Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Restaurant Gary Danko

As I mentioned, my friends took me to dinner at Gary Danko for my 40th birthday. GD is one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in all of San Francisco, and after eating there, I can tell you this:

This was the best meal of my life. And I've eaten some good meals.

First of all, the atmosphere and service are nearly perfect. They knew exactly who we were and where we were at all times. They offered us drinks at the bar, and gave us little linen napkins and basically just made sure we were taken care of. The thing was, though, that even though the service was top-notch, it was very warm and friendly. You felt very welcome and very at ease. Our guys were even in jeans and no one so much as batted an eyelash. (I've been to other restaurants in the city where they looked down on me until I bought the expensive wine - then I was great!)

The other cool thing about GD is the menu. Basically, you choose the amount of courses you want - three, four or five - and they do have a tasting menu. What's cool, though, is that you can choose any type of course you want. If you want five meat courses or five desserts, they're fine with that - they just adjust the portions to match whatever course you're on.

Therefore, I ended up choosing mostly appetizers, which were more vegetarian-friendly. They also had a great vegetarian menu. I chose the five-course meal (it was my birthday, after all).

Here's what I had that night:

Fig salad with fennel

These figs were perfectly ripe, and just bite-sized. They were served on a bed of very thinly sliced fennel and red cabbage, and under there somewhere was a delicious, crispy crouton of some sort of brown bread. The whole thing was covered with a delectable balsamic reduction.

This was my friend Jason's appetizer - the crab salad.

Crispy egg with white polenta

This was without a doubt my favorite course of the night. That, people, is an egg. Yes, an egg. And not just any egg, but a perfectly poached, organically raised farm egg coated in a crispy panko crust. It's sitting on top of white polenta that were better than any grits I'd ever had. There were lots of other interesting bits in there - chanterelle mushrooms and green beans and some sort of rich sauce.

I have had dreams of this egg since. Unbelievable.

Risotto with butternut squash and chanterelles

My main dish was a beautiful risotto. It was well done, with just a bit of bite. The orange bits are actually butternut squash, and there's chanterelles and peas in there as well. You can barely discern a sheer green oil around it - that's thyme oil.

Cheese course

Gary Danko is famous for his cheese cart, and it did not disappoint. They roll out this enormous, marble-topped cart and you get to pick three or four. Since it was my birthday, I got five. Clockwise from the bread, I got: a triple creme Brillat Savarin; a manchego; a gruyere from a small purveyor in Switzerland; a Taleggio and GD's famous Roaring 40s bleu.

First, let me say, these people know how to treat and serve cheese. The Brillat Savarin was perfect, and the Taleggio was so ripe it was almost oozing. The gruyere was, honestly, the best cheese I've had in my life - and not just because I'm partial to Swiss cheese. It was nutty and tangy and had almost a cheddary feel to it. Just perfect. I wasn't as thrilled with the Manchego, but Manchego is hard to do well. And I liked the Roaring 40s bleu, until I tasted my friend Shawn's Buttermilk Blue. Unreal. Almost as good as the Swiss - but not quite.

Chocolate souffle with two sauces

I chose Gary Danko's signature dessert: a perfect, fluffy chocolate souffle. They poked a hole in it at the table and poured in chocolate fudge sauce and a vanilla creme anglaise. They also brought me the little lemon mousse dessert in back for my birthday. It came on a plate with Happy Birthday piped in chocolate, and had the fancy candle in it. It was delish; maybe even better than my souffle.

Finally, because we hadn't stuffed ourselves enough apparently, they brought us out a small tray of petit fours with our coffee (note the artistic photo of the coffee service). I only had one of the jellies, because I was fit to burst, but it was awesome.

To top it all off, they sent Marise and I home with one of these:

It was apparently a banana bread with banana cream filling. It was meant for our breakfast, but I was too overwhelmed by the dinner and a weekend of partying to be able to eat it, even on Sunday. I gave it to Jay, who said it was awesome.

All in all, really the best restaurant experience I've ever had, from the food, to the service to the atmosphere. They even had a cab waiting for me when I walked out the door.

And to be honest, for the amount of food that you get and the choices you're given, the price is very reasonable. So if you can get reservations, I recommend you go at least once. It really is the best restaurant in San Francisco.

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