I recently enjoyed a delicious dinner at the shiny new Central Kitchen restaurant which opened its doors last week. Apparently, it was one of the most highly anticipated openings this year! The menu is an ongoing exploration of what it is that constitutes California cuisine by chef-partner Thomas McNaughton of the highly regarded Flour + Water, Chef de Cuisine Michael Gaines (most recently at Manresa) and pastry chef Lisa Lu (of Jardiniere). The menu showcases local seasonal produce, fish, and whole animals, and attempts to express “the terrior of Northern California.” My friend Ben, who writes the compellingly delicious blog Focus:Snap:Eat, suggested that we check it out. It’s a wonderful space: bright sunlight shines through the retractable canopy above a serene courtyard filled with shrubbery, a whimsical steampunkish water fountain burbles, and festive strings of edison bulbs add a mellow glow overhead.
There are heated concrete floors and overhead radiant heat lamps, which is a good thing considering it’s summer in the city… However, the night we were there was rather balmy for SF and between the heated floor and the heat radiating from overhead, we sweltered. The butter for the bread melted into a puddle! And after a while, I felt like I was beginning to melt too. We asked them to turn it down and they made an effort to comply, even opening up one of the canopies, but the the temperature never really cooled off. I really hope they figure out how that all works…
I eagerly nodded when offered freshly baked bread. It was wonderful slathered with above mentioned butter. I was feeling festive and asked for sparkling water for the table, and we both decided on the five-course Tasting Menu ($79), which can only be ordered upon unanimous agreement at each table. Both the ala carte and the tasting menus change daily, reflecting seasonality and availability. Our server asked us if we had any food allergies and when Ben mentioned a preference for no-fried foods, he wasn’t able to wrangle an alternate dessert. With his cholesterol concerns, the cheese course wasn’t really an option, so I was surprised that they couldn’t offer fresh fruit or just plain sorbet. Isn’t high cholesterol something like an allergy to fried foods? This is a lytro picture, so go on… play with your food and click around to change the focus.
A lot of thought has gone into every single detail, the table tops are made from California oak from down the street, the plates are Heath Ceramics, they’re trying to have terroir in everything they do. We began with a series of canapés. Fried Head Cheese with fava bean puree, which were funky little bites that melted in your mouth once you bit through the crunchy fried crust. Really good.
Smoked Salmon Belly with fine shreds of cucumber, dill and crème fraîche. A familiar and particularly satisfying taste sensation.
Celery Soda with colorful red cherry puree, the rim of the glass was dipped in celery salt. Fun and refreshing.
A spectacular soup made of Goat Curds, Whey, Beets, Rye, pickled rhubarb, and razor thin shreds of fennel
It was even prettier when blended, the intense magenta from the beets became electric against the orange flower petals when mixed with the curds and whey.
Shellfish medley of miniature mussels and clams, thin slices of turnips, drizzled with a bone marrow vinaigrette and sprinkled with pungent tendrils of freshly grated horseradish.
Halibut poached in olive oil paired with an egg yolk served with artichoke puree, sauteed nettles
The yolk resembled a ripe fruit, it was incredibly soft and yielding but when I cut into it, I was transfixed by the incredibly rich and velvety texture, it was as if King Midas had transformed everything into gold…
Our entree was Duck roasted over coals, chard and rich white onion soubise. There were two preparations, succulent slices of breast and a chunk of dark meat that had a variety of textures that reminded me of carnitas.
This was followed by two smallish desserts. The first was a delicate loquat sorbet, cherries, crisped meringue and pistachio. Wonderful vivid bites that disappeared all too soon…
And then fresh blueberries, blueberry (?) ice cream, miniature whole wheat beignets fresh from the fryer, served with a dollop of fragrant meyer lemon marmalade. I loved the bright flavors of the marmalade with the ice cream and blueberries, the beignets were just like little donuts and I quickly became stuffed. A bit of a disappointment on the creative end after the previous courses, and so we finished our meal.
From our table, you could peek into the Salumeria next door, which had an assortment of sundries: meats, cheese, condiments and pickles. So many cool things to peruse… I bought some dried pasta from Flour + Water since I still haven’t been to the restaurant, and a gorgeous smoked salami. Apparently there are new tenants in the future, the Bon Vivant’s bar Trick Dog and Humphrey Slocombe’s The Parlour will be housed in the building on 20th Street as well.
The music was loud and uplifting, it reminded me vaguely of the Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa but different…