One meal in SF - Danko, 5th, Hawthorne?
OK - I don't get to the expensive places very often (if ever) but my parents are coming in town and we need one special dinner in SF. Their tastes tend toward the French side of things - anything with foie gras in it is worth a try! (Though they were unimpressed by the French Laundry on two occassions) They are fans of Chez Panisse from years ago, but want to try something new.
If price is not an object, but incredible distinctive flavors and preparations are important, where should we go? Without having been to either, what I've heard would indicate Danko or 5th Floor. We've been to Aqua and thought it was very good but not on par with the best in NY. Appreciate any comments or suggestions.
For me, a special event place is Fleur de Lys. I have not yet been to Elizabeth Daniel, though I have been to all the others you and Barry name. A food knowlegeable friend, who goes everywhere and is a regular at Chez Panisse, thought Elizabeth Daniel was very good, but not great.
Their black truffle menu is the best meal in SF proper right now. Have been to Fifth Floor and Danko recently and neither meal really had the shine that they both have shown in the past. Danko might be feeling it as Peyton is leaving/has left as well as the sommelier (dont know the whole story about her) is gone. Fifth Floor is very good, but some dishes are just not memorable. Hawthorne Lane, Boulevard and Jardiniere are always good, but you never leave them feeling like it was a special event.
All in all, I would truly suggest Elisabeth Daniel.
If they did not like the French Laundry, then I doubt they will like the other places you mention, but here are some comments based on eating once only at each.
If they lean more toward the French, then they may like Gary Danko more. The oysters with zucchini pearls and caviar is awesome. I had fois gras with cooked apricots and carmelized onions was terrific, too. And lobster was great. I did not like the Morroccan squab with chermoula and am surprised to find it still on the menu. My dining companion was a bit disappointed overall for the price. He had the oysters (the only dish he really loved), the horseradish crusted salmon and another dish. The wine program by the glass was great. Since I ordered 5 courses a la carte instead of the set tasting menu that my companion had, the wines program did not suit my dishes so they brought me specially selected wines for each course. I can't remember the name of the Chardonnay that I liked so much, I had a older Cote Roti that I really appreciated. They brought a Muscat with my fois gras and a Tokay with my dessert (or was it the other way around?). I thought the atmosphere was a bit strange...kind of clubby and masculine decor. The waiters wear suits and it is a little creepy. Each glass of wine was brought with the intonation 'the sommelier has selected the....' they bring a nice cheese cart, but I could not get help selecting and my choices were too similar. We chose the dessert prepared tableside--brandied cherries over ice cream. That was fun, but was not quite as good as it looked. The current tasting menu sounds very good, see the link below. You can order 3 Courses $55 :: 4 Courses $64 :: 5 Courses $74.
I liked the atmosphere at the Fifth Floor better, more festive, very elegant and spacious. We were very comfortable there.
While we looked over the menu, we were brought an amuse, which was presented in a brown egg shell. It was a warm avocado and basil custard with diced tomato. Wonderful. First course was a cold heirloom tomato soup, made of three separate purees poured into a shallow bowl, around a center of avocado mousse on a diced tomato base. One puree was a rich red tomato, one a spicy green zebra tomato, and another tart yellow. Tiny minced peppers and onion were sparingly sprinkled on, an a cherry tomato lay in the bowl. It was served in a beautiful Bernadaud soup plate, half white, half beige, with an inset half circlet of gold. This was in the height of tomato season and was a memorable dish.
Second course was three types of clams, Manilla, French butter, and Steamers, in a buttery, briny broth with diced andouille sausage, serves in a tall, diamond shaped bowl.
Third appetizer was a good sized chunk of fennel-seed-crusted salmon, on lobster mushroom slices, with a rich sauce, topped with a frog leg confit.
Next course was a fabulous half of quail, roasted and crusted with herbs, surounded with a drizzle of rich, mushroom based sauce, with another mushroom-truffle emulsion was drizzled on the quail and the richness was cut by the base of sliced purple potato and grilled raddichio that both were lightly infused with vinegar.
Then the signature dish of Suckling Pig. The regular menu entree sized order comes on six square plates, but the tasting menu was plated on one large white square plate (they leave off two of the preparations). There was a piece of roast loin topped with an orange section, slices of tenderloin, a tasty crepinette in orange glaze with strips of zest, and, in the center, cabbage mixed with smoked bacon made from the pig. This was outstanding.
We ordered wines by the glass and enjoyed them, a rose Champagne, California Chardonnay, and a Gevrey-Chambertin.
Desserts was small tarts were served with ice cream that is spun to order. One was apple tart on puff pastry with rum-rasin ice cream, the other light chocolate orange tart with vanilla. Individual french press coffees are served, along with tiny chocolate and vanilla meringue cookies, put together with creme filling.
You can check here for the menu.
I am trying th Black Truffle Menu at Elizabeth Daniel tonight. They may not be serving it for much longer, I think they go out of season soon. I'll ask.
Thanks for the detailed comments! It's not that they didn't like French Laundry, they just felt that it was not worthy of the hype (and price), particularly compared to some of their favorites elsewhere.
I did check with Elisabeth Daniel on the truffle menu, and it will unfortunately be long gone by April when my parents are here.
re: Brad Kaplan
I thought the French Laundry was well worth every penny. It just stuns me that someone would walk away less than completely satisfied and scheming for the next reservation.
I don't recommend Elizabeth Daniel for them because the food is somewhat similar, in that it is small serving of highly composed plates. At least that is what the black truffle dinner was like, but I can't say for the regular menu. Although a couple of the courses were stunning, others were not and I found it too uneven for the (stunning) price.