It's taken me a week to sit down and write this report and I'm still not sure I'm totally prepared to do so. Nonetheless, what follows is a detailed account of the meal my friend Josh and I experienced last Wednesday evening at the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton.
Josh had asked me to research who serves the most interesting tasting menu in San Francisco. He said he wanted to be wowed. Though not in San Francisco, French Laundry would have been our first choice, but unfortunately it was not feasible for this visit.
Upon arriving at the Ritz we were seemlessly escorted from the entrance of the hotel to our seats inside the dining room. We were handed off like a baton from a hotel hostess to the restaurant hostess. We quickly were seated in a dark corner which unfortunately did not allow me to take any photos.
We were originally planning on dining upon the Salt & Pepper tasting menu, but noticed that there was a 9 course chef's tasting menu for only $15 more. Intrigued and already intoxicated from our pre-meal festivities, we decided to dive in to the culinary abyss. Especially after our server informed us that we each would receive different courses, with the exception of the amuses.
We informed our server of our desire to feast up on 9 (actually 18) courses of the chef's choosing. He then inquired as to what we would care to drink. Having read a few detailed accounts of other hounds splitting wine flights for tasting menus, I informed our server that we wished to split a wine flight to accompany our tasting.
"No, no, no. This von't do at all," replied our not so faithful server. "Ve cannot split a vine tasting!"
Maybe that's not exactly what he said, but it sure felt like it. He said it could not be done. There would not be enough wine, etc, etc. This despite me confirming that we could in fact split a wine tasting when I called to confirm my reservation weeks prior. In lieu of splitting a wine tasting, our server offered to match every other course with a wine. We accepted. Unfortunately my ability to recall specific wine pairings is not quite up to par with my food memory, and so I will not be detailing the wine pairings at all.
Our first taste of the evening was from the bread basket. We both chose a currant hard roll and something else. The currant roll tasted like really good raisin bread in a hard french roll sorta way.
Next came our first amuse bouche, cold asparagus soup. This was served in a small espresso-sized glass, it tasted fresh with an undertone of young ginger.
Our second amuse was a minute slice of Kampachi sashimi with pickled watermelon radish. This was Josh's first taste of Kampachi so he was excited since I'd been sending him articles about it and talking it up from recent trips to Sushi Ran. This little taste was superb. The pickled watermelon radish complimented the velvety smooth fish. There was a third element/ingreident which I can't remember. The first of many mysterious and forgotton ingredients on this long journey of a meal. (Unfortunately I forgot to bring a pad and pen to take notes.)
The third amuse was the infamous sea urchin panna cotta with a tiny bit of abalone on top, served in a martini glass. While this may sound rather unappetizing to some, it was actually quite amazing. Transcendental even. Like sea urchin pudding. Words cannot do this justice.
The fourth and final amuse was a silver dollar-sized empanada filled with braised oxtail. The meat was beyond melty and bursting with rich meaty flavor.
Our first official courses:
> Chilled salsify veloute with miyagi oysters, golden osetra caviar, leeks, crème fraiche
> Hot artichoke soup with crispy tofu
I was served the chilled salsify and found it quite delightful, refreshing and super creamy. I've never tasted salsify before, but according to a quick search it tastes like an oyster. I don't necessarily remember it tasting as such, but thought it was quite lovely. As we had decided we would split all of our courses with each other, we swapped bowls halfway through. I found Josh's hot artichoke soup tasted like, quite frankly, puke. It was easily the least impressive dish of the evening, and probably the only one which I would be happy to never eat again. I wish I could have finished the immensely delicious bowl of chilled salsify...
> Bluefin tuna sashimi with geoduck (and something confited/cripsy?)
> Lobster carpaccio wrapped around dungenese crab
This was the "sashimi" course. As such, our server emerged with a fresh wasabi root which he proceeded to grate upon a shark skinned paddle. This was quite exciting as it was the first time either of us had experienced real wasabi. The tuna was bright red and perfectly supple. I don't recall what the geoduck added to the mix, but the crispy bits of something (akin to crispy fried onions) added a nice contrast. The wasabi added a nice subtle, aromatic bite to the dish. It did not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish as commonplace pseudo-wasabi does. I don't remember anything of the flavor of Josh's dish.
> Poularde with jus reduction
> Rare duck breast
I was quite unexcited to be served chicken during a fancy tasting menu. I guess poularde is more than just chicken, it's young chicken. I believe there was some breast meat, and possibly some boneless wing meat. I wouldn't call the meat exceptional, but the jus reduction which surrounded it was a very dark essence of chicken and pretty good. I can't remember what Josh's rare duck breast was served with, but it was tastey.
> Striped bass with coconut sauce and surprise dungenese crab ravioli
I can't remember what my 4th course was for the life of me. Josh's must've been more interesting by a long shot. He was presented with a small portion of striped bass over which was poured a coconut sauce. The fish was perfectly flakey, though I don't recall it being super flavorful. Once completed, our server removed the hole-filled plate that the bass had laid on, revealing a surpise treat: a nice sized ravioli filled with dungenese crab meat. The excess coconut sauce had dripped through from striped bass onto the ravioli. The ravioli was quite good. I am partial to crab, though. The concept of this dish is pretty inventive.
> Cold foie gras with pinot gris gelee, mache & toast
> Seared foie gras with huckleberries
Ahh, the foie gras course. A rare and always delicious treat. It was a bit difficult getting some foie, pinot gelee and mache onto one bite of toast, but when I finally did, I swooned. The tartness of the pinot gris gelee along with the crunchy greenery of the mache proved a perfect foil to this delectable cold foie. Josh's seared foie was equally delicious but yet quite different. The sweet, delicious and miniscule purplish-blue huckleberrie along with a syrupy huckleberry sauce wonderfully adorned the seared foie.
> Lobster claws and crispy pork belly with sweet & sour sauce
> Butter poached lobster?
Ohhh, the lobster course. My other favorite crustacean. The two thumb-sized lobster claws dwarfed the pint-sized chunk of crispy pork belly which laid atop them. All of which was coated in an extremely pungent and overpowring sweet and sour sauce. Unfortunately the sauce completely drowned out any remnants of lobster flavor. However, the texture of the lobster along with the pork belly still managed to shine thru this decadent, if not overdone, sauce. I don't recall what accompanied Josh's lobster, but I do know that his dish tasted distinctly of lobster. It was quite tender and buttery, perhaps it was poached in butter.
> Niman Ranch lamb tenderloin
> Filet mignon with bone marrow
Is it time for the meat course already? Once again I cannot recollect what accompanied the Niman Ranch lamb, but it was perfectly cooked with a succulent, velvety texture. Josh's eyes lit up when he was presented with his Filet and marrow. Mine did too. He was reluctant to share this course, but a deal's a deal. So we swapped plates halfway thru. I think he definitely mighta eaten more than his fair share of it, but I wasn't about to complain as I placed the heavenly hunk of beef and bone marrow into my mouth. The marrow seemed to melt around the beef like a waterfall of flavor. Abso-freaking-lutely delightful. I must try to recreate this at home...
What happened next I cannot understand. For some reason Josh decided to order a cheese plate for us before our dessert courses. I went along with his decision as we were enjoying ourselves quite too much to rock the boat. And anyway I've never been one to decline a fine cheese. We definitely had some Spanish Cabrales, which I've been a fan of for some time. And a washed rind cheese which reminded me very much so of Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, which they also had as a choice, btw. I think it was called Espossier or something like that. There was also some sort of swiss cheese. And I don't know what else.
> Lychee sorbet
> Beet sorbet
Normally I don't think a sorbet would count as a course, but it must've counted since including it and the next dessert course, totals 9 courses in all (excluding the amuses). The lychee sorbet was refreshing. The beet sorbet was more adventurous but still quite nice.
> Chocolate ice cream and ?
> Passion fruit tower, layer of cake, fruit jelly, passion fruit mousse, passion fruit sorbet, and a baked meringue
The only reason I can remember what Josh's desert was is because it's listed on their website. Both deserts were great. Can't really expound too much more about them though. We were stuffed, buzzed and floating by this point.
The cookie cart came around last and they offered us one of each. All kinds of delicious little candies and cookies. We actually ate quite a few more there than I expected, and of course brought the rest home.
The service at the Ritz was very formal and a bit too stuffy for our tastes. Although this wasn't totally unexpected. It is afterall the Ritz. The decor of the room is also rather boring, but again, it's the Ritz and pretty much what I expected.
This is the second extensive tasting menu which I've experienced. My first was last year in Spain at Arzak. That was an amazingly sublime supper. A few of the dishes we ate at the Ritz definitely compared in terms of uniqueness and deliciuosness to that of Arzak, like that sea urchin panna cotta. Overall though Arzak defintely kicks the Ritz's ass. Nonetheless, we both had a very nice time. It was an exquisite meal with lots of delicious surprises. Hopefully some of which will translate into inspiration in the kitchen to create new and excitingly flavored dishes.