Sunday, February 28, 2016

Dinner @ Aster in San Francisco, CA

My girlfriend and I needed someplace to eat Saturday night and saw that Aster had a spot open.  It's a relatively casual restaurant that got a Michelin star last year.  While we were there, we were perusing the restaurant's website and saw that the head chef's resume was very impressive.  He was the sous chef at Rubicon (precursor to State Bird Provisions), then was sous chef at Coi, and then later chef de cuisine at Saison.  Quite impressive.

The restaurant is quite casual as far as Michelin stars go.  There are both private tables for 2-4 people and there's a large communal table in the center of the restaurant.  So as an FYI there's a chance you'll be seated with strangers, especially if you're a walk in.  We got a table off to the side for just two, which is what I'd personally prefer.

The menu is divided into four sections, cold dishes, warm dishes, entree dishes, and desserts.  You can order dishes a la carte, but they offer a four-course selection (1 from each section) for $59 dollars.  Bread is extra for $5 if you want it.  We both went with the four-course menu, each ordering four different items.

1) SOURDOUGH, house cultured butter

First up, the bread.  I really liked this bread.  It wasn't a tough/hard that a lot of sourdough breads can be.  It was definitely a bit more sour than most sourdoughs I have but not too sour.

On to the cold dishes we got.

2A) SMOKED ALBACORE, blood orange, fennel, sourdough


2B) CHICORIES, buttermilk-miso, asian pear, watermelon radish, olive

My first course was the smoked albacore on top.  I assume the sourdough was the crunchy carb-like things on top, the blood orange was the reddish sauce on the bottom, and the fennel was the greenish sauce on top.  Overall, quite tasty with some contrasting textures.
The chicories salad was my +1's first course, which as far as I could tell was a normal looking salad.  I can't really comment b/c I only took one bite.  I think I only forked 1-2 leafy greens and didn't get any of the other flavors in there, so can't say much about this dish.

3A) HOKKAIDO SQUASH SOUP, persimmon, pepita, marrow

3B) SOFT-COOKED EGG, crispy potato, salmon roe, bacon vinaigrette

I got the squash soup above, which was very hearty and delicious.  I wish I took a "before" picture before the soup was poured on, because there were a healthy dose of persimmons and crunchy grain-like things in it, which I assume were the pepita (had to look it up, it's pumpkin seed) and marrow.  Overall, contrasting textures and lots of flavors.  I really liked this dish.

My +1 got the soft cooked egg.  I think the waiter said there was puffed rice in here too, but I could be mis-remembering.  The waiter recommended breaking up the egg and using it as a sauce for the rest of the ingredients.  I grabbed one bite of this and thought it was delicious.  Lots of crunchiness and flavor along with the egg.  I'm probably going to grab this course next time.

Now onto the entrees.

4A) MILK-FED LAMB, cabbage, quince, sunchoke, hibiscus

4B) PORK SHOULDER, carrot, kishu, shiitake furikake

I had the lamb above, which was served three ways.  Two chops which can be easily seen, a roulade of some part of the lamb which is that spiral-ish looking thing at the top, and some "ragu" of lamb which was at the bottom and can't be seen.  There was a quince sauce on the bottom, some cabbage, and some chunks of quince.  Overall, a good dish.  I especially liked the quince.

My +1 had the pork shoulder, which I would describe more like a pulled pork shoulder and then re-shaped into that block of meat you see above.  Not criticizing, it's fine that way.  The sauce was apparently some yuzu+carrot sauce and the carrots above were pickled.  I tried one bite of pork and sauce and thought it was quite good.  However, I don't know if I'd get this if I went back.  It's a pretty sizable amount of pork and there's not much besides it.  I'd definitely recommend the lamb as you'll get three different preparations of it so it's a bit mixed up.

And finally the desserts

5A) PUMPKIN PARFAIT, pecan, coriander

5B) HAZELNUT GÂTEAU, kumquat, spiced bavarois

I got the pumpkin parfait, which I guess was sort of deconstructed because it doesn't look anything like a parfait (lets say compared to the one I got at Keiko a Nob Hill).  However, it was quite delicious.  The main "ice cream"-ish part on the left was quite light and not too savory.  Along with the crunch stuff on top, the sauce, and the pecan puree to the right, overall delicious.

My +1 got the gateau on the bottom, which I had to ask what that was.  It's a cake of sorts.  I had to look up bavarois, which is a cream.  Tried one bite and was quite tasty.  I could maybe get this next time I go.

Overall a good meal.  The meal took about 1.5 hours from being seated to finishing the dessert.  It's a fair amount of food for 1.5 hours and I was quite full at the end, although not crazy stuffed.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dinner @ Keiko à Nob Hill in San Francisco, CA

I had a chance to eat at Keiko à Nob Hill recently.  The restaurant has been on my list to try for quite some time when I saw it on the Michelin starred restaurant list for the San Francisco bay area.  For some reason, the menu with its mix of French and Japanese flavors appealed to me.

The restaurant is a little interesting.  There is a single 12 course tasting menu only and there is only one seating an evening.  Every table gets served the same course at the same time (+/- a few minutes as the servers come in with them to tables).  I'm not sure what happens if you show up really late.

Here's an overview of the meal.

1) Single Hook caught wild Canadian Salmon - w/ cream, cucumber dill, ikura

Before the picture above was taken, this dish came incased in a glass dome filled with smoke, so there was a definite smokiness to this salmon.  Overall, quite good.

2) Golden Osetra Caviar and Hokkaido Uni - w/ cauliflower mousse, nori, spinach puree, dashi gelee, gold flake, chive

My girlfriend said this was the single most delicious thing she'd eaten at any of the places we've been.  I wouldn't go quite that far with that assessment, but it was quite delicious, with a lot of different flavors going on.  It's a little hard to see all the layers in this dish in this picture, but you can hopefully see it a bit in the picture below.

3) Honmaguro Bluefin from Aomori - w/ dehyrdated soy sauce, seaweed, and …

Next up was some sashimi.  Apparently this is amongst the best bluefin you can get in Japan.  It was paired with some seaweed and some other accompaniments that I can't remember.  The coolest part of this dish was they grated dehydrated soy sauce over the blue fin right before serving, so no soy sauce to dip. Very good.

4) Zuwaigani Snow Crab - w/ Avocado soup, trout roe

I thought an avocado soup with crab was an interesting combination.  Overall pretty good.

5) Hotate Scallop - w/ potato puree, potato, truffle, curry, porcini mushroom, parmesan foam

Probably my least favorite dish of the night, I think there was too much going on in this dish.  It's hard to tell in the picture, but underneath the parmesan foam was some slices of scallop intermixed with slices of potato, potato puree, and mushrooms.  The scallops themselves were good, but I guess with the texture of potatoes I don't think it worked out.  The curry sauces were quite tasty.

6) Foie Gras Espresso - w/ artichoke heart & yam puree and brioche

We were told that this was the chef's specialty.  I've only had pan seared foie gras once in my life, and I felt it was just a bit too soft & fatty for my taste.  While good, this was the same feeling as before. I loved the brioche to soak up all of the espresso sauce though.

7) Amadai Snapper - w/ turnip puree, turnip leaf puree, tokyo turnip

This course was pretty awesome, one of the reasons I love to go to fine dining establishments.  The fish is in the snapper family and is apparently one of the few fish where the scales are thin enough that they can be eaten.  So the fish is lightly fried and the scales give it this crispiness when eating the fish.  Really good.

8) Muscovy Duck Roti - w/ apricot suace, wine reduction w/ duck jus sauce, garlic snape, and dukkah spice

This duck was amazing.  Probably my favorite course of the night and much better than the duck from La Folie.  It was cooked medium-ish whereas the duck from La Folie was cooked rare-ish, so it was probably just more to my liking.  The wine reduction sauce at the bottom of the picture was amazing.  The apricot sauce at the top was also good, but not my preferred amongst the two.

You can see the dukkah spice mixed into the middle of the duck.  I had to look up what dukkah spice is, which is apparently a middle eastern spice typically including sesame, cumin, coriander, and maybe a few other things.  I don't recall ever having it before, but it gave the duck that little extra kick.

9) A5 Wagyu - w/ Yuzu Soy Foam, Honwasabi, Kale chip

This wagyu was good.  The soy-yuzu foam was a good addition, although the steak was so good I ate a number of bites plain or with just the wasabi (you can see the green mound of it in the bottom).  I felt this wagyu wasn't quite as fatty as the one from Alexander's Steakhouse, so I'm not sure what cut it was.  This isn't a criticism, as the Alexander's steak was so rich I'm not sure how much of it I could have eaten.  This was a steak I could have eaten much more of.

10) Triple Cream Cheese - over Apple tart, w/ candied walnuts

Any interesting cheese course, underneath the triple cream cheese was an apple tart.  The cheese was really rich, reminding us of the cheese course from Ad Hoc.  I was able to finish all of it, but my +1 couldn't quite finish the really rich cheese.

11) Le Parfait - Chocolate, caramel, orange marmalade, coffee mousse, orange zest, poached pear, red currant

I was a little disappointed we didn't get one of the fruit parfaits I saw on Yelp, but this was quite good with a lot of different flavors going on.  Overall really good.  I'm used to parfaits with some crunch somewhere in it.  If they would have added a bit of crunch somewhere in this parfait, perhaps cookie crumbles or something similar, it would have been even better.

12)  Mignardises

When the mignardise course came out, my immediate thought was that this was the largest mignardise I could recall ever getting.  Definitely more than La Folie, Sons and Daughters, and Commis.  In the above there was a chocolate truffle, a macaron, fruit tart, and a mini-cupcake.  The chocolate truffle was probably the most normal sized mignardise, and you can see the macaron and fruit tart are bigger.  Then the mini-cupcake towers over the rest.  All of them were delicious.  Keiko offered to box these up if you were stuffed, which my +1 and many other guests nearby also did.

While I wasn't crazy stuffed, I was quite full by the end of the meal.  I was a little surprised as Keiko doesn't offer any bread service (discounting the small brioche with the foie gras course).  Normally at a lot of other restaurants you need some bread to fill up with.  But here you didn't.  This isn't a criticism, it's actually a good thing that they don't fill you up on bread.  Virtually every course before dessert involved a protein, a reasonably high priced one at that, so it makes this dining experience a pretty good value compared to many other nice tasting menus in the bay area.

The meal took just about 3 hours total, so those who might be worried about the food quantity shouldn't have to worry too much.  I will mention that the middle portion of dishes of foie gras, duck and wagyu can get a bit heavy, so you may be a tad full once you eat all of that red meat (but this shouldn't be considered unusual in any way, the same thing happened to me at French Laundry after eating the pork & lamb).  My girlfriend was particularly full after the duck course and I had to eat some of her Wagyu for her (poor me).

Overall a delicious meal.  One tiny nit with the restaurant is that they don't really have any non-alcoholic drink options.  They really concentrate on wine pairings.  I don't imagine this will bother most.