I've never been to SPL before, and since Warren Schwartz has left for Whist, I thought it would be a good idea to go before and after the new Executive Chef is in place and the menu is changed. I was especially interested in trying the elk that has been raved about so many times here.
So my friends and I arrived around 8:10 for our 8:30 reservation, and they seated us almost immediately (it would have been immediately, except one friend was sick and didn't make it, so they reset the table for us first). It was very dark out, so I couldn't get a good look at the exterior. The restaurant was very crowded when we entered, but thankfully the main dining room wasn't as crowded as the entranceway and bar (it was at capacity, but I didn't feel like a sardine). The interior made me want to break out into song - specifically, "Gaston" from Disney's _Beauty and the Beast_ ("I use antlers in all of my decorating..."). The dining room was dimly lit, with lots of wood and glass and books and paintings and animal heads all around the room - very charming, if you like that rustic feel, and don't mind seeing animal heads. Our table was small and circular, situated somewhat near the fireplace but in between two pillars. It was good for five of us, but if my sick friend had shown up, it would have been a little cramped. The padded wicker chairs were high-backed, big and comfortable.
Onto the food. Bread was served, two pieces at a time, with excellent butter and fleur de sel (I think). Seems like a silly thing to talk about, but I still haven't found anything even remotely close to Gustaf Anders' amazing (and absurdly generous - I don't think I've ever eaten more than half of it)) bread basket. Comparisons to GA are inevitable for me, since that was my favorite restaurant for years.
We were also each given a tiny cup of soup (butternut squash with pumpkin seed oil drizzled on top I think) as an amuse bouche. It was a somewhat strange experience for me, because with cups that small, I expect whatever I drink out of it to taste sweet or like coffee. Instead, it was a rich, warm puree of squash, just the thing for a cold night (some of the staff was constantly going in and out through the patio doors, and it was around 46 degrees out, so I could feel a draft through part of the meal).
Here's the breakdown of what we ordered (if the descriptions of what my friends ordered are off, it's because I'm going off of SPL's online menu, and don't remember exactly what was on the menu that night):
Seared diver scallops with white corn puree, smoked bacon, frisee salad and white truffle oil (2) - my friends, who have a Claim Jumper mentality when it comes to food, lamented what they felt was a rather small portion, but otherwise they loved it.
Sauteed mixed mushrooms with smoked duck & cream served in puff pastry (2) - my other friends thought the portion was very generous, and loved this app, though they felt the sauce was just a tad too salty.
Buffalo tartar with whole grain mustard aioli and all the right condiments - condiments were: quail egg, capers, red onion, egg white crumbles, and egg yolk crumbles. This is a wonderful dish, with a complex flavor if you mix all the condiments together. I wasn't too sure about the quail egg though; I was told to pour it on top of the buffalo, but it ended up just sliding down to the plate. Trying to figure out how to eat it was a little daunting, but perhaps not quite as bad as the foie gras app at Grace (such complexities seem interesting to me on paper, but when it comes time to chow, I don't want to deal with it). If this isn't the best app I've ever had, then it is second only to the gravad lax at Gustaf Anders. (Okay, maybe I haven't been around nearly enough.)
Roasted pheasant breast topped with Dijon mustard & bread crumbs, served with mashed Red Bliss potatoes, hedgehog mushrooms, caramelized onions & pan jus - my friend is not the chowish sort. He admitted to not being very excited by good food. So when he described this dish as being "good", that qualified as high praise, according to him. I talked with him a bit about it, because my one experience with pheasant (at Hattehylden in the Mermaid Hotel in Copenhagen) was not a very good one (bird too dry). From the way he described it, it sounded expertly prepared and very good, although he compared it to turkey, which I am not very fond of (give me duck or goose any day).
Roasted Elk tenderloin with bacon wrapped salsify, Jerusalem artichokes and creamy wild mushroom sauce (4) - perfect, perfect, perfect. This dish rivals the venison that was available in season at GA, and the red deer at Nytorv Cafe in Copenhagen. It certainly has more interesting accompaniments. For those who don't know, salsify is a vegetable from Belgium which somewhat resembles white asparagus, but has the starchy texture of potato. The elk was incredibly tender and flavorful, perfectly cooked medium rare, almost like a filet mignon but more delicate. Which reminds me, it rivals GA's filet with Stilton cheese and red wine sauces too.
Chcolate Macadamia nut tart with espresso ice cream - my friend said it was good, but it didn't blow him away. I didn't ask to try it, and he hates sharing food anyway.
'Strawberries & Cream' buttermilk biscuit with Harry's Berries Farms strawberries & Tahitian vanilla bean whipped cream - I guess I should have known better than to order strawberries out of season, even in California. The strawberries were on the tart side. Otherwise, it was a very good dessert, and I would love to give it another chance during strawberry season. I have to admit though, none of the desserts, going by the menu descriptions, jumped out at me as being must-have.
I know at least one of my other friends ordered dessert, but I did not get any feedback, nor do I even remember what he/they ordered.
Service was absolutely perfect. Our server, Nicole, was a sweetheart - very professional and warm, and friendly but not to the point where she might overstep some people's boundaries (though that sort of thing doesn't bother me...er, meaning my boundaries aren't so easily oversteppable). She even folded my napkin when I had gone to use the restroom. But the best part was when my friends asked for recommendations: she described some of the dishes in exquisite detail, and my friends and I sat there practically tasting the dishes as she described them. One of my friends ended up asking her for a couple more recommendations just to hear her descriptions. When she discovered they were out of the wine I had ordered, she was very good in describing comparable wines for me to choose from.
The total, with tax, one bottle of wine ($89) (two of my friends are non-drinkers), coffee and tea, but without tip, was about $411. I am a big tipper, so I put in a little extra because the service was so good, but I think one of my friends decided to use that as an excuse to save himself some money and give a little less. Jerk.
I've really been missing Gustaf Anders since it closed 8+ months ago. To me, it was the epitome of great food, service, decor, ambiance, and class without pretension, not to mention it satisfies my obsession with all things Scandinavian - in essence, it just felt like home, while still being a high-end restaurant I cannot afford to visit very often. Saddle Peak Lodge comes pretty darn close to filling that void for me. And who knows, maybe after a few more trips, it will. Minus the Scandinavian thing, of course.