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Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton review (very long)


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Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton review (very long)

MikeW | Feb 18, 2005 01:16 PM

In honor of the ten year anniversary of the day we met, my wife and I decided to splurge and have dinner at the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, presided over by Ron Siegel, formerly the chef at Masa’s. My last meal at Masa’s was my favorite in San Francisco, and we were hoping to replicate that magic. Expectations were very high for our meal.

We arrived for our 8:00 p.m. reservation at 8:05 after finding street parking. To enter the restaurant you go through the hotel lobby and make a left. The restaurant itself was plush, with beautiful linens, tables very well spaced and pillows on the chairs. We were greeted and led to our table immediately. Our waiter came over shortly thereafter and greeted us by name. He brought with him a champagne car and offered us champagne or a cocktail. One of my pet peeves is being seated and then ignored for a long time. This has happened to us at all types of restaurants, but here the timing was perfect.

The champagne cart contained four choices, a California sparkler, a non-vintage blanc de blanc, a Gosset Rose and a vintage Champagne. We ordered one blanc de blanc and one rose, both of which were excellent. Considering the quality of the champagnes and the surroundings, the prices were not outrageous.

Amuse Bouche 1
After our champagnes were poured we were given a demitasse of Sunchoke Soup as an amuse bouche. This was very creamy and a nice welcome, and took the edge off of our hunger.

The Dining Room offers a three, six and nine course menu. For the nine-course menu, each person at the table is given a different dish. We decided to go all out and order the nine-course. After ordering, we were asked if we had any allergies or particular aversions. I decided to do the optional wine pairing as well. Shortly after ordering we were treated to amuse bouche number two.

Amuse Bouche 2
We were each given two small scallops topped with Osetra caviar sitting on braised romaine in a pool of red beet reduction sauce. The contrast of the salt from the caviar and sweet from the scallops was perfect, and the beet reduction did not overwhelm. The braised romaine was intensely infused by its braising liquid and was not overshadowed by the rest of the dish.

We were soon offered bread from the bread tray. Choices included olive rolls, mini baguettes, currant rolls or sourdough. We each selected the olive, which had the perfect chewy texture. Both salted and unsalted Strauss butter was provided. I was finishing my champagne at this point. Before my glass was empty I was brought a new glass and given a large pour of Highfield 2004 Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Each of our nine courses was served simultaneously, and each was described after being set down. My dish is listed first, my wife’s second.

Course 1
Coconut Soup with Lemongrass and Crab – This was reminiscent of Thai soup, but the flavors were stronger and deeper. The coconut was poured from a kettle into a bowl filled with the lemongrass and crab. The serving was very large, and while I enjoyed the soup, it did not blow me away.

Sweet Carrot Soup with Crab Ravioli – The carrot soup was fluffy and ethereal, and very sweet. I again was not blown away, but my wife thought the soup was a perfect showcase for the sweet flavors of the carrots. We agreed the texture was wonderful.

Course 2
Spiny Lobster Carpaccio with Osetra Caviar, Watermelon Radish, Wasabi, Meyer Lemon Gelée, Shiso Buds – I was served a very thin slice of spiny lobster that was almost molted to the plate. On its own, there was not much going on but together with caviar it was very nice and tasted of the sea with a long finish of ocean. Caviar was an often repeated ingredient throughout the meal.

Chilled Dungeness Crab with Winter Citrus Salad, Avocado, Orange Infused Olive Oil and Micro Greens - The salad contained grapefruit and orange slices, as well as greens. This was a nice dish, well done, but not exciting to be honest.

After this course was served I started to wonder if the nine-course menu was a good idea. My first two dishes did not blow me away, and I began thinking that maybe the nine-course menu was not best showcase for the food. Before the third course came out, and while I still had about a half glass of my sauvignon blanc remaining, I was given another empty glass and poured a 2002 White Burgundy. I misplaced the name, but the wine was quite good, a little buttery but not obtrusively so. The pours were very large, almost too large for me to keep up.

Course 3
Seared Black Cod, Osetra Caviar, Braised Romaine, Caramelized Celery Root – The small piece of black cod was lightly browned and obviously cooked in butter. The fish itself was perfection, crispy, buttery, infused with butter. One of the finest fish dishes I have tried. I was happy to have more braised romaine. The celery root was small brown rectangles on the side of the plate. Awesome.

Sea Bream with a Tree Mushroom – My recollection of the details of this dish are a bit sketchy, but the sea bream was fresh and perfectly cooked, served with a quarter inch thick large slice of some kind of mushroom that had a woody flavor and some stiffness to the texture. It was a very unique flavor.

Course 4
Lobster Poached in Butter, Blood Orange Sweet and Sour Sauce – My lobster was a perfectly cooked small tail. The sweet and sour sauce offered a contrast to the sweetness of lobster. The lobster itself was spectacular, perfectly cooked. The sauce was very good. The slightly buttery white burgundy was a perfect complement to the buttery lobster and the two prior fish dishes.

Lobster Poached in Butter on a Bed of Leeks with Braised Pork Belly – Possibly the best dish of the evening. Two nice sized lobster claws poached in butter that were incredibly sweet. This was the best lobster I have ever tried. Served with a slice of braised pork belly on top of leaks. This was ridiculously good. Ron Siegel is the master of lobster, end of story. I would love to have an all lobster dinner.

Prior to bringing out the next course I was given a small glass and poured a 1998 Sauternes, which clued me into what was coming next. Another healthy poor of wine was provided.

Course 5
Foie Gras Poached in Veal Stock, Apple Jelly, Frisee, Sauterne Jelly, Spice Bread and Brioche – I really enjoyed this. The foie gras was served cool, and the foie spread on the brioche with a topping of apple jelly and sauterne jelly (served in little cubes) was a perfect combination. The wine match was perfect.

Seared Warm Foie Gras in a Spicy Pickled Huckleberry Reduction with Fuji Apple Reduction Infused with Black Pepper – Oh my god. This was my favorite preparation of foie gras ever, and it literally oozed out of its caramelized casing. The huckleberry reduction combined perfectly. This was a perfect dish and probably my favorite of the evening.

Prior to bringing out the next course I was given a red wine glass and poured a glass of cabernet from an estate described as being next to Silver Oak. I don’t drink much cabernet and very little from Napa and Sonoma, and I wish I would have requested either the Cote Rotie or Bordeaux offered by the glass, as I think either would have paired better with my remaining dishes. That being said, the cabernet was fine, and probably would have been enjoyed more by a California cabernet lover.

Course 6
Squab Breast, Roast Asparagus, Cipollini Onions and Shallots, Port Reduction – This was a small and perfect piece of squab that tasted liver like, which is what I look for in squab. The port reduction was lighter than I would have imagined, and was a perfect complement to the squab. This was fantastic.

Breast of Poularde, Root Vegetables, Citrus Reduction – This was the only dish of the night I was disappointed with. I found it just a bit plain and a few of the pieces were a little rare for my tastes. I liked the idea but it just didn’t do it for me.

Course 7
Lamb Medallion, Potato Gnocchi, Lamb Reduction - This was a perfectly round and seared rare piece of lamb on top of a reduction sauce. The lamb itself was tender and flavorful. The potato gnocchi added little to the dish.

Seared Filet Medallion, Mushroom Risotto, Red Wine Sauce – We were full at this point but this dish was incredible and I forced myself to eat more than I should have. The risotto rich and creamy, the red wine sauce perfect. The filet had that liver taste that I can never imitate at home, incredible.

Prior to bringing out the last two courses I was poured a small glass of Muscat, which was a light styled dessert wine perfect at the time.

Course 8
Lychee Nut Sorbet over Roasted Pineapple
Blood Orange Sorbet over Shiso Jelly

Course 9
Passion Fruit Pudding Cake, Pistachio Base with Passionfruit Sauce- I really liked this dessert and was thankful it was not overly rich. Oddly, the nuts tasted a bit of poultry, but somehow it didn’t really detract.

Cinnamon/Buttermilk Panna Cotta on top of Grated Sorbet – I had a small taste, but am not a fan of panna cotta so can only say it was enjoyable.

With our desserts I ordered a coffee and was given the choice of regular brewed or French press. I went with the French press, which was fantastic and $8. My wife ordered peppermint tea. We had already been offered but declined a beautiful looking cheese tray before our desserts and were surprised to see another tray brought over after we finished our desserts. It turned out to be a multi-level wheeled candy cart.

We were given a choice of everything, and selected several, including house made marshmallows, house made chuckles, tiny pistachio cakes (incredible), two kinds of chocolate truffles, candied pomelo rinds, tiny passionfruit cheesecakes and house made lollipops. There were others but these were the options we selected. Finally, we were each given a small take home box of house made caramels.

Service throughout the evening was complete perfection. It was never intrusive, never really visible, but always there. This was the most professional restaurant service I have had in quite some time in that nothing went lacking at any time. After our waiter found out my wife was pregnant he was congratulatory and we shared a nice conversation about children. In contrast, he left the group next to us alone for the most part, clearly sensing their desire to avoid unnecessary conversation. Several different people checked in on us throughout the evening. I don’t have a single service complaint. The pacing of the meal was excellent, starting rapidly but slowing as the evening wore on.

One thing I regret about the evening is not getting a longer look at wine list. From what I picked up by a brief review, it was extensive and not offensive. There were several bottles in the $40 and under range in the wine binder, and several half bottles. Wines by the glass were expensive but not pedestrian, and included a 1998 Jasmin Cote Rotie and a 1998 Pavillion Rouge from Chateau Margaux, both of which held interest for me. The wine pairing was a great deal as well. I have had some wine pairings in which the wines offered were weak and the pours skimpy (such as Fleur de Lys). That was not the case here, and I could hardly keep up.

Several dishes were spectacular and every dish served was enjoyable save maybe one. While every dish was perhaps not the most inventive, the food was not boring in any way. The last extravagant meal I had was at Fleur de Lys, and this simply blew that away on every level. Throughout the evening it was as if we had been transformed to another universe and didn’t have a care in the world, which is what I expect at these prices. I would go back in a second if I could afford to.

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