San Francisco, CA, tasted on January 18, 2004 —
Gary 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 -
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Winter Vegetable Galetto and Maitake
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
tastes of cheese from the extensive
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:
Chocolate Soufflé with
Pear Soufflé with
Caramelized Banana Cream Tart with Milk Chocolate Ice Cream;
and Cookie Sampler; and of course, some
Fours. In the frenzy of desserts, I almost forgot the star of the
Flambéed Orange Segments with Vanilla Crepes, Grand Marnier, and Orange
Butter. Prepared where?
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
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
packed kitchen after dinner. The
were sweethearts and genuinely eager to know how we enjoyed the meal
they'd worked so hard on. The answer is, very much.