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Friday, September 3, 2010

Gary Danko

800 N Point St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 749-2060

Years ago, planning a short San Francisco vacation, I failed to lock down that impossible French Laundry reservation. Looking for another high end restaurant, I was drawn to Gary Danko. Back then, however, there were no yelp pictures, no saturation of bloggers; all I had was a Zagat guide and it was rated a 29. That was all the convincing I needed and it ended up being one the best meals to date. I remember a couple things about the experience. One, the waiter said just go with what you like because everything was good and that was the case. Two, the menu design is one of the best I have ever seen. It can best be described as a prix fixe menu where you can order anything you want. Choose between three and five courses and any permutation you can dream up. You can order one from each section. Three starters, cheese and a dessert. Try five entrees if you if dare. I just love the flexibility it gives you and really lends to a better dining experience for the guest.

On this trip, we decided to take Friday off and head to San Francisco earlier, which meant an additional dinner. Coi was fully booked and Chez Panisse would have meant all three dinners would be out of the city. Gary Danko was able to fit us in at 9PM, so that made the choice easy.

 Being that I held Gary Danko in very high regard, we both opted for the five course dinner to get a full range of the chefs' talent. The price point has gone up over the years, but I still find it a good value at $102.


Amuse bouche

Course #1a - Seared Sonoma Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Peaches (9)
A classic preparation of foie gras and executed very well. The caramelized onions were sweetened to perfection and provided a balanced contrast to the dish. One of the best dishes of the night.

Course #2a - Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Mushrooms, Roasted Tomatoes, Corn and Peas (9)
The dishes started out strong. The risotto was one that we eyed on Yelp and knew we would order it. It didn't disappoint; I love how the creamy risotto lent itself to the tender crustaceans. It was offset by a light dollop of minced roasted tomatoes. 

Course #1b -  Crispy Farm Egg with White Polenta, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Frisee and Pancetta (4)
This was where the quality of the dishes took a turn for the worse. The contrast in texture between the soft poached egg and a crisp fry on the outside was absent. I had high hopes for the polenta and pancetta. But the other components didn't add the needed punch.

Course #2b - Branzini with Sorrel Gnocchi, Romano Beans and Fried Capers (6)
I've always been impressed by how good restaurants achieved a crispy skin on fish and still maintained tender meat. It's something that still challenges me when I cook at home. The branzini was a great example of this skill. The remaining components were decent, but not addictive.

Course #3a - Seared Sea Scallops with Zucchini-Basil Puree, Tomato Fondue, Red Peppers, Haricot Vert and Shimeji Mushrooms (4)
The scallop and sauce preparation reminded me of dish that was acceptable in the 1990's.  The accompanying flavors were blurry and masked the dish rather elevate the protein.

 Course #3b - Seared Filet of Beef with Yukon Potatoes, Zucchini, Mushrooms, Chard and Tomato-Eggplant Confit (5)
I'd like to say this was a glorified meat and potatoes dish, but the flavors and preparation was very outdated. It's a safe dish, one to please the masses with limited inspiration. However, it doesn't showcase Chef Danko's talent.

Course #4a - Braised Veal Breast with Pistachio Crusted Sweetbreads, Potato Puree, Leeks, Capers and Piopini Mushrooms.(3)
The first of two dishes that had messy presentations and the fifth dish with mushrooms. Keeping in mind, we were only on course seven at this point. I love well prepared sweetbreads, but even with the pistachio crust it was mushy. The veal didn't fare much better. The mushiness must have spread to both proteins. A poorly conceived dish all together.

Course #4b - Roasted Pork Belly and Tenderloin with Potato-Sorrel Puree, Peas, Bacon, Pickled Jalapenos and Maple Glaze (4)
Besides the presentation, I wasn't fond of the pork belly preparation. What I like about a good piece of pork belly is a crisp exterior and an oozing fat layer leading into succulent meat. Here, it was cut very thin, laid on its side and the distinction between fat and meat was unapparent.

 Course #5a - Lemon Pepper Duck Breast with Duck Hash, Carrot-Ginger Puree and Cherries (5)
A dish that came heavily recommended by our server and perhaps his only misstep in a very well orchestrated evening.  The duck was very tender, but lacked a strong sauce to hold up to the duck's natural flavor. I'm not a big fan of hash, so it would had to of been a play on words for me to really enjoy the accompaniment.

 Course #5b - Baked Chocolate Souffle with Two Sauces (9)
I ordered the signature souffle last time I dined at the restaurant. It has been on the menu for as long as I can remember; it might have actually been included with the lease and for good reason. It's consistently prepared well and the quality of the chocolate really shines though.  I'm all for avant-garde and innovative plates. But, when you can take a classic dish and elevate it past the ubiquitous fluff, I'm game.

(Petit Fours)

I had high hopes for Gary Danko, but the theme of the night was outdated dishes and overuse of the same ingredients with a couple shining moments. We had a few drinks during the course of the evening; maybe the strategy was to start strong and hope diners don't realize the lack of progression in the dishes over the years. If I had to guess, I would say Gary Danko has its clientele and they like the standard fare he is serving. But, I can't imagine he is attracting a new, younger market. And as long as the bills are paid, we won't see an update in the selection, and I'd be hard pressed to recommend the restaurant to any of my friends.

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