Monday, January 11, 2016

Dinner @ Al's Place in San Francisco, CA

Al's Place has been one of the most hyped restaurants of 2015.  The head chef was formerly the head chef a Ubuntu in Napa, a two Michelin star restaurant before it closed.   It was named the best new restaurant of the year by Bon Appetit and just got a Michelin Star.

The restaurant reminds me a bit of State Bird Provisions.  It is a very casual place for a Michelin star restaurant, with some folks dressed in jeans and t-shirts.  A portion of the restaurant is reserved for walk ins.  We saw a line of people lined up well before the restaurant opened (just like State Bird).  A large number of people were waiting outside waiting for a seat.  The price is comparable.  Reservations are also difficult due to the hype.  However, I got pretty lucky with a reservation that opened up < 24 hours earlier.

Right now Al's Place offers an a la carte menu or a "Family Style" menu for $60. The latter is simply the restaurants random picks from the menu.  Normally, I always go for the tasting menu/chef's picks from the menu, but I didn't this time as will be explained below.

Al's place is somewhat famous for concentrating on vegetarian/pescatarian dishes.  The menu is divided up into 5 sections, "Snackles" (snacks), "Cold/Cool" dishes, "Warm/Hot" dishes, "Sides", and "Limited Availability" dishes.  With the exception of one or two dishes, all the "Snackles", "Cold/Cool", and "Warm/Hot" were vegetarian.  A large number of the dishes in these sections would probably even qualify as vegan.  However, this isn't a vegetarian restaurant, as a number of meat dishes are available under the "Sides" or "Limited Availability" section.

The "Family Style" only covers items from the "Snackles", "Cold/Cool", and "Warm/Hot" dishes.  So if you wanted to get anything with meat, you'd have to order extra items.  So we elected to just order a whole bunch of dishes from the a la carte menu to ensure we got a few meat dishes.

Here's what we had.

1) blue dane radish, preserved bergamot butter - w/ salt

It's a little hard to tell in the picture, but above the scoop of butter was a pile of salt.  We were told to dip into the butter and sprinkle salt on.  I just dipped the butter into the salt instead.  Also, you ate the radishes leaves and all, which was new to me.

Overall, delicious.  I can't quite put my finger on why it was, but I've never had an dish quite like this before.  The radish leaves were certainly a good part of the equation as it had a bit of (I believe natural) spice to it.

2) french fries, smoked apple sauce

I normally wouldn't go for such a dish as french fries seem quite generic.  However, my date insisted since we just finished a hike and she really craved some fries.  Overall, the apple sauce was tasty.  I probably wouldn't get this dish again though, as I'd want to try some dishes that were really different.

3) lightly cured trout, crispy potato, smashed turnip, bagna cauda

I had to look up bagna cauda, which is apparently a dip of some sort which originates from Italy.  I wasn't entirely sure what "smashed turnip" was, but it appeared to be pickled in some way.  Overall, this was probably my favorite of the night.  All of it together was delicious.

4) baby lettuces, herbed avocado, pistachio crumble

Before coming to the restaurant I read on Yelp that this dish was to be eaten with your hands.  I didn't understand why until I started poking at the dish.

From the picture, it looks just like a pretty normal salad.  However, the "baby lettuces" in the title of this dish are not actually leaves from baby lettuces.  They are the entire head of the lettuce from a baby lettuce.  So the above is not a bunch of lettuce leaves but was around 8-10 baby lettuce heads, of atleast two different lettuce varieties.  Underneath it all was the herbed avocado sauce, which you can see better in this picture below (along with a lettuce head).  So it's actually easier to just grab a head of lettuce and dip it in the sauce.

This dish was awesome, the most unique and delicious salad I think I've ever had.

5) hanger steak, smoked salmon butter, uni-balsamic

I'm actually not a fan of steak cooked rare, for some reason it just tastes too "uncooked".  However, this was very tasty.  I'm sure it has to do with the fact this steak probably wasn't from Safeway.  It was also cut so thin that perhaps that rareness wasn't evident.  Overall, very tasty. 

It's worth noting that overall this wasn't a lot of steak.  Maybe on the order of 5-6 ounces worth.  Just to keep that in mind for anyone that would want to order it and if you're sharing.

6) grits, goat's milk curds, fried brussels sprouts, quince, yellowfeet

This was the lone dish we ordered from the "Warm/Hot" section as we didn't want to share a soup (2 of the 4 dishes in this section) and the other dish was a pasta (we didn't want two warm carb dishes).  I assume the "yellowfeet" was yellowfoot mushrooms (Googling "yellowfeet" was not pretty).  Overall a very tasty dish.  I think the quince in the grits was what really stood out to me.

7) fish head under a brick, sweet+sour

We ordered this dish almost exclusively because we were curious what "under a brick" meant for cooking something.  Effectively, this is a fish head (we didn't ask what kind of fish), sliced vertically so its flat, and put under a brick while it was grilled.  It comes with some kim-chi sweet & sour sauce on the side.

I had actually expected some Chinese takeout like sweet & sour sauce, but this was much more mild and had some type of kim-chi flavoring in it according to the waiter.  Overall, the sauce was quite tasty.

While the fish was fine, I wouldn't get it again.  You have to really dig around to find the meat.  If this fish head were perhaps steamed, I think it'd be more clear what parts of the head were available to pick off meat because the fish head would still look like fish.  However, because it was grilled and there's so much black char on it, you're sort of just poking around trying to find meat.

Then on to dessert.  We ordered two of the three desserts available.

8A) citrus salad, coconut, swarnadwipa - w/ tangerine, blood orange, grapefruit

It may be a little hard to tell in this picture, but the white is the coconut, which was a bit airy.  I assume it was coconut whipped or moussed or something like that.  I had to look up what swarnadwipa was, which is an Indian spice of some sort.  Included amongst the citrus that we could tell was tangerine, blood orange, and grapefruit.  If there were other types, I couldn't figure it out.

Overall, this was a nice light dessert.

8B) caramelized pear tart, shiso honey, lemon verbana ice cream

Looking at the pear tart, it seemed like there were atleast two different types of pear in this tart. Really good.

Overall, I loved the meal at Al's Place.  It's definitely one of my favorites in recent memory and one of the few that I think met the hype it's associated with.

Update: I hit up Al's place again, see review #2.

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