SF Feeding Frenzy--Farmer Brown, Aquerello, Incanto, Boulevard, Quince (and more)
Last night of five here in Baghdad by the Bay (if that nickname makes any sense at all any more) with my daughter, Gracie, proprietor of Portland's finest underground bagel bakery. We have been eating well. Here is the too-quickly-edited report:
Dinners at: Farmer Brown; Aquerello; Incanto; Boulevard; and Quince.
Other meals/nosh at : Tadich Grill, Tango Gelato, Bittersweet, Ton Kiang, Tartine, Mitchell's Ice Cream
Farmer Brown: Southern home cuisine. Little corn muffins with strawberry/pepper jam come with the meal and could be the meal. The jam could have used an extra pepper jolt, though. Fried chicken was very tasty, though not terribly meaty. My gumbo had a good bite to it, though less than an adequate portion of protein. Pulled pork san was acceptable. Mac and cheese side was a cheesy/creamy delight. The hand-cut steak fries were OK. Chocolate cake w/ creme fraiche was simple and fine, though nothing to get terribly excited about. The service made up in friendly enthusiasm what it may have lacked in experience. Most ambivalence about the decor and vibe. Lime green ceiling, chocolate brown strandboard squares for floor, distressed metal (grain silo chic?) on most vertical surfaces--clever but odd. Loud, repetitive, electronic R&B-ish tunes were awful. Dodgy location offputting. Michael Bauer gave this two-month old restaurant 2 stars. That may either be generous or about right. I'd need to go back a couple times. On my personal A-F scale, I'd give it a B-.
Aquerello: The location in the chapel of an old mortuary gave this spot a tone of undue sobriety--at least judging by the mien of the servers. I don't need servers yucking it up, but this is still a meal, not a church service. Food, on the other hand, was wonderful. In the interests of full disclosure: my reservation was made by a former chef here, and the owner gave us special attention, meaning a seven-course tasting menu for moi that left me staggering by the end. Since my daughter--the increasingly sophisticated diner at age 8.5--had different items than I did, I tried a lot. Here's a list: tomato water w/ braised celery slices (amuse); roast sweet peppers w/ poached quail egg; hamachi tartare; seared scallop on a corn cake; four pasta sampler (oversimplifying: cheese ravioli, lobster panzerotti in spicy sauce; tubular pasta w/foie gras and sweet marsala sauce; gnocchi w/ meat ragu); squab stuffed w/squab forcemeat; breaded veal chop topped with roasted chantarelles. There were desserts too. This was an over the top meal. Nothing I hated; most things I thought were very good to superior. Aside from overly somber service, my only criticism is that the foie gras sauce was way too sweet. Beautiful room too. I'd give this a B+ (A- if the servers lightened up a bit).
Incanto: Friends live in the Noe Valley, so they wanted us to try it. Quite enjoyable, though cramped and again plagued by too serious (though efficient) service. Maybe San Franciscans buy into the restaurant-as-church thing? God, I hope not. The house-cured charcuterie plate was transcendant. My daughter sampled the honeycomb tripe in tomato sauce app some us ordered to share. It only cost me a $5 bet to get her to try it, but she said it was good. It was. Gracie's handkerchief pasta w/ pork ragu was to die for, as were slow-roasted lamb neck and braised pork shoulder mains. Balance of dishes elude me. General impression, however, was positive. A solid B.
Boulevard: My favorite of the restaurants we visited. Lovely large room. Lots of dark wood, elegant lamps. I read "Belle Epoque" somewhere, which seems about right. I loved the look of the counter and would happily have sat there if we didn't have a nice table for two. Friendly and efficient service. One of the servers stopped by to chat about the Ferry Bldg Market b/c he heard me talking with our server about it. Food was wonderful. I went with three starters: the seared foie gras w/apricot wedges and a plum sauce and tiny slices of buttered brioche. Red abalone w/fried oyster mushroom. Soft shell crab linquine. Only the latter showed any sign of weakness, with the pasta knotted up into a little ball under the overly cartilaginous crab. Gracie had the fillet with fried potato squares and green bean/bread crumb melange which they kindly deconstructed so Gracie could eat her chunk of meat w/o interference (god forbid) from the other elements (which I ate and loved). Desserts were excellent: Gracie had the ice cream sandwiches. I had the chocolate tart. Berries served with both were a nice counterpoint. An A-.
Quince: Our final night's repast. Dining area evokes the living room of a classy, but simple old house. Server to patron ratio ensures wonderful service. Each dish (both those we had and saw others have) was a masterpiece. The cheese/prosciutto crespelle w/ leek fondue was a delight. Gracie's starter, an outsized ricotta raviolo in brown butter was mindblowing in flavor intensity and delicacy. My agnolotti "dal plin" combined a multi-meat filling with a sage butter sauce I couldn't get enough of. Fortunately, the tiny bread rolls (olive and cayenne) and grissini were replenished automatically when only one item remained. This occurred throughout the meal. For a main, I had the pork, comprising pork loin slices and a spicy pork sausage with red chard. This was a fine course, though the loin on its own was a tad underseasoned. With an assist from the sausage and accompanying jus, no added salt was required. La nina ordered the rib eye, with gorgonzola-topped small red tomato halves and fried shallots. Gracie wouldn't touch her accompaniments, but I didn't mind helping. The sweet and tangy tomato/blue cheese hit was mind blowing. The meat was a little less so, I suspect due to the inherent nature of a rib eye. It seems there is always going to be a little fat or gristle. This is why I tend to favor a fillet in a fine dining combination. I loved my melon "zuppetta" with little melon gelatine cubes plus raspberry sorbetto and mulberry granita for dessert. An A-, with the minus only because of cramped quarters along the banquette where we were seated.
Other passing thoughts:
Tartine: Oy vey. For both the savory and sweet items, with coffee, it is so worth a trip. Clearly, this is well known.
Mitchell's: Yes, great ice cream and amazing, unusual flavors. Not worth a 30 minute wait, though. Sorry.
Ton Kiang: Remains the best dim sum I have had anywhere. Curious whether Hong Kong next spring will change my mind.
Tadich Grill: Faded glory. I am saddened.
Bittersweet: Pacific Heights. Is snooty-hip the standard in this 'hood? Good chocolate, not great.
Tango Gelato: See above. Yeah, I'm sure they are all great, but why don't you recommend one? This was watching the cool dude counterperson deal with the next group having a tough time choosing. To us, the counterperson managed a few monosyallabic utterances. Again, though, I have had much better gelato, so what's up his ass?
That's all for this year. I love visiting and eating in this town. So glad it's not far from Portland.
Next year, I hope you'll have time to taste the gelato at Marco Polo at 1447 Taraval St.
and Canteen, Aziza, A-16, Delfina,... xox truffles at 754 Columbus Ave.
BTW, I've enjoyed reading your 'Gracie Eats...' on this visit and
"So glad it's not far from Portland"...everytime I visit Portland I say, "So glad it's not far from San Francisco". I'll be there on Thursday and have Pok Pok, Pambiche and Apizza Scholls on my quick list. No Touch of Grace bagels at the Portland Farmers Market now?