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No sens-e eating at Sens

Had dinner at the newly opened Sens at 4 Embarcadero and was extremely disappointed by the meal. The space is nice and the views of the embarcadero are pleasant. However, the food was one bomb after another.

Started with the fried olives with are large green olives stuffed with organic veal and almonds. This dish was highly recommended by the server as an absolute must. It was an absolute miss. The breading was reminiscent of frozen fried zucchini sticks that you would find at a bars happy hour offering. The flavors were bland, all I could taste was the breading. Next was the squid stuffed with bulgar wheat, spinach, pine nuts and raisins. This dish was three small squid smothered in a chunky tomato sauce. Overall it was "meh", fine but nothing special. I have had much better squid dishes elsewhere.

Next the lamb riblets which were also highly recommended by the server. What came was a platter of roughly six small lamb ribs that were 80 percent fat. The ribs were lukewarm to cold, and unevenly cooked. Nothing is as unappetizing as eating cool/cold chunks of fat when it is kind of waxy in your mouth. That dish was nothing short of a disaster. In hindsight I should have sent this dish back.

Finally was the grilled lamb chops. Two thin lamb chops with a small portion of harrisa braised lamb breast. Again very uneven temperatures. The braised breast was on the lukewarm/cold side while the chops were properly heated. There was also a fair amount of fat on this dish I would estimate 30 percent of the dish was fat. With a price tag of $32, I expected a lot better.

The restaurant was a little too dark for me, it was difficult to see if dishes were cooked to the proper temperature (rare, medium rare, medium, etc). The music they were playing was a little too frantic, upbeat/fast paced. It would be better suited to lunch time than dinner service.

Service was friendly, although it did take a long time between courses. Unfortunately, the server's recommendations were not on target.

Considering the restaurant is just across the courtyard from the Hyatt, I think their main draw will be from tourists and those staying at the Hyatt. The restaurant really had that hotel restaurant feel.

Maybe with time, they will find their groove. However, there are just too many dining options for me to go back.

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  1. Did you try desserts? Did any of them sound good?

    Did the menu state that the squid dish would be served with a tomato sauce?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Atomica

      The menu made no mention of the tomato sauce on the squid dish. Makes me wonder if it was added in an attempt to mask something else.

      No, I didn't have dessert. Between the disappointing food, the time it took to receive the food, and the constant ra-tat-tat of the music I was pretty much ready to leave. The desserts looked interesting, and the server recommended poached pair and buckwheat cake. I just wasn't willing to roll the dice on another disappointing dish.

      1. re: Scott M

        Thanks for the report and taking a bullet.

        Haven't been but my guess is you missed the one good thing ... dessert. The pastry chef there currently is one of my favorites and I don't ever remember being disappointed by anything she's made.

        -----
        Sens
        4 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111

        1. re: rworange

          Yep, that's exactly why I asked about dessert.

          I had a suspicion that the tomato sauce on the squid was a surprise, the way the critique was phrased. I would have been seriously unhappy about that--I generally avoid tomato sauces.

    2. They've been open for less than two weeks!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Morton the Mousse

        Being new makes minor glitches understandable but if his meal was 80% not up to standards that the restaurant sets, it seems fair to me that he should only have been charged 20% of the menu price. You charge the customer from day one, you give the appropriate experience from day one. These are experienced operators and even though the place is new it should have performed as if training took place before they opened to the public, not after.

        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          Well, I don't consider it harsh just my honest opinion. Yes its new and they may work out the kinks in time.

          Just to refresh your memory a review you did early on a restaurant's opening. Here is your review of T-Rex on opening night.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41021

          "The sauce was both too sweet and too acidic. It tasted almost like ketchup with a hint of canned tomatoes."

          "Mac and Cheese was runny, not nearly thick enough, needed a spoon to eat it. Someone needs to teach the chef how to make a proper mornay sauce."

          "Dessert was sweet potato pecan pie. Way to sweet. We couldn't taste either the pecan or the sweet potato, just lots and lots of sugar."

          "For 80 bucks, we could have done much better elsewhere."

          "The Lalimes family is all concept and no substance"

          1. re: Scott M

            You did an excellent job pulling all of my negative comments out of context. To contrast (from the same review):

            "The spare ribs...had a pleasing texture (not too moist, not too dry) and a nice, smokey flavor."

            "Beef brisket was the star of the evening. Tender, melt in your mouth meat with a lovely, fatty flavor."

            "(The greens had a) nice smokey flavor"

            "Lots of good beer on tap."

            "I will return for the beef brisket sandwich with horseradish sauce."

            "Honestly, who goes to a restaurant on opening night expecting fast service?"

            I concede I was a bit harsh on the sides. Thankfully, T-Rex improved the sides after a mountain of negative criticism, including a scathing Bauer review. The Lalimes comment was based on my experience at multiple restaurants of theirs that had been open for years at the time of the review.

        2. "In hindsight I should have sent this dish back." Absolutely, the kitchen would benefit from feedback on your lamb riblets - no pun intended.

          Is the kitchen inconsistent or do we have widely-varied palates? We've also ordered the squid to start our evening - three (3~3-1/2 inches stuffed to nearly bursting with spinach, bulgur, pine nuts and golden raisins to a diameter of 1-1/2 inches) - not that small; nestled on a richly-reduced sauce complementing the squid, well-seasoned with a tomato concasse, not smothered - I was happy to finish every drop of sauce. The squid was tender, the filling was satisfying and tasty, if simple and elemental. We also started wtih the grilled Vitelloni tongue - which was my DH's favorite starter, tender slices of silky tongue, palm-sized, and plated generously with fresh cranberry beans perfect to the bite, green olives, and preserved lemon. By this time, I'd finished the bread with the last lone cranberry bean and with the arrival of the second breads (four slices at each serving) at the table, I'd finished my glass of sparkling wine... and had doubts that I would want any dinner, only to be chided by my DH with the all-too-familiar refrain that I should not eat bread. Isn't it just my weakness that I like bread? Especially, with that luscious tomato sauce remaining after the squid was vanguished. We shared a salad of Seasonal Greens with jewels of pomegrante seeds, sweet herbs, and the orange blossom honey-coriander vinaigrette, with appropriate admiration that the greens were perfectly-dressed with a deft touch; more than a nuance, less than a cascade. Nothing annoys the DH more than a salad drowning in its dressing. The portion was easily shared and we decided that it was clearly enough to refresh our palates for the coming entrees. A nearby table was served the Bitter Lettuces - smaller in portion than our Seasonal Greens.

          Wine tastes better with food; or is it that food tastes better with wine? Both, perhaps. Either way, we were well-paired with a very nice red... I think, a syrah. Don't ask, I can't recall. I will usually pay more attention; but my senses were in overdrive.
          The Wood Roasted Whole Fish with a vegetable briam, parsley puree and ouzo brown butter. The Fall Vegetable briam is bright red, orange and yellow and resembles Pixar Studio's animated rendition of plated-ratatouile, fanned along the fish and would delight any self-respecting vegetarian. It's offered as a $4 side dish at lunch. Here we have forkfuls of succulent moist fish in transit across the table crossing paths with a pretty-in-pink loin chop of lamb and mouthfuls of slices. Not a speck of fat and nicely crusted with seared herbs, flavors of zatar. Lamb chops were an inch thick. I know, because I picked it up with my fingers, abandoning my fork and knife - no witnesses- an advantage to a table on the sideline. Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with harissa braised lamb breast and slow-cooked dandelion greens with Quince. DH grouses that the greens are too generous, so I finished the serving for him, thinking I could effortlessly be vegetarian for this evening. Not vegan, I am now anticipating at least three desserts; one of which MUST be the cumin-scented pot de creme. BTW, all the desserts are heaven sent IMHO.

          Now, you probably would be displeased with the location of our table #7. It's near the restrooms along the window and I enjoyed full kitchen theatre. On the right calendar eve, it can be flooded by full moonlight and the spot that is postioned on the exterior of the building's edge... no dark corner here - we hardly noticed the candlelight votive.

          Service was attentive, professional, gracious, and well-informed. I was in a mood to linger and enjoy. If there were any untimely pauses or lagtimes, I did not notice.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Cynsa

            Maybe just inconsistency in the kitchen, especially since some parts of a dish were hot and another part lukewarm/cool. The squid dish was probably the one with the least problems. However, there was no mention of the "tomato concasse" and I was expecting more of a grilled/wood oven presentation where the simple flavors of the dish could be appreciated. I found the tomato overpowered any subtlety of the other ingredients.

            My chops were no where near an inch thick, I would have been lucky if they were half that thickness. There was a fair amount of fat on each chop. I wouldn't have had a problem with it, except after the riblets it was more of an issue for me. They were properly cooked to medium-rare but it was really hard to discern the color since it was so dark at my table. The slow-cooked dandelion greens with quince were the best part of the dish for me.

            I agree the service was attentive, professional, gracious, etc. After reading other's comments I should have tried dessert.

            I really like that they use local and sustainable farm ingredients, and hope they can work out the execution issues that plagued my meal and be successful. However, my experience didn't leave me anxious to return. There wasn't one dish that I would order again.

            1. re: Scott M

              If you read tablehopper on Tuesday, there is a note at the end of the newsletter that Sens is searching for line cooks... that's a clue.
              I agree with you that $32 lamb loin chops should be perfect! and my DH also agrees that the music was too loud and a distraction for him.

              The trials and tribulations of restaurant openings are endless. Let's hope for better.

              1. re: Cynsa

                I am hoping they work things out as well, as it'd be great to have another destination restaurant in the Embarcadero area.

                That said, I can't blame Scott M for being wanting to make this thread with its punny title. Restaurants should take such obvious wordplay into account when naming themselves.

                1. re: grishnackh

                  "I am hoping they work things out as well, as it'd be great to have another destination restaurant in the Embarcadero area."

                  I agree with you 100%

                  1. re: Scott M

                    Well, if Sens never works out, at least we'll have EPIC Roasthouse and Waterbard to look forward to!

          2. "Unfortunately, the server's recommendations were not on target"

            Which is why I don't ask strangers what I will like.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FrankJBN

              Good point. I had certain dishes in mind to order but was curious as to the server's input since sometimes a dish may sound better on the menu than it actually tastes. I was going to order the flat bread but changed to the riblets as it seemed like the menu had a number of lamb offerings so I figured the restaurant specialized in lamb, and the server highly recommended them over the flat bread. I added the fried olives as a starter again because the server said it was the an absolute must have item on the menu.

            2. Had dinner at Sens a few weeks ago.

              Complimentary appetizer of bread and spiced ground nuts didn't work very well, nut stuff just wouldn't stick to the bread. Warm olives were great. Grilled octopus and lamb meatball appetizers were fine though not memorable. A lamb shank entree was so ill-conceived and/or badly executed I sent it back. Quail and steak were good.

              Desserts were fabulous. Don't remember what we had as they comped them and the ones on the Web site are different, but I'd go back for dessert any time.

              Great wine list with some good values.

              Some of the menu descriptions were woefully incomplete, e.g. one of the dishes had a ton of artichokes, which I would not have ordered given the wine we were drinking.

              Service was friendly but really scattered. There must have been seven or eight people who came to our table.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Here is a link to a discussion of our DAT lunch that three of us hounds had last week. Desserts were definitely a highlight, but it was all good. (and some dishes were better than good). I would definitely go back.

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47788...

                -----
                Sens
                4 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111

              2. Seems Shuna will no longer be at Sens. "Sens is already cutting costs and has asked star pastry chef and avid blogger Shuna Lydon to step down. Her desserts will be on the menu for the next 2 wks only." from sf.eater.com

                6 Replies
                1. re: hhc

                  Damn. That was the main reason I'd go back.

                  1. re: hhc

                    It's a real loss. Dessert was definitely the highlight of the two meals I had there.

                    I think the problem is that dinner (likely to include dessert) has been slow. And lunch time, when they're busy, is less likely to include a $9 four-component dessert.

                    1. re: Windy

                      The place was packed when I was there for dinner on a Thursday night last month, but maybe it was just enjoying a short-lived boost from Michael Bauer's review.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        We went last Friday, we won't be going back. The service was "off", the food was not that memorable and it was an overall disappointing experience. The one bright spot was the room itself, very cool and nice view of the Ferry Building. Other than that, skip it.

                        1. re: mofo313

                          An update: Had a great lunch there today. Large-size manti (stuffed with manouri cheese, pine nuts, chard and raisins) in a little broth with fennel, beets and roasted cipollini onions; dollop of thick garlicy yogurt on top. Really delicious, fresh and flavorful.
                          I always have good food, always. The price is right, too But the service, while abundant, is always a little out of tune.

                          1. re: DCarbonaro

                            There again on Friday for lunch. Sat outside, overlooking Herman Plaza and the Ferry Building. A slight breeze to cool off the sunny patio.
                            Most of the food was very good, except the chicken flatbread. Indecipherable on the menu, its arrival on our table added no clues. The slices of 1/2 inch-thick soft bread with tomato and slices of chicken meatballs (an odd concept) were cold when they arrive, having traveled to three other tables before ours. Beef Kefta was tasty, mildly spiced, with corn crepes stuffed with chickpeas and small-diced eggplant, peppers and onions. The flavors in salads are composed nicely, and the manti was delicious again.
                            Fresh squeeze lemonade was an unexpected big hit. We all loved it.
                            The service, again, was poor. The waiters (all men) are all amateurs. I've not encountered one that understood the menu. The mention of certain dished is like a newsflash (one chirped, "oh, we have that? how do you spell it?"). Dishes float to multiple tables before landing on the correct one, and timing is always off (entrees arrive minutes after the appetizers, or you wait 15 minutes for your credit card to be picked up; I even waved it over my head for the last 5 minutes).
                            Sens is not training its waitstaff, or they are not holding onto waiters long enough to develop any habits. It is the solitary reason I could never go there with a client or a large group; it is simply not predictable and reliable.
                            I wish I could, though.

                  2. Went to Sens today for a company-sponsored lunch. I liked the mint lemonade and the one bite I had of the eggplant flatbread (although it could have been baked longer), but the rest of the meal was uninteresting. The soup of day was roasted cauliflower and asparagus -- a very brothy mix that had a bunch of little pieces of vegetables at the bottom of the bowl, but not much flavor at all. The claypot chicken with orzo was also bland -- the orzo was somehow dry (despite sitting in a lukewarm broth), but the chicken was too wet, losing any crispness the skin would have provided. The fresh peas were overcooked in part, which just depressed me. A the capuccino at the end of the meal was also lukewarm.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: The Dive

                      Were you ordering off the menu or did they order ahead for the group?

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Off the menu. It was a small group, so I didn't really think the temperature issues could be excused.