Restaurants & Bars

The view from the Fifth Floor....(long!)

dixieday | Jan 11, 200204:32 PM     1

Went to check out Laurent Gras’ new menu at Fifth Floor. He’s trained with Alain Ducasse in France, was critically acclaimed at Peacock Alley in NYC, and was tapped by Kimpton Group when George Morrone jumped ship to go to Redwood Park. His food is definitely cerebral, very pure and much less overwrought/fussy than GM’s previous Fifth Floor food.

First app: lightly seared pale-pink hamachi slices (7) laid out on a long plate, each one lightly edged with fresh lemon thyme leaves and coarse salt. Waitress came out with little copper pot, spooned warm emulsion of pink pomelo, shallot, finely shredded chard in citrus olive oil over slices. Mmmm. Citrus infusion in oil kept it from being too heavy. Then, perfect little igloo/geodesic dome of thin buttery avocado “tiles” arranged in a spiral over sweet hunks of fresh Dungeness crab. Surrounded by soft, sparkling bits of clear aspic perfumed with basil—deliciously summery w/o seeming out of season.

My lobster entrée was less successful, mostly due to the sauce, a skinned-over, gummy Riesling reduction that smelled like over-yeasted bread. The lobster, poached in a similar Riesling broth, was rather one-dimensionally sweet, although the lobster-coral sauce was good. Endive leaves, very sweet, good, tender--but no contrast. (There were also hard cartilaginous bits in several bites.) My friend’s duck arrived completely covered in translucent, white-Lucite like sheets of daikon sprinkled with cracked pepper. Only a thin ribbon of duck jus (finished with bitter chocolate) that spilled out from the side as the waiter put down the plate hinted of the duck within. On a side plate, three marshmallow-sized pillows of daikon (cute, but NO taste) supporting three nuggets of duck foie gras. Also a small lidded dish (familiar from the churned-to-order ice cream service under George Morrone) with crystal-clear, dark amber duck consommé, with a tiny silver sipping spoon. The narrow duck slices are sprinkled with curls of blood orange zest, which add a deep citrus-berry flavor to the rich, just slightly gamy duck. Mmmm. It’s delicious, although besides those papery sheets of daikon, there’s NOTHING on the plate. Not a sprig of green, nary a potato. Just duck, duck, duck—duck three ways, to be exact.

Desserts—wow. As well they should be, at $14 a pop. The tour de chocolat came on four separate square plates, including a warm molten-centered choc-orange cake with dab of gold leaf; scoop of white choc-peppermint mousse on dark cocoa-dusted plate; “baked Alaska” of lovely marshmallowy meringue lapped over milk-chocolate ice cream; and dense chocolate “terrine” with roasted peanuts and caramelized banana. The best part of the winter apple tasting: bracing green apple sorbet over a minute of dice green apple, plus delicious flaky apple strudel with a few candied cranberries. There was also a lidded cup of warm cider (very clear, a bit lemony, very soothing but refreshing with two thin slices of lady apple floating it). The hot apple fritters were too greasy, with not enough apple, but nonetheless brought back fond memories of those at last summer’s Sebastopol Apple Fair.

Service and setting were, as always, extremely warm professional w/o being stiff. The server noticed I didn’t finish my lobster—when I told it was a bit too sweet for me, she very discretely took it off the bill—no small feat when it’s a $39 dish. Prices are as high as any I’ve seen in the Bay Area—apps mostly $12-$18, entrees $32-$42, desserts $12-$14.

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