Saturday, March 03, 2012

Dinner @ La Folie Lounge

Another day, another random meal at a Michelin starred restaurant's lounge ...

Tonight we went to the La Folie lounge. It is next to La Folie, but actually a separate space. You can order off their lounge menu, or get anything off of their regular menu (normally 3/4/5 course menu) a la carte, or even order individual dishes off their special tasting menu (except you have no idea how much items cost if you order off the main menus, since those are priced as tasting menus. This leads to extra fun when the bill comes!)

The lounge was a really nice atmosphere, with a selection of different seating options: bar counter, side counter, plush armchairs, etc. Music was louder than in a restaurant, but much softer and more pleasant than a standard bar. We choose to sit in bar stools at the bar counter, right in front of the lounge chef!

We choose to order a mix of items from the lounge menu and the main menu. This resulted in us getting a mix of service too. We received 2 complimentary amuse bouches, something normally served in the main restaurant, and we didn't see anyone else in the lounge get them, even though lots of others ordered some things off the main menu. Sorta strange, but I think since we ordered so many things off the main menu, including something off the special tasting menu, perhaps they decided to include them for us? But we didn't get the bread service, palate cleanser, or petit fours that they give in the main restaurant.

Service was a mixed bag. There was one bartender/waiter and one chef running the entire place. They were both pretty busy the entire time. The bartender seemed too busy to bother with us most of the time. The chef on the other hand was great, and I really enjoyed chatting with him about all of the dishes he was preparing. Everything on the lounge menu is actually prepared right there in the bar area. It was pretty impressive to watch him quickly churning out these dishes, even though they weren't super complicated, they did have a number of plating details that required painstaking attention to detail, like specifically placing individual caviar on top of things with tweezers. He took great pride in his work, and was clearly a foodie, eagerly telling me all of the details of the dishes he was working on. I loved seeing how the items were made to order, what was prepared ahead of time to create his mise en place, etc. He wasn't just someone assembling the pieces either, for the house cured salmon lollipops for example, he told me about how he gets a side of salmon and cures it in house to make this dish. I was a little surprised to see how some of the dishes worked though. For example, for the mac and cheese, he cooks up a big batch of macaroni early in the day on Monday. This usually lasts him for 3 days. So people ordering the dish on Wednesday are getting pasta that was cooked a few days earlier. Then when someone orders the dish, he mixes the pre-cooked pasta with the truffle cheese sauce and puts it into a MICROWAVE to heat it up. Then he chops up some lobster, mixes it in, tops it with breadcrumbs, and throws it under a salamander to make it all crisp and bubbly. It looked amazing, and he said it was too. But I was still surprised at the microwave and old pasta aspects of it.

Anyway, back to the service. We weren't ever given share plates, or new silverware between our courses. This doesn't bother me in any way, but it was a little unexpected given the price point/caliber of place. We received our amuse bouches almost immediately after ordering, and our food from the bar menu quickly thereafter. And then we waited. And waited. And then the bartender told us he'd just gone to check on our other food and that it was coming. And we waited. And waited. Something clearly went wrong, and they told us it sometimes happens with tickets that go to the main kitchen, they just get lost. Hmm, ok. Our soup finally arrived, but without our salad. Doh! The bartender was on top of it though and made sure they tracked it down quickly. And the bar chef made us another dish complimentary. Our dessert arrived soon after we ordered it. So, definitely mixed, and the lounge kitchen/main kitchen don't seem very in sync.

Overall, a nice option for tasty food in a relaxed atmosphere. I'd go back to try the truffle deviled eggs, the truffled lobster mac and cheese, and the rossini sliders with truffle aioli, all of which were getting prepared directly in front of me all night long and looked awesome, but I didn't order since my dining companion doesn't like truffles.

See photos for full review of each food item.

Complimentary amuse bouche #1: They described this as their play on asparagus with hollandaise sauce. The waiter listed off everything in here, but I forget everything he said ... it involved truffles 2 ways though.
I wish I'd been able to write down the details on this one, as I forget everything that was in here.

I think it was a truffle oil on the bottom, then a creamy hollandaise like sauce, then crunchy bits of asparagus, and topped with a truffle shaving. Lots of flavors going on, and I loved the crunch of the asparagus paired with the creamy sauce.
Complimentary amuse bouche #2: Poached quail egg, cream, green garlic, crispy potato chip, chive, brioche toast.
Another one where I wish I'd been able to write down all of the details!

Inside the egg shell was a creamy soup (cauliflower perhaps?), a green garlic puree, and a poached quail egg. It was topped with a very thin crispy potato chip and had a toasted brioche stick on the side.

This was also pretty tasty, with really unique textural components. It was fairly rich from the cream and egg yolk, a little strange to eat by the spoonful like that, but the broiche dipped in it created a perfect bite. The potato chip was salty, crisp, and tasty, but I didn't really understand why it was there. And yes, there was a hole poked through it for the chive to stick up through ...
House Cured Salmon Lollipops, with herbed marscapone, pickled beets, cornichons. 
From the bar menu. These were house cured salmon, rolled up with an herbed marscapone, put on a stick, and then topped with some tiny little micro green and a tiny bit of caviar. Definitely a cute play on a more traditional smoked salmon and cream cheese sort of dish, this was flavorful and the herbs added a nice freshness.

On the side was a pickled red beet, pickled yellow beet, and some cornichons. I thought the beets were way too vinegary, but I'm kinda a pickled stuff snob. The cornichons were forgettable. I didn't really understand what any of the pickled stuff added to the plate though, as they didn't really go with the salmon.
Close up of the cured salmon lollipop, topped with a micro green of some sort, and some caviar. 
Foie gras soup, truffled cracker, seared foie gras and glazed baby turnips 
This came off the special tasting menu. I've read amazing things about the seared foie gras they serve at La Folie, but after the previous night's 8 course foie gras meal, I was not really wanting more foie gras, so we skipped ordering that. We asked about this dish and they said it was a small little mug of soup with a small piece of seared foie gras on the side. I figured the soup with "small" piece of seared foie gras on the side wouldn't be too much and would be a fun way to get to experience their famous seared foie.

Um, that piece of foie gras was not small. Apparently their normal preparation is 6-8 ounces, so compared to that it is. I'm guessing this was at least 4 ounces.

Unfortunately, I really did not like this dish. Partially, I was foie'ed out after the dinner the night before. But really, this was just way, way too rich. I finished this out of feeling bad about wasting foie gras, but really wish I hadn't.

The soup was an insanely strong foie gras liquid with some foie gras foam on top. It reminded me of a time where I accidentally bought stock rather than broth broth. It was just too much to drink, even by the little spoonful. Too rich, too fatty, just not good.

The truffle cracker didn't really taste like anything to me.

The seared foie was ok, but it was just too much foie gras, with nothing to cut it. I think I would have liked it with some bread or crostini or something, but there were just a couple little pieces of turnip under it, which helped, but weren't substantial enough. And taking a sip of soup certainly didn't help! And I really like having some form of sweet component with my foie, and there wasn't any of that here.

Overall, this dish was just a huge flop for me. Too rich, too fatty, too much foie, not remotely balanced.
Dungeness crab salad, on cauliflower panna cotta, topped with a yellow curry tuile. Served with curried spiced crab vinaigrette, caviar.
This came off the standard menu. What a beautiful presentation! This was good, but wasn't nearly as good as I was expecting, given that I love crab and cauliflower!

The bottom layer was the cauliflower panna cotta. I didn't like it at all. It was too creamy, too heavy, and threw off the balance of the dish, as it overpowered everything else. I wanted to taste the crab!

The crab itself was delightful. Local dungeness, super sweet, it reminded me of why I love dungeness crab, as it can be sooo tasty. It was mixed with some cucumber and herbs, super light, really delicious.

I didn't really pick up on the curry flavor of the tuile or the sauce, and found the tuile sorta annoying to cut through and eat.
Smoked Herring Terrine: yukon gold mashed potatoes, horseradish crème fraîche, caviar 
The lounge chef made this for us once he overheard us talking about how ridiculously long we were waiting for our dishes from the main kitchen. Unfortunately, by the time he had finished it, our other food had come and we were pretty full. But, I think this may have been my favorite dish of the night!

It certainly was the most balanced and refined dish we had. The smoked herring had a great smoked flavor to it. The mashed potatoes were well spiced and paired well with the herring. The horseradish cream gave it a little kick. But the best part was the caviar on top. Many of our other dishes had a little caviar on them, and in those cases it seemed more like a garnish, but in this dish, it added the perfect salty component. Really nicely done.

Huckleberry Baked Alaska: huckleberry and basil ice creams, sable cookie, lemon cake, huckleberry-pear panna cotta
One of the reasons I wanted to go to La Folie was the baked alaska. I've been craving it since having the "Baked California" at Haven last month. I've been ordering every merengue based dish I can find since, but nothing has satisfied me! I did a bunch of research on where to get the best baked alaska in SF, and La Folie was consistently ranked among the tops (Harris and Crustacean also ... have any other recommendations?)

I was stuffed at this point, but was determined to get my baked alaska! I should have taken a photo of the inside, but it was a sable cookie on the bottom, then a lemon cake, then basil ice cream, then huckleberry ice cream, all coated in merengue. On the side was what they called a "huckleberry-pear panna cotta", with some tiny basil leaves and huckleberries.

I didn't like the panna cotta. Flavors just seemed off, it was more like a strong jelly, and I didn't really know what to do with it. Eat it alone? Way too much like just eating a spoonful of jelly. Add it to a spoonful of the rest? There was already so much going on with the cookie, the cake, the ice creams, and the merengue that adding more in seemed strange.

The sable cookie was crunchy and buttery. It was hard to break apart with a spoon though, and made for a lot of unbalanced bites that either didn't have any or had way too much. The cake was moist and had an amazingly strong lemon flavor. The ice creams were both good.

Overall, I didn't like this all that much. Something just seemed off flavorwise. It wasn't too sweet, or too tart, or anything obvious like that, but just didn't really come together for me. Maybe I was just too full. Or I wanted it to be more like the Haven one. I'm not sure. Apparently the baked alaska is seasonal, and they do a peach version in the summer, I'd be interested in trying that one out.

[ Originally posted February 20, 2012 on Google+, moving content here ].
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