We were at the Winterland restaurant last Friday night, and the place was busy. The dining room isn't that large to begin with, but only a couple 2-top tables weren't occupied during the time we were there.
* The choices we made in the crudo and appetizer section were all great. After this first round, we were anticipating great things with the entrees.
Chicken Wings & "Gnocchi":
Baby Abalone & Sea Urchin:
Seared Foie Gras with Hazelnut:
* After the promising start, the entrees initially looked great, but the taste and flavors were surprisingly uninspired. Not at all on the level of the appetizers. All our entrees were meat dishes, so could the seafood dishes be their strength?
A Contra Costa Times review last year said they "tired too hard", and at the time I read the article, I didn't quite understand. But now I understand. You *can* go too far in trying to put together too many great ingredients in clever and unusual ways. If it doesn't taste good and meet minimum requirements (i.e. it really works and tastes great), then don't even put it on the menu.
1,2,3,4 Milk-fed Veal (said to be popular):
Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef Duo:
(Lacked that rich beef flavor, and had a decent amount of gristle for such an expensive cut)
Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly & Roasted Monkfish:
(I thought this was the best entree)
* After the deflating entrees, we were a bit reluctant to try any dessert. But we were sure glad that we did. The dishes were not only interesting with the use of unusual and unexpected combinations, they also tasted great.
French Toast Caramelized, with olive oil ice cream:
It was nice to see how busy they were on a Friday night, especially after reading earlier reports of a near empty dining room on a weekend night.
Service was a bit spotty, with some excessive time between courses. Overall, a bit rough around the edges for a higher end restaurant. Yes, they get A for effort, but it appears that they may have been a bit overwhelmed that night. Or the staff just didn't get enough proper training. Or a combination of both.
From the food perspective, appetizers were great, entrees were so-so, and desserts were great.
Surprisingly, we didn't select any of the seafood entrees as we usually do, only meat dishes. Maybe the seafood items are their strength? Or the execution was off that night? Or the chef let his enthusiasm fly and just "tried too hard"? They show such promise, and with the pedigree of the executive chef, I wouldn't be surprised if they occasionally hit the entree dishes out of the park as they did with the appetizers and dessert.
But within the category of restaurants they chose to be in, it's the consistency of the dishes (as well as service) over time that can make or break their future. If they have the discipline to stick with what works (for the SF market tastebuds) while still staying on the cutting edge to interest those more adventurous diners, I believe (and sincerely hope) they have the potential to do very well.
These are comments based on just one visit, so I hope to return in the next several months to see how they evolve.
2101 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
www.winterlandrestaurant.com <- And their website needs some upgrades...