Birdsong

Dinner – Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Finally, my favourite restaurant in the city received a much-deserved (and IMHO overdue) second Michelin star. I was happy to celebrate with a meal, naturally. As usual, I opted for a seat at the live-edge kitchen counter, settled in, and enjoyed the ride.

Sweet onion, Golden Osetra caviar
Soured cream, walnut milk, grilled shell fat

Mt. Lassen trout roe
Apple cider sabayon, chestnut, spaghetti squash

Tonight, the ever-present trout sequence was a quintet of outstanding courses, starting off with its cured roe. What made this iteration fantastic was the bracing acidity of the sabayon, contrasted with the earthiness of the chestnut purée at the bottom of the bowl – perfect for the beginning of Fall.

Tail end prepared like lox, puffed skin, fresh cheese
Loin cured and warmed in cedar, shiso, pine needle condiment

Trout belly and collar
With its mix of smoke and fat, the belly was a close second to the roe course. It was a messy eat to get every last morsel, but well worth it.

Santa Barbara spot prawn and its roe
Gently warmed over the embers, Falcon spice

Pacific black cod
Pine mushroom, daikon, koji butter, Douglas fir condiment

Cod is a protein that this kitchen does amazingly well, but I’ve not seen featured on the menu of late. Here, it was served quite delicately, allowing the daikon and mushroom components to shine. The bowl was accompanied by a tempura cod cheek dusted with seaweed – again, a light touch with the seasoning let the ingredient speak for itself.

Uni cream puff, fermented shitake, savory butterscotch

Dry-aged Wolfe Ranch quail, lacquered and smoked
This course is such a showcase that it’d probably make sense to serve as the last savory item. The cooking on the bird never fails to impress, and tonight the grilled Parker House rolls, lovingly basted with chicken fat, seemed particularly soft and fluffy – a perfect canvas for the protein and pickles.

Beef-less stew
Potatoes, broth of toasted skins, yeast, marrow

Here’s a course that tastes a little different every time – tonight’s was the best ever. A misstep in the past was a tendency for the broth to be overly unctuous, to the verge of overwhelming the palate. Tonight, it maintained the intensity but ate clean and more “pure” – much more to my liking.

BBQ carrot, elderberry sauce
These carrots start off quite large, but through an extended period of drying over the hearth (interrupted only by daily massage sessions), they assume their wizened form. The dried vegetable is rehydrated in carrot juice, intensifying its flavour while preserving a chewy, meaty texture. One of my favourite takes on a carrot-focused dish anywhere.

60-day aged lamb loin, radicchio, grilled raisins

Pine needle sorbet
Fennel, mint, pine-fermented honey

Ya Li pears
Mt. Tam cheesecake, toasted rice ice cream

I am a fan of Cowgirl Creamery’s cheeses, so I was delighted to see its signature triple-creme turned into a cheesecake. The lightly-poached ribbons of pear were just enough to balance out the richness, which was rounded off by the slightly nutty flavors of the ice cream. Really excellent.

Cape gooseberry, fruit and curd

Despite a labor crunch in both the kitchen and service teams (which, of course, is plaguing every restaurant in San Francisco), Chris Bleidorn and team delivered another standout meal – yes, I sound like a broken record. I’ve very much enjoyed watching each dish evolve over time as the seasons change and the kitchen tweaks its technique. Someone mentioned to me during dinner that this was my 20th visit to the restaurant, which took me completely by surprise (although I’m certain they were counting all the takeout I did during their stint as a fried chicken shack last year). Regardless, I’m eagerly looking forward to my 21st.

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