“We are the children of the S.F. culinary scene… the sons and daughters of this place.” – Waiter quoting the Owners of S & D
Nob Hill, San Francisco…originally known as California hill and home of a select few of influential chefs who made quite an impact on the Northern California fine dining scene. Hubert Keller, since his early beginnings on KQED and now Top Chef Masters Alumni, continues to spread his culinary philosophy all around the West Coast through his restaurant iterations. Splattering across the entire district a number of notable and traditional American and French restaurants signifying the pedigree steeped into fine dining tradition for a hill with rich history. 30 years ago this place was known as cafe Mozart originally a place lavished in old world European decor. On the opposite side, this venue shares the strip with another classic destination, Jeanne D’ Arc, providing a glimpse into 1950s France and early gastronomy dishes. One primary example can be seen here.
Fast forward, I wanted to surprise my associate by bringing him to this Two-Star Michelin paradise. Sadly he had other plans so the lady and I went dutch and off we go…Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara wanted to align with the same perspective and brought out the concept of Sons and Daughters in 2010.
The 35 seat dining room assigns two different seating schedules for dinner service. In usual fine dining San Francisco fashion, a majority of the restaurants have dinner slots as early as 6:00pm and as late as 9:00pm given any experience as lengthy (and exceptionally) noteworthy. We (my S/O and I) we’re ushered in by one of the waiters and seated at a couples top (or two-top in restaurant lingo). The place was cozy, dimly lit and maintained the usual atmosphere a fine dining establishment would have. The voices were all modulated within the premises. Our waiter gave us the menu as a reminder of what they were serving tonight. Shortly thereafter, they began dropping plates on the table starting with this dish:
The Rinds and Wood were all for show, opening the stage to the rest of the tasting menu. I sank my teeth into dark rinds first. The whole plate overwhelmed by rosemary (not a good start for me), I could barely identify the other components. The white rinds on the other hands had a nice zing to it and the bits of roe popped quite nicely. Not really impressed with the beginning of the meal. We were then provided some toast in preparation for the next dish.
At first glance, I sort of wondered if we should have gotten the bread first. One of the waiters later clarified, each bread corresponds with the next dish in the progression of the tasting. Alright, so we’ll get bread no matter what dish gets banged out of the kitchen? My impression of this place initially started to decline until I sank my teeth into the toast. Lots of herbs, without any charred pieces of crust stuck to my teeth. The buttermilk held up to their end of the bargain leaving a creamy finish to the tip of my tongue. Suddenly, the moment of truth has arrived our first dish listed on the menu is at our fingertips. As I first started tasting the dish, it reminded me of Salmon Benedict for whatever the reason. The dill and buttermilk harmonized with the onions and potatoes to keep it tight and compact and full of crunch. Simplicity at work and there’s nothing more satisfying than clean and familiar flavors out of the woodwork. So far the score is 1 out of 3 and like any sports game, I’m sort of left wondering where the comeback will come into play. Would have preferred a circular presentation, over a slanted one seeing as the potatoes are presented from a ring mold.
Right out of the gate dish number 2 gets placed in front of us as the following items are presented in a relaxed manner…
One of the first memories that came back flooding into my cerebral cortex was the idea of this dish conceived at one-star Michelin destination Luce. While Luce obviously had bigger portions and a stronger Greek influence, the beets in S & D’s intertwined with the vadouvan and the mustard seed wrangled all the isolated components together with sour, earthy and citrus notes combined. Presentation wise, everything on the plate remained balanced and calculated. At this point of the meal, we had two different servers expediting the items as opposed to our primary server which I thought was a change of pace. The next bread piece to serve as a side dish,
A jazzed up version of Chicken noodle soup (minus the noodle). Sous-vide egg yolk remained gelatinous in the consommé and the crispy skin added the savory and crunchy texture it needed to become a “sophisticated” soup. The lemon notes in the bread awakened as you continually dunk it within the consommé. Perhaps I was a bit distracted but the greens didn’t serve a purpose for me other than adding color for the dish. After the take away, we were then immediately introduced to our fourth dish of the tasting menu…
Sunchokes and I have this really awkward relationship, it’s sort of like that fling which almost resulted in a relationship but sort of became a F.W.B.s type of deal until you fall out of each other’s live and relapse all over again. My first experience with this ingredient was at Providence several years ago. The earthy puree rekindled those memories, any type of fungi reinforces the earthiness plus the texture of a hedgehogs wavy hair (not as spiky of course). The kale crisps gave a much needed crunch as it rests next to the perfectly cooked medium rare cuts of steak. Savory and earthy, a common combination with the presentation focused dead center. We finished our plates swiftly and it was only a matter of time until our third bread intermission and final dish came about. Great mother of god, what have I done? Nothing wrong in actuality, because at this point of the meal I was still very hungry. The food blogger in me was furious of course and yet all I have to show for it is 1/3rd of a plate and some pretzel bread. The dish itself was gamy, however I preferred the rilette (pate) version (next to the knife) over the actual protein. It retained more flavor and didn’t need much of the salt from the pretzel bread, which should have supplemented the entire dish. Hazelnuts provided texture but didn’t add substance to the dish as a whole.
The presence of fig provided the tart notes needed to balance all the gaminess of the dish. As a first timer to eat squab (Pigeon), I can’t look at those street birds the same way again seeing as they are a bit more delicious and less cumbersome than quail (smaller and full of bones to gnaw on). After all the savory plates, a good 10 minutes elapsed. One of the female waitresses brought in two different flute glasses and carefully explained that she insisted the dessert be paired with this particular drink…
Let’s start with the cleanser, again as I compare Luce’s, this one had no crumble and it was citrus all the way. The sourness of the kumquat and the icy satsuma play off of one another. Briefly my S/O and I had a small debate on our experiences of kumquat growing up. She insisted they were sour, whereas I felt they were sweet because it was something I grew up with seeing as my neighbor had a kumquat tree and we would always have at it. Childhood memories aside, as we sipped on the moscato the blood orange and tarragon sorbet cheesecake dropped in front of us immediately. The moscato helps lift the airy sponge cake, while the crumble provides the backdrop of a crust texture.
The blood orange helps keep the balance between the fennel and tarragon, balancing the herbal notes without overwhelming the palate of its fragrant nature. Our final bite came after ten minutes of wondering what would be the last impression S & D would leave for us this evening. Candied fruits are a common theme among many places, one such example is their candied pear vs. The Sea’s take on said confectionary (Alexander’s Steakhouse extended concept). The pear and orange were no different from one another. The hazelnut brittle of S & D was nice but I prefer the white chocolate square (brittle) of The Sea’s. Lastly, the ganache was amazing and definitely a better interpretation than Providence’s Chocolate dusted marshmallows (*shudder*). Overall, it was a pleasure to finally try this place and among many others. Although I am not as fortunate as some of my peers to have experience the peak of Michelin (French Laundry, Le Bernadin, Noma and etc.), I get what they’re aiming for but I believe some of the principles in fine dining are sort of… outdated and exaggerated. There’s a fine line between what is science and what cooking is all about. Some people love to push for a more scientific method of cooking (Ferran Adria, modernist cuisine cookbook and etc.), others are content with traditional recipes handed down to us from our culinary predecessors (classic techniques boasted by Escoffier, Bocuse and etc.)
To my understanding, the idea (or politics) behind Michelin star restaurants isn’t consistent in upholding their standards as one may think. Any restaurant (depending on the day and staff) can outshine or outrank their fellow peers (my experience at 1-star Luce was stellar vs. S & D’s somewhat stuffy 2-star solitude)**. Furthermore, even when you rank two different restaurants with similar backgrounds (Providence; former 2-star peak visit) vs. current S & D visit) you realize they’re not worlds apart from the ingredients, location accessibility, attitudes and perspectives of fine dining. A valid argument one could make is unlike the Michelin reviewers, my one time experience at all these places isn’t enough to address or criticize the validity of their consistency and execution of the restaurant and the experience they provide. However haven’t most diners (unless it’s their favorite spot) usually experience a place only once maybe twice at the very most? Service started a bit stuffy and was brought back down to earth by the end of it. The dishes adhere to sustainability, organic and forage consumption standards. Decor is nice and modern, but the lighting is insufficient unless you go early afternoon or have a reliable DSLR. The place is small and parking and accessibility is difficult at peak hours, especially on Friday nights without a reservation (something I learned the hard way). One of the other complaints I had is the pre-determined gratuity, a commonality with another fine dining excursion (revealed in the near future). I enjoy my freedom to tip, because many places who employ self-entitled servers don’t appreciate the tips and expect the highest reward while providing the lowest level of service. This wasn’t the case with Sons & Daughters; however, it may serve a problem if more diners like me are conscious of this in the future, just fair warning.
Anyway, not to deter from my final point, Sons & Daughters in San Francisco is a quaint, somewhat pricey and intimate gateway into the whole concept of fine dining. If you’re a veteran of eating out (foodie or whatever you prefer to call yourself), you may want to hold back in visiting unless you’re prepared to shell out for a special occasion or to merely satisfy your own curiosity. This post was long overdue, but I’m happy to get back into the rhythm of things now that work has died down a bit. In the meantime, stay tuned for our next post, it’s going be another special one. Cheers!
**As of 16 June 2014, for the life of me I don’t understand why I ever thought of Sons & Daughters ever having two Michelin Stars when in reality it was always only one star to begin with, for the life of me, my honest mistake.**
Sons & Daughters
708 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94108