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La Folie--Way off the Mark


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Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area

La Folie--Way off the Mark

SteveG | | Sep 23, 2007 12:24 PM

I went to La Folie with the BF for our anniversary last night. Unfortunately, it was a tremendous disappointment on every level: inconsistent (and sometimes outright bad) food, poor atmosphere, so-so service.

I had been to La Folie before the remodel, in the era of the unsettling puppetry and excellent food, and I was looking forward to a repeat. But things were off from the start. Our wait-at-the-bar-while-we-clear-the-table drinks were ill-prepared: too much ice, the wrong type, an insulting pour. This is a detail, of course, but the maniacal focus on detail is what makes restaurants in the French tradition – especially the more ambitious restaurants – so good. The sloppiness continued throughout the meal.

We were seated not in the photogenic front room, but in the second dining room, with all the louche splendor of a Romanoff toilet. Our table was directly adjacent to the swinging door to the kitchen and we shared a wall with the deep fryer, whose gurgling could be heard throughout the evening. Every time the door opened to the kitchen, a putrid whiff of unclean institutional dirty-floored dish washing area obliterated any scent of food or wine. When the deep fryer wasn’t gurgling, the dish washing station was clearly audible with high pressure water being sprayed at baking pans. Still, based on my memories, I was prepared for an excellent meal. On that basis, we each had the 5 course tasting menu and two bottles of wine:

- Amuse: eggplant caviar
- BBQ squab with foie gras sandwich/Escargot
- Pig trotter/Foie gras with huckleberry
- Sturgeon/Butter poached lobster
- Trio of Rabbit/Squab, quail, truffle
- Puree of cantaloupe
- Edam soufflé/Napoleon w/basil ice cream
- 2004 Ribaueville Riesling; 2000 Gevery-Chambertin

Let me focus on a positive for a moment. The sommelier knows his stuff. The wines, which we took on his recommendation after stating our preferences, were very good and quite reasonably priced. We’d been through Alsace and Burgundy last year and it’s a minefield; that the sommelier produced very good wines at a good price is a testament to his knowledge.

Now, for the food. The BBQ squab was good, succulent but with a nice caramelized exterior, but not great – the garnishes reeked of cumin, making them a wasted foil. The chilled foie gras sandwich was delicious; it’s not hard to whip up a good torchon, but this was very good. BF’s escargot were leaden, dry, earthy in a bad way, cold, shrunken. Devoid of the exuberance of the traditional Burgundian snail, with its lethal amounts of butter and appropriately cooked garlic. Nearly raw garlic in unevenly cut pieces didn’t help the balance of this dish.

The pig trotter was good, though the lobster and sweetbread mixed in it were swamped by the pork and thus felt like no more than the gilt on the lily. BF’s foie was delicious; perfectly seasoned, nicely caramelized exterior, and in a metric that only matters in truffles, caviar, and foie, very generously sized. The toast underlying the foie had unwieldy hard crusts that were a chore to cut through, and I was worried the BF’s knife would slip.

Sadly, this is where the meal falls apart. My sturgeon was a disaster – unacceptably muddy. I realize there’s always a risk of a hint of mud in sturgeon, but at La Folie’s purported level, a hint of mud should result in the removal of the dish from the menu.
Either the chef had not tasted the fish that day or he harbors profound doubts about his patrons’ palates. BF’s butter poached lobster was nothing approaching the sublimity of the same preparation at FL; it was a bit stringy and frankly unidimensional in flavor.

As for the trio of rabbit, I have little kind to say. The loin was dry, wrapped around an enormous carrot and undercooked chunk of garlic, an unevenly cut third of a clove, which overwhelmed the flesh. (Perhaps the rabbit would have enjoyed the carrot while alive, in all its chunky near-rawness). The saddle was fine, but the thigh was not memorable. Probably the only time I’ve ever left rabbit, my favorite protein, on the plate. Disrespectful to the animal slaughtered for the meal and laughable in comparison to, say, Chris Cosentino’s superb preparation of the same meat at Incanto.

BF’s Squab filled with quail, mushrooms, and truffle was exceptionally tasty, but the large chunk of sand he crunched between his molars was an unpleasant surprise and put him off from the rest of the dish. Presumably brushing dirt from mushrooms is another measure the kitchen is too lazy to take, like tasting their snails or sturgeon on a daily basis.

The palate cleanser was a puree of cantaloupe, but not a great cantaloupe. Again, like the sturgeon, this is something the chef should catch. A more unusual variety of melon, and an addition of acid would have made this an interesting palate cleanser; instead it was just slightly rotted cantaloupe puree and I needed to swish water and then wine around my mouth to cleanse my palate from the palate cleanser.

To close, my Edam soufflé was good – competently executed, but nothing special. Napoleon for the BF featured strawberries shot through with white, though offset by a quite nice basil ice cream.

As for the service, it was ok. There seemed to be a well-sized staff, but only a few people worked the room. Not what one would expect from a classically-inflected restaurant.

All in: $550.

All in all, I would label the dinner a fiasco. The chef is obviously technically competent (there were a few things that went right that you just can’t do by accident), but he doesn’t lavish care on the preparations nor does he seem to mind that his ingredients are off. Contrast this with Fleur de Lys or the better restaurants of France. The attention to detail in those restaurants borders on the pathological; the chefs are aching to make you happy.

This is where French friends would be inclined to make a dramatic pronouncement that La Folie is obviously cynical and totally contemptuous of its clients. And I would be inclined to agree with them.

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