Friday, June 29, 2012

Celebration of Foie Gras @ Fifth Floor

I've been out of town for the past two weeks, missing out on a big chunk of the final month for foie consumption!  It has been hard to narrow down which few places to visit for my last foie meals.  When I think about foie however, one dish repeatedly comes to mind: the fried rhubarb pie and foie gras ice cream from Fifth Floor.  We had it a few weeks ago, and it was phenomenal.  And, luckily for us, the restaurant is running a "Celebration of Foie Gras" menu, with that dish as the dessert.

So, Tuesday night, we headed to the Fifth Floor to enjoy a lot of foie.  However, when we got there, our preferred seating venue, the bar and lounge, was full!  Seems like we weren't the only ones with this idea.  Things worked out fine though, and we were able to get a table in the main dining room instead.  I've dined at the Fifth Floor a few times before, but always in the lounge or bar area, or once in the private room for a big team dinner, so this was a bit of a change.  Overall, the experience was pretty similar, so I won't go into general details here, and will just focus on the dishes.

The special foie menu is a five course menu (plus three amuse bouches, bread, and an intermezzo), for $120.  It had a great variety, incorporating several mousses, a terrine, a seared, and of course, the dessert.  Drink pairings were an additional $75, including a foie cocktail.  This price, while a little high, is similar to the foie menu we recently did at The Village Pub, but Fifth Floor's included much more foie and I'd consider it to be a far better value.  Txoko still wins the award for delivering the best valued foie menu, at half the price!

Overall, it was a solid meal, and as in our last few visits, I continue to be very impressed with the amuses and intermezzos at Fifth Floor. I know these are rarely the things to stand out in a meal, but they just do them so well here. Very creative, delicious, perfect little bites. The other standout was the strength of the foie flavors in most of the dishes, particularly the cold preparations. I've been disappointed by many of the cold preps I have had lately, where the flavor just isn't really there, and Fifth Floor really delivered in this area.
Wild Goose Chase: calvados, lemon juice, honey syrup, sparkling wine with foie gras powder rim and foie gras mousse stuffed prune.
Our meal started with a foie cocktail!  It reminded me somewhat of a margarita, sweet, but with a nice tang from the lemon juice, which balanced it out enough that Emil found it drinkable (you may recall, he does not like sweet things).  The rim had both salt and foie powder, which went well with the other flavors.

On the skewer was a foie mousse stuffed prune, that I believe had been soaked in some sort of booze.  The mousse had a great foie flavor.  This was a fun way to start!
Bread and butter.
The bread service followed.  This is the one area where our service was really strange.  The bread guy just brought the bread, and kinda forcefully plopped it down on our plates without a word.  No explanation of what kind of bread it was, no greeting, nothing.  It felt like he was angry at us or something.

Anyway, the bread was served cold, and it was sourdough, so it automatically goes into the uninteresting category for me.  The butter had really nice salt crystals on top though.
Amuse #1: Strauss yogurt mousse, wild rice "granola".
While we were kinda laughing about the strange bread service, our first amuse arrived.  It was described as a yogurt mousse, with granola and peaches.  I instantly imagined this was going to be a little fruit, yogurt, granola parfait like I regularly have for breakfast.  Seemed a little strange for an amuse, but I dug in.

What a surprise!  It was a very savory yogurt.  The "granola" was likewise savory, with bits of crispy onion in it.  The chive blossom on top added even more oniony flavor.  The peach was pickled and tart.  Like a standard yogurt and granola parfait, I loved the contrasting creamy yogurt and crunchy granola.  

This was really delicious, unlike anything I'd ever had before, a fantastic play on a totally common breakfast dish, and very unexpected.  I continue to be impressed with Fifth Floor's creative amuses!  7th favorite dish for both of us, perhaps only because it lacked foie :)
Amuse #2: Duck liver pâté, foie "oreo".
And then, more amuses!

The first was a duck liver pâté, on top of a crispy lavash chip, topped with sherry gel.  The pâté had a great flavor, the lavash was salted perfectly, and the cherry gel was slightly sweet, complimenting the pâté perfectly.  What a delicious bite.  My 3rd favorite dish of the night, Emil's 4th.

The foie "oreo" was tiny shortbread cookies, filled with foie mousse.  OMG.  Now THIS was an even more amazing bite!  The cookie was slightly sweet, the mousse had an incredibly strong foie flavor, and it just came together perfectly.  I've often been disappointed with mousses because the foie flavor doesn't come through very strongly, but this one was clearly loaded up with foie. Awesometastic.  My second favorite dish of the night, but Emil's 8th.
Wellfleet Oysters au Gratin, foie gras béarnaise.
Next up came the first dish from the actual menu, a pair of oysters with foie gras béarnaise, perched on top of some seaweed.

The oyster was creamy and fresh tasting, but the whole thing was served lukewarm, and it seemed like it may have been sitting for a while.  I didn't really taste any foie in the béarnaise.

I liked the presentation of this dish, but didn't actually like the dish itself.  Least favorite dish for both of us.

Paired with a fairly dry brut.
Terrine of foie gras, turmeric pickled green papaya, rice glass, coconut, thai basil,
The second dish was a Thai inspired terrine.

The terrine yet again had a great foie flavor and was perfectly salted, but had a few textural inconsistencies, was a little stringy.  The papaya was tart and crunchy.  The crispy fried shallots, as always, were delicious.  The rice glass was interesting for an added crunch, but it didn't taste like much.  The milk gel was similarly lost in the rest of the components.  I am not sure where the coconut was in the dish, perhaps in the gel?  The little thai basil leaf had a ton of flavor.

I loved the strong foie flavor here, and the thai pairing was unlike anything I've had before.  Given all the foie we've been eating lately, it was refreshing to get something totally different.  My 6th pick of the night, Emil's 2nd.

Paired with a really good reisling.
Lacquered foie gras, lamb neck, porcini, fava beans, sherry jus.
And time for some seared foie!

The foie was creamy, flavorful, and very consistently cooked.  We would have preferred it to be more seared however.

I'd never had lamb neck before, and I was surprised by how tasty it was.  Nicely cooked with a great crust on it.  The puree was creamy, made from taro root. The porcini was grilled, had a great earthy flavor, and was a really nice pairing.

I loved how hearty this dish was.  The flavors really came together quite nicely.  My 4th pick of the night, Emil's 3rd.

Paired with a pinot.
Ballotine of squab, foie gras powder, caramelle, peas, sauce Perigourdine.
Hey, we've seen this dish before!  This dish was pretty much identical to the one that Chef Baz prepared at one of the Alexander's foie dinners.

The peas were fresh, tasty, with great flavor.  The pea puree had even more intense pea flavor.  I loved these spring components really just being allowed to shine.

The squab was cooked perfectly, incredibly tender.  It was wrapped with bacon, a perfect pairing with the squab.  I don't remember the bacon on this dish last time, not sure if it was there and I didn't notice it?  Inside the squab was a tiny chunk of foie, not really enough of it to get a lot of flavor.

There was a generous amount of the foie powder.  When I had this dish last time, my criticism was that there wasn't enough foie flavor in the dish.  This time, I was able to add as much foie flavor to the dish as I wanted by dipping bites into the powder.

The caramelle didn't do it for me this time around.  The pasta was well cooked, but they were cold, and there was something I didn't quite care for in the filling.  Not sure what was different this time, as I really liked the filling last time.  They were still adorable though!

I think this is the first time I've really, truly enjoyed squab.  A bite with squab, bacon, and foie powder was pretty delicious.  My 8th favorite of the night, Emil's 6th.

Paired with a really nice Syrah.
Intermezzo: Foie and vanilla panna cotta, strawberry sphere, muscatel granita.
We had a very similar intermezzo last time we were at Fifth Floor, although that one did not have the foie in it.  I declared it one of the best intermezzos I'd ever had.  And this ... was even better.  Take an awesome dish, and add foie?  YES!

This was just a win all around.  Perfect execution on every aspect of it, great flavors.  The intensity of the strawberry flavor in the sphere impressed me yet again.  The panna cotta was the perfect consistency.

I really, really wish you could just order a full size of this.  So much better than pretty much any panna cotta I've had.  My favorite dish of the evening, and Emil's 5th.  This is particularly notable as he doesn't usually like sweets!
Fried rhubarb pie, foie gras ice cream, ginger, creme fraiche.
And another dish we'd seen before, and a very large reason why we choose to return for this menu.  We had this dessert a few weeks earlier, and not only was it the best dish of the evening, it was one of the top desserts I'd had all year.  It also goes down in history as the only dessert that Emil has ever liked.  And not just liked, he raved about this thing.

Our expectations were obviously high going into this.  We wanted it to be exactly the same as the perfect dish it was last time!  It didn't quite live up, but was still very good.

The pie was again served warm and crusty, but this time it tasted a little too fried.  The filling also seemed a little too mushy.  This component wasn't as good as before.

The ice cream however was still amazing.  Creamy, perfect consistency, amazing foie flavor.  Definitely the best foie gras ice cream I've had (and yes, I do have a fair number of comparison points!)

The ginger was in the dish last time, but it came through even more this time, and I thought it was a really great pairing with the rhubarb and foie.

The creme fraiche was tangy, and like last time I liked how it kept the dish from being too sweet.

There was also a pie crust crumble, which was buttery, tasty, and I really loved with the ice cream.  Much better than the crumble that was on it last time.

Overall, very good, but not quite as mind blowing as the first time we had it.  My 5th pick of the evening, but amazingly, Emil's first!  History repeated folks, dessert being his favorite dish?  Do not expect this to happen ever again!

Paired with a delicious Tokaji.
And finally, the migs.  Emil didn't even try any of these, so they were all for me!

The raspberry pâte de fruit was pretty standard, rolled in a ton of sugar, not a whole lot of flavor.  My second favorite of the migs.

The green pea macaron was crazy.  The cookie part really, truly tasted like green peas!  Now, I love peas, I love desserts, and I do like playful savory desserts, but this didn't quite do it for me.  My third favorite.

The canelé was eggy, moist, with a good caramelized crisp exterior.  It was good, but I unfortunately have the downright amazing one from Keiko a Nob Hill as a comparison point, which this didn't live up to.  My favorite of the set.
And finally, the financier. I'm not sure what fruit filling it had.  It was oily, and I didn't care for it at all.  Least favorite.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bar Dining @ Quince

A couple months ago, we had an amazing meal at Quince (at the bar, but we dined off the main dining room menu).  It was one of the top meals of the year, and I've been eager to return ever since.  If you read my blog, you know that I've been on a foie gras quest lately, consuming all of the foie I can before the ban goes into effect.  And you also likely know that I adore custards, both as desserts and in savory forms.  At my previous visit to Quince, I had a fantastic uni crème brûlée.  So you can only imagine my excitement when I saw that the lounge menu had not one, but two foie gras preparations on it, including a foie gras creme brulee!  I knew that I needed to return, stat!  And … they are open on Mondays!  A great restaurant, open on Mondays?  Yes, please!

So when Monday rolled around, we headed to the Quince bar, to get our daily dose of foie.  Unfortunately, the menu was out of date, and the crème brûlée was no longer available.  We still had a great meal however.

We intended for this to just be a quick, small bar snack, as I'd had a bunch of food prior, and Emil had dinner plans later that evening at Alexander's Steakhouse.  So we just ordered two small items from the bar menu.  However, Quince, being the incredible restaurant that it is, gave us much, much more!  In addition to the two dishes we ordered, we received 3 bar snacks, bread service with multiple breads, 4 amuse bouches, and 6 mignardises.  ZOMG.

The food was all good, and I'll definitely be back.  One thing that really stood out was how well seasoned everything was, particularly the salt level.  I love the atmosphere and swanky feel of the bar and lounge area, and I'll gladly dine there again any day.  I also would really like to have a formal dinner in the main dining room sometime!

Since I've reviewed the bar area before, I'm going to skip those details this time, and focus solely on reviewing the dishes we tried.
Quince Snacks and Bites: potato and jerusalem artichoke chips, pickled vegetables, whipped ricotta with herbs and sea salt, parmesan-reggiano crackers.
To start, we were provided with a trio of bar snacks, standard since we were seated in the bar area (for some reason, we didn't get these last time we were there, but everyone seemed to be getting them this night).

The pickled vegetables change daily, but today's version was carrots and fennel.  They were very crunchy and incredibly tart and vinegary.  Served with a little spear with which to stab them.  Tasty enough, and a unique bar snack for sure, but my second to last savory pick of the evening.

The chips were a mix of potato and artichoke.  They were thin and very oily.  Since I don't like artichoke flavor, and the artichoke ones really, really tasted like artichoke, I didn't really care for these.  Least favorite dish of the evening.

The ricotta was awesome.  House-made, mixed up with an incredible blend of herbs and sea salt.  Tons of flavor in here.  It was served with parmesan-reggiano and black pepper cracker.  The cracker was super crispy and the parmesan flavor was intense.  I was surprised by how well the parmesan and ricotta flavors paired, as I wouldn't normally think of pairing cheese with cheese.  My 3rd favorite dish of the evening, and one I'd gladly eat more of any day.  Since Emil was saving himself for his later dinner, I got to enjoy almost all of this, and enjoy it I did!
Next up came the bread service, which we weren't expecting given that we had just ordered a few bar items.  The butter was fairly noteworthy, really creamy and flavorful, and beautifully decorated with a flower.
Olive buckwheat baguette, parmesan-reggiano black pepper crackers.
The baguette was served cold, but had a nice chew to it, a heartiness from the buckwheat, and tons of flavor from the olive.  Really pretty good for bread.

The crackers the same as what came with our ricotta.
Amuse Bouches: Basil madeline, gougère, chickpea square.
Next, we were presented with a trio of amuse bouches.  This we REALLY didn't expect as we hadn't ordered any items from the main menu.  They were really quite good, outshining our ordered dishes!

The basil madeline was served with burrata to spread on top.  The madeline was moist, with a really fantastic basil flavor, which went perfectly with the burrata.  The burrata was incredibly creamy, nicely oiled and salted.  My second favorite of the amuses, and Emil's third favorite.  My second favorite dish overall.  I could imagine this with some sort of tomato component as well, like a play on a caprese salad.

The gougère was served warm.  Made with gruyere, both in the bread itself and in the creamy liquid filling.  It was deliciously cheesy and quite good, better than the gougère we had at Alexander's a few days before since it was served warm, but not nearly as good as the incredible one we had at Cyrus a few weeks earlier.  A little too oily for my liking.  Emil's 2nd favorite of the amuses, my 3rd, and my 4th favorite dish overall.

The chickpea square was also warm, topped with a tiny dollop of spiced yogurt, purslane, and prawn dust.  It had a good salt level to it, but I didn't like it very much.  The patty just wasn't that great, it was kinda oily, and not very crisp.  I preferred the version we had as an amuse at The Village Pub a few days earlier, as it was crispier.  Both of our least favorite of the amuses, my 3rd to last pick of the savories.

As you may be noticing, a theme to this meal was definitely cheese!  So far, we'd already had: ricotta, parmesan, burrata, and gruyere!
Amuse bouche: chilled pea soup, crab, white asparagus.
And then … we received ANOTHER amuse bouche, pea soup topped with white asparagus foam, filled with crab!

This was fantastic.  The soup was a puree, incredibly flavorful, tasting like the freshest spring peas.  Light, refreshing, delicious.  It had a very generous amount of shredded crab meat in it.  I was really blown away by how much crab they included in this complimentary little amuse.  The crab paired perfectly with the pea.  There were also some chunks of asparagus, and the foamy mousse.

This was both Emil and my favorite dish of the evening, hands down.  I wish I could order a full bowl of it.
Copper river sockeye salmon crudo with cucumber, yogurt and pickled apricot.  $15.
And finally, we reach a dish we actually ordered!

The salmon was thinly sliced, had a good texture, and was a quality product, but it didn't have much flavor.  I was fairly disappointed, as I've had some amazing salmon lately!

It was served on top of tart yogurt, which sounded a little strange at first, but it combined well with the salmon similar to the more common pairing of smoked salmon with cream cheese.

Also on the plate was cucumber two ways: some thinly sliced rolled pieces and some pickled cubes.  These again reminded me of a classic salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber pairing.  I appreciated hte crunch the pickled pieces added.

The pickled apricots added some nice sweetness and tartness, and were the most interesting component on the dish.  The sea beans didn't do much for me.

Overall this dish was a little boring to me, mostly due to the lack of flavor in the salmon itself, but my standards are pretty high for salmon these days, as local salmon season has been amazing.  The salt level and other seasoning in this dish were perfect however.  I wouldn't order again, but it wasn't bad.  $15 was a fair price for this amount of salmon.
Foie gras terrine with nasturtium, radish, medjool date, and lambrusco.  $28.
And, the other dish we ordered, the reason we were there.  The foie!

The foie was a terrine.  It was served very cold and solid, almost making it hard to spread.  It had a very good consistency, was creamy and smooth, but didn't have a ton of foie flavor.  Like most cold foie gras preparations I've had lately, it disappointed me.

Accompanying the terrine were some nasturtium petals, small slices of tart pickled radish, and tiny cubes of medjool dates.  None of these elements really did much for me, they were just kinda there, and easily lost in the dish.

There was also a lambrusco foam, that didn't have much flavor at all.

Overall, not a very successful dish.  Again, not bad, but just not noteworthy.  I wouldn't order again.  At $28, this was a little high compared to similar preparations I've had lately.
Toasted brioche.
The terrine was served with a warm toasted brioche, that wasn't particularly notable.  I think it would have been better with a little more oil or butter on it.  It also had too much crust.

I paired the foie dish with a good, sweet reisling, $18.  I've been into reisling these days, but I haven't really developed much of a discerning palette for it, as I liked this one about equally as the much cheaper one at Baker & Banker the night before.
Mignardises: dark chocolate truffle, mixed berry pâte de fruit, blueberry ginger snap lintzer, passion fruit macaron, cream cheese carrot tart, caramel truffle, chocolate covered hazelnuts.
And because every good meal finishes with sweets ... the migs!

The truffles were fairly standard and forgettable.

The pâte de fruit was a good firm texture, and far less sugary that most, particularly as it wasn't coated in much additional sugar.

The blueberry ginger snap lintzer was my least favorite.  It had a strange bitterness to it, and the blueberry jam filling wasn't very flavorful.

The passion fruit macaron was very sweet, and as I'm not a big fan of passion fruit, I didn't care for it.

The tart was a little tiny tart shell, filled with cream cheese cream that was similar to cheesecake, and then topped with a tiny little slice of carrot.  They called it a play on carrot cake.  It wasn't particularly good nor bad, but was definitely the most interesting.

The chocolate covered hazelnuts were toasted nuts, with a thin chocolate layer, rolled in powdered sugar.  They tasted almost burnt.  I didn't care for them.
Packed up nuts!
I couldn't eat all of the migs at that point, and since Emil doesn't eat sweets, he wasn't going to help me out, so I asked to have them packed up.  This must be a fairly common request, as they had these adorable little boxes to put them into!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dinner @ Baker & Banker

I've been to Baker & Banker a handful of times, once for an awesome dinner about 2 years ago, once for one of the best brunches of my life, and once for a good, but not as amazing, brunch.  It is owned by a husband, executive chef Baker, and wife, chef Banker, who runs the pastry program and the adjacent bakery (aww, so cute!).  The signature dish is a mirin and soy braised black cod, with foie gras-shiitake sticky rice, and charred bok choy.  I got this the first time I went, long before I was obsessed with foie, and it was amazing.  I'd been meaning to go back to enjoy it again, and as the dish will have to be removed from the menu as of July 1, I needed to do it urgently!

I'm also always looking for good Sunday night dining options, and they are one of few places open, so last Sunday night, we headed to Baker & Banker with the primary goal of getting the cod dish.  Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my memories or expectations, but the foie gras and duck liver pâté we got as a starter was one of the best cold foie preparations I've had.

Service was fine, but like the rest of the food, forgettable.  There was a very long lag after we received our starters and before our mains.

The space is light, bright, and comfortable.  There is a tiny 6 seat bar, complete with purse hooks, available for walk ins, and the rest of the restaurant is reservation based.  Presentation isn't much, but matches the casual vibe and neighborhood feel of the restaurant.  

The highlight of the meal happened after we left the restaurant.  With the bill, the waitress brought us each a box with two random baked goods in it, explaining that it was a slow day at the bakery, so they had leftovers.  I adore baked goods, and have wanted to check out the bakery for ages, so this was awesome.  The items we received are not necessarily the things I would have picked, but they turned out to be pretty great.  I've reviewed those sepratately.

Overall, everything was decent, and I have no major criticisms, but besides the pâté, nothing made me eager to return.  I'll go back if someone else wants to, but I won't seek it out.  (Although, the bakery is another story all together!)
Sourdough bread, butter, salt.
I rarely care much about bread at restaurants, as it is usually not very good and not worth filling up on, but I fondly remembered the bread basket from my first trip to Baker & Banker.  As they also run a bakery, it makes sense that they would have high quality bread.  Last time, it was fantastic, definitely one of the highlights of the meal, and featured several varieties of interesting breads to choose from.  This time however, there was only one type of bread, a standard sourdough.  And being the horrible San Franciscan that I am, I don't like sourdough.  I was very disappointed :(

The bread was served warm, it was crusty, and good enough I guess, but, it was sourdough.  The butter had some large crystals of rock salt on top, and there was additional salt available on the table.
Foie gras and duck liver pâté with rhubarb and vanilla compote, served with grilled country bread from the bakery.  $18.
This arrived, not looking like much.  Just a jar of pâté, with some compote on the side, and bread.  Pretty standard.  I guess I was just feeling very let down after the bread basket, and all the mediocre cold foie preparations I've had lately, so I dug into this without much gusto.  It only took half a bite for my mind to be blown!

The pâté was actually two layers, one of the duck liver and one of the foie gras.  We didn't realize this at first, assuming it was mixed already, so my dining companion, who dug into it first, had his first few bites of the top layer only.  Whoops!  Both layers were amazingly creamy and smooth, really rich, and perfectly seasoned with the right amount of saltiness to compliment the richness of the livers and enhance the flavors.  Surprisingly, I preferred the duck liver over the foie, as it had even more flavor.  The foie layer was certainly good, but the foie flavor wasn't that intense.  Either layer was good on its own, but mixing the two together was also really good.

The compote was sweet, yet tart from the rhubarb.  It was really quite good, and I could imagine just enjoying it on toast on its own.  It paired wonderfully with the pâté.

The bread was a french country bread.  It was hearty tasting, with an amazing flavor from being grilled.  I think it had some sourdough in it, but it was mild, so I didn't mind too much.  It was served warm from the grill, causing the pâté to melt into the bread when you spread it on, like butter.  Since the bread was sliced fairly thick, it allowed the bread to soak up tons of the melted pâté.  I greatly preferred this to a more common crostini, which even if toasted and warm, just doesn't soak up the foie in the same way.  It reminded me of the waffles with foie gras at Spruce.  The bread was an integral part of this dish, but there wasn't enough of it.  We had to use some of the then cold table bread to finish the pâté, and really wasn't nearly as good.  The bread was also a little too oily for my liking.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been really down on cold foie preparations lately, but this dish made it clear to me what my preferences are for a cold foie preparation. The key elements, for me:
  1. Creamy, flavorful foie (torchon, pâté, mousse, terrine, etc, I don't particularly care).
  2. Seasoning.  It needs salt!
  3. Bread-like vehicle on which to spread it (can be a waffle or any sort of bread).  This has to be served warm so that the foie will melt into it, and it must be substantial enough to soak up the foie juices.
  4. Sweet component to pair with it (jams, compotes, reductions, syrups, fresh fruit, etc).
Obviously, there are cold preparations that I have also enjoyed that do not have these components (liked a shaved torchon served as part of a salad), but this seems to be a winning formula.  The ones I have disliked the most are ones that are in this style, but miss one of these marks (like being served with cold crostini).

This was the dish of the evening for me, far and away.  $18 was a fair price for a good amount of pâté.  One dining companion, who is totally sick of foie gras and didn't particularly want this, happily consumed more than he expected to.  I'd return in a heartbeat for this dish alone, but unfortunately, it is no longer on the menu.  It has been replaced (obviously for the next few days only), with a foie gras torchon, served with stone fruit compote and grilled brioche, which I must admit, does sound pretty awesome.  If you go in the next few days, please get this, and let me know how it was!

I paired the pâté with a recommended glass of reisling.  At $10, it was a decent pour, and a great value.  I liked it, and enjoyed the sweetness paired with the foie.

Our vegetarian dining companion had a salad of County Line greens, strawberries, sheep's milk feta, smoked almonds, with Banyuls vinaigrette ($13).  It looked fresh and crisp, and he seemed to enjoy it.

Mirin and soy braised black cod, foie gras-shiitake sticky rice, charred bok choy.  $33.
This was the dish we were there for, as I  thought it was downright amazing when I had it before.  Tonight however, it wasn't very good at all.

The major issue was the execution of the fish.  It was mushy.  Served with the skin on, which was slimy.  I had a number of pin bones in my piece.  It also tasted a little fishy.  However, the mirin and soy glaze was sweet and delicious as expected.

The rice wasn't really sticky rice, more just kinda mushy as well.  It was really oily.  I didn't taste any foie.

The bok choy was grilled, and like the bread from the pâté, had a great charred flavor.

This could have been a good dish, but things did not come out well tonight.  And at $33, I really expected a higher level of execution than this.

My vegetarian dining companion had a goat ravioli, which didn't seem particularly noteworthy.
Plum and white nectarine crisp, brandysnap ice cream.  $10.
I was looking forward to dessert, before even seeing the menu, since I knew the pastry department was strong here, and I'm a bit of a dessert-o-holic.  And then when I saw warm fruit crisp with ice cream being delivered to tables around us all evening, I got even more excited.  If you read my blog, you know that I absolutely adore warm desserts paired with ice cream.  And I love summer fruits (stone fruits, berries, etc).

The crisp was indeed served piping hot out of the oven.  Major points for this.  But overall, it wasn't a very good crisp.  The fruit was overcooked and mushy.  It was also way too sweet.  Good fruit doesn't need that much sugar added to it, and the added sugar just masked the flavor completely.  The crisp layer was made up of oats with a great cinnamon flavor, and was quite delicious, but this layer was much too thick.  There was way more crisp than fruit.  It was perfectly cooked however, really crispy.

The brandysnap ice cream was really good.  It was creamy, had a good flavor, and paired perfectly with the crisp.  It melted into the crisp nicely.

There was also a very sugary tuile, which was kinda soft, had a strange mouthfeel, and wasn't very great.  And a random garnish of mint, which added nothing to the dish.

The $10 price seemed a little high when I saw it, but this was a huge portion of both the crisp and the ice cream.  Even if you love this style of dessert, you'll probably want to share this.  This dish was almost awesome.  There were enough great things here - served hot, amazing crisp layer, good ice cream - that I'd order another fruit crisp here in the future, and hope for better execution of the fruit component of it.
XXX - triple dark chocolate layer cake.  $10.
This is their signature dessert, and has been on the menu for ages.  We had it last time too.  3 different chocolate cake layers, covered in even more chocolate ganache, with chocolate drizzle on the plate.  It is chocolate overload!

Served with a scoop of cream on the side, which I mistakenly thought was ice cream, and took a huge spoonful of.  Whoops!  And another random mint sprig.

The bottom layer is a flourless chocolate cake.  It had a good chocolate flavor.  The middle layer is a chocolate cheesecake.  It had a great cream cheese flavor, and was my favorite of the layers.  Finally, the top is a devil's food cake.  It was very moist and incredibly dark.

None of this was bad, but I don't really get the hype.  Perhaps this just isn't my kind of dessert.  I found it pretty forgettable.  Like the crisp, at $10 it seemed a little high, but this thing was massive.  Truly massive.  Seriously, even I need to share the desserts here.

Baked Goods from Baker & Banker

[ Original Posting: June 26, 2012 ]
At the end of our last trip to Baker & Banker, we were given some parting gifts of random leftover treats from the bakery.  I've been wanting to visit the bakery for a long time, as I love pretty much all baked goods and have heard some great things about theirs, so this was very welcome!  

I don't think I would have necessarily picked these particular items, but they were all really quite good!  We had just consumed a rather insane amount of dessert (the portion sizes on their desserts are a bit outrageous), so I only tried a few bites of each item that night to sample them before they got older, and finished the rest the next day.  It was kinda fun not knowing what any of the items were, since we didn't order them, and weren't given any descriptions!

All of the treats were all insanely decadent, so buttery, and so sugary.  I'm not sure any of them really classified as breakfast food, they were really truly more like desserts, but I really liked them!  I'll definitely be visiting the bakery sometime soon!
Almond Brioche Toast, Fig and Candied Ginger Scone, $3.25.
The scone was a very classic triangle scone, hard-style, and a little crumbly.  It had chunks of dried fig in it and was drizzled with pretty delicious sweet lemon icing.  This was decent, but not particularly noteworthy.  My least favorite of the bakery items, also the most traditional and least decadent and sweet.

Since we didn't order it, I had no idea what the toast-like thing was.  I had a few bites of it that night and thought it wasn't very good, and didn't seem to be holding up well at all.  It was kinda spongy and weird, and a little oily.  It seemed to be a very thick slice of bread, topped with some sort of mushy layer, and sliced almonds.  I assumed I'd just throw it out in the morning.

I did however look on their web site to try to determine what it was, and saw "almond brioche toast" as one of their offerings.  This was clearly it.  And then I read a slew of raving reviews about it, including one where someone mentioned warming it up in the toaster oven.  The next morning, I had a few bites of it cold, and like the night before, thought it was pretty gross.  Then … I put it into the toaster oven, and everything changed.

This thing became amazing.  Wowzer.  The bread crisped up nicely.  It was a buttery brioche with a flaky exterior crust, almost croissant-like.  Topped with a very generous layer of almond marzipan, which was sweet and had an incredible almond flavor.  So delicious.  Great flavors, and just really, really good.  So decadent, and a huge slice, but damn, it was really good.  Made for a great "breakfast" paired with nice bitter coffee!  (This falls into the same "breakfast" category as french toast ...).

But even better, was pairing it with peach foie gras mousse.  Yes, you read that correctly.  My parting gift from Chez TJ the night before was a tub of peach foie gras mousse.  I'd been spreading it on all sorts of things over the course of the day, trying all sorts of pairings, but hadn't really found anything that was working.  (The best I'd had was actually just eating the mousse by the spoonful!)  But, I thought, "warm buttery brioche … sounds like a great vehicle for foie to me!"  So … I tried it out, and it was awesome.  The buttery brioche went perfectly with the foie, and the peach and almond flavors worked together really well.  I can't even begin to imagine how incredibly unhealthy this was, but it was really quite delicious.  If you happen to somehow wind up with foie mousse and this toast at the same time, I recommend the pairing :)

The toast was my second favorite of the bakery items we received, and I'd order it again in a heartbeat, and definitely bring it home to warm it up. (Side note: thank you restaurants for sending me home with amazing treats!)
Apricot White Chocolate Pecan Scone, $3.25.  Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Muffin, $3.50.
The scone, while it looked fairly similar to the fig scone, was a completely different style.  It was also a triangle shape, but was much softer, very biscuit-like.  In fact, I'd really call this a biscuit rather than a scone.  It was incredibly buttery.  Filled with chunks of apricot, white chocolate, and pecans, all of which were flavorful and tasty, and combined together really well.   Not sure I'd get it again as I'm just not that into scones, but it was pretty good, and I enjoyed it.  My third favorite of the baked goods.

The muffin was downright incredible.  I had no idea what to expect, just saw that it was a muffin with a streusel like topping.  What I discovered was one of the most amazing muffins I've ever had.  But let me just say, calling it a "muffin" isn't really accurate.  Yes, it was a muffin shape, but it was a cake.  Or really, a fruit crisp combined with a cake.  There is absolutely no way this thing should be classified as breakfast food.  It was dessert.  It was delicious.
Inside the "muffin"
The streusel top was almost exactly like the topping from the crisp we had the night before.  It was made up of oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Great flavors, and really crispy, which was a nice textural contrast with the cakey part.  Like the crisp, this was a substantial layer, almost too much.

The cake was super moist, but there was very little of it.  I didn't mind the ratio of cake-to-fruit-to-streusel, but it definitely had far less cake than I'd expect.  It was sweet, and was the final step in pushing this into the realm of dessert rather than breakfast.

The rest of the muffin was the strawberry-rhubarb filling.  It was sweet, but the sweetness level was dialed back a little compared to the crisp the night before, perhaps due the tartness of the rhubarb.  Like the crisp, the fruit was mushy, but it worked in this case, since it was part of the muffin, and you wouldn't want the fruit to be at all crispy.

This was my favorite of the baked goods, and I'd get this again any day.  I've really never had anything quite like it before.  I enjoyed it cold as it was, but it was even better when I warmed it up and just went all the way to dessert-vile and served it with ice cream.

I finally went back to the bakery to try a cookie.  I was being indecisive about which type to get, and the cashier recommended the chocolate chip, saying it was the best chocolate chip cookie ever.  I couldn't resist a recommendation like that!
Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie. $3.
This was a huge cookie.  I wish I had a reference point here to show the size.  It wasn't really my style of cookie at all - thin and crisp.  It did have nice big chunks of chocolate and a strong brown butter taste to it.  Ojan liked it more than I, although he thought the butter flavor was too strong.

[ Updated May 9, 2013 ]

To thank me for working on a feature for him at work, Emil promised to reward me with "something delicious".  I had no idea what to expect.  Would it be dessert?  Wine?

In fact, it was neither, but instead, baked goods.  It is almost like he knows the best way to bribe me!  I arrived at my desk one morning to find boxes upon boxes of baked goods.  I can do a number on a box of baked goods, but I think he mis-estimated the size of my stomach.  I still managed to try them all out, and of course found others to share them with.

Like last time, since these were a gift, I wasn't able to select the items I wanted most.  Thus, I've still yet to try some of their most amazing sounding and looking treats, specifically, the insane-o sticky buns.  Re-reading my last post however, I do want to go back to the bakery for that almost brioche toast again, and I look forward to some of their seasonal muffins as stone fruits in particular come into season.  This batch was all fun to try, but there weren't any homeruns.
Pecan and Walnut Streusel Muffin, $3.50.
This wasn’t a muffin I’d ever pick.  I like fruit in my muffins, or more complicated, hearty bases like cornmeal or bran.  This was basically just a plain muffin with some chopped nuts in it.  With streusel topping of course :)

Like the other muffins I've had from Baker & Banker, it was again fairly moist.  The streusel on top was the same as the others, crispy, fun to break off into pieces, and it had nice flavor from the oats and brown sugar, but it was a bit hard and burnt.

Overall, the muffin was just kinda boring; it really needed fruit or additional flavoring.  It was much better warmed up.

And like all of their muffins, it was a giant size.

Would not get again.
Blueberry Cream Cheese Streusel Muffin. $3.50.
I've heard that this is their most popular muffin, so I was eager to try it out.  Plus, it looked similar to the amazing strawberry rhubarb streusel muffin I'd loved last time.  I dove into it first.

Alas, it was clearly a different recipe.  It was still very moist, particularly from the pockets of cream cheese, but didn’t have nearly enough blueberries for my taste.  One thing that made the strawberry rhubarb one so spectacular was that it was just bursting with fruit, and this one really had only a few berries.

The streusel on top was, like the nut one I had in this batch, hard and a bit burnt.  The parts that weren’t burnt had really good flavor, I think from brown sugar.  It was still a good muffin, just nothing like the previous one I’d had!

Since I had so many of these, I tried to keep one overnight.  It didn't keep well at all.  Even when re-warmed, it just tasted stale.  The cream cheese chunks kept it moist, but it didn't work out very well overall.  The crisp on top was still tasty.

I'd consider getting this again, if only to see if perhaps this batch and its lack of plentiful blueberries was a fluke.  This muffin *should* have been great!
Apricot White Chocolate Pecan Scone.  $3.25.
I had this one last time as well.  It seemed pretty similar, a large, crumbly scone.  I didn't love it last time, but I recalled the flavors being pretty good.  This time, it just did not have much flavor. The dried apricot was just tough little chunks, I didn’t actually find any white chocolate.  There wasn’t much other flavor.  I tried warming it up, but it was actually worse that way.

Would not get again.
Parmesan and Pink Peppercorn Scone. $3.25.
This was the first savory baked good I had from Baker and Banker.

Unlike the sweet scones, it was round rather than triangular, and very crumbly.  I'd likely call it a biscuit rather than a scone, although, I guess I don't really know the technical difference.

It did indeed have some pepper on the finish, but it was not that cheesy.  It wasn’t bad, but I felt like it needed … something.  Perhaps some additional flavor (rosemary?), some kind of topping (since it was very biscuit like, gravy?), or even better,  turned into a breakfast sandwich with an egg inside.  But alone, it didn’t quite have enough oomph for me.  It was tastier when warmed up, as the cheese melted a bit.
[ No Photo ]
Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie. $3.

And, another monster cookie.  Even though I didn't like it last time, I tried it again anyway.  Seriously, I'm incapable of resisting baked goods, even when I'm pretty sure I won't like them!

It was slightly less crispy this time, but still very thin, and just not my type of cookie.  I like gooey cookies.  It was again absolutely loaded up with huge chocolate chunks, and had a very strong brown butter taste.  I totally understand how this cookie has its place, and see how people would love it, but it just isn't for me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Another Brunch @ Baker & Banker

[ Originally posted February 7, 2011 ]

When people ask me where my favorite brunch is in San Francisco, I've been saying Baker & Banker. Last time I went, it truly was the best brunch I'd ever had. This time, it was good, but didn't live up to my previous experience. I'm not sure how much of that was expectations or just that the current menu wasn't as good.

It was certainly solid - well executed cooking, high quality ingredients, good ambiance, and they take reservations! A great place to go with a smallish group, and it is quiet enough that you can really talk. Prices are a little high for brunch, but you aren't just getting eggs and toast here.

Coffee is Four Barrel. If you get decaf they bring you a personal french press. Mine was very good. If you get the regular, they serve it out of a big vat of already brewed coffee, that they say was french pressed in a big batch. Like last time, it wasn't good.

I've still yet to get anything from the attached bakery, although it all looks amazing. Next time ...
House Smoked Trout with potato latke, horseradish cream, pickled beets, shaved fennel.  $14.
This was well done on every level. The latke was perfectly crisp, the smoked trout flavorful, and the beets and fennel added a refreshing lightness.  This dish also appears on the dinner menu as a starter.
Eggs Benedict, with spinach, lemon hollandaise, tasso ham on house made english muffin bread.   $15.
This was good, but not nearly as good as the cajun eggs benedict they had on the menu before (that one was served over house made biscuits with a spicy cajun hollandaise and braised greens).

I think most of my disappointment in this dish came from the fact that it wasn't the version of this that I had before, and thus it didn't live up to my expectations. This was more standard and less interesting, but still well executed - as before, the eggs were poached well and the ham was absolutely delicious and added a nice salty component to the dish. I greatly preferred the more flavorful braised greens to the simple spinach in this version, the spicy hollandaise to this more subtle lemon hollandaise, and the amazing biscuits to this more boring bread. Still, a good benedict.
French Toast Bread Pudding with bananas foster, crème fraîche, toasted pecans, caramel sauce.   $12. 
Another dish that suffered from not meeting my expectations. When I had this last time, it was made with apples, cranberries, and quince instead of bananas, and had a maple syrup sauce. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten, so this had a LOT to live up to expectation-wise.

I know that there isn't much in season fruit-wise right now, so there wasn't a lot for them to work with, but the banana was kinda mushy and didn't add anything to the dish. The bread pudding itself was pretty flavorless and not very moist. The cream and nuts were tasty, but they were just cream and nuts. The caramel sauce was very sweet, and once some of the bread pudding really soaked in it, I liked it much more, but overall this really failed to impress.

[Not pictured]
Cannoli donuts.
These were fresh donut holes, filled with cannoli cream and chocolate, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. The woman at the table next to us couldn't finish her order, so she offered some of these to us. Like last time, they were decent donut holes, but still really failed to impress me. They were just ... donut holes.

Brunch @ Baker & Banker

[ Originally posted November 2011 ]
After great dinner at Baker and Banker, I was excited to return for brunch, particularly given that some of the highlights of my meal were the breads and desserts, and I thus had high expectations for some of the breakfast pastries.  And they take reservations!  But I left town two days later for an extended business trip out of the country, and never got the opportunity until now.  This was the best brunch I've had in the city, hands down!
Brown Butter Cinnamon Roll.
HUGE roll with layers of cinnamon filling, covered in caramel like icing. The roll was nice and moist, good amount of cinnamon, just not really my thing. Icing was delicious.
Pumpkin pie beignet: filled with pumpkin pie filling, rolled in cinnamon sugar.
Fresh, made-to-order donut holes, rolled in cinnamon and sugar, filled with pumpkin spice filling (like the inside of pumpkin pie). Nothing wrong here, but didn’t wow me at all. They were kinda just … donut holes with pumpkin pie filling.
Cajun Eggs Benedict: poached eggs, tasso ham, Tabasco hollandaise, seared greens.
Poached eggs with hollendaise over spicy ham over braised greens on house made biscuit. Definitely one of the best benedicts I’ve ever had, and the best in San Francisco. The ham was spicy and flavorful, the braising greens added a lovely touch, and the use of a fresh biscuit rather than generic english muffin brought this to a new level.  Would order again, best savory dish of the meal, and second best dish overall.
Eggs in purgatory: spicy tomato sauce, mascarpone-brown butter polenta, house-made sausage .
Eggs baked in tomato sauce with sausage, served over brown butter and marscapone polenta. Good for what it was - the sausage was incredibly flavorful, the polenta nice and cheesy, the flavors all came together well. I’d never go out of my way for this, but it was well done.
French toast bread pudding: apples and quince, cream fraiche whipped cream, pecans, dried apples, maple syrup.
Brioche bread turned into french toast turned into bread pudding! Covered in maple syrup, cream fraiche, stewed cranberries and apples, pecans, garnished with dried apple slices. ZOMG. It was everything delicious about french toast and bread pudding and pie all in one. Ridiculously sweet, ridiculous decedent, but amazing. I can’t believe how fantastic this was. One of the top food items of 2011 for me.  Best dish of the meal and would order again immediately!

My First Dinner @ Baker and Banker

My first visit to Baker and Banker was Jan 18, 2011.  It was one of my best meals that year.  Back then, I didn't take photos, but I did write up a short review.  Re-posting here so I can keep a record of it.

I just had an amazing meal, start to finish, at Baker & Banker!  I highly recommend, and totally see why it has been getting such amazing reviews.  The decor of the place was really nice as well - elegant yet casual at the same time, felt very comfortable.

* Bread basket: fresh bread from the adjacent bakery. Today's basket was a rosemary focaccia and honey whole wheat. Both were fantastic. I didn't know that sandwich bread (the honey whole wheat) could be that good! I've taken to kinda skimping on bread at restaurants lately, but this is not to missed. One diner said this was the highlight of his meal, and that he could eat this bread for dessert.
* Diver scallops, Dungeness crab, Sardinian couscous, Pernod-saffron sauce, Satsuma mandarin salad. I love scallops, I love crab, so I liked this. Flavorful sauce. This wasn't a blow your socks off sort of dish, but quality ingredients, well prepared.
* Soy and mirin braised black cod, foie gras-shitake sticky rice, charred bok choy. This one was a blow your socks off dish. The sauce on this was phenomenal. And the foie gras complimented the sticky rice and the fish so amazingly well. A bite with the foie, cod, and rice all in it was perfection. I didn't know I could like foie gras so much! Another diner and I were supposed to be sharing this dish, but I probably had 75% of it.
* Pink lady apple crisp, brown sugar-pecan streusel, white cheddar ice cream. I'm a sucker for warm crisp and ice cream. But I grew up eating apple pie topped with melted cheddar cheese. This was all of these things, in one! My dining companions each took about one bite and deemed it weird. I eagerly finished the whole thing (note, it was not small!)
* XXX triple layer chocolate cake: flourless chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake and devil’s food cake, covered in ganache. This was pretty much exactly what it sounded like. Huge, decadent, rich, but with all the different layers it wasn't ever too much. At least, not for me ... everyone else gave up after a few bites. Again, I finished it.
* Meyer lemon ice box pie, black olives, candied thyme. Definitely the strange one of the evening. It was a very sweet yet tart lemony custard, over pie crust, with macerated black olives and candied thyme. The savory ingredients were definitely strange. My least favorite dish of the evening, but everyone was letting it go to waste ...

In summary, everything was great. This is quality food, cooked very well. Go there, and bring me with you! I haven't overeaten to these extremes in ages, and it was soooo worth it.