Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

May 30, 2007 10:10 AM

Restaurant: Quince


1701 Octavia Street
San Francisco, California 94109
Reservations 415-775-8500
If this is not the single best restaurant at which we have ever eaten, it is certainly in the top 2 or 3.

Being in any San Francisco restaurant with Stan and Julia is always a treat. (Stan thinks it is because of him; fact is, that it is because of Julia.)

There are only about 45 seats in the main restaurant, mainly tables of 2 and 4, but there is table in a front window alcove that seats up to six.

The restaurant is very nicely appointed. It is not large, and while the tables are relatively close together, it does not seem crowded. There is a shoulder-high barrier of wood, topped by glass, that separates the entry area from the tables. Glass chandeliers and sconces contributes to the atmosphere. There is a chef's table (seats 10) located in what, at first glance, appears to be an unfinished basement.

The table is located next to the bakery and the vegetable prep station. To get to the table you walk through a door in the back of the restaurant, past the kitchen, and down a steep flight of stairs.

The food and the preparation are superb. Even the bread tray is special. The bread sticks are quite good, but the real treat is the little round rolls that almost taste like cake.

The meal began with an Aamuse bouche of a fish-based mousse on a toasted crouton with sauce. For a first course, Stan chose Fairview Gardens white asparagus, with Maine lobster, English peas, & chervil. Stanley managed to convince the server to let him have this dish, which was actually part of the Tasting menu. Julia selected buttered lettuce, with Georgia white shrimp, celery hearts and herbs. Carol opted for a smoked trout salad with Mariquita Farm beets & horseradish. I chose crispy sardines with raw purple asparagus salad and mint.

As a second course, Stan had pappardelle, with pork sausage & red mustard greens. Carol picked fettuccine verde, with green asparagus with white asparagus cream ,and I chose agnologtti dal plin, a traditional Piedmontese-filled pasta.

For the 3rd course, Stan had the Thai snapper, with fennel, cauliflower and orange-saffron fumetto. Carol chose John Dory, with Bloomsdale spinach & porcini mushrooms. I also chose a fish, Eastern skate with black trumpet mushroom puree, young onions, and asparagus. Julia had the Fettuccine verde.

Dessert was beyond our capacity, but there was an extensive dessert menu with 6 prepared desserts and a choice of 11 cheeses.

There is also a Tasting menu, which is only prepared for an entire table. It includes 6 courses, with suggested wines for each course. This costs $140 (food alone is $85), plus $10 if you want a cheese supplement. While we did not try this menu, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be worth the cost in both dollars and calories.

The service is unparalleled. There are at least 10-12 serving people in the main dining room, in addition to several folks who greet and seat guests. While there is a principal server assigned to each table, each course is served to each person at the table all but simultaneously, with each server being responsible for serving no more than two people. For example, when each course was served to a table of six, it was delivered by 3 servers.

The sommelier used to be at another fine San Francisco restaurant, Gary Danko. Quince is owned by Michael and Lindsay Tusk. Michael is the chef, while Lindsay attends to the dining room. Interestingly, one of places at which Michael trained was Chez Panisse, which is also reviewed in this issue.

The unisex restroom is the narrowest I have ever encountered. It can't be more than 4 feet wide and about twice as long . Yet, even with its diminutive size, it is as elegant as the restaurant of which it is a part. Immediately to the left as you enter is a narrow, mottled orange/tan and white marble counter that juts out in a half circle to accommodate the small white ceramic washbasin. There is a long silver tray at the end that holds fluffy white rolled towels. At the end of this narrow room is a white ceramic commode. The floor is covered with large tan tiles. The walls are painted light tan.

There is valet parking and reservations are a must. [Note: Subsequent to our visit, Hilary and Jane went there for dinner at your editor's suggestion. They were equally delighted.]

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