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May 17, 2005 02:40 AM

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?


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  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?


        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.