I chose RNM (SF, lower haight) for an early dinner with some out-of-town friends. I had the $25 prix fixe with grilled romaine salad and porcini-crusted scallops, Nathan had the $25 prix fixe with the arugula salad and whitecastle burger, and our friends both had pan fried steak with pancetta-wrapped potatoes.
For dessert, the four of us shared the buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry compote and the brownie sundae.
1.The grilled romaine salad with cheese, pear, and hazelnuts was excellent. The grilling takes this salad to the next level. After I got over the slight wilt of the romaine, I savored the charred smoky pieces. This is probably one of my favorite salads period. This is the kind of creativity I'm looking for when I go to a nice restaurant.
2.The scallops were also delicious, especially with the porcini. I definitely prefer the porcini version over a dish like bacon or pancetta wrapped scallops. The scallops were served with 5 spears of grilled asparagus and a little salad of greens and radishes. All these sides were very good and not even a slice of radish was left when I finished eating.
3.I didn't taste the steak dishes, but our friends seemed to enjoy it. They really liked the potatoes and were impressed by the cabernet butter.
4.The service, from the time I made the reservations to the time we left, was good, except for one minor incident, see below.
1.The arugula salad with oranges reminded Nathan of the orange salad I had made from one of this year's Cooks Illustrated issues. He said my salad was better and I agree. Not a big deal though...not every dish has to be a superstar dish.
2.The "big plates" portions were small. I got three bite-sized scallops. They weren't even the big ones. If I had paid the full $17 for this dish, I would have felt robbed. I've had scallop appetizers at good restaurants, eg Chez Papa and Fringale, that have included more scallop than this "big plate". The scallops dish was the biggest violator. The other obvious one was the pancetta wrapped potatoes. Each plate had 2 bite-sized pieces. There's certainly no shortage of potatoes, since Nathan burger plate was 1/2-2/3 filled with fries.
3. I wanted to order dessert wine and the waitress did not know which dessert wines were red and which ones were white (it was confusing for me because I hadn't heard of some of the grapes before).
4. The desserts were not good. The buttermilk panna cotta was especially horrible. The texture was not smooth, the strawberries were sour (I had better tasting strawberries three weeks ago at the farmer's market), and the panna cotta needed sugar. You could see specks of vanilla in the panna cotta, but you couldn't taste it. You could taste the sour-ness of the buttermilk though. The brownie sundae was just okay - the ice creams were good, the brownie itself was dry and there was very little of it. This dessert was the better of the two, but I would not order either one again.
Overall, I would go back again, but I was lucky enough (or I had researched enough) to order two very good dishes at an okay price. Nathan said he would not go back and that he would much prefer Andalu (the other restaurant we were considering). In hindsight, our friends would have probably preferred a more traditional or homey type place.