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Gary Danko at seven - backstage at the show

Gary Danko celebrates its seventh anniversary this week.

The Contra Costa Times had a good review this week with a little about the craft that goes into Danko's food. It actually made me think I might give Danko a second chance.

I had a less than impressive visit little over a year ago. My impression was that this restaurant was just phoning it in. They had the formula down and were cruising.

However, reading a little about how some of the dishes are prepared gave me a new interest. Nicholas Boer writes ...

"Sous chef Kolin Vazzoler likes to take two days to caramelize the red onions served with the seared foie gras, but burner space is at a premium at Gary Danko, so he often has to settle for an eight-hour braise in butter, balsamic vinegar, honey, veal stock and thyme"

Wow, settle for eight hours. If I ever took an hour to caramelize onions it was because I forgot they were on the stove.

There is info about how the fat in fois gras can develop an off flavor in high heat so the fat is removed as it is seared in a dry pan. The fava beans might just be from Danko's personal garden.

Anyway, this review armed with Chowhound hints since that visit (big thanks to Morton the Mousse) may cause me to drop in at Danko's next time I'm in the area.

CC Times on Gary Danko's

Gary Danko Website (without flash

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  1. I'm not convinced -- Danko himself admits to not having worked in his own kitchen for several years now. It is staid with an unchanging menu and with so many other chefs in this city actually inventing new dishes, I find little to draw me back to Danko.

    Would love to hear otherwise though!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Carrie 218

      What would draw me back is the cheese cart. But I can go for that alone and sit in the bar. Danko produces some solid dishes. They do not excite me but they are good and reliable. The kind of place I would take my conservative grandmother and know she will like it and be reasonably impressed. I find all the hype about this place to be a bit much though.

      And if not working the line in your own kitchen is a downside, crickey! You would have to throw out almost every high-end chef in the city. Most taste and expedite. Certainly they create but they have others do the actual cooking.

      1. re: chaddict

        There's a difference between "not having worked in his own kitchen" and "not working *the line* in your own kitchen." Yeah, most name chefs don't work the line, but most of them do work in the kitchen in some capacity: supervising, doing quality control, developing or tweaking dishes, etc. at least semi-regularly (even Thomas Keller supposedly video conferences with Per Se every day when he's at French Laundry).

        Not sure which, if either, of those descriptions applies to Danko.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          My understanding of "worked in his kitchen" means prep and/or cooking. I do know that when Danko did a private dinner not too long ago he was in the there himself, "working the kitchen." I was a bit impressed when I heard that because a lot of chefs will send a sous to do a little party. Maybe it was a VIP of the restaurant.

    2. The menu changes seasonally.

      There's a lot to be said for perfecting certain dishes and sticking with them, especially given that farmers and ranchers keep growing the same old plants and animals.

      1. I stand by my claim that the three course menu of seared foie, beef tenderloin and chocolate souffle is the best high-end value in the city. Most restaurants charge you supplements for all three of those dishes but at Danko you get good portions of all three for just $60. I've been less impressed when I've veered from this formula.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          I would agree that GD is one of the best fine dining values at $60. They've increased their prices a bit in the past year, but it's still a decent value. I would pick the same appetizer and dessert, but would usually get one of the quail/squab dishes instead of the beef.

          1. re: Cary

            I visited a year ago and had a 5 course tasting. Although the dishes were solid only the pan seared scallop served on a bed of leeks and mushrooms stood out for me. The pea puree it was served on complemented very well for me. The cheese course didn't do it for me. I like cheese, but I'm no connoisseur of fine cheeses, would def. skip if I went back. Have to agree the chocolate souffle is great. 2 chocolate sauces poured into the souffle make this chocolicious. Personally wouldn't go back just to drop in, but for a nice dinner it's a good place to go; plus the service is impeccable.

        2. I have a sentimental attachment to Danko as my first high end restaurant, and it was perfect as that. I've visited at least once a year the last five years, and nothing much has changed, which is just as I like it. The appetizers are the best thing on the menu, and I often order more than one as part of my tasting. I'm not sure a seven year old restaurant can be hyped anymore, I think it's joined places like Boulevard and the Ritz as solid SF institutions.

          1. I've taken out of town guests there twice, and they continue to talk about it a year later. The food quality, preparation, and service has been impeccable.

            If you want Ame and go to Danko you will be disappointed, but if you find their menu appealing you will not.

            1. They seem fond of the overbook-then-sell-the-waiting-diners-drinks ploy. They're not the only ones, of course. But being seated an hour after my reservation on TWO occasions is a bit insulting.

              That said, the food is worth it. For some reason, I particularly remember a little asparagus salad with an amazing vinaigrette. And my friend had a roasted lobster she will not stop talking about.

              In terms of the wait, I'm resigned to a pleasant hour's conversation before the meal, which isn't that bad.


              1. Gotta defend Danko. While it's true that the food is not cutting edge, it's very reliable and extremely reasonable for the quality and quantity. And yes, the menu does change, but Gary has to keep certain signature dishes on (like the lobster) because folks come from far and wide just to have those dishes. And even those dishes change a bit based on what's available (the lobster may be served w/ chantrelles, black trumpet mushrooms, etc.). One of my fave dishes last year was a temporary addition to the menu, and it was created by the sous chef. Tongue & crispy sweetbreads served with braised cabbage and pureed carrot. Fantastic. I went back the week before it was to go off of the menu just because I needed to have it again.

                I find Danko and his entire staff's enthusiasm for their work impressive. I led a one week high school class on artisan food purveyors of the Bay Area last year, and lunch at Gary Danko was our "final exam." We'd spent the week with visits to Oliveto, Scharffen Berger, Bob Canard's farm, Hog Island, Cowgirl Creamery, Straus Dairy, Artisan Bakery, the Ferry Building, etc. Gary and his staff helped us put together a lunch that included ingredients from many of the places we visited. We had 25 people (22 kids and 3 lucky chaperones) for lunch, and I'm pretty sure there were 25 people working at the restaurant to put it together. Though we ordered no wine, the sommelier was there to give us a tour of the cellar and talk to the kids about the Navarro grape juices we were drinking. We also had a kitchen tour. At the end of the meal, Gary brought out everyone who had worked on the meal. He also talked and took questions from the kids. But the sweetest moment came at the very end. Everyone got a goody bag with a baseball cap, pen, signed menu...and organic tomato plant! The maitre d' knew that we were visiting organic farms, and so he went to the nursery that morning to get a gift for the kids that would allow them to keep the lessons they had learned over the week growing into the summer.

                2 Replies
                1. re: lexdevil

                  That lunch sounded wonderful. You caught my attention with the word 'lunch'. However, it looks like you made special arrangements as Danko only serves dinner. It did remind me to put the link to the restaurant website in the OP. Don't remember if it was there before, but there is a little section on some of the cheese. Those must be the ones always on the menu.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Correct. They only do lunch for large parties (you get the whole place to yourself). This is one reason I was so blown away by seeing the large cast that was responsible for our meal. A diner to staff ratio of 1:1 is pretty impressive. Though lunch prices are the same as dinner, I just don't know how they could have made money on us (though we did have 5 courses plus passed hors d'oeuvres).

                2. I've only been once, with a party of four, and the only thing we all remembered was the cheese cart. The waiter actually corrected me when I made my selections, essentially telling me I didn't want one of the cheeses when I asked for it, which is kind of a hoot since he's not buying it. (I took his recommendation, so shame on me for not pushing back, I suppose.)

                  As far as service goes, it seemed solid, especially if you enjoy being served by people dressed like international bankers.