Gary Danko, San Francisco (July 2009)


With its obsequious service and endless menu, Restaurant Gary Danko seemed like the obvious choice with my mom in town.

Both the amuse and the risotto demonstrate how a tomato’s acidity can accentuate a sweet ingredient like crab or a decadent dish like risotto. Given the soup’s chilled temperature, I detected an intense roasted red pepper flavor. 

Gazpacho, dungeness crab
Creamy, salty, sweet, and ever so slightly sour, the risotto’s complexity rivaled Lehman Brothers’ portfolio of 1.2 million credit default swaps. Anointing the rice with truffles helped round out the dish.
Risotto of rock shrimp, lobster, peas, sweet corn, tomato compote, summer truffle
My mom thought the foie gras trumped Fleur de Lys’ lobe but did not quite match Picasso’s.
Foie gras, caramelized red onions, bing cherries
A muted mustard sauce coupled with an underseasoned salmon medallion resulted in the evening’s only mediocre dish. 
Horseradish crusted salmon, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, carrots, mustard sauce
Serving a seared scallop might be passé to some. I think that’s tosh, as does Mario Batali, who said, “I am not one to follow food as fashion, but one to follow food more as the greatness of things that will never go out of style.” As I cull my gustatory repository, a handful of memorable seared scallops preparations come to mind: One Market, La Folie, and Picasso. Thanks to my mom’s kind offering, I can now add Gary Danko to that list. 
Mushroom dusted sea scallops, peas, pea purée, zucchini, shimeji mushrooms
The kitchen cooked the quail exquisitely with two crispy drumsticks and breast meat that fell apart at the slightest touch. 
Quail stuffed with foie gras, leeks, quinoa, farro, maitake mushrooms, zucchini
Our red meat selections–bison and duck–came out rosy. At this point, too, the neighboring diners engaged us in a conversation, explaining that they prefer Danko over both Cyrus and the French Laundry. Since I have not eaten at either place, I will have to accept their claim at face value. Anyway, we enjoyed our mains. Although not as tender as some fattier cuts, the bison became more tender as I cut it into thin strips. Danko has mastered onion caramelization, turning the bulbous cipollinis into candy. A satisfying dose of parmesan greeted me as I bit into the spatzle.
Bison loin, King trumpet mushrooms, cipollini onions, herb spatzle
The duck breast did not have the unappetizing coppery taste I often find with ducks at grocery stores. Danko then worked his magic, braising an endive in bacon fat and, ipso facto, removing its bitterness. 
Lemon pepper duck breast, duck hash, braised endive
Contrary to the server’s statement, the blue from France did not exceed Roquefort’s pungency. Nevertheless, I felt pleased with my cheese selections, especially the semi-soft goat’s milk. 
Cow’s milk (2x), sheep’s milk, goat’s milk
My mom found the sorbets denser than usual with a great balance between tart fruits and sweet cookies.
Sorbet trio
Mignardises
As we walked out of the restaurant, the maître d’ handed us a banana nut muffin, leaving me no choice but to include Restaurant Gary Danko in my triumvirate of one star Michelin eateries in San Francisco alongside the Dining Room and Fleur de Lys.
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