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Little Gem

PHOTOS: Krescent Cassaro

Little Gem has a lot going for it. Perfect corner in Hayes Valley, chefs from Thomas Keller establishments, a sleek interior that feels like a fancy museum cafe, and a promise of healthy, aggressively organic food that you actually want to eat. Cue San Francisco freaking the f*ck out.

What’s not going for it? Consistency in its ability to make things lacking joyful ingredients (gluten, sugar) taste good. Choose wisely, and you will be advocating this as a new cleanse plan. Order the wrong thing, and you will be looking at Monsanto stock and investing in wheat.

As noted above, the food at Little Gem is premised on being preposterously clean and healthy, and also upscale and delicious. The first two of those ideals are always true. The latter depends very much on what you get. Some salads are strong, while others make us completely distrust the entire belief that humans should eat leaves. Breakfast is also a game of chance, with the odds stacked against you because portion sizes are generally minute. The steak wrap is the best thing on the menu, but that isn’t exactly impressive since you don’t need sugar to make steak taste good. In order to leave Little Gem happy, you will need to be judicious in your choices.

Krescent Cassaro

Despite the hit-or-miss menu, Little Gem is an amazingly pleasant place to eat. The people who work there are chatty and seemingly happy to be spending all day in such a lovely place. The décor is straight out of Architectural Digest, and you generally feel calm here. Maybe it’s the bamboo grove you can see from the back room, or how all the diners speak in hushed tones, or because nobody is hyped up on glucose. Whatever the reason, it makes you feel like your entire wardrobe should be made of organic, hand-harvested cashmere and you should spend much of your day in a tasteful and pure space like Little Gem.

So we encourage you to hit Little Gem for healthy food, provided that you order correctly (more on that below) and don’t expect mountains of food. Once you’re there, you’ll end up wanting to post up for a while and imagine a life of attending Davos or hosting a mindfulness seminar. Dream big.

Food Rundown

Coconut Milk Yogurt

This wee mason jar of yogurt and granola is excellent. It’s also something you would serve to an American Girl Doll and it would be appropriately proportioned.

Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Served in a larger mason jar than the yogurt, this is a solid breakfast, especially if you go with steamed milk. But we also want to channel our inner Oliver Twist on this one. Hopefully they’d respond better to our request for more.

Frittata

Disappointing. Great ingredients, but it’s served at room temperature and has the texture of a rubber eraser.

Chicken Soup

Portioned more like a sample of soup, the broth is dark and mushroomy and very good. The chicken is skin on, which we appreciate as well. A fine side, but very, very much a side.

Spinach & Endive Salad

This is why people don’t trust salad. This one tastes like nothing. Also, I just read that if you like endive and take your coffee black you might be a psychopath. Consider yourself warned.

Rancho Gordo Beans & Kale Salad

Very filling and pretty damn delicious. If you add some meat on top, it’s definitely a full meal. This is the only salad that earns its keep.

Pulled Chicken Wrap

The bread is almost like a crepe, and very good. But the chicken is dry, and there’s not a ton of flavor going on. It also falls apart all over the place. Skip.

Steak Wrap

The best thing that Little Gem serves, because who doesn’t love an enormous steak taco with spicy sauce. And it’s the only thing on the menu that is oversized rather than miniature.

Chickpea-Lentil Stew

In an unsurprising turn of events, Little Gem has vegan options too. The chickpeas are a little chewy, but it comes with some very tasty roasted cauliflower.

Brussels Sprouts

Great roasted brussels sprouts. The only way to improve them would be to add more bacon, but that’s also the case with literally any situation.

Tuscan Pork Plate

A very solid plate of food. The pork is super tender, if a little fatty, and the brussels sprouts, beets and mustardy sauce are great. The one downside is paying $19 for a fancified Whole Foods prepared section plate of food. It looks nice though.

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