Level III, San Francisco (September 2008)






A solitudinous dinner, I reasoned, would help assuage my mounting anxiety stemming from a depressingly long game theory problem set due next week.

Opting for a new, unreviewed restaurant – Level III opened about four months ago – belies my ordinarily risk averse disposition. I grew more unsettled as I stepped out of the JW Marriott’s third floor elevator into an unpeopled hotel lobby/dining room. With time, though, Ryan Jette, Level III’s chef de cuisine and erstwhile French Laundry chef de partie, undid my unease with his enrapturing menu.

Although a bit cloying for an amuse bouche, I savored the lingering roasted chestnut aroma.

Amuse Bouche Chestnut soup with apple relish

 

Slider photos online convinced me they were worth a taste; gruyere melted down onto the plate, the patties’ interiors revealed a luminous rose color, and the crispy onion rings all married harmoniously. 
Kobe sliders with fried cippolini onions and gruyere

 

I know many regard tuna tartare as déclassé, yet I happened to like this manifestation. The chili powder, cayenne, ginger, and wasabi concealed the infinitesimal cilantro leaves.

Big eye tuna tartare with spicy ginger marinade, avocado-wasabi puree and crispy sesame wantons on mixed greens
Cooking the tenderloin sous vide, rather than subjecting it to the grill’s volatility, elevated the dish to another level–apologies for the cheap pun–rendering my knife superfluous. The veal jus, which boasted a mostly salty flavor along with the slightest fruity note, inhibited the peppercorns from overwhelming the palate. The fries had an unforgettable crunch. The only conceivable way to improve them would have been to cook them in duck fat. For that, I suppose I will have to revisit Michael Mina.
Fillet au poivre with pommes frites and veal jus
These bite-sized treats were simple, but nevertheless a wise end to the meal–refreshing and light.
Vanilla, strawberry, and green tea ice cream sandwiches

Pros: Reasonably priced prix fixe with generous portions.

Cons: Overpriced drinks, at least according to the people next to me, who complained as they received a $14.50 martini. Neophytic floor staff unable to answer questions about dish preparation.

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