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2005
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Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA, tasted on January 18, 2004Gary Danko is both a chef and a restaurant in San Francisco, California. I'd eaten there once before in June of 2003. Last time I went we had a wonderful meal, but I was the only one out of the regular eating crew that got to eat there. Nobody else came with on that visit. I don't consider myself a restaurant critic, and even if I did, I still don't typically get to go to restaurants in other cities more than once before I write about them. (You should  know that this is considered not up to professional "code" by most professional restaurant critics.) That said, we do typically order three meals worth of dishes in one sitting, so it's not like we don't get a decent sampling. Anyway, the point of this little detour is that I'd only been to Gary Danko once and was hoping it would live up to my memories of my meal there. And fortunately for  all of us, it did.

The restaurant feels a somewhat formal, but as we slid in to a round booth that held six of us it still felt cozy. Soon thereafter we felt even better when the amuse showed up -  Thai Coconut soup with Smoked Duck and Chili Oil. I'll admit that I did have a moment where the sense of the identity of the restaurant was in question for me. Thai soup? On the one hand, why shouldn't they go anywhere they want culinarily (is that a word?) and on the other hand, did it really feel authentic and genuine to what the restaurant's food was about. In the end it didn't matter as  the soup was delicious - really fresh, light, essentially tom yum soup that was  tangy and touch spicy.

I know that it doesn't necessarily reflect what the kitchen is capable of, but we splurged and ordered the California White Sturgeon Caviar with Creme Fraiche and Buckwheat Blini. The caviar service was lovely, but honesly the Lafayette brand caviar wasn't great. It was very mild. Where were the salt bursts? Maybe there was a subtlety of flavor that I was supposed to appreciate. If there was, it was lost on me. This was more than made up for by the very same dish I had adored during our last visit to Gary Danko - Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Winter Vegetables, and Sage Oil. It's simply fantastic. Perfect texture. creamy, filling, great cheese flavor (not sure if there's actual cheese in there, but it sure tasted like there was). Great! I can still taste it.

Next up was Seared Foie Gras, Caramelized Red Onions, Quince and Pomengranate. The foie gras was great. It had a good combination of flavors though the foie itself could have been featured more and was slightly overwhelmed by everything else that was going on. This is a hard balance to strike. We also had the Winter Root Vegetable Soup with Portobello Fennel Tapenade and Truffle Emulsion. Debdu liked the soup. I thought the soup was not super special. The soup was followed by Seared Ahi Tuna with Avocado, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms, and Lemon Soy Dressing. The tuna was not very inventive but it was still bright, and flavorful. There was also a Lobster Salad with Citrus Segments, Haricot Verts, and Mustard-Tarragon Vinaigrette. The salad was eh. Whatever flavor there was just seemed to get lost. And finally we had Foie Gras and Duck Confit Terrine with Meyer Lemon Chutney and Vanilla Brioche. Debbie thought it was better than most she had tried. Peyman thought it was great and complex with lots of different complementary flavors. Lauren also got the veggie risotto. It too was delicious like it's lobstered cousin. It had a fabulous texture; not oversalted or gloopy. It was pretty much perfect risotto.

Seafood dishes came next. We started off with Horseradish Crusted Salmon Medallion with Dilled Cucumbers. The salmon was surprisingly good. It was somehow reminiscent of breakfast and dinner together. Something about the salmon and the contrasting warm and cold temperatures in the dish. Of course we ordered the Seared Sea Scallops with Cauliflower "Risotto," Edamame, Bottarga, and Sage Oil. The scallops were prepared perfectly. They were tender gorgeous, seared, and caramelized. This was followed by the Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Puree, Potato, Lentils, and Parsley Sauce. The frog legs were crispy. The Pancetta wrapping was stunning. We also had the Seared Tuna with Gigante Beans, Swiss Chard, Bacon Brioche, and Beurre Rouge. The tuna came in generous and beautiful thick slabs. Unfortunately it was a bit overcooked for my taste which wouldn't have been too terrible but it didn't have much flavor either. This was followed by the Roast Maine Lobster with Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Tarragon. DebDu liked the potato. As for the rest of the dish, I forgot it 2 seconds after I ate it.

Not to worry though, the meat course started and was anchored by the Lemon Herb Duck Breast with Cardamom Poached Pears. Simply put, the duck was special. The flavors tasted somehow North African. Maybe it was the cardamom. This was followed by Pan-Roasted Quail Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and Foie Gras, Black Perigord Truffle Jus. The quail was gorgeous and tender and had a great smoky quality. We also got the Moroccan Spiced Squab with Chermoula and Orange-Cumin Carrots. The squab was super interesting. The couscous was Moroccan. The fillet itself tasted almost bacony. Next up was the Juniper Crusted Venison with Caramelized Endive and Cranberry Compote. The Venison had almost liver undertones - in a good way. These dishes were quite good with all sorts of interesting contrasts. The duck had sharp exciting flavors while the quail had fruit and autumn flavors. There was also herbiness in the Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetable Galetto and Maitake Mushrooms. All the meat was juicy, tender, gorgeous. If I had one bit of feedback on these dishes it might be that some of the portions were a bit big. More on portion-sizing later. Lauren, our vegetarian, ordered the Butternute, Gruyere, and Onion Confit Tart with Greens. The tart was buttery and had a yummy crust. It was covered in gruyere. What's not to love?

We also had several tastes of cheese from the extensive cheese cart. They included a Tasmanian cheese, Roaring Forties a blue that's sweet and nutty but not overboard; a Lancashire that Debbie loved; the Clisson loved by Debdu, and the Jean Grogne which was buttery. The desserts were no slouch either: Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces; Baked Pear Soufflé with Pear Sauce; Caramelized Banana Cream Tart with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream; Ice Cream and Cookie Sampler; and of course, some Petit Fours. In the frenzy of desserts, I almost forgot the star of the show - Flambéed Orange Segments with Vanilla Crepes, Grand Marnier, and Orange Butter. Prepared where? Tableside of course.

Gary Danko is really a superlative experience. I don't know if I'd say that the dishes we had there were wildly original or even always home runs. But when they hit the mark, they hit it beautifully. And while not edgy, the food easily retained my interest. Best of all, when there were home runs (the risotto, the duck, etc.) these are among the most memorable dishes I've ever eaten. Combine that with the fact that although Gary Danko is clearly a high end restaurant, there's no snobbery or hyper formality. Ordering is easy with the price and portions adjusting (though some portions were a touch large for me) to how ever many dishes we'd like to order from whatever category of the menu we'd like. We got little goodie bags to take home with us and open the next morning for eating during breakfast - where we could (and did) reminisce about our great experience. We even got to tour the tightly packed kitchen after dinner. The cooks were sweethearts and genuinely eager to know how we enjoyed the meal they'd worked so hard on. The answer is, very much.


     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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