- Michael Aug 24, 2000 01:39 AM
My brother, who lives in SF, took this visiting New Yorker to this restaurant, which is on the 2nd floor of the biggest gourmet-food store I've ever seen, in San Mateo.
We had no reservations when we went to Viognier on a Friday evening around 6:30 or so, but all the tables in the Lounge are made available to unreserved diners, and they are quite comfortable. The restaurant is spacious, light, and airy, and the sun was coming in through the slatted blinds, just the right amount. During our meal, a cooking class was being held in an adjoining room.
Our meal was nothing short of spectacular, from beginning to end. We started with the lobster salad and fois gras as appetizers. The fois gras was perfectly seared and, as I remember, it was cooked in a fig-reduction sauce with figs, some subtle sliced fried fennel and a hint of cumin, along with thin threads of a perfectly crunchy vegetable we were unable to identify (not potatoes), and a bit of mesclun. I thought it was great, though my brother thought that all the ingredients were great but wasn't sure they all went together perfectly. The lobster in the salad was perfectly fresh and completely unfishy. The waiter came by while my brother was eating his portion of it and asked how everything was. He said that it was fine, but the waiter said he could tell that something was bothering my brother and was not satisfied until my brother told him what it was. My brother and I had both agreed that the salad was a bit salty for our taste, so he told the waiter, who brought it back to the kitchen and had a whole new salad made up (with additional lobster, even), with less salt and more vinegar, which was perfect.
For main dishes, we got a perfect seared salmon, raw in the middle but absolutely unfishy, and perfectly peppered; and a rotisserie-cooked duck with spaetzel, cooked in a sauce that included apricot jam of the quality they were no doubt selling downstairs. Both dishes were simply perfect, fantastic. Having had such a wonderful meal, we couldn't leave without getting dessert, so we shared a frozen chocolate souffle' with chocolate sauce, a few mint leaves, and a raspberry, with little white chocolate cylindars. We both considered this perfect, as well.
Diners sitting at adjoining tables had been asking the waiter about the dishes we ordered, and we had been selling them on those dishes, describing them and telling them how perfect they were, so the waiter considered that we had effectively assisted him and did not charge us for dessert. One of the things I had mentioned to the table on my left was that I preferred my meal at Viognier to my favorite nouvelle cuisine restaurant in New York, Jojo (Jojo at its best, a few years ago, was probably as good for food, though the ambiance at Viognier is superior, in my opinion, and of course the service was incredible). My brother commented to the waiter that we are actually very tough to please but have nothing to criticize when presented with perfect food. Since the waiter had gone beyond the call of duty and treated us so well, we tipped him about 25%.
If you have a chance, go. The food is not cheap, but I consider it a great value, with entrees in the low 20s or so, and a tasting menu (really more of a prix-fixe meal than anything else) at $40. This was the best meal I had had since 1998, when I had eaten at a restaurant specializing in seafood between Tarquinia and Tarquinia Scalo, Italy.