You can file this one under ‘I just don’t get it.’ Despite the fact that Bauer and most SF reviewers absolutely adore this trendy Nordic date spot, I just can’t seem to understand the effusive outpouring of positivity.
Russian Hill / Polk Gulch
2065 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
It’s definitely suited for an elegant date night, but don’t expect extraordinarily exciting flavors.
How It Was:
The logo, the typography, the decor — they all allude to this restaurant’s minimalistic Scandinavian aesthetic. This remains true for the food as well which always relies on extreme restraint with regards to plating and flavor. They utilize high-quality ingredients sourced locally in California and combine new Californian sensibilities with pared-down Scandinavian recipes, which I’m not convinced of as a winning formula.
Ultimately, while I do love the look and feel of this restaurant, I found the food lacking in excitement and the service to be way off (though I may have just gotten an off-night). Honestly, I’m just not sure what everyone else is getting so amped up about. It’s certainly not a cheap place to dine, am I expecting too much? In any case, I should note that I very much appreciated that tips were already factored into the menu’s pricing, so it wasn’t actually as pricey as the menu may seem.
What We Drank:
Moonlight “Easy Saison”
A bright, refreshing, and bubbly beer. I could definitely taste the complex combination of grains that went into its creation.
Isastegi Natural Cider
This Basque cider came served in a large 375 ml bottle. This is the type of beverage that I think wine-lovers would appreciate. It was funky, earthy, and had an aggressive musk. The label indicated that it needed to be poured from an exaggerated height to create a nice foamy head and release the most flavor. It might not be for everyone, but we loved it and its unusual nature.
What We Ate:
This was excellent. It had a crispy crust and a wonderfully chewy interior. But their butter totally overshadowed the quality bread. It was light and came covered in an umami-rich topping made of powdered seaweed and chicken fat. Rich, flavorful, and flat out awesome. Bread win.
Onion Petals with Sherry Vinegar
For $6, this dish made for a couple of lovely little bites. It tasted bright, clean, and very refreshing. The onions had a pickled tang that was also very pleasant. The dish was petite, but excellent and extremely interesting, though still very restrained in terms of flavor impact. Nonetheless, there’s definitely a reason this dish has been getting so much media attention.
Salmon with Yukon Potato, Beurre Blanc, and Sorrel
This is a dish that I was very excited to try for myself. It cost $17 and was certainly pleasant, though not particularly exciting in terms of flavor or texture. Also, ours was also not nearly as pretty as the version we’ve seen touted online. It actually looked like kind of a mess.
In terms of flavors, it actually tasted a lot like lox with its smokey undertones but tasted mostly like clean, fresh salmon with dill overtones. It was smoke-cured all the way through and had a beautifully consistent deep orange hue, though the texture was dangerously close to mushy. This smoked salmon definitely helped to quench my insatiable East Coast lox craving, but as a dinner entree, it was not exactly what I was hoping for.
Barbecued Pork Shoulder with Onions, Apple, and Szechuan Pepper
This meat-based entree cost $27 and involved a number of seemingly interesting ingredient combinations. First off, it the meat was expertly executed. The pork shoulder almost resembled a seared duck breast in its juicy, well-seared preparation.
The sweetness of apples, crisp of alliums (so very European!), and bite of Szechuan pepper made for a nice, unique pairing with the meat, but it was still extremely restrained in terms of flavor impact. It’s the type of thing that I think most people would fall in love with, but I personally am more often drawn to dishes that punch you in the face with boldness. I had hoped the Szechuan peppercorns would provide the intensity I desired, but this dish was also predictably tame.
Sweet Corn Cake, Crème Fraîche, and Blackberries
Our dessert cost us $12 and was well worth the price. Whereas most the menu’s restraint went against my usual culinary proclivities, this dessert hit all the right notes. Though again predictably restrained, I appreciated the controlled level of sweetness which was subtly derived from both the vegetal sweet corn embedded in the bread as well as cold, thick ice cream scoop.
To accent and balance the flavors, there was a red fruit sauce (also restrained) and a light, salty cream sauce which were accented by a few sprigs of fresh herbs. This was an outstanding dessert. One of the best in memory, and served as a perfect conclusion to an otherwise pretty tame meal.
But, before we were done, one final bite arrived with our check. It was a slightly sweet bit of anise-licorice flavored candy with a jiggly gelatin consistency. You definitely won’t find me complaining about this final touch, though I know many people don’t appreciate anise flavor.