We seem to chase Michelin stars when we eat around the world, but haven’t been as diligent about dining in the Bay Area at these prestigious restaurants. Sure, it’s difficult to get into many of these places; often, they have extensive (and expensive) tasting menus that warrant more than a casual evening out. We have friends who recently wanted a weeknight extravagant meal in the City, and we all converged on Quince. They canceled at the last minute, but we decided to go ahead as a twosome anyway, since it had been awhile since we ate there.
Around the same time that Quince celebrated their tenth anniversary late last year, it was awarded a second Michelin star. Founded over a decade ago, Quince moved in 2009 into the historical brick building formerly occupied by Myth. We dined a number of times at their location in Pacific Heights, now home of Baker and Banker, and really liked the intimacy of the original space — even having dined at the downstairs chef’s table. The original location offered an la carte menu to form a multi-course meal. The FiDi/Jackson Square location only offers the chef’s tasting menu; the casual next-door sister restaurant Cotogna is where items can be ordered a la carte (including excellent pastas). For some reason, we never made our way to the newer, bigger FiDi location until recently — we really should not have waited this long.
Quince was named after the fruit that starts out hard, very tart and sour. But after cooking, the flesh turns citrusy sweet, soft and rosy. Normally used to make jams, it can pair well with savory items such as the paste that generally accompanies cheese. In essence, the restaurant was named after a difficult fruit that with proper attention, transforms into something sublime which reflected their initial experience with opening a decade ago.
Co-Owned with his wife Lindsay, Quince’s Owner/Executive Chef Michael Tusk specializes in using fresh pristine seasonal ingredients. Quince offers three tasting choices: a five- or nine-course carnivorous plus a vegetarian option that reflects the availability of the ingredients, so much so that the larger menu changes on a nightly basis. Currently priced at $118 and $158 accordingly, it is reported to be the most affordable two Michelin star menu available in the Bay Area.
As is our usual custom, we went to the bar and began with a round of cocktails. Surprisingly wide open since they will seat diners without reservations, it must have been the weeknight that allowed us to have a proper drink at the bar before dinner. The ￼￼￼Bobby Burns (Scotch, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, orange bitters) and a Rye and Reason (Rye whiskey, pineapple gum, lemon, tiki bitters) were the perfect aperitivi to get whet our appetites:
We decided that since it was a school night per se, we would go for the smaller five-course option. Almost immediately after ordering, the parade of food began. First up were seasoned onion chips that were airy and crispy. We could have easily eaten more of these, but we knew we had to pace ourselves:
They also brought each of us an amuse bouche tray of four bites: cranberry and parsley bavarois, nori chip with persimmon, black olive financier and faro. Each of the bites featured interesting pairings of seemingly disparate ingredients (seaweed and persimmon?), but they all worked:
The bites were also accompanied by ricotta tartlets with various forms of beet chips. This tray was set in the center of the table for us to share. Luckily, we didn’t have to fight over the delicious mini cheese pies since there were two provided:
Bread service offered a selection of a miniature baguettes and/or rolls with salted and non-salted butter:
We have eaten plenty of Bagna Cauda in Piemonte, Italy where the dipping sauce (made with garlic, olive oil, anchovies and butter) is served with vegetables such as cardoons. But the Quince Bagna Cauda with winter vegetable “crudo e cotto” that included fennel, carrots, radish and thin toast points not only evoked the flavor, but was beautifully plated:
The Dungeness crab course came with a savory celery root custard. There were a lot of textural contrasts in this dish between the crab cake orb, almonds and finger lime pulp. The nasturtium leaves added a nice pepperiness to the delicate yet rich plate:
As a master pasta maker, Chef Tusk’s menu always features a pasta course, and this version was a candy-shaped caramelle. Marina di Chioggia squash cubes and purée, Parmesan cheese and a black garlic and hazelnut espuma (foam) completed this excellent course:
A choice of two proteins was available as a main entrée. One of us chose the perfectly cooked crispy skinned Black Sea bass accompanied by a cauliflower purée, black trumpet mushrooms and Meyer lemon:
The other entrée was a crispy skinned Paine Farm Squab served with a crispy potato pavé, onions, Perigord black truffle shavings and jus. It was decadently rich flavored with luxurious truffles:
They have an extensive wine list that is almost as large a phone book. We had decided that a bottle of crisp white wine would probably pair best with all of the courses. We had narrowed down the choices to either a Riesling or a Southern Italian wine. The very helpful sommelier understood our quandary, and she helpfully recommended this Etna Bianco that included Riesling as part of the blend: 2010 I Vigneri di Salvo Foti Etna Vinujancu (Carricante, Riesling, Grecanico and Minnella). It turned out to be the perfect pairing with just the right acidity:
They served us an almond milk jelly as an intermezzo course to cleanse our palate and prepare for dessert:
An extra cheese course could be purchased as an option; however, we were pretty full at this point. The Hamada Farms Citrus tangerine, yuzu and créme fraîche ice cream was the perfect dessert:
We understood why they were awarded that extra star as we experienced something we had never had before. Our server came with a bottle of Calvados and told us that the chef highly believes in the power of the digestivi as she poured us a couple of glasses. We looked at each other with wonderment and surprise when she added that “the chef would like you to enjoy it as you wish” and left the bottle behind. We reserved ourselves and limited it to two and a half pours, but we easily could have finished that bottle, as it was an excellent apple brandy. The gesture really was more than appreciated:
You always know that the meal has ended at a Michelin-starred restaurant as the de-riguer petit four platter is served:
As a parting gift (aside from the calories), they gave us each a bag of Canelé pastry:
Service throughout the evening was impeccable as befits a Michelin starred restaurant.
It truly was a great dinner — we all deserve to indulge ourselves once in awhile, even if it is a weeknight.