Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Private Event Dining @ Wayfare Tavern

The news just broke that one of my favorite chefs, Joey Elenterio, has joined the kitchen at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern.  I'm beyond excited.  My absolute top meal of 2012 was at Chez TJ, when he was the chef there.  Since he left Chez TJ, I've been anxiously awaiting the news to find out where he would wind up.  I was hoping it would be in San Francisco.  And it is!  I can't wait to see what he does with the menu and concept there.

But before he started, I attended a special event at Wayfare Tavern.  It had been a couple years since I last visited.  I only had vague memories of my previous visit.  I remembered the warm popovers in place of standard bread service.  I remembered that everyone loves their fried chicken.  I remembered that I thought the burger was just too fatty, with too much cheese, too greasy.  But I also remembered that the dessert was insanely good.

But back to this visit, for a special event. It was held in one of their private rooms, the Bartlett Room, a really nice space.  Rich mahogany panelling, hardwood floors, a private bar, attached private bathrooms.  Overlooking a wine cellar.  Really a great venue, particularly suited for a business lunch, as it has flat screen TVs with audio/visual hookups for presentations.

On our tables was a printed menu with a starter, 3 entrees, a side, and a dessert listed, so I thought we'd all select which entree we wanted.  I was confused when no one came to take our orders, and food just started showing up.  The entire meal was all done family style, with insane portions.  Each person really did receive a full starter, 3 entrees, a side, and a dessert.  It was a bit crazy.

The service was ok, but the way the food was brought out was really strange.  Some tables were served long before others, the side came out way ahead of the entrees, and we had a really long lag before the last entree.  Since I actually only wanted that one (I didn't want the fried chicken or the burger), it was really awkward, as I had no idea when it would be arriving, and it of course arrived last, after a really long lag.  They seem to do lots of group events like this, but the service was really not polished.
Since this was a business lunch event, we were offered only soft drinks, iced tea, and lemonade rather than alcohol.  Since I'm not really a soda person, and I didn't want the caffeine, I went for lemonade.

This was not good lemonade, it was very, very sweet, and not tart.  It tasted like it came from a mix.  I did not like it at all.
Fresh Popover.
One of Wayfare's signature items is their fresh popovers, delivered at the start of a meal instead of basic bread.  Served with butter and salt on the side.

These were good popovers.  I was impressed that they were delivered so fresh and steaming hot, even to a large group of our size.  They were light and fluffy, slightly eggy.

The butter on the side was hard, but since the popovers were still so hot, it melted easily into them.

Good, but, I felt like something was missing.  Since it was served with only butter, I wanted some herbs or ... something.  Or maybe I just want popovers for breakfast with jam instead.
Di Stefano Burrata, Summer Harvest Caponata, Grilled Sourdough, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 
Since this was a large event, everything was served family-style.

Under the massive amount of burrata was grilled sourdough crostini.  It was very crunchy, and made the dish very hard to eat with knife and fork.  It seemed more like finger food, except that there was so much topping that it made it hard to eat that way too.

The burrata, as I hoped, was creamy and delicious.  Man, I love burrata.  I was amused at my tablemates, most of whom didn't know what burrata was, had never heard of it, and eventually concluded that it was mozzarella.  I tried to explain that no, it wasn't just mozzarella, but they didn't believe me.  They are missing out!

On top of the burrata was a "summer harvest caponata", made up of eggplant, pine nuts, olives, capers. It was very flavorful, but I didn't think it went all that well with the burrata.

Overall, this dish was ok, but really all that I liked was the burrata itself.  It also seemed like it was missing something, and in this case, I really think it needed some olive oil, which was listed on the menu, but wasn't present in the dish (besides on the crostini).   I probably wouldn't order this again.
Grilled Asparagus.
For a side dish, we had a platter of grilled asparagus.  The amount of asparagus for our table size seemed pretty off.  Most of us got only 1-2 spears.  I was trying to not be greedy, even though I really wanted more.  The last person to receive the platter actually didn't get any.

It was ok grilled asparagus, nothing spectacular, topped with bread crumbs.  On the regular lunch menu for $8.  I wouldn't get it again.
WayFare burger “Le Grand”: Grilled Onions, Smoked Bacon, Garlic Aioli, Brie Cheese, Brioche.
The first entree was a huge platter of their famous fried chicken, with enough for every person to have about 2 pieces.  Since I knew how much other food was coming, and I don't really like chicken, I skipped it.  But my tablemates seemed to think it lived up to the hype. It looked fresh and crispy.

The next entree was a platter of burgers.  This was really weird to have family style.  Each burger was cut in half, so each person got half a burger.

The burger is another one of their signature dishes, and what I ordered when I visited Wayfare Tavern for dinner before, after reading about how amazing it was supposed to be.  It has all the right petigree: a high end blend of beef, Mt. Tam cheese, Panorama bun, Nueske's Bacon.  I remembered that I didn't really like it before, and wasn't going to have one this time.  But, the final entree was no where in sight, and after skipping the fried chicken, I was hungry, and felt weird not eating anything when everyone around me was.

The whole thing was again just way too greasy for me, which is what you expect with high fat percentage (75!) beef, along with brioche, cheese, and bacon.  It also was served cold.  Downside of group dining for sure, and it seems like such a strange choice to put on a family-style menu.

The brie was nicely melted, but kinda congealed since it wasn't hot, and it was a really, really thin layer.  I thought this thing was known for oozing with the delicious cheese?  I'm pretty sure it was Mt. Tam, which I tend to adore.

The bacon was unremarkable, not as crispy as I'd like.  The grilled red onion was a giant hunk.  Sadly, it was my favorite part of the burger.  It was already slathered in aioli, that didn't seem very garlicky.

The beef itself is a mix of short rib, brisket, prime rib, and filet.  It should have been very flavorful, but it wasn't.  Perhaps I was just too distracted by it being cooked way more than I'd ever order (it was pretty much medium-well).  A shame for quality meat!

I would not get this again, which is exactly what I thought when I got it the other time I visited the restaurant.  Normally $19.
Seared Ahi Tuna: Carrot puree, roasted carrots, crispy ginger, soy caramel.
Finally, after everyone else had already consumed 2 pieces of fried chicken, a half a huge burger, burrata, and popovers, the final entree arrived.  It was the one I had wanted all along.

Seared ahi, served over a carrot puree, with roasted carrots, a soy caramel drizzle, and crispy ginger.  Another strange one to have family style, as many people didn't get all of the components.  There certainly weren't enough of everything to go around, and when serving off a big platter, it was hard to get some of everything.

The ahi was ok, nicely barely seared, but it wasn't very flavorful and was kinda stringy and chewy.  The soy caramel drizzle was tasty and went well with it, and with the carrots.

The roasted carrots were nicely cooked, and I liked how they included coins of large carrots, and full baby carrots.  The carrot puree was creamy and flavorful, but seemed really, really strange to pair with tuna.  Trio of carrot preparations was fun, but ... carrots and ahi?

The best part was a roasted baby carrot with soy caramel, but I wouldn't order this again.

A normal lunch portion is $28.
Mini Chocolate Cupcake.
And to finish, we received a platter of mini chocolate cupcakes, with 1-2 per person.  We all loved these.

Fairly moist chocolate cake, creamy, sweet frosting, fun little chocolate pearls.  Best dish of the meal.
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