Sunday, May 01, 2005

French Three Ways

We've recently dined at a French bistro, a French-Pacific Rim spot, and an upscale French restaurant. It has occurred to me that the food I grew up with falls at the intersection of these three cuisines. Growing up, I ate simple but hearty bistro fare such as coq au vin, and my brown bag lunches often included pate-smeared baguettes. My Indian father also influenced my mother's cooking -- for example, a typical dinner might be ratatouille scooped up with pori. My mother gave me my appreciation for elegant food presentation. Every Christmas, she makes an amazing bouche de noel with knots covered in rich chocolate and painstakingly created meringue mushrooms. Enough about my mom and time for my reviews!

Rather than stick with our favorite French Bistros, we decided to give Bistro Aix in the Marina a chance. It was ok. We went through two warm baskets of focaccia, which, unlike the rest of the meal, was truly outstanding. I started with a mesculun salad with warm goat cheese, proceeded to a cracker crust pizza, and ended with a creme brulee. All very so-so. During the meal, I kept comparing Aix to our favorite French Bistros. The creme brulee was maybe 50% the deliciousness of Chapeau's. Do not, however, fear -- the rest of this blog is much more upbeat.

Last weekend, we hopped on the Muni to visit the Castro's Ma Tante Sumi, which blends Asian ingredients with French preparation and presentation. The restaurant has about 15 tables and is quiet and intimate. I had a green salad with fried tofu croutons, a beautiful piece of bass, and a caramelized pineapple cake. Our waiter suggested a nice Pinot Grigio for the table, which was light and perfect for my meal. The food was simple and elegant and the evening leisurely and cozy. Ma Tante Sumi has made my top restaurant list, which currently consists of Chapeau, Bistro Jeanty, and Zuni (I've purposely excluded French Laundry from this list, since it's way more than a restaurant and more of a once or twice in a lifetime experience).

Who would be presumptuous enough to name itself The Dining Room? The Ritz Carlton, that's who! The restaurant, however, does deserve the title. Before showing up for our 9pm reservations, Aren and I stopped by the lounge of the hotel for drinks. Rather than only semi-insult us and ask us for our IDs, the server asked if we wanted some water or soda. I of course berated him, but calmed down once I had my Kir Royale. The atmosphere and service were stellar. We were seated side-by-side on the cushioned-seat side of a four person table, elegantly decorated with white tulips. The very Versailles decor made as feel like royalty. We had about five male servers at our service. One server bumped into me when we were first shown to our table. He later found me to apologize. I had read great things about Sommelier Stephane Lacroix, so we had him describe the five German Rieslings on his wine list to us. We picked a Kabinnet, which was perfectly sweet but had a nice, dry finish (I foolishly forgot to write down its name). We were quickly but not too quickly served rolls from a silver tray and presented with an artichoke soup amuse-bouche. We mmm'd until it was all gone. We went with a three course menu. I had chilled foie gras with apple jam, sauternes gelée, and thinly sliced brioche. A+! My sole entree served on top of I-forgot-what with lobster tortellini was very disappointing. I am, however, trying not to hold this against the restaurant, since the taste of Aren's duck that I had was divine. My dessert included a lemon tart with orange sorbet and fruit topped with bergamot ice cream. The meal really ended with a cart of sweets. I selected a piece of nougat, a macaroon, a milk chocolate truffle, and an almond caramel. The Dining Room isn't a once-a-month type place, which is why I'm not adding it to my top restaurants list, but definitely worth trying when you're in the mood to be food-pampered.

17 days to France!


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