in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Cross: Pine St.
San Francisco, CA 94104
19, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO I
have a friend and colleague who is crazy for Joel Huff's cooking.
Like, if Huff had a fan club, she'd be a charter member. Susan has
his praises since her first meal at ~SILKS~,
calling him the best new chef of San Francisco, and so I was thrilled
when she offered to treat me to dinner there recently. I am willing
to wager very few of you have eaten at Silks, or have even thought
about it. Well, like Susan, I'm here to tell you that you should.
(Come on, drink the Kool-Aid!)
in hotels can sometimes have a tough time, and especially when they're
not even visible from the street—Silks is tucked away on the
second floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Financial District.
I can't vouch for how busy the room will be or not, but I'd say
the odds are good that it'll be mellow. See, not enough people know
how downright delicious the food is here. I'm happy to help my friend
with her crusade to turn more people on to Huff's unique and excellent
dishes that integrate Asian flavors and influences, French technique,
and his own je ne sais quoi add up to a totally fresh approach.
was the first Mandarin Hotel to open in the U.S., so it's modeled
after the Silks in Hong Kong. Large panels of silk robes line the
wood-paneled walls, plus tiered and hand-painted lampshades with
tassels and a stenciled trim heighten the exotic design touches.
The floor is also lushly patterned. The dining room has some booths
upholstered in Prussian blue mohair that are situated along one
wall (request one of these if you can), but the dark wood armchairs
with padded arms and backs in the center of the room are still lovely,
and comfortable, seats. The room feels sophisticated (well, except
for the bizarre display of bottles of Veuve and some wines on a
table covered with a black tablecloth like it's a tradeshow setup)
and you can actually carry on a conversation with your guests without
having to sign to each other. (Read: great place to bring the 'rents,
have a romantic dinner, or just "stop the insanity.")
it's not cheap. Let's just get that out of the way.
We're talking along the lines of the other big guys in town,
like Masa's and Michael Mina and the gang. You can do the
tasting route ($75 for three courses, $85 for four) or order a la
carte. Either way, get that credit card or drug dealer wad of cash
ready. And let the edible art show begin.
friend and I opted for the four-course dinner (naturally) with the
suggested wine pairing ($45—it would be $35 for the three
course). We started with a ridiculously delicious and artful amuse
of an oyster topped with sea urchin, thinly sliced sea grape and
one edamame bean—a lovely kick off. It was followed by the
glistening jewels of yellow fin tuna ($15) dolloped with feta foam
(I know, cheese and fish (!), but it was scrumptious), partnered
with petite yuzu jelly cubes, a ponzu truffle vinaigrette, and a
little surprise crunch of roasted garlic chips. Oh, and there was
some fried caper, and basil in there too. I mean look at the pic,
and yes, it tasted as good as it was pretty to look at. Daring combo
of flavors, and it sang. Not Top 40, mind you—this was a definite
all-time favorite, and I know I am not alone in this, is his decadent
rendition of eggs, bacon, and toast ($18). One of the biggest duck
eggs I have ever seen is tempura fried, and rests on a slice of
brioche and is blanketed with some speck foam (speck is a smoked
prosciutto—you should try it in a sandwich sometime). You
break the egg yolk and it runs into the crispy swath of suckling
pig that looks like pork belly, but it's not. It is actually a center
cut of pressed and then braised pork. Delightful textured layers
of crispy and fatty succulence, with full-on porky flavor. In this
dish, what would be your home fries are actually truffled potatoes,
with a drizzle of Pinot Noir reduction on the plate (our 2004 Willakenzie
Pinot Noir was a perfect match for this dish, and it's not just
because it's the same Pinot he uses for the reduction). It all looks
quite Kandinsky on the plate. Some people would be slayed with the
richness of this dish, but I'm a total pig for anything with egg
and/or pork, so I was in literal hog heaven. It was my dream trough.
enraptured with the concurrent simplicity and depth of the Japanese
hot pot dish ($30), a steaming cast-iron bowl that comes resting
on its own little block of wood. Within was a treasure of tender
Alaskan black cod braised in sake, and then brushed with miso. I
adore mushrooms, so the medley of enokis, shimejis, and oyster mushrooms
was a shroom extravaganza, coupled with esoteric bursts of flavor
from the sea beans. There was also bok choy, carrot cut into tiny
leaf shapes, and edible fern. Oh, and let's not forget the tender
rock shrimp gyoza, all resting in the chicken dashi consommé.
My cravings for nabeyaki are suddenly pale, if not gone—THIS
is the dish to crave.
the hand-cut tom yum noodles with a sparkling-fresh Maine lobster
tail, mussels, and clams ($40), while lovingly executed (and interestingly
so as well—it all arrives wrapped in parchment paper that
is ceremoniously cut open by your server—you get an aromatic
spa-like face steaming), was too familiar in its flavors to really
make me ever desire it again—especially when compared to the
uniqueness of the other dishes, and its steep price. Ingredients
like Kaffir lime, lemongrass, Thai basil pesto, and crushed cashews
were harmonious, but didn't really strike me as sigh-worthy.
continued the theme of beautiful presentation, but it was the plainest
presentation that I liked best (a Cinderella finale, you could say).
After trying the stacked dominos of chocolate marquise ($11) (I
savored the surprise of the white pepper sorbet) and the banana
split ($11) that came with a tasty vanilla malt shot, it was the
complimentary coupling of a teacup full of rich hot chocolate and
a shot of bock that totally wowed me. Yes, chocolate and beer, truly
bittersweet. I wonder if someone out there could (and would) try
making this into an ice cream flavor. Hey, I'd buy a pint.
are you curious? I hope so. Huff is a young and talented chef—read
friend's article for more on his interesting background, which
includes Ventura, Australia, Denmark, and New York. The easy street
parking in the evening or the complimentary valet parking for three
hours is a nice bonus, and the efficient service and thoughtful
wine pairings all make for one heck of a memorable dining experience.
Don't let the empty room scare you—you just happen to be in
on a secret that really should be common knowledge. And don't forget