Sorry, this is a little long, I put in big Caps the various categories of report, so that you may skip around if you like...
The ‘rents came to town for my 30th birthday and we went to La Folie to celebrate one night. Here were our results:
Our reservations were for 8:00pm, but at 8:05pm I called to tell them we were running a little late. They said not to worry and they would see us when we got there. We arrived at 8:15 and were seated promptly. The two wines I brought were taken from me and the sommelier asked if either should be decanted. I replied that both should. The room is very nice. Modern and comfortable with warm tones throughout.
We were given our menus and then passed around a bowl of fresh summer truffles to smell. Then we were told that any dish could have a portion of truffles added to it for a fee of $10. Frankly, none of the dishes really seemed to need truffles, but it sure was tempting! Our server knew the menu perfectly and had personally tasted everything that we asked about (which was just about everything on the menu). He was able to guide me to the walu (butterfish) for my fish course despite himself not personally liking it. Rather than simply stating his opinion of the dish, he explained that the ripe green olive flavor to the dish was quite pronounced and that lovers of olives would find the pairing of flavors quite nice, but that he personally doesn’t like olives, so he found the dish less to his liking. Olives are about my favorite thing in the world, so this made my fish choice easy. I should note that you can order 3 courses for $75, 4 for $85, or 5 for $95. Honestly, I don’t see how you can come to a restaurant like this and not order at least 4 courses – if you are going to splurge on a special occasion (what most people we overheard were doing – an anniversary next to us on one side, replaced by ANOTHER anniversary, and another birthday on the other) you might as well go all the way. That is what we did, anyway.
My 5 course meal was: (Soups and Salads) Chilled pea soup with onion sorbet, (Appetizers) Lobster and wild mushroom risotto, (Fish) Butterfish with tapenade, (Meat) Rack of Lamb with fennel puree and natural jus, (Dessert) Cheese soufflé with bacon and vanilla gelato. The rest of my family had the dungoness crab salad for their first course, everyone got the risotto for their second course, the third course saw 2 Arctic Chars with corn sauce and the dorade over brined artichokes and lobster stuffed squash blossom, the 4th courses saw another Arctic Char (you can order a second fish course in place of a meat course and, I presume, vice versa), the duck prepared 2 ways – seared breast with bing cherry and confit cassoulet, and the stuffed pheasant and squab and for dessert, the sorbets and a cheese plate were ordered by others.
COMMENTS ON THE FOOD
Amuse #1: heirloom tomato salad with cilantro – family loved it, I don’t eat raw tomato
Amuse #2: slow poached brown egg yolk with spicy heirloom tomato sauce. Incredibly good, but SO rich, I could not finish it.
Bread and butter: truly truly outstanding bread somewhere between traditional French bread rolls and cibatta. The butter was bright yellow and amongst the best butters I’ve had…
The chilled pea soup was good, but not great. Light and delicate. The crab salad, on the other hand, was considered excellent, but due mostly to lots of very well cooked fresh crab, not because the flavor combinations were extrodinary.
The lobster and wild mushroom risotto was STUNNING. Quite simply, this is the best “fancy” risotto I have ever tasted. By a mile. (It is hard to compare this to something like porcini risotto at a family owned restaurant overlooking Lake Como – but comparing apples to apples, this was just in a different league than anything any of us had experienced. I really don’t know how he did it)
The butterfish was exceptional. The ripe, fresh, bright green olives worked perfectly with the flavors of the fish and with the watercress – SO fresh. The dourade (sea bass) was exceptional, and, while I didn’t taste the arctic char, I was told it was “out of this world”.
The rack of lamb was the second best lamb rack I have ever had. The best was at a ** Michelin in London (The Capital), this was right there with it. I never would have thought of pairing the fennel puree with a rack, but it works SO well. It is worthy of note, the “rack” was 2 rib chops. Of course, I was eating 5 dishes, so, I was not lacking food. The duck breast was outstanding, the cassoulet arguably the best I’ve had. I didn’t get to taste the squab or quail but was told they were terrific.
The caramel sorbet with raspberry sauce palate cleanser was surprisingly refreshing and quite delicious.
My cheese soufflé was decadent and delicious. Perfect with only slightly sweet vanilla gelato and a tiny bit of bacon. Actually, it could have used slightly more bacon. But, really this was an exceptional dessert. Certainly one of the 3 best I can ever recall having in San Francisco. The sorbet was terrific and well presented. The cheese plate was really well put together and the selection was grand.
The petit fours were truly truly outstanding. Perhaps the best, overall, I’ve ever had.
COMMENTS ON THE SERVICE
The service is not French. It is very very good, but it is more relaxed than you might expect. Not all plates are set before the diners at the exact same time; the plates are explained once they are set in front of you, but not necessarily in the detail that you might expect at the restaurants where a separate manager comes over to explain what each plate is to the table.
At one point we heard yelling coming from the kitchen. A minute later the fish courses were presented and as our server delivered the Arctic Char to my father he apologized telling him that it was their intent to cook the Arctic Char to medium rare, but his had been cooked medium to medium-well so they were in the process of preparing him another plate, but that he should enjoy whatever he wanted of the cooked-to-medium Arctic Char in the meanwhile. (It should be noted that no mention of the fish’s doneness had been on the menu nor part of the ordering.)
I brought a 2004 Paolo Bea Arbeus and a 2001 La Spinetta Barolo Campe. The wine stewart took interest in the wines and when I asked if he was familiar with them he said, that he was trying to make sure he knew what grapes were in them. I can forgive him on the Bea, but for the sommelier at a restaurant like this not to know that Barolo is made from Nebbiolo is pretty inexcusable. Also inexcusable, the wines were opened and decanted away from my sight. Now, I am 100% certain no “switch-a-roo” was made… it isn’t like this is a restaurant that has orange wines (like the Bea) and there actually was nothing but CA and French wines on the list, that I saw. But, the wines should have been opened and decanted in front of me.
Speaking of the wine list, it is not up to snuff for the caliber of restaurant that this is. 4(!) Alsatian wines on a $95pp French restaurant’s wine list?! NO Hermitage?!?!?!?!?!? (Or maybe there was one). The markup was also a bit steep. ON THE OTHER HAND, corkage was only $35/bottle with one corkage fee waived for every wine purchased off the list which is, by SF standards for restaurants in the price range, a pretty good deal.
The meal ran *slightly* too long. Only slightly. We were seated for 3 hours and 20 minutes and it would have been perfect had we been seated for 3 hours and 5 – 10 minutes.
There are 14 tables and one unisex bathroom. Unacceptable for a restaurant of this caliber.
The chef/owner came out and greated each table near the end of their meal and made a genuine effort to discuss his food and restaurant and get feedback from his patrons.
This is a terrific restaurant that is decidedly more relaxed than its competition. It is intimate without being unnecessarily romantic; a bunch of middle-aged straight male foodies would feel just as comfortable sharing a meal here as a young couple celebrating an early anniversary. While inventive and focusing on fresh and local ingredients (I had peas in all four of my savory dishes), this restaurant is not California-French, it is French-French… with a strong emphasis on Provencal cooking. There are noticeable shortcomings, but overall this is a really special restaurant that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone.
A final note: I’ve been to my fair share of * and ** Michelin restaurants. I cannot say that this meal was definitely as good as any ** I’ve been to, but I CAN say that it was definitely BETTER than the vast majority of * I’ve been to.
Despite shortcomings, strongly recommended.