Monday, April 25, 2016

Dinner @ Keiko à Nob Hill

Update Review, April 2016

Back in 2012 (!), I shared my original review of Keiko à Nob Hill with you, during its first year of operation.  I struggled with sharing that post because I thought the restaurant was such a gem, and, selfishly, I wanted to keep it to myself.  Back then, the menu was a 7 course tasting menu, of ridiculous high quality and large portion sizes, for only $85.  The food was phenomenal.  My summary of the meal?  Precision and perfection.  Every dish was a home run.  Please, go read that review first, and then return here for context as to this visit.

It came as no surprise to me in 2013 when they received a Michelin star, even though only a year old.  They have retained it ever since.

Since 2012 though, things have changed significantly at Keiko à Nob Hill.  The bar and à la carte menu served there were eliminated.  The 7 course menu has changed to a 12 course.  The price has been raised accordingly to $155.  There is only one fixed seating a night (7pm most nights, 6:30pm Sundays).  All diners are served at the same time.

I didn't visit again after that first visit once the format changes happened, because I really just don't want 12 courses.  But, it was the meal Ojan has talked most about since, so this year, for his birthday, I made reservations.

Some themes did not change.  The love and care put in by Chef Keiko is evident.  The ingredients sourced are extremely high quality.  The cuisine is still French à la Japanese.  Keiko's husband is still watching over the whole production.  It is a quality place.  But ... the 12 course format, as somewhat expected, wasn't for us.  After this visit, Ojan also agreed that although it was great, he has no desire to return unless they scale back the menu.  Sadness.

Anyway, on to the review!

Service was attentive, which you'd expect given that there were only 5 tables seated that night, and as many servers.  It was polite, but always a bit awkward.  The staff were all dressed in black suits, very formal.  

The most awkward was that the sommelier called each female "lady".  I understand that she was trying to not call me "ma'am" or "miss", but, it just sounded so awkward every single time.  And it wasn't phrased as "and for the lady?", instead, she said things like, "I'll take this out of your way, Lady".  It made me nearly giggle every time.

The other aspect that amused me was that each server, when he or she brought out a dish, gave a different description of it.  Sometimes one server was better at providing detail, aka, "with grilled peach" vs "with peach" or "with sauce" vs "with gelee", but a few times, they actually mentioned entirely different ingredients.  Of course, I listened in on everyone, so I could combine everything they all said and get a full description of each dish.  For you my readers, for you!

Overall, there were some real high points to the meal, but, 12 courses was just too much for us to really enjoy.  It took 3.5 hours, was too much food, and is pricer than what we'd like to spend on a meal (not that it was overpriced, given the ingredients and time commitment, it was still actually quite reasonable, just, outside our comfort zone).  Also, with the tasting menu format, there were no choices, no options, so, there were courses I didn't care for simply because of what was on the menu that night.  I would have never picked those dishes.  So, definitely an experience, a good one, and a few memorable dishes, but, I don't see a reason to return, unless they go back to offering a smaller tasting menu or even à la carte.

The Space

The Bar.
When you enter the restaurant, there is still a bar area in front.  However, it isn't used at all.  They have only one seating a night, and you show up at the time of your seating, no time to go for drinks at the bar before, nor dine in the more casual environment.  It was a bit strange to walk through the deserted bar.
Lounge.
Adjacent to the bar is also the old lounge space, also deserted and unused.  I wish they would bring back the casual side of the restaurant!
Dining Room.
The dining room is quite small.  The night we were there only 5 tables were seated, all tables for 2,  only 10 diners total.  Each table was a corner booth with soft, comfortable seats and pillows (yes, they managed to create 5 corners in the room!).  There were two more tables vacant, non corners, probably used when they need to join tables for larger parties, but they went unused while we were there.

The decor is elegant yet dated, but not necessarily in a bad way.  I guess, if you just try to imagine what it should look like inside an establishment on Nob Hill, it would likely match your expectations.  Dark colors, lots of golds and deep reds, elegant tones.   In the background, light, relaxing piano jazz music plays.
Table Setting.
White table clothes, white cloth napkins, fancy cutlery, a large square white charger, individual candles, and a vase of fresh flowers made up the place settings.

Throughout the meal, new cutlery was brought to pair with each course.  Sometimes, the silverware made perfect sense, and in other cases, it was quite awkward.  More on that soon.
Bathroom.
The bathroom decor matched the dining area, again, elegant, but a bit dated.  Real cloth washcloths, fresh flowers, toothpicks, and even ... Q-tips were available.  You know, for when you need to clean out your ears mid-dinner?

Food & Drink

The dinner menu is a tasting menu only, 12 courses, $155.  No options or substitutions are offered for any course (unless you had an allergy and let them know in advance).

The meal is filled with luxury ingredients, such as caviar, foie grasuni, and multiple truffle courses (although the truffle was never listed on the physical menu).  It also was clearly spring inspired, with asparagus, peas, even fiddleheads.  Foams made frequent appearances, nice at first, but they got a bit old.

I'd call the style of cuisine Japanese-French, mostly French techniques with some higher end Japanese ingredients.  While I noted both the French and Japanese elements of the meal when dining, it was really when I went to write this up, and saw my poor spellcheck not knowing what to make of my words, that I realized just how much both of these cuisines were intermingled.

Each dish was uniquely plated, and care was clearly given to presentation.  Nearly every dish included a beautiful little edible flower.  Each course also came with its own silverware, some more effective than others.
Menu. 12 Courses $155.
Once seated, I eagerly read the menu, since I had no idea what was in store for us.  It was 12 courses, starting with 3 smaller, chilled selections, moving on to 3 appetizer sized warm selections, then 3 main dishes, and finally, 3 dessert style dishes.  Oooph.  We were not going to leave here hungry.

The menu:
  1. Magret de Canard / 'Hudson Valley' Duck with Cherry Wood Smoke
  2. Paris Soir / Cold Potato Soup with Osetra Caviar
  3. Zuwaigani /  'Zuwaigani' Japanese Snow Crab
  4. Foie Gras / Espresso
  5. Hotate / Scallop
  6. Uni / 'Hokkaido' Sea Urchin Risotto
  7. Tsukiji Market / Special fish from 'Tsukiji' fish market in Tokyo
  8. Cornish Hen / 'Sous Vide' with 3 Sauces
  9. A5 Wagyu / Yuzu-Soy Foam / Honwasabi
  10. Tonight's Cheese Course
  11. Dessert
  12. Mignardises
Of the list, there were a few that I was excited for (in particular, #3 (crab!), #4 (foie!), #5 (scallops!), #6 (uni!)), several that I wished I could just skip (#1, #2, #8), and several I was ambivalent about (#7, #9, #10).  And of course, desserts.

I also found it interesting that they clearly don't print daily menus, as the cheese course was listed as "Tonight's Cheese Course" with no details on what kind of cheese, and, even more striking the dessert was just "Dessert".  For me, who likes to plan ahead on how much room I need to leave to focus on dessert, this was a bit upsetting, but, I quickly realized that it wouldn't have mattered, there was no way to save room during this meal anyway.
Wine List.
The wine selection was insane, but, as Ojan can't drink and I wasn't going to drink alone on a Sunday night, we didn't take much advantage of it, but if you wanted to, the options were certainly there.

The standard wine pairing is the "Grand" pairing for $138.  If you want to go even more upscale, the "Magnifique" pairing is $295, or the "Kyukyoku" is $880.  Yes, let that number sink in.

There are also a few wines available by the glass or bottle, more whites than reds, due to the heavy seafood focused menu.  The one table in the room who opted for the wine pairing were fun to watch, as their table very very quickly piled up with wine glasses.  They couldn't even come close to keeping up.
Tatomer "Lafond" Riesling VV. $18.
Since Ojan wasn't drinking, I asked for a recommendation for a wine that would pair decently with at least the first few courses, and was suggested either a Riesling or a Chablis.  I asked for the less dry, which turned out to be the riesling.

I didn't really care for it, it really just tasted like cider.  Meh.  We also opted for sparkling water, Voss, which the servers were eager to open new bottles of and keep our glasses filled.  $8.50/bottle.

Chilled Dishes

The menu starts off with chilled smaller dishes, each getting progressively larger (and, for me, progressively better).  The meal did not start off strong.
Course #1: Magret de Canard / 'Hudson Valley' Duck with Cherry Wood Smoke.
Our first dish arrived 15 minutes into the dining time.  It was a small bite.  I commented to Ojan that maybe 12 courses wouldn't be so bad, since they weren't huge.  Ha!  Little did I know what lay ahead.

Anyway, this fell in the category of dishes I wish I could have skipped from the start.  Duck liver?  Sure.  But duck?  Meh.

It was brought to us under a dome lid, which was removed at the table.  Smoke came out when the lid was lifted, a nice touch.  We had a tiny fork set out to eat this with, which worked well.

So, what was it?  A cold slice of duck, with a chunk of apricot, an apricot/peach puree, and a cute little flower garnish.

I did not like the duck, it was chewy and gamy.  Apricot is not in season yet and was kinda mealy and a strange choice.  I did really like the smoke though.

Ojan disliked it even more than me, saying, "I didn't like anything about that".

We both ranked this our least favorite dish of the night, not exactly a great way to start off.  Neither of us wanted a second bite of this.
Course #2: Paris Soir / Cold Potato Soup with Osetra Caviar.
We moved on to another cold, small dish, and another one I had no real interest in.

This was a chilled potato soup, topped with consommé gelee, served in a teacup, with a single pomme frite on the side, and a scoop of osetra caviar (and another flower) on top.  For this, we had a tiny little spoon, which worked well.

For me, this fell down hard, due to the gelee.  I never like consommé, it is just too strong and concentrated of a flavor for me.  I tried to taste the potato soup under the consommé, but I couldn't really get a bite without it.  The caviar was fine, but clearly lost on me.

The single pomme fritte was fine, hot, but a bit soggy actually, not really crispy.  I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with it.  Was I supposed to dip it in the soup?

Ojan liked this more than me, saying "its ok, I enjoyed it, and I liked the flavor".  Pick #10 for me, #7 for Ojan, but neither of us would want this again either.
Course #3: Zuwaigani /  'Zuwaigani' Japanese Snow Crab.
Here is where the menu started getting more interesting, as my favorites started to appear.  Crab!  Sure, Japanese snow crab rather than local Dungeness, but, still, crab!

It was served in a cocktail glass on an elaborate plate.  Inside was tomato coulis, red pepper mousse, the crab, tomato foam, and of course, more little flowers.  This was our final chilled dish.

It was pretty and really quite tasty.  The tomato coulis was incredibly flavorful, concentrated tomato.  The red pepper mousse was also flavorful, fluffy, and creamy.  Great textures and flavors in both those components.  On top of those was the crab, tons of it.  Not a dainty portion at all.  And then, topped off with tomato foam, which really, really tasted like tomato, but was light and airy.

Overall, there lots of great flavors and textures in this dish, and we both enjoyed it.  The parfait style was also cute.  It really woke up the palette with the strong tomato and red pepper flavors.  It reminded me of a gazpacho, just, with crab (which sounds pretty great to me!)

Our only issue with this dish was figuring out how to eat it.  We had both a large fork and a large spoon, and neither really worked with the cocktail glass.  The spoon was too big to get into the glass, but the fork didn't work for the coulis or mousse.  We tried to see what the others in the room used, but everyone seemed as confused as we were.  The portion size on this was just a bit too big too, it would have been slightly more successful as a shooter, as the flavors were so intense, it was a bit much to have so much of it.  I loved the flavors, but, my last few bites were a struggle.

My 3rd favorite dish of the night, Ojan had it tied for 2nd place (with two other dishes).  We'd both gladly eat this again.

Warm Appetizers

The warm appetizers were clearly the menu section I had my eye on.  Foie gras, scallops, and uni?  Basically, 3 of my favorite things.  The scallops stole the show.
Course #4: Foie Gras / Espresso
Next, we moved into warm appetizers starting with foie gras.  You may recall that we had this dish on our last visit, as it is Keiko's signature dish.  It was this dish that made Ojan get excited about foie gras again back then.  It was good this time around, but not nearly as magical, for either of us.

So, what was it?  Pan seared foie gras, with an espresso reduction, and a Japanese yam and artichoke puree.  No flowers on this one, but, a tiny pile of cracked pepper was on the side.

My foie was good, but, I think it was slightly under cooked.  The portion was also rather large, particularly given the large format tasting menu.  I found myself not actually wanting the last few bites, but, it was foie gras, and I couldn't waste it!  Ojan said the same thing.

The espresso sauce was super bitter, which works so well with the foie, which always surprises me.  Why does everyone else always pair it with sweet fruit?  The bitter espresso reduction totally works.

The yam and artichoke heart puree was slightly sweet from the yam, and I didn't actually taste any artichoke, which was fine with me, since I don't really like it.  I wasn't really into the puree at all, a strange texture to pair with the foie.
House Made Brioche Roll.
The foie came served with the same little brioche roll as last time.  Mine was a bit deflated and soggy, and not really great.

Overall, this dish was my 4th pick, and Ojan ranked it in the middle of the lineup.  We both commented that we had trouble finishing it, and, really, we both wished we hadn't, as we got too full to enjoy the dishes we liked more!  We'd rather skip this in the future, or, share a portion that size rather than each have our own.
Course #5: Hotate / Scallop.
Around this point, Ojan and I both felt pretty stuffed, just over 1 hour into dinner.  We were only on the 5th course, with all the substantial courses still to come.  Oooph.  

But then there were scallops, so, I pushed my fullness aside and dug in.

Here we had a seared scallop, sliced into three slices, layered with Tokyo turnip slices, and ... slices of perigord truffle.  You may recall that Ojan doesn't really care for truffle, or at least truffle oil, and truffle wasn't listed anywhere on the menu.  This was not the last we'd see of it.  Also on the plate was a turnip leaf puree and black truffle puree.

The scallop was delicious, nicely seared, tender, good flavor to it.  The slices of truffle were quite amazing.  With a slice that thick and large, you could really taste it.  The earthy truffle flavor went so well with the scallop.  I could do without the turnip though, just, turnip.  The purees were pretty and brought the dish together, and I appreciated the use of the turnip greens for the puree, alongside the turnips.

For Ojan, this dish was a bit of a revelation.  One bite in and he exclaimed, "It turns out, real truffle tastes nothing like truffle oil".  As he put down his fork, easily cleaning his plate after just having said he was full, he said "I see why people like truffle, it has a nice MSG aspect to it".

This was my favorite dish of the night.  I love a good scallop, but the black truffle just pushed it over the edge.  For Ojan, this was one of three dishes tied for second place.  We'd both gladly get this again.
Course #6: Uni / 'Hokkaido' Sea Urchin Risotto.
About this point, we realized we really had a problem.  We were full after course #4 and pretty much stuffed after #5.  And, we loved the last dish, and were satisfied.  But then there was uni placed in front of us, another warm appetizer size portion.  I groaned slightly, but at least I knew this was the last dish that I was really excited about.  Crab, foie, scallops, uni ... this meal just kept on giving.

Like the first dish, this one arrived covered by a dome, but, in this case, it was placed in front of us with the lid on.  We were instructed to remove the lid ourselves.  No smoke came out this time.

Inside was a (thankfully!) small portion of risotto, topped with a generous portion of uni, a green garlic scape, and of course, another beautiful flower.

I'm not really one for rice, even risotto, so given my fullness, I definitely wasn't excited about that aspect of the dish.  I tried a bite, but left the rest of the rice behind.

I loved the garlic scape though, such a great flavor, even though it was perhaps a bit strange paired with the uni.  As for the uni, it was good, I always prefer Hokkaido uni over Californian (sorry, I know I'm supposed to like the local stuff more but I always like this more).  I think the uni was fairly lost on me just due to how full I was.

Ojan wasn't much of a fan of this dish for a rather interesting reason.  For him, the warm rice rather ruined the uni, as it warmed it up, but it wasn't actually hot.  Both of us ranked this 8th, as I liked the uni, but, I didn't really want this preparation again, and Ojan ranked it just above the potato soup.

Main Dishes

The main dishes hit all the major categories: seafood (amadai), poultry (cornish hen), and red meat (A5 wagyu).  Of these, only the amadai was a stunner.
Course #7: Tsukiji Market / Special fish from 'Tsukiji' fish market in Tokyo.
After 6 courses, we had covered the cold and hot appetizers, and now moved into main dishes, staring with seafood.  Yes, 3 main dishes were now to head our way.  Ooph, I say!

For this course, we had no idea what to expect, since the menu just said "special fish".  The fish turned out to be amadai.  According to the owner, who we spoke with on the way out, this really is a special fish, and most restaurants, even the sushi restaurants, in San Francisco are not able to source it, but Keiko's longstanding relationship with fish mongers in Tokyo allows them to get it.

I love fish, don't get me wrong, but I pretty much figured at this point that I was done.  I was full past the point of comfort, so I thought I'd have a bite of each remaining dish (maybe more than one bite of dessert ...), and be done with it.  But after a single bite of this, I had to re-evaluate that plan.  It didn't matter how full I was.  This was an addicting dish and unlike anything I'd ever had before.  I encouraged my brain to ignore my fullness and dedicate my "dessert stomach" for this course.

Let me back up and explain what it was.  When it arrived, there was two pieces of fish in a bowl, with a little garnish.  Then the server came over and poured a broth in.  The broth turned out to be a stock made from fish and saffron, giving it that lovely color.  The broth was really lovely, light, delicate, refreshing, warm, comforting.

The fish though was incredible.  The texture of it was unlike anything I'd ever had before.  It was a mild, moist white fish, beautifully prepared.  Except ... it also was crazy crispy on top.  Ojan took a bite before me, and I could hear it crunch as he ate.  It was loud!  I glanced up, a bit shocked at the noise, as, well, he was just eating fish, right?  It turns out, amadai is one of very few fish that you can actually eat the scales of.  So, the top layer was skin and scales, all crazy crispy.  This might not sound good, but I assure you, it was incredible.  Even more incredible was that the underside stayed soooo moist.  So you had flaky, moist fish and crazy crispy fish all in one.  It was a wonder to behold and a pleasure to eat.  It also never got soggy, even though soaking up all that broth, because, unlike most fried crunchy things, it was the scales themselves that were crunchy, and the broth didn't change that.

It was served on top of a creamy cauliflower mousse, and topped with a single fiddlehead fern (hello, spring!)

Even after digging into this dish, I thought, "ok, eat one of the pieces of fish only".  Before I knew it though, both were gone.  I really quite liked this dish, it was full of flavor and great texture, but moreover, it was novel to me.  There aren't many dishes that are this new to me, and I really appreciated the experience of eating something so different.

For me, this was dish #2 of the night, and Ojan's favorite.  We'd both gladly get it again.
Course #8: Cornish Hen / 'Sous Vide' with 3 Sauces.
Our next main dish was Cornish hen.  By now you probably know how I feel about poultry, but if not, let's just say, I think I've liked chicken maybe two or three times in the past 10 years, and duck, turkey, quail, even fewer.  So Cornish hen?  Please.  I actually almost told the kitchen to not bother.

This photo is pretty bad, so, let me explain what it was.  A large piece of hen, with a layer of black truffle (!!!) inserted under the top.  Yup, more generous slices of black truffle, not even mentioned on the menu.  On the side was a spear of asparagus, a single sugar snap pea, several types of mushrooms (hedgehog, black trumpet, and yellowfoot), and another flower.  The three sauces were beurre blanc, a hen reduction, and parmesan foam.

The hen was actually very, very tender, moist, and well, better than most poultry.  I guess sous vide does wonders.  The parmesan foam didn't have nearly as much flavor to it as the tomato foam we had earlier, and seemed a bit like overkill here.

I really enjoyed the vegetables on the plate.  The beautiful spring asparagus was perfectly cooked and intensely flavorful, clearly top quality.  The split pea was perfectly crispy, and was even split open for us.  Swoon, the mushrooms.  I love "fancy" mushrooms, and these delivered, particularly when I soaked them in the beurre blanc.  Let's talk about the beurre blanc for a minute.  It was ... amazing.  I mean, you know I'm a sauce girl, and hello butter sauce, but this really was quite special.  So rich and flavorful, and the vegetables in particular just went sooo well with it.

So, while the hen was fine, and honestly, I would have eaten it if not part of a 12 course meal, which is saying something for poultry, the veggies and sauce just stole the show here.  Oh, and the truffle, how could I forget that?  I extracted the slices of black truffle from the hen, and combined them with some veggies and sauce, and really, really enjoyed it.

My 7th pick overall, because I really did love the way the sides combined.  Yup, I'd pick this over the uni risotto.  Ojan put it in last place, tied with the duck.  Guess the beurre blanc wasn't quite as magical for him.
Course #9: A5 Wagyu / Yuzu-Soy Foam / Honwasabi.
Finally, our last main dish ... A5 Wagyu.

Steak is rarely something I'm excited for, and particularly at course #9, but, A5 Wagyu is a sad thing to waste.

It was served with a crispy kale chip, yuzu-soy foam (topped off with ... lettuce?), and a little dot of honwasabi.

The kale chip was crispy.  The lettuce (shiso?) on top of the foam was super strange, since it was fresh, and it was odd to have a crispy leaf and a fresh leaf on the same plate.  The yuzu-soy foam was very flavorful, but I was feeling a bit grumpy towards the foams at this point.  One, maybe two dishes with foams is nice, but by the third foam dish it just felt a bit gimmicky.  The tomato foam was incredible though, and this one was quite flavorful, so really, I think the parmesan foam in the previous dish was the overkill.

Anyway, the steak.  It just wasn't very good.  It really didn't seem like it was cooked very well, it was still quite chewy, and the fat hadn't been rendered out at all.  I like rare/mid-rare meat, so that wasn't the problem.  Ojan also didn't like his piece.  We felt awful, since it was A5 wagyu, but, we couldn't force ourselves to finish this one.

Oh, the dot of honwasabi was tasty, and easy to eat, definitely not the same as the not fresh version we are used to.

So sadly, this dish was not a winner, I ranked it second to last, just above the duck starter.  Ojan also ranked it second to last, just above the hen and duck, which were tied for worst for him.

Cheese & Dessert

The final 3 dishes are desserts, starting with a "cheese course" and ending with migs.  As with before, the "cheese course" was entirely nontraditional, and my favorite of the dessert offerings.
Course #10: Tonight's Cheese Course.
Ok, just over 2.5 hours in, and we were entering the final phase of the meal, starting with the cheese course.  You know me, I'm a dessert girl, and I never, ever opt for a cheese course as dessert.  Please.

However, we knew from our previous experience at Keiko that the cheese course was not going to be a traditional cheese course.   I expected it would be more like a real dessert than most cheese courses are in my mind, as last time it came inside a crispy phyllo purse.

I wasn't disappointed.  Somehow, even 10 courses in, this dish held my interest.  Sure, the plating was beautiful, with a gold ribbon on the plate mirroring the edible golden tuile, but, the dish itself was fascinating too.

In the base of the cup was an orange and carrot puree, with cubes of carrot and segments of orange.  On top of that was the cheese, a dollop of a cheese that was described as a mix of fromage blanc and cream cheese (perhaps a crémet d'anjou?) and the aforementioned spiced orange tuile.

Ok, so that sounds ... different, but how did it taste?  Well, it tasted great.  Somehow.

Both Ojan and I loved the puree, even though, yes, it was carrot and orange.  It was sweet, yet very refreshing, almost like a palette cleaning sorbet, just not frozen.  I loved how smooth the puree was, but then it also had cubes of carrot in it for some texture.  It also didn't taste that much like carrot, nor that much like orange, somehow the two flavored balanced each other out quite well.

The cheese was really creamy, and did go quitewell with the fruit and vegetable puree.  I really just don't know how to explain why or how this worked, but, it did.  The crispy tuile on top was mostly just fun, for some crunch.

After this dish was cleared, I told Ojan that I, Julie the dessert girl, was more than satisfied with that as my dessert.  This is a real testament.  It doesn't matter how full I ever am, I always want dessert.  So, for that to feel like a satisfying dessert is seriously saying something.

So it was sweet, it was creamy, and it was fascinating.  Both Ojan and I remarked that it was notable that we were still interested in food at this point, and both easily cleaned our plates.  My 5th pick of the night (yup, I just put a cheese course above uni too!), and it was refreshing to see yet another unique course.  This scored high for Ojan, in second place, tied with the crab and scallop.
Course #11: "Dessert".
Ok, now we moved on to the "real" dessert.  We had no idea what it would be, as the menu simply read "dessert".

It took a very long time for this dish to arrive.  The pacing of the other courses was actually near perfect, a new dish every 15-20 minutes, keeping us moving right along, but giving us time to digest and reflect.  I'm really not sure what took so long here, I think it was because one couple was um, a bit drunk at this point (they did a wine pairing), and were failing to finish their cheese course, so, the entire room had to wait for them since we were all served at once.

We were brought new silverware for this course, not a surprise as most dishes came with custom silver, but this time, the silverware was ... chilled.  This added to the mystery of what was to come.

And what was it?  A 4 layer cake, with sorbet and ice cream, and a few other garnishes.  I'm still not entirely sure why the chilled silverware was necessary particularly as it was brought out well in advance of the dish and warmed up.

The cake had layers of chocolate mousse, English pea cake, raspberry mousse, and chocolate cake, covered in thick chocolate ganache, and topped with gold leaf.  I didn't care for either cake layer, since I'm not really fond of cake.  I didn't taste the pea in the green layer at all, but it did make it pretty.  The raspberry mousse was very flavorful and a bit fluffy, and I did like the creamy chocolate mousse, particularly with the rich chocolate ganache.

Also on the plate was raspberry sorbet.  Again, not really something I like, and the sorbet was way too sweet for me.  The ice cream was vanilla bean, and wasn't smooth and creamy, it was a bit icy.  Meh to both of those components.

The more interesting garnishes were the green English pea crumble (but again, I didn't taste pea), the raspberry fluff, and yet another flower.

This dish had some interesting textures I guess, but it really wasn't very good.  My 9th pick of the night, only above the cold potato soup, the wagyu, and the duck, all of which I actively disliked.  Ojan ranked it just above the wagyu, in 3rd to last place.
Course #12: Mignardises.
After the disappointing dessert, I sorta wanted to rewind time and just finish on the cheese course.  Luckily for us, another platter of desserts came soon after.

The mignardises were served on a slice of wood, a nice presentation.  But I could barely look at them.  Yup, Julie, dessert girl, admitted defeat.  Julie, the girl who has to try everything, just couldn't do it.   We had 4 selections each, a cupcake, a tart, a chocolate, and a cookie.  I immediately asked for a box.  I think Ojan was shocked.  Sure, we were 12 courses in and we'd both been saying we were full since early on, but when on earth do I not try dessert? 

Ok, ok, so I tried one then.  I mean, how could I not?  I picked the little cookie thing, which turned out to be a mini dacquoise, a cream filled hazelnut meringue, not cookie-like at all.  It was fluffy, light, sweet, and actually pretty good.

The next morning, I was still actually really stuffed, but decided to try the fruit tart and the chocolate alongside my coffee.  Fruit is legit for breakfast, right?

I'll be honest, since the main dessert was such a disappointment, I didn't exactly think these would be good.  But ... the tart was shockingly good.  I usually think little fruit tarts are kinda a throwaway item, with a boring hard shell, mediocre cream filling, generic fruit.  This surprised me on the first nibble.  The shell was fantastic, very rich, very buttery, classic pâte sablée.  Either the shell was very thick, or there was another layer under the cream cheese that was similar, I’m not sure, but you got a lot of buttery, crumbly, goodness in here.  I didn’t taste much cream cheese in the cream layer, but I think that is because the layer was actually quite thin, just enough to hold the fruit in place.  The fruit was ripe and fresh.  Overall, very good for what it was.

The chocolate was excellent, definitely the best of the desserts.  It had a very smooth creamy center, like a mousse, slightly hazelnut flavored, with a base of rice crisps. Very, very delicious.

After lunch the next day, I opted to finally try the cupcake.  It wasn't good.  Dry, flavorless cake.  Plain buttercream.  Neither Ojan nor I finished our cupcakes.

But overall, very good migs, 6th pick overall for me.  Ojan didn't rank since he consumed after the meal.

Original Review, April 2012

I've hesitated to post this review, because in part, I don't want you to know about Keiko à Nob Hill.  I think others must agree, because there are only 56 reviews on Yelp.  I'm giving in and posting this - you can thank me now, but please don't take my reservation :)

Keiko à Nob Hill is an absolute gem.  It has only been open since November, but you'd never guess that it is relatively young.  It is owned by a couple, chef Keiko Takahashi and Seigo Takei.  She is a French trained Japanesse chef who previously received a Michelin star at El Paseo.  He watches over the front of the house and does all of the wine pairings.  Seigo was really fantastic to interact with.  His passion for wine was obvious from the moment he started speaking about it.  This was not someone who was doing this just for a job, he clearly loves it, and is so excited to share it with you.  His smile and enthusiasm were infectious.  We were so blown away by our meal that we asked to meet Keiko at the end, as we wanted to thank her in person for such a phenomenal experience.  She was incredibly humble and gracious.  These are wonderful people, and I'm so glad to see them doing well.

I felt at ease the moment we were seated inside.  It felt more like walking into a good friend's living room than into a restaurant.  The dining room is small, with fewer than 10 tables.  There is also a small bar and lounge with a few additional tables in an adjacent room.  As a group of three, we were seated at a table that actually seemed designed for three.  It wasn't so big that it felt awkward or anything, but I find that groups of three are often squeezed into a table for two and thus don't have much table space, and this was just the right amount of spaciousness.  The tables in the room were fairly spread out, and they easily could have crammed a few more into the room, but the spacing really allowed for privacy if you wanted it.  At the same time, there were so few tables total, and the room so small, that it still felt like you had a connection with the other tables.  The room, like the food that was to come, was elaborately, yet precisely, decorated.

This level of precision and perfection show up everywhere, including the bathroom.  I don't normally write about bathrooms, but I was really impressed.  The end of the toilet paper was folded into a triangle shape.  The wash clothes were rolled and stacked into a perfect pyramid.  So either, no other ladies had used the bathroom that evening (um, highly unlikely), or they were replacing these things between patrons.  There were even fancy wooden toothpicks on the countertop.

The dining room serves only a seven course tasting menu, $85.  There were not any extras thrown in, no amuse bouche, no bread service, no mignardises (although you could consider the first course an amuse, there was bread with course #3, and the final course was sorta an extra dessert ...), but this was an incredible value, as these were not dainty little tasting menu portions.  Courses 2-6 were all full size dishes, made with high quality ingredients.  I'm really not sure how they manage to keep this price point.  The lounge area serves a totally different, more casual, menu.

The wine list is insanely large, coming from Seigo's own collection.  You can select from it, or do one of three pairing options: the regular wine paring ($85), the grand wine pairing ($125), or the ‘Magnifique’wine pairing ($290).  I didn't think I'd be able to handle a full wine pairing, and Seigo let me do a half pairing, so I'd still get to experience all of the pairings.  I'm really glad I did this, because many of the pairings really did enhance the food.  One other diner ordered the grand wine pairing, and it was really interesting to see the differences in the wines.  I actually liked my wines more, and he preferred his.  Mine tended to be sweeter, and more "user friendly", whereas his were more refined, which matched our tastes better.

The only stumbling block in the entire experience was the service for the first half hour or so.  Our waitress presented us with the menu for the evening, and then left.  She came back over and verified that it was ok for me to have watermelon radish, as I'd noted in the reservation that I had a watermelon allergy, but she never asked us about any other substitutions to the menu, nor about ordering any wine.  I was actually planning to switch out the main dish, as it was an item I didn't really like.  Every table around us had someone receiving an alternate course, so I think she really just forgot to ask us.  It wasn't really clear to us that we had even "ordered" yet, when the first course arrived.  This happened before we'd had a chance to order the wine pairings, and that course should have been paired with a wine, so we sat there awkwardly not eating our first course, waiting to get the attention of someone to ask about wine.  Then, my plate was removed when I still had half of my first course remaining, no questions asked.  The pacing was also fairly rapid fire at first, until we asked that it be slowed down.  Finally, the espresso one person ordered before dessert did not arrive until after the final course had long since been consumed.  None of these were a big deal, and things improved radically after the first few interactions, but it didn't match the precision and perfection of the rest of the experience.

The food was absolutely phenomenal.  As I've alluded, it was all about precision and perfection.  The flavors, the plating, everything was highly refined.  The flavors were all intense and very well developed.  Every dish was beautifully presented, with intricate plating.  There were always contrasting and interesting textures and flavors.  The chef demonstrated the mastery of a slew of different cooking techniques.  We all really enjoyed all of the food, but interestingly, all had fairly different favorites.  My preferred order was: 2 (crab), 3 (foie), 7 (cannelé), 1 (carrot),  5 (cheese), 6 (dessert), 4 (steak).  One other in my group preferred: 5, 3, 6, 2, 4, 7, 1.  And the other: 3, 2, 5, 4, 6, 1, 7.   The only real trend here is that we all loved the foie.

Keiko à Nob Hill is too new to have a Michelin star yet, but I'd be absolutely shocked if they didn't receive one next round.  And if they hone in the service as well, I could imagine two.  I'll be back, as soon as the menu changes, and to try out the lounge menu.
Carrot ‘Trio’:  Carrot chiffon cake, carrot espuma, and pickled carrot.
This was an fun start to the meal!

It was labelled a trio, but I actually counted four carrot preparations: cake, pickled, puree, and espuma.

The cake was moist, even velvety, and topped with tiny dots of sour cream and pickled carrots.  There was so little sour cream that it was totally lost and you didn't taste it, but it added to the presentation.  The tiny bits of pickled carrots were crisp and gave a great extra crunch when you bit them.

Inside the martini glass, the bottom layer was a carrot puree that was intensely carroty.  It was topped with carrot espuma, which was an incredibly fluffy foam.  It was even more light than I could have imagined.  The flavor was amazing: again, intensely carroty, with a really pleasant sweetness.  The waitress said there was cinnamon in it, but I didn't taste that.  Perched on top was a tiny mustard flower, which, like the sour cream, was beautiful, but I didn't taste.

This dish was a surprising delight, and a great foreshadower of what was to come for the rest of the meal: beautiful plating, intense flavors, and interesting cooking techniques.  It was my fourth favorite dish of the evening.  It was a little hard to eat with the big spoon provided, which didn't match the daintiness of this course either.  I would have preferred a smaller spoon.

For the regular wine pairing, it came with a sweet sauvignon blanc that I really enjoyed.
Trois ensemble of Dungeness crab: Tomato coulis, red bell pepper mousse, green pea puree.
Oh, wow.  When this dish arrived, I took a few moments just to admire the plate and take in all of the components.  There was so much more here than what the menu listed!

In the center was the crab element, made up of alternating layers of squid ink tuilles and Dungeness crab salad, topped with a dot of sour cream and an herb I couldn't identify.  The tuilles were thin and crispy, with a squid ink flavor that came out mostly in the aftertaste, and really delicious.  It was subtle, but went well with the crab.  The crab meat was shredded, sweet, and perfectly, lightly dressed, just enough to enhance the flavors but not come remotely close to overwhelming the crab.  This reminded me of a far, far more sophisticated version of a dish my mother and I used to eat when I was little, where we'd take these rye crackers and tuna salad and make little towers.

On the top right of the plate was a tomato water foam, crisp slice of watermelon radish, and Nasturtium petals.  The tomato water foam was yet another example of intense, intense flavor, in a very light, almost soup bubble like, foam.  The tomato flavor paired well with the crab and made for a really light, refreshing bite.

The most interesting parts of this dish were in the bottom left half off the dish.  There was the trio of "sauces" (for lack of better word, not sure how to classify these): the tomato coulis, the red bell pepper mousse, and the green pea puree.  Atop of the sauces were a bunch of vegetables: shaved fennel, crisp miner's lettuce, sugar snap peas, asparagus, and more Nasturtium petals.  The peas came both in and out of the pods and were super fresh, crisp, and delicious.  The asparagus came in two forms as well: chunks and shaved and rolled up.  These were some springtime vegetables at their finest!  But back to the assorted sauces.  Again, the flavors in these things was just downright incredible, each one just filled with intense, intense flavor of the vegetables they were made from.  It is like Keiko was able to take the vegetables when they were at their absolute prime flavor and turn them into concentrate!  I have no idea how she did this.  Upon tasting the red pepper mousse, one person at the table exclaimed "this tastes more like red pepper than a red pepper does!"  Each of the "sauces" had a slightly different consistency as well.  The green pea puree had some form of spicing, curry perhaps, that was really refined and complex.

The dots dividing the plate were saffron aioli, which I didn't taste much as the other flavors in the dish were so intense.

If I had to have a criticism of this dish, it is that it was slightly hard to eat with a knife and fork since the tuilles were so crispy and there were several layers to cut through, but once you broke it down, there were some fabulous bites to be created!

There was so much success on this plate.  I really can't decide what the perfect bite was, as I enjoyed so many different combinations.  Absolutely everything on the plate worked together perfectly, complimenting flavors and textures.  Perhaps only the fennel was a throwaway component, and that is out of such a large number of elements.  I loved how the addition of one of the sauces could transform a bite of the crab and tuille into a complete different dish!  Crab with the tomato water foam for example was refreshing and light.  Crab with the slightly spicy, thicker, pea puree took on a more exotic sense.  Some crab with the red pepper mousse was somewhere in the middle, consistency and flavor wise.  Then throw in some of the assorted vegetables as well, and even more possibilities emerged.  I just had so much fun creating different bites of this dish, and loved pretty much all of them!

This was my favorite dish of the evening, a runaway hit.  It was the second favorite and forth favorite for the other two diners at the table, one of whom proclaimed midway through the dish that it was one of the best dishes he'd had this year.  This is also the moment when I started really seeing the incredible value in this meal, as there was a generous amount of food on this dish, and it was only one course!  I'd eat this again in a heartbeat.

For the standard wine pairing, this was also paired with another sauvignon blanc, although less sweet.
Pan seared artisan foie gras with espresso sauce, artichoke and Japanese sweet potato puree.
This is Chef Keiko's signature dish, one she has been preparing for 20 years.  Yes, 20 years.  It was on the menu back at El Paseo, where she earned her Michelin star.  I've had a lot of foie gras over the past few months, an this is perhaps the first time that I've seen it paired with a bitter, rather than sweet, component.  There was no fruit to be seen either.  And, it totally worked.

I thought I was sick of foie gras, after eating a rather insane amount of it last week (I had it 8 out of 9 days, and many of those days included multiple preparations).  And I really have been feeling sick of seared foie gras lately.  And one of the other diners at the table has been long proclaiming that he's sick of it and I don't think intended to eat much of this at all, even considering substituting it out, as people at several tables nearby did (amusingly, at each of those tables, at least one person still got the foie gras while the others got a seafood dish instead, and those foie-less diners still took a bite of the foie gras, and then started raving about how incredible it was, commenting on how even though their alternate seafood dishes were great, they couldn't believe how much they liked the foie gras).  I think this dish could convince pretty much anyone, even the most squeamish, that foie gras can be amazing.

This plate was also by far the simplest of the night.  It had the puree, the foie, the sauce, peppercorns, and nothing more.

The puree tasted like (surprise!) artichoke.  Unfortunately, I don't really care for artichoke, so I didn't like it much at all.  My tablemates loved it however, and thought it went very well with the foie gras.  To me, it was creamy and I again appreciated the fact that the chef was able to get so much flavor into such a small little spoonful, but in this dish, I wish that wasn't the case.  I couldn't really detect the sweet potato flavor either.

The espresso sauce was bitter, yet slightly sweet, at the same time.  It was awesome on its own, but it also complimented the foie amazingly well.

The foie gras was creamy, high quality, and expertly prepared with a nice sear on it.  A generous portion.

This dish is clearly something that Chef Keiko has perfected, honing in the flavors and cooking technique to create a masterpiece.  Another one I'd gladly eat again, the second favorite dish of the evening for myself and one other, and the top pick for my other dining companion.  "This is the best seared foie gras I've ever had", said one of my fellow diners.
Wine paired with foie gras course.
For the grand wine pairing, the foie gras was paired with Seigo's own wine, a cabernet sauvignon that he created just to go with his wife's dish!  He generously upgraded me to this wine as well.  Thank you!    This was a pretty intense wine, with some bitterness to it, again a little different to see with a foie gras course, but it worked really well.
Sweet brioche rolls.
The rolls were served warm with the foie gras course.  Slightly sweet, nice crust, warm fluffy interior.  I was too busy with the amazing foie gras to pay attention to these until my foie was gone, when I realized that the rolls were perfect for soaking up all of the remaining espresso sauce and the oily goodness still on the plate from the foie gras.  The sweetness to the bread went really well with it.  I wiped the plate clean.  So good.

At this point, we were full.  Really full.  These were all such generous portions!  And we still had the main dish, and three more courses!  I don't think any of us thought we'd make it through, but everything turned out to be so delicious that we persevered.  I almost wished I hadn't filled up on the roll, but the roll allowed me to take in more of the delicious sauce ...  so instead, we just asked for the pacing to be slowed down a little, in hopes that perhaps we'd digest something and make room for more deliciousness!
Duo of black angus rib eye ‘Deux  Coussons': braied beef, rib eye roti, wild mushrooms, and truffle sauce.
Here we had a pan seared chunk of black angus rib eye with truffle sauce,  potato puree with kale chips and crispy purple potatoes, and a braised chunk of rib eye topped with wild mushrooms and red wine reduction.

I've had a lot of really good steak lately as I've been going to Alexander's Steakhouse regularly.  I also have discovered that rib eye is just not a cut that I'd pick, given the choice.  So, this had a lot stacked against it going in, and I actually strongly considered substituting out this dish, and would have, had our server asked us if we wanted any substations.  As I expected, this just didn't compare to the steaks I've been having at Alexander's.  But then again, those steaks also cost more than this entire meal!

The pan seared piece of rib eye was fine, but it really was just a steak.  The cooking was executed well enough, although I might have preferred it a little more rare.  The truffle sauce was quite tasty.  One of my fellow diners believed that he didn't like truffle and so the chef used a Madeira sauce on his instead.  I encouraged him to try a taste of the sauce as I found it so delicious, and he agreed to try it, perhaps because everything else that night had been so fantastic, as normally he isn't willing to keep trying truffle things as they are so nasty to him.  And ... he liked it!  He said he wished he'd gotten that sauce instead.  I think we can definitively say at this point that he hates truffle oil, and perhaps some kinds of truffles, but perigord truffles he does indeed like!

The potato puree was unfortunately cold when the plate arrived.  It was creamy and whatnot, but it was basically just mashed potato.  Like the steak, it was fine, but didn't really offer anything exciting like the other dishes did.  The plating on this was also a little strange, with the crispy kale chips and purple potatoes sticking out of the puree.  It was a little hard to eat like this.  The kale chips were crisp and salty, and almost really good, but I thought they were a little too oily.  The purple potato strips were also nicely crisp and I found it kinda fun to use one to scoop up potato puree.  Potato dipped in potato!  Still, I could have done without any of this really.

The braised beef piece was very, very tender and flaky.  It pulled apart incredibly easily with a fork.  I just don't care for this style of meat so I didn't like it much, but it was clearly well executed and had been braised for a long time.  The sauce was really thick, almost too thick, kinda coating your mouth as you ate it.  The wild mushroom assortment was really nice, adding a earthy component to the dish.

Overall, this dish just didn't stand out in any way, particularly compared to the powerhouse dishes we'd had prior to it.  Had we received it anywhere else however, I'm sure we would have thought it was quite good.

This was my least favorite dish of the evening, and #4 and #5 for my other dining companions.

For the grand pairing, it was paired with two different pinot noirs (actually, three, as Seigo noticed my dining companion had finished his wine, and brought him another one to try too!), and for the regular pairing, it was paired with just one of them.

Fourme d'ambert cheese:  Pate filo, rhubarb chip, Kyoho grape, mission fig compote, mustard green and arugula salad, fig and balsamic reduction.
Such an incredibly creative cheese course!  Yes, looks can be deceiving, this was indeed a cheese course :)

Hiding inside the filo purse was the cheese, mission fig compote, and honey.  The cheese was a blue cheese, fourme d'ambert.  It was warm, almost melted, as melty as blue cheese gets really.  A very intense blue cheese.  The filo was crispy and buttery.

The little "salad" (for lack of better term) accompanying it was made up of delightfully bitter, fresh, crisp greens, lightly dressed in a fig and balsamic reduction.  The balsamic flavor paired really nicely with both the bitterness of the greens and the cheese.  There were also so fairly forgettable rhubarb chips and insanely delicious grapes.

One of my dining companions declared that he was too full to eat anything more when this arrived.  He doesn't tend to like filo, or be that excited about cheese.  This turned out to be his favorite dish of the evening.  In fact, he said it was his favorite dish he's had this year, siting the perfect flavor balance as the reason.  It was the 3rd favorite for the other diner, but only number 5 for me.

It came paired with a sauternes, sweet, sugary goodness in a glass, that I really, really liked!
Red wine guimauve with raspberry, mint ice cream, vanilla foam, sugar tuile.
Finally, dessert!  The course I often look most forward to.

Here we had the red wine guimauves, topped with raspberry, topped with quenelles of mint ice cream, and chocolate curls.  And then vanilla foam with a sugar tuile, raspberry puree, and small raspberry marshmallows.  This was lovely, and had a lot of fun textures to it.  It was a very light, and not too sweet, dessert.  The one diner who normally does not like, or eat, dessert, even quasi-enjoyed this.  Unfortunately, I just didn't like it that much.  I think I generally just prefer a more substantial dessert.

The red wine guimauve was basically a fluffy marshmallow with a subtle pinot noir flavor.  The raspberry was just ... raspberry, not really in season yet and nothing standout.  The ice cream was my favorite component, creamy, and intensely minty.  The chocolate was fine, but just chocolate.  Raspberry, mint, and chocolate are all flavors that work well together, and the play of fluffy soft marshmallow, cold creamy ice cream, and solid, crisp chocolate was nice, but these all were more interesting than they were delicious.

The vanilla foam was, as we'd come to expect from Keiko at this point, intensely vanilla flavored.  The sugar tuile was pretty, but basically just sweet sugar.  The raspberry puree was very, very sweet.  The raspberry marshmallow was my second favorite component on the dish, with a nice texture and flavor.

I ranked this just barely above the steak.  My fellow diners ranked it 3rd and 5th.

It was paired with a nice, sweet, port.
Cannelé Bordelais.
I was feeling a little let down at this point, after so many high points early in the meal, it was disappointing to have the main course be not that spectacular, and then for me, to have the dessert really fail to impress.  Then, these arrived.  I'd never had a cannelé bordelais before, but they were described on the menu as "a cake with a rich custardy interior enclosed by a thin caramelized shell".  Oooh, I like custard!  And I really like caramel!  I still didn't quite know what to expect.  Were they warm?  Would the interior be like a liquid?

Cannelés are apparently a classic French pastry from Bordeaux, which are notoriously hard to get perfect.  A Keiko, who clearly demonstrated herself through the evening to be a perfectionist, seems to have gotten these right (even though I have no idea really what they are SUPPOSED to be like).

They were delicious, although hard to describe, and took a few bites to get acquainted with.  The crust was thick, incredibly crisp, and indeed caramelized, although it didn't have quite the intense caramel flavor I was hoping for.  Inside was crazy moist, eggy, and vanilla flavored.  We were told it also had rum, but I didn't taste it.  These grew on me with every passing bite, as I learned more what to expect.  Since they were sweet, our non-sweet eating friend tried a few bites and discarded the rest of his, which I quickly consumed, even though I was stuffed at this point.

I would have loved a bitter coffee to pair with this, to balance out the sweetness, and really enjoy it.  3rd favorite dish for me, but 6th and 7th for the others I was with.
Keiko à Nob Hill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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