Hello, my friends! Oh my goodness. Yesterday, I spent nearly the entire day judging the cheese competition at the Good Food Awards! I cannot wait for the winners to be announced in January. What a day—I will definitely write my next blog post on that for you all!
But first—can you believe that Miss Cheesemonger is approaching 8 years old this week? I can barely believe it myself. What a journey we’ve been on together, from working behind the cheese counter, to trying so many cheeses and accompaniments, to visiting cheese makers, to discovering so many amazing people who are passionate about good food and good living. It’s time for a little celebration!
For that, one of my closest girlfriends, the amazing Erin, who is tearing her way through the SF opera scene, and I went out to a decadent dinner at Farallon in downtown San Francisco. I learned that this restaurant is not only celebrating its birthday, too–20 years!–but it is owned by Pat Kuleto, who owns some other amazing San Francisco restaurants—Waterbar, Boulevard, and Epic Roasthouse.
Once Erin and I entered the restaurant, we were transported to a fantastical underwater world where enormous glass jellyfish hang overhead, and bold slabs of glass resembling seaweed light the way to the back dining room.
Farallon did invite me to experience their restaurant, so we got a little tasting menu to get a full idea of their offerings. As I have said in the past, I am pretty picky about restaurants that I will accept invitations from, and even pickier about restaurants I’ll write on the blog. You’ll get my real opinions (although, if it’s here, there’s a lot of good stuff happening).
Here’s what we were served, annotated:
Maine Lobster Tail & Burrata,
Baby Beet Salad, hazelnuts, mint & white balsamic
André Clouet, Grand Cru Brut Rosé, Bouzy NV, Champagne, France
You know, I don’t get to eat that much lobster, so the thought of lobster + burrata hadn’t crossed my mind before. But now that I’ve tasted it, I cannot forget it. The rich, fluffy lobster with the creamy, fluffy burrata was a match made in heaven, and it’s just right for a special occasion! I particularly loved the mint garnish, because it added just the right amount of brightness to punch through and wake up the palate. Our meal began with bubbles. It was a girls’ night out, so why not start with champagne? The wine was a tiny bit sweet, with notes of strawberries.
Cayucos Abalone & Chestnut Ravioli
Brown butter, sage & purple cabbage
Chenin Blanc, Domaine Champalou, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France, 2015
What is abalone? When I was younger, my first introduction to this mollusk came in the form of the book, “The Island of the Blue Dolphins,” where a girl is left alone for years on an island. It’s not a very popular food item, but perhaps it should be. This abalone was served with brown butter, sage, and chestnut ravioli, giving it a rather autumnal dressing. Its slightly spongy texture and slightly sweet flavor reminded me a bit of pork liver, one of my favorite food items! Yummm. The richness of the abalone and the richness of the ravioli and butter all combined like the warmest of throw blankets around a fire. If there was one flaw, it would be the wine pairing. Although I LOVE Loire Valley wines, as you can see here, I found this one too sweet to stand up to the food. Erin and I both agreed that something a little more dry might have had more success. That said, the wine was quite fine on its own, as was the dish.
Bone Dry Scallops, Massachusetts
Grilled Autumn Grapes, fresh chickpea risotto, chamomile & anise hyssop
Chardonnay, Maison Deux Montille, Le Jarron, Saint-Romain, Burgundy, France, 2012
More seafood! Of course, when the restaurant is named Farallon, the seafood better be delicious! The scallop came to us lovely and plump, succulent and delicate. The fragrant autumn grape accompaniment was a wonderful pairing; the grape’s perfume enhanced the scallop’s sweetness without overwhelming either. The chamomile and anise hyssop lighted the dish even more, creating a rather fresh and floral seafood experience. The wine pairing, a lovely Burgundy chardonnay, made for a decent coupling. While the food and drink complemented each other well, I don’t think either element was particularly elevated by being served together.
Wild Mushroom & Homebrew Gratin
Nicasio Valley Locarno, black garlic toast & rosemary
Seared Duck Breast, Sonoma
Black Mission Figs, sunchokes, pole beans & nasturtiums
Pinot Noir, Robert Chevillon, Vieilles Vignes, Nuits-Saint-Georges, France, 2010
At this point in the meal, Erin and I were pretty sure we could not eat another bite—and yet we could! Figs and duck made a lovely combination, and the sweet/savory balance was executed brilliantly. The duck was wonderfully prepared—a little pink, a lot succulent and savory. The wine pairing was charming as well; with this red Burgundy supporting the duck’s flavors and textures beautifully.
The wild mushroom and homebrew gratin with Locarno by Nicasio Valley, black garlic toast, and rosemary could have been a meal in itself. The juices at the bottom of that copper serving dish disappeared as quickly as our nearly food-comatose selves could move. Is there any greater joy than fine mushrooms beautifully cooked, than fine mushrooms beautifully cooked with one of the best cheeses of the region?
The Cheese Board
Nicasio Valley, CA, cow, pasteurized
Stepladder Creamery, Cambria, CA, cow, pasteurized
Pennyroyal Farm, Boonville, CA, sheep and goat, raw
Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Château Doisy-Védrines, Sauternes 2014
There may be such thing as too much of a good thing, but while Erin and I were at that table, we were going to accept it. We enjoyed another Nicasio Valley cheese, Tomino, a lightly washed rind button of a beauty. Boonter’s Blue, with its deep blue veins and deeper flavor, was a lovely way to end the savory part of the meal. I particularly appreciated that the cheeses were served at room temperature, and that they were neatly presented—something that does not happen often enough in restaurants. Our Sauternes rounded out our all-French wine list of the evening, and accompanied our cheeses beautifully, particularly the Boonter’s Blue.
Grilled Banana Bread
Coconut ice cream, candied lime zest & ginger caramel
We definitely did not finish this scrumptious banana bread, but if I could, I would have. Banana bread with lime, ginger, and coconut flavors was again an unexpected way to add lightness to what was otherwise a very rich meal.
We got to speak with executive chef Jason Ryczek a couple times throughout the meal (which seemed crazy because the whole restaurant was SO busy!!!), and I was so excited to talk to him about cheese, seafood, and menus. He knew I have a soft spot for cheese, so was particularly excited to share Boonter’s Blue from Pennyroyal Farm. I guess that must be one of his favorite cheeses! In every course, I loved the unexpected bursts of flavor he included in his classical dishes—especially the mint with our lobster and burrata, and those luscious grapes with the scallops.
Other Notable Notes
There are a couple things to consider before deciding if this is a spot for you. This is not an intimate, boutique restaurant; it’s noisy, busy, right in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The interior design is pretty flashy and may be considered garish by some; clearly, you are here for a show. It is also a little pricey, so it’s more likely to be a special occasion type of restaurant than an every day one. Additionally, it’s located next to Union Square, so good luck finding parking! Luckily, there is a valet parking option, and a few parking garages in the vicinity. Honestly, this is not the type of dining experience I have very often. I tend to prefer quiet spots, but there is something festive and exciting about a busier dining experience.
As for the menu itself, the one thing we did not try was their caviar, for which they are known.
I feel full again just typing this summary up. It was truly a special meal, and I am happy to be able to participate in Farallon’s 20th anniversary! Thank you, to everyone at Farallon, for making it such a special dining experience for Erin and myself.
A guest and I received a free meal, with no expectation or request about writing about it. All thoughts are my own.