Restaurants & Bars 3

trip to SF report

babette feasts | Apr 27, 2004 10:20 PM

I met the birthday boy at Jardiniere Saturday night, ordered a few items at the downstairs bar while I was waiting for him. Really nice atmosphere, intimate and festive. A warm roll won instant points, seems like hardly anyone serves their bread warm. The arugula & endive salad was perfectly dressed and I appreciated that the endive was sliced instead of left in whole leaves, much easier to eat. Crispy fried tiny onion rounds were a lovely addition. Also had the duck liver mousse, which was smooth and delicious and accompanied by warm grilled garlic brioche, housemade pickled cucumbers, and other pickly things. Yum.

Sunday morning went to Ton Kiang for dim sum, standouts were soft noodles with pork and the warm egg-custard filled glutinous rice buns. I liked the soft shell crab, but B. got a bite that tasted sour and had an unhappy stomach the rest of the day. $35 for food for the two of us seemed higher than our other dim sum experiences (primarily in Seattle).

By late afternoon we were too hungry to wait until outr dinner res., so we went to the taqueria just east of the safeway near mission & dolores - the one to the north of the hamburger joint, sorry the name escapes me. Great carnitas burrito.

After that we ended up not being particularly hungry when we got to Campton Place, but in the end we decided we didn't miss much. They don't have a la carte, so we went with three courses each. But first there was a plate with seven or eight bite-sized amuses including a goat cheese napoleon, an oyster in gellee, a salmon and saffron pave', another fish stacked with braised fennel, and a deep-fried cornet of something. About two-thirds 'hits'. Then came an appetizer that was some avocado wrapped around some crab on a bed of diced citrus - mostly lime it seemed, as it was quite sour - in a little dish on one side of the plate then a wide shot glass with avocado puree topped with crab foam. We both thought that was too salty and just not well balanced. For a first course I had pea soup with lobster, morels, and lobster foam - which was indiscernable from the crab foam we'd just had, but otherwise the soup was good. B. had the 'delicasies of the sea' which was five different little preparations. He seemed to like it, except for the over-reduced lobster glace that had tuned into sticky little piles as it cooled on the plate. For entrees, I had poached halibut on a bed of spinach with watercress sauce. A study in green and white. None of the flavors seemed fresh enough to me. The watercress puree especially seemed a day or two old and too gelatinous on the plate. I don't know what the fish was poached in, but it didn't work for me. B. had pigs trotters crepinettes with truffles, which were pretty much shellaqued in demiglace and featured brown fava beans. We ended up sharing one dessert, so they charged us slightly less (a whopping $4 out of $58) since I only had two courses out of three. There was a palate cleanser that was a shot of blood orange-hibiscus juice with a little creamy sherbet - sheep milk maybe? Very nice, the best thing we had. Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb concoction that came with a very nice sheep yogurt sorbet and a somewhat weird but pretty tasty souffle thing baked in a baumkuchen shell. The plate of mignardises was well done - madelines, truffles, etc. The pastry chef saves the day! Overall, the food just seemed too heavy, too old-school, too hotel. We're much more into the lighter pure flavors that come out of California/nouvelle cuisine. Service was a bit stiff but loosened up a little as we initiated chatting. One casual mention of it being a birthday dinner got a 'happy birthday' and a candle on the mignardise plate, and there were some other nice attention to detail things.

Which leads us to Monday dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse. I had been skeptical about Chez Panisse, fearing that it would be too simple or not flavorful enough, or just that it wouldn't live up to the hype. I will now admit I am a new convert to the cult of Chez Panisse. First course was perfect asparagus with meyer lemon, green olives, and amazing olive oil with a slab of bellewether farms sheep ricotta on crostini. The cheese was amazingly sweet and smooth. all of the flavors were clean, distinct and complimentary. B. had the featured entree, which was spring lamb shoulder braised in white wine with artichokes, incredibly green baby favas and tiny sweet peas. It was sauced with a little white wine, parmesan, and dill sauce thickened with egg (we asked)Tender and heavenly. I'm not a big lamb fan, so I was served pasta with tiny peas, favas, artichokes, and morels. I love morels, so I was happy. It seemed as if each of the vegetables had been cooked seperately and then combined, as each bite of morel was an explosin of salty buttery morel goodness that really stood out. They were offering a cheese course that night, which was a generous hunk, and good, although I don't recall what it was. Dessert was fresh strawberries and fraises de bois and a light custard in a crisp tart shell with kirsch cream and strawberry sauce. Simple and good. Loved the warmth of the room. Our main server was kind of goofy - just not warm or particularly suave, but our secondary server was really nice, showed us the kitchen & wine room, etc. Maybe that was more of an age thing, as our mean age is 29 and maybe we're more likely to engage our servers in conversation about the industry if they seem younger. Great experience, B. was delighted to finally live out his dream of dining downstairs there, and I'm on the verge of being the next bleeding heart culinary professional to show up on their steps with my toolbox and a heartful of hope.

Stopped at Tartine this morning for breakfast. Everything looked beautiful and delicious, and as a pastry chef I appreciate their appreciation of 'french brown'. Even though it was too hot this morning for all that butter, I had a croissant which was crispy on the outside and very buttery, but definitely more substantial and bready than my ideal croissant. I had a bite of B.'s chocolate orange criossant, and wished I'd gotten that instead. Got a croque monsieur for the flight home, which I was loving while everyone else had pretzels. Tangy chewy bread, good creamy bachamel, a thick slice of ham that was surprisingly easy to bite through, and a nice addition of spinach. The spicy pickled baby carrots on the side were a nice surprise and the perfect compliment. No wonder they were completely cleaned out last time I tried to go, on Christmas eve.

Thanks all for your advice on previous posts. I don't know when my next visit will be, but I'm already looking forward to it.

yours in chow, Babette

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