Saturday, September 18, 2004

La Suite, 100 Brannan, San Francisco, CA

La Suite, 100 Brannan Street at the Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 977-0210.

Date of Visit: Wednesday September 15th 2004, 8pm
I did not mean to write very long report right now because we want to revisit when La Suite has had time to get used to being a grand restaurant on a large scale. However, once I get started there's no stopping me. You can see my previous post for a description of the decor.

We went to La Suite on it's second day of opening. The place was not full because after a crazy packed first night they told us they had decided to keep the number of reservations lower for a couple of weeks whilst all the staff got used to the new venture and working the timing from kitchen to table. The service when we were there was painfully slow, but painstakingly thorough, all the staff we extremely knowledgeable, helpful and kind despite the obvious stresses of handling new jobs, fielding questions from inquisitive customers and trying to fix ridiculously wobbly tables.

The menu is a joy to behold, especially if you like French cuisine. As one friend said to me yesterday, "If they manage to make the food as good as it looks on paper, this place is going to be a huge success." It was one of those menus where I really found it hard to decide what to have because everything sounded so good.

Apperitifs were good and well served. A sommelier was available to help with wine decisions and do the honours when it came to opening the bottle and pouring the wine.

The bread, mushy-crusted and unspectacular sections of baguette, was a disappointment. Something this unremarkable can easily be bought at Safeway.

Quite out of character, I bravely tried Carpaccio of Pig's Foot, after checking first with three different members of the waiting staff for an opinion. To my relief, it wasn't half bad. A unique taste, I can't work how to describe, was strong enough to shine through the truffle oil that was dribbled over the top and has a tendency to overpower. A pile of cold leeks in the centre of this dish were not cooked enough. Long, stringy and almost impossible to ruminate, one actually got caught in my throat which shut me up for a few seconds.

Fred's butter lettuce salad wasn't a hit with him. He didn't like the dressing which he convinced himself contained anchovy, an ingredient that he doesn't like. I tried it and didn't agree with him about the fish. But I did detect chervil, a herb which I had never seen before in my 3.5 years in the US, but was familiar with from England where it is more common. I told him that I thought it was the herb that was unnerving him. Chervil does have what I would call a 'unique' and 'unusual' flavour. Stubbornly he wouldn't agree with me and dispatched the waitress to find out the ingredients. How could I fail to feel an tiny little bit smug when she returned to inform us that the dressing contained no anchovy but included a lesser known herb called chervil which might be the taste causing his concern.

We both chose steak for our main courses. I had the extremely well-priced filet mignon with porcini mushroom and potato gratin at $22. I ordered the meat medium rare. It was cooked to perfection - an incredible piece of melt-in-your-mouth mignon in a rich dark sauce. Fred tried the sauce and turned down his nose at it, exclaiming it "tastes like that English stuff". I assumed he meant gravy. Oh, if only gravy had ever tasted this good. The potatoes, however weren't cooked enough. Big disappointment. One of the owners came over to see how things were and I told him about the potatoes. He thanked me for telling him. I hoped he would do something about it but a friend of mine who visited La Suite the day afterwards told me that 24 hours later, the potatoes still hadn't been cooked. Lets hope they fix that soon as its spoiling what could otherwise be a very satisfying dish.

Fred had a large entrecote with fries and bearnaise, cooked medium at the more expensive price of $28. I tried the meat and didn't like it - it was too cooked for me. Fred, however, loved it. He also liked the taste of the bearnaise which was, however, hilariously congealed to the inside of the sauce boat. Any inclinations towards pouring it had to be forgotten and Fred had to scoop it out of it's serving dish, like mayonnaise, instead. We later overheard another customer joking with one of the owners about the solidity of the sauce. The conversation was in French so i didn't really understand it, but Fred joined in with similar sentiments so I guess they got the message. My friend who dined there the next day could attest that the criticism had been duly noted. Unfortunately, however, he had the opposite complaint. The bearnaise sauce was now so thin and runny it had the consistency of water and didn't taste good at all. Maybe by Friday the sauce had found the middle ground. Lets hope so...

There were long waits between courses. The waits were too long, but all the customers seemed to be in patient moods, accepting, it seemed, that they were sharing the teething pains that accompany the opening of a large new restaurant such as this. We were exhausted and full and chose to have dessert wine instead of dessert. They bought us a complimentary dessert, anyway, despite our protests. They presented us with an ile flotant which is what I would have chosen, being a longtime lover of this cold custard dish with a cool frothy uncooked meringue topping. I have had a few Ile flotants in the Alps, but none ever so good as this one which was delectably creamy and light with a scattering of toasted almonds to offset the smooth texture with a little crunch.

When they bought our check, the dessert was listed as an item. "Err, excuse me", I said, "But we didn't actually order any dessert". Huge apologies all round were sincerely given and they quickly whisked away the bill to change it. When they bought it back they apologized again and told us that they had comped the dessert wines too. This was a nice touch, but not limited to just us. I saw another table being handed free after dinner drinks and a group of elderly ladies nearby were spotted being offered complimentary glasses of the wonderful, sweet, Morroccan mint tea that Jocelyn Bulow is in the habit of serving at many of his restaurants.

I will go back here once I have heard they have settled. It is too close to my home to ignore, especially since we received news that they will be open for Sunday brunch in a few weeks time too. The menu is reasonably priced with none of the entrees more expensive than the Entrecote at $28, many of them considerably less. The menu includes interesting sounding fruits de mer, oysters, pizzas (someone who tried them told me they were soggy and floppy and needed to be cooked to a crispier conclusion), rabbit, foie gras, lamb, duck and sweetbreads.
La Suite, 100 Brannan, San Francisco, CA


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