Monday, May 30, 2016

Dinner @ Al's Place in San Francisco, CA #2

Earlier this year I was able to hit up the much hyped Al's Place and loved the meal.  My girlfriend and I were in the area and were able to snag a last minute cancellation that opened up a spot in OpenTable.  That's how I've gotten both of my reservations at Al's Place, so it's just luck at the end of the day.

I'll leave details of the restaurant in my prior post.  There were a number of new items on the menu that rotated in so we ordered mostly new things off the menu.  We stuck to a similar formula, getting food from each of the sections on the menu.  This is what we got.

1) bread

After the last trip to Al's Place, we noticed at the bottom of the menu it said "bread available upon request".  Oops!  Made sure to get some bread this time.  It can come with oil instead of butter if that's your request.

2) brine pickled french fries, smoked apple sauce

We actually got this dish last time at Al's Place.  I didn't think much of the dish at the time because I thought they were "just fries".  I read later on that the fries at Al's Place were actually pickled and had a unique flavor to them.  I don't know if they were last time and I just didn't notice or if they weren't cooked that way.  The menu from last time clearly just says "french fries", while this time the fries were listed as "brine pickled french fries".  My girlfriend had a craving for them so we decided to give it another shot.

This time I paid attention and clearly tasted the pickling.  After a few more pieces, I suddenly loved the flavor.  The taste is subtle, so it can be missed.  But once you realize it's there, it's delicious.

3) fava'd mushroom broth chawanmushi, cherry, pistachio

We grabbed the chawanmushi to try a different "snackle".  The photo may not clearly show it, but the dish is sort of small.  Overall, an ok dish.  The mushroom broth definitely changed the flavor and I was surprised it didn't taste like typical chawanmushi.  You can't see the chawanmushi beneath everything in this picture, but it was a light brown color instead of the typical light yellow.  I loved the cherries in this dish, but I think the pistachios were a bit too "crunchy" to me.  The contrast and textures may be more gratifying to others.  In contrast, I preferred the chawanmushi from Kusakabe and State Bird Provisions.

4) asparagus, miso/fig leaf, green garlic mayo, peach thinning relish

Now onto some of the entree portions, first up were the cold/cool dishes.  The asparagus appeared to be grilled/pan fried in some way b/c there were char marks on them.  Obviously cooled down later.  I have no idea what "peach thinning relish" is.  There were some seeds on top of the dish that I couldn't quite place, so perhaps that's what the relish was?  Overall, nice light dish.

5) General Leo's cauliflower, mashed peas, burrata, pistachio mousse, rhubarb

This dish had lot of flavors and textures, really liked it.  Underneath everything you see here was some of the pistachio mousse and mashed peas.  Not sure why it's called "General Leo's" cauliflower, but perhaps it's a play on "General Tso's Chicken"?  The cauliflower by itself had a very "Asian" flavor to it although I couldn't quite figure out what it was.

6) green pea curry, black lime-yellowtail, pickled strawberry

Now onto the warm dishes.  We got only one, which was this soup.  The black square chunks you see in the picture was the chunks of yellowtail.  In the soup were peas and chunks of pickled strawberry.  I loved the pickled strawberry.  Similar to the fries above, they taste like strawberries but have a hint of pickling to them.  Overall, a tasty dish.

7) red bow trout, tom yum nam khon sauce

Just like last time we got two meat "side" dishes.  The first one was this trout in tom yum nam khon soup.  I was a little afraid of this dish since I'm not a fan of tom yum soup from Thai restaurants, however this dish was no where near as sour.  I later learned online was that there are two types of tom yum soup.  One with a clear broth (Tom Yum Goong Nam Sai), which is what most restaurants probably serve.  The other is the above (Tom Yum Nam Khon) which has some coconut milk in it, which is one of the reasons it was less sour.  Overall, really tasty.

8) pork belly, galangal soda, brussel + apricot chi, roe

Finally, we got this pork belly dish which was awesome.  I had to look up what galangal is, but it's a sort of ginger-like root.  I assume the soda was used for the marinating of the pork.  The star of this dish was the brussel sprout + apricot chi, effectively pickled kim-chi style.  (At this point it's clear there's a ton of pickling at Al's Place, the third time I've mentioned it in this post.  Somehow it was mostly missed the last time I came here.)  It was delicious.  Perhaps my favorite dish of the night, only challenged by General Leo's cauliflower.

9) lemon curd / blueberry tart, lavender ice cream

The dessert options were very similar to the last time we went although with a different seasonal fruit.  The citrus salad was now strawberry and the pear tart is now lemon/blueberry.  We stuck to just one dessert this time and got the tart with lavender ice cream.  Delicious.  I have a preference for blueberries so I enjoyed this a bit more that the pear tart.

Overall another good meal at Al's Place.  I preferred the meat "sides" this time around more than the last time, but I liked the vegetarian/pescatarian dishes a bit more last time.

Al's Place does have a bit of a small menu.  Somewhere on the order of 20-24 dishes not counting dessert.  We've now hit up a fair percentage of the menu, so we decided we'll have to hold off on going back to Al's Place for awhile.  Let a few more dishes rotate into the menu before heading back.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Mendoza Line In Programming

For those who are unaware, there is a concept called "The Mendoza Line" in baseball.

Short description, there was a baseball player named Mario Mendoza, who (to put it frankly) wasn't a very good baseball player.  Now, making it to the major leagues is an accomplishment itself, and Mario Mendoza was able to scrape together a 9 year career mostly as a utility player.  He represented the minimum level one had to perform at to play and have a career in baseball.  Thus the term the "Mendoza Line" was coined.  If you fell below the line, you couldn't be a major league player.

I've wondered at times what is the "Mendoza Line" for a programmer?  I have a suggestion for the line.

Lets say there is some manual activity that will take you time X to complete. For this example, lets say there are similar typos in a lot config files.

If time X is really small, like a minute, we'll probably just do it manually.  This is perhaps the case when the typo is only in a small number (e.g. 1-2) of config files.

Lets consider if time X is a reasonable size and non-trivial.

If it would take you > time X to write a script to do the manual activity, you still might do it manually.  In my example above, perhaps the typo is in 5-8 config files.  Perhaps the config files and typos aren't similar enough to warrant figuring out the right regex.  So even if it's annoying, you still do it manually.

If you can develop a script faster than time X, obviously you should develop a script to do this manual activity.  Using my config file example, perhaps the typos are in over 500 config files.  Now finding the right regex is worth the time and energy so you don't have to do this task manually.

Now, we all have to do some manual activities in our day to day lives on a computer.  Some of these things are automatable (sp?), but we continue to do the manual activity b/c the effort to automate just isn't worth it (e.g. most don't script hitting the brew button on a coffee maker).

I like to think of this as the "Mendoza Line" for programming.  If you can recognize some manual activity is taking up some time X, can you recognize a script can do it faster, and write the script in less than time X.  If you can do this, you probably can have a career as a programmer.

Now I do want to say that the variable "X" does depend on a number of factors.  It can include job function, experience, and skill set.

I know very talented system administrators that can pump out very nifty sed/awk lines to do things in just a minute.  This makes sense.  There are probably many manual things that they have to do in their jobs so they have found it worthwhile to learn and commit to memory all the advanced parsing that sed/awk can do.  I personally have not b/c I don't do it enough in my day to day life.  So "X" for a task might be small for an advanced system administrator (lets say ~5 minutes) while it'll be larger for me (lets say ~15 minutes) for some setup/config activity.

Another variable to X is how often you might repeat it.  If you don't believe you'll ever have to do the manual activity again (b/c it's not your job and you're doing it as a favor to someone else) perhaps time X is viewed as small only because it's a one time activity.  But if your job function involves doing the activity many times, the potential cost is much larger.

There are perhaps other factors that affect "X", but hopefully the point is understood

Saturday, May 28, 2016

I'm really good at fixing typos!

I have a joke amongst colleagues that I am "only good at fixing typos in open source projects."


Whenever I submit a code patch for some bug and/or feature in a open source project, it can often go ignored.  Why?  Because project maintainers are busy and they don't have time to look at every patch that comes in.  If the patch solves some specific problem they are looking at, then you're in luck.  But more than often I'm fixing something that isn't on their current radar.  Eventually, the patch gets lost amongst the other patches in their review pile and is forgotten.

Why do I know that patches will be forgotten or ignored for long periods of time?  It's because I do the same thing! :-)  It's normal and reality with open source projects.

But what happens when I submit a patch that just fixes a typo in comments or a typo in documentation?  This takes almost no effort to look through and review, so the patch is accepted immediately.

I do the same thing in projects I maintain.

As time goes on, there are a few projects that I suddenly feel like the only thing I can contribute is typo fixes.

Thus, I'm really good at fixing typos :-)

c'est la vie

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dinner @ Din Tai Fung in Santa Clara, CA

Recently I hit up the famed Din Tai Fung in Santa Clara, CA.  Normally, I wouldn't blog of a somewhat more casual restaurant such as Din Tai Fung, but given the insane hype surrounding this restaurant, I thought it worthwhile to write up about my experience.

Din Tai Fung is a famous Taiwanese chain famous for their dumplings, especially their soup dumplings/xiao long bao.  They got locations all over the world but this is their first outpost in Northern California.  They've been featured on Anthony Bourdain and I recall seeing them in a documentary about Taiwanese food on Netflix.  A number of years ago I went to the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei.  My reaction at the time was the food was good, but not great.

People have been reporting about the insane wait times for the Santa Clara Din Tai Fung after it opened in early May 2016.  Several people on Yelp reported waits upwards of 4-5 hours.  One fellow wrote about the 1 hour wait just to get his name on the list.  It sort of reminds me of the DMV.

So a few comments about this particular Din Tai Fung.  First, it's in the Westfield Valley Fair mall.  Interestingly, it doesn't have an outside entrance like so many restaurants you see in malls.  It's right in the middle of the mall next to a J.Crew.  It's in spot C33 on the directory if you're looking for it (it wasn't listed under the "Food" category b/c it's not in the food court).

Second, this restaurant only takes reservations via Yelp.  To my knowledge, all other ones don't take reservations.  Although this is just speculation, I imagine they were forced to do this because of complaints from other stores in the area.  If a hoard of 100-200 people is constantly standing outside the restaurant, neighboring stores aren't going to be happy.  There is a line for a spot at the bar though.

Third, the restaurants decor, music, and feel felt very "upscale hipster".  It reminded me of hip "fusion" restaurants you might see in various spots in the Bay Area.  It's a far cry from the far more simple/casual Din Tai Fung I went to in Taipei and felt like an attempt to feel more hip.  Obviously it's different markets and different cultures and thus different marketing, but some of the charm seems to be lost.  For example, the Din Tai Fung mascots were no where to be found.  Here are pics of mine from Taipei.

I know it's an American market, but how can you not have these mascots around?

Anyways, on to the food.

Basically, there are 6 sections on the menu.  Appetizers, soups, vegetables, dumplings, noodles, and dessert.  While you can technically fill up on dumplings, you probably want to add various random other things to round out the meal.  It'll take a lot of  dumplings to fill you up since they are on the small size.  An additional side note, most of the non-noodle soups are individual bowl portion.  If there's noodles in it, it's a bit larger and can be shared.

So this is what we got.

1) braised beef noodle soup

This noodle soup is apparently one of the Din Tai Fung's more well known dishes.  Spicy beef noodle soup is a pretty well known Taiwanese dish.  Overall, this was really good.  Not too spicy and a lot of flavor too it.  I also really like the noodles, the perfect chewiness level I like.

2) Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao

First up, the park & crab xiao long bao.  You may notice the little yellow crab cut out on the lower right so you know these are the crab dumplings.  Overall quite good.  But the crab and pork flavor combined isn't my favorite.  The better dish is the one below.

3) Pork Xiao Long Bao

These are the famed Din Tai Fung XLB.  Compared to some other restaurants, the dumplings would be considered on the small side.  However, each one was perfect and delicious.  Better than what I remember in Taipei.  All with a healthy amount of soup.

4) sticky rice & pork shao mai

These shao mai are apparently another half-famous dumpling from Din Tai Fung.  I remember having these in Taipei and didn't like them that much.  I didn't like these that much either.  This is just a personal taste of mine.  The sticky rice isn't a flavor I love to begin with, so putting it in a dumpling form won't work for me.  So please take my review of this dish with a grain of salt.

5) Shrimp & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce

We originally wanted to get the Taiwanese style potstickers but they were out this day.  The waiter recommended these saying that most people skip this dish because it says "wonton" in the title (and apparently he said Tom Cruise loves this dish).  I ended up really liking this dish.  It wasn't too spicy.  Just a good balance of spiciness.  Overall, I'm glad we got this dish.

At this point we were still hungry, so we ordered two more dishes.

6) Noodles with Minced Pork Sauce

The noodles were tasty, I think the same type of noodles that were in the beef soup above.  However, I was a little disappointed in this dish.  I think we thought this dish was chah chah mien, but it seemed to lack that fermented bean flavor.  Overall, not a bad dish, but I wouldn't order this one again.

7) house chicken soup

Apparently another house specialty is the chicken soup.  You can get it with noodles if you want, but we just got a bowl to try the broth.  All I can say is broth is delicious.  You'll want to get this as a side for your dumplings.  You feel really healthy after eating this.

Overall a great meal.  Definitely better than the meal I remember in Taipei.

However, how do the dumplings here compare to the rest of the bay area?

I've blogged before about the best xiao long bao in the bay area.  Where would I put Din Tai Fung compared to them?  I probably wouldn't put it in the top couple, it might go somewhere in the #3-#6 range.  But I think I realize why Din Tai Fung is so famous for their dumplings.

Din Tai Fung regularly advertises that they have "mastered" the formula for perfect xiao long bao.  In their kitchen, you can see cooks precisely weigh every dumpling skin and dumpling filling before completing a dumpling.  Din Tai Fung states that every xiao long bao has exactly the same number of folds when it's made.

This is probably what separates Din Tai Fung from others.  Every single dumpling we ate had a consistent amount of soup in it.  Every dumpling stayed intact when lifting it off of the parchment paper.  There is a lot of consistency in their product.

I've been to a number of other places where some of the dumplings had soup in it and others didn't.  Other times, the soup began leaking when I lifted it off the parchment paper or cabbage leaves.  In fact, my top ranked XLB in the bay area is Shanghai Dumpling Shop in Millbrae.  The first two times I went there the XLB were phenomenal.  But the third time I went there the XLB didn't have a lot of soup in it and was bland.

I couldn't help but remember this video I saw on YouTube a number of years ago about Shanghai Dumpling King in San Francisco (my #3 on my list).

Around 1:03 you'll see him begin to make the skins for the dumpling wrapper.  As you can see, he just does it by hand and just knows how much is perfect.  There's no measuring of any kind.  If he's not in the kitchen that day, will his staff know how to do it just as well?  Probably not.  I bet that's what happened when I went to Shanghai Dumpling Shop the third time.

So one thing Din Tai Fung probably does really well is be very consistent.  If you want really good dumplings, you will get it there.  There will probably be no mistakes given their meticulous precision in the kitchen.

At what point am I a "Googler" and not a programmer?

Just the other day what should have been about 15-30 minutes of fixes to a Perl script took me atleast an hour because of constant "I can't remember how to do this in Perl" Google searches:

"perl elif or elsif" - I remembered enough that "else if" wasn't the correct syntax in Perl, but couldn't remember which of the common alternates it was.

"perl conditional string compare" - I couldn't remember if it was "eq" or "-eq".

"perl string concatentation" - I actually had bugs in my script because I thought "+" was supported in Perl.  Whoops, it's "." in Perl.

"perl break continue" - Script errors informed me that I was using the wrong syntax.  Had to out right Google the answer b/c I couldn't remember it (in Perl it's "last" and "next").

There might have been a few more searches.

Needless to say, Perl is not my bread and butter language.  It's something I use once in awhile because I need to script something of some complexity just beyond a shell script.  When you jump between languages, the exact syntax of what you should be using can become a blur.

So it lead me to this question I think about once in awhile "Am I a professional Googler?"  There are times I spend way more time Googling than I would like to or think I should be.

First, is Googling an answer bad?  Admittedly, it is something that just feels bad.  A large part of this is because when you can't recall things from memory, you tend to think of yourself as stupid.  In some ways, it makes you feel lazy.  That perhaps reading a book would be wiser or finding the answer in a book would be the "smarter" thing to do.

IMO, this isn't the case.  You can't remember everything.  Many things I've done professionally in my career I haven't done from memory.  Significant portions of programming knowledge came from books.  When I needed a piece of information I developed a mental index of where to look in my mountains of books for specific answers.  In fact, I distinctly remember having to go to my Perl book to look up "What's the perl equivalent of break & continue" in the past because I couldn't remember it then.

Eventually that mental index simply turned into Google.  Various blogs, technical documentation, and StackOverflow have turned into the books on my shelf.

So I do not believe there isn't inherently anything wrong with Googling various answers and it doesn't make you any less smart.

But ...

Using Google to recall syntax nuances is one thing.  I think there is a mental line one crosses to begin to wonder, "Am I really Googling too much?"  At some point are you barely even programing?

I like to think of a recent project I worked on called Magpie.

Originally, I had more grandiose Big Data goals related to Big Data on HPC.  But as things sometimes go, a far more humble solution using just Bash scripts was found to be just as much, if not more, useful than many of the original project ideas.

These Bash scripts were initially hacked up because they were meant to be "support" for my actual work.  When we determined that the support-ish Bash scripts were what people found to be the most useful product of the work, did we turn it into a more polished product.

I never sat down and actually learned Bash scripting syntax at any point in my life.  Basics such as conditionals and loops were cut and pasted from online guides when I've had to develop small scripts before.  More nuanced things were gleened from more Googling and cut and pasting.  There were many searches for "bash" + "sed|awk" + "some pattern" because I never learned many of the advanced features of sed or awk or any of the advanced Bash-isms.

I've cut and pasted my share of code before.  Whenever I've needed a function that I deemed reasonably common and didn't want to write on my own, I was able to find one online.  But this was different.  I felt that I cut and pasted an entire solution together from stuff on StackOverflow.  To be honest, if I was given simple interview programming questions and asked to do it in Bash, I doubt I'd be able to do it.

In contrast, I think of how I originally learned to program in C.  I took a small C programming class in highschool.  In college it was in a few of my classes.  I read about half of the famous Stevens network programming book in college and the rest once I began my career.  There were other books too.  My programming expertise in C was hardened through many homework assignments, work assignments, and bugs.

Granted, C is a far different beast than Bash, but when I learned C the web was just in its infancy.  A few not-great search engines like Excite and AltaVista existed.  Google was just coming online.  There was no Stackoverflow or blogs with help on individual niche topics.  So learning it primarily meant you had to learn from scratch.  So C programming is simply backed into my brain.

I wonder if things would have been the same if StackOverflow was around when I was first coding in C?  Would I have not ever read the Stevens networking books and coded through StackOverflow?  Is this what people do in college now doing their assignments?

It's something I've pondered.  But getting back to the original question ... Am I a professional Googler?

I eventually realize the answer is no.

In actuality, it takes years to get the point that you can become proficient enough to actually understand what it is you are looking for so you can cut and paste off the internet.  When you find the piece of cut & paste that is correct, you know it and you can use it.

What I have to remember is yes, I did cut & paste off the internet for much of Magpie.  Perhaps it does make you feel lazy.  But it was individual lines of syntax, not an entire solution.  The real meat of Magpie is all of the Hadoop, Spark, etc. knowledge in Magpie within the scripts.  I just needed bits of code to piece it together.

It's no different then when you cut & paste from your personal library of code.  The first time you need to program something tricky, you really figure it out.  But everytime you need it later, you cut & paste (or if it's a library, just call it, etc.).  But eventually, you probably forget all the subtle details you put into making it robust and solid in the first place.  Do I remember all the details of how to make a portable non-blocking connect call?  Absolutely not.  But after I wrote it the first time, I used it several more times over.

While writing this blog post, I had almost forgotten something.  While I was developing Magpie, I did write many 5-10 line scripts off to the side to figure out "is this how the syntax works?" or "is this what I'm looking for?"  I had completely forgotten this reality.  So I didn't actually blindly cut and paste all of the time.  And of course I did eventually learn some things.

And ultimately, at the end of the day, one tends to invest time in those things they think worthwhile.  Do I consider Magpie to be of some complexity that it requires my attention to learn all Bash syntax in depth?  The answer is no.  So I didn't bother to.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Online dating websites: Why won't you take my money?

A few weeks ago I wanted to buy an online dating subscription for my single friend to try and get him out there in the dating scene.  Perhaps just a one month subscription on a website to get him going (if he would even bother to sign up).

Now, I thought this would be easy.  Go to website, click on "gift card", click, click, enter credit card, click, click some more, get QR code or coupon code.

To my surprise, this was not to be. One of the few websites that actually offers gift subscription, but you have to contact customer service.  Why?

eharmony: You have to CALL to get a gift subscription.  You've got to be kidding me.

okcupid: Free website, but figured you can buy a gift card for the extras on the website.  Nope.

tinder: likewise

howaboutwe:  No gift subscription available.

I looked at a few more niche sites which also did not offer gift subscriptions and just gave up at this point.

When I pointed this out to a friend, we couldn't help but wonder, "Why don't these websites want to take my money?"

Wouldn't gift cards/subscriptions to these services be something people love to get for their single friends?

I'm totally missing something.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Dinner @ Gary Danko in San Francisco, CA

I finally got the chance to try Gary Danko.  Gary Danko is a famed San Francisco restaurant, with multiple awards since it opened.  For years it was rated the number one restaurant in the Bay Area from Zagat (although it recently fell to number two with Kokkari Estiatorio taking over #1).  It was recently listed at #6 on Yelp's best restaurants in America.  It's had a Michelin Star for years.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if I would ever dine here simply because Gary Danko is old school and only takes reservations over the phone.  I'm sort of lazy about doing this and find the online reservations just too convenient.  However, my girlfriend took charge and snagged a reservation.  According to her, you do need to be on the dot about calling 2 months ahead of time.  She called a tad late and couldn't get the reservation time she really wanted.

Gary Danko's menu reminded me a lot of La Folie's.  There is a price fixe menu where you can pick 3, 4, or 5 different items off the menu, ranging from appetizer to dessert.  To my knowledge, there was no limitation on what you can choose from.  The staff also said that you can cancel or add orders on later on if you are insanely stuffed or still hungry.  However, they ask that you pick ahead of time because they will adjust the portion sizes of the courses depending on how many you want.

There is a also a five course tasting menu available, although the five courses come from the price fixe menu.  It's there mostly for those who don't want to pick and choose anything off the menu.  I think that was different than La Folie's, where the tasting menu was other specialties.  You can have a caviar service beforehand too. 

My date and I went with picking 4 items off the price fixe menu each so we could try a lot of different things.  We each picked an appetizer, seafood, meat entree, and dessert course.  We also got caviar service beforehand. Here's an overview of the meal.

1) thai coconut curry soup w/ peanuts

First up, we got this small amuse bouche soup.  Overall quite tasty.  I thought the nuts in the soup were interesting as I've never had them with a thai soup.

2) black sea osetra caviar w/ buckwheat blini

This was the caviar service.  As you can in the picture, the caviar comes with some buckwheat blinis and some creme fraiche.  After the caviar we tried at La Folie, I was a little hesitant to try this because it was a full ounce of caviar instead a half ounce, so I thought it might be way too filling.  However, it was not that filling overall.  The buckwheat blinis were quite light compared to the lobster potato blinis.  Overall, this was delicious.  I think at some restaurants the caviar can be drowned out by the creme fraiche, but here you can control the balance. 

3A) Dungeness Crab Salad with Avocado, Citrus, Bulgar and Mustard-Tarragon Vinaigrette

3B) Risotto with Rock Shrimp, Dungeness Crab, Shimeji Mushrooms and Peas

For the first course appetizer, I got the crab salad you see above.  It was circle molded mostly with bulgar, which is a grain I was completely unfamiliar with.  I thought it was quinoa at first.  Overall, it was light and refreshing.  A good start to the meal.

My +1 got the risotto you see in the bottom photo.  This is apparently one of Gary Danko's signature dishes.  We were told by friends to get the lobster risotto, but we didn't see it on the menu.  The waitress said that the recipe is identical but the key seafood ingredient may be different depending on what's in season.  So this was with shrimp and crab.  I tried a few bites of and this and the risotto was very rich and creamy and delicious.  I can understand why it's considered one if their signature dishes.

My one comment to those who might be interested in getting the risotto, do not treat this dish as an appetizer.  While it may be a portion size of an appetizer and not an entree, it is a risotto.  It's definitely on the heavy side.  Treat it minimally like a seafood course and not just an appetizer.

4A) Pan Seared Bass with Israeli Couscous, Green Garlic, Fava Beans and Preserved Meyer Lemon

4B) Coconut Thai Curry with Shrimp, Calamari, Lobster, Scallops, Candied Peanuts and Shiitake Mushrooms

For the seafood course, I went with the sea bass.  Overall quite good, although I would have preferred it to be undercooked a tad more (by no means was it overcooked).  It's worth noting that the overall portion of the sea bass was relatively small, almost to appetizer level.  Dunno if that is by design given we each got 4 courses.

My +1 had the thai curry you see in the bottom photo.   It's hard to tell in the photo, but there was a bed of rice with some peanuts which everything was poured over.  Of the few bites I tasted, it was really good.  It was a lot more food than my seafood course.

I should say that one of Gary Danko's signature seafood dishes is apparently the lobster over potato puree.  We had had lobster the prior night so simply decided to get other dishes.  However, looking over at the table next to us, we wondered if we should have gotten some more :-)

5A) Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Farroto, Medjool Dates, Rainbow Carrots and Green Chermoula

5B) Roasted Pork Tenderloin and Belly with Eggplant-Pepper Marmalade, Wasabi Peas and Soy-Mustard Glaze

For the main entree I went with the lamb you see above.  You can get it cooked per your desire, so I went with my usual of medium.  When I looked at the lamb more closely, I was a little surprised that it appeared to be grilled/roasted instead of sous vided.  You could the "lines" of inconsistency in the meat (you can probably see in the photo the different shades of pink).  This isn't a knock at Gary Danko in anyway.  If anything, I think it's refreshing to see that some higher end places still do this.  I was simply surprised as I figured most higher end restaurants sous vided all of their meat nowadays (such as the perfectly consistent pink wagyu at Keiko and Alexander's).  Overall, this was really good.  About as perfectly medium as I think you can get.

My +1 got the pork tenderloin dish you see in the bottom photo.  I tried one chunk of her pork tenderloin, which I found very tender and delicious.  I was less enthused with the pork belly, but that may be because both of us prefer pork belly when it's slow cooked (such as it was at Kin Khao).

6A) Seasonal Sorbet Sampler with Cookies

6B) Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces

Wanting to get something sort of light for the end of the meal I choose the sorbet sampler.  Normally at restaurants, I think you get 3 tiny scoops to try.  Oh boy, that was not the case here.  These scoops were big, and the cookies perhaps remove the "lightness" of the dessert.  I'm not sure what types of cookies came with each sorbet (chocolate, sugar, and biscotto?) but the sorbets were strawberry, creme fraiche, and blackberry.  The sorbets were a bit light and airy, which surprised me.  Unsure of how they make the sorbets compared to most places.  But overall delicious.  Although it still doesn't top the berry sorbet from Chez Panisse.

My +1 got the chocolate soufflé you see on the bottom photo.  When they bring out the soufflé, they punch a hole in it and pour two sauces in.  I saw this at another table first and took a video when ours came.

I believe the sauces were vanilla cream & belgian chocolate.  Of the bite I took, it was really light and airy.  The table next to us got a lemon soufflé which also had some ice cream put on top.  I think I'll have to get that next time.

7)  chocolate mousse cake

To my surprise, the staff brought out this surprise birthday cake for me.  At this point in the meal, I was pretty stuffed and just took a bite or two of this.  My primary reaction was that the cake was really rich.  I probably could have enjoyed this more if this were my only dessert, but with the sorbet above, I was stuffed on dessert.

8) mignardise

Finally, some petite fours at the end.  No particular comments because i wasn't able to try all of them, in fact we couldn't even finish all of them.  I thought it was interesting that they offered a random assortment of individual petite fours.  Most restaurants always offer them in pairs, so everyone at the table can try each one.

Last but not least, we got some pineapple cakes to go.

I'm allergic to pineapple and didn't try these, so sorry, can't comment on them.

Overall, the meal took three hours.  Which I think is one of the reasons we were able to finish as much as we were able to.  If they had brought out some dishes far more quickly, we would have been insanely stuffed.  Discounting the extra birthday cake, I think the four courses and caviar service were a perfect amount.  I think that 5 courses is very doable but needs to be managed carefully with lighter selections.  If you get some of the heavier dishes, such as the risotto, then you'll have to adjust.  My girlfriend struggled a bit with her selections due to the risotto and thai curry over rice.  It was just a tad much for the first two courses compared to my crab salad and sea bass.

A great meal overall.  One comment for people coming here wondering if they want to go to Gary Danko.  The restaurant certainly sways on the "classic" side of the fine dining more so than many of the other restaurants on this blog.   As an example, the Thai curry over rice from above?  You probably wouldn't find anything like that at Al's Place or State Bird Provisions.  So for those looking for something more avant garde, Gary Danko probably isn't the restaurant you're looking for.  For those who are seeking something more classic, Gary Danko is perfect.