Aster

Dinner – Friday, October 2, 2015

I love that there are so many strong, progressive restaurants in San Francisco in the mid-level price range – this is something that Southern California just can’t seem to muster. We were here over a weekend for a house-hunting trip, and Aster was our first meal. We caught Brett Cooper in the early days of Saison, but never managed to visit Outerlands. This, here, was our first glimpse of his cooking.

Local halibut, radish, sunflower seed, peach, basil
I loved how the layers of flavour revealed themselves as we cut through the dish. Chilled fish topped with tangy creme fraiche, with a canopy of sliced radishes and earthy, toasty sunflower seeds. Sweet peaches and herbs to keep things interesting – a thoughtful, beautiful course.

Duck liver mousse, sprouted grains, strawberry, fennel, sesame
Really great mousse, garnished with chunks of meaty duck heart. The fennel, infused with nori, was quite a brilliant addition – it upped the umami quotient considerably.

Sweetbreads, pickled summer squash, charred peppers, thyme

Soft egg, crispy potato, ikura, uni, elderflower vinegar
Textures, textures, textures – this dish has all the wonder of Saison’s “Brassicas”, albeit with a little less subtlety. I made a mistake ordering the optional uni supplement – it actually detracted from the cohesiveness of the other ingredients.

Pork shoulder, sweet potato, rhubarb, grilled bok choy

Milk-fed lamb, beans, smoked eggplant, nepitella
Oh, those pole and shelling beans were amazing! We could have eaten our way through bowls of them! The lamb, too, was excellent, but the vegetables stole the show.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, mango-plum purée, nasturtium, brioche tuile

Poached pluot, cashew compote, lemon verbena
My understanding is that pastry chef Sean Ehland is a bit of a wunderkind. I don’t recall if he was running the pastry department at McCrady’s when we visited, but we only managed to try one of his desserts here tonight. It was interesting – almost a little too austere, and the lemon verbena oil was bracing. I’ll have to reserve judgement until we’ve tasted more from his repertoire.

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