Dine About Town (DAT), June 2010
I went to Isa for dinner last Friday. It was...okay. One might save a few dollars ordering from the DAT menu versus the normal menu, but if one tends to order asalad, a risotto or chicken and a dessert, you're probably better off with the normal menu pricing.
Food wise. I'm not sure why this place gets rave reviews. The mignonette sauce for the raw oysters has too much vinegar/acid. The dungeness crab salad had a good balance of crab, and citrus fruit for acidity, but is missing another ingredient to take it to the next level. The baked goat cheese was okay, but the cheese taste and texture dominates the taste of pesto and pinenuts. The high point was probably the duck breast, but the fat wasn't rendered out enough, and the skin was mushy but the sauce and the meat texture were well executed. The sweetbreads were just mediocre. Taste, texture, plate composition were just messy and rough. A note for vegetarians: the soup and the risotto are not vegetarian friendly, as they use a meat broth. The "vegetarian plate" is only main dish available and is basically a mishmash of the vegetables and non-meat items from other dishes thrown into one plate.
For dessert, the gelato was actually pretty good. I wonder from where they source it. The creme brulee has a decent caramel top, but the custard inside is definitely very light. It did not have texture of a normal custard.
Ambiance wise, the back seating room can get very,very loud and impossible to talk without basically yelling. At the end of the night, my throat was a little sore. The front room tends to be noisier earlier in the night, but 9pm on, it empties out and is quieter.
Overall, I think the price range of Isa allows people to give a good review partially because of value, but mediocre food is still mediocre food. Chapeau! is a better restaurant in the same price range.
Windy and I had a DAT dinner last night at Aziza. I'd been to Aziza twice before, once the first year it was open and again maybe four years ago, and I'd eaten and enjoyed Chef Maldonado's food at Cafe Majestic (which closed a couple of days after we ate there, another victim of the Ruth Lafler birthday dinner curse) so it was time to go back, and DAT was a good opportunity.
The DAT menu offered four choices for each of the first two courses and two choices for dessert. From the appetizers we ordered the spreads and the meatballs, from the entrees we ordered the chicken and the beef cheeks, and we ordered the two desserts. All the portions were big enough to share.
The spreads hit on two out of three: the yogurt dill and the pepper spread were delicious, but neither of us liked the eggplant, which I actually found to be not just "not good" but actively unpleasant. The fresh grilled flatbread was better than I remembered. The marble-sized meatballs came on four skewers, interspersed with grapes the same size and shape. The combination of the grilled meat and the sweet, juicy grapes worked well, I thought, and they went well with the little pile of jicama slaw underneath (I didn't catch the description of the dressing, but it was some kind of creamy herb puree that looked a bit like pesto but wasn't; dribbles of juices from the skewers added occasional hints of smokiness as well).
The entrees were both winners in different categories: the beef cheeks were meaty, fork tender and delicious on their bed of barley, but the brown/beige plate was a plain Jane compared with the dazzling beauty of the chicken with spring vegetables. The square of crisp-skinned golden brown chicken on a bed of farrow surrounded by artfully arranged clusters of root vegetables (baby turnips, and shaped pieces of beets and some other vegetable) and bright green snap peas with one side of the pod removed to reveal the peas nestled inside, garnished with nasturtium leaves, was one of the prettiest plates I've ever seen. Windy and I looked at it and declared it almost too pretty to eat, and indeed we left it undisturbed while we polished off the beef cheeks. The chicken and vegetables were fresh and tasty, but I thought the veggies were a little over salted and the horseradish listed in the description on the menu was not in evidence; it could have used that zing.
The desserts could have benefited from the same eye to presentation as the savory dishes. They were both essentially white: a semifreddo with pistachios layered inside and a coconut ice cream nestled between two pieces of sponge cake on a bed of ginger crumbles and a couple of cherries. In the past desserts have been a strength at Aziza, but I thought these were just okay.
While the food was delicious, I thought the spicing was ... subtle ... more Moroccan-influenced Californian than California-influenced Moroccan, but that may have been mostly a factor of the dishes we chose than the overall direction of the restaurant under chef Maldonado.
We got off to a bad start when they gave us what had to be one of the worst tables in the house, but they accommodated our request to be moved, and we ended up in the comfy, atmospheric back room, with an excellent server. I got the impression that my comment that the veggies with the chicken were oversalted (which I believe was actually just something I was discussing with Windy, not a complaint made to the server) was going to be relayed right back the kitchen.
A lot of people complain that the full five course prix fixe at Aziza is too much food, and the price has crept up to $62. I think DAT, which offers a decent subset of the regular menu, including the popular spreads, is a good alternative if you want to check it out. Heartier eaters might want to supplement with another appetizer or the basteeya.
re: Ruth Lafler
Thanks for covering all the salient details. I liked the appetizers more before we saw and tasted the entrees.
The chicken and beef cheeks were definitely the highlights, along with the superb but expensive drinks. I have always found the spicing very mild at Aziza.
Even iced tea is $6. Cocktails are now $10; virgin versions are 8, and most wines are more than $10 a glass. I had a delicious cremant d'alsace rose.
I liked the pistachio dessert, whatever it was. But yes, they were similar and not that distinguished.
Regular prices are a little higher than the last time I ate at Aziza, but I would definitely return, as long as they didn't try to seat me in a hallway, with lots of empty tables around.
And no idea why the first photo isn't rotated correctly; there's nothing wrong with the original image.
Well, there's a difference between "mild" and "virtually undetectable" ;-)
Here are some of the dish descriptions:
spreads: eggplant-balsamic, piquillo-almond, yogurt-dill, flatbread (note to self: balsamic and eggplant is *not* a good combination)
meatballs: jícama, grape, herb vinaigrette (no help there on what the herbs were)
chicken: wheat berries, snap pea, carrot, horseradish (no carrots, I thought it said farro, not wheatberries, but I could be wrong)
beef cheeks: barley, herbs, ras el hanout (I didn't know what ras el hanout tasted like, and I still don't)
Looking at the a la carte prices, the DAT deal is essentially free dessert, as is fairly typical. However, if we'd chosen a different combination of appetizers and entrees, it wouldn't have been a savings at all -- as always, check the prices before you order!
re: Ruth Lafler
thanks for the reports on Aziza from you and Windy. I've always loved their beef cheeks. I am one of those who thinks that the full course prix fixe there is too much food, so I've tried several times to hit it during DAT, but I've always left getting reservations too long to get a table there on days they do DAT (and didn't even try this time around since I am not in town anymore). Lesson for others: probably best to make reservations early if you want to eat there during DAT.
Finally made it to Campton Place, which I've been wanting to try for a while. Overall, it was a good restaurant experience, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to convince me to pay regular prices for this place.
My hubby and I each got different items from the DAT menu, and wine pairings. For appetizers, he got the salad and I had the carrot soup. Both were pretty decent, though it would have been better to have gotten a more interesting appetizer than soup and salad. The sauvignon blanc wine pairing from the Loire valley was ok, nice and light start to the meal.
For our entrees, my hubby got the steak, while I had the trout. I thought these were pretty good for DAT fare, since most pricey restaurants have something lame like chicken breast. The steak was very good and perfectly medium rare, and the trout was also cooked well, not overcooked like some places tend to do, with a nice crisp skin. The steak came with an Australian shiraz (just ok), while the trout came with a Spanish Albarino (one of my favorite white wines so I liked this better). The portions for the entrees (especially the trout) are not huge...I was ok with it since I'm perpetually on a diet anyway, but more hearty eaters might be disappointed.
For dessert, hubby had the lemon tart while I had the chocolate parfait. Since I don't like fruity desserts and my hubby doesn't like chocolate, we didn't try each others. I thought my chocolate parfait, which was sort of a mouse with bits of whipped cream, was pretty good...I liked how the nuts added some crunch, and it was fairly light for a chocolate dessert. Desserts came with a German eiswein, which was pretty decent, though I would have preferred some sort of port/madeira with the chocolate.
Overall, I think it was a good meal, but I don't think it accomplished the point of DAT, which is to make me want to come back to the restaurant to try out the regular menu. It did seem like they cut some corners, having everyone order from the DAT menu (makes service easier, but we don't have the option of supplementing with other items), and having the same wine pairing for both courses in the appetizer and dessert (would have been nice to have more customized wines, especially since they were only serving a limited menu anyway). I think I preferred our DAT at One Market last January, where the wine pairings were cheaper ($13 for 2 wines as opposed to $25 for 3 here), and we got to try other items on the menu (my hubby decided to opt for the "weekly beast" instead).
A decent experience for DAT (especially if you're on a diet), though not sure I would come back for the regular menu.
One Market Restaurant
1 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
340 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Last night was an impromptu DAT dinner at Cassis - we had not been in the neighborhood since Winterland closed its doors at Steiner and Sutter. The Cassis dining room was nearly filled on Tuesday evening with a mixed crowd of diners; young couples, friends, families with children, and oldsters, too - it's happily boisterous at 7:30 pm. Parking was easy. Service was impeccable. Food: excellent
The DAT menu offered many choices and this table of five selected the foie gras for a first course, followed by halibut, and finishing with profiteroles... another entree selection was perfectly cooked medium-rare lamb filet on couscous. I was so enarmored of my carrot ginger soup-du-jour and the house specialty Lasagne, I can't even describe the other DAT apps (Tiger Prawns) and desserts(Apple Crumble). http://www.restaurantcassis.com/Dine%20About%20Town%20Jun%202010.pdf
Everyone was happy, plates were cleaned; and we lingered over coffee and desserts. We'll go back for more.
the Early Dinner Prix Fixe is a $25 value: http://www.restaurantcassis.com/%2425...
2101 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
So a couple of friends and I had a DAT dinner last night at B44 and it was a complete disappointment. The food was mediocre and the service was horrible.
My menu was as follows:
First Course - duck confit
Second Course - Paella Dine About Town (Saffron rice / chicken / squid / mussels)
Third Course - Crema Catalana
The duck confit was prepared over truffle infused green lentils. While the duck was tasty, it was on the dry side. And if you're use to duck confit as prepared by the French, this is not it. Perhaps the Spanairds prepare it differently than the French. The lentils were good, not overcooked.
The paella was a big disappointment. It was overcooked, absolutely no liquid remaining, and sticking to the pan. The seafood consisted of four mussels and squid that you needed a magnifying glass to see. If the rice was saffron infused, you definitely could not tast it as the tomato base used to cook the rice overwhelmed the whole dish.
The highlight of the evening was the Crema Catalana. The carmelized crust was perfect. And although the egg custard had a slight lemon flavor, there was no hint of caramel anywhere.
Finally, the service left much to be desired. We arrived at 6pm and were seated outside. However, the overwhelming stench of sewer forced us into the restaurant on a beautiful night. After we were seated inside, the waitress kept pressing us for our drink and food orders, as if she was trying to rush us through our meal, even though the restaurant was almost empty. Than the drinks took 10-15 minutes to arrive at the table, even though, once again, the restaurant was almost empty. Then my friend ordered the steak option medium. When it came, the steak was almost well done with only slight hints of pink and too dry. In order to make the steak more palatable, my friend asked the overly anxious waitress for additional sauce. As we completed our meal, the waitress never brought the sauce. When my friend asked a waiter for additional sauce, he tried to tell her that this would be a complete mistake as it would drown the steak. My friend explained however that the steak was overcooked and too dry and needed some sauce and he proceeded to argue with her about whether the steak was cooked properly or not. After the bill came, the waitress completely disappeared. Having spent several hundred dollars for dinner, you think she would have the courtesy to come back at least once to see if we needed anything else. The poor service downgraded the restaurant from a two- to one- start review.
I would definitely say skip B44 on your DAT. While most restaurants participate in DAT in order to attract repeat customers, I would definitely NOT return to B44 after this experience.
44 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104
Not related to the regular menu at Luce, but I have only had happy hour at the adjoining bar - Bar 888 - inside the hotel. If there's a way that you can fit in a pre-dinner snack then I recommend you get the mini banh mi-like pulled pork sliders on brioche buns. They are the most delicious little sandwiches, but they are a tad on the sweet side if you are not into sweetness in your food. Otherwise, do report back since I have been meaning to try Luce.
here's my old post November 2009
this fave is on the menu:
Sweetbread and Beef Tongue, Egg, Pancetta Jus and Potato “Espuma”15
Luce - InterContinental San Francisco Hotel
888 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
I used it to finally try Scoma's and went there for lunch yesterday. Everything was good and fresh, and I can see why it is often considered to be the best seafood on the wharf, but I can't imagine ever going back and paying their regular ala carte prices.
The appetizer was either clam chowder (nothing memorable, but liked the addition of fresh crab) or caesar salad; I can't remember what the other entree selections were as I just went straight for the petite crab louie salad. Was definitely impressed with the high quality of fruits/vegetables used in the salad (I know they were featuring heirloom tomatoes on another dish, not sure if the tomatoes used were heirloom, but they definitely were delicious), and how they weren't just used as afterthoughts to be overpowered by the crab, which, of course, was delicious.
Nice to know Scoma's is using good ingredients in addition to the seafood. BTW, thanks to chowhound when my Dad asked a couple of weeks ago for a recommendation on the wharf for some visiting friends, I passed on the info that Scoma's was the best bet foodwise but expensive. He reported back that the food was indeed excellent, and as I'd warned them that it was expensive, it wasn't a big deal that it was "pricey." Too bad Scoma's isn't doing DAT for dinner, since a long June evening seems like the optimal time to take advantage of the view.
re: Ruth Lafler
Scoma's is doing DAT for dinner.
Nonetheless, for that price, I'd want the food to be amazing, and not just very good, as there are places with amazing seafood (my personal favorite is Anchor Oyster Bar, opinion on this board varies) where the cost of dinner there plus a cab ride to there from the Wharf would still be less than a dinner at Scoma's.
I also found the interior to be extremely sterile, even for a touristy restaurant that attracts older people.
Anchor Oyster Bar
579 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114