Kindred Spirits

IMG_8888The sudden desire to go to Cafe Jaqueline – the french restaurant in San Francisco – came to me while I was reading the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I was curious. Steve Jobs was – by most accounts – one tough customer. So, when I read Jobs loved it there – I wanted to know why.  In the book, a couple of Jobs’ friends planned a bachelor party for him and it started with a dinner at a very fancy hotel restaurant in San Francisco. It didn’t say which one – or I might check that out too – I’m like that about things I read about. Anyway – they sat down and got cozy and the bread came. And that’s when Jobs announced he didn’t want to be there. He made them get up, walk out and move to a different restaurant – Cafe Jaqueline – which Isaacson described as “the soufflé place that he loved.”

I dragged my husband there. It’s a one of a kind place on IMG_8894Grant Street in San Francisco, tucked in among rowdy bars and pizza places. It’s small – only one room. And when we walked in I instantly sensed Jobs’ love of the restaurant might have gone beyond the fact that he could get a vegetarian soufflé there. I could feel something special as we sat at our table. An air of anticipation was wafting around the room.

Everyone was relaxed while they waited for the food that had brought them there. We ordered a beer and a glass of red wine. Our waiter explained that only one pair of hands is responsible for everything that comes out of the kitchen. Those hands belong to Jacqueline – a little French woman who makes every single soufflé and every salad and everything else. The bread arrived. It was hot, not warm, and crunchy and the butter melted quickly and irresistibly. I asked our server if he ever waited on Steve Jobs. He IMG_8897looked surprised and muttered that he was off that night.

Then, I made my move. I headed to the restroom because I heard you pass through the kitchen on the way and you can talk to Jacqueline. She’s a tiny woman and when she speaks – her words come out with a beautiful French accent. She told me she lives in Oakland and every day she drives around collecting everything she needs to make her dishes. She goes to farmers markets and a market in Berkeley called Berkeley Bowl. And waving her hand over the biggest bowl of eggs I’ve ever seen – she said, “Fresh, I like everything fresh.”

I went back and sat down, marveling that I might have uncovered why Jobs loved it there so much. He had a thing – according to Issacson – about the back end of the product – a quality thing. And he did not compromise. Neither – apparently did Jacqueline. They were kindred spirits.

It was quite some time before our cucumber salad arrived, and almost an hour before we saw our French onion soup. The waiter had warned us it would be awhile. We didn’t care. We were under the spell. The waiter wandered back to us and maybe to help us pass the time he offered up a little something. He said he’s not supposed to talk about Steve Jobs but he did wait on him and each time he told us – there was a point when their eyes would lock and Jobs had a look of, “Where is it? Where is my soufflé?”

It was almost two hours before we saw our soufflé. We don’t really have a lot of experience with soufflé but something told me we would never have one quite as good as that one. I went to thank Jacqueline on the way out. I got up the nerve and as she was placing a French onion soup in the oven I asked her about Steve Jobs. She stiffened a little. She turned around and I saw a shadow had crossed her face and she said, “We miss him.”

IMG_8902Finding It:

Cafe Jacqueline, 1554 Grant Street, San Francisco

Tripping on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaccson

In Steve Jobs:
“Tevanian had been unable to get reservations at Greens, the vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason that Jobs liked, so he booked a very fancy restaurant at a hotel. “I don’t want to eat here,” Jobs announced as soon as the bread was placed on the table. He made them get up and walk out, to the horror of Tevanian, who was not yet used to Jobs’s restaurant manners. He led them to Café Jacqueline in North Beach, the soufflé place that he loved, which was indeed a better choice.” Page 273

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