Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gary Danko

Located just blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Warf, Gary Danko is situated on the corner of a quiet neighborhood. Its gray exterior and blacked out windows can be easily missed by the unsuspecting visitor just cruising by.

The large black door opens up to reveal a metal countertop bar sandwiched between two small, but thoughtfully arranged dining areas. Red hues illuminate the dim room of black windows, acting as an escape from the outside world. Here, it is not only the food you are paying for, it is the experience. Candles sit flickering in the centers of the white table clothed tables, contrasting the dark yet chic colors of the walls. Large, fresh flower arrangements in dramatically large glass vases line the walls adding pops of elegance to the chic room. Canvases of modern art complement the entire backdrop.

The 75 seat dining area offers an intimate ambiance.

Having been awarded its sixth Five Star rating from Mobil, a Relais & Chateau designation, and a Michelin Star, Restaurant Gary Danko is nothing short of excellence.

Waiters and waitresses are neatly uniformed in black pant suits, blue collard shirts and purple diamond pattern ties. They graciously and politely step aside when crossing paths with guests, “Pardon me miss/sir”, allowing the guest to pass before continuing on their way.

Guests can choose to either dine at the bar (open seating) or make reservations for the dining room. Reservations are not easy to come by—the restaurant is packed even on a random weekday evening. Here, you’ll find a mixture of business men and women who have just gotten out of work still dressed in work attire, and the solo jeans and t-shirt wearing food aficionado dining at the bar side by side.

The menu offers a generous 2-5 course tasting menu featuring Appetizers, Fish and Seafood, Meat and Game Birds, Cheese, and last but not least Dessert. Each dish is complemented by seasonal vegetables and/ or fruits. For a little bit extra, each course can be paired with a glass of wine. Gary Danko offers 7+ selections under each category. Ranging from sweet, warm Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar that just melt in your mouth and taste just like an oyster should and Risotto with Lobster and Rock Shrimp for an appetizer, to sweet and succulent perfectly cooked Roast Maine Lobster and tangy yet savory Mushroom Dusted Sea Scallops seared to a nice golden brown on all sides, to Seared Filet of Beef cooked to a perfect medium rare topped with corn relish and two Quails Stuffed with Foie Gras with a wonderful glaze, to grand selection of cheeses that arrive tableside by cart plated with grapes and other wonderful parings, to Rhubarb-Strawberry tart and decadent Chocolate Soufflé served warm with a Vanilla Crème-Anglaise and Dark Belgium Chocolate Sauce that will have you feeling like you’re eating a luscious chocolate rain cloud.

Each dish, and the process of creating it, is thoughtfully and eloquently described to you as it comes to your table.

The restaurant is surprisingly unpretentious restaurant offers an astonishing 1,500 selections of wine all neatly listed in a hefty black binder, which the bartender will gladly heave over the counter for you to view. The list features wines from fifteen different countries and dozens of vintages are represented at Gary Danko. Some of the rarest vintages and wines can be found in the restaurant’s wine cellar. To add to the surprise, the wine cellar is an ongoing expansion project.

My experience at Gary Danko was spent dining at the bar for three hours. I had made reservations for two earlier that morning and was informed by the hostess that the earliest reservation they had open was 9:30p.m. My date and I arrived at the restaurant at 7:00p.m. after a long day of touring the city to see if there were any cancellations. Unfortunately, there weren’t. The hostess welcomed us to sit at the bar while we waited for our reservations.

We sat sandwiched between a very polished couple who appeared to have just gotten off of work, and another couple who were casually dressed in jeans and t-shirts. Both were dining at the bar.

We were quickly attended to by a bartender with strawberry brown hair that sat just about three inches above her shoulders. She asked to take our order, as she pulled out two thin, white cloth coasters. I asked to see a cocktail menu and a wine list. The recommended cocktail menu was fairly limited but the wine list was astounding. It was in a hefty black binder which contained over 1,500 wines with countless vintages, regions, and flavors. The prices range from low $40s to $200+, per bottle. We each got a cocktail and talked, admiring the décor.

As we sat and admired what each couple ordered. The savory aromas that encircled us forced us to surrender our reservations and dine at the bar. We joked with the bar manager as we informed him that waiting another hour and listening to him describe each dish without being able to enjoy it would just be torturous; we cancelled our reservations and were handed menus at the bar.

My date and I used the three course tasting menu to our advantage. We shared an appetizer, we each ordered a seafood and meat, and then we shared a dessert. The bar manager complemented us choosing this tactic, and asked whose idea it was. We sheepishly admitted that we over heard him suggest it to the couple sitting to our left. His laughed filled the bar area, telling us that he was ready to give me credit.

We shared the Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce cream and the Chocolate Soufflé with Vanilla Crème-Anglaise and Dark Belgium Chocolate Sauce. I ordered the Roast Maine Lobster with Potato Puree, Black trumpet Mushrooms, Edamame Beans and Tarragon and the Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Leeks and Quinoa, Farro, Maitake Mushrooms, Zuchinni and Roasted Red Peppers.

The courses are spread out in increments allowing me to not only savor and admire the lingering flavors of the previous dish but to discuss the flavor profiles and textures with the person I was sharing the evening.

The Gazed Oysters were served in a large white dish sitting in a spring grass colored sauce and a sand colored sauce topped with a generous spoonful of caviar. They were slightly warm. It was sweet and had the texture of yogurt that just melted in my mouth. The caviar was a perfect complement—adding a natural ocean air flavor that enhanced the flavor of the oyster.

My next course was the Lobster. The Lobster was cooked to a medium rare. It too melted in my mouth. It was incredibly sweet and though I feel serving seafood with potatoes is a crime, the light airiness of the pureed potatoes in this dish, did not take away from the texture or the flavor of the lobster.

The Quail came on a rectangular, slate colored dish. To my surprise, there were two stuffed quails sitting atop a bed of mushrooms, grains. They had a wonderful caramelized skin. The plump quails were very moist and filled with a healthy portion of mushrooms and infused with a rich flavor from the foie gras.

Finally, the sinful Chocolate Soufflé. The waiter came gliding out with a glass dish holding a white ramekin dwarfed by the pillowing soufflé. He put the soufflé down on the counter, took a spoon and created a small hole in the center—the soufflé deflated a bit. He poured the contents of the first gravy boat into the hole of the soufflé: a Crème-Anglaise. The soufflé appeared to breathe as it expanded with the steady stream of crème seeped though its pores. It deflated slightly once again when the stream stopped. The waiter then poured the contents of the second gravy boat into the same hole of the soufflé: dark Belgium chocolate. The thick stream of glistening rich chocolate once again made the soufflé expand. As I methodically ran my spoon though the center of the soufflé, I was able to get a spoonful of the airy top and the moist bottom which had happily soaked up the duo of sauces. It was like eating a cumulus chocolate cloud; a sweet, light, creamy, pillow that melted in your mouth. Though decadent, was not overly sweet or over-whelming. It was the perfect way to end the meal.

You will not leave restaurant Gary Danko hungry. Though the portions may seem small upon first glance, because of the dramatic dishes, don’t be fooled: the portions are extremely generous.

On this particular night, I did not leave the restaurant empty handed. The bar manager handed me a gift from the restaurant—a banana cream cheese cake to enjoy with my coffee the next morning. As for my date, he jealously eye balled my gift as the bar manager kindly gave him his: the check.

Gary Danko: 800 North Point at Hyde Street, (415) 749-2060. Serving dinner nightly 5:30pm to 10:00pm, Bar hours 5:00pm to 12:00am. Street parking and Valet available for $11. Three courses $66, 4 courses $83, 5 courses $98, wine pairing $65.

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