Observations on Food in the Bay Area
website - neatly tucked away on a little alley off Taylor St near Post, Le Colonial has a great, enveloping atmosphere. Dark, with an old stamped-tin ceiling, it's decorated with accents that successfully take the diner out of San Francisco. They've even got an outdoor eating area with heat lamps which is fantastic on warm nights.
We started our evening upstairs in the bar for some drinks, where I noticed two things. One, the by-the-glass wine selection was remarkably small - something like 7 bottles. The second was that their Mojitos, which I've been partial to in the past, are a little over-soured. I can't tell if they were actually using sweet & sour, or just a pre-made lime juice mix, but the flavor of the rum really didn't come through. On the other hand, they have a marvelously large selection of specialty alcohols, including vodkas, whiskeys, and rums, and a reasonable selection of sipping rum ain't something you see very often. I had a Cruzan single barrel selection that was warm, smooth, very caramel-y, and with a long rich finish. We also had the Vietnamese spring rolls which were tasty and nicely crispy.
On to Dinner!
We headed downstairs to eat around 8, and most of the restaurant was either full or booked up with reservations, so we ended up at a table near the door. Not so bad, really, but a good reminder that it's a popular destination, and reservations are always a good idea. The downstairs wine list is far larger than that upstairs, and has half again as many by-the-glass selections interestingly.
We started with a half bottle of German riesling for $22, which was lightly sweet, rich, fruity, and paired marvelously with just about everything it lasted for. To accompany it we got the appetizer Tasting Platter, which included:
Cha Gio Vit - crispy rolls with shrimp, chicken, crab, and woodear mushrooms, with lettuce cups and sauce. I don't recall if these were the same as what we had upstairs, but for some reason they were infinitely richer! I attribute this to the mushrooms, which were quite prevalent in the flavor, adding an earthy flavor that balanced nicely with the crispness of the prawns and really filled out the flavor.
Crab Cakes - these were also rich and fantastic! Not enormously crabby, nor with particularly noticeably large chunks of crab, but really tasty.
Prawn dumplings - the only disappointment, they were a bit on the fishy/salty side and not very impressive. It was as if they were covering up bad prawns with dumpling.
Shrimp salad - light, crisp, and a good break from the richer dishes.
Meat on a stick - I don't honestly remember what this was, but it was bold, tender, and terrific.
Having polished off the Riesling, I selected an '03 Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir which I thought would work well with our wide selection of main dishes. Unfortunately, upon its arrival, I found it to be suprisingly highly acidic, thin on the palate, very dry, and all together quite disappointing. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything "wrong" with it, so we couldn't very well send it back. We decided to order something else - an 03 Ridge Geyserville Zin for $60 (giving up on balance, and going for the guarantee). Unfortunately, the first bottle that came out was faintly corked! The Sommelier was perfectly understanding, and immediately swapped it for a fresh bottle, which was exactly as it should be - rich, opulent, full of dark berry fruit with a nice tannic structure to back it up; complex and delicious.
Ca Nuong - Grilled sturgeon marinated in lemongrass, chilies and curry, served over rice noodles with lettuce cups and a spicy cucumber dipping sauce. The light white fish acquired a wonderful smoky flavor from the grilling and firmed up to a nice consistency for wrapping up with the lettuce and other fillings. The lemongrass was faint, but added additional complexity. Very tasty.
Ca Ri Tom - Coconut curry with black tiger prawns, mangos, eggplant, Asian basil. Simply magnificent! This is an opulent dish, rich, sweet, and a fascinating mixture of both texture and flavor. The mango provided a unique citrus counterpart to the sweetness of the coconut, and everything blended astoundingly. One of my two favorite dishes this evening.
Cuu Nuong - Grilled Colorado lamb chops marinated in hoisin and roasted rice powder, served with a grilled eggplant salad and scallion oil. This was the other winner. The lamb was simply flawless - perfectly grilled to a light char on the outside while unbelievably moist and tender within. Rich lamb flavor, enhanced by the hoisin sauce, and well contrasted with the cold eggplant salad.
Bo Luc Lac - Cubes of beef tenderloin marinated in garlic, soy, and crushed peppercorns, served with organic watercress, tomatoes and crispy potatoes. To me, this dish was the most disappointing. The beef was very tender and well cooked, but I felt that the flavor of the soy overpowered nearly everything else - the beef, the garlic, and even the pepper was nearly nowhere to be noticed. Given the balance demonstrated by the other 3 dishes, this selection was clearly lacking.
Being magnificently full at this point, we limited ourselves to a single order of the Beignets, which came out well dusted with course-grained sugar. One was served with a suprising citrus sauce, one caramel, and one dark chocolate. All were thoroughly dolloped with whipped cream, which I could have done without as I felt it detracted from the natural sweetness of the beignets themselves. The sauces were all marvelous.
All told, a magnificent meal with only a few nits to pick. This was my third time dining here, and I've yet to be disappointed with the quality of the food, or the service which was very helpful and friendly. The upstairs bar can be a bit of a scene, especially as it gets later, but that doesn't detract from the downstairs, and it's a great bar for partying early (it also has an outdoor patio), though on the expensive side. But then, the restaurant is also on the expensive side, so go figure.
All in all, though, highly recommended.