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Aug 10, 2010 11:00 PM

Plum Preview Dinners: Monday Nights at Il Cane Rosso (San Francisco)

Two weeks ago, Chef Jeremy Fox announced that he would be staging a series of Monday night dinners in August to preview dishes he was developing for the soon-to-open Plum. More info in this thread:

One of my friends attended the first one on 8/2 and forwarded this four-course, $45 menu.

Summer chips flavored with seaweed and miso, young potato and cucumber with anchovy, preserved lemon, olive crisp
Forno beets baked in vegetable embers, wild fennel salsa verde
Shellfish with jambalaya flavors, pressed pig, okra caviar, coffee, toasted brown rice
Roasted white chocolate with raspberry and cocoa nib

She made a reservation on the spot to return the next week
Then yesterday, I woke up to a friend’s blog early morning post breaking the news that Jeremy Fox had departed and Daniel Patterson would be taking over the menu for now.

A few hours later, the Chron confirmed the story and Plum announced this menu for 8/9:

PLUM PREVIEW DINNER 4 courses $45 per person (5:30-9 pm)

Chickpea fritters, sheep’s milk cheese, wild fennel
Melon & cucumber, almond-yogurt, red shiso & nasturtium
Chilled eggplant soup, fresh pole and shelling beans, preserved lemon, cilantro
Slow-cooked egg, savory chicken-giblet fried farro, sprouts
Milk chocolate parfait, basil meringue, pistachio

Now that Fox is out, I’m starting this new thread for “ricegeek” and others who’ve tried the Plum practice dinners to report back.

Il Cane Rosso
1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94105

2214 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

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  1. With all the Jeremy Fox drama rattling the news wire on the same day of our visit, I felt a bit uncertain about what's going to happen to Plum. But as soon as I saw Patterson in the kitchen, any lingering hesitation went out the window.

    We started with amouse bouche of chickpea fritter with molten core of sheep milk cheese. It's a slight variation to a falafel, but like its sibling, it's too hot to eat in one bite. It would set the Mediterranean theme for the rest of the courses to come.

    Our first course was cucumber and melon salad with almond yogurt, red shiso and nasturtium flower pedals and leaves. The cantaloupe, and to a lesser degree the honey dew, was ripen to the perfect sweet tenderness without triggering the mush alarm. The Japanese cucumber ribbon, which was pickled slightly to add depth, anchored a gorgeous presentation of the best California has to offer. Bonus points for casting delicately light yogurt dressing to allow for the real stars of the dish to shine. I also love that both the flowers and the pedals are on the dish to showcase more of what I can only imagine is Patterson's garden bounties.

    Our second course was chilled eggplant soup with pickled green beans and preserved lemon, tomato water gelee. While the first course wetted our appetite, this dish came loaded with flavors and textures combination that shows Patterson is not just a "fig on a plate" kind of guy. The silky smooth, rich soup served as comforting rhythm to the crunchy, popping melodies of the pickled beans, peas and fresh cilantro. The refreshing energy of the dish could not be damped even under the chilly summer weather of San Francisco. I bet he can sell it by the buckets if it was served in smothering humidity. The gelee was the only minor let down as it didn't contribute to the flavors of the dish, though it did provide some visual and textural contrast. This is my favorite dish of the night.

    Our 3rd course was slow cooked egg over chicken giblet, fried farro and shaved slices of radish, or as I like to call it, runny egg over chicken fried rice. The perfectly cooked egg was front and center of a mash-up of diced chicken pieces, farros, plus sprouts, pickled radish and carrots. This was the ultimate comfort food as nothing makes a splash, but eating the dish was like getting a warm hug from all the ingredients. I did wish the radish would provide a bit more acidity to balance a rather heavy entree, but that's a minor bone to pick. This dish should also serves to answer the chicken and egg question if anyone asks Patterson.

    Desert came in the form of a milk chocolate parfait with basil meringue and pistachio. Basil meringue was well executed, though its pairing with the rich parfait made the lingering sweetness seem heavy handed. It also didn't help that the previous course was also a heavy hitter.

    Lastly, we finished with a piece of homemade hibiscus marshmallow.

    From the restraint build up of the salad, to full flavor display of the chilled soup, to homey fried rice, to chocolate desert, there's a clear vision from the chefs at work. It happens to be a vision mostly underserved in the bay area, so as long as the vision and execution hold, Plum should quickly cement itself a spot on many foodies' lists of go-to neighborhood places. There are still questions to be answered, such as can Patterson maintain quality of the food while splitting time between his growing empire? But there are enough clues sprinkled in the preview dinner to make the mystery worth exploring. I look forward to getting the full sit-down treatment at opening time.

    5 Replies
    1. re: ricegeek

      Thanks for posting. I enjoyed reading not just your detailed descriptions but especially your perspective on the flow of the courses and balance of the meal overall.

      I was there on Monday 8/9 too. Chef Daniel Patterson was present in the kitchen, as well as taking care of his young son.

      Chickpea fritters, sheep’s milk cheese, wild fennel – Fried to a perfect crisp with a greaseless light shell and molten center. The exotic aroma of the fresh fennel buds rising up from the hot fritter was bliss.

      Melon & cucumber, almond-yogurt, red shiso & nasturtium – The cubes and balls of melon on my plate were not ripe enough me. I felt that more perfume, sweetness and softer texture would be a better contrast with the cured slices of cucumber and tangy yogurt sauce. I did like the shiso and peppery nasturtium notes. Interestingly, I had recently made a tapenade of shiso-flavored umeboshi, nasturtium leaves, and almonds playing around with different flavor combinations, and it was fun to revisit them in this course. My dining companions commented that this delicate style of tweezer cuisine was pure Patterson. I was impressed by his subtle use of shiso, an herb that can easily overpower. We did hear back that this trial dish was too labor-intensive to make its way to the regular Plum menu.

      Chilled eggplant soup, fresh pole and shelling beans, preserved lemon, cilantro – Soup of eggplant has the dullest, drabbest color in the food world. Dressing it up with the playful arrangement of colorful beans, drizzled olive oil and puddle of tomato water gelee still didn’t make it that appetizing to me, especially in the stoneware bowl. But the flavor won me over, much richer and deeper than I expected and each little bean was an individual wonder of fresh sweetness and perfect texture. Taken together with the other soup components, the tomato water gelee got lost. But tasted in between mouthfuls on its own, this essence of fresh tomato was a welcome palate cleanser. Like you, I voted this one best of the night.

      Slow-cooked egg, savory chicken-giblet fried farro, sprouts – This riff on chicken fried rice showed Patterson’s skill in painting with the Asian flavor palette. At first I couldn’t find the chicken giblets, only a few cubes of tender breast meat. The giblets were minced smaller than the pieces of farro, maybe to disguise them for the innards-averse. We all agreed that we wanted to eat this for breakfast every day.

      Milk chocolate parfait, basil meringue, pistachio pesto – We’re in agreement that this dish was too rich following the egg/farro dish. The chocolate parfait with the crunchy bottom made me think of a Kit Kat bar. But of nevertheless, my table gobbled it down greedily. From the menu blurb, I had not expected the meringue component to be soft. The bigger surprise was the heart of coarse-textured pistachio-basil pesto in the center of each meringue. Our server said that each meringue was piped directly onto the plate to achieve this. Described as “milk chocolate”, the tone was darker and less sweet making it a better partner with the savory basil component.

      Hibiscus marshmallows – Light and very soft style, rather than chewy, tangy hibiscus tamed the sweetness.

      A sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire, NV Vouvray Brut “Le Peu de la Moriette” by Domaine Pichot, $35, served in tumblers, was a beautiful match with the vegetable-based dishes in this meal.

      All photos (click on “slideshow”)

      Bill Corbett, pastry chef

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        It's so good to hear from fellow diners about the same dishes. Great pictures too! It's too bad to hear the salad won't make it to the regular menu, but at least I can say I have tried it. I can't wait to see what the full menu would look like.

        1. re: ricegeek

          I was extremely impressed with the farro/chicken/egg dish, with all the components being perfect - the succulent chicken breast, the giblets that didn't overpower the dish, the texture of the farro, and the fresh and intensely flavored sprouts.

          Even more brilliant was the eggplant soup. Unlike Melanie and ricegeek, I really loved the tomato gelee, for both the textural contrast as well as flavor contrast. The tomato flavor was mild but pure and the look of the gelee was deceiving for the amount of flavor it had. Whenever I wanted a more substantial bite, I'd spoon some of the eggplant soup and a bean or two. Whenever I wanted a lighter bite, I'd spoon some of the eggplant soup and the tomato gelee. And whenever I wanted a richer bite, I'd spoon some of the oil.

      2. re: ricegeek

        Has Plum announced their opening day other than "early September"?

        1. re: HKHAMILTON

          I have heard September 15, but I'm pretty sure they don't know the exact date yet. You could call them and try to make a reservation.

      3. Plum Preview Dinner #3
        @ Il Cane Rosso
        August 16th 2010

        crisp chicken skin. seaweed powder

        warm smoked black cod-potato puree, grilled pepper, wild fennel relish. olive oil cracker

        caullfiower glazed with lemon and garum, bulghur. dandelion salsa verde

        slow-cooked pork shoulder, turnip apple-miso, fresh seaweeds

        raspberry custard, sable breton, yogurt, rooibos

        curried chocolate covered almonds

        Il Cane Rosso
        1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94105

        9 Replies
        1. re: Paul H

          It's annoying to me that in so many of these more "innovative" restaurants most if not all (as in this case) of the savory dishes have some kind of fishy/briny element.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I think it's an interesting and innovative way to bring salt into dishes in a more natural way, instead of simply dumping in straight NaCl. I'm not sure what you're identifying as "fishy/briny" in the black cod (is fish fishy, or is fish just fish?) or the cauliflower.

            1. re: bbulkow

              Fish is fishy. The cauliflower had garum, which is a fermented fish sauce. I don't see what's particularly innovative about using seaweed in two separate dishes. A crutch is a crutch.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Does it have to innovative? Is "good" good enough? It was good.

                1. re: Paul H

                  No, it definitely doesn't have to be innovative. My point is that they're trying to be innovative -- and a bit too hard for my taste. To put it another way, I'm tired of "innovative" meaning "tricked out with Asian ingredients" -- miso has become a cliche (one I find dismaying, since the smell of it makes me nauseated).

                  Since you were the one who was there, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't think I would have, and reading this report doesn't make me excited to try Plum.

                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Fish that is not fresh is "fishy".

                  1. re: sttyler

                    "Seaweed is not fish. It's a plant. That lives in the ocean. It's not "fishy". Because it's not a fish. Thanks for listening."
                    Daniel Patterson

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Oooh, Daniel Patterson reacts to comments from lil ole me. Too bad he didn't read the part where I said "briny" as well as "fishy."

                3. re: bbulkow

                  Garum, seaweed, soy sauce, miso, etc., introduce not just salt but a savory umami element that rounds and deepens out the flavor of vegetables. I guess one could use bit of demi-glace to achieve the same but that would put it outside the dietary restrictions of pescatarians. Anything in excess is bound to taste bad, but when applied with a judicious hand, one is left with just a "mmmm, that's tasty". I have routinely used white miso to make a vegetarian Caesar dressing, and no one has every figured out where that elusive flavor element comes from.

                  I didn't return for yesterday's dinner, so it will be up to others to say whether this worked or not. Fresh seaweed doesn't taste fishy to me at all. As noted in my comments on dinner #2, I was mightily impressed with Patterson's ability to use the Asian palette of seasonings without hitting the eater over the head with it ala the "hoisin sauce!" bombs of the 80's clumsy attempts at fusion.

                  Also, the menu descriptions are quite thorough so that the diner can decide whether or not to partake. The preview menus are posted earlier in the day on Cane Rosso's website. I'll daresay that a lot of these things have been introduced into dishes without disclosure by many a kitchen and no one was the wiser.