SF Trip report: Commonwealth, Ferry Building, Gary Danko, Koi Palace, Manresa
I moved from the bay area 3 years ago and haven’t had a chance to return until this past labor day weekend. I’m happy to report that my old favorites are just as good as ever and that my experience with newcomer Commonwealth reminded me of how easy it is to get top notch cuisine at a ridiculously affordable price.
Commonwealth: Recommended by Daveena and as always, a spot on rec. We had the tomato salad with black olive crumble, summer squash chilled soup with fried flowers, corn custard with sea urchin, butter poached black cod, young hen with spot prawns. All this with 3 glasses of wine and we barely broke $100. The tomatoes in the tomato salad were so sweet and flavorful, I didn’t mind that the olive crumble seemed almost superfluous. It did add a slight salt component to the amazingly sweet tomtoes. Produce this flavorful reminded me of what is so good about the SF dining scene. The corn custard was delicious. The butter poached cod very well executed but the cod maybe a bit too unctuous for my taste. I would have preferred a leaner fish with a butter poached technique. The young hen with spot prawns was delicious in every way. The hen in fact was as well cooked as Manresa’s version a few nights later.
Ferry Building: It sure is a lot more crowded these days. Line at Blue Bottle is about the same. The line at Roli Roti was literally prohibitive to getting anything so I got a Miss Piggy at Boccolone instead. Awesome. We also picked up some cheese from Cowgirl and bread from Acme and sat down at Wine Merchant for a few hours with several glasses of wine. One of my favorite ways to spend Saturday afternoon. The only let down, and I know this is blasphemy was Frog Hollow. The 2 peaches we got from Frog Hollow were both mealy and dry and I would even swear that they were frozen It was no where near as delicious and sweet as the samples provided. I’m hoping someone can explain this one to me.
Gary Danko: wish I could have gone to Incanto instead but sometimes you have to make concessions. Someone on the SF boards once called GD comfort fine dining and that strikes me as the perfect description. The menu is unchanged since my last visit about 4 years ago. The crab bisque was so salty it was inedible. The lobster and rock shrimp risotto was tasty but so loaded up with cheese and cream that it reminded me of hearty mac and cheese. Souffle was excellent as always. Cheese cart was good. Comfort fine dining.
Koi Palace: LA brags about having the best asian food around. And while this is true for pretty much everything, Koi Palace is the exception. I find that Koi Palace handily beats LA’s best dim sum (Elite and Sea Harbour) and Cantonese and this visit reminded me that the gap is actually quite substantial. The whole dungeness crab soup dumplings were reason enough. The various shrimp and scallop dumplings with XO sauce were far superior to anything I can find in LA. The har gow is still the best version I’ve had. The king shau mai is slightly different from 3 years ago. It’s now split into 2 dumplings instead of 1 huge one and topped with dried baby abalone instead of sharkfin. Still good. While waiting, I looked at each tank longingly and wished I had this place in my backyard so I could come in for dinner on a weekly basis and dine on the amazing selection of fish and live crustacean.
Manresa: My favorite restaurant in the states. I thought it bested TFL when I went to both 3 years ago. Having recently had great meals at Joel Robuchon in Vegas and Per Se in NYC, I wanted to see if Manresa was still my favorite. I decided to go with the chef’s tasting with premium wine pairing:
Amuse 1: black olive madelines and roasted red pepper gelee
Amuse 2: strawberry gazpacho –Tastes just like gazpacho with the subtle aftertaste of strawberries at the end.
Course 1: Arperge egg. As good as ever. I could eat this every day and not get tired. The sweet, the tart, the savory. It’s all there
Course 2: giant clam and Japanese sea bream sashimi with nori. The sweetness of the clam and the smoky nori went very nicely
Course 3: pumpkin veloute with nasturtium ice cream. The pumpkin veloute was room temperature, and contrasted nicely with the ice cream. Crunchy bits of something delicious in the ice cream provided contrast
Course 4: Into the garden. An amazing salad of somewhere between 10-20 different vegetables, flowers, and tastes. This highlights the precision and uniqueness of Manresa
Course 5: Abalone with pork confit. One of the most memorable dishes I had 3 years ago was the smoke foie gras. This year, it’s this amazingly tender and savory abalone cooked perfectly. The pork confit was a bit on the tart side and distracted a bit from the sheer perfection of the abalone.
Course 6: Chicken roulade with what I think were matsutake mushrooms. Can’t be sure about the matsutake. They were sliced very thin and grilled.
Course 7: lamb cheek with tomato confit and lamb loin with pinenut puree. Not quite as enlightening as previous lamb dish barely scented with Indian spices. The pinenut puree was amazing though.
Palate cleanser of watermelon granite and melon ice cream. Wonderfully refreshing
Cheese cart: a pretty good selection of cheese about on par with Gary Danko. Pales in comparison to Joel Robuchon
Dessert: Taste of New Orleans. I asked if they could replace the dessert from the tasting with the beignets from the a la carte menu.
The meal was as creative and delicious as I remembered. I love the fact that Kinch’s creations and flavors are different from mainstream fine dining. Each visit has shown me tastes and flavors that I don’t usually find and that’s why I enjoy it so much. Service is a bit more formal since my last visit. I imagine its because Kinch is going for that 3rd star. My only complaint is the wine pairing. The wine pairing I had 3 years ago was pretty unique. I specifically remember a cognac spiked white wine pairing with a smoked foie gras dish that was very unique and enjoyable. This time, the wine pairing was very unremarkable. Maybe my wine tastes have changed so I can’t entirely fault Manresa. However, next time, I will simply select from the wine list, which has also improved dramatically over the past 3 years.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015
800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109
, Hayward, CA
Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103
re: steve h.
Steve h. I LOVED Commonwealth. Alas, Ididn't get a chance to head to Zuni this year. Nevertheles, I ate incredibly well in SF/Napa. I will write a report on my trip when I have a chance. I had so many amazing meals on this trip, it will be fun to digest, literally and figuratively, before recalling all of the great places.
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
Same weekend - and mostly same restaurants!
Agree entirely with Commonwealth. Great meal at a reasonable price. No opportunities to use 'ingredients from the garden' - but that's just as well.
Had similar dishes with a couple of variations. Had the Fluke, which was superb - great textures and graduated flavors; together with the Summer Squash Soup - also superb.
Similarly had the sea urchin and corn custard, also excellent and the Marrow Stuffed squid - which was the weakest dish of the evening - needed some 'crunch' and the marrow seemed a little 'mealy' - dried out the saliva in my mouth, although flavor was fine.
Our mains were different. Had the Lambs Tongue - don't recall ever finding Lamb's tongue before, although tongue in general has been very sucessful for me - topped by a smoked water buffalo tongue MANY years ago that ranks as one of my favorite dishes ever.
We also had the Hay-Roasted Goat (which was on the tasting menu, but they prepared a separate order for us (VERY accommodating). This was mixed. Two of the 3 pieces were very tough (and looked like a loin) but the third, larger, piece was a cheaper more flavorful cut that was excellent. Great flavor too.
With a couple of aperitifs and a bottle of wine, check was around $200 with tip.
And was the best meal of the weekend.
Also visited Commis - for an OK meal. Had the prix fixe with wine pairings and it was 'OK-good'. We were a little tired (went on day of arrival) but nothing knocked us out - just "ordinary".
And finally Manresa - about 5 years since our last visit - that visit also exceeded both our French Laundry experiences, so we looked forward to this time. A slight concern was that we'd sent friends there about 18 months ago who felt it wasn't worth the money charged.
We went for the identical tasting menu to you. Given the expectation of fresh local food prepared innovatively, we wanted to match it, if possible, with local wines (Santa Cruz), so asked in detail about the wine pairings.
Turned out they were often from obscure areas, but mostly familiar to me - and relatively unexciting for $320 +tax+gratuity (for two people), so we ordered by the bottle - which was an excellent decision (although I wasn't too impressed with the depth of the white selections - or the prices for that matter, which were 20-30% higher than I have seen on other lists).
As we had the identical menu not worth repeating in detail, except where our reaction was different.
The Arpege egg seemed more 'solid' this time around. Also, told by the waiter to "dig to the bottom to get all the layered ingredients in each bite" resulted in AmuseGirl breaking through the bottom of the egg (there was a gap between the base of the egg and the eggcup), so eggshell also became part of each bite! At least it added some crunch! Also found the maple syrup (sauce?) a bit heavier this time, which unbalanced this dish for me.
The pumpkin veloute was a standout dish (but still didn't top the Summer Squash soup at Commonwealth) - I think the crunchy bits were sunflower seeds.
Into the Garden didn't quite work for me. There was a bitter component that dominated the dish (it was green - and the server speculated that it was tomatillo).
Chicken Roulade - ho hum. Very 'wet' in texture (proobably a good thing) - and the mushrooms were totally chewy - not sure if this was intentional, but I didn't particularly like it - like eating a dried mushroom.
Lamb cheek and loin. Totally lacked flavor - so mild it could have been any protein. Best part was the fenugreek spicing.
All in all a great disappointment compared to previous visit. And a bit sloppy - 3 of the dishes contained foams, which did work (sort of) but somehow just seemed a bit tired. Best parts were the totally fresh vegetables (OK most ingredients) - but for the same money I'd go back to Commonwealth 3 times (for you it's probably closer to 6 times).
Essentially, for us, the wow factor has gone.
Remaining meals were 'on the run' - except, of course, at Blue Bottle which was a long wait!
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Welcome back (at least for the short time we had you)! Thanks for the post.
Peaches this year have been terribly disappointing. I had two amazing ones two weeks ago and though perhaps the season had finally picked up, but those two were the flukes. C'est la vie, at least you had plenty of other great eats!
Thanks for the report!
It's been an unusually cold summer, supposedly the coldest in 50 years, and that has especially affected peaches. It depends on where they're grown and what varieties, though; some peaches are better than ever with the reduced heat.
Only in the last couple of weeks have we gotten any normal summertime weather in Silicon Valley. We get our peaches from Andy's and the Mountain View farmer's market, so I don't know what's up with Frog Hollow in particular.