Observations on Food in the Bay Area
website - a beautiful location with black tinted windows an a monogrammed doorway at the intersection of Hyde and North Point, GD is everything a top quality restaurant can and should be. From the moment the door is opened for you, to the 3 people who greeted us as we walked in and took our coats, to the gorgeous interior decor (complete with 2 red backlit Buddha sculptures), to the flawless and extremely well informed service, this was a picture perfect meal from start to glorious finish.
After settling in, you're presented with a 2-sided menu, the left of which is a pre-selected 5 course seasonal tasting menu, with an optional pairing of 5 wines, one selected for each course (for an additional $45). The right half is the full selection of dishes, divided into caviar, appetizers, seafood, meat & game birds, cheese, and dessert. A diner then gets to choose between the preselected menu, or can fashion their own with any number of courses from that list, a 3-course meal costing $59, and each additional course being $10. The only limitation being that diners are recommended to select only one course from the meat & game section, as these dishes are somewhat larger and intended as entrees.
The wine list is fantastically enormous, and yet interestingly restrictive in its choices - it tends to the more expensive European wines, and has (for its size) a suprisingly small selection of California options. There were, for example, only 4 zinfandels in the entire list of over 1600 selections. 4? That's all you could find worthy of carrying? The markup is also quite significant, in the 100-200% range. That said, they do have a reasonable selection of wine by the glass, as well as a significant number of half bottles for those wishing to try multiple things while keeping their cost down.
Now I will attempt to recall what we drank, which will be somewhat more difficult than normal as (a) I didn't make notes at the time, and (b) I didn't choose them since my father, who is vastly more versed, was there to make the tough decisions.
I believe we started with the Gruner Veltliner Gobelsburger '03 from Schloss Gobelsburg ($43). This was a wonderful, very dry, Austrian white much like a very dry riesling, and was not only perfectly drinkable on its own, but paired fantastically with our first couple of courses.
We followed with Henschke's '03 Semillon from the Eden Valley of Australia ($52), a much richer, oakier wine (not at all what I'd expected from a semillon), yet still dry and light enough to match the middle round of appetizers while we awaited the uber-richness of our main courses. Much more depth to this, and again a suprising oaky character to both the aroma and the flavor. Wonderful.
We finished off with a Gigondas which I believe to have been the '01 Domaine du Grapillon d'Or ($68). This had an astoundingly fruity nose, redolent of cassis and other dark rich berries, following up with a rich, very spicy mouthfilling flavor with a lush aftertaste. A flawless and fantastically enriching companion to our main courses, as you can likely imagine as I'm now about to describe them...
Before anything else began, we were presented with a small snack from the chef, a foie gras mousse topped with something crispy (pine nut?) and a fig compote as I recall - a very flavorful treat indicative of what was to come.
- Chestnut Porcini Bisque with Sweet Potato-Apricot Relish and Curry Oil - Heaven in a bowl, the meal couldn't have had a more auspicious beginning. It was a beautiful little cylindrical mold of the relish in the center of a bowl, over which the lush, lush bisque was poured tableside. The instant it flowed out into the bowl, an astoundingly rich aroma of the porcini mushrooms enveloped me, and the intensity of flavor more than matched it the aroma. The soup was beyond description on its own, and when combined with the occasional crunchy chestnuts which added a unique texture as well as startling flavor, and the soft, fascinatingly sweet yet acidic cubes of sweet potato and apricot enhanced the earthy richness of the bisque perfectly.
- Seared Ahi Tuna with Avocado, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms and Lemon Soy Dressing - the presentation was a true work of artistry, with all the ingredients carefully laid out to present the shape of a butterfly on the plate. The tuna was immaculately seared just at the very edges and of the highest grade and absolute freshness. When combined into little bite-sized pieces with all the other ingredients (including a garnish of unlisted ginger), the experience was something to behold. The varying flavors and differing textures of the various ingredients made for a truly fascinating and wonderful combination. Fantastic.
- Dungeness Crab Salad with Fennel, Apple, Grapefruit and Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette - this was the only item I had any complaints about. In the one small bite I stole from my neighbor, the various elements combined remarkably well, but I was left with a strange hint of excessive ocean, as if the crab weren't as fresh as it ought to have been. But the bright acidity of the grapefruit made for a wonderful counterpart to the fennel and the richness of the crab.
- Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions and Fuji Apples - My God this was astounding. The Foie Gras had the perfect, almost crispy seared shell around a nearly liquid center of exorbitantly rich pure goodness, and the apples (which were cooked to a similar near-liquid softness and of a startlingly similar texture) made an astoundingly fantastic counterpart in their clean, fruity crisply acidic flavor to the utter richness of the Foie Gras. Marvelous.
Fish and Seafood!
- Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers - in a mustard sauce, this dish was somehow nothing like what I'd expected. It was a perfect cylinder of salmon topped by a puffed, almost bread-like horseradish crust, atop a bed of cucumber strings, surrounded by a rich mustard sauce. The horseradish was very mild and quite bread-like in texture, enhancing the flavor of the salmon while mixing perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. I'm really at quite a loss to describe how this dish tasted as it is now a day later, but I distinctly recall at the moment of first bite being rather uncertain how to categorize the flavor. Was it good? Absolutely! It was brilliant! What did it really taste like? I've no idea.
- Roast Maine Lobster with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Edamame, and Tarragon - I must preface by saying that I've never been a Lobster fan; my tastes have always run more to crab, but this was good. Rich, flavorful, flawlessly prepared with a perfect texture to the shellfish. Dare I say, better than the lobster at Masa's, I believe.
Meat and Game Birds!!
And now it gets truly hedonistic.
- Roasted Quail Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, Foie Gras and Chestnut Gnocchi - Culinary orgasm on a plate. Period. This was beyond compare. Rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. The quail was completely boned, except for the 2 leg bones which, crossed, helped hold in the massive quantity of mushrooms and foie gras that filled the bird. The texture was perfect; the mushrooms of extraordinary rich, earthy flavor; the foie gras rich beyond compare, and yet nothing overwhelmed anything else. The dish was served with a rich dark sauce, and various sauteed vegetables which I couldn't entirely identify, except that they were very good. The gnocchi... well, I've made no bones about my favorite gnocchi in SF, but this was the closest I've experienced to it. Constructed of a chestnut mixture, these were nothing like the small globs of goodness served at Da Flora, and there was no pancetta or cream sauce to accompany them, but they were extremely rich and uniquely flavorful, and of the perfect texture. A marvelous, marvelous dish.
- Juniper Crusted Venison with Caramelized Endive and Cranberry Compote - Though this is what's listed on their website menu, it feels somehow wrong to me in the accompaniment. But the dish was decadent, and melt-in-your-mouth flawlessly cooked in the tiny taste I managed to scrounge.
- Pan Seared Beef Filet with Bacon, Leeks, Potato and Perigord Black Truffles - ah, truffles. The first taste to fill your mouth explains instantly why these morsels are so sought after - their earthy richness is nearly overpowering, then followed by the absolutely flawlessly rare beef of supremely perfect texture... a marvelous combination. Personally, I found my small bite of the beef to be somehow less flavorful than my quail after the intensity of the truffles had abated, but the taste was small enough, and in such great and different company, that I could easily be wrong.
- Baked Chocolate Souffle with Two Sauces - by this point in the meal, I'd decided I must have died and gone to a perfect culinary Heaven somewhere. The cup, overflowing with the beautiful souffle, was set upon the table, then the top was split open and dark chocolate and creme anglaise sauces (I believe) were then poured into the opening. Masterfully rich without being overpowering, and of a wonderfully soft, light, wonderful texture, this was a creation to die for.
- Persimmon Pudding with Citrus Sherbet - a wonderful combination, the cold crisp acidity of the sherbet perfectly complimented the dark, dense intensity of the pudding (of a bread pudding-like texture).
As if that all wasn't enough somehow, a plate was brought out afterward with a selection of small candies, chocolates and cookies, all of which were quite, quite good. Then, the two women at the table were presented with small breakfast cakes to take home and enjoy the next morning!
I also must mention the almost ludicrous nature of the bathrooms - complete with soothing music, a small fountain under the sink, and a flower arrangement larger than I was, my girlfriend declared them to feel more like a spa than a bathroom.
All told, an evening not to be missed, and certainly to be repeated given any excuse (and a sufficiency of income). The meal totalled about $115/person before tip, and was worth every single penny. Easily one of the top 2 dining experiences I've had in the city. Simply astounding.