Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dish on Dining: Vitrine at St. Regis

Elegant Fare in a Spa-Like Setting
125 Third St., (near Mission) San Francisco
PH: 415.284.4049
Breakfast and lunch daily
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Web site

Dine About Town is in full swing in San Francisco. It’s the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s annual effort to pump up restaurants in a city where the locals really don’t need much convincing to dine out. With prix fixe menus at a variety of restaurants available until the end of the month, DAT is a good opportunity to try some places you normally wouldn’t.

So when fellow food blogger Foodhoe and I talked about where we would go for DAT this year, we settled on Vitrine at the St. Regis Hotel adjacent to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It’s a restaurant I haven’t tried. One, because Vitrine is in a fancy hotel and that often translates to $$$$ dining. Two, it’s only open during the days, making it hard for me to get to from my Oakland office.

Foodhoe and I decided to make a day of it. We both took Tuesday off from our regular day jobs and met up at Vitrine on the fourth floor of the St. Regis. You really don’t hear much about Vitrine because it’s often overshadowed by the larger and full-fledged restaurant Ame on the ground floor. But that’s a shame, because Vitrine is just as elegant and dreamlike in setting. As you walk in, you feel like you’re in a spa with the neutral colors and sheer curtains allowing the room to fill with sunlight.

Initially I thought the elegant design and color scheme (which was reflected in the servers’ uniforms) bordered on boring. But then I realized that the muted colors served as the perfect canvas to showcase the food of Executive Chef John Jackson. The menu is light American-California cuisine with a sophisticated flair (the breakfast menu includes a black truffle omelet).

The Dine About Town prix fixe menu typically comes with three courses, with lunch priced at $21.95 and dinner at $31.95 (tax and tip not included). At Vitrine, they offered a DAT lunch menu with two choices for each course.

To start, Foodhoe and I both went in separate directions. Foodhoe got the escarole salad with bacon, lemon vinegar and a slow poached egg. She said she liked the creaminess of the salad with the flavor of the bacon. I got the prawn (ironically it’s listed on the menu as “prawns” but there was only one huge prawn), which was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and sautéed. It sat on a buttery parsley root puree that was surrounded by a brilliant green parley juice. I especially liked the puree.

For our entrée, we both went for the Bluefin tuna. And why not? It was Vitrine’s reputation for flying in fresh fish daily from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo that initially attracted us to the restaurant. Today’s special was Bluefin tuna, which also happens to be my favorite sushi fish. We were each served two large pieces of the tuna that were encrusted with peppercorns and then seared on the edges. The pieces of fish were served sitting on cooked fennel, walnuts and currants. The dish was topped off with more thin shavings of fresh fennel, and as a final touch our server poured fennel jus onto our plates right before we ate. (I love it when they do at-the-table presentations like that.)

The tuna was fatty and juicy, which made it taste very much like prime rib. The fennel jus and accompanying fennel were elegant compliments to the tuna, neither overpowering or distracting from the actual fish. My few complaints were minor: 1) there were a lot of currants but they were difficult to pick up with a fork, and 2) my particular pieces of tuna were a little more on the done side than I would have preferred (while Foodhoe’s tuna actually looked perfect, with its seared exterior and ruby pink interior).

Side note: The other option for the entrée that we both passed on was half of a heritage chicken.

For dessert, Foodhoe and I went our separate ways again. She got the house-made sorbet, which included strawberry-basil and mango flavors. I got the butterscotch pot de crème. My pot de crème came with three Mexican wedding cookies. I loved the butterscotch pudding, which had a faint coffee undertone. I could have done without all the crunchy things sprinkled on top, but the overall dessert was a satisfying end to my two hour lunch!

I wanted to also note that Vitrine has a nice selection of wine by the glass. Both Foodhoe’s Chardonnay and my Pinot Noir were very drinkable, offering up a slight complexity without the tannic kick start so often found in house wines.

At the end of the meal I asked our server if I could see the regular menu out of curiosity, and I was happy to see that Foodhoe and I made a smart choice in coming to Vitrine during the DAT promotion. I saw on the regular menu that the Bluefin tuna was also offered as an entrée, but at the cost of $24. For the $21.95 we paid, we got the Bluefin tuna plus a starter and dessert. Now that’s good DAT dining.

Overall, the food was as advertised. Light and sophisticated. Chef Jackson’s menu doesn’t offer anything innovative or unusual, but it’s executed with a light touch to enhance the natural flavors of the quality ingredients. Despite the high prices on its regular menu, Vitrine’s solid food, beautiful environment and exceptional friendly service makes it a pleasant, special-occasion dining destination.

Go here to read Foodhoe's take on our lunch (including dramatic photo of the fennel jus pour!).

NOTE: If you don’t get to a DAT restaurant before the end of the month, don’t worry. This year Dine About Town is split into two months. The second DAT will take place in June.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (elegant but not perfect)

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

Vitrine at St Regis in San Francisco


Passionate Eater said...

I wish I could have taken a day off too and gone with the two of you. Wow, I miss eating in SF and the both of you! Did you "see" the chicken entree that you and the Foodhoe passed on? I wonder what it looked like. Like you two, I usually try and get fish during DAT because I can have chicken any ole' day, but fish feels like a splurge.

Single Guy Ben said...

Hi PE, we didn't get a chance to see the chicken dish. ... You should come back to San Francisco in June when the next DAT go around happens! You know you want to. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Chef Ben, I was so happy to read that DAT has 2 more weeks in June, that is so awesome - we'll have to find another lunch spot! That was such a great meal, beautiful location, albeit guilty tuna moment, and so reasonable to boot.

Chubbypanda said...

Hee hee. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but a lot of the bluefin you can find at Tsukiji is caught off the coast of Italy and air lifted there. =b