The mall isn't usually on the top of my preferred dining destinations list, nor am I a fan of chain restaurants, but the meal I recently had at ~LARKCREEKSTEAK~ definitely made me reconsider my "rules" (and I really don't have many dining rules, except no fast food, which is soundly broken about once a year when I hit the drive-through, guiltily ordering up an Egg McMuffin and hash browns--blame it on the hangover).
So here we are, on the fourth floor of the Westfield Centre (don't you dare call it Center), about to enter Mister Bradley Ogden's and Mister Michael Dellar's latest venture, and I'll be damned if my nose didn't quiver. The smell of smoke and char and grill and meat was wafting through the intimate dining room, and it awakened a very visceral part of me, the one that suddenly wanted some MEAT. NOW. I felt like I was about to bust out a Teen Wolf transformation right there in the booth.
Fortunately, this place doesn't make you wait for long for some meat: after a small shot of a nonalcoholic palate cleanser (one night it was pomegranate with apple cider soda), some warm biscuits arrive at the table, with a spread of pecan butter, maple syrup, and andouille sausage. Yeah, you heard right: meat butter. I would not protest if this becomes a nationwide trend. Meat butter: it's what's for breakfast.
When you hear "mall" and "steakhouse," you wouldn't exactly expect to find an appetizer like Dungeness crab salad and cauliflower panna cotta ($12) on the menu, would you? It was a delicate layered dish, with a minute and precise dice of Fuji apple, with madras curry, chunks of crab, and a bright carrot emulsion made with crème fraîche on top. Welcome to steakhouse 2007, baby. While this isn't exactly Craftsteak or CUT, it's certainly not like our other old school carnivorous outposts around town, either. (Ruth's Chris anyone? Didn't think so.)
Splurges include the carpaccio of marbled Wagyu ribeye from Masami Farms ($17) that almost looked like salame Toscana with its luscious fattiness, offset with the tangy bite of caper berries, cool hearts of palm, peppery radish and micro arugula, and shards of rich Parmigiano. A touch too much salt on the meat, but otherwise a well-balanced starter.
Celebrate your non-Chicago residency with the foie gras ($19), served with thick sear marks (and flavor) from the wood grill and a dusting of salt flakes, plus a petite round of fruit bread pudding and a perfect poached pear that rivaled some of the poached pears I have tasted in haute restaurants--not a hint of mealiness, and the picture of the season. In fact, many dishes here highlight what's in season--it's like a modern Cal-French steakhouse.
At this point, I was like, whoa, my pinky is raising a little. The food here is seriously elegant and packing a pedigree: gastriques, mirepoix, emulsionsâ¦ The gentleman behind all these classy touches and details is Chef Jeremy Bearman, who was formerly the Executive Sous Chef at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Vegas, and Executive Sous Chef at Daniel Boulud's db Bistro Moderne in New York. Yup, Bearman has chops, and he knows what to do with them, too. A chef of his caliber can't be satisfied with a menu solely of steaks and chops--so be sure to dabble around in the apps for a taste of Bearman's flair and talent.
You'll also find some Ogden classics on the menu, like a Caesar salad, and a Yankee pot roast in the $29 prix-fixe dinner. One dish that didn't measure up was the basket of fried Ipswich clams ($15)--they arrived over-breaded and lukewarm. I also have an issue with doilies on a plate, which was what the basket of oysters was resting on. Doilies should be outlawed, unless you are using one to make a Valentine.
There is also a pan-roasted sweetbread ($15) that might give some folks pause--you read it correctly, you get one big sweetbread. It was a spotlessly clean one, mind you, and quite a refined dish, with accompanying players of roasted endive, parsnip puree, and grapefruit segments that all had their part in the performance. But unless you've been eating in a bouchon recently, you may find the big ole sweetbread is definitely unabashed in its presence, unlike other places around town that tend to serve them at a more diminutive size.
Another honking presentation was the pork chop ($25)--what arrives is a Fred Flintstone-sized bone-in chop. Like, wham, there it is. Wiillllma! Granted, this hulking piece of meat is an Eden Farms Berkshire chop that has been slow-roasted for three hours, but whew, it cuts a serious form. Like, dude, you been working out lately?
Our server mentioned some folks are put off by how pink it is, thinking it's underdone, not knowing that pork doesn't have to be lifeless and grey to be done. Think pink, people. It's totally delicious, with a jasmine rice, pecan, and dried cranberry pilaf underneath, and a drizzling of whole-grain mustard that completes the porky portrait. (This is the pork that shows up in the Cubano sandwiches at lunch.)
So, where's the beef? Oh, it's here, let me assure you. The menu features prime across the board, from New York strip (9 oz. $26/14 oz. $36) to bone-in ribeye (16 oz. $35/dry aged 16 oz. $42) to a 28 oz. porterhouse for two ($39). All sorts of purveyors were sourced for each cut of meat--the best purveyor for each cut would win, so what you're getting is straight-up beef perfection that is then grilled masterfully over fruitwood and charcoal embers.
I tried the bone-in ribeye, and the smoke on it was subtle, savory, on pointe. The steak was ridiculously juicy and tender, and fully delivered on the promise of the meaty fragrance when I first walked in. I think I have found my perfect steak in SF. It's moments like these that really remind me why I eat meat, and crave meat. The side of grilled chicory and red onion was a nice touch that reminded me of a good spinach salad made with bacon drippings--I didn't even consider the complimentary side sauces, like the signature sauce, béarnaise, garlic butter, horseradish, Maytag blue cheese butterâ¦ talk about gilding the lily.
Since the steaks and chops are served a la carte, of course there are a ton of sides, like beer-braised Brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, mascarpone polenta, and six other options from which you can choose two, for $7. The sprouts and spinach didn't particularly send me--I'd rather save my calories and precious space for the starters instead. (Like I'm really counting calories, har.)
In case you haven't gathered this already, the menu is pretty huge: there are also salads, soups, seafood, poultry, and oh yeah, let's not forget the dessert cart. Yeah, there's a big ole cart piled high with treats that looks like something out of Willy Wonka. And Pastry Chef Chona Piumarta is out to get you.
The chocolate hazelnut napoleon is four layers of pure evil, including a crispy bottom layer that put me over the edge, made with salt, praline paste, dark and bittersweet chocolate, and yes, crunched Rice Krispies. Other unexpected elements include sprinklings of candied carrot with the scrumptious carrot-pineapple cake, and the Meyer lemon cheesecake comes with spiced pistachios.
I haven't had desserts with these kinds of touches in a while, and all of them are well composed--it's about the balance of all the flavors converging together, from the salty layer with the chocolate, to the acidity of the lemon with the cheesecake. And all of them are only $5 (a nice respite after what you just coughed up for that steak, even after opting for the smaller 9 oz. size).
The wine list is all-American, with a number of good choices by the glass that won't break the bank, and others worth spending a little more on. Service can appear a little scattered or disjointed at some moments (getting a glass of wine may prove to be a lengthy process), but it was also friendly and knowledgeable.
The main room is actually quite small, with only room for 68 under the wood-beamed ceiling that gives it a barn-like quality, along with the pastoral artwork featuring hay bales that appear Thiebaud-like (if he wasn't so obsessed with cakes) and a playful room divider of flowers and grass made of glass and steel. There is also a spacious private room that just opened, the Larkspur Room, which can seat 36.
The crowd is casual, made up of a hodgepodge of power shoppers, families, couples out on a date, and post-work types unwinding in the bar area. Personally, I think the ringside seats at the (amazingly quiet) exhibition kitchen are the way to go--you could pick up some top-notch grill tips, and lord knows this is the place to do so.
845 Market St.
4th floor/Suite 402
Cross: 5th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103