As their careers progress, chefs often retreat from the front lines to supervisory roles, handing over the cooking to the underlings.
Thankfully, Israel “Izz” Rivera, chef at The Shop Breakfast + Lunch, is not there yet.
One of the city’s up-and-coming culinary talents, Rivera performs largely solo at his restaurant on the western edge of Nob Hill. It’s a good thing, because The Shop’s kitchen, wedged inelegantly behind the counter, has barely enough space for one person.
Rivera opened The Shop in 2014, after serving as a sous chef at Artichoke Café. Like the chef, the space is unassuming. Local artwork lines the walls, and music commingles with the strong aromas of food. The only sign that this might be a cut above the ordinary is the placard on the counter promoting chef Rivera’s coming appearance on the Food Network show “Beat Bobby Flay.”
The talent that caught the eye of Food Network is evident in dishes such as duck hash ($12), pieces of duck confit nesting in a base of diced potatoes and mild red chile sauce. The confit is prepared over several days by curing duck legs in salt and then slow-cooking them in duck fat, resulting in meat that is surpassingly rich and tender. One piece and you’re hooked, and you end up searching the abundant pile of potatoes for more. Thin slices of Brussels sprouts are a surprise addition that bring a bit of crunch to the tasty mass of eggs, cheese and potatoes.
Such details elevate the familiar dishes on the all-day breakfast menu. Chilaquiles ($12.50), a generous serving of tortilla chips piled over black beans and pulled pork and an exemplary avocado, gets tang and heat from pickled onions and jalapenos, along with a carpet of queso fresco. The red chile sauce and the yolk from the eggs soften the chips until they are but a whisper of their former selves. It’s a very successful preparation.
On the cooler, sweeter end of the spectrum, The Shop serves lemon pancakes ($7) made from blue cornmeal. The three misshapen pancakes, crisscrossed with berry jam, are stacked in descending order of size over a pool of lemon curd. The blue cornmeal gives some grit without being heavy, and the sour, tart curd and blueberries cut the sweetness of the maple syrup. These are quite possibly the best pancakes in town.
The lunch menu rolls out a few $11 sandwiches, a few salads and a selection of macaroni and cheese dishes. The latter was unavailable on the day I visited, but the Qbano sandwich ($11) was a good consolation prize. Rivera punches up the sandwich with homemade pickles, mustard aioli and pulled pork that is moister and more flavorful than the sliced pork typical in Cuban sandwiches. The torpedo-shaped roll, with its crisp shell yielding to an almost ethereal core, helps make it outstanding.
After five years in operation, The Shop is a well-oiled machine. Ordering is done at the counter, and the food is brought out quickly. The couch and free lending library next to the entrance personify the unhurried, relaxed vibe to the place. None of the parties there that afternoon seemed to be in a hurry to leave. If you arrive by car, there’s a cramped parking lot outside and plenty of metered spaces in the area on the street.
With The Shop, Izz Rivera has established himself as a chef to watch and proof that you can find cooking talent in unlikely places.