Sunday, January 7, 2007

Quince Restaurant, San Francisco

Quince Restaurant

To kick off the New Year’s festivities, my wife and I sojourned to San Francisco to dine at Quince, the highly touted restaurant which in the praise I read sounded like the very embodiment of the great San Francisco restaurant. In particular, Jay McInerney’s comments on his wine & food blog compelled me to drag my wife to S.F. If “the menu at Quince made [him] drool,” well this is a place that I needed to try. So we made a 9pm reservation for a Friday night, and I left Los Angeles in smug anticipation. Upon our timely arrival to Quince, the friendly host cautioned us that the kitchen was backed up and dispatched us to a neighborhood hotel bar to await their call. We returned around 9:40 and finally sat down just before 10. There were several other guests standing with us in the front of the small restaurant awaiting their table, all of whom we recognized from the hotel bar.

We received the longer-than-expected menu and it was as McInerney described it. Had he not drooled, I would have. There was too much that looked too good to try. The pastas sounded delicious and very thoughtful. So with our one night in San Francisco, we splurged and ordered the tasting menu with the wine pairings. The meal started nicely with a very fresh, roasted Monterey Bay sardine with a wedge of citrus fruit (a tangerine maybe? I don’t recall). My wife does not eat sardines; I love them. This was good.

Next was a delicious oyster vellutata, literally, velvety oyster soup with potato, leek, sunchoke & black truffle. Quince paired the soup with a terrific, seriously dry 2004 Domaine Barat Chablis, a perfect complement. This richly flavorful soup somehow managed to be light and did not overwhelm. The oysters were plump and fresh and delicious. After the sardine and the notably delicious soup, my premature glee already felt vindicated.

But then it all fell apart. Next was roast sea scallop with porcini mushroom purée and a light prosecco butter served with a local Forman chardonnay. The scallop was bland. The thing just had no taste. Did they not taste the scallops they were serving? Nevertheless, I have no self-control, so I ate both my portion and my wife’s.

Meanwhile, about one minute after the servers cleared the plates of scallops, they brought out the first dish of pasta, as well as the next glass of wine. There were now four glasses of wine on the table and timely finishing them to keep up with what ended up being a 100-meter dash of a tasting menu was becoming a Sisyphean task.

Our first pasta was a garganelli dish with rabbit ragú and balsamic vinegar followed by pumpkin bigoli with squab, chestnuts, and rosemary. On paper, they both sounded great, but were languid. Pasta should be visceral and soulful. These tasted fine enough but were ineffectual and could not have been less compelling. Too much French influence, not enough Italian. Considering that they were served within seven minutes of each other, we were lucky we could distinguish them from each other.

What sealed this meal’s fate was the final course, the suckling pig with farro perlato, i.e., spelt & turnips. It was served 2 ½ minutes after the second pasta course, and we must have had about 6 glasses of wine on the table at this point. (All of the wines were outstanding; it's a shame they all ran together.) A great suckling pig to me has tender meat, with crispy skin and some spice. My favorite version to which I briefly became addicted was the masterpiece that Suzanne Goin served at Lucques. With some harissa and romano beans, her version somehow managed to be both refined and beautifully guttural, like the pulled pork one gets in a great southern barbecue pit. Yet here was Quince pitifully serving five different cuts from the pig. A small piece of bacon, a niblet of ear, and a few others. I wish I could call them overly precious but their tastelessness disallowed even that back-handed compliment. Serving five different things on one dish never works and at this point in time is just inappropriate.

The kitchen’s impotence and, by now, my inebriation saved me, because the kitchen furtively inserted raisins into the panettone bread pudding dessert. I did not see these morsels of evil and thankfully could not taste them. I have my wife to thank for identifying their pernicious presence.

I awoke with a serious hangover that was not cured until getting a seriously good Croque Monsieur at Tartine on Saturday afternoon before returning to L.A.

1701 Octavia
San Francisco
(415) 775-8500


Matthew said...

No blog from steve about food would be complete without a mention of grilled chese. In this case, becuase it is a serious blog (as evidence by the use of such words as replicable and medieval), it is called croque monssieur. I will check back often.

Josh said...

We need to do some serious fressing together. Expect a visit in February. In the interim, I'm having dinner at Degustation (the no longer new Jack Lamb restaurant) on Saturday. When are we gonna eat NYC style?