I love "my girls." Whenever I go out with this group of friends, I feel elegant by association. All four of these friends are tall, blonde, and beautiful. I, on the other hand, am squat, dark-haired, and "interesting looking." Despite our differences, we joke that we are really five of a kind.
I went out with my girls this last week for a dinner at cozy yet elegant restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco's equivalent of Little Italy.
Beforehand, we stopped by for drinks at the Salt House, a new restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco. There, we shared conversation, sipped on frou-frou cocktails, and nibbled on plump and briny olives that had been accented with a delicate touch of citrus zest.
Afterwards, we strolled over to North Beach to my beau's favorite restaurant, The House, an intimate eatery that was recently featured in Check Please, Bay Area!
There, we laughed, gossiped, ate, and laughed some more.
First, we shared three appetizers, including ahi tuna tartare with oven-roasted nori chips. The tartare was sandwiched between the blistered and crackly chips, and the chips jutted outward like daggers, lacerating and impaling the supple pile of tartare. The tartare was moist and jellied, and had captured the earthiness of the sesame oil and the intensity of the sinus-clearing wasabi paste.
As each eye-popping dish was laid upon the linen tablecloth blanketing our cramped table, we took turns pivoting and swiveling the plate around so everyone had an opportunity to appreciate the artistic beauty in each dish.
Our other two appetizers include white shrimp and Chinese chive dumplings and a towering Maine crab cake with pickled ginger remoulade, daintily sitting atop of bed of roasted scallions. Crowning the apex of the steep crab cake mound, was a tough yellow sprig that stood proudly like a flag for a sovereign nation. The crab cake was made with the silken blend of mayonnaise and shredded crab. The roasted scallions that accompanied the crab cake were bronzed and caramelized on their exteriors. The roasting process amplified the flavors of the green onions, and the crisp scallion skins provided the perfect bite to match the flavor.
Both the crab cake and the tartare were paired with a diminutive pile of sweetened caviar beads, which playfully popped inside our mouths with each nibble.
We each ordered different entreés. One of my girls ordered the sesame soy glazed salmon in a bonito sake broth. The salmon came with a small bowl of rice ornately decorated with sprinkling of bonito and nori flakes.
Another ordered the Niman ranch pork chop with pomegranate currant sauce. Although I didn't have an opportunity to taste it, I admired the outstretched petals of cabbage and greens that blossomed outward from the chop, elaborately drawing attention to the protein component of the dish. Pomegranate kernels were strewn across the plate, like a strand of broken pearls, forlornly spilled upon the ground.
Unfortunately, I didn't sample either their entreés, but I shared 1) the grilled sea bass with a garlic ginger soy glaze, garlicky sesame egg noodles, and haricots verts and 2) the black cod in a sake miso reduction with lobster roll with another one of my girls.
Although the sea bass came with a small ramekin filled with soy sauce and grated tendrils of ginger, I found that the flavor of the sea bass had such a depth, that I hardly needed to pay attention to the sauce at all.
The sea bass and the black cod shared the same ambrosial attributes. Both of the luscious fillets were cooked on the rare side, and the exteriors were perfectly seared, sealing in the juices and the moisture into every flake within. The fish was so velvety and buttery, I honestly believed it melted in my mouth.
The sesame noodles were also wonderful. The rich soy flavors had penetrated the into the thick and chewy core of the noodles, and I slurped them down with ease.
For dessert, we shared the coconut crème brûlée with passion fruit, mango tapioca pudding, and the chocolate truffle cake. I have no words to describe how delicious the truffle cake was. Rich chocolate. Gargantuan scoop of ice cream. Overflowing volcano of caramel sauce. Oh. My. Gawd. It was dense, stick-to-your-tongue gluey, and oozing with sweetness.
The crème brûlée was average with other upscale or mid-range restaurants, but the brittle candy crust was too substantial for me. The hard candy lodged into the crevices of my molars and my candy-coated teeth felt like I had prematurely gnawed on hard candy tootsie pop before I was close enough to the center. Furthermore, I couldn't detect the coconut in the dessert, and the passion fruit had not permeated throughout the custard as I imagined it would. Rather, it appeared and tasted as if passion fruit syrup was carelessly slopped on the top of the crème brûlée.
I only had a taste of pudding, but I don't remember being overly impressed or disappointed.
Overall, the meal was wonderful and I was more than satiated.
The House fuses familiar Asian flavors with familiar Western textures but manages to augment both in such a way as to create an entirely new cuisine. I'd say The House serves the best Asian-fusion of any Bay Area restaurant I know. Also, the breathtaking presentation of each dish is not only artwork in and of itself, but it showcases and draws attention to the complexity and dimension of each bite.
Did I say that five of a kind beats a full house? I'm not so sure if that is really the case in poker, but I am positive that the next time I want great fusion food, I'll go "all in" for The House.