Feedback on Dining Agenda
I'll be visiting the Bay Area for the first time in two years for four days at the end of May. As it currently stands, my dinner agenda includes The Restaurant at Meadowood, The French Laundry, Michael Mina and Benu. Thoughts (especially about Michael Mina)?
I'm also curious, what are some good lunch options in San Francisco? Thanks in advance for your help!
Er...these meals are all 3+ hrs long, and some 16 tastes. Plus, I can say definitely at Benu and probably at The French Laundry, you will want to do the beverage pairing as well. That's a lot of eating and drinking straight (though others before you have done it - at least the eating..., see): http://endoedibles.com/?cat=106
Out of all of them, Micheal Mina truly feels like the odd one out. It gets mixed reviews would substitute something else...Atelier Crenn if you are feeling adventerous and up for experimental highs and lows, Gary Danko for somewhat the opposite. Also, consider Coi or Commis.
Thanks, goldangl95! I agree with you on Mina.
But my trip is from Saturday through Tuesday, so the reason I eventually had to settle on Mina's was because Quince and Aziza were closed on that Memorial Day Monday (and Coi and Atelier Crenn aren't open on Mondays). If you have any other suggestions as to what might be open in lieu of Mina, I'd be most appreciative!
If you've been before to GD, I wouldn't return unless the first experience was outstanding or mind blowing. The conventional wisdom in SF is that you could get a similar very nice high end meal like it any decent major metro area.
If you're looking for other high end places the list usually includes Coi, Commis (Oakland) and Manresa (Los Gatos). Don't know their schedules.
Lunch options, go to Zuni.
I'll try to get my write-ups posted as soon as possible. Below is my truncated impression of The Slanted Door (my blog includes photos):
In need of a place for a little pre-dinner nourishment (and that would be open on Memorial Day), we decided to try The Slanted Door, a restaurant that seemed consistently brimful whenever I ambled past it prior to meals at One Market.
Save for the mundane lemongrass pork shoulder and the de trop brown rice, every dish brought salivation-inducing intensity, especially the barbecue spareribs and chicken claypot. It's the kind of food one wants to dig into as soon as it hits the table. And Moe, our tattooed and straggly-haired server, provided competent service and helpful drink recommendations. For a quick lunch--ours was less than ninety minutes--The Slanted Door played its part in our dining agenda, and I'd happily return on future Bay Area excursions to sample a fresh selection of items.
Below are my thoughts about dinner at Michael Mina (with pictures on my blog):
In July 2008, I experienced my gastronomic hymenorrhexis, dining at then two-star Michelin Michael Mina in the St. Regis Hotel, which is now a Bourbon Steak. It was only three official courses, but as a freshly minted non-teenager, to give you a sense of my restaurant sensibilities, The Cheesecake Factory was oft-considered worthy of a special occasion. So I was admittedly spellbound by the immaculate service, multiple amuse, petite fours, all features of a meal I had up to that point never witnessed.
Four years later, and a hillock of Michelin-starred meals amassed, Michael Mina--now a one-star establishment on California Street in the former Aqua space--would be the relative Lilliput of our four-day vacation.
With meager expectations, I must say I was generally impressed. I should note that the first 45 minutes of our 3.25 hour dinner would be marred be a sozzled woman at the bar who had weaponized her voice with Fran Drescher-like quiddities. Following that, though, service was hiccupless, led by Thomas, our bespectacled captain and one-time manager at Bar Boulud.
As for the food, every savory item, from the creamy chicken-black truffle finger sandwich to the flushed medallions of strip steak, proved satisfying. I would return again to try two in particular: (1) an aggressively seasoned roulade (or porchetta) of rabbit fenced in by spring vegetables and (2) and a properly deveined, silky lobe of foie (a dish we added to the tasting menu), the sweetness of which was magnified by hints of vanilla coming from Jordan almonds.
Shortly thereafter, alas, with dessert things started to go a bit pear-shaped. These were Hannity desserts: one-dimensional and worryingly unbalanced. One was so boozy, I almost thought it asked me rhetorically, would you like caramel with your whiskey? Given that the restaurant permits a la carte dining, there's no reason not to share several appetizers and entrees before venturing elsewhere for confections.
My thoughts on The French Laundry (with photos on my blog):
I've been in enough restaurants to know that some use cameras to get a sense of when to fire the next course. But this was different. 'Twas the course after Oysters and Pearls and all through the dining room, not a runner/server/or captain was in sight. Savoring the textural playground of Santa Barbara uni, English cucumber, avocado and chili threads, my brother--staring down into his bowl--asked, "Do you know what that creamy white layer is?" "Not sure," I responded.
A couple minutes later, with all of us having nearly repristinated our plates, a server whose name I never managed to ascertain walked over to clear our plates, but before doing so said mischievously, "That white layer was a ginger panna cotta."
Those zones of privacy the Warren Court identified in Griswald v. Connecticut don't apply in The French Laundry, and I'm glad they don't because it's the front-of-house's job to anticipate and to accommodate--within reason, of course--the diner's requests. And that's exactly what they did for just shy of six hours.
To say the staff at The French Laundry were gracious hosts would be stating the obvious. But occasionally the obvious needs stating. They were more generous than they needed to be, especially since we were first-time diners. In the process, they set an impossibly high standard for my return visit to Per Se two weeks from now.
But my feelings toward the restaurant weren't always so effusive.
This is not Per Se, I thought, after spending 45 minutes on the phone, calling 4-5 times a minute to secure an 11:15am lunch reservation. And the curt reservationist didn't bother to ask about dietary restrictions, special occasions and couldn't guarantee an extended tasting menu, but instead said it would be up to the chef on the day of our meal, adding needless uncertainty to our trip (yet when we sat down, Andrew, our captain, greeted us without menus and said the kitchen would be cooking for us).
And then there were the inaugural canapés: the gougère seemed colder than Per Se's with too much choux pastry and not enough mornay, and the cornet cone seemed thicker than I remember, partially masking the tartare.
From there, however, the expectations one brings into a three-star Michelin, perennial San Pellegrino Top 100 establishment started to not only get met, but to get surpassed one plate after another. The oysters and pearls were overturn-the-furniture-in-your-head good, with a bowl of sabayon so bottomless it was as if shoveling decadence into my mouth would eventually yield to the earth's core. Chef Hollingsworth, who happened to be slicing diaphanous pieces of green tomato in preparation for the impending dinner service when we ambled off to the kitchen to thank him, and his small army of cooks don't just make memorable dishes; they make you forget about your surroundings, forget about the cumbrous reservation system and convince you to return before your meal is even close to over just to see what they'll do next.
The truth is there were about a dozen courses that merit a dissertation-length paean, as each successive set of plates confronts you with something unprecedentedly delicious:
An amalgam of textures and temperatures of beet that would daunt even the most dexterous of kitchens.
Gnocchi, swiftly and surreally engulfed by a swarm of black truffles, which in turn delicately alert your olfactory that something inimitable is about to happen.
A comprehension-defying elision of squab breast and sausage dusted tableside (by maitre d' and raconteur Larry Nadeau) with pulverized duck crackling and fleur de sel.
The sensual adventure of grilled Snake River Farms ribeye -- the blushing piece of beef was beautiful and salty and madly grand, coaxing out of each of us a soft, irrepressible purr.
And on it went. In the end, though, the faultless service and the kitchen's close-to-perfect execution must be experienced to be believed.
I finally had time to do a write-up from my dinner at benu (the rest of the photos are on my blog). Thanks for all of your help and recommendations!
"Fruity pebbles," I thought, as the sensation of strawberry, black sesame, daikon, duck cracklings and sake-steamed foie gras detonated on my palate. It was our last savory course--one of two additions to the 18-course tasting menu--and it also happened to be my favorite.
But that textural interplay of unearthly satin and paroxysmal crunchiness recrudesced many times over during our three-and-a-half-hour dinner, most memorably with (1) the one-bite, temperature-sensitive kimchi basket brimming with pork belly, kimchi foam and a just warmed through oyster, (2) a globe of potato salad encased in fried anchovies and then (3) the collagen-conceding pear-braised beef with pepitas.
As with any menu of this length, though, not everything proved to be a resounding success. Two dishes in particular, landed slightly off-target: foie gras-filled baos, wherein the astringent black vinegar governed the plate and ruled with an iron fist and a filet of seabass firmer than I would have liked.
Alas, miscommunication had the effect of abbreviating our evening. With the last dessert cleared, I asked Vincent, our captain whom I had known from Fleur de Lys, if it would be possible to (eventually) hail a taxi. I imagine he understood that to mean, call a taxi, so not ten minutes later with most of the mignardises still uneaten and a half-full coffee kettle remaining, a woman of consequence from the hostess stand came to our table and told us that our cab had arrived, and that "they are not known for waiting very long" (i.e. get up and go!), leaving us without the opportunity to thank Vincent for his excellent service. A minor issue to be sure, but making a diner feel hurried when spending $200+ per person on food alone is not the ideal way to end a meal.
There was an embarras de choix for our final dinner in San Francisco--returning to Coi, Saison, Atelier Crenn and others--but I agenda-set and decided benu would likely be best. Others along our Bay Area jaunt seemed to agree as front-of-house staff at TFL and Michael Mina complimented Chef Lee and the food he was putting out at benu. I'm glad I was able to taste Chef Lee's creations, but I think benu might have been a victim of what preceded it, two essentially peerless meals at the Bay Area's three-star Michelin establishments.