After the extensive discussion about where to go for my birthday (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/496447), I ended up sticking to my original backup, Jack Falstaff when Myth was deemed to be too risky a week before it is scheduled to close.
It ended up being exactly right: even though the food occasionally fell short, the experience in its entirety was excellent. The atmosphere is both sophisticated and comfortable -- although there was a fair amount of background noise, we had no trouble holding a conversation. And the service was lovely: not at all snooty, genuinely warm and helpful without being intrusive or overly familiar. Kudos in particular to the host. I had realized in the car that I had forgotten to call Myth and cancel my reservation. After we were seated I went to ask to host for a phone book, and when I explained why I needed it, he offered to call Myth for me, saying the was friends with "the guy there" and would be happy to take care of it. He also comped our doughnut hole dessert and after-dinner coffee/tea. He said that his dad was a cop and so the coffee and doughnuts were on him, but somehow I don't think he does that for everyone who orders them, so it was probably because they knew it was my birthday. Although he was a little unengaged at first, the sommelier unbent quickly when we started asking questions and was knowledgeable in helping us decide between three wines.
One of the reasons I chose JF was that I thought the menu looked interesting but not too over the top. Three of us put together three small courses while two went the more traditional appetizer/entree route. I think the three small courses worked out better, although that may have been because the entree they both ordered was the weakest dish we had, I thought. The Liberty duck breast was underseasoned (no salt on the table -- I wish we had asked when the first undersalted dish turned up), and the duck sausage with it my salt-loving father commented was a little too salty -- from my bite, I also thought it a bit dry. I also thought the butter leaf salad I had fell short on the seasoning. Despite having blood orange and grapefruit, it could have used more acid and some salt and maybe a little more oil as well to pull all the flavors together. It wasn't bad, just not as good as it could have been with a tiny bit of tweaking (at least it wasn't beets with goat cheese!). Since those were the two dishes my dad had, and he also commented on the "undistinguished" (I'd have to agree) bread, I think he was underwhelmed compared to the rest of us. The third item I thought could have used some salt was the crispy pigs trotter (which actually wasn't crispy -- I'm not sure what cooking techniques were used, but it wasn't fried crisp) which again I think could have benefited from some salt as a counterpoint to the unctuousness of the fat. The trotter (a disk-shaped cross section) wasn't crispy, but the three deep-fried nuggets of sweetbreads on top were crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside -- perfect. I don't eat sweetbreads often, and I forget how much I like them. My mom also commented on how well-fried her fried oysters were.
I think the best bite was from my mom's quail stuffed with apples and fois gras -- definitely a winner. She and my BIL both seemed to enjoy their mushroom bisque -- a fun presentation, with the soup poured into the bowl over a small scoop of creme fraiche sorbet at the table. And my sister licked her kampachi/avocado appetizer plate clean. My third course was the ricotta agnolotti with truffles -- I saw but couldn't taste the truffles, but it was delicious anyway.
For dessert we shared the cheese plate and two desserts: lemon ricotta cheesecake and the doughnut holes. I eat a lot of "exotic" cheese, so to me the cheese plate was beautifully presented, well-thought out and good quality but not revelatory. I looked at a lot of restaurant menus before I made my decision, and it seems like cheese plates are becoming common, for which I can only say yay! My favorite of the desserts was the lemon ricotta cheesecake, which was moist but still light, had a perfect balance of lemon-cheese flavor, and was accompanied by some delicious kumquat "marmalade" (not a traditional marmalade, since the kumquats were whole) and a small scoop of blood orange sorbet. The cinnamon doughnut holes should have been either lighter or richer, I thought, but the burnt caramel sauce had me scraping the bowl with my spoon.
In addition to getting points for having a cheese plate, they get big points for a nice selection of loose teas, properly brewed and served in individual clay pots that my sister remarked twice were very cute. The meal was rounded out with a plate of mixed olives and an amuse of chicken pate with dates on toast, which was a delightful play on the traditional pairing of fruit and fois. The plating was lovely throughout -- I particularly liked the way the salad was served in two butterleaf cups.
My dad commented that the bill was less than he thought it would be, and I thought the prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food and overall experience. If you stick to small plates, you can have an excellent four-course meal for $40-50. The bill for the five of us, including 11 apps/small plates, two entrees, cheese plate, two desserts, olives, three specialty cocktails, a glass of white wine, a $40 bottle of Copain Pinot Noir (http://www.copainwines.com/Wines/pino... ), two coffees and two teas was about $350, including the value of the comped items and tax, but not tip.
Jack Falstaff Restaurant - CLOSING May 9
598 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107