Gary Danko, San Francisco (June 2009)

Running into Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou–known for wiping the floor with Iron Chef Cat Cora in Battle Red Fish–at the farmers’ market today augured well for the evening’s culinary excursion.

Only recently have I overcome my aversion to non-Opentable restaurants, so I booked a reservation to Gary Danko a little over three weeks ago.

With hindsight, I would discourage anyone who considers walking from the Powell Street BART to Gary Danko’s restaurant. One steep hill after another plagued my thirty minute walk. As I neared North Beach, a downward slope greeted me, as did a gorgeous view. 

Enough prattle, let me get to the food. Danko et al. seasoned the first three dishes immaculately, meeting my high salt threshold. The earthy mushroom amuse featured even earthier summer truffles.
Porcini bisque, summer truffle, parsley oil
Then came a warm blini, stacked with layers of creamy viands. 
Buckwheat blini, salmon mousse, osetra caviar, crème fraîche
Both curiosity and concern came to mind as I ordered poached oysters. I had never tasted a cooked oyster, thinking it could only lead to a rubbery mess. My concern proved unwarranted after I ate four succulent bivalves. 
Glazed oysters, osetra caviar, zucchini, lettuce cream
Continuing along the classically indulgent ingredient list, I selected foie gras. The cherries macerated in Brandy were a bit strong for a lightweight. Caramelized onions, cooked for two days, had a jam-like consistency, making for one of the better foie accoutrement. As for the liver, the kitchen cut a generous lobe, properly deveined it, and gave it a nice sear. 
Sonoma foie gras, caramelized onion, Brandy bing cherries, mache
As my roasted lobster arrived, a young couple on a date sat next to me. The young bloke provided entertainment–aside from the articles I brought with me–manufacturing facts about food and chefs in an effort to impress his lady friend. I will share just one gem: “You wouldn’t like foie gras,” he told his companion, “because it has a really duck-y flavor.” Pardon the digression. The roasted lobster dish included one claw and half of the tail. I found the claw more flavorful, and ended up reaching for the sea salt shaker after one bite from the tail. 
Roasted Maine lobster, potato purée, shitakes, summer corn, tarragon
Picasso’s squab ranks as the tastiest dish to ever grace my palate, so ordering Danko’s version would be a bold move. When the server placed the dish in front of me, I smiled at the pink flesh, eager to dig in. Uh oh, I thought, as I bit into a carrot; cumin enveloped it, sending the scent of body odor up my nose. Without hesitation, I started cranking the sea salt shaker again, hoping to tame my Moroccan nemesis. 
Moroccan spiced rare squab stuffed with couscous and carrots
Many yelpers extol Danko’s cheese cart – justifiably. My lovely server allowed me to select five cheeses. After Fleur de Lys’ musky triple creme, I decided to stick predominantly with hard, milder cheeses. Even the blue bestowed a sugary note. 
Hook’s Cheddar, Unpasteurized Gruyère, Pecorino Sardo, Manchego, Roaring 40s
Pleased with my cheese choices and close to full, I expected to receive a plate of migardises and the bill. My server, however, had other ideas, delivering a chilled cheesecake round, which I gladly finished.
Lemon cheesecake
Mignardises
Breakfast muffin
While Restaurant Gary Danko may not reside in Picasso territory, Chef Danko’s North Beach boîte merits the praise it receives both for tasty food and top-notch service.
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