HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Tasting Menu Crawl - Gary Danko – no!

  • k


I have rarely been so bored … bored with the food, wine and ambiance.

The highlight of the night was when Al Gore and Tipper showed up. I love Al, but he’s not exactly Mr. Excitement. He’s looking good these days though.

Gary Danko is all style and little more. Gary Danko is a tourist trap … a high class, upscale expensive fisherman’s wharf tourist trap, but TT, none the less. I suppose if the hottest restaurant in town is Olive Garden, I’d be impressed. The other half of the crowd seemed to be San Franciscans with more money than taste. The Tommy Toy crowd.

The five course tasting menu ($79) really wasn’t. It was just a selection off the regular menu. Wine pairing, the awful, uninspired wine pairing, was $45. Pours were skimpy. I doubt you could say I had a full glass over all five courses.

There was the option of: 3 Courses $59:: 4 Courses $69 :: 5 Courses $79. As mentioned, the only difference between the tasting menu and the 5 course meal was that you had the option of picking what to eat. It was nice that you could mix and match. If you wanted three appetizers, an entrée and dessert … that was fine. Any combo would do. Have it your way.

The few things I liked were:
- The staff
- The Mozzarella Company of Texas goat cheese wrapped in Hoya Santa leaves

A nice cheese, but the exciting thing about this to me was there was a recent discussion of this herb which supposedly has a sassafras / root beer taste. I was planning to go to Cowgirl creamery to pick some up. Saved me the trip.

If this was the 1980’s, I was 18 and my date took me here, I’d be impressed. It just reminded me too much of an old style continental restaurant where you were served snails and fillet mignon.

So, I had the snails and beef.

I didn’t take notes and the snail dish was new as of last week so it is not on the website.

Amuse bouché: lobster cream with lavender cream, two rock shrimp … bitter, not in a good way.

Bread: Bay Bread rustic sour dough thinly sliced. Butter was hard. At the Ritz, the butter was the proper temperature for spreading. It was replaced during the evening with fresh correct temperature butter. That is one of the many touches that makes the Ritz great. The butter and bread I could buy around the corner summed up GD’s lack of detail. I like Bay Bread. However, if a restaurant of that supposed caliber won’t bake its own bread, then use Acme.


Snails on mashed potatoes topped with greens and some sort of cilantro based salsa strewn with mushrooms.

Nothing came together. Ok, it was some sort of potato pancake thingy, but it boiled down to mashed potatoes. Snails were fine, if not memorable … which can be a good thing in an escargot … they were not too chewy and having no flavor, were unoffensive.

Fish and Seafood

Roast Maine Lobster with Morels Mushrooms, Asparagus and Tarragon

Does it SAY there are more mashed potatoes involved? … no … but the baby lobster tail sat on a bed of mashed potatoes. Lobster was ok. The tail was cut in half, lobster removed and then put back in the shell for easier eating. Totally forgettable tastes in everything.

Meat and Game Birds

Pan Seared Beef Filet with Wild Nettle Risotto, Asparagus, and Morel Mushrooms

As good a dish as any I’ve had in the 80’s.


The do get credit for the cheese course, but it was ungenerous. Four micro pieces with thinly sliced walnut bread and out of season red grapes. Yes, I know grapes go with cheese. Can we be a little more creative?

I had a nice herb crusted fleur de Marquis and discovered that herby cheese like this go well with marsala. There was a nice unpasturized Amish Blue and another creamy blue from Massachusetts, but I’m blanking on the name.

There were about a dozen carefully selected cheeses. Talking to one of the staff, he said that the majority change ever day. Nice, but you were getting pieces only slightly bigger than the free samples at the Cheeseboard.


Strawberries with White Chocolate Mousse, Balsamic Ice Cream and Buttermilk Panna Cotta

This was one of those three ways to present strawberries desserts … tasteless strawberries at the height of strawberry season. The memorable dish for me at GD will be the memorably bad balsamic ice cream. It was like eating pure frozen balsamic vinegar, awful. It was a waste of good (?) balsamic and sliver of tasteless strawberry.

The mousse had some sort of overly sweet ladyfinger type cookie on top. The panna cotta in a teeny glass, was ok. I’ve had better recently at Nizza la Bella.

Plate of candies and cookies

About a dozen … from Costco? The raspberry jelly had the taste of a Whitman sampler jelly. The two sugared nuts were nice. Slightly better quality … slightly … than McDonald’s new sugared nuts.

There was a nicely wrapped parting pineapple sponge cake. Too cloyingly sweet.

The pacing of the meal was the worst. I waited and waited between courses. Good thing I had a book. I got A LOT of reading done. ALmost finished the book ... War and Peace.

Despite their “men in black’ outfits and funeral demeanor, the staff was really very pleasant.

The room is dimly lit and very Manhattan in the 1980’s chic. A gazillion page wine list (a few wines from India … the next hot wine region?). Chatting with the bartender, it seems they have some interesting and very old wines. I will say that the prices for the bottles and glasses was reasonable. Half glasses were also available. But … it’s too dark to see your wine properly.

The room is noisy as well. I was getting a headache after a while from the din.

There are questions often on the board about Gary Danko or French Laundry. Gary Danko doesn’t belong in the same league. While the flavors did not inspire me at FL, there was an attention to quality and creativity. GD cost a third less than FL and The Dining Room at the Ritz. You get what you pay for.

Not really. Go to Boulevard. I may not be a fan of Boulevard, but at least the ingredients are top quality. You will get a more delicious meal and better bang for your buck. I mean, go to Piperade … even Slanted Door. I have a new low in upscale dining.

My tasting menu crawl preferences to date:

The Dining Room at the Ritz
The French Laundry (can you believe that)
Gary Danko

A restaurant like this is packed while a restaurant like Bizou closes. Maybe SF isn’t such a serious food city after all.


Ya think it was an off night?

Link: http://www.garydanko.com/site/menu.html

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. maybe a bad day

    I had eaten a lot of great meals at bizou and then a couple of truly horrible lunches in a row and didn't go back because I don't have the time off to waste

    had one mostly good meal at GD a few months back- I'm looking forward to hearing about the fifth floor from you with the new chef- when I ate there laurant gras was cooking it was very hit and miss from course to course

    have heard it's better now

    enjoying reading your tasting menu crawl posts- and thanks for doing the hard work for the rest of us

    and I'm all for restaurants serving acme bread but it annoys me in the ferry building when I get a stale acme epi at hog island or marketbar, etc. when the oven is a few steps away from the table

    1 Reply
    1. re: daybaker

      I would say that the Fifth Floor is a place you should try next. I was there, and it was superb. Great food and wine, and great service. Much better than GD, and the others that everyone's mentioned.

    2. wow, I hope you had a bad night. We used to go there once a year for our anniversary (not this year though) and they have always be exceptional. Okay, not like French Laundry, but probably best in SF that we have found, and we've been to most of the high end places (but not the The Dining Room).
      I hope they have declined since last year...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Wendy Lai

        Keep in mind that few top of the line restaurants do it for my tastes ... Chez Panisse, Campton Place when Bradley Ogden was cooking, so to speak.

        I was surprised and pleased by The Ritz. I haven't done this in a while. I'm guessing I'm going to get burned out soon. However, it is time for a refresher on why I don't dine at the top ... in terms of reputation.

        To get perspective, on another level, I thought Piperade was just ok.

      2. Sounds like a bad hair day, to me.

        I've never eaten at GD but I'd give him kudos for the $45 wine paring, regardlesss of how skimpy or uninspiring the wines were to you. At TFL $45 won't buy you CORKAGE fercrissake, and the $45 pairing is a relatively painless way to safe face for people that don't care to drown their tastebuds in alcohol, or feel intimidated into buying pricey wines (at 4X markup) so they won't look like pikers. It looks to me that GD is making a statement that the food can carry its own weight.

        Were you close enough to Al and Tipper for her to hear you humming those old Zappa tunes from the '80's?

        Link: http://eatingchinese.org

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          The French Laundry's wine list is not close to four times markup.

          1. re: Gary Soup

            Nope. I spent $45 for what amounted to a single glass of mediocre wine that did nothing to enhance the food. I do enough wine pairings to know when it wasn't a good option.

            Bacar, certainly not at the top of my list does better with wine pairing and, even the food at Bacar was better, to me.

            It was like the cheese. They had Andante and Cowgirl's Redhawk. Good for them. I buy them to know the prices. GD is certainly not paying retail, but even if he was, you got what amounted to no more than ... high estimate ... one dollar worth of cheese.

            Yes, I know I'n paying for the service and decor. However, I think they could have been a tad more generous with both the wine and the cheese.

            I'm someone who LIKES small portions at places. This was small to the point of annoying. I felt like I was rationing my wine at every course.

            It's not that GD was bad. It was just disappointing. I just don't get what the buzz is about.

            Al and Tipper were seated right behind me. The din was too much to eavesdrop. I was tempted to ask where the locked box was, but didn't want to get jumped by secret service ... or Gary ... they did a good job of keeping a celebrity visit low key.

          2. The restaurant had an off night but even when it is on its boring staid cuisine that has been done for seemingly forever. People claiming Gary Danko is in the same league as The French Laundry is a joke.

            1. Post was humerous but you lost all credibility when you suggested the Slanted Door was superior to GD.

              4 Replies
              1. re: grubber

                I think she just meant that for her money, she'd rather go to Slanted Door. Obviously the two restaurants are in totally different price ranges and cuisine categories.

                1. re: grubber

                  In all fairness, I think she was saying it was a better value, not that the food was necessarily superior (or that is how I read it anyway)..

                  but Krys: I do think you should give Piperade another chance!

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    That's pretty much what I meant. The restaurants mentioned are on the next level down but I have been underwhelmed. I just meant I'd rather go to them than GD.

                    Yes, I am going to revisit Piperade ... and Boulevard. With Piperade I went pretty much when it opened. Since Slanted Door was at one time one of my favorites, I am always watching the boards, hoping for a slew of favorable posts. I am hoping they finally adjust to the new location.

                    Regarding GD. Maybe there is something to my own personal rule about never dining out on a Monday night. Usually the B team is there.

                    1. re: Krys
                      Robert Lauriston

                      While in theory a restaurant that's open seven days should be as good on Monday as it is on Friday, in my experience that's rarely the case.

                2. Bizou can close. It is by far the most uninspired restaurant. In a place like SF, one shouldn't go back to places like Bizou, waste of time & money.

                  1. I have eaten at Danko about 5 times and never been underwhelmed like I was at the Ritz. Three things I would note that you can take for what its worth:

                    - I don't drink and that has highlighted in both your posts. I went to Danko with a friend who had the wine pairings with the tasting menu and he was extremely disappointed, as he was with the Chefs tasting menu.

                    - I haven't had the tasting menus at either location, I prefer to pick my own courses. At Danko I always have a hard time deciding, where as at the Ritz I couldn't find even one that I was really excited about...They suggested at the Ritz that the Chefs tasting menu was the best but I feel like if you can't impress me in 3, you aren't going to in 5 :)

                    - I have always gotten reasonable(at least not puny or tiny at all) servings from the cheese cart at Danko and ESPECIALLY in comparison with the puny and uninteresting ::read nothing on the cart I haven't seen elsewhere and only about 8 selections:: cart at the Ritz.

                    So I guess of course you didn't like the food, which is most important but its funny your descriptions would fit my thoughts on the food at the Ritz, as we discussed before :)

                    1. I'm really enjoying following you on your crawl, Krys (as is your credit card company, I'm sure :-O)

                      While I've never been to Gary Danko, after reading your post, something inside of me says that your low experience was an aberration, an off night for both them and you. Call it women's intuition, sixth sense, gastronomic ESP, or perhaps BS...this isn't to say that you didn't have a bad experience and it seems to me that certain things were def. on them (poor and small wine pairings), but here are my thoughts...

                      Your post gave me a certain impression of the menu that didn't match up to the actual menu that you linked. While the food doesn't sound the most challenging or full of whimsy and surprise, the menu sounded very grounded yet pleasant to me. Of course, they need good ingredients and proper execution, which may have been off for a Mon. night. Not an excuse for them, but just a possibility to consider...

                      I also noticed that your choices had quite a bit of overlap (eg, the beef and lobster both had morels and asparagus; you had mashed potatoes twice), so it's no wonder that you felt bored w/ the redundancy. I also wonder why you ordered snails if they represent the 'old style continental restaurant' that you seem to disdain. Seems like you were setting yourself up for disappointment.

                      I like the flexibility of their tasting menu; however, I do think that this allows for more permutations and a wider range of experiences. Sometimes I prefer the chef or restaurant to have a preset combination of dishes that they deem will showcase a variety of their ingredients and skills best. I've been also learning to ask alot of questions and take my time when deciding. I guess I'm saying that for the 5-course tasting at GD, the fine art of ordering is critical. Curious if you asked your waiter for suggestions re: ordering?

                      1. I wish GD would change his menu more often.

                        I went to GD three, four times a couple of months ago, so I believe I have a consistent sample-size in terms of what they offer.

                        I agree with your positives: Their staff is well trained and very good. Yes their cheese is always excellent. Their service is probably near the top in the SF area. Their cheese cart is also pretty unique.

                        "Tasting Menu": Hm, Dave (bartender/waiter the first time I was there) explained that the tasting menu is really a selection of the classic/favorites/easy-to-please dishes for as you said, tourists, tired business men etc... or if you can't choose. But if you decide to choose your own 5-course menu, it's pretty fun b/c there are many interesting sounding dishes (well the seafood/fish section not so much). Also you can pick five dishes that flow well in balance (to your personal preference)and flavors and can match your wines. I suppose the whole concept of a tasting menu is to have a meal that is balanced and thought out (by the chef), and creative-on-the-spot...so the Ritz, FL gets points for that.

                        Wines: I never go the wine pairings, as I'd rather choose my wines, with some help from the sommelier (sometimes). Also even if I just get a glass to match certain dishes, and I finish it before finishing the dish, they pour a bit more so I could finish (without me asking).

                        Hm. I would disagree in your assessment that they were like "an old style continental restaurant where you were served snails and fillet mignon. " There are many dishes on the menu I would have chosen over yours IMO.

                        Something that does annoy me a little, is that they bring out the amouse bouche while the big fat menu (times number of people) and wine list are sprawled over the small table. I know it does make sense to bring it out before ordering. But it halts the decision making process and takes up room.

                        Pacing: I never thought the pacing of my meals was slow. It may seem slower (to me)eating at the bar, but that's different as you don't have a companion to talk to, although I would chat with Dave a bit.

                        Bread: Yeah the bread doesn't thrill me a lot.

                        Conclusion: I would suggest you try going again, and try different dishes.

                        1. I have dined in some of the best places around but I find when a 'celebrity' is in the house, the food quality seems to lack and all the attention is on what the celebrity table is having..
                          The chef and staff seem to obsess with what they are ordering and they forgot about the rest of us.
                          I have dined at French Laundry and like it very much but after eating at Tetsuya's in Sydney which was rated #5 in the world, It blows French Laundry, #4 out of the water!

                          1. I don't think you had an off night, Krys. I had a totally lame-o meal at GD on my birthday. We spent almost $400 for 2 people and I was really disappointed in EVERYTHING. It was basically just oversized portions of mediocre food. Of the 10 things we tried not one was memorable or exciting or even very tasty. What is up with that? It drives me crazy when people say GD is so great- for the money, I feel the decor and the food are dated and boring and not up to snuff.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: karenitasf

                              you do realize that you are responding to a 2 1/2 year old posting, correct?

                              1. re: grubber4

                                Well, sounds like they are consistant.

                                Thanks for the update Karen. Sorry it wasn't a better experience. Somewhere I have notes about the right things to order if I'm ever there again (it would have to be on someone else's dime). That was one of the things that got me a few years back was that it seemed dated and too staid for my own tastes ... and I'm not exactly a wild child.

                                - the poster formerly known as Krys

                                Gary Danko
                                800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I ate there several times last year (2006). Some things were spectacular (the souffle with raspberry gelato comes to mind as well as the duck breast) and some things were bland (the salmon medallions..). Their cheese selection has been great and honestly, by the end of a 5 course meal, I can't eat that much cheese. Overall, I've enjoyed my dinners there and like the decor.

                                  Plan is to go there again in November.

                                  1. re: Luthien

                                    That's the chocolate souffle, right? That IIRC was one of the items someone recommended. Hope you report back after your dinner.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      They had both a chocolate and grand marnier the second time to last time I went. I chose the latter. I know they've since stopped making one of them, but that it changes depending on the season.

                            2. I think you had an off night, unless you did time travel to the 80's! Was Tipper going on and on about Ozzy Osbourne and the PMRC?

                              I just ate there two weeks ago on a Tuesday and found it quite impressive. Pacing was spot-on, service was the best I've ever had in the city. While I agree that the meal was not in the same category as The Ritz or FL, it's also not as expensive.

                              The decor might not be to your liking (it did strike me as more conservative than I had expected), but there is not a bad seat in the house...and discrete spotlights enabled me to see my wine quite well against the white tablecloth, so I was fine with it. If I was reading during the meal, as I often do when I dine solo, I would agree that it was too dim. But to most it's just flattering and romantic.

                              I also agree that the cheese course was not what it could have been .Apart from an uninspired corn soup, that was the only other disappointment for me. Such an impressive array...such a knowledgeable cart wrangler (fromagiere?)…but such tiny tiny portions. And nothing but a few grapes and toast to go with it? Lame-o.

                              Btw, I can say that our butter was the perfect consistency (I am a butter freak and do take special notice of it).