Monday, February 16, 2009

One Market, San Francisco CA.

It is a holiday Monday in San Francisco; you had Tartine for breakfast and were blown away, you had Boulevard for lunch and were very impressed – you want to keep with the great yet classic concept but your companions don’t want “prix fixe” or a tasting menu. You’ve wandered the wharf, Ghirardelli square, and even Coit tower and no find yourself in the financial district around 8:30pm. Browsing the Michelin Guide you spot One Market and realize they’re one of the few starred restaurants participating in Crab-Week – You love crab and rarely get anything fresh in Ohio – Sold.

Entering One Market around 8:30pm after securing free parking one immediately notes the large Michelin Star perched on the hostess station and next notices the boisterous bar on the right, beautiful restaurant on the left, open kitchen in the back, and large windows peering out onto the Embarcadero. No reservations are no problem, jeans and a leather blazer not too upscale or too casual, a table by the window? Sure.

Seating was prompt, wine offered and declined, water filled and menus delivered – our waiter Nelsen was much older than the other servers we met on our trip and while somewhat fuddling in his dish descriptions also had a level of respect and attentiveness to detail that was a nice change from the aloof approach at Boulevard that was later also experienced at Aqua, Bazaar, Osteria Mozza, and Chez Panisse Café. After approximately 10 minutes Nelsen returned with a plate of sourdough rolls and took our orders. The rolls were fair, but the icy cold butter was unimpressive at best. Shortly after the bread arrived, a group of well dressed businessmen were seated close to our table and another server, similar in age to Nelsen, appeared to take care of their table. Upon looking around, it appeared all the staff was more experienced and that each table had its own server – I’m unsure whether this speaks to the economy or just a style choice for the restaurant, but it was interesting to have such individualized service.

Five minutes after the orders were taken, a young lady emerged from the kitchen with an amuse bouche of seared toro and tomato compote with microbasil that more than made up for the butter, however. Having never tasted toro before, my aunt was particularly impressed by this dish and I will note that the texture of the fish was every bit as good as any toro I’ve tried while the tomatoes were quite fresh and zesty. Shortly after the amuse, our appetizers began to arrive. Like many other meals, I personally opted for multiple appetizers in order to maximize taste experience without any masticatory boredom.

For myself, course one consisted of the Grilled Octopus with kabocha squash, asian pear, tamarind, pumpkin seeds. A fan of Grilled Octopus, this version was remarkable in that it did not use a heavy handed citrus component like Babbo or Spiaggia, but instead focused on contrasting textures and highlighting the brininess of the Octopi. Perfectly seared and succulent, the crunch of the seeds alongside the delicate squash was a great experience and certainly something I’ll try to recreate in the future. One of the best octopus dishes yet to grace my palate.

Dish one for my mother was the Dungeness Crab & Coconut Milk Soup with leeks, carrots, fennel, kaffir lime. Beautifully plated tableside I can honestly say this dish was a huge miss for me. While my mother liked it and was glad she ordered it, there was an undefined spice to the dish similar to a curry that refluxed on me throughout the night and left me with significant heart burn on my morning run the next day that actually required the purchase of TUMS. My mom did not experience this, thankfully, but for me this dish left sour memories of the meal as a whole.

My next dish, another appetizer, was the Pan-seared Artisan Foie Gras with golden raisin puree and hazelnut crackle. Having had multiple presentations of Foie in the past, at the time I consumed this dish it was the single best Foie Gras I had ever tasted and is still my favorite all time seared preparation (the cold terrines at TFL and Aqua were more “my style.”) Perfectly seared and large in portion, no veins and plenty of texture, the sweet raisin and candied hazelnut/apricot compote for texture – amazing and a must have dish.

For our mains, my mother and I opted to split an order of the House Made Cavatelli and Dungeness Crab with artichoke, basil, meyer lemon (served as two appetizer portions.) While hand rolled pasta is always a plus and fresh crab never hurts, what truly brought this dish to the next level was actually the flawlessly seared artichokes and the use of meyer lemon peel in addition to the meyer lemon infused olive oil dressing. Dainty yet hearty, sour yet savory, clean and refreshing this pasta was a winner in a place where pasta isn’t exactly the highlight of the menu - a great surprise.

For my Aunt’s main she once again selected the Crab cakes – offered as an appetizer portion since she was not all that hungry after a large burger and Crab Cakes plus Dessert at lunch. Three small cakes arrived along with a small salad and although the crab was fresh, the flavor was relatively subdued and boring. Not bad, but certainly not on par with the other crab cakes she experienced on the trip.

Mains finished, dessert was next in line and with all of us feeling a bit full we opted for a few of the “Singular sensations” and one of the Valrhona Chocolate Souffle Cake with Blood Orange Caramel Compote, Vanilla Cream, Grand marnier mascarpone ice cream. While the cake was decent, it was relatively standard for a soufflé cake and the ancillary items were vastly more interesting with the super-sweet yet deliciously sour caramel complementing both the ice cream and the cream beautifully. The dish was good, but not great – especially compared to one of the Singluars.

Of the singulars, three options were selected including the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Butterscotch Pudding with Chantilly Cream, and Coconut Chocolate Parfait with candied macadamias and graham cracker. The Crème Brulee was standard fare, too sweet for my liking and far inferior to that of Gary Danko while the coconut parfait simply wasn’t my style – too much coconut flavor and not enough of the crunch. The Butterscotch Pudding, however, was transcendent and much like a Pot du Crème, only better. Light and airy Chantilly Cream only further enhanced the dish and while the texture was an exact opposite of the Butterscotch at Boulevard earlier in the day, the taste was equally sublime.

When it was all said and done, our dinner at One Market cost similar to our lunch at Boulevard and we we’d certainly received more food. While the meal contained many highlights, particularly the Octopus, Foie, and Butterscotch, I can’t help but look back on the soup, cold butter, and crabcakes as misses. Excellent service and a great setting with free parking are certainly plusses, as well. Not the greatest meal in SF, but definitely worth the visit just for the Foie (which can be prepped at lunch if requested.)

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