Friday, August 21, 2009

Chouquet's (Pacific Heights SF)

Almost fantastic French fare

We came to Chouquet's for a Dine About Town dinner in late May or so. Though none of us had ever heard about this place, we were won over by how cute the name "Chouquet's" sounded. Note: To a girl, it's perfectly rational to make decisions based on the measure of adorableness of the thing or place in question.

From left to right: amuse bouche of asparagus soup, smoked trout salad, salmon carpaccio (?), grilled ahi, gnocchi with vegetables, chocolate cake

I was pleased to receive the complimentary asparagus soup at the beginning of the meal because free food is always delicious in my book (except airplane food which is only arguably free and vile in any case). The soup was fairly tasty but not particularly notable. For appetizer, I ordered the smoked trout salad, which was actually quite fantastic. There was a suprising number of ingredients in the salad. Besides smoked trout, it also featured watercress, pepitas, carrots, onion, mustard seed, among a couple of other things, and a nice hint of acidity. The overall mixture was refreshing and hearty too! My friend who had the salmon had good things to say about that too.

Our entrees took quite a bit of time to appear. I suppose it was okay because we had all felt sort of full after the appetizers. My grilled ahi tuna had a nice texture and was paired nicely with the accompanying salad. My only complaint is that that the salad was a bit too acidic and tasted too much like the smoked trout salad of my previous course.

Dessert, which is usually the happiest portion of the meal, was unexpectedly sad in this instance. Well, not entirely. Sure, my chocolate cake was pretty delicious. But 1) dessert took forever and a half to arrive and 2) my friend's creme brulee was sort of a disaster in that it had totally not set and was basically a custard soup bouying a thin film of bruleed sugar. After a valiant effort to eat the creme brulee soup, my friend asked if it could be sent back and deducted from the check. The hostess then begrudgingly offered to replace it with the chocolate cake. Not that the replacement chocolate cake wasn't tasty, but due to how long the entire meal took, we were literally the last remaining customers in the restaurant when said cake was done.

Even though the food was fairly good, the snob in me feels that the slow service and dessert debacle warrant a couple of demerits from my overall judgment of Chouquet's. My advice for future visitors: arrive early and refrain from getting the creme brulee.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spencer on the Go (SOMA SF)

An awkward marriage of fast food and high aspirations

I have a lot of things to say of Spencer on the Go and some of it is actually related to the food. Spencer on the Go is a new-ish food cart started by the chef of the restaurant Chez Spencer. Now, I've never been to Chez Spencer but the 4 stars and $$$$ on Yelps tells me that it's a delicious and classy joint of some kind. One would then think that bringing such delicious foods to the streets (literally) would be a delightful combination of tastiness, affordability, and convenience. Not so much, as it turns out.

From left to right: the "scene" at the food cart, mushroom something, frog legs, escargot puff, skate cheeks

The cart had started serving at 6pm and when I had arrived at 6:30pm, there was already a decent number of people hovering in the area. As I learned later, the crowd was not only the result of anticipation but also the looong wait in between ordering and receiving the food. We ended up waiting a good 45 minutes for our tasty, French morsels. I say "morsels" because each plate was only tapas-sized and could not have individually filled anyone up. Each dish costed around $6-12, which was also not unlike how much a plate of tapas would cost. So if cheapness and fast service are what you expect from a food cart, you will probably be disappointed here.

Nevertheless, there were still a few bright spots from my one-time experience at Spencer on the Go. First, the people who ran the operation obviously took the project very seriously. Peeking inside the cart, I could see 3 chefs in snazzy white coats manning their respective stations, as if they were in a real kitchen. Second, the food was actually very good. Had you not known that it was served from a truck inside a parking lot, you might have thought the food was taken from an actual restaurant. Finally, it was a good concept of taking gourmet cuisine out of the stuffiness of a restaurant and into a cheap eats context. But alas, Spencer on the Go will need to work on the quality of its execution to meet the caliber of the concept.