I was looking for a good place to celebrate my birthday, and after staring down too many tasting menus filled with heirloom tomatoes, crudo, and short ribs, noticed a glowing revisit to La Folie in San Francisco magazine.
I remember extravagant reports when it opened 15 years ago; but for me, La Folie always seemed out of reach price-wise, on a par with Masa's.
When I looked up the menu on the website, I discovered that while trendier spots have increased prices (French Laundry's tasting menu has catapulted to $240), La Folie's have mostly stayed the same and accordingly felt quite reasonable. More importantly, French food is what makes me happiest. La Folie's best loved selections signify special occasion to me (more on that in a moment).
Prices are 3 courses for $70, 4 courses for $80, and 5 for $90. Portions were enormous considering the caliber of ingredients. Only two dishes out of perhaps 30 required a supplement.
Of the four of us, I made the most extravagant and successful choices, starting with seared Hudson Valley foie gras with plum sauce, followed by poached lobster in carrot broth, medium-rare beef tenderloin encrusted in marrow, and finally a cheese plate featuring epoisses served warm over fingerling potatoes with frisee and a sauternes-infused blue with honeycomb.
Every one of my dishes was exemplary; while there were often a lot of delicate greens or sauces or accompaniment, the main element simply shone. I would happily return and just get those same choices again (and I'm the last person to avoid trying new things).
Salmon atop chanterelles and corn custard was luscious, as was a Provençal tart that reminded me of stacked ratatouille. The other desserts, a warm chocolate cake and a mixed berry tart with basil sorbet, were both wonderful. Nothing was heavy, but the food was quite substantial. We could barely finish dessert.
Less successful: boneless duck breast with figs seemed a bit dry; quail with foie gras appetizer was interesting looking but a bit deconstructed on the plate. Dungeness crab with citrus was fresh and crunchy but didn't quite come together either. One of my companions was disappointed in his sturgeon, which I didn't try.
La Folie is not the hottest new spot in town, and the best items on the menu are traditional rather than trendy. But I'd be hard pressed to eat better in San Francisco. The room is cozy enough that we could hear each other (and eat off each other's plates) but not so tight that we had to listen to anyone else's conversations. Stemware and cutlery are in another class from most of the best restaurants in town.
Service was lovely, both formal, with each course described by one of the staff, and warm, without a trace of condescension. I asked for help choosing the cheeses and received excellent, enthusiastic recommendations. They were out of the wine I ordered and suggested a less expensive Burgundy, which we loved. Courses were perfectly, imperceptibly paced. No one tried to upsell us or rush us or take away our plates before we were ready. (If anything, we might have liked a glass of dessert wine or brandy, had anyone gently suggested it).
Fine dining as it's meant to be. I'm only sorry it took me so long to discover I could afford to eat here.
Reservations required but not that difficult to get (use Open Table).
Total came to $485 for four including tax, tip, and $15 valet parking.
2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109