*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
One of my very best friends and I have a ritual for our respective birthdays: we take each other out for "ladies who lunch," which always entails a minimum of a two-to-three hour lunch and at least one bottle of champers. Past destinations have included The Rotunda (numerous times) and Café Claude, but when my birthday fell on a Wednesday this last November, I knew I wanted ~RUBICON~ to be it since the sole time they serve lunch is on Wednesdays.
I like to request one of the intimate wood booths downstairs, with their deep claret mohair seats. Although it means I have to look at the blown glass "Ikebana Installation" by Dale Chihuly, which may very well be owner Drew Nieporent's favorite element about the restaurant's décor, but it makes me want to sit back with a shotgun, a box of shells, and a six-pack of Buddy longnecks and play target practice with those damned flowers.
I know, some glass art aficionado is unsubscribing from my newsletter right now. Oh well. The installation just feels so early 90s, which is when the restaurant opened, in 1994. The flowers really need to come down. The Thonet chairs, however, are timeless. Ditto on the brick walls, exposed beams, and warm wood elements everywhere.
Fortunately, the dated vibe stops with the glass little shop of horrors, because Executive Chef Stuart Brioza's cooking totally rocks my soxx--it's the perfect balance between farmers' market and luxe, New French and Cali, with some touches of New American and Euro flair. Innovation rules here.
Release the bubbly. Good, now we can focus. Lunch started with a lovely little amuse, and while we could have opted for the $25 business lunch (a set menu of two courses plus dessert) we were anything but business. We were birthday lunching.
My "lady friend" opted for the roasted mushroom salad ($12) with slices of pear, ribbons of pickled red onion, aged balsamic, and Parmesan cheese. I think there were some hazelnuts in there too. (I didn't take notes--I hope you can understand.) Super-fresh ingredients. Yours truly couldn't resist the orecchiette with steamed cockles ($11) in a tomato and saffron wine broth. Little hits of red pepper and lemon rind brightened the luscious seafood concoction, I even dunked my bread in the broth like a good (or bad?) Italian girl at the table.
We ramped up the decadence quotient with tender beef short rib ravioli ($18) resting in a truffle-rosemary broth, served with wild mushrooms and leeks. It was the kind of dish you just want to spoon. I porked out on the crispy spiced quail ($17), a gourmet and purely genius/pure evil version of fried chicken, accompanied with a small stack of shaved apple salad and Parmesan cheese, resting on a base of lemon confit and tart onions to counterbalance the fatty and rich quail. Yes, puuuuuure evil.
Now, excuse me while I drag out my soapbox. I really have a gripe with a lot of desserts in this town. (I gotta let off a little steam here.) Can you say BORING? Oh yes, so thrilling, trios of crème brûlée or pots de crème or an apple something something or bread pudding or flourless chocolate cake or a house-made trio of sorbets with passion fruit, strawberry, and lemon. Zzzzzzzzz. Bring a book. If there's a cheese option, that's what I find myself going for more and more. I just might start ordering foie gras for dessert, which is what a friend once did at Gary Danko--I thought it was a totally brilliant move. (Please, save the hate mail.)
But if you are at Rubicon (or perhaps having dessert at Campton Place, bless you Boris Portnoy), then get ready, because goddess Pastry Chef Nicole Krasinski is gonna make you want to order one of everything. She will totally turn you on for dessert. It's almost like a Pentecostal dessert service: behold, the new frontier of pastry! Her desserts are just gorg: gorg ingredients, gorg presentation, and you will gorge. However, we restrained ourselves on this occasion and decided to just share one dessert since I had a big dinner coming up that night.
We dove our spoons into a little round of carrot cake ($10) with cubes of Fuyu persimmon on top, plus maple emulsion and a chestnut-Armagnac ice cream. Now, that's what I am talking about! Krasinski really knows how to rock savory elements with her creations; one dessert we were eyeing was the bittersweet chocolate-saffron croquettes with spiced cashews and wildflower honey sabayon ($10). Meow. And here's another fab detail: Nicole and Stuart are married, how's that for a power gourmet couple? It's amazing they are not both the size of Dom DeLuise. I'd need my own zip code.
For the record, our server was a little freaky--not sure what her deal was but she was one of those people who never quite hits the mark, kind of like when you're on a difficult first date or something: hard to connect, weird jokes, and while both parties were trying hard to find a common ground, it all felt a bit forced and off. It was quite humorous. My friend and I decided she must have been stoned because everything she said was a touch weird, like we were talking in alternate universes. Although I really don't think she was stoned, but if she was, she'd have the perfect place to manage any munchies. And no, for the record, it wasn't us who had been smoking any funny cigarettes.
So while this was just lunch, dinners here are elegant and relaxing, and wait until you crack that monster and fabled wine list. It's an ideal spot for biz functions, fourth dates, special occasions, and the upstairs rooms are custom-made for private functions. It's a quintessential SF dining experience, one that is worth getting a little spiffed up for, and I can actually overlook the fact that the crowd can be a little moneyed/older/stuffy/business for my taste. Then again, that's part of living in SF, I suppose.
558 Sacramento St.
Cross: Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Lunch: Wed 11:30am-2pm