Over the last three weeks, I have been fortunate to eat at five of the best fine dining establishments in Northern California. Since there are many Californians here, I thought that I would take a minute to write up what I thought of the meals:
Ritz-Carlton Dining Room:
For years this was my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. The previous chef, Sylvan Portay, was a magician. He worked for years as sous chef to Alain Ducasse, and we were very lucky to have him in San Francisco.
The current state of food at the Ritz is not as good. We decided to have the salt and pepper tasting menu. This is known as the house specialty. As with so many "one ingredient" menus, the food had a tendency to be a bit jarring. The service was also overly present and took away from the dining experience. There are no particular dishes that I can suggest, as we had the menu. I should note that the Sommolier is still fantastic and that it is the one place in San Francisco that still has some bottles of Jacques Selosse Champagne in the cellar. The petit fours were also outstanding.
The first two chefs to preside over the stoves at Masa's were, in my opinion, the two finest chefs that San Francisco has seen in the last thirty years. Since the departure of Julian Serrano, the food at Masa's has been a bit spotty.
While the current offerings at Masa's are not what they were at their peak, they are as good as they have been since then. The current chef was a student of Serrano's, and then worked for several years at the French Laundry. Short's food is very elegant and simple. It is the opposite of what is found in many trendy restaurants nowadays. There is nothing that ruins the harmony of any of the dishes. I was absolutly thrilled to see that Masa's has returned to the elite restaurants in San Francisco.
I ordered the Tete de Cochon, the Wild Striped Bass and the Veal with Sweetbreads and recommend them all heartily. What I remeber about my wife's meal is that her shortribs were sublime.
I was not a fan of Danko's when he was at the Ritx-Carlton or when he was at Draegers. For the first year that he had his eponymous restaurant in San Francisco, I refused to go. I have been three times since then, and have enjoyed the food very much each time. My main complaint is that the bar is too central in the room and it makes for quite a noisy dining experience.
The most memorable dish that I had at Gary Danko was the Osetra Caviar service. It was phenomenal. The blinis were cooked so perfectly that they melted in your mouth. Obviously, the caviar was also excellent, but the blinis were otherworldly. They were the best I have ever eaten. Other standout dishes were the seafood risotto and the duck breast. The service was a bit spotty, but the Sommolier was excellent and the wines he directed us to were very nice.
Cyrus is the best restaurant in Northern California right now. This was our first visit, and we are already planning a weekend at the adjoining hotel with more meals at Cyrus. The dining room is run by the finest Maitre d'Hotel in Northern California. I believe that he is the finest in the United States. The young chef is excellent and opened Cyrus after working at many of the best restaurants in the area.
We started out with the Caviar Tasting, which included a half of an oz of three different caviars werved with potato sticks. It was great although it did not rise to the level of the caviar service at Gary Danko. From there we ordered the nine course tasting menu. Everthing was perfectly prepared and delicious. The courses were small enough that nobody felt overstuffed after dinner. The deserts were not nearly as good as the rest of the food. I cannot say enough about this restaurant. It is nearly perfect.
I wish that we went to Michael Mina second or third instead of last. It is a shame that our gastronomic tour of the Bay Area had to end on such a down note. The restaurant is large and loud. The service is below average and the food is not very good.
The food at Michael Mina is pretentious. There is no debating this. Every dish comes with three preparations of the same ingredient, along with three ramekins of something related at the top of the plate. I think that there must have been a sale on the special three part plates with ramekin holders when they were opening the restaurant. The food is not bad, it is just not very tasty. The parts that are served in the ramekins are annoying as you simply cannot cut food in ramekins. The result is taking huge bites of these parts. I do have to say that the classic mussel souflee is pretty good. I would order it if I had to go back to Mina.
I want to note that the wine list is offensive to the extreme. We often like to drink Champagne with dinner. It always goes well with all sorts of food. At Mina the champagne list is populated with bottle after bottle of $1000+ wine. This is in comparison to the above (better) restaurants where therer are many excellent bottles in the 150-200 range. At Mina the Krug NV was one of the cheapest on the menu. At most fine restaurants around the globe that I have dined at, there is a lot of attention paid to the midlle priced wines. These are generally the best wines with food. At Mina it was all pretens and no substance. I was unimpressed.