02 November 2010

Five Days of Gastronomy, California Style (Day 1)

Farallon - Our Introduction to San Francisco Cuisine

It all began with our youngest son, Drake, and his CIA (Culinary Institute of Technology) student externship in San Francisco. As part of their culinary studies, all CIA students complete a 5-6 month externship working in the industry, while constantly learning, studying and filling out copious homework assignments for the school. This accounts for one semester's worth of credits, and invaluable hands-on experience.

As a fan of Beat generation poets and authors, Drake had known for a long time that he wanted to be in San Francisco, and was lucky enough to secure a paying position at Farallon, one of the top restaurants in that city, and nominated by the James Beard Foundation as one of the best restaurants in America. He had done a lot of on-line research at school, and decided on Farallon, partly because of its reputation, but also because he loves fish and seafood. The creativity of the menu and the decor also appealed to him. With 3.5 stars, Farallon is the top rated the seafood restaurant in San Francisco. It's located in Union Square, just around the block from where we were staying.

Needless to say, Drake fell in love with San Francisco (he visited the once controversial City Lights Bookstore on his first day there) and especially loved working at Farallon restaurant, making some terrific friends there, amongst the staff. He also met and got a chance to talk with a number of other high profile chefs who dined there, including Jeremiah Tower and Jacques Pepin - so exciting!

 Drake & Jared - junior "masters" of the Farallon raw bar

Drake and Jared Eugenio, who by accidental chance were both interns at Farallon at the same time, had not previously known each other at school, but became true friends, as well as working teammates at the raw bar. Between them, they reorganized the raw bar to be even more efficiently orchestrated than it had been, and were put in charge of training new recruits before they left the restaurant last week, both to return to the CIA with tons of positive energy gained from their Farallon experience. Drake has been offered a full-time job there, when he graduates (thereby, thrilling his parents!!)

The entrance to Farallon (Drake & Jared at the raw bar in the back left) with amazing jellyfish lamps hanging from the ceiling.

The main dining room

The decor at Farallon is over the top (literally and figuratively!) With incredible sea creature lights casting a warm glow, and watery looking columns - both of which reminded me of Daum glass paste sculptures from France (which I adore) - and oceanic architecture, all evoking a feeling of being under the sea, the place immediately puts diners in the mood for fabulous seafood...

...and that is just what we got. Unfortunately, I was so excited about seeing "my boy" after 5+ months, that I mostly took pictures of him - not the food - but believe me, it was some of the freshest and best we've ever eaten.

 Above is a mixed platter of raw oysters, served at Farallon (photo source: Google images).
Below, Drake's handwritten list of the actual oysters Jack and I tasted as an opener to our meal (expertly shucked and prepared by Drake, of course). They were served with mignonette sauce (above center), but we mostly ate them plain, so we could contrast and compare the different varieties.

Jack and I ate our entire dinner at the raw bar, so that we talk with Drake and watch him in action.

Here's what our eager palates were treated to:

1 - Mixed Plate of a Dozen Raw Oysters - six different varieties -
with Lemon Wedges & Mignonette Sauce

2 - Ahi Tuna & Atlantic Diver Scallop Carpaccio with Baguette Crostini, French Breakfast Radish
& Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

3 - Tuna Tartare with Chives, Red Onion, Lemon, Local Olive Oil & Sieved Hardboiled Egg Yolk
(a small tasting of this because Drake was making it for a customer)

4 - Picked Dungeness Crab with Avocado Mousse, Roasted Fennel and Rainbow Microgreens,
with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette (This is usually offered as the first course of their tasting menu.)

5 - American Paddlefish Caviar (a small spoonful of this)

6 - Cedar Plank Grilled McFarland Springs Trout, with Butter Braised King Trumpet Mushrooms
and Smoked Fingerling Potatoes, with Green Curry Coconut Broth

7 - Broiled Fresh Monterey Bay Sardines with Heirloom Tomatoes, Roasted Gypsy Peppers,
Red Onion & Sherry Vinaigrette

8 - Pan Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Grilled Castelfranco Radicchio with Amaretto Gastrique,
Housemade Sweet Coppa & Marcona Almonds with Honey Roasted Pears

9 - Concord Grape Pie with Lemon-Fig Leaf Ice Cream, Candied Almonds
& Fig-Black Raspberry Vinegar Coulis

What was so cool about the whole dinner experience was that, while we only ordered a few of these items, most were presented to us as extra surprises. Sous Chef Fred Sassen, brought us something new he had invented the night before for a regular customer who always requests something unusual - a plate of scallops, radicchio, coppa (capocollo salami) & almonds and pears - which was not on the menu. It was just out of this world, with so many different contrasts going on (sweet/salty, acidic/mild, crunchy/soft, delicate/bold, wet/dry, hot/cold). It was one of the most interesting combinations either of us had ever eaten. The radicchio, with its amaretto gastrique sauce, was only slightly bitter, and was a great foil for the other items on the plate. Everything went together and complemented each other beautifully.

It was also just such a kick watching Drake individually prepare tartare, ceviche, carpaccio and shellfish platters, along with sauces and vinaigrettes, throughout the evening.

Absolutely everyone we met at Farallon was so gracious and interesting to talk to. Chef/Owner Mark Franz and Ryan Simas, the Chef de Cuisine, were not there that night, but Executive Sous Chef Fred Sassen and Sous Chef Liz Hopkins both left their busy kitchen to come out and say hello and chat with us. We also had fun talking with Dale Forest, General Manager, and Peter Palmer, Sommelier ex-officio, as well as current Sommelier Jennifer Gomez, and several others - I can't remember all the names of staff who welcomed us, but we did have some great conversations. The entire team could not have been more welcoming and ready to impart helpful anecdotes about the various foods and wines.

Fred Sassen - a true mentor for Drake

Fred and Liz are both graduates of the CCA (California Culinary Academy) and have been wonderful role models and friends for Drake. A few days after our dinner at Farallon, we stopped by their house in Berkeley for a glass of wine before all heading out to Chez Panisse for dinner. We toured their small but varied and prolific kitchen garden which included fruits, vegetables and herbs, and had an impromptu vinegar tasting, as Fred explained how they make their own vinegars. (More about that night in post four of this series.)

Since I didn't photograph our food, the following are some other pictures of Farallon dishes (source: Google images):

I have had the Farallon Cookbook for years. The restaurant opened in 1997, and the cookbook was published in 2001. It is a beautiful book, loaded with gorgeous photos and recipes. Little did I imagine, when I bought this book, that Drake would someday be working there!

Click here to see the entire current Farallon Dinner Menu or the current Farallon Dessert Menu. If you live in or visit San Francisco, I highly recommend dinner (or lunch) at this lovely restaurant - you will be happy you did!

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