Just before heading to Redd I'd been reading the biography of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. As I settled in and perused the menu, I was struck by the difference in philosophy and approach between the two establishments, and somewhat surprised as well, because in the years since CP's inception, its example has inspired so many Western restaurants in Northern California and elsewhere to include provenance and other information on their menus, making it easier on both diners and staff: Who wants to feel like a pest, peppering a server with :"Organic?" "Local?" and other such queries.
The meal began promisingly with a better-than-average scallop preparation for two of us; a juicy-but cooked-through, exceptional Wolfe Ranch (!) quail with a broccoli rabe puree, white beans, and more; and a fascinating, delicious calamare-root vegetable mix that was more slaw than salad, with the squid in slivers almost as fine as the veggies and an occasional peanut to provide crunch. The "Vietnamese sauce" undoubtedly contributed to the overall flavor but didn't hit one on the head.
As often occurs, main courses failed to match the firsts, with only the no-name New York + shortribs with so-so fingerlings and sweet baby leeks a standout. The Liberty Farms (!!) duck breast was accompanied by objects the menu called "Swiss chard crepes" but were far more similar to pastry cases containing totally unidentifiable greens. I would not want to accuse any serious restaurant of freezing any elements of a meal, but these guys were cold and devoid of flavor--and believe me, I know my greens. The highly endangered ("Avoid" on Monterey Bay Aquarium's recommendations) skate was garnished with gnocchi and "12 vegetables," made richer than necessary by herb butter (but I love vegetables!).
The greatest disappointment was called Napa Valley spring lamb, braised and roasted, with Mascarpone polenta, spring vegetables, and garam masala: Many years ago, a friend and I described a meal as a dinner in hell, where everything looked irresistibly delectable but, when tasted, had absolutely no flavor whatsoever. For someone like me, for whom the phrase "unimportant meal" is incomprehensible and who, in recent years, seldom indulges in meat, this was--well, words fail me. There WAS lots of it! (N.B. I actually had to request salt.)
The (apparently) assistant wine steward opened our '85 Spotswoode Cab after dire warnings that it might "go" if opened too soon. I told him not to worry. We discussed decanting and I assured him a little sediment never hurt anyone but it might be a good idea for opening up the wine's flavors. I guess he misunderstood because he left the open bottle on the table and disappeared. We had to eventually send the busser to get glasses. (I offered the wine guy a glass but he never came back to tell us what he thought about it. When I asked him as we were leaving, he said he'd never gotten around to tasting it.) I don't drink a lot of cab and have no recollection of how we ended up with this particular wine; it drank well if not drop-dead wonderfully. Ironically, it did have the nastiest, blackest, and largest amount of sediment I can recall, and we drink much older wines quite often!
The server did not hear our dessert order and brought the check. We finally got it--some sort of peanut butter-chocolate concoction that was amusing and not unpleasant. The complimentary nutty confection and orange-chocolate truffles showed a fare more creative and talented hand.
Firsts ran $13-$15, mains, $26-31. For a week night before the heart of tourist season, one cannot excuse the lapses by saying the place was a mad house--even though it was doing good business. Diners have the right to expect food to taste as good as or better than descriptions. I think the restaurant would do well to rethink its priorities.
re: Carrie 218
I don't know if this should be a separate posting or not, but I realized I'd forgotten to comment on a peculiarity of the service: Each dish was presented with the server reciting, robotlike, the ingredients--simultaneously! Reminded me of some sort of experiment in sensory overload, but what really bothered me more was that--like many folks--we like to share tastes among us and, by having all the ingredient details announced at the same time, no one person could keep track of all the dishes' ingredients. It's been a while since our meals at FL, but this seemed like a take-off on its service.