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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.

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Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

Gary Danko
800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Roli Roti
, Hayward, CA

Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. Thanks for the report, specifically on Manresa. We keep *almost* going there but hear differing reports.

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    Manresa Restaurant
    320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

    1. Yeah Manresa rocks and I agree that it topped TFL..I want to go back and I think you hit at just the right time...end of summer. Nice report.

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      Manresa Restaurant
      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

      1. 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.

        Michael

        1. 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!

          1. Sounds like a nice trip! Did you squeeze any Chinese eats into the schedule?