Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday Dinner with George Morrone

Last night I made a rare trip into San Francisco for dinner. Mondays are hardly the big night for eating out, but only the likes of Chef George Morrone could get me onto BART and across the bay for a fine dining experience.

For the last few Monday nights, Fish & Farm has been hosting what’s been dubbed “Mondays with George.” It’s a special four-course prix-fixe dinner (for only $48) conceived by Morrone and Fish & Farm’s chef, Jake Des Voignes. (When I arrived, the signs actually read “Dinner with George and Jake” to give Des Voignes equal billing.)

Morrone, of course, is the originating chef of the San Francisco classic Aqua restaurant. For the last couple of years, he hasn’t been attached to a particular kitchen, so San Francisco diners have been deprived of his culinary genius. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise that when I made reservations for dinner, the night was nearly fully booked.

This was the first time for me at Fish & Farm, a restaurant that promotes sustainable dining and tries to source its ingredients from Bay Area suppliers. People also call it a Tenderloin restaurant, almost to give it an edge. But when I arrived, I discovered that it was right across the street from the San Francisco Hilton in an area that I consider more to be the theater district.

Anywho, Fish & Farm is a handsome place with a mix of rustic charm and elegant lines. The distressed wood displays reminiscent of San Antonio or Sedona pops against the royal blue walls.

My dinner companion was Foodhoe, ’natch. She and I are always gamed for a special occasion dinner. Foodhoe had dined at Fish & Farm once before and warned me of the dim lighting. Indeed, the lighting from one tiny votive candle on our table wasn’t enough to illuminate the wonderful dishes that arrived. After I desperately used a flash to photograph my starter dish of quail, the neighboring table chided us so there are no adequate photos for the rest of the dinner. (I don’t blame him. I probably would have done the same thing. But he could have sounded less like my dad.)

Overall, the dinner was complex and rich, which reminded me of a wonderful dinner I had a few years ago at The Fifth Floor, which also happens to be a restaurant Morrone worked at and where Chef Des Voignes also called home right before moving to Fish & Farm.

The night’s prix fixe dinner ($48 or $70 with wine pairings) started with a course of Morrone’s creamy portabella mushroom soup. Morrone has made a name for himself with his signature soups, and has even a cookbook out all about soups. And I can see why. This was a flavorful savory soup with so many different textures it was a fantastic overture to the evening.

The portabella soup came with a garlic flan in the center that was very garlicky and good. On top of that was a chanterelle fritter, which was basically like a big fluffy crispy croutons with bits of the chanterelle mushroom inside. Despite mixing the soup with the fritter, it remained crispy and light, creating a perfect contrast to the creamy soup and smooth flan.

The second course was a choice between the Grilled Sonoma Quail and Citrus Coriander Gravlox. I got the quail and Foodhoe went for the gravlox. (We decided that she would be “fish” while I would be “farm” for the night.) The quail was beautifully presented, and also complex with a variety of ingredients, including softened radicchio and a bed of smoked heirloom tomatoes. The quail was tender and nicely browned in all the right places.

Foodhoe’s gravlox was a playful presentation of colors with the gravlox (or smoked salmon) dressed in a citrus cream sauce and dotted with perfectly squared croutons, tiny bits of apple and small flicks of dill. While it looked interesting, the gravlox tasted nice but nothing earth-shattering.

Our entrees included the Alaskan Black Cod for Foodhoe and my Boneless Rack of Lamb. Foodhoe’s black cod was topped with a creamy light green dollop and sat in a broth of smoked chorizo and Manila clams. Everything was perfectly cooked, including the partly raw fish that retained a silken texture.

My rack of lamb was so tender that I thought they were medallions of loin since they were also circular in shape. They were served on top of creamed potatoes and were accompanies by perfectly cooked heirloom eggplant. Now, some of you know I’m not a big fan of eggplant and I did pass on a few pieces to Foodhoe. But the piece I did try was nicely cooked and tasted like eggplant. So there.

The dessert course was a choice of a tasting of local artisan cheese, crème fraiche fritters or a German Chocolate Cake. After some debate, Foodhoe and I both went for the same dessert—the German Chocolate Cake. It came in this interesting plating with a chocolate smudge and the chocolate cake on one side and a dollop of Bi-Rite Creamery’s coffee-toffee ice cream on the other. (I should note that the German Chocolate Cake is on the regular menu, so it’s probably more an invention of Chef Des Voignes.)

The chocolate cake was very rich, a mix between a mousse and a brownie. It really seemed more like a decadent chocolate cake than one of the German persuasion. Still, I loved the red chili oil drizzled around the edges so you can slide your piece of cake onto it to get that nice mixture of sweet and hot. The ice cream was a no-brainer since I love Bi-Rite and the flavor was a perfect match for the chocolate cake. The only criticism I would have was the overly coconut flakes sitting like a nest underneath the ice cream. I felt the dish could have done without it and still be good, albeit not German chocolate.

In the end, it was a filling night of elegant and complex food that left Foodhoe and I dissecting and guessing, which always leads to a fun night. Chef Morrone acted like the perfect host at a dinner party, coming out after each course to check how everything is. He was very gracious and it was an honor to eat at his table.

No rating since this isn’t a regular review. The last scheduled “Mondays with George” is Sept. 22. But if you can’t get a reservation, don’t worry. Morrone says that the dinners have been such a success, he and the restaurant are talking about extending his run until the whole month of October! If they do, do not miss a night with George Morrone.

You can read Foodhoe's rundown of our dinner here, and I would suggest you check out her photos. Her camera was able to catch more decent shots of the meal than mines, so definitely worth seeing.

Fish & Farm, 339 Taylor St., San Francisco. PH: 415.474.3474. www.fishandfarmsf.com


Passionate Eater said...

What an evening! Sigh, I guess I do get a little peeved when other people remark about using flash. Yes, I do not want to disrupt their dining experience, but I just paid $$ for mine!! I am glad you and Foodhoe had a great time!

Dr. Doc said...

lol, if all foodhoe had to eat was what is on the plate in the picture, foodhoe done starved to death.