Monday, February 21, 2011

SONS & DAUGHTERS: Nine Courses of Exquisite Perfection

It has been a hot minute since I last wrote anything here. I attribute this partially to laziness and partially to the fact that I have been spending time writing for an actual, tangible publication: my article on local beverage sourcing (playfully termed the 'locapour' movement) in Culinary Trends magazine drops in a month or so. I mention this both to excuse my absence on Tasty Morsels as well as to set up the story that makes up today's content.

Julia and I had been trying to eat at Sons & Daughters, a relatively new restaurant in Nob Hill, for weeks. Unfortunately, we were having zero luck getting a table for a day and time that worked for us. Last week, after another discovery that 10:30pm was the earliest Saturday table available, Julia mentioned our frustration to Carleigh, a mutual friend of ours and the executive editor of the magazine for which I am writing (and for which Julia is photographing). Julia's comments were simply casual conversation, but Carleigh, being amazing, was able to get in touch with Sons & Daughters and secure us a table at a reasonable hour. Hooray!

The meal that evening was, undoubtedly, one of the best I have eaten. What follows is a breakdown of a dinner that left both Julia & myself stuffed and awestruck...

The amuse was a cauliflower puree with pickled cauliflower and sturgeon caviar. The puree was flawless, smooth, and buttery, offset perfectly by the tangy sweetness of the pickled cauliflower. The tiny dollop of caviar added just a whisper of saltiness and texture. We clinked our flutes with giant grins, already excited for the gastronomic journey we anticipated before us.

Next, Julia had the cream of parsley root soup with maitake, enoki, and black trumpets. Normally we are not ones to order soups when we eat out; though they can be hearty and delicious, they tend to lack the pizazz one sometimes seeks in fine dining experiences. This soup, however, lacked nothing. Its rich creaminess warmed your soul as much as your belly, and the soft flavor of the parsley root enveloped your mouth like liquid velvet. Each tiny, individual enoki mushroom was individually tempura battered, and yet each of the three mushrooms still spoke clearly with their flavor and texture. If only all soup could be like this. I had the foie torchon with apple gelee, burrata crisp, horseradish, and bronze fennel. I say, with confidence, that this was the best foie I can remember tasting. It had all the richness, flavor, and texture of foie, but somehow lacked the foie heaviness that has the tendency to overwhelm. The burrata crisp was a paper-thin wafer, its texture delicate and refreshing (though the flavor was muted), and the apple gelee was not overly sweet, but on the contrary had a nice tartness to it. Interestingly, when you ate the crisp and the gelee together, you actually felt like you were eating apple, as you had both the flavor and the crisp snap that you expect of the fruit.

Next, they brought us both the beet salad with bergamot sorbet, meyer lemon, and goat cheese. All I can say about the beets is that they were cooked to perfection. (I apologize in advance if this word is used too repetitively in this entry; it may be unavoidable.) The sorbet had both tangy citrus flavor as well as fragrant notes of tea, and the consistency was just right: not icey and grainy, but not over-tempered and runny. It was an ideal example, like the foie (and many items to come), of the fact that Chef Matt McNamara is second to none in his grasp of flawless technique.

SIDEBAR: It is a true challenge to get things just right in items like the aforementioned sorbet, the foie, and the (still-to-come) pate. Cheff McNamara executed each of these items with the precision of a seasoned expert, so that while we were dazzled by flavor, we were left free from the typical distractions of imperfection. Pretty much everything he prepared could serve as the epitome of "how it's done." But I digress...

Our next courses continued to raise the bar. Julia had the veal tongue with brussel sprouts, cipolinni onions, and pancetta spices. The tongue was cooked perfectly, its flavor as delicate as its texture; it was complemented nicely by the accompaniments but left to shine as the star. I had the abalone with burdock root, celery, salsify, and Castelveltrano olives. As before, the abalone was expertly prepared, leaving not a hint of the often-typical over-chewiness in its wonderful texture. Beautiful, foot-long, paper thin celery ribbons decorated the plate, and all the different ingredients came together like a symphony of flavor, each demanding its own representation in every bite.

They brought us our next course: sea bream with geoduck, winter melon, cardoon, little gems, and lily. The little gems were represented on the plate both in their natural state as well as in a foam, which was surprising and really enjoyable. The fish was flawless, skin crispy and flesh buttery, falling apart delicious. The geoduck, like the abalone before, was cooked to just the right texture that allowed it to be playful as you chewed.

Then came the heavy hitters: Julia had pork loin and jowl with white sapote, rhubarb, hedgehog mushrooms, and mache. The jowl was out-of-this-world; it is already one of my favorite pig parts, and this one was the juicy, fatty king, melting in your mouth like butter. The rhubarb's sweetness paired nicely with the pork, though I would have liked a little bit more of the hedgehog mushrooms. I had squab breast and confit leg, with pate, pear, hazelnut, and shallot, possibly the favorite dish of the evening. Beside the fact that the breast was cooked to perfection (at this point is there any surprise?), the confit leg was like a little bonus treat. I opted for fingers over fork and knife, which was ultimately more satisfying... same goes for the tiny little wing that clung to the succulent breast; with chicken (or in this case, squab) parts, sometimes your hands are the only option, manners be damned.

But the real star of the plate, and perhaps the evening, was the pate. Pardon my French, but holy, fucking shit. Let me say that I am not typically a huge fan of pate. Most have the boozy, too-sweet flavor that seems to be trying to obliterate (or at least hide) the taste of the gizzards it's made from. And their texture is sometimes too moist, almost slippery, which for me only drops it down another notch. But this pate was in class by itself. Its flavor was earthy and hearty; you truly tasted the squab flavor, and even the gizzard flavors, which were exquisite. And the texture was on the dryer side but still moist, almost like a dry duxelle. In all, it was both unique and familiar and single-handedly changed the way I view pate: from now on, I will compare all future pates to this one.

After our main courses they brought us an intermezzo: grapefruit sphere with cayenne pepper and a hazelnut cream. Wow! Tangy, spicy, creamy, earthy, it cleansed your palate and knocked your senses wide open. On my own, I wouldn't even think to put these ingredients together, but it definitely worked. We were ready for dessert.

First came the Strathdon blue cheese with pickled apple and almond. While this was the least adventurous of the dishes we ate, it was no less outstanding. The simplicity of a top-notch blue cheese with sweet and tart pickled apple was great. Digesting never tasted so good.

Then came the final courses: Julia got the beet cake (yes, beet cake!) with chocolate and cocoa nibs. The cake was so light and moist, with the beet adding just a hint of its own flavor while doing its job of sweetening; and the nice crunch and texture of the cocoa nibs offsetting the softness of the cake were yummy little surprises in every bite. I had the poached pear with oatmeal, cedar foam, and smoked balsamic. You can't go wrong with poached pear, but the off-the-beaten-path additions like cedar foam and smoked balsamic took things to a whole other level. I have tried cedar before in the form of candied Douglass fir needles, but this was far superior, providing the flavor in a much more delicate and enjoyable vehicle. It is wonderful to see such innovation and playfulness in desserts, and all they knocked it out of the park.

With the check came tiny, perfect French almond macaroons, a delicious end to an incredible meal. Julia and I sat back in total elation and together agreed that we could not think of a better meal we had eaten in our recent, or even somewhat distant, memory. I didn't even mention the wines we sampled as well (each course came with a pairing), as I do not recollect enough of the specifics to do them justice, but highlights included an '04 Nebiolo that commanded its appreciation and a Sauvignon Blanc whose smell transported us to a clover-filled meadow in the middle of summer.

I don't typically review restaurants in this blog; point of fact, this is not what I was trying to do here. I simply had one of the best meals of my life and was too inspired not to write about it. I know I will be back to Sons & Daughters once the seasons change, and until then, I will be counting the drools... er, days.

No comments:

Post a Comment