We had one of the best meals we have ever had at Gemma on Saturday night. Dishes were beautifully balanced, incredibly well prepared and sublime. We are in town for one week. Every four months we are on a new continent for the internet and engineering task force conference, and as foodies we look at "up and coming" creative farm to table restaurants with amazing buzz before we arrive, make reservations and a plan for the week. Gemma was night one. It will also be night six, it was just that good.
Front of house: Pros, warm, efficient and they follow through. We had 10:15 pm reservations and the restaurant called my cell on Saturday morning to move our dinner up to 9:30 pm (7:30 pacific - our home time) which was incredibly detailed and kind of them. Plus one to Gemma. Valet parking, beautifully balanced decor somewhere between hipster industrial rustic chic and comfortable, and professional warm service took Gemma's front of house into four stars territory. Mpre points for Gemma. Most guests dressed upscale which reflects the skill and cost of the experience, we had on jeans and decent shirts (California), yet we were treated with equal courtesy. Late night visits from chefs dressed in restaurant logo t shirts and jeans were greeted with hugs and claps on the back all around, a very good sign. Must be good when other chefs stop by for whatever the chef has to offer. Good vibes so far.
Drinks were well crafted, beers and wines offered by servers who not only eat the food they are schooled on the tastes, balance and benefits of a well matched wine-dish pairing. Not once did the suggested pairings fall short, and every single time I was offered a generous taste to make the final selection. Loved them all, including the robust Cali blend and the local Texas white. Wine is better when it goes with the food. My partner had equal joy with his initial small batch beer, wine and dessert offerings. Loved the staff who stopped by to offer suggestions, stories and make us feel even more welcome, lots of synergy here and a collaborative atmosphere.
Dishes: Because the food has to be incredible or nothing else works.
Bread, appetizer and salad is incredible. Butter is lightly seasoned and goes perfectly with the homemade breads.
Roasted baby artichokes with arugula, provencale vinaigrette and a poached egg - wow, a beautifully crafted tasty dish. Chef blends a limited number of ingredients so that the flavors enhance each other and give great depth to the dishes. Artichokes were perfect. Portions are small to reasonable, so tons of flavor, without becoming overwhelmed.
Bok Choy Salad was shockingly good. We almost had a knife fight over the last bites of this dish it was so amazing (I exaggerate as they split our salad before delivering it to the table) . I don't know why it was so good, baby bok choy, pomegranate seeds, Asian pear, cashews and shaved fennel should not be able to transform into a salad that transcends its individual ingredients and makes you so happy you can't stop saying over and over again, oh my god, this is so good. But it was one of the best dishes of the night because it was an incredibly creative balance of flavors, honestly, simply a perfect dish.
We had mains of Arctic Char and the Chefs dish of the night a farm chop of veal on polenta with smoked gouda and balsamic reduction. Both dishes were very good. The polenta preparation seemed more like a puree below the perfection of the veal chop, and while it was good, it was also a little salty for me and overwhelmed a bit by the smokiness of the gouda - but that is total nit picking, this is a very good dish and the veal was perfect, brimming with beautiful flavor. The seasoning and crust and cook on the veal was probably the best I have ever had on a cut of meat. My partner has eaten beef only a handful of times in thirty years. He loved this dish.
Desserts are superb and it is clear Gemma enjoys the talents of a creative incredibly talented pastry chef. We had two desert offerings that suited us perfectly and we loved them both. But mine was fantastic for me and I have to have it again before I die, so I am headed back Thursday night for more cream cheese crepes (light little perfection on a plate) paired with huckleberry compote, graham cracker and in house made Meyer lemon ice cream. My partner had the chocolate caramel pine nut tart with homemade marshmallow, and in house vanilla bean ice cream which he remained reluctant to share. I had some anyway, and came away with the feeling that two such wonderful desserts are so rare they should be celebrated with port or another glass of that glorious 2011 Leviathan. Not since MW in Maui have I had such a great dessert course. Wow.
Gemma is an amazing restaurant. In the years we have been eating with our conference we have dined in wonderful spots in Paris, Berlin, London, Milan, Barcelona, Toronto, Vancouver, Hawaii, Japan, China, California, and Texas. This is easily one of our top three nights out. It's worth trying.