Observations on Food in the Bay Area
website - corner of Cyril Magnin and Ellis in downtown San Francisco. It's an interesting, 2-story restaurant and wine bar, with a serious emphasis on wine. A truly massive wine list (which is even online), and also a large selection of wines by the glass, by the half bottle, and by the flight. As if that's not enough, the prices on the bottles are fairly reasonable as well, especially for a fancy SF restaurant. The location itself is of moderate size, and probably a nice atmosphere for a first date (though a number of the tables are large, and you might end up next to another party). We were in a group of 16, however, which made guessing what a small couple experience would be like rather difficult.
On to the fooding and boozing! But first a note - we went on a Monday, so that should put all my fish-related comments in with a bit of salt. I'll refresh your memory on this as I go. But when I complain about fish... it just might not have been fresh that day, so your experience may vary.
Appreciating the option of flights, I elected to get one, the "mixer", which consisted of a Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cuvee (in increasing order of depth and concentration). Why did I pick this one? Well, they had a 3-wine Zinfandel combo that struck me as rather uninteresting (one of the wines I'd had before, albeit from a different vintage, and it had been rather awful). There was a 2-wine Cab combo that I feared would overpower my salmon. And there were some white combos I just wasn't terribly interested in. What can I say about the wines I got? Well, they were average at best. Nothing really standout. The pinot was a little weak, insufficiently 'cherry' for a pinot in my opinion, and little real complexity. The merlot left fruit on your tongue, but a dry, bitter back-of-throat aftertaste, even though it was of reasonable body. The cuvee was probably the best of the three, with some spice in the nose and a good quantity of dark fruit in the mouth along with a little earthy complexity. All in all, not great, but not bad for only $10, and enough wine to last me through my meal (granted, I wasn't exactly gulping it...)
Now on to the advantages of a large party... that being, that everyone can get something different, and thus you get to try lots and lots of things!
- Asparagus and Prawn Spring Rolls - also with some red chilies, scallions, and a fantastic orange ginger glaze. Very nice. Good crispiness to the roll, with a great flavor blend within. The rolls weren't too thick, so as to overpower the food, and the sauce really added a great tang. These were really good. Nice big prawns too.
- Seared Ahi Tuna - with sauteed Roma tomatoes, shallots, capers, and garlic. Great! Well, I'll be more specific. The tuna was good. I've had better flavor in my fish, but then it was a Monday, so maybe it was Saturday's tuna or something. Amusingly, the sides that were with it were, if anything, more interesting than the fish, tasty as it was. Light, crisp, and a very flavorful combination where everything really worked well together. I love the little Romas when they're lightly sauteed.
- Crab Cake - served over sauteed leeks, with mustard cream. The crab cake with cream was pretty good - nice separate, stringy, fresh real crab texture, just crispy enough on the outside to give it a difference of texture in the mouth relative to the softness of the crab inside. They've got nothing on real East Coast Dungeness crab cakes, mind you, but they were pretty tasty. The leeks, on the other hand, did nothing for me at all. I have no idea who thought that was a good combination. They were strong, and did nothing but detract from the light flavor of the crab. Unfortunately, this was but the beginning of an unfortunate trend...
- Horseradish crusted Salmon Fillet - with whole grain mustard sauce, julienne veggies, and dill mashed taters. The salmon was well cooked, but not perfect - it didn't quite fall apart, but close. This was perhaps to ensure that the horseradish on top of it had crisped sufficiently, so I'll give them credit for it. The combination of the crispy horseradish crust over the soft salmon made for not only a great flavor, but also a wonderful mix of textures. The mustard sauce was also just light enough to blend very well with both the salmon and the potatoes, which were also quite good. The only downside to the salmon was that it had a touch of fishiness, but again - Monday. So perhaps better and fresher on another day of the week. The real downside was the julienne vegetables. God, how awful. Carrots and turnip, perhaps? Ug. They were just not a good choice at all - their combined flavor was nearly strong enough to ruin the wonderful salmon; I had to pull them all off to the side so as to enjoy the rest of the dish. Just not a well chosen combination.
- Macadamia crusted Alaskan Halibut - on jasmine rice with a Vietnamese cucumber salad and spicy green coconut curry sauce. This dish was perfect. One of the 2 best of the night. The sauce was absolutely marvelous yet didn't overpower the light flavor of the fish. I'd never had halibut with a sauce like that, which made it really interesting. The fish was flawlessly cooked, and tasted very fresh, and everything really combined well.
- Grilled Rack of Lamb - over braised fava beans, asparagus tips and Yukon potatoes, in a tarragon reduction. Simply great. The other winner. The lamb, while not quite as tender and good as that created by ZuZu in Napa (which I really need to remember to review next time I'm there), was very nicely cooked the way a rack should be - well crisped and charred outside, nearly rare inside. The piece I had was almost perfect, and the tarragon sauce really enhanced it. But then, I love tarragon, so what else would I say?
- Pan Seared "Angus" Filet Mignon - with celery root puree, red wine demi-glaze, house-made herb butter. Good, but the sauce was better than the beef. On the initial taste, your mouth explodes with the deep, rich sauce and the flavor of rare beef, which is wonderful. Then, the sauce melts away, and you're left with a hunk of steak which somehow is of a slightly mealy texture and truly not much flavor. Disappointing.
We had a few other dishes as well, but I didn't get a chance to sample them, so can't comment. Perhaps some of our other diners will.
Well, I was too full at this point to order anything but I got a couple of bites of:
- Valrhona Chocolate S'mores Pie - with marshmallow meringue and butterscotch bourbon creme anglaise. Well. This was rich. I mean, really really rich. To me, there was too much butterscotch relative to the amount of chocolate, but I'm not a big fan of butterscotch. It did go quite well with the Rosenblum Black Muscat, however, which made for a nice, dark, fruity counterpunch to the overbearing sugary sweetness of the pie.
- Lavendar and Vanilla bean Creme Brulee - with mint and rosemary shortbread. Good! A nicely done creme brulee (though it could have spent a few more moments under the torch; the crust was pretty thin). But the flavor was very nicely unique - the lavendar and vanilla made a great combination. Quite nice.
I'd have to say I probably won't be back, unless it's just to drink wine. The food, considering its price, was really no better than good, and there are an awful lot of restaurants in the city which offer something far beyond good, for far less money. There was only one entree I considered even relatively unique, and many had unfortunate qualities which in a restaurant of this price range should not be found.