Saturday, October 3, 2009

Top Cheffing San Francisco

by Cliff O'Neill

For those who may follow my Top Chef blog on my site (this is being crossposted posted to both Cliffieland and All Top Chef), I was recently in San Francisco on vacation. And since I've become a full-on foodie thanks to Top Chef (despite being unable to cook anything that doesn't have microwave instructions on the box) we just had to go take out a second mortgage and head out to several of the restaurants of some of theTop Chef and Top Chef Masters contesants.

Be advised that since I haCitizen Cake, San Francisco by, as stated, zero cooking skills, there isn't much critical discussion about the various dishes here aside from their general deliciousness.

First stop: Citizen Cake, the pastry-centric restaurant of Top Chef Masters contestant and Top Chef guest judge Elizabeth Falkner.

We all know how Top Chef contestants are forever reminding us that they are "not a pastry chef." Falkner, though, was both charged with judging the cheftestants' dessert offerings and was a contestant in her own right on the Masters show.

We started our brunch with a few "hair of the dog" drinks, a Ramos Fizz (Boodles gin, orange flower water, egg whites and vanilla sugar) and a Fleur De Sel(ery) Bloody Mary infused with jalapeño vodka.

Let's just say that they were both delicious.

While we waited for our guest, we ordered up a plate of Donut Balls With Cream Glaze and Jam. Yum.

Dish At Citizen Cake, San Francisco by you.For our main course, my partner ordered the Spinach Salad Lardon, Roasted Potatoes, Poached Egg and Mustard Vinagrette.

Dish At Citizen Cake, San Francisco by you.I opted for the Carnitas Hash, Potatoes, Tomatillo Salsa and Two Poached Eggs.

Dish At Citizen Cake, San Francisco by you.Meanwhile, our guest opted for the Hola Granola with Yogurt and Fresh Fruits.

Dish At Citizen Cake, San Francisco by you.Needless to say, everything was spectacular. In fact, it may have been the best brunch I've ever had. 'Nuff said. It's no wonder she's won all of of those awards.

Citizen Cake, San Francisco by you.
A few days later, we headed to the grandest restaurant of our lives, Hubert Keller's landmark Fleur De Lys.

IMG_0639 by you.Keller, you no doubt know, is one of the greatest French chefs in America. And not only was he the first-ever guest chef on Top Chef and a regular guest there, he was in the top three chefs competing in this past summer's Top Chef Masters. Of course, as such, we knew that such an outing would be anything but inexpensive.

Still, it's a peak experience and one that we wouldn't be experiencing again anytime soon.

So, we put on our fancy duds and headed there. Oddly, we were stunned to see a diner eating in the main room in a t-shirt. But, these are different times, I suppose.

Oh, one other crazy-diners moment: At a nearby table, a young couple sat, clearly there to celebrate a special occasion. And when the sommelier arrived to ask for the couple's wine order, the young man asked, "What do you recommend for a birthday?"

"Well, that rather depends on your taste," the unflappable employee responded.

See, I could never do that job. I wouldn't be able to keep from offering a sarcastic response (and getting
sommelierily summarily fired).

On to the meal!

The stellar experience started with an amuse bouche of vichyssoise with lemongrass and fava bean purée with Parmesan.

IMG_0312 by you.Next were the appetizers. My partner ordered the Symphony of Choucroute Condant With Caviar, a fois gras and smoked duck "burger," sesame beef tartare and golden panisse fries.

IMG_0314 by you.I ordered the Veal Sweetbread "Meuniere" with morel mushrooms, poached egg "purse," toasted brioche and veal jus.

IMG_0313 by you.From there, we moved on to the main course. My partner ordered the Slow-Braised Snake River Farm Waygu Beef Cheeks With Pretzel Crust on spatzle choucroute gratin and scented with a beer sauce.

IMG_0316 by you.My order was for the Boneless Quail Stuffed With Ris De Veau, Presented With Roasted Parsnips, young leeks and fois gras, lightly smoked apple flavored veal jus and pine nuts.

IMG_0315 by you.Finally, it was on to dessert. I ordered the Array Of Sorbets, presented on crispy popcorn with fresh fruits ...

IMG_0318 by you.... and my partner was graced with the FleurBurger, a lightly spiced dark chocolate ganache, home-made Beignet, cherry-flavored milk shake with frozen fennel ice cream "pomme frites." (The husband wishes to describe this further adding that it was "a delightful chocolate 'burger' with sorbet 'fries' in a basket made of hard-shell chocolate, a kiwi 'pickle,' mint 'lettuce' and strawberry 'tomato.'" It was. And I was very jealous. Not that my dessert wasn't stellar as well.)

IMG_0319 by you.Words fail me in describing this entire dinner, since I have never in my life had a meal this fantastical. If you've never been there, put it on your bucket list. Now.

Finally, after a quick stop into an actual speakeasy nearby to check in with some friends, we headed off to luna Basque, the restaurant of current season Top Chef contestant Mattin Noblia.

Now, we can't really speak to the cuisine there, since we were fresh from not only a big dinner, but the greatest meals of our lives.

So, we really only got to order an appetizer and (to be nice) dessert.

And what did Chef Mattin have as the special on his menu this evening but a variation on the ceviche dish which got him voted off the show one week earlier (on TV, anyway).

IMG_0321 by you.
To be fair, it was a lovely dish. And Mattin (a wholly lovely individual in person) noted that he wanted to present the dish to show that sometimes one needs to work a dish for a while to get it right. And he did.

Still, it's hard to judge, since it wasn't the greatest ceviche I've ever had. (In fact, ceviche is about the only dish I've actually prepared myself sucessfully. And this tasted about the same as my own ... which isn't saying a whole lot for it.)

We fared much better with Mattin's creme brulée (not pictured). It was very tasty and as sweet as the chef.

Also, you may or may not be aware that we got to watch last week's Top Chef episode at Mattin's restaurant. And the chef (amusingly) spoiled the ending of the night's episode for us.

We did get to pick the chef's brain for a bit and he is every bit as charming and goofy as he appeared on television. He explained the whole red neckerchief thing (it's a Basque thing), his not-so-secret longing for Padma, the fact that he got along with (most) everyone on the show, superchef Joël Robuchon's odd comment about Mattin's French (it's a combination of Mattin's regional accent and the time he's been away from France) and the fact that a certain cheftestant who appears not to be very well-respected by her colleages on the show was, well, not that well-respected.

In the end, we purchased our own red neckerchiefs, which earn money for charity. And we got our pictures taken with the French chef.

IMG_0643 by you.And a good time was had by all.

Oh, and I lost count of all the "funny" comments we got from folks on the streets of San Francisco as we walked back to our hotel with our new neckwear still attached.


David Dust said...

Cliff -

Awesome post!!! And the picture of the three of you with the red scarves is adorable.

With reporting like this, I'm sure you could work for Gail (and her Boobies) over at Food & Wine. I'll put in a good word for you. :)


theminx said...

Yay, Cliff - that was great! I so want to go to Fleur de Lys now!

And I suppose it's safe to assume that your honey is a big fan of sauerkraut and you likee de sweetbreads, since you each had those elements in both app and entree? Answers the question of what to make if you guys ever come over for dinner. :)

Cliff O'Neill said...

Thanks, guys!! (And I would KILL to work for Gail. I'll even learn to cook. I will/would!!)

As for the sauerkraut thing, shhhhhhhh! Doug HATES it. In fact, I think he's never had it. (And if it was an element of what he had, it's best he not know.)

In fact, it's one of the three things he's never had (at least until recently). The others: cotton candy (which he finally had at a fancy place in Louisville a few months ago) and ... Cheetos, which he swears will NEVER pass his lips.

As for the sweetbreads, I tried them twice as a kid and was really NOT impressed. But after Chef Stephanie said that if they're cooked correctly, they're great, I tried some at a fancy place here in C-Bus and came to like them.

Plus, I love to order the most exotic things on any menu when I'm someplace really nice.

P.S. did you notice that Hubert added the beef cheeks to his menu (I assume) after he did them as part of his "how do you see the future" dish on TCM?