Week ago last Friday began four days of golf, bridge, food and wine with four old pals on the beautiful, fog soaked and cool peninsula.
Friday night we hit Rio Grill since one in our group is addicted to their roast chicken which kicked off his weekend on the right note. We all shared an order of the calamari w/orange sesame dipping sauce (great as usual) and one of the appetizer specials, a spicy quesadilla, that was OK, but nothing to rave about. I went with one of the evening specials, clams and linguine, that again was good but not memorable. The culinarily-challenged (cc) member of our group had the ribs which he enjoyed (could have used more sauce for my taste) and can't recall what the fourth in our group ordered.
At the risk of committing the dreaded houndly faux pax of premature nut-licking, Sat. evening we ate at a new place I'd discovered, The Gem, on San Carlos btw 7th and Ocean (a couple of doors down from Nielsen's mkt). I can't for the life of me remember how I heard about it (local weekly paper or one of those inferior food discussion groups?) but don't recall ever hearing it mentioned on CH.
Having no knowledge of the menu we brought a couple of bottles of wine (Anthology meritage and a Flowers Pinot Noir), corkage was 15, iirc. One of the daily specials was a Seafood Cassoulet, which sounded pretty good until the waiter mentioned that they also had the traditional version. Hearing this I'm afraid I neglected to even look at the menu.
A very tasty french bread with a nice cruncy crust was served with what appeared to be a tapenade but lacked any olives. Turned out to be roasted portabellas and capers with garlic and balsamic vinegar, one of the tastiest spreads I've ever experienced. Three of us had the Country Cassoulet (20) and our cc member went with the Veal Picatta (22). We had two orders of caesar salad (12 for 2 ppl) which was a well executed version, excellent dressing.
The white beans were perfectly cooked (regret that I didn't ask what kind they use) and nicely seasoned. The sausage was MIA (exc. for a single piece in one of the bowls) and there was an excess of slices of a white meat that resembled over done roast pork. The lamb shank was tender and tasty but the real WOW factor was the bites of the duck confit with the beans, rich, decadent and deeply flavored. All in all, a decent rendition and good size portions, everyone was very satisfied.
Service was on the slow side, there were only two fellows working the dining area, Scott, a very tall affable guy was answering the phone, seating customers, opening wine and serving the meals as they came out. The poor busboy was scrambling the whole time, slicing and delivering bread, serving and keeping water glasses filled, bussing tables, and handling special requests for various items.
When we arrived around 6:30 pm, the place was less than a quarter full. We asked for a second set of wine glasses since we wanted the Anthology to breathe as long as possible thinking it would match perfectly with the cassoulet (which it did). We were told they didn't have any more which seemed very strange. Had to wonder if all the folks arriving after us would have to wait until we finished and the glasses washed to have their wines? We made do by bagging a few tumblers for the meritage and sipped the Pinot from the stemware.
Since it was obvious they were understaffed we just settled in for a leisurely dinner, went to Nielsen's to pick up another bottle of red from their rare wines case. As two of us were heading to get wine a customer seated in the side room came out complaining to Scott that they had waited an hour for their meal and were going to leave if it didn't arrive immediately. Just after we returned with the wine, the fellow created another scene and they did in fact all leave. Speaking with Scott when we were leaving and things had slowed down a bit, we voiced our opinion of the way the disgruntled customer had handled things and were told that the fellow had come in with a sour attitude that went progressively downhill. Scott had remained the complete professional the entire time offering to do whatever was within his power to do.
Having since checked out their website (linked below) and the wine list, I see this as The Gem's only short suit, but with Nielsen's a couple of doors away, who cares? The website (and some review comments I found on Trip Adviser doing a Google search) also touts their excellent service so I'm willing to assume this was a fluke, the prior mentioned sources also refer to the presence of Josh the owner, who was nowhere to be seen this particular evening. It's also worth mentioning that none of the other patrons in what turned out to be a packed house were bothered by the pace of things and in fact appeared to all be having a most enjoyable evening.
Sun. evening needing a break from fine dining and not wanting to go out we picked up individual pizzas and ceasar salads from Il Fornaia. The pizzas were quite good but the salads rather weird, like they just stacked a few whole romain leaves, threw on a couple slices of tomato (???), a single shaving of parmesan, some god-awful hard chewy bread squares and some tasteless bottled dressing. No one minded since our wine benefactor had scored a '97 Turley Old Vines Zin early that day from the wine shop in the Barnyard.
Monday, our last evening, I introduced the gang to El Migueleno, which I've reported on in response to the post immediately below from e.d. on Seaside.