Monday, November 30, 2009

Dish on Dining: Quince

Playing on a Grander Stage
470 Pacific Ave. (at Montgomery), San Francisco
Jackson Square/Financial District
PH: 415.775.8500
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
(4% San Francisco health tax added to bill)

The new Quince is a shiny new spectacle in San Francisco’s restaurant scene. Opened for less than two months in the former Myth location, the contemporary American-Italian restaurant has struck a beautiful balance between grandeur and elegance.

I should note that I’ve never eaten at the old Quince restaurant in Pacific Heights, nor have I eaten at Myth. So I really don’t have a point of comparison. Everything this night would be a new dining adventure.

When you arrive, you’re treated to an open view of the brightly lit kitchen. The large glass window view took me back to Buenos Aires when I ate at Bar Uriarte. The fact that the chefs didn’t look too busy when I arrived was an indicator of my early reservations — the only slot I could get on a Thursday night.

The dining room next door was a glowing contrast to the bright kitchen. The elegant tables and bar on one side were lit with low ambient lighting and a grand glass chandelier in the center. Handsome is the word I would use to describe the furnishings, which exudes the sense of a business dinner if people still have expense accounts in this economy. (Note: The restaurant recommends business attire, so I wore a suit to blend in with the other similarly suited diners.)

But this wasn’t business for me as I was dining with my food buddy Foodhoe. It was just a night to catch up and experience the culinary talents of Chef Michael Tusk.

Chef Tusk’s menu is divided into an ala carte section and a five-course tasting menu. For the $85-tasting menu (which the entire table has to order), Tusk offered the choice between a chef’s menu and a seasonal tasting menu that focused on porcini mushrooms for the fall.

Foodhoe and I debated about the tasting menu for awhile but Foodhoe kept being drawn by the appetizers over on the ala carte menu. So we decided to wing it ourselves by ordering on our own.

Remember how I mentioned that the lighting was low-light? Yep, that means it was a challenge getting good shots of the food. Foodhoe looked enviably at the corner table next to us that had wonderful lighting but apparently was reserved for special guests.

We started dinner with appetizers. Foodhoe ordered the scallops ($17) served with foam and tomatoes. She’s typically not a fan of foam, but found this one actually tasty and complementing her scallops.

I ordered the sweetbreads ($16), which were pan-roasted after it was apparently coated with either a bread coating or flour. The coating made the sweetbreads not as crispy, but added a soft tender texture to it that was different and, actually, quite enjoyable. It was another way of preparing sweetbreads that I’ve never had before. (I’m used to seared, crispy sweetbreads.) The sweetbreads were served with perfectly cooked artichoke hearts and root vegetables in a black truffle sauce.

Next came the pasta courses. I had heard that the former Quince was known for its pasta, and that reputation hasn’t been lost in the move. Both Foodhoe’s and my pasta dishes were perfectly cooked with rich tasty sauces. Foodhoe ordered the Raviolo ($14) with a soft egg that oozed out when she broke into the large ravioli. It was simply dressed with a light cheese sauce.

I ordered the suckling pig pappardelle ($19), which was served with a forest green-colored pasta made from wild nettle. The green pappardelle didn’t invoke any nettle flavor, but did add a vibrant color to the dish, contrasting with the tender suckling pig meat cooked into a ragout and then topped with cracklings. The flavors and textures kept me smiling throughout this course.

The entrĂ©es offered by Chef Tusk are what you might expect at many fine-dining restaurants (lamb, fish, pork, duck). The descriptions of what to expect didn’t sound as innovative as the appetizers and pasta selections. In fact, the duck (which as you know I always order when on the menu) sounded so straight-forward that I broke my rule and didn’t order it. Yep, that’s right. I skipped the duck. Send out an alert.

Instead I ordered the lamb ($29), which was served in the form of medallions and a French cut chop. The dish was simply served with braised greens and butter beans topped with a brown sauce. The lamb was tender and leaned on the rear side, but still easy to cut and eat. But like the description on the menu, it didn’t really wow me.

Foodhoe ordered the Haddock ($27), a white fish that came beautifully plated. She also said her fish was cooked well but I didn’t hear many oohs and aahs while she was eating it.

We actually ate quite a bit so we were planning to skip dessert. But there was something on the menu called a “chiboust” that I’d never heard of, so when I asked the server, she gave such a delicious description that I had to order it. The chiboust is like a soufflĂ© made with some fresh quince and presented with vanilla ice cream and quince ice and a thin cylindrical candy strip. The chiboust was light and fluffy but the flavor was a bit muted for me. Foodhoe thought one of the sauces that came with it tasted like mango. I did enjoy the quince ice sitting under the ice cream, mostly for its creativity and refreshing flavor.

At the end of our meal, we were presented with a tray of mignardises that included an opera chocolate cake, a berry-flavored hand-made marshmallow and a salted caramel. It was a beautiful ending to a very special dinner.

Everything about Quince is very high-end but welcoming. The service reminded me a lot of Eleven Madison Park in New York, where the service is meticulous and extremely professional but each individual server allows himself or herself to be natural and approachable so you don’t feel any pretension. Throughout the evening, people came to our table to check up on us. The conversations often went like this?

“Have you dined at the former Quince?” (No.)
“Have you eaten at Myth before?” (No.)
“Well, we’re glad you decided to visit us tonight.”

It’s this attentive service and well-executed food that probably garnered Quince its Michelin star.

While the price makes it prohibitive to enjoy Quince on a regular basis (for me at least), this shiny new star in the San Francisco restaurant scene is perfect for special occasions. And it’ll definitely add glitter to any of your holiday plans.

Check out Foodhoe's take on our dinner with her post here.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (fantastic pasta dragged down by entrees)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Quince on Urbanspoon

Similar restaurant reviews:
Eleven Madison Park: “Going All the Way in Manhattan”
Five: “Berkeley Hotel Dining is Reborn”
Zinnia: “Welcome Home Chef Sean O’Brien”


Stephanie - said...

Ooooh! I've been wanting to eat here! Thanks for this. :)

Hungry Dog said...

I'm jealous! I ate at the old Quince and was pretty impressed but really want to try it out in its new location. I can't believe you skipped the duck!! But the idea of suckling pig papparadelle has me swooning. What a fun night for you & foodhoe.

foodhoe said...

I'm so glad you made the rezzies because it was so nice to see you and dine at such a lovely restaurant (especially in contrast to all the fast food I've been enjoying)! You captured the mystery couple that I am convinced were on the cover of a local magazine recently, but I don't remember who they are... I downloaded the pics but am daunted by the amount of work I need to do to try to clean them up. Hopefully soon...

Single Guy Ben said...

LOL, you're so funny! For everyone else wondering what Foodhoe is talking about re: "mystery couple," look at the photo of the restaurant with the huge photo hanging on the wall. In the front is a booth/table with a couple. It's a very intimate spot although right near the center of the dining room so probably not as private. Anywho, the couple who sat there, Foodhoe was sure she'd seen them somewhere before. She kept obsessing about them all night, wondering who they are. Foodhoe, I hope you post your photos soon because I bet they'll turn out better, as always, with your camera and the low light!

A said...

the lady looks like Julianne Moore (movie star), not sure the guy.

No pics of the mignardises???

i've been wanting to try Quince too. Was it $100pp or what?

Single Guy Ben said...

A, by the time the mignardises came, I was so tired of the low lighting and struggling to get shots that I just sat back and enjoyed the candy! :) They were great. And yes, Quince is high-end, so pricey. We spent about $110 per person, including each of us getting a glass of wine. We actually ate and ordered a lot, so it was a treat that, like I said, we can only do once every few months, if then.