Quince (SF) – The Best Yet

When Michelin released its one star ratings for San Francisco, the results were all over the map. Some picks were confounding at best – One Market, Rubicon, and Sushi Ran, to name a few. Others were appropriate – Chez Panisse, Coi, Farmhouse Inn, and Gary Danko. And then there was Quince – the odd man out.

It’s the best restaurant in San Francisco right now 1 and it probably deserves two stars. Italian is at its heart with French flourishes. The ingredients are mostly local, though there can be some egregious exceptions such as single origin grain spaghetti from Italy, but they are always seasonal. The difference between Quince and the rest of the city is its attention to detail. It is careful and refined, with nary a mis-step.

This meal was prepared by Chef Michael Tusk – no allergies and we were off.
Some might question the point of a mostly Italian tasting menu but this meal had a flow. The dishes maintained a focus throughout, an ebb and flow with flavor and texture.

The Highlights

Insalata di ovali con tartuffi
A spectacular salad of mushrooms (an Italian name I have no chance of remembering but a relative of the porcini), an acidic anchovy dressing, topped with white truffles. The dressing’s tang provided a great counterpoint to the earthiness and crunch of the mushrooms. The truffles, while good, were not spectacular.

Garganelli w/ smoked eel, white wine, herbs & cream
The pastas at Quince rival, and often surpass, anything I’ve had in the US; only Il Grano in LA serves pasta with such consistency. This pasta was pitch perfect but it was the smoked eel cream that made this dish special. The sauce had a depth one rarely finds in a pasta dish where the smokiness lingered in the mouth throughout the finish, past the final chewing of the pasta.

Bigoli w/ grilled sardines, carrot puree, hot pepper & bottarga di muggine
One of my favorite pastas served with sardines and carrot puree, above and below. The puree was just slightly sweet with a relative carrot essence and the pasta just barely coated itself during the course of eating the dish. The sardines were grilled perfectly, a very slight smokiness, and the fish roe rounded everything out. The puree’s texture was the unifying element – a counterpoint to the al dente pasta and charred sardines.

Risotto al Albese
A nicely done risotto topped with white truffles. I would prefer my risottos slightly runnier but that’s a nitpick.


Honorable Mentions

Sea scallops w/ cauliflower puree & truffle sauce
A nice start to the meal – the sea and the earth. The cauliflower brought the truffle and scallop together, sharing both its earthiness and sweetness, respectively.

Porcini mushroom soup
A beef broth-based soup that was served in the middle. It served as a welcome calm, albeit hearty, with a potent mushroom essence.


Some Problems (Mostly Mine)

Tortelloni di porcini & vinegar braised cockscombs, salsa di parmigiano
The pasta wasn’t up to the near-perfection of the others. However, my main problem was the cockscombs – I can’t say I’m a fan of braised cockscombs. The texture still poses a challenge.

Squab ballotine w/ potato-celiac puree & savoy cabbage
I’m also not a huge fan of ballotines. This was the last dish and I didn’t pay attention to the details but the meat was too mushy for my tastes.

Overall, an excellent meal. The highs far surpassed the lows, those lows having more to do with my personal preferences than kitchen problems. That’s the risk one takes when asking the chef to cook, but it’s a worthwhile opportunity to try dishes outside of one’s comfort zone. If you’re visiting San Francisco, and you haven’t made it to Italy in awhile, Quince is a must visit.

- chuck

Other Recent Reviews: See Us Eat and In Praise of Sardines

1 – I will be re-visiting those restaurants others consider to be “the best” in San Francisco proper – Aqua, The Dining Room at The Ritz Carlton, Masa’s, and La Folie. I’ve dined at each restaurant in the past and, while good, they paled in comparison to Manresa or The French Laundry. Or Quince. In particular, I’m curious to see how I respond to Aqua (and their ingredients) and The Dining Room (and the “inventive” combinations.)

  • http://www.dedioste.net dedioste

    The first higlight would never be done in Italy with porcini, but only with “Amanita caesarea”, vulgar “Ovoli”.
    The “caesarea” name derives from the fact that these mushrooms where one of Julis Caesar favorite dishes.
    When available, they are a staple in every Tuscan restaurant, to be eaten raw (as you did) or grilled.

  • http://www.cookingwithamy.com Amy

    It’s funny, I’ve been to Quince twice, once a few years back and again just recently, and I wasn’t impressed either time. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Italy, or maybe the food was just off the nights I was there but the pastas I’ve heard others rave over were nothing to write home about. Also the first time I ate there, the service was just miserable, so bad in fact that my waitress was replaced mid meal.

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  • Robert R

    Chuck,

    Have you been back lately and have any updates?

  • http://www.chuckeats.com/ chuckeats

    Robert – I haven’t been back in awhile but I hope to go soon.

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