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Restaurants & Bars 7

La Suite Review

MikeW | Feb 4, 2005 01:50 PM

I normally don't post comprehensive reviews here but since I read so many (but not all) bad things about La Suite on Chowhound, I figured I would share my experience.

My wife and I visited La Suite a few weeks ago, enticed by the cheese cart and what I had heard about the wine selection. I never visited any of the prior incarnations of the space and was surprised at the layout. We were a little confused when we entered, as there is a small counter immediately to the left that looks like a coat check but actually is the host/hostess stand.

We were seated in the front dining room which has a large triangular empty space in the middle, outlined by small tables and booths along the windows. I didn’t find the space particularly warm with my back to the open space, but the booths looked very cozy. Even though it was relatively early and the restaurant was not completely full, the noise level was high. To compound the problem, our waiter was a bit of a low talker, and thus things started a little on the rocky side.

We sat for ten to fifteen minutes before we were approached at all by our waiter. Luckily the wine list kept me busy. The list is excellent with tons of interesting French choices. I started with a 2003 Clos du Caillou white Rhone while my wife ordered a 1994 Domaine aux Moines, Savennieres, Roches aux Moines, Loire. The wine was over the hill or oxidized, and the waiter gladly exchanged it for a glass of Dampierre NV Champange.

The menu at La Suite is surprisingly large and almost everything looked good to us making it difficult to narrow our choices down. We decided to go with all small plates as I wanted to save room for the cheese cart and the entrees didn't entice me as much as the appetizers. I have to say I was tempted to try the bouillabaisse that was described as dishwater-esque by Meredith Brody in her review in the SF Weekly, but decided against it.

Immediately after we ordered our entrees bread and butter was brought to us. The bread was sliced baguette. It was texturally the perfect bread, and the sweet taste did not disappoint. I am guessing it was Bay Bread but if not I would like to know where they get their bread.

We ordered the following dishes, passing over an intriguing pig trotter dish.

Cippolini onion and Montrachet cheese tart. The cippolini onions were left in large pieces and were very plump, juicy and sweet. There were also whole roasted garlic cloves in the tart. The dish was not creamy but more chunky, and was a nice sized portion. Fantastic.

Lobster salad with arugula and an orange viniagrette with orange aioli. This was a half a small lobster tail roasted, served with a side of arugula, with fresh fennel on the lobster and sectioned grapefruit on the plate. We requested the aioli on the side because of the raw eggs, which the kitchen happily served in a gravy dish. This dish was good, but could have been better. I found the lobster itself to be slightly overcooked and lacking the sweetness I expect. I am guessing old lobster or overcooked lobster, but either way it detracted. The salad itself was very good and the aioli was outrageously good.

At this point I ordered a glass of 2002 Domaine Schmitt, Gewurz, Cuvee Lucile, Glintzburg, Alsace. This was a beautiful wine with a very floral nose.

We tried Saffron-Steamed Mussels next. They brought us a very large bowl of steaming mussels served in broth, made richer with cream, and finished with fennel pieces. The mussels were fresh and cooked perfectly, and the broth never lost interest. It was quite rich.

Next up was Roasted Bone Marrow with a salad of chopped parsely, pickled red onions and capers served with a side of sea salt was a standout. The waiter advised us to remove the marrow from the bone, and to mix with the salad, and finally to cover with sea salt. We followed his direction and this was excellent. This was my wife’s favorite. My favorite was the next dish.

Seared scallops topped with foie gras in a red wine sauce. Despite a slight over caramelization of the foie gras, this was my favorite. The dish was two very large scallops each topped with a nugget of foie gras served on a bed of red wine sauce surrounded by very buttery mashed potatoes, reminding me of the potatoes we had at L'Atelier du Robuchon in Paris. The potatoes were great for bread dipping. The sauce was decadent.

To accompany the scallops and marrow our waiter recommended and brought red Burgundy, but I did not catch the name. It matched the scallops very well.

My dessert order was decided before I left home. I went with the cheese cart. The choices were a selection of three or eight. I was the only one eating cheese so I went with three, but was given one extra cheese as a bonus. The cheese cart was one of the best I have seen in San Francisco, and I wish I could have tried more. I settled on a Valencay, an Epoisses, another goat I can't recall and a cheese I had once before at Fleur de Lys. It is a cheese that comes in a wheel and is shaved off from the top in spirals. I can’t remember the name unfortunately. The cheeses were served with apricot chutney and a walnut bread, and the portions were fair. The Epoisses and Valencay were spectacular. The waiter recommended the Epoisses after we told him we like stinky cheese.

My wife ordered the warm apple tart with rum ice cream drizzled with rum flavored caramel. This was very different from the standard apple tart, as it was very thin with a chewy rather than flaky crust. The apples were sliced thin and layered on top. The dessert was almost like a breakfast pasty rather than standard apple tart and was fantastic.

Service really warmed up over the course of the night. After an initial period in which we felt neglected, we were regularly checked on, silverware was replaced, water glasses refilled and additional bread brought. It was clear our waiter enjoyed describing the cheeses and he seemed genuinely excited that we were cheese lovers.

Clearly there were some missteps during the evening, as not every dish was well executed. I can’t say I love the space either, but that is a matter of perspective and where you end up sitting. The noise level is quite high, which seems to be the norm these days. Despite these shortcomings, I was highly impressed with La Suite and will definitely be back.

I find it hard to fault a restaurant for a few relatively minor mishaps when so many other things are so right. The menu is large and well thought out. The wine list is fantastic. The cheese cart is one of the best in the city. Prices are reasonable, particularly for the small plates. There is no place quite like it in San Francisco. Maybe I am just a sucker for French wine and cheese (I am), but I highly recommend La Suite.

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