Tuesday, March 21, 2006

the dining room at the ritz-carlton

Paul’s note: Ron Siegel (bio) is a culinary superstar. He has worked with Michael Mina and Thomas Keller, revitalized Masa’s with his move there in 2001 and now runs The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, the restaurant my friend Elaine just chose for her birthday celebration. I am delighted that she agreed to share her experience with us all. Elaine’s article is the first guest contribution to (at least) one cool thing. Elaine writes:

3 years ago at Masa’s, Chef Ron Siegel produced one of the finest meals I’ve ever experienced, and I had been anxious to have dinner at The Dining Room at the Ritz since he took over the kitchen in June 2004. The opportunity finally came up when I celebrated my birthday there with Don.

The Dining Room’s décor is muted and plush, with silk-draped extravagance on the furniture, walls and windows, but lightened up with a few modern touches amidst the artwork and simple floral arrangements. But on to the food…

Of course, we decided before we arrived that the 9-course Chef’s Tasting Menu was the way to go, despite the attractiveness of the esoteric Salt & Pepper and tantalizingly carnivorous American Kobe Beef tasting menus.

Spiny Lobster carpaccioWe started with a series of 3 amuse bouches, compliments of the chef. The chilled asparagus soup with maple cap mushroom powder created an intense flavor explosion in my mouth; the uni panna cotta with a delicate topping of abalone, prawns and avocado, with a hint of vanilla, was luxuriously creamy; and the sweet Nantucket bay scallops on cauliflower puree with a port reduction were just how scallops should be.

As we dove into the tasting menu, I was excited that we were to have a different presentation of each course (over 20 different preparations by the end of the meal… remarkable). For the soup course, the lobster consommé with sliced octopus and baby shiitake was richly flavored, but we both preferred the chilled salsify veloute with miyagi oyster, osetra caviar, leeks and crème fraiche.

Skipping ahead to some favorites, Don’s Spiny Lobster carpaccio (above right) was one of those eye-opening food adventures, when you’re presented with a dish that is unlike anything you’ve seen or tasted before. These colorless, translucent, delicately pounded lobster slices (almost an invisible film against the white plate) were topped with segments of kara kara, a more-sweet-than-tart citrus, kara kara puree, pink peppercorns and shaved black truffle. Perfect against the ethereal, slightly gelatinous texture, and subtle flavor, of the lobster. My blue fin sashimi slices were delicious, but simply couldn’t stand up to the other flavors of the evening.

lobster tail with caviarThe lobster course preparations (a tender claw in a braised oxtail reduction; a tail with caviar, truffle filaments, caramelized salsify and Swiss chard (left)) were flavorful and very rich. My pan-seared turbot with truffle and spring vegetables was light and well balanced; Don’s spot prawn ravioli was overpowered by the coconut lemongrass sauce.

Of course the foie gras deserves mention. I was lucky to receive the seared presentation served atop a round crouton sitting in a small pool of Fuji apple reduction with black pepper and spiced pickled huckleberry (below left). Yum. Don had the generously sized chilled terrine, served with accompaniments including quince jam, pinot gris gelèe, and machè microgreens.

For the meat course, the lamb was served between a sweetbread medallion on top and a base of pureed salsify, maitake mushrooms and melted onions amidst a thyme infused lamb reduction. This was the third time we encountered salsify during the meal, and I have a newfound appreciation for the versatility and delicate flavor of this root vegetable.

seared foie gras  with Fuji apple reductionDon had a beef filet topped with a dollop-sized piece of delicately fried bone marrow (which stole the show), served with candy cap mushrooms, swiss chard, red onion marmalade, poached potatoes, and bordelaise sauce. We were becoming almost too full to enjoy it!

Dessert came in the form of lychee sorbet with apple juice gelèe, and a coconut panna cotta in pineapple soup, and then an onslaught of a chocolate brownie hazelnut duo birthday dessert and 10 petit fours including mini cannelès, homemade marshmallows, chocolate truffles and black currant jellies. We were even given a little take-home gift of 2 caramels packaged in a cute little box.

A word about wine and service: I asked our server, Joseph, to pace me through about 3-4 glasses of wine throughout the meal, and he did an outstanding job. The Chateauneuf du Pape had lots of earthy tones to go with the game and meat; the Peay Rousanne/Marsanne was absolutely delicious with abundant floral and vanilla flavors; and the muscato d’Asti, a light, effervescent dessert wine, was a perfect finish to the meal. The service at the Dining Room was impeccable: friendly, unpretentious, knowledgeable and subtle, from the offer of champagne off their custom cart at the beginning of the meal to the post-meal debrief about the food.

The Dining Room has my highest recommendation for a special, or simply very nice, meal. The 3- and 6-course dinners, at $68 and $89 per person, are deals for the experience. Our many thanks to Vicky and Gary, who executed an elaborate plan to treat us to this amazing dinner.

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton: 600 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA
(415) 773-6198


At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Brad said...

As the other diner for the Masa's meal, and having enjoyed the 9 course tasting menu at the Ritz some months back, I can only agree that Ron Siegel is one of the country's great culinary geniuses. I can't explain why he isn't better known among food snobs but take advantage of it now, while you can still get reservations, before the wannabes (e.g. Alan & Jenny) discover him. The Dining Room itself isn't the hippest place in the city but the food is without equal.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Stuart said...

Sounds like the sabbatical has been treating you well . . .

At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've inspired me to go back. Although I had enjoyed my last dining experience at the Dining Room, I thought the quality and innovation fell somewhat flat in the home stretch of the tasting menu-- of course, that coincided with when Chef Siegel left for the evening (we had to wait about forty minutes past our already late reservation time for our table to be ready). You may also want to try Masa's again-- given our compatible taste preferences, I think you'd enjoy it.


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