tomatoes. I said sure — after all I’d just dropped two grand on a lap top — and settled in at the high communal table on a straw-seated stool in the small dining area.
Barn-themed decor notwithstanding, nothing thrills me more than the secure stowage of my purse: There was a hook beneath the table. I was beginning to like this place already.
The Big Cheese was creamy, not over-full or too buttery, the toasted bread crisp and crinkly from the sandwich press. A big slab of warm, juicy tomato buoyed it. This was a clean, elegant grilled cheese sandwich, simply presented on a white plate. A good cook had thought about the details — proportion, level of richness, methodology for consistent execution. The Big Cheese projected an aura of goodness.
I returned, without computer, for Blue Barn’s Summer Heirloom tomato salad ($10): a huge bowl of mixed greens, carefully torn into bite-size pieces, tossed with small, exactly measured amounts of minutely crumbled blue cheese, minced Niman bacon ($1.25 extra), half-inch cubes of meaty tomato, toasted pine nuts, little lengths of green and yellow beans, big, crunchy olive-oil roasted croutons, and a whisper of fresh basil, all sheerly coated with perfectly balanced balsamic vinaigrette. Each bite tasted complete.
So it went with fattoush salad ($9.25), a crunchy mix of chopped chicories and romaine with a Middle Eastern cornucopia of vegetables.
You can guess what goes into the ever-popular tostada salad ($9.25), but I particularly liked the way pumpkin seeds added toastiness and crunch, and the way a teasingly sweet, hot and smoky chipotle-agave vinaigrette pulled it all together.
As in the salads, everything melded in the Kickin’ Chicken sandwich ($9.50), a crunchy, warm, Acme ciabatta roll sopping up the wet stuff: caramelized onions, BBQ sauce, creamy cole slaw dressing, all of which lubricated generous slices of moist chicken breast.
If you come here during prime meal hours, you will wait in a fast- moving line with the uniquely homogenous Marina crowd, 30-year-olds in Lululemon workout clothing with sunglasses hooked onto necklines.
I admired the way some brought their own plastic containers to take home these enormous salads, and that some ordered $30 boxes of produce brought to Blue Barn every Thursday from Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, the family farm of chef/owner Sam Josi. A pro, Josi also created The Tipsy Pig and Mamacita, two of my other faves.
Concept, inspired recipes and solid technique are all important, but Blue Barn’s ace is ingredients — truly fresh and whole.
If you’re running around the Marina Green every day and like the look of spandex, you can eat here. Sam Josi’s salads and sandwiches keep everyone viable.
Patricia Unterman is the author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Barn Gourmet
Location: 2105 Chestnut St. (near Steiner Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 441-3232; www.bluebarngourmet.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price range: Salads $8.25 to $12; sandwiches $5 to $11
Recommended dishes: Kickin’ Chicken sandwich, Summer Heirloom tomato salad, Big Cheese grilled cheese sandwich, fattoush salad
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard
Reservations: Not accepted; order-ahead food to go