By Bob Schriner
After 20 hours on my feet in some very poorly chosen shoes my night should have been over. Yet feeling like there were as many blisters on my feet as toes would not keep me away from Chocolate Enchantment at the Westin St. Francis. Despite the sensory overload of BBQ night, I knew I could still be delighted on a higher level.
I was so taken in by the grand entrance of the hotel. Upon walking through the lobby I was reminded of Fritz Lange’s Metropolis…from the perspective of a man who would not be taking the escalator down below. On the contrary, I took the elevator to the top floor in a glass elevator that exposed a fantastic view of the city. I walked into the front entrance of the meeting room I was charmed by the tall windows throughout the room. I took in a strong cup of coffee that was just few degrees warmer than the glow of the city below. As I walked around the corner I was stunned to see the display of chocolates. Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdre created a dazzling array of confections. I was so torn on what to pick out of the massive assortment, I felt like a 30 year old version of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. The chocolate parfaits were fantastic, as was the sculpted mousse and chocolate macrons. This was a perfect ending to a day of truly decadent eating. I think I was asleep before I got back to my hotel.
After eight hours of dreaming merged with digestion, it was time to rise and repeat the cycle. Walking around the Tenderloin at 8:00 AM it dawned on me that some of the patrons were still working off last night’s cocktails. This was a morning where I was going to have to pass on asking the locals about a good spot for coffee and a bagel. Noon rolled around and I made my way to the final grand tasting of the weekend. The first stop I made under the big tent was the We Be Sushi table. While I find intentionally poor grammar appalling, I find unagi as a good reason to forgive. These guys delivered a variety of rolls and sashimi that drew a crowd for good reason.
RN47 was serving a cold sweet corn soup with tarragon. I was excited to try the soup, but after one bite I was looking for a place to politely dispose of it. I felt like I was eating a cold can of cream corn, not good. My next disappointment would come from the Ritz Carlton’s lobster melon mint gazpacho. This salad has wonderful fresh and sweet crab that looked amazing. Yet the melon was overwhelming and too sweet to compliment the crab. Such a sad end result for the delicious crab.
As was starting to think Sunday was going to be a bust, but my faith was restored by a robust tomato soup from Delfina. The soup was thin with fresh tomato pieces cooked almost into liquid and an abundance of garlic and basil. Finally, something I could believe in. I spotted ceviche, which had been done well by a handful of people this weekend. Zinnia did their peers proud with a halibut and heirloom tomato ceviche that had me feeling truly fortunate.
The Aqua table was serving lobster bisque that looked compelling, but failed to deliver. Not only was the bisque served cold, the corn was too prevalent. Why can’t these folks let the best thing about this dish do its thing?
Scoma’s offered a wealth of redemption with one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever tasted. The thick crab cake used ample amounts of fresh crab meat and let that do most of the work. Breading was on the light side and seasonings were sparse, just enough to be present. This was demanding of a second helping.
The last table I encountered was from Mezzetta, a specialty company that bottles olives and peppers. They served Spanish Style Grilled Cheese sandwiches that were hands down, one of the best tasting things of the weekend. They combined Serrano ham and manchego cheese with roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. What a brilliant way to sell one’s product.
All in all the weekend featured some inspired food from some known and new restaurants and some surprising offerings from some outsiders who I hope to encounter again. San Francisco, you were a wonderful host, see you next year.