Tuesday, October 14, 2008

dinner in "The Dining Room"

I'd been to The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco once before, for my mother's 50th birthday, but I hadn't been since they changed chefs and started serving their famous "Salt and Pepper Tasting Menu". So, I was super excited when I was invited by a friend to dinner there a few weeks ago.

The Salt and Pepper menu consists of eight courses, each with a different kind of salt and pepper. The theme extended even to the amuse bouche dishes and the dessert!

The Rundown:

- First amuse: tiny fried mushroom ravioli. I had had them before, but they were still delicious.

- Second amuse: some kind of fish w/ crispy skin. As always, I redistributed any cooked fish dishes to others.

- Third amuse: caviar & egg w/ cedarwood smoke. This was one of the highlights of the meal. I always love caviar, but this dish was really creative. They had burned cedarwood and trapped the (very clean-smelling) smoke in a glass dish, and then covered it with plastic wrap. There was a small hole in the wrap, which was covered with a spoon. When I lifted the spoon to eat the caviar, small wafts of smoke would come out, so the experience of eating the caviar was strongly flavored with the sweet-smelling cedarwood smoke. Amazing.

- First course: kindai sashimi w/ prawn & yuzu gelee. This was my other favorite dish. The sashimi was fresh and yummy, and the prawn heads were fried and served with sauces made of shiso salt (!!!) and pink pepper. Yum!

- Second course: Giant "stupid" clam w/ cucumber and two types of jelly. I was not too fond of the jellies; they were too gooey and not "crunchy" enough. The clam was pretty chewy but the flavor was very good.

- Third course: foie gras on crouton. The foie gras serving was *huge* and in fact I gave half of it away since I always feel like foie gras is wasted on me. The crouton was soaked full of foie gras juice and other sauces and I enjoyed it very much.

- Fourth course: lobster & a thin slice of meat. Unfortunately I remember very little about this dish, four weeks later. I have a vague idea it was good but unremarkable.

- Fifth course: young chicken (poussin?) w/ quinoa and foam on top. As I've mentioned before, I am not a fan of foam, but the chicken was crispy and tasty. The salt was lemon flavored, which I liked.

- Sixth course: ribeye w/ asparagus. I was pretty full at this point and wanted to be able to enjoy dessert, so I only had a bite of the ribeye, but it was nicely cooked (properly medium rare) and I always like pepper on beef.

- Seventh course: sorbet & gelee. This felt like a palate cleanser but was supposedly one of the eight courses. It was a strawberry sorbet and citrus gelee, I think. I liked the yuzu ones better. Even this had salt and pepper in it! The salt was citrus flavored, to match the gelee.

- Eighth course: white chocolate mousse & rum(?) cake w/ fig. I thought I would like the cake better but it turned out too liquid-y (meaning full of liquid, not that it was dissolving). The figs were good but the little chunk of white chocolate mousse was the best thing on the plate. It was served cool, wasn't overly sweet (as often happens with white chocolate) and had good texture.

- Petit fours: At the end the waiter came by with a cart of petit fours and we were supposed to choose which ones we wanted. Since there were four of us, we ended up with one of everything (which was probably like ten or twelve pieces) and then went around round robin until they were finished. There was a pistachio cake-y thing that was quite good and a couple of chewy candies, but I still preferred the white chocolate from the dessert course.

Overall, it was quite an excellent meal. Service was great, as is befitting The Ritz-Carlton, the creativity of the various dishes was really impressive, and I was still raving about the sashimi & prawn course to some friends last weekend. Very memorable evening!

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