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Archive for March, 2006

Iberia (Menlo Park, CA) – Tapas for 31

While the Sawa’s and Manresa’s accounted for an inordinate amount of my dining budget last year (and probably this year), I realized in writing this review that Iberia comes in a distant 3rd.

In the land of Delfina’s, Cafe Gibraltar’s, Zuni’s, and others; Iberia, that tapas restaurant relocated to downtown Menlo Park, probably ranks #3 in total visits during the calendar year.

And while only 2-3 dishes that force my return; this is comfort food to me. It was a natural choice for my pre-birthday dinner w/ some friends.

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Zuni (SF) – Institutional Dining

Zuni has been an institution in San Francisco dining for over 20 years. The angled architecture harkens back to its glory days in the 70s when its cuisine was revolutionary in America – fresh, local ingredients cooked perfectly. But what happens when every other restaurant in the area has copied your formula and perfected it? Do the other restaurants render the original irrelevant? Or does Zuni still stand above its peers?

I’ve lived in San Francisco, the city proper, for 8 years and yet I’ve never made it to Zuni. I’ve tried a few times but i’m not the luckiest when it comes to reservations – 5:30 or 10:30 was the guaranteed response of a Zuni call. Many friends, whose judgement I can trust in eating, have always raved about how great the food was; the briny oysters, the creamy polenta, the ridiculous chicken, and the decadent bread salad that accompanies it. Pure ingredients and exceptional execution – the signature of a restaurant that defines its city – cool and casual. And yet I hadn’t been.

After a haircut, several dodged rain showers, and a walk across town; I met my friend and his wife for their last meal in SF. She wanted the chicken; he wanted everything. We settled for something in between.

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Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – Yes, Again

My high-end-dining friend was in town – his first visit to manresa was a “B+”. Not bad considering how discrimating he can be, but now that we have the “in”, certainly it was possible to raise the grade a notch.

Overall, excellent. Everyone had their own favorites but the table agreed it was at least a “solid A” meal. I will go further and say Manresa should be in anyone’s Top 5 US list. Nothing in “the city” can touch it; and while I will give it another whirl, I still think French Laundry needs to play catch-up.

New Items of Note

1. Bluefin tete du fromage
Tuna head done 3 ways – I’ve been waiting a few months for this head to arrive, the 3 pieces included the meat behind the eye socket, some scraped from its neck topped w/ some of its own marrow, and a cheek – all cooked to varying degrees. This was the most interesting course of the night thanks to the unique ingredient. The eye socket was very fatty and caramleized. Iliked the neck w/ marrow best (although i forget the tastes). Note: you probably won’t get this since it’s, apparently, near impossible to procure.

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Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – Near Perfection Yet Again

Last week, Oteich, Oren, and I went to Manresa. The Teichs liked it on their past visits but they didn’t quite understand my unbridled enthusiasm. Phoned the chef, put in my requests, and we were off.

Of course, as luck would have it, I came down w/ a vicious flu bug that day. I couldn’t finish the meal (3 courses were left out) and I didn’t eat a real meal til last night @ Morimoto (a week later.) It did detract from my complete enjoyment of the meal but the meal was still stellar.

The first half of the meal was about as good as dining gets. Period. Nearly every dish was flawless and exceptional – met w/ surprise, grins, and proclamations of greatness. (And this is a very tough crowd )

The latter half was equally good but far more challenging. The meal was definitely tailored towards my tastes (which veer towards the raw) when i should have asked for more cooked dishes. Next time i’ll get it right for the Teichs and they’ll love every last dish

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Gilt (NY) – Superficial Gloss

(Note: Gilt has changed chefs since this review was written.)

I read through the reviews and surmised Gilt could be an exciting restaurant – endless stream of courses, different flavor pairings, and new techniques. I expected a few great highs amongst mostly solid courses with a few disasters – experimentation does come with risk.

But for all the fancy preparations & hoopla, our meal was merely above average at great expense. This is a meal that has priced itself on the playing field of JG, Le Bernardin, or Bouley; but the few tastes that were extraordinary came as small side dishes. More often, everything was just plain “good” – none of the wows of Bastide, the perfection of Manresa, nor subliminity of JG – just good ingredients cooked very well. The execution was mostly flawless but the ideas are lacking. If Bouley was only given 2 stars by Michelin, Gilt should be afraid.

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