Luckily, I have a master list of places that might be good for groups or private dining, and on Monday afternoon, I spent a few minutes calling around. Many places were not open on Mondays and thus were immediately ruled out as I couldn't get in touch with anyone. Most others only had availability at 5pm or 10pm. But, somehow, the Fifth Floor had their private room available, which could seat 14 people, and because it was for a slow Tuesday, they'd let us order a la carte. And their online menu sounded fantastic, and I've been wanting to go for quite a while, as their new-ish executive chef has been getting good reviews, and their pastry chef has won a bunch of awards recently (and I got to see him do a cooking demo and sample his food at a cooking demo a few weeks ago, where he made the best beignets I'd ever had!)
Unfortunately, the meal didn't live up to my expectations. Some of the dishes I was most excited about from the online menu were not actually available (which I totally understand, boring winter vegetables had been switched out for asparagus and more seasonal items). But overall, while the food was all fine, it just wasn't anything special, and certainly not justified for the price point.
The private room was the perfect fit for us, sectioned off from the main dining room, and providing us the ability to do our own thing (read: be dressed like software engineers and not like the rest of the clientele!). Service was ok, with bread and water readily replenished, and plates all brought out at once for the table.
There were a bunch of little missing things that did surprise me however, given the price point and reputation of the restaurant - no palette cleanser before desserts, no napkin refolding when I left for the bathroom, no share plates offered when people mentioned splitting dishes, very long waits between courses, crappy bread service, desserts brought before coffee/tea/dessert wines, etc. No major offenses, but these added up to make the experience not feel nearly as smooth as I'd expect. Perhaps it was mostly due to being in the private room, but I'm not sure.
Overall, the food was ... fine. No clear execution issues, but nothing was particularly good, and I certainly feel no need to go back (except that I do want to try their burger sometime, served only in the lounge). Several dishes had some pretty serious issues with over salting. The sauces were the highlight of most of the dishes. The menu was designed as 4 courses (2 appetizer style, 1 entree, 1 dessert), and I arranged to share with a few neighbors, each of us ordering different 4 courses, so I got to try 12 different dishes, plus the amuse and extra desserts. That is more than 2/3 of the menu, so I'm pretty sure I got a pretty representative sample of the menu! Also: very full!
|Bread and butter.|
|Amuse bouche: Carrot foam and blood orange granita.|
We waited a very long time before our first course, with it arriving well over an hour after we sat down. Granted, we took a while to order, but this felt pretty extreme, particularly the time between the amuse and the first course.
|Kanpachi Taradito: jalapeno, rhubarb, cilantro, puffed rice. $17.|
|Island Creek Oysters Five Ways: béarnaise & caviar, fried with rouille, cucumber, chowder, mignonette. $20.|
|Mariscos a la Vasca: heart of palm, leek, caviar, salsa verde. $17.|
And that concluded course one. I found the format of this meal to be a little strange, the waiter telling us that we should all get four courses, and that the first set was mostly salad style, then more standard appetizers, then mains, then desserts, but I think this was way too much food and we really could have combined the first two courses.
|Hot and Cold Foie Gras: kiwi, hazelnut, vin jaune, vadouvan, broiche. $22.|
|Mendocino Uni Flan: dungeness crab, saffron, sichuan pepper, kaffir lime. $15.|
This dish was a creamy uni pudding, with little bits of rutabega, topped with more uni, a few small chunks of crab, and a foam. The pudding had a fairly strong uni flavor and was a nice consistency, but I preferred both the flavor and consistency of the uni crème brûlée at Quince. The crunchy bits of rutabega were unexpected and I enjoyed them for the textural contrast. The extra uni and crab chunks were welcome additions, both things I always enjoy, although not particularly noteworthy (the uni wasn't that creamy or flavorful, the crab wasn't that sweet). I am not really sure what the foam was. Overall, an interesting dish for sure, and I enjoyed it.
Not pictured was the final dish I tried in round 3: Brillat-Savarin Ravioli, with hedgehogs, sage, brown butter, pistou, hazelnuts, sylvetta. $14. This was a dish that the Yelpers all rave about, and sounded amazing ... ravioli stuffed with a triple cream? ZOMG! The pasta was well cooked and the cheese creamy as expected. I love wild mushrooms, so I liked those as well. I only got a bite of this however, not enough to base a full review on. I'd love to try it again to get a better sense.
|Butter Poached Maine Lobster: riesling, brassicas, cara cara, nigella seeds, fines herbs. $42|
|Leftover lobster meat - > lobster slider!|
|Roasted Venison Loin: pain d' epices, celery root, pear, foi gras, chestnut, venison jus. $35.|
|Roasted Black Bass: sunchoke, baby fennel, black olive, satsuma, cabernet-honey vinaigrette. $31.|
Protip: I also ended up taking a little of this home with me, and I was surprised by how well it reheated, just in the toaster oven at 400 degrees for a few minutes. I was seriously skeptical that it would be worth even trying to reheat, but it stayed moist and tender and even more amazingly, the skin stayed crispy.
And that concluded our entrees. Next up: desserts! I was so, ridiculously full at this point (and a little annoyed at the waiter for stressing that everyone should order four courses as they were sized designed in that way. This was a ton of food, and I didn't think ANY of the portions were really downsized to tasting menu style. Which is what I had read on Yelp beforehand, but both the waiter and other staff I talked to said to order this much ...). But, I love dessert and I'd heard so many great things about the pastry chef, there was no way I was skipping this course!
Service flopped here a little. The desserts arrived before the after dinner drinks. I like to have my bitter coffee WITH my dessert to balance out the sweetness. The decaf coffee was actually really good, served in an individual french press. I sorta didn't believe it was decaf!
|Turon of Banana: black sesame, cherimoya sorbet, calamansi curd, banana pudding. $12.|
|Roasted Apple Cake: Calvados mousseline, hibiscus sorbet, pine nut nougatine, buddha’s hand confit. $12.|
|Milk Chocolate Mousse Bombe: passion fruit curd, green tea génoise, chestnut ice cream, chestnut purée, passion fruit glass. $12.|
There were two chocolate truffles, one rolled in nuts and the other in cocoa powder. They were both creamy and flavorful and really quite good. I've had a ton of chocolates lately (particularly in the past few days since going to the SF Chocolate Salon) and these were better than most of the fresh truffles I've had.
Then there was a gelee of some sort and a mexican wedding cookie/russion tea cake/buttery nutty shortbread rolled in powdered sugar. The gelee was just sweet and I couldn't identify what flavor it was. Meh. The cookie was quite delicious, with tons of butteryness and nuttyness, and of course incredibly sweet from the powdered sugar. It went very well with my coffee.
Finally, there was a lemon bar and a pecan bar. The lemon layer was sweet and had a strong tart lemon flavor, served on top of a shortbread. It was decent, but not really my sort of thing. The pecan bar was awesome, like a little tiny pecan pie.
These were a great ending to the meal!