The question sums up the Gary Danko eating experience, it is fine dining but at the same time relaxed and comfortable without the "jacket required" mood. I tried many times to eat at Gary Danko but because I don't know what I want to eat tomorrow and the cheerfully distinguish voiced reservationist a) tries to schedule me at 10pm on a Wednesday night or b) tells me, "Sorry we are booked." I snagged a prime time dinner slot by calling 2 weeks in advance (keep in mind it was a weekday reservation.)
If I wasn't running late I would have parked on the street (even if it was 5 blocks away) to avoid the $12 valet parking fee; I like to think of using the valet fee towards adding another course to my meal. We were kindly greeted and brought to a table with the napkins placed on our laps by the server. My eyes wandered to the fresh tall flower arrangements, gleaming chandeliers, suit-attired servers, thick embossed table linen cloth, whooshing of cars descending the hill by the restaurant and finally to my table setting of a heavy silver tree bark pattern plate.
Before we picked our desired options from the menu we were served an amuse of Roasted bell pepper gazpacho ( I heard something about "topped with ice cream" but I was too busy studying the menu to recall.) The amuse was thick and creamy without a heavy pronounced smoky pepper taste.
I hear Gary Danko is "the" San Francisco experience along with the Golden Gate Bridge walk. The 3 course @ $66, 4 course @ $83 and 5 course @ $98 is fully customizable to the guest, if I was in the mood for 5 desserts I can have it all for $98. We ordered the highly rehearsed and broken record recommendations from friends and bloggers.
The bread was served after our menus were taken away with two slices of warm bread. The room temperature honey combed styled butter makes me happy, I am always happy with spreadable butter I want to be a butter lover not a cold butter fighter at dinner.
The server split the Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce Cream, which gave me two shiny, certainly-lived-up-to-the-name "glazed" oysters, very soft to the bite with a saltiness of the ocean, and the flavor continue with the specks of burst from the caviar. I wish I had a full order.
I was surprised at the size of my Seared Sonoma Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Cherries. The foie gras is pushing a size of a 4 oz filet mignon. Bing Cherries are in season and is reflected in several of the dishes offered currently. The thinly slices of caramelized onions was a rich deep brown bringing out the heartiness of the foie gras and the tartness of the cherries pulled it together. Again, I wish I had this dish to myself.
The Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Corn, Peas and Roasted Tomatoes was visually inviting with the medley of colors, tasted like spring in a bowl; creamy, different shades of textures from the round peas, crunch from the rock shrimp, and freshness of tomatoes.
The Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Mushrooms and Quinoa, Fregola and Black Olive-Pine Nut Gremolata made the housewife in me cry. The small quails are de-boned and re-plumped with the fillings, then glazed to an almost I-need-sunglasses bright sheen. I really enjoyed the quinoa in the bird, it was moist, chewy without too many mouth bites, like a tapioca texture.
The Lemon Pepper Duck Breast with Duck Hash, Bacon Braised Endive and Cherries is one of the more tender and cooked to a medium rare like a steak. I really like the bitterness of the cooked endives because the bing cherries picked up the flavor.
The #100 cheese cart on the Big 100 Eats list is separated into four categories: Blue, Cream, Hard and Goat/Sheep. My palate has yet to adapt to the strong gaminess of goat/sheep cheese and I did not want the Blue cheeses to overrun my taste buds for dessert so we stuck with two creams and two hard cheese. The plate is served with raisin rye bread and grapes. Ad Hoc really inspired me have cheese after dinner, because at Ad Hoc the cheese course is required and I have come to enjoy it as much as sweets. I aspire to learn more about cheese, a slowly but surely experience.
The first of our desserts was the most mentioned by friends, the Chocolate Souffle with two chocolate sauces. The server brought out the souffle and poured the white and milk chocolate heavily into the tunnel of air. The souffle is admittedly too sweet for me and I was glad I had my caffe latte to help ease the sweetness.
Our grand finale was the table side prepared Flambeed Bing Cherries with Mascarpone Stuffed Crepes, Candied Almonds and Chunky Cherry Ice Cream for an extra $6. If you want the dining room to momentarily stop like a Matrix scene then order the flambe. The server heats the pan with sugar and once it starts to melt the liquor is poured and in a flash the flame burns quicker than a Marilyn Monroe's May to December romance.
The crepes were soft and the rich sauce melted well with the lightly sweeten mascarpone cheese. The cherry ice cream was outstanding too, tart and smooth. This was our third dish of the night with bing cherries, reflecting Gary Danko's use of seasonal ingredients.
We were extremely full at this point and left half of our souffle unfinished, something I would never do but I could not take another bite. Lastly, we were served miniature mignardises and a take-home banana cream cheese bread each.
I greatly enjoyed my experience at Gary Danko, the service is highly attentive with a fun and witty server. She asked about our transportation needs and added the valet fee onto the bill for convenience. Gary Danko is truly a San Francisco experience since I don't think other fine dining is as professional but casual at the same time. The food is solid, a expected good meal without any worries. I already made a mental note about the other dishes I want to try on my next visit.
800 N Point St
San Francisco, CA 94109