Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perfection... Gary Danko

On Sunday I had my first meal at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. All other meals in my life fall short. Every single taste was exciting and new because I was introduced to different combinations that I never realized existed before. The originality and ingenuity that was displayed by the different flavors and textures was stunning. I don't know if any one meal was ever as daring or innovative as this one.

The service was the first jab made by Gary Danko in its one-two knock out combo. The staff knew exactly how to act, what to do, and what to say. Each and every one was poised and extremely helpful when it came to the food. They all seemed to have an immense knowledge of the menu, and somehow they seemed to know exactly what it was that I was looking for. The entire night I had this strange sensation that the waiters were reading my mind. Want to try a fish and a meat? (Yes.) Get the four-course dinner. Want something light but flavorful for the first course? (Definitely.) Try the oysters. Need something sweet, indulgent, and rich for dessert? (You know it.) Have the flambéed apples. The second a diner would leave to use the restroom, someone would pop up to fold his or her napkin. As soon as someone's water was running low, they were there to refill it. The waiters were everywhere, and yet they were nowhere. They managed to make sure that everything was going well, and yet they did not seem bothersome or overly present throughout the meal. It was as if they were trained to pick up signals from customers letting them know when they were needed. They were all very personable and friendly, and none of them were pretentious. To put it simply, the waiters were able to add to the meal without working too hard to do it.

The haymaker of the meal was definitely the food. I now understand what Dante meant when he said that words are not descriptive enough to illustrate the beauty in life. There is no way I can fully do justice to the flavors that I tasted that night. While it was already over a week ago, it is still fresh in my mouth. My mom and I essentially shared everything we tried, this way we each got to have about eight different courses.
First we had the glazed oysters, and a lobster salad.

The lobster was fresh, juicy, and soft on the inside, and served with a fruity, tangy puree. It was a very light dish that mixed textures like soft and juicy along with crunchy and goopy like a masterpiece. The subtle and buttery flavor of the lobster was succulent and played well with the bright flavors of the puree.

The glazed oysters were warm and creamy with a slight hint of brine in a thick glaze. Caviar was dolloped on top of each oyster. The sweet, creamy flavor of the glazed oysters was perfectly balanced with the salty chewiness of the caviar. It was presented in a stunningly white bowl and the light, creamy, pink glaze filled the bowl about a half of an inch up the walls. It was nice to look at as well as to eat. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Next we split the pan-seared scallops. This was definitely another favorite! The scallops were simply done by searing on the top and bottom in oil and served with a butternut squash puree, roasted cauliflower, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds. The scallops were placed on top of the butternut squash puree and were then sprinkled with all of the other accoutrements. The scallops were chewy and succulent on the inside, but had a crisp outer layer. The squash and pomegranate mixed perfectly with the pistachios and cauliflower to create and sweet and savory dance for the taste buds. The cauliflower, pistachios and pomegranate seeds all added a crunch to the scallop and puree. Nothing about this dish was overly fancy or intricate, and yet the flavors and textures were all thought through to the point of food bliss.

For our entrées my mom had the pan steamed shellfish with a Thai red curry sauce, and jasmine rice. I had roasted quail stuffed with foie gras and porcini mushrooms. I tasted the shellfish and it was a wonderful curry, sweet with a spicy undertone that didn't overpower the shellfish. All of the shellfish was cooked to perfection. I won't go into long detail about this dish because I did not get to taste it thoroughly. I will talk about my quail, however. Anyone who thinks that quail tastes just like chicken has to be crazy. The quail was juicy and tender in a way that chicken can rarely achieve. While chicken can most certainly be delicious, the size of the bird makes it more difficult to cook so that parts of it are juicy without other parts becoming dry. With the tiny quail, it seemed that roasting allows all of the poultry’s own flavors and juices to remain sealed up within the skin throughout the entire bird. Also, I think that the quail must be raised in a way that keeps the meat fatty and tender, as opposed to some chickens that develop more muscular tones. There’s no doubt in my mind that the quail has an advantage over the average chicken. This particular quail was roasted so that the outside was just browned with crispy parts, but the overall texture was very soft and moist. The inside was the best part, because this is where the juices of the quail, foie gras, and mushrooms all combined. The smoky, earthy flavors of the mushrooms complimented the quail, and the foie gras' soft, buttery texture made the whole dish perfectly tender. It is hard to go back to chicken after this quail.

For our dessert course we shared the apple flambé for two. This is prepared tableside, and is truly a treat to watch. A tableside cart was wheeled out, a stainless steel pan was brought to temperature, and then the brown sugar was slowly melted. One of the smart and talented waiters whipped up the caramel and flambéed apples right in front of us, and a crisp and warm funnel cake was brought out with creamy, sweet cinnamon ice cream. While making the caramel and apples the waiter entertained us with anecdotes about the waiters with the best caramel, and soon his pan was sizzling with goopy, thick caramel. The apples were warm, sweet, and soft enough to cut with a fork, yet strong enough not to turn into mush. The funnel cake came in a satisfying cube, the dough fried to a golden crisp. While funnel cakes are generally found in fairs, ballparks, and IHOP, this was the gourmet’s version. It was crispy and strong on the outside, perfect for standing up to soft apples, gooey caramel, and ice cream. Yet the inside was soft and chewy. The flavor was not overly sweet. It did not need to be; the apples and caramel did the job. This dessert was the culmination of the entire meal. It was another example of the innovative way that Gary Danko mixes textures and flavors, as well as a beautiful presentation, to impress his audience. This was a very sweet and satisfying way to finish off the meal.

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