Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ROAD TRIP DEUX, La Folie - Anniversaire heureux à moi

Quail Egg with Chip & Brioche
The longer I live, the more I come to realize that a good meal — make that a great meal — is one of life’s paramount pleasures. This may be why the Better Half and I so often choose to dine out as a preferred method of celebrating. It is certainly why, on the first of July 2010, we marked the occasion of our twenty-sixth year of marriage with a meal at La Folie in San Francisco.

The BH and I tend to be early for our reservations (or at the very least, the early side of prompt), so when we arrived at this tiny bastion of French pleasure, they were just opening up for the evening. The charming host was kind enough to seat us almost immediately. We settled in and began perusing the menu.

Corn Soup with Squash Blossom
No sooner had I checked in on Foursquare, than I received a message from one of my “tweeps” (for those of you not infected with this particular virus, a "tweep" is a twitter follower).  @dapperdiner was writing to inform me that I had company at La Folie. Sitting at another table in the same restaurant was @ChefJohnny, a friend of this tweep and another food-o-phile. I should note here that La Folie is tres petite! Its interior is pretty much the opposite of expansive. I look around and see that at the table across from us there is a young man with large spoons tattooed to his forearms. He is part of a party of four who are clearly enjoying their meal, and dissecting its various properties with educated relish. So this is how I am “cyber-introduced” to @ChefJohnny. The world is getting smaller (and weirder). I chat him up later via twitter (didn’t want to interrupt his meal). He is gracious and amused. I think to myself that I am happy to meet a fellow foodie, even in such an odd fashion as this. I will admit to feeling a certain inexplicable kinship with the others of my kind, those who are similarly obsessed with the preparation and service of food, enamored of all aspects, particularly the thrills necessitated by its consumption.

Foie Gras Soup w/ Seared Foie Gras
After remarking on this amusing distraction, the BH and I were ready to order our meals. We decided to go with the five-course ala carte menu. Although the Chef’s tasting menu was extremely tempting, there were just too many other items we wanted to try; ordering ala carte seemed the most direct route to the widest sharing of dishes and thus flavors. An ala carte menu can sometimes afford a more appealing set of choices than the Chef’s greatest hits. It's a little like picking your favorite songs on iTunes instead of buying the album. Some times one just has to make a mixed tape.

Foie Gras Torchon
The staff began our experience by serving us a lovely pairing of amuse bouches. The first was a delightful bite of herring rillette. I’ve been enamored of rillette since I first tasted a version made with salmon and served encased in butter at Chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville. The Folie version was equally delicious, served with a lovely cherry gastrique. The tang of the cherry complimented the salty brine of the herring to perfection. There was a bit of sweet, then salt and the flavor finished on the palate with a smoky little kiss lingering from the flesh of the herring. Spectacular!

The second amuse was a whimsical Organic egg yolk that arrived poached in its shell with a miniature potato chip atop it. The first bite was this tiny blast of salt from the chip mingling with the creamy haze of the egg yolk. The second bite was the balance of the yolk mingling with the mini brioche toast that had been provided for spreading the milky yellow goodness atop it. This was an amazing drizzle of flavors in one — make that two — bites.

Our first courses arrived shortly after that. Mine was the Brentwood Farms Corn Soup. It was a lovely creamy broth poured gently over crispy sweetbreads, a puff of lobster mousse and a stuffed squash blossom that was both sweet & savory at the same time. The natural sugar of the ripened corn was also toothsome, the crunch of the fried sweetbreads making a nice layer of texture while eating the smooth, buttery soup. The stuffed squash blossom gave it all a nice finish. A lovely puff pastry of bready goodness at the bottom of the bowl, like the prize in the Cracker Jack box.

BH had the special - a Foie Gras Soup that took the form of a bowl of creamy meat broth accompanied by a seared piece of foie. It was edgy, inventive and really, really tasty. A foie by foie combo that when tasted was both succulent and scrumptious.

Day Boat Scallops with Nueske Bacon
Continuing on that theme, I also had foie. I must confess we both find foie gras very hard to resist. So why try? Mine took the form of the Hudson Valley Folie Gras Torchon. Torchon is a more traditionally prepared savory paté-style foie. The dish arrived nicely chilled and was served with a fragrantly smoked squab that had been bar-b-qued. It too had cherries as a relish. In this case both a lovely cherry-glaze, accompanied by a tartly sweet cherry chutney. The portion of bird had a gorgeous skin on it, exquisitely browned, with a nice crunch, and an appealingly golden exterior, its interior meat sweet and moist. My BH had the seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, simply browned and served with caramelizedpeaches and a spiced peach consommé. We were well on our way to having a foie overload! (Though it would take a lot to convince me that was ever possible).

Next up for me was the Lobster & Morel Mushroom Risotto - I should mention that the Chef had scored some delectable fresh truffle and so this evening the waiter was offering to shave a large sampling of said fresh black truffles over any dish we should choose. I chose the risotto. The combination was absolutely magnificent. The rice had an evenly fluffy consistency, with a bit of texture to keep it from being sodden. The lobster danced in the garlic of the creamy rice mixture, all of it covered in, and flavored by, the earthiness of that freshly shaved black truffle.

Duck Breast
The Day Boat Scallops that the BH had ordered arrived pleasingly golden brown — crisped on both top and bottom — exactly the way scallops are supposed to be. They sat in a nice bed of fresh peas, carrots, fava beans and chanterelle mushrooms. An inviting chunk of braised Nueske bacon (a thick-sliced applewood variety), topped off the scallops and all of it was enhanced by a drizzle of grape mustard sauce.

By now you are probably beginning to get the idea of just how well we were working that ala carte menu! Next up, the meaty mains~ I had the Duck Breast which was roasted, also sporting a delightfully crisped outside and paired with a salad “Gascone” and Burlat cherry sauce, continuing my theme for the evening of crispy bird and cherries. BH had the Emigh Farms Lamb Rack which was also roasted, resulting in a lovely pink tender center and that crisp caramelized outer shell. Magnificent! It was accompanied by a side of Iacopi Farms Butter Beans, a lovely chorizo, and a few italian Taggiasca olives swimming in a lamb jus.

At this point we’re filling up, but not yet full. They pace the meal so well here, allowing for time to digest and adjust between courses. To enhance the next experience, it was at this point they brought us a subtle little palate cleanser of cardamon and strawberry granite. Refreshing!

The world's Most Creative CHEESE Plate!
We followed the granite with a selection of “artisan” cheeses. I forgot to write them all down, which is a crime. I do remember the one that really stood out, particularly the presentation. It was a melted strong cheese of the aromatic or “blue” variety. Extremely pungent, served with a topping of frisee and a tiny spoon. The cheese had been whipped into a foam and was intended to be spread on toast while still melted. Really unusual presentation and just amazing in intensity of flavor.

and then there was dessert~

We shared the “the sunset” warm bittersweet chocolate fondant with chocolate ganache, crème anglaise, brandied dried plums (my original order) - and the Valhona Bittersweet Chocolate and Double Passion Fruit Bombe - chocolate nougatine tuile and coconut sorbet (his). We ended up switching and eating each others’ desserts. The chocolate fondant was thick rich, slightly bitter. A true chocolate lover’s idea of ecstasy. The bombe was sort of a soft semi frozen dessert and my own idea of heaven, thus the switch. All in all, by the time we rolled away from the table, we’d had one hell of an anniversary dinner.

Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant with Ganache
This summer I have done some traveling, outside of Oakland. July is a big month, half my family has a birthday and we have the anniversary, father’s day, there just seemed to be one out of town celebration after another. Come October, I plan on revisiting many of my favorite Oakland establishments, and bringing you a series from the owners and chefs who make them what they are. Oakland is a place to be celebrated and a wonderful place to dine. Coming to a blog near you!

For now, La Folie was brilliant. Check it out for yourself, and as always, Bon appetit!

La Folie
2316 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109-1822
(415) 776-5577

Lobster & Morel Risotto w/ truffle shavings