Monday, July 03, 2006

Terzo: Not as Expected

3011 Steiner Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 441-1496
Chef Mark Gordon
Dinner nightly

Terzo on Urbanspoon

Last tried: January 2007

I had heard so much positive press about Terzo that I was quite happy to be able to get in, even with the hostess warning me that we had to vacate the table in an hour for the next reservation. The old Pane e Vino spot had gotten a complete facelift, with vanilla walls accented by dark chocolate colored wood, large mirrors, hanging lamps with yellow filament bulbs (I did like the giant single bulb chandelier over the six-top in the back of the restaurant), and of course the de rigeur communal table (am I the only person who dislikes this trend?). In short, it was appropriately stylish and chic, perfect for the yuppie cow hollow neighborhood.

I was instantly intrigued by both the menu and the wine list. About twenty small plates ($7-$12) and thirty different wines by the glass, from California, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy ($8-$15), perfect for my noncomittal and short attention span tendencies. While sipping some 2004 Vinho Verde from Portugal and a glass of sparkling Huet Vouvray, we perused the menu and selected six plates ranging from soup to fish to meat.

The white corn chowder with creme fraiche arrived first. The smell was intoxicating but the taste did not correspond. Although the texture was pleasantly coarse and thick as one would expect from corn chowder, the corn flavor was very faint and the soup tasted diluted as though someone had accidentally dumped in too much water. This muted, diluted flavor seemed to be a constant theme in several dishes, including the wild king salmon. Although it had great, moist texture and was perfectly cooked with a translucent center, the salmon tasted like the kitchen had forgotten to season it before sending it out. The accompanying fennel salad was crunchy and fresh but again flavorless, with none of its characteristic licorice scent, and desperately needed more dressing.

Things improved with the next several dishes. The grilled asparagus with fried egg and romesco was both refreshing and hearty. The sweet fresh asparagus, enhanced by grilling, was accented beautifully with the fried egg and robust tomato/roasted bell pepper/onion/garlic mixture. The pepperoni and salami in the next dish, house cured meats with burrata cheese, were chewy, salty, and fantastic. Among the three meats presented, the pork rillette on grilled bread was my favorite, with moist salty fatty pork confit spread out on the charred bread. The small mound of burrata in the center, however, was disapppointingly bland and grainy in texture, instead of the creamy, poached-egg white texture I was expecting. (By the way, if you want bread, you must ask for it. When you do, you will get three or four slices of squishy white bread slices on a plate. You only get one slice of the delicious grilled bread with the charcuterie plate.) Next, the hand-cut noodles with butter and truffles were delicate and delicious, with the microthin slices of black truffles practically melting into the noodles and butter.

Unfortunately, the last dish, roasted Niman Ranch beef, again suffered from the persistent lack of seasoning problem. The beef was tough and chewy and remained underseasoned even after we added a liberal amount of salt and pepper (like the bread, you must also ask your server in order to get salt and pepper shakers). The accompanying two or three cipollini onions and two lonely wedges of potato, also lacking in seasoning, did little to improve the dish.

Although I love the concept of Terzo, I was not enthralled by the execution. Perhaps after the hype and my expectations have been appropriately adjusted, I may be able to appreciate it better.

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