Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dish on Dining: Luce

A Taste of Elegance and Style
888 Howard St. (inside InterContinental Hotel), San Francisco
PH: 415.616.6566
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner (with weekend brunch)
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

The last couple of weeks wrapped up the second half of Dine About Town for the year — the annual showcase of Bay Area restaurants with three-course lunch and dinner deals at $21.95 and $34.95, respectively.

I took the opportunity to try a place I normally wouldn’t go to, and planned a get-together with my Single Guys dinner group (Billy, Ken and Doug). After throwing out some options and doing some American Idol-style voting, we ended up at Luce restaurant on the ground floor of the relatively new InterContinental Hotel at Fifth and Howard Streets.

The hotel’s exterior looks like a huge white parking tower, and the indiscreet appearance becomes a poor showcase for the corner restaurant. The windows are darkened so you can’t look in, and the grand front entrance on Howard is unexplainably locked. After feeling like a fool jiggling the big glass door, I walked around to the driveway to enter the hotel and find the restaurant’s reception area past the front desk and the bar.

Billy, Ken and Doug had beaten me to the restaurant, so once I arrived we were ready to order. Luce (pronounced “LOO-chay”) is headed by Chef Dominique Crenn, a French-reared female chef who was named last year as the “Best Chef of the Year” by Esquire magazine. That’s a big reputation for Chef Crenn to uphold, but she does have the kitchen chops, having worked at such places as the former Stars, Campton Place and 2223 Market.

The Dine About Town menu for the night offered two options for the starter and entrée and one dessert. Ken and Doug started with the County Line Baby Lettuce Spring Vegetable Salad with a light vinaigrette. It was a simple green salad that was elegant plated on an ash grey slate slab.

Billy and I went for the White Asparagus Velouté (pronounced “veh-LOO-tay”), which we learned is a stock-based sauce like a soup. A big white shallow bowl with a few sprigs of white asparagus and tiny wild flowers was placed in front of me and then the server poured the velouté at the table.

While the velouté was thicker than most soups I’ve had, the taste was distinctively enticing. With each spoonful, I enjoyed a rich mixture of tastes — from sweet to savory to tangy. The complexity of the velouté was nicely balanced.

For the entrée, the DAT menu offered a Niman Ranch Braised Short Ribs and a Halibut with Wild Mushrooms and Glazed Leeks. Everyone on our table went with the halibut, so unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the ribs.

But there was a good reason why the halibut was the choice of the night. The beautifully plated and nicely seared halibut steak was peppered with colorful ingredients that provided (like the velouté) a complexity of flavors and tastes. I liked that the menu didn’t list all the ingredients because it gave our table the chance to discuss the different items we ate and guessing what it could be.

The fish itself was incredibly prepared, almost like it was poached in butter because the texture was silken like soft tofu. The light sauce benefited from the mix of ingredients, which included the likes of morel and porcini mushrooms, baby leeks, thinly sliced kumquats and a quarter onion. The dish screamed spring till the very end, when my last scoop of the sauce provided a zing of citrus to remind me that this was no ordinary fish plate.

I don’t have to say that the halibut was a hit with everyone at the table. (Oh, I guess I did just say it. Well, it was.)

The final course was dessert, which was a Nutella Pot de Crème. The rich nutty-chocolate custard was served topped with whipped cream. The texture was thick and smooth, but it still tasted light although it probably wasn’t. The flavor leaned heavily on the chocolate rather than the nutty, but it was still enjoyable.

Luce restaurant is an elegant space with a spa feel, but still can’t get away from the feeling of being a hotel restaurant. I imagine it as a popular spot for business travelers, and the high-end feel makes it more likely to be a destination for celebratory dinners.

Side note: The service is friendly and efficient, but leans more toward the less visible and intrusive. They were really in the background. Even the kitchen is seen but not seen. The open kitchen is actually behind a glass wall displaying bottles of wine.

Dine About Town allows people to try restaurants they normally wouldn’t and offers just a taste of what the chef can do. If Luce’s DAT menu is any indication, I will definitely make plans to return for either Chef Crenn’s regular menu or Sunday tasting menu because the food is definitely playful, refined and tasty.

Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (Refined and refreshing)

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

Luce on Urbanspoon

Other spots with similar rankings:
RN74: “All Aboard on a Glamorous Wine Bar”
Jardiniere: “Eat Away the Monday Blues in Luxury”
La Mar: “A Continuing Lesson on Peruvian Cuisine”

1 comment:

foodhoe said...

ooh that was on my shortlist of possibilities for this DAT. I have been to the bar which was gorgeous and probably enjoyed the desserts the best! So, I'll keep it on my list of places to try.