A farewell taste of California

I don’t have a sense of urgency to eat at all of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco like some people might expect. We’ll be back and then there will be even more amazing restaurants to choose from. From what I read, Hobart has some very innovative, seasonal and ingredient-centric restaurants that I look forward to trying. I’ll let you know whether or not that’s true in about a month. I did want to try out the new SF hotspot Central Kitchen before taking off and thanks to our friend David, we had the good fortune of getting a table last night. The timing was nice; Monday marked Carlos’ last real day of work. We felt celebratory. And since we spent the day packing up shoes and clothes, Carlos and I thought what better time to get dressed up for a last hurrah before putting my heals and his Ted Baker suit into storage.

We opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings but assured our waiter that if the chef felt like trying anything out on us, we were happy to be guinea pigs. I won’t recount the wine because frankly I don’t remember enough of what we were drinking to do it justice but here’s my take on each plate. Perhaps I’ll look back on this post in five or six months when I am craving a taste of California and recreate some of these flavor combinations for my Australian kitchen.

The meal started off a little fast and contrived– as if the chefs in the new place haven’t come into their own quite yet. The waiter brought out the first dishes quickly  suggesting to us that they were meant to complement each other but I didn’t feel like they flowed. The peach soda with tarragon was syrupy sweet, the cicharones were stale and the melon’s ripeness overpowered the thin lardo. The starters seemed to be working too hard to impress and we were there to relax. I did like the gazpacho with tarragon foam. To me, that is a basic summer dish, foam or no foam. It should be all about the summertime tomatoes, and it was.

The next round of mids kicked off with salmon belly accompanied by cucumber three ways (juiced, gelled and pickled). I thought the jello was a bit off-putting but loved the pickle and lox combo. Next was the peppers with speck and raw albacore. This was one of my favorites. The smoky speck paired nicely with the sweet pepers and mild albacore. I think this one had tarragon too (that was the herb of the night, apparently). The chef was winning us over at this point in the meal and the waiter, Stu, was slowing down his service. We began to enjoy the tranquilizing effects of our wine without feeling like we were expected to hurry along for the next reservation.

I liked the bass with oyster and coriander that came next but the bass on both our plates was a little overcooked. Fortunately, the last savory dish was my favorite and a superb reflection of summertime in Northern California as I’d like to remember it: corn puree with fresh whole blackberries and hazelnut for crunch, quail breasts and a thick cut of lardon. I licked the plate. Lardons make everything delicious but the chef deserved credit for this one; the plate was a beautifully assembled with texture, color and flavor.

Dessert came in two rounds with muscato to accompany both plates: peach sorbet with fresh cream and finally a deconstructed cheesecake: fromage blanc that had been infused with hay (a brilliant idea I hope to recreate in my cheesemaking), crumbled cookie and fig, nature’s perfect summer fruit. Although there were a total of ten plates, neither Carlos nor I left feeling sick from gluttony. I give the chef major credit for the restrained portion sizes (better that than wondering if my stomach is just a black hole). I have an open mind that while the meal wasn’t show-stopping, the food will get better with time. What I did sincerely love about the experience was the distinctive Northern California decor. The wood tables, dark greens and purple set in the indoor/outdoor dining room are very much in line with my own aesthetic. Merely a few weeks before packing up and moving away, the evening reminded me how strongly I feel that the Bay Area is my home.

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