Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Winter Coming to Winterland

2101 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415)563-5025
Chef Vernon Morales (previously Sous Chef Restaurant Daniel, Chef de Partie El Bulli)
Dinner Tuesday through Saturday until July 15, 2006

Last tried: July 2006

One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco is closing at the end of this week. What did I like so much about Winterland? I loved Vernon Morales' daring and adventurous cuisine, which remained anchored in solid techniques and flavors without veering into the weird-for-weirdness sake world of molecular gastronomy. Even though not everything worked, I appreciated his continuing to push the envelope with things like poached egg in asparagus foam broth with bacon ice cream and octopus carpaccio with sweet-tart grapefruit segments (recently changed to mango) and salty sea beans. I am quite sad that notwithstanding his creativity, which I would have expected to flourish in a food-obsessed town like San Francisco, Winterland is closing at the end of this week.

Was it the ever-powerful influence of a less than stellar review from the San Francisco Chronicle? Except that the review, read in its entirety, is enough to pique the interest of any frequent restaurant diner, notwithstanding its two-star conclusion.

Was it the location? Four previous restaurants have failed in this location, but that was before the gentrification of the neighborhood, which is now firmly established as "Lower" Pacific Heights.

I have no idea. I am merely sad that something so promising is disappearing after only a year and a half, before the chef really had a chance to show his stuff.

I will miss the sweet intensity of the corn chowder with huitlacoche. I will miss the transparently thin ribbons of serrano ham, cleverly presented with grilled whole grain bread smothered with sweet diced tomatoes seasoned to bring out the delicate yet rich flavor of the ham. I will miss the meltingly tender braised short rib, topped with golden rings of crispy, hot tempura-fried onion, with a sweet-savory red wine reduction on a bed of chewy wheatberries that complement the meat better than any other side dish I could imagine. I will miss the creamy gruyere macaroni and cheese with a crust of buttery, crunchy breadcrumbs, accompanied by a pleasantly bitter fresh arugula salad wilted slightly by the zingy vinaigrette. I will miss the perfectly seasoned, moist inside/crisp outside duck confit drumstick decorated with a salty, glistening homemade potato chip. And I will miss the most amazing dessert I can recall ever tasting in any restaurant-- the caramelized "French Toast," a buttery brioche turned into a custardy bread pudding with heavy cream and sugar, topped with a creme-brulee like candied crust of hard sugar on top (but perhaps pastry chef Boris Portnoy may be persuaded to make this creation available at Campton Place).

The restaurant business is horrendously difficult (especially with pain-in-the-rear picky diners like yours truly around). I started this blog to get food writing practice, as part of my dream of ultimately transitioning to a non-legal career, but maybe blogs also make restaurant reviews more democratic?

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