Last night as I was driving home across the Bay Bridge, I was suddenly struck by a feeling that I hadn't experienced for a few years. I was thrown back to a night when I was flying from Chicago (where I was working at the time) to New York (where I was living at the time). My state of mind on that plane ride was a poor one, an understatement. My project was an extremely challenging one for me, personally and professionally. Such a challenge that I found it incredibly taxing and draining, physically, mentally, and emotionally. On that plane ride home, I was trying to think of how I was going to get rid of all this negative energy and one clear thought came to my mind as to how to start it all off. I wanted to land and go immediately to the bar at Union Square Cafe for dinner. Union Square Cafe for me has been something of a touchstone. It's always been a place of incredible warmth and hospitality and I wanted to be in that kind of environment after what I'd be going through.
Last night as I drove over the Bay Bridge, that same clear as a bell calling came to me again - I want to go have dinner at the bar at Union Square Cafe. Well, I live in San Francisco now and that was not going to happen. When I arrived at home, I told my husband what I wanted. After some eyerolling on his part at my "New York-sickness" he suggested that we go down to the bar at the Redwood Room where he had gone a few weeks ago. I might enjoy it.
We rolled in around 10:30 or so and sat at a table as all the bar seats were full. I immediately felt like I was either in a library or a corporate conference room. It wasn't what I'd call warm or inviting.
I wanted either a cocktail or some wine and decided on wine. When asking for a description of the Flowers Pinot Noir, I was underwhelmed by what I heard. For all I know, this could be a great wine but I was completely undersold as our waitress didn't seem to be confident in her description of it. Perhaps the sommelier had departed for the night or perhaps the wait staff needs more training on wine sales. I decided on a Domaine Drouhin after she said it exhibited Burgundian qualities. I was really in the mood for either a red Burgundy or a US pinot. After Melanie Wong had piqued my Burgundy interest with her Louis Jadot at the R&G yak dinner, I've been craving this. The server could've taken me in any number of directions but didn't seem to have the knowledge yet to do so. I would have expected that in a restaurant that just earned 3 1/2 stars, waiters would have extensive wine knowledge.
On to food. I wasn't in the mood for an entree and really just wanted to graze. I was interested in the artisinal cheese plate and inquired about the offering. Our server had to find out which cheeses were being served and though I wasn't familiar with either, my curiosity wasn't piqued with her lackluster description. When I'm faced with a food that I haven't eaten or heard of, that's usually the first thing I go for but again I was underwhelmed.
We decided on 6 Washington oysters, duck fat fried French fries, and the trio of savory flans. The oysters...they were medium size, plump, creamy and delicious. However, were they worth the $3 an oyster? Considering that I thought the going rate was $2 an oyster, I'm in doubt. I was thinking the duck fat fried French fries were going to be out of this world. French fries fried in duck fat? What could be better? Where they worth the calories? Again, I don't think so. They weren't the best french fries I've ever had so bring on the vegetable oil. Finally, the trio of savory flans. The first was an earthy egg custard with chopped roasted mushrooms on top. The second was a tomato-ey tasting custard with a whole grilled prawn as a garnish. The last was a spiced (probably curry) flan with smoked salmon on top. They were fine but I just kept thinking about illusions to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's eggs with caviar, put back into the shell, a picture you can see on the cover of his simple to spectacular cookbook. Jean-Georges is one of my favorite chefs. His restaurant, Jean-Georges, is one of my favorite high end places in NY and I just kept thinking Jean-Georges, not George Morrone.
There were some service points that I was surprised by - the server's lack of knowledge and confidence. Perhaps the bar is a training ground for the dining room? Our server also did not do our wine service. A gentleman who may have been a GM or maybe a floor manager came over. We were presented with a nice wine and with Riedel glasses. After pouring the wine for me to taste, a big old drop splashed down on the table. Again, I think 3 1/2 stars demands tighter wine service.
I don't know that our $140 spent in the bar was well-spent. Maybe it's still a little too early but considering they just got 3 1/2 stars, I assumed the food would've been more creative the service tight as a drum.