The Croque Madame @ Michael Mina’s RN74, San Francisco

Looks great, even though the best part, the bacon marmalade, is totally hidden underneath the egg.

Looks great, even though the best part, the bacon marmalade, is totally hidden underneath the egg.

I tasted through about five dozen Riojas this afternoon at the Palace Hotel, and by the end of this four-hour drinking session, I needed lunch in the worst possible way. Of course, I knew this was going to happen, which is why I had already formulated a plan: Blissfully full of moderate-to-good Tempranillo, I took a leisurely four-block stroll to RN74, the latest installment in chef Michael Mina’s restaurant empire. Although RN74 is officially billed as a wine bar (borrowing its name from Route Nationale 74, which runs through Burgundy), I was definitely in need of something other than more booze.

My original urge was to revisit RN74’s terrific cassoulet, which features a generous amount of duck confit, hints of garlicky sausage, and enough starch to put just about anyone back on the sober road. But even though I adore this classic staple of French country cuisine, I decided to call an audible at the very last moment, opting for another tried-and-true standby, the croque madame. As it turns out, I think that I may have discovered the best possible way to spend $10 in San Francisco (of course, aficionados of Broadway and O’Farrell Street may debate this point, but to each his own).

The element that really sets RN74’s croque madame apart is the bacon marmalade, which tastes like crispy carnitas drizzled with a touch of honey. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, this bacon-based marmalade could be considered the distant cousin of maple-glazed bacon or honey-baked ham. But for a swine worshiper such as yours truly, it was a bona fide revelation, and a welcome twist on the madame’s basic ham component (the last “marmalade” that struck me the same way was the oxtail marmalade at Blue Ribbon in NYC).

As for the rest of this knife-and-fork sandwich, it was purely academic: A creamy béchamel, a runny egg yolk, and toasted brioche. It simply doesn’t get any better.

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