Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tommy's - San Francisco

Despite all of the upscale establishments we visited during our two weeks on the West Coast, the place we’d rush back to on our next visit is Tommy’s, the Mexican/Yucatan restaurant a few doors down from Ton Kiang on Geary.

We stopped in as part of our ongoing quest for an excellent margarita, and enjoyed fresh chips and salsa, as well as the staff singing in Spanish while slicing an inordinate number of limes.

Even popping in for a drink off-peak, the atmosphere was lively and friendly (the owner gave everyone at the bar a few of his freshest apples to take home), and we're prepared to bet it would be a fun spot for dinner.

The Slanted Door - San Francisco

We put our hotel concierge to work to seat us at The Slanted Door, the hot table in town. This Vietnamese restaurant used to be a hole in the wall in the attractively seedy Mission district, but once Bill Clinton & Mick Jagger dined there, it became clear that a more upscale location would be necessary; it now occupies a corner of the newly-remodelled Ferry Building, a nice small collection of California food shops.

Our cocktails were by far the best we’d had all trip, but the food didn’t live up to expectations. Very good sashimi, and nice mouthfuls of noodles and dumplings, but did we miss something?

The emperor's new food?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bentley's - London

Aimlessly wandering around Piccadilly Circus in search of culinary inspiration, we spotted and decided to try Richard Corrigan's latest opening.

We sidled up to the bar, and soon felt that we were the only people there who weren't a) Irish; b) terribly, terribly posh; or c) just back from a week on the yacht in St. Bart's.

But grandfatherly Angelo behind the bar soon made us feel at home, with an enthusiastic recommendation for the red mullet ("taaaaaaaaaaasty" -- which, in fact, it was), and went on to impress us with his oyster shucking skill and endurance. This was a man who needed neither a glove nor cloth to protect himself whilst prising the little fellas open.

The squid stuffed with chorizo was succulent - far from the usual rubbery fair we see in London. The portion was perhaps a little small, though.

Halfway into our meal, Corrigan himself walked in sporting his Lindsay House chef whites and completely took over the room. We enjoyed seeing the chef orchestrate the dining room, but were just a bit too in the thick of it eating at the bar: At one particularly tense moment the chef, Angelo, and a waiter were trying to figure out which of the six plates of freshly-shucked oysters belonged to which table, and we felt compelled to try to help out.

We needed a drink elsewhere to unwind after such a stressful shift.

At one point the maitre-d shouted to Corrigan, "Hey, did you know one of London's most influential people is here tonight?" "Who?" asked Corrigan. "You!" teased the maitre-d, citing a magazine survey out earlier that day.

Corrigan was soon tempting customers to the off-the-menu langoustine that were fresh in that morning. "We get them, cook them, sell them; and when they're gone, they're gone." They looked delicious (if a little hard work with the little fork) but unfortunately we had already eaten.

We asked what he would drink with the Welsh rarebit for desert; after a long pause (so long, in fact, we considered repeating the question, but feared incurring the wrath we'd seen him unleash on the poor French waiter Mateo earlier), he recommended the Oyster Stout, which was indeed a great choice. You could actually taste the oysters, and that can't be bad.

There is a more extensive menu in the restaurant proper, but the friendliness and immediacy of the bar are definitely worth a look.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Gary Danko - San Francisco

The culmination of our holiday trip to San Francisco was the legendary, dark-windowed Gary Danko.

We managed to break through the phone lines precisely three months and eleven hours earlier, but a note to less neurotic would-be diners: There did seem to be walk-in seats at the bar.

Neither of us was completely blown away, but dining there was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The staff demonstrated the best of American service: talkative and friendly but well short of intrusive. (We invited the sommelier to join us after he admired our wine selection, but he declined, seeming sincerely regretful.)

The highlight of the meal was the herb-crusted lamb, rare and thinly-sliced, although the seared polenta that accompanied it was overdone.

The glazed oysters with caviar were also excellent – tender, not slimy (briefly poached, explained our waitress) – as was the foie gras. (But to be honest, Christine has yet to encounter a foie gras she doesn’t like.)

Lobster salad was light and delicately tasty, and the dressing on the salad was sublime.

The cheese course did not disappoint, despite our initial scepticism at the small servings: favourites were the Umbriaco and the Couronne Lochoise, and the Montbriac was ripened to perfection, i.e. oozing all over the plate. We also enjoyed the Chevre Noir, a goat’s milk cheddar.

Finally, the chocolate soufflé was darn good (although still a distant second to the same at Bouley, pre-re-opening); the trio of crème brulees, however, was just a bit too much to cope with to finish the meal. We were anticipating delicate "miniature" brulees, but were instead presented with three full-sized bohemoths. The flavours were delicate and refined, but the quantities overwhelming.

We overdid it on the booze, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone: a well-made pre-prandial cocktail at the in-house bar; two glasses of Perrier Jouet brut rosé upon seating; a 2000 pinot noir from Hanzell, one of the Sonoma vineyards we fell in love with when we visited the previous week; and to accompany our dessert, a 1998 Chateau Climens. We were tempted by the Chateau D’Yquem at $48 a glass, but $117 for the Climens seemed like a better bargain (four hours into our meal).