Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gary Danko: The People's Choice

Without question, Restaurant Gary Danko is San Francisco's preeminent fine dining establishment. Similar to Gramercy Tavern's status in Manhattan, Gary Danko is the most popular San Francisco restaurant, and with good reason, the food and wine are both excellent and the service is remarkable. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, chef Danko was named one of Food and Wine's best new chefs in 1989, won a James Beard Award for Best Chef California in 1995 and was awarded a Michelin Star. Fusing French technique with seasonal ingredients, Gary Danko's mix-and-match menu allows diners to create personalized three, four or five-course meals and exceeded all expectations.

Situated on North Point Street, a block away from the tourist-laden Ghiardelli Square, MW and I arrived promptly for our reservations, and we were led to our table, located in the front dining room partitioned off from the lively bar area. Unlike the stale decor of the Ritz (ironically, a kitchen formerly occupied by chef Danko), Gary Danko's dining room was modern and sophisticated, accented by sharp spot lighting and a slick design. Service was noteworthy, as our waiter was both knowledgeable and loose, often joking with us.

We started with favorite of ours, a bottle of Riesling, Spatlese, Dr. Loosen, Urziger Wurzgarten, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany (2008). Crisp and sweet, the riesling paired particularly well with the opening bevy of seafood courses we ordered.

Our amuse bouche consisted of a mini Veal Schniztel with a Chive Creme Fraiche over a Cucumber and Potato Salad. A stark departure from the typical soup or seafood, Despite being one of the better renditions of this classic, it seemed far too heavy to begin the meal.

About the only other lackluster portion of the meal was the restaurant's bread service that featured only a Multi Grain Sourdough Bread with a soft, but generic butter. While far from being overly disappointed, I expected more from a restaurant of this caliber. This point became moot as neither MW nor I ended up eating more than our initial piece.

We both opted for the five-course menu and our meal started off with a bang. MW's Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Shimeji Mushrooms, Peas and Asparagus was perhaps the best version I've had. The seafood medley and assorted vegetables mixed harmoniously with the perfectly cooked rice. But while the dish shouts lobster and other rock shrimp, make no doubt about it, the star of the dish was that lusciously creamy rice that had been fortified with a rich seafood stock.

I'm a total sucker for certain ingredients, so anytime I see the pairing of oyster and caviar on a menu, I'm hard pressed not to immediately order it, and in this case I did just that. My Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce Cream, a Gary Danko signature, was another highlight of our meal. The plump and briny oysters sat in a pool of the rich lettuce cream and was enhanced by the saltiness of the osetra caviar.

Next was MW's Seared Sonoma Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Rhubarb. The generous portion of seared foie gras was simultaneously sweet from the caramelized onion and tart from the rhubarb, resulting in a wonderfully unctuous dish.

Equally as stunning was my Seared Sea Scallop with Zucchini-Fennel Purée, Red Peppers, Haricot Vert and Shimeji Mushrooms. The perfect sear achieved on the scallop emphasized its sweetness, which was deftly accented by the zucchini-fennel purée.

Due to the free-format nature of the menu, MW's Roasted Maine Lobster with Potato Purée, Morel Mushrooms, Edamame and Tarragon came out alone. This may have been a blessing in disguise as the course was deceptively rich from the creamy potato purée. The lobster was cooked very well, not the least bit tough or stringy and the combination of meaty morels and edamame proved to be a worthy compliment.

MW's final savory course was the Roasted Pork Belly and Tenderloin with a Potato-Ramp Purée, Fava Beans, Artichokes and Maple Glaze. While the pork loin, cooked medium rare, was good, the unanimous favorite was the decadent maple-glazed pork belly. Sweet and fatty, the pork belly virtually melted in your mouth.

Regrettably, my Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Mushrooms and Quinoa, Artichokes, Olives and a Scallion-Potato Cake came up short. The quail was a overcooked and a bit dry and the advertised stuffing was void of the anticipated umami-laden flavors imparted by the foie gras and mushroom.

Fortunately, our waiter, having sensed our disappointment with the quail, more than made up for the previous dish with a Selection of Farmhouse and Artisanal Cheeses Presented Tableside. After soliciting our preferences, he selected five cheeses, satisfying us both: a funky Bleu d’Auvergne (a Cow’s Milk Cheese) from France, a smooth Cowgirl Creamery Triple Cream (a Cow’s Milk Cheese) from California, a mild Abbaye de Belloc (Sheep’s Milk Cheese) from France, a sharp Old Québec Reserve Cheddar (a Cow’s Milk Cheese) from Canada and an interesting Coolea Gouda (a Cow’s Milk Cheese) from Switzerland. Served with Walnut Bread and Grapes, we both thoroughly enjoyed the cheese course and marveled at the sheer selection as the cheese cart was wheeled to our table. Such diversity and presentation left no question of selection to 7x7's "100 Foods to Try Before You Die" list in 2010.

To finish our meal, MW selected the Raspberry Soufflé with Vanilla Créme Anglaise, Raspberry Coulis and Raspberry Sorbet. The contrast in temperatures, textures and flavors between the raspberry sorbet and the cholesterol-free soufflé was one of the memorable desserts of the trip.

My Trio of Crème Brûlée with Assorted Cookies was another example of a classic dessert with a Gary Danko twist. Featured were a Vanilla Crème Brûlée and Gingersnap Cookie, a Butterscotch Crème Brûlée and Pine Nut Cookie and a Chocolate Crème Brûlée and Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookie. Each flavor was very good but surprisingly, the butterscotch ended up being my favorite.

Elegant without being stuffy, Gary Danko, epitomizes the best of what San Francisco can offer. Chef Danko's combination of fine wine and cheese, a seasonally inspired menu and impeccable service was another chapter in the book filled with incredible meals that was our California vacation. With a new restaurant in the works, virtually all of San Francisco eagerly awaits to embrace chef Danko's newest venture, but until then locals and tourist alike will continue to fight for reservations and pack into the bar at the people's choice, Restaurant Gary Danko.

Restaurant Gary Danko
800 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 749-2060

To see all our pics click the flickr link.

Gary Danko on Urbanspoon


  1. This looks wonderful, and of course I want to try it all (especially the pork belly), but this post upset me. I have a non-foodie friend in SF who brings up her trip to Gary Danko every time a good NYC restaurant is mentioned, and I've always assumed it wasn't nearly as good as anything I'm feasting on out here.

    Guess I'll have to give her this one.

  2. @donuts4dinner I was curious to see how some of the best west coast restaurants compared to NYC and came away very impressed with San Francisco. But as I previously mentioned in my post, I feel the Gramercy Tavern comparison is fairly accurate, especially with seasonal emphasis Michael Anthony uses in his menu.