I didn't want to love Elizabeth Street Cafe. I thought that it would be too corporate, too precisely choreographed, too highly designed to be really good. I was wrong. Elizabeth Street is a little slicker than most homegrown places, but it is nevertheless staffed with people who love what they do, a menu that is innovative and beautifully executed, and a space that takes your breath away.
First things first, Elizabeth Street is gorgeous. Every time you round a corner, the color and space and light leaps out at you - I'm not sure exactly where it transports you - colonial French Vietnam maybe? - but it definitely transports you somewhere beautiful. On nice days, the outside seats are particularly amazing, with plenty of shade and the ultra chic elegance of the restaurant against the backdrop of South First.
A caveat here: I've been to Elizabeth Street Cafe many times, but it's always been for breakfast. It's when the days are the most mild, when the quiet simplicity of the place is most pronounced. I am sure that the vibe is no less interesting, the food no less delicious if you were to go in the evening, but that'll have to be a follow up for me.
For breakfast, Elizabeth rocks. I've been through the full set of breakfast Bahn Mi - combinations of crispy pork belly and fried eggs with avocado and mint; ginger sausage and scrambled eggs; egg white and chili. The baguette these are each served on is crusty and airy with a perfect bite. The presentation is perfect. Even better is the ginger sausage with poached eggs, sticky rice and touches of thinly sliced radishes and cilantro. The richness of the egg yolk connects to the subtle sweetness of the rice and is brightened by the ginger and radishes.
Stumptown, and while the espresso drinks aren't really at the level they could be (the milk is frothed to dish soap bubble consistency), coffee in both American and Vietnamese styles is quite good. Pastries are made next door, and are a mystifying combination of absolute bliss and curious short cuts. This is nowhere more apparent than with the almond croissant. A million buttery layers and a perfect crisp, but sliced through the middle and infused with a sort of almond-extract butter. Not the most elegant approach.
These are small weak spots, and they give just enough humanity to Elizabeth Street to make it's slickness seem organic, just enough to make the entire experience of breakfast there one of the loveliest in town.