Ho Humm, Ho Humm,
It's off to New York he's gone...
A Retrospective for San Franciscans, A primer for the New Yorkers:
So, Daniel Humm has left the building. Is it good riddance? Is New York welcome to him? There was some upset over the departure of the feted Campton Place Chef so I just had to squeeze in a swift visit before Christmas to see what all the fuss was about. Lovely Laura, visiting from Paris, allowed herself to be dragged to the fancy Union Square hotel dining room to help me determine what all the fuss was about.
Stupid us to think we could get away with a spending $34 on the set menu and be done with parting with our cash for the day. After all - they have champagne cart and once you've called it over to your table you can hardly send it packing again for being, er-humm, pricey, now can you? The domestic started at $16 a glass and the Billercart Rose was about double what you'd pay for a far more generous fluteful at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants. But at least here, you can drink it in peace, in truly beautiful and tranquil surrounds, without a parade of bumbling food-tourists scoping you out as they wander by. Next bottle up: "We are the only place in town to open this lovely vintage Krug and serve it by the glass, Madame", explained our adorable waiter. "Thank you kindly, sir, but you needn't crack it open just for us." (Phew, we just saved ourselves $49 a piece.) So, we were as cheap as we could be under the circumstances and then had a good bitch about how small the glasses were. Really, I hate it when restaurants are mean with their servings of bubbly. Their cart may impress but their piddly little glasses do not.
So to the food. This is the kind of place where you start by getting stuff for free. And I like free, especially when it is a lip-smacking pumpkin and lobster bisque with apples and walnuts. But where on earth did they manage to find bowls that were actually smaller than the champagne glasses? Laura and I wanted to lick them out, but I don't think we went that far, afterall this was our first date alone together, and far too early in the relationship to embark on a group sex session in public.
Despite being coy over the amuse, Laura and I decided to get a little closer over the appetizers and share the Poached Tiger Prawns with Satsuma Tangerines, Baby Fennel, Satsuma Reduction and Vanilla Oil. But, as if to slow down the pace of our blossoming relationship, the dish was divided beautifully for us in the kitchen and brought to the table on separate plates. It was bright and pretty and fresh and delicate with the vanilla very much in evidence to my visual and olfactory senses. But when it came down to oral pleasure I have to express mild nonchalance. I was hoping for something a little more imaginative, something that would coax my tastebuds erect, something less missionary. I had the conception that Humm was one of the more innovative chefs in town but here was a simple dish striving to be appreciated on the merits of its ingredients. I couldn't fault the pedigree, but I didn't get the dizzy headrush of excitement a new relationship can sometimes bring.
Salmon sous vide was the real reason I couldn't resist the lure of Campton Place under Humm's helm. A work colleague, whose opinion I value, had accidentally stumbled upon the restaurant a few weeks earlier and thereafter enthusiastically declared the salmon to be the best he had ever tasted in his life. This coming from a man who is sparse with his praises. Woe was me when I found the salmon had been replaced on the menu with a cod instead. A melt-in-my-mouth luke warm, almost imaginary piece of fish that was on my tongue one second and then disappeared into thin air the next. I appreciated the opportunity to experience sous vide, but the accompanying pouple (octopus) was conversely not tender and the noodles, barely above room temperature. At this point I started to feel a sense of deflation.
If there is one thing, however, that can turn things around and get two girls excited again, it is the promise of dessert. Sweet things, special things, jewels and the promise of treasures. Cuban Chocolate Ganache, Chestnut, Sweet Potato "Dauphine" and Sour Orange and White Chocolate Sorbet, all on one plate. How could the idea of such wonder fail to get our hearts pulsing and our expectations raised?
Not so fast. The seduction process should be taken slowly at first, just a little bit of pleasure at a time. To start with, a gift, a sweet taster, a shot of hibiscus cream soda, a tiny glass of dark pinky-red liquid bubbling on the surface with blob of something cold, creamy and white. We slurped, we licked and we smacked our lips again. We learnt that the pastry chef had carefully extracted the juice from the hibiscus plant himself. It sounds like a sensitive job - he must be a sensitive guy.
Or is he? Maybe he's just some sado-masochist luring us into a false sense of security before imagining, with bizarre satisfaction, us digging our spoons into his orange sorbet, then puckering our mouths into patterns of displeasure as a result of its ugly, overt sourness? Maybe he's getting his kicks out of us searching through a spital-like-foam to find a ganache that tastes like a musty old cupboard?
Laura and I hated our chosen dessert. We settled our spoons on the edge of the plate and I was ready to admit defeat. But then something special happened. Laura whispered to me "We can't end on a low note." With that she eyed our impeccable waiter and lured him to our table with a smouldering look. Diplomatically, we pleaded that we couldn't find our personal nirvanas within the Pastry Chef's challenging presentation.
There was no other solution. We had to replace our dessert. We had to try and get giddy all over again. It didn't take much. The Symphony of Milk Chocolate and Caramel with Maldon Sea Salt that swiftly arrived, hit the spot fast. Soon we were oohing and aaahing, and umming and humming, and gasp!
It's always good to end on a climax, isn't it?
PS Amanda Berne announced Humm's replacement, yesterday in The San Francisco Chronicle and greatly respected fellow food blogger, NS, had a thing or two to say about the news.
PPS. Yesterday Cedric scooped a job offer that will attract all budding San Francisco restaurant reviewers, on Craigslist.
Bay Area Resources Referenced in this post:
News | from The Chronicle Food Section
The dining room | at Campton Place
High-end Dining | Local Blogger SF Gourmet
Raunchy Reviews | Local Blogger The Restaurant Whore
Wine Merchants | at the Ferry Building, FPWM
Local Scoops | Cedric, Le Blog de San Francisco
Job Listings | Craig's List, San Francisco
Other Resources Referenced in this post:
Fantastic British Salt | from Maldon
An American in Paris | Chef-blogger Cucina Tessa Rosa
Humm's New Home | Eleven Maddison Park
|Archive Alert! On this date in 2005 British Cookie Recipe Links.|
Food | Fine Dining | Restaurant Reviews | San Francisco Ho Humm, Ho Humm,