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La Folie Report

Sorry, this is a little long, I put in big Caps the various categories of report, so that you may skip around if you like...

The ‘rents came to town for my 30th birthday and we went to La Folie to celebrate one night. Here were our results:

Our reservations were for 8:00pm, but at 8:05pm I called to tell them we were running a little late. They said not to worry and they would see us when we got there. We arrived at 8:15 and were seated promptly. The two wines I brought were taken from me and the sommelier asked if either should be decanted. I replied that both should. The room is very nice. Modern and comfortable with warm tones throughout.

We were given our menus and then passed around a bowl of fresh summer truffles to smell. Then we were told that any dish could have a portion of truffles added to it for a fee of $10. Frankly, none of the dishes really seemed to need truffles, but it sure was tempting! Our server knew the menu perfectly and had personally tasted everything that we asked about (which was just about everything on the menu). He was able to guide me to the walu (butterfish) for my fish course despite himself not personally liking it. Rather than simply stating his opinion of the dish, he explained that the ripe green olive flavor to the dish was quite pronounced and that lovers of olives would find the pairing of flavors quite nice, but that he personally doesn’t like olives, so he found the dish less to his liking. Olives are about my favorite thing in the world, so this made my fish choice easy. I should note that you can order 3 courses for $75, 4 for $85, or 5 for $95. Honestly, I don’t see how you can come to a restaurant like this and not order at least 4 courses – if you are going to splurge on a special occasion (what most people we overheard were doing – an anniversary next to us on one side, replaced by ANOTHER anniversary, and another birthday on the other) you might as well go all the way. That is what we did, anyway.

OUR MENU

My 5 course meal was: (Soups and Salads) Chilled pea soup with onion sorbet, (Appetizers) Lobster and wild mushroom risotto, (Fish) Butterfish with tapenade, (Meat) Rack of Lamb with fennel puree and natural jus, (Dessert) Cheese soufflé with bacon and vanilla gelato. The rest of my family had the dungoness crab salad for their first course, everyone got the risotto for their second course, the third course saw 2 Arctic Chars with corn sauce and the dorade over brined artichokes and lobster stuffed squash blossom, the 4th courses saw another Arctic Char (you can order a second fish course in place of a meat course and, I presume, vice versa), the duck prepared 2 ways – seared breast with bing cherry and confit cassoulet, and the stuffed pheasant and squab and for dessert, the sorbets and a cheese plate were ordered by others.

COMMENTS ON THE FOOD

Amuse #1: heirloom tomato salad with cilantro – family loved it, I don’t eat raw tomato

Amuse #2: slow poached brown egg yolk with spicy heirloom tomato sauce. Incredibly good, but SO rich, I could not finish it.

Bread and butter: truly truly outstanding bread somewhere between traditional French bread rolls and cibatta. The butter was bright yellow and amongst the best butters I’ve had…

The chilled pea soup was good, but not great. Light and delicate. The crab salad, on the other hand, was considered excellent, but due mostly to lots of very well cooked fresh crab, not because the flavor combinations were extrodinary.

The lobster and wild mushroom risotto was STUNNING. Quite simply, this is the best “fancy” risotto I have ever tasted. By a mile. (It is hard to compare this to something like porcini risotto at a family owned restaurant overlooking Lake Como – but comparing apples to apples, this was just in a different league than anything any of us had experienced. I really don’t know how he did it)

The butterfish was exceptional. The ripe, fresh, bright green olives worked perfectly with the flavors of the fish and with the watercress – SO fresh. The dourade (sea bass) was exceptional, and, while I didn’t taste the arctic char, I was told it was “out of this world”.

The rack of lamb was the second best lamb rack I have ever had. The best was at a ** Michelin in London (The Capital), this was right there with it. I never would have thought of pairing the fennel puree with a rack, but it works SO well. It is worthy of note, the “rack” was 2 rib chops. Of course, I was eating 5 dishes, so, I was not lacking food. The duck breast was outstanding, the cassoulet arguably the best I’ve had. I didn’t get to taste the squab or quail but was told they were terrific.

The caramel sorbet with raspberry sauce palate cleanser was surprisingly refreshing and quite delicious.

My cheese soufflé was decadent and delicious. Perfect with only slightly sweet vanilla gelato and a tiny bit of bacon. Actually, it could have used slightly more bacon. But, really this was an exceptional dessert. Certainly one of the 3 best I can ever recall having in San Francisco. The sorbet was terrific and well presented. The cheese plate was really well put together and the selection was grand.

The petit fours were truly truly outstanding. Perhaps the best, overall, I’ve ever had.

COMMENTS ON THE SERVICE

The service is not French. It is very very good, but it is more relaxed than you might expect. Not all plates are set before the diners at the exact same time; the plates are explained once they are set in front of you, but not necessarily in the detail that you might expect at the restaurants where a separate manager comes over to explain what each plate is to the table.

At one point we heard yelling coming from the kitchen. A minute later the fish courses were presented and as our server delivered the Arctic Char to my father he apologized telling him that it was their intent to cook the Arctic Char to medium rare, but his had been cooked medium to medium-well so they were in the process of preparing him another plate, but that he should enjoy whatever he wanted of the cooked-to-medium Arctic Char in the meanwhile. (It should be noted that no mention of the fish’s doneness had been on the menu nor part of the ordering.)

I brought a 2004 Paolo Bea Arbeus and a 2001 La Spinetta Barolo Campe. The wine stewart took interest in the wines and when I asked if he was familiar with them he said, that he was trying to make sure he knew what grapes were in them. I can forgive him on the Bea, but for the sommelier at a restaurant like this not to know that Barolo is made from Nebbiolo is pretty inexcusable. Also inexcusable, the wines were opened and decanted away from my sight. Now, I am 100% certain no “switch-a-roo” was made… it isn’t like this is a restaurant that has orange wines (like the Bea) and there actually was nothing but CA and French wines on the list, that I saw. But, the wines should have been opened and decanted in front of me.

Speaking of the wine list, it is not up to snuff for the caliber of restaurant that this is. 4(!) Alsatian wines on a $95pp French restaurant’s wine list?! NO Hermitage?!?!?!?!?!? (Or maybe there was one). The markup was also a bit steep. ON THE OTHER HAND, corkage was only $35/bottle with one corkage fee waived for every wine purchased off the list which is, by SF standards for restaurants in the price range, a pretty good deal.

The meal ran *slightly* too long. Only slightly. We were seated for 3 hours and 20 minutes and it would have been perfect had we been seated for 3 hours and 5 – 10 minutes.

There are 14 tables and one unisex bathroom. Unacceptable for a restaurant of this caliber.

The chef/owner came out and greated each table near the end of their meal and made a genuine effort to discuss his food and restaurant and get feedback from his patrons.

OVERALL

This is a terrific restaurant that is decidedly more relaxed than its competition. It is intimate without being unnecessarily romantic; a bunch of middle-aged straight male foodies would feel just as comfortable sharing a meal here as a young couple celebrating an early anniversary. While inventive and focusing on fresh and local ingredients (I had peas in all four of my savory dishes), this restaurant is not California-French, it is French-French… with a strong emphasis on Provencal cooking. There are noticeable shortcomings, but overall this is a really special restaurant that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone.

A final note: I’ve been to my fair share of * and ** Michelin restaurants. I cannot say that this meal was definitely as good as any ** I’ve been to, but I CAN say that it was definitely BETTER than the vast majority of * I’ve been to.

Despite shortcomings, strongly recommended.

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  1. Sounds fantastic! My family and I went for Christmas dinner, and we were seated an hour and a half late, so it's great to read that it's not always like that (Christmas and all, it's vaguely understandable). That being said, they more than made up for it with three or four extra courses including a caviar course.

    (That and we got out of dinner so late that we skipped Mass. I'm horribly unreligious, so I'm thankful for the caviar and Mass-skipping. I'm sure others didn't appreciate it as much.)

    1. Now I'm craving a fennel / lamb combo. I was a little amused that an amuse was too rich to finish. I've rarely had one that was more than a bite. Very nice to have a current detailed review. Thanks. I'm a bit behind in my Chowhound reading, so I'd wish you a belated happy birthday but you are probably a decade older by now.

      -----
      La Folie
      2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

      1. In other words, in summary, the restaurant lives up to its name!

        1. Thanks for the report! After lots of raves on this board, I took my boyfriend to La Folie a few weekends ago for his birthday. We've been celebrating each other's birthdays with vegetarian tasting menus for the past few years, which has been tons of fun! We've conquered Fleur de Lys, Masa's, and Cyrus in the past, so we thought we'd knock one more off the list.

          As you said, the service is laid back but professional. We never felt rushed or overwhelmed (although we took our petit fours home for breakfast the next day). Napkins were quickly refolded, water constantly poured, and bread repeatedly offered. But the 4-course vegetarian menu felt like an afterthought at times.

          To the best of my knowledge, this is what I remember:

          Amuse bouche #1
          Suspended fresh tomato: light, crisp, and slightly acidic. Possibly my favorite thing of the evening.

          Amuse bouche #2
          Mini beet salad for him, pickled root vegetables for me (was supposed to be the egg yolk dish, but he doesn't eat egg-centric dishes; We were then offered salmon, to which we firmly responded, "No." And I'm highly allergic to beets.): Ok, but really just felt like semi-raw vegetables.

          Dish #1
          He had a beet and tomato salad with a basil-infused dressing. No real cooking here, more slicing of vegetables. I had the chilled pea soup with sweet onion sorbet as a substitute for the beet salad. The sorbet really made the dish pop. Otherwise, the soup just tasted like cold peas.

          Dish #2
          Truffle risotto with some kind of sinful creamy sauce. Amazing. It was rich, deep, and oh so flavorful.

          Dish #3
          Roasted vegetables and squash blossoms stuff with goat cheese on top of a small dab of eggplant puree: Overall, I felt this dish failed on several levels. The vegetables were soggy and not too flavorful. The squash blossoms were flash fried and didn't seem to hold up amid the other oily vegetables. The puree tasted very bland. Eh.

          Amuse buche #3
          Cardamon infused pudding: This lands somewhere between the suspended tomato and the risotto. Heavenly, light but earthy, very calming.

          Dessert: he had the Valrhona chocolate mousse cake (with a candle cleverly stuck in a passionfruit/mango gelee) and I had the peach melba. Both looked like works of art and were great, but very heavy.

          We split a half-bottle of wine with the intent of also ordering dessert wine at the end of the evening. I don't remember off the bat what our half-bottle was, but I think it was a $33 syrah. Not too heavy and very drinkable. Sadly we weren't offered the opportunity to order dessert wine at the end of the night. Only coffee and tea, and this was partway through dessert.

          We left full, but not over eager to return. For vegetarians, there are better options out there. As of today, my ranking of vegetarian tasting menus is:

          Cyrus
          Fleur de Lys
          Masa's
          [LARGE gap]
          La Folie

          10 Replies
          1. re: rahir

            You went to a French restaurant expecting to be impressed by a vegetarian tasting menu (your meal at Fleur de Lys notwithstanding)? Too bad you didn't opt for any egg dishes as the two I had recently were outstanding. Did you consider Ubuntu in Napa?

            Personally, I would never consider a French centric restaurant if I wanted a vegetarian only menu-just my 2 cents.

            SWS

            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

              If they offer a vegetarian tasting menu then it should be on par with their other offerings.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I agree. If they offer it, it should rival the other meat-centric menus. I've been to Ubuntu, and loved it, but I question whether it's a fine dining experience on-par with Cyrus, FdL, etc.

                And Robert, thanks for the Manresa suggestion. It'll go on the list right along the Dining Room at the RC and others:)

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Sure, but it is likely not their specialty, that was more my point. I wouldn't go to a Thai restaurant and order a burger and I wouldn't go to a steakhouse and ask for tofu. With the exception of a few French chefs that have elevated vegetables to a form of high art, I would never expect to be wowed by a vegetarian tasting menu at a French restaurant. The French like meat, and many of their sauces are based on some form of animal protein.

                  SWS

                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                    Actually this is very helpful. There are a lot of inquiriies about tasting menus when one or more of the group is a vegetarian. I agree with Ruth, French or not, if they offer this option, it should be as good as the other menu.

                    As much as I love Ubuntu, it is more casual than an event type of place.

                    I get your point, but people go to steakhouses with people in their party that don't eat beef and there should be dishes on the menu that match the level of the specialty of the house for those people

                    There's nothing worse than a restaurant that slacks off on dishes with an attitude of, hey, we do xxx, we don't want to serve this stuff, but if someone wants it we'll grudgingly serve it.

                    All though I still am steamed by the review on another site that trashed a mom and pop Brazilian cafe serving mainly beef and cheesy things. This vegan was iriate they didn't have meat substitues. In that case I'd say, what do you expect. But that was far from fine dining.

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Do you think the restaurant may have done better if they had known in advance that egg dishes were off limits and one diner was highly allergic to beets? It sounds like the beet salad was a planned course and the egg yolk a major component of the salad ~ two choices that had to be altered from the chefs planning.

                    1. re: tomatoaday

                      I had specifically requested the vegetarian menu for two and stated my beet allergy when I made the reservation and reconfirmed both a few days ahead of time; the egg for us was in an amuse bouche, not a large salad. But the issue isn't that these were on the menu; the main course, along with the replacements for the eggs and beets, were just so disappointing. I won't even go into being offered salmon. As a long-time vegetarian, it seemed incredibly insensitive on their part.

                      1. re: rahir

                        That was smart to warn them of the allergy, I didn't catch that. Much as I like Roland, it does sound like the restaurant did not put a good foot forward, especially dish #3. I don't think the salmon offering was meant to be offensive. I have heard many different interpretations of what diners consider vegetarian from no red meat to plant based only cuisine with no dairy from animals.

                        I think they would be interested in hearing your criticism directly and welcome the feedback if you are so inclined.

                        1. re: rahir

                          Unless you had specifically told them that you eat no fish, I wouldn't be hard on them for offering salmon. Ask any waiter, many people identify themselves as "vegetarians" and then order fish or even fowl.

                  3. re: rahir

                    You should put Manresa on your list for future birthdays. I didn't order the vegetarian menu, but the vegetarian dishes I got were exceptional, and the "Into the Garden" was in a class by itself.