In searching the Board for thoughts on where to eat on our recent visit from Pasadena, I was stunned that La Folie got so little attention. I had fond memories of the place having lived in the Bay Area from 1994-2004 but it barely got mentioned in all the chatter about Coi, Manresa, Gary Danko, Michael Mina and the Dining Room at the Ritz. Although I have not had the pleasure of eating at either of the first two, it would be hard to beat our experience at La Folie at any "high-end" restaurant especially if total value (i.e. experience/cost) is considered. There was some mention on another thread about Roland Passot not being in the kitchen enough. With all due respect to that poster, I find that almost impossible to believe. He runs the place with the help of his wife and brother and, based on my discussion with him on Friday, I'd bet he's there virtually all the time.
Monsieur Passot offered two tasting menus: the Menu Jardiniere: Roasted Fall Vegetable and Asian Pear Salad, Spiced Walnuts, Banyuls Viinaigrette - Roasted Musquee de Provence Soup with Chestnut Confit, Spice Marshmallow - Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushroom Risotto with Wild Mushroom Broth - Choice of Dessert AND the Autumn Menu (my choice).
This menu started with three amuse bouche
-Carrot and Sea Urchin Soup
-Egg Poached in its shell with Eggplant Cream
-Fois Gras Quenelle w/Persimmon Gastrique
Quite frankly, these were all a little bland. Except for the Gastrique, not much flavor came through. I think the soup and egg could have used a pinch of salt to make the flavors pop.
First Course - Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Knuckles and Curried Pears. Awesome. The soup was pure Cauliflower essence. The chef let on that he used milk and not cream and aerated the broth to an almost, but not quite, foamy consistency. The lobster meat was perfectly cooked and the curried pears stood out nicely.
Second Course - Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushroom Risotto with Wild Mushroom Broth. I think the basic dish, while perfectly cooked and tasty could have used a few more mushrooms. I, however, opted for the 1/2 ounce portion of black truffles shaved over mine. The truffles were fresh and oh so aromatic. They made this dish.
Third Course - Pan Seared Day Boat Scallop on a Sweet Onion Puree, Dungeness Crab Broth, Crispy Pork Belly with a Radish Salad. The Scallop was perfectly cooked and the onion puree was a nice accompaniment. I didn't get the drizzle of broth. . .added nothing. The Pork Belly was a bit overcooked (dry).
Intermezzo - Palate cleanser was some sort of granita and cream mix. It was fine
Fourth Course - Truffle Crusted Veal Loin studded with Sweetbreads Served with Wild Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Port Madeira Sauce. Everything on this plate was perfectly cooked. I scraped the plate clean with just one more of the warm rolls served before dinner.
Trio of Artisan Cheeses - Yeah, I know "artisan" is overused but these three locally-produced cheeses were the real thing. Goat, Sheep and Cow's milk cheese each with an accompaniment.
Dessert - Kabocha Pumpkin Creme Caramel Tort, Pumpkin Sponge Cake, Miso-Walnut Cookie, Ginger Ice Cream, Apple Puree - The ice cream sat on the creme caramel which sat on the sponge cake. That combination was one of the best desserts I've had. The other parts of the dessert were tasty but superfluous.
Petits Fours - 4 different miniatures.
Perhaps my favorite feature of this place is that you can, essentially, create your own tasting menu. 3 courses - $75, 4 courses - $85 and 5 courses - $95. The Autumn Menu was $110.
My wife had a 3-course dinner: Goat Cheese and Fourme D'Ambert Terrine with Pickled Baby Beets, Toasted Walnuts and Frisee Salad, Lobster and Wild Mushroom Risotto and Banana Tarte Tatin, Maker's Mark Bourbon Ice Cream, Chocolate Marshmallows, Pecan Shortbread (okay I ordered this and she opted for the tasting menu dessert above but I liked that one better and persuaded her to let me eat all mine and most of hers). The regular menu has 5 sections (Soup/Salad, Appetizer, Fish/Shellfish, Poultry and Meat, Dessert and Cheese). Each section has about 5-7 options. AND the amuse and petits fours are served with this menu too.
We each had a glass of champagne only so I can't comment on the wine pairings for this review.
Service was excellent. Passot came out to the dining room at least 4 times during the three hours we spent there. He also let me take a peak in the kitchen which, amazingly, is not much bigger than my (nice but not huge) home kitchen.
Next month my wife and I will be celebrating my birthday in Las Vegas where we will dine at Guy Savoy and Alex. I know I will pay at least twice as much for each meal. I can only hope we enjoy either of those experiences as much as we enjoyed last Friday's dinner at La Folie.
Monsieur Passot has been doing his thing in the same spot for 21 years now. Here's to another 21.