Sons and Daughters, San Francisco.

October 2013.

This place in the middle of downtown San Francisco is well-reviewed in the Michelin Guide which shows “$$” suggesting moderate price. It deserves its one star. The chefs are presented as two ideological committed young hotshots, and the place as taking its food but not itself seriously. There is no choice in respect of food, it’s a fixed tasting menu like it or lump it. My impression is these people produce fabulous food but then vitiate the experience by a couple of compromises. One important result of eating here is that I’ll think very carefully before going for the wine-pairing with a fixed menu. I think sometimes it is the restaurant owner’s method of making the place pay. The other is I’m not interested in committing myself to somebody else’s idea of what I want to eat, for a high price. And finally I want my appetite satisfied, not teased, even if quantities are small.

When I looked at the list of paired wines I didn’t recognize a single one, but as usual in my imagination these sophisticated food pros had searched the whole world for the perfect wines to match with their food so I went for it on faith. The alternative was to choose from their medium-length list, which also looked pretty arcane. The wine pairing costs $65 per person, there were six items, and they threw in one or two extras. Nearly all of them turned out to be substandard losers.

There was a bubbly first from Iron Horse that tasted like an amateurish Champagne effort, but I don’t think I really understand fizzy wine. They brought a beautiful freshly-baked little bun tasting of lemon zest and which was delicious. Next there was a celery root soup, poured over a tiny bunch of vegetables, accompanied by a Chardonnay from Vezelay, which the girl called “the north of Burgundy”. Well it’s north of Burgundy all right but I don’t think it’s in the region. It was pleasant but simple, but the soup was absolutely dazzling, smooth, perfectly balanced between sour and salty, and filled with the various flavors of the vegetables and the mild sweet celery.

Next was roasted beets with spices and herbs, again an incredibly tasty treat, accompanied by a German riesling I had no way of evaluating except by smell and taste which were ordinary.

Next came a course named “Garden carrot. Lamb shoulder and parsnip”, but the lamb seemed like a non-highly-flavored slice of sausage along with the lovely sour carrot purée. They served this one with a beer of all things, I think from the North of France. The beer was really very good, but I didn’t find anything magical about the pairing, and it was only a couple of ounces of beer.

Scallop with salsify and ground cherries was next. Again a perfectly-prepared dish with dazzling subtle flavors that blended beautifully. The problem again was the wine, which was a cabernet franc from Santa Barbara which we sent back it tasted so bad. The girl brought a zinfandel, but told us that that was how the wine was supposed to taste. That is not how any capably-produced wine is supposed to taste.

Then duck. Once again flawless cooking and there was a fig and a delightful crispy caraway wafer so that the flavors blended subtly and just beautifully. The wine here is called “Mondeuse”, again something obscure that I don’t really remember but would have to say it wasn’t objectionable.

By this time the courses were starting to come more and more slowly. There seemed to be about 20 minutes between them. A “garden grape” was served as the first dessert course, and an unbelievable thing with a white chocolate and blueberry square pairing with geranium ice cream. And it really tasted like geranium. That final course might have been the best of the bunch, but overall the cooking and presentation was so delightful (even though in tiny quantities) and it would be hard to go back and make the comparison. There was another fizzy wine with the last item.

Mixed feelings.  I can’t remember having such a flight of beautifully prepared and delicious food, but no course contained more than a few mouthfuls.Trouble is I have to admit that for me much of the pleasure of eating involves anticipation and actually eating significant quantities of things, and these tasting-menu presentations just represent a tease that I never quite get the same satisfaction from no matter how fabulous (we had a bacon-and-eggs breakfast in an old-fashioned diner in Point Reyes Station the next morning which was very nice and actually in that way more satisfying).

$400 by the time the mandatory 15% gratuity was toted up. This would be good value for somebody looking for real variety and the pyrotechnics of wonderful flavor and preparation. But I felt cheated by the wine pairings. I’m reasonably capable of evaluating wine and I was not pleased with this selection of obscure and therefore not-evaluable-on-paper offerings which really didn’t taste that good and for which there was no redeeming epiphany taken with the food.

Mixed feelings, like I say. Ambience 7.8 (it was a nice room although the music was 60s rock, but we sat right beside a couple of Jewish male prima donnas whose conversation you couldn’t get away from without constantly talking loud or taking out your hearing aid (eventually I did that but it didn’t help much)), service 7.5 (four different servers all pleasant…), food 9.2, overall value I honestly can’t say. But in the end in spite of the wonderful food I went away disappointed and it certainly cost a pretty good arm and leg.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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