There’s something just amazing about trying a brand new restaurant in a city you’re visiting. Particularly a city like San Fran, which in my book, equates to foodie mecca. My work colleagues and I came upon Aveline through pure chance. One of those random hallway conversations during the course of a convention. You know the one:
“Hey. How are you? Did you have a good evening? Where did you go to dinner.”
“Hey. Doing fine. Yeah, we found this great place about two blocks away. Really cool menu. Caters to the theatre crowd. Worth checking out.”
And so, we discovered Aveline. Located at 490 Geary Street, the interior is sleekly modern but conveys warmth and welcome with muted gray tones on the walls. The menu is distinctly California cuisine with a variety of what I would call Southern twists thrown in (e.g., cracklin’ and pig cheek). Portion sizes are, for the most part, tapas-sized with enough for every person to try a bite or two. The menu is pricey.
Our group — half vegetarians, half “will eat almost anything” — decided to pick a variety of dishes to benefit the most from the menu. Our colleague that told us about Aveline had raved about the Crab Macarons and the Yolk Beignet, so those were added to the list. In addition, we ordered the Morels, the Avocado, the Fazzoletti, the Campanelle (yes, with the pig cheek), and the Sea Bass.
Before discussing the food, a short diss. We ordered cocktails but they didn’t arrive until our third small plate. Disappointing as we would have liked to enjoy our drinks a little before digging in to the food. The rest of the diss is that the mixologist should probably look into some more education from some of the masters. Yes, our own Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve here in Alexandria, VA, comes distinctly to mind. The cocktails were ho-hum without much flair or unique flavor. OK. Diss #1 done.
The food. Ahhh, the food. The presentation, the unique blend and layering of flavors, the many “Happy” palate moments. Wow. My dear work colleagues are not a silent group. Let’s just say there was a lot of happy munching and “oohs” and “ahhs” rather than coherent conversation as we ate. Come, feast your eyes on the Morels.
Next, the Avocado with marinated leek, pink peppercorn and crumpet was a feast to the eye and palate. Accompanied by lovely, edible violets, the avocado was whipped into ice cold mousse frenzy that decadently melted on the tongue.
Next came the Crab Macarons. These were lovely, but the only wow factor they brought is the creativity in the packaging which made us all smile. A nice nod to Ladurée, the luxury French bakery known for their double-decker macarons. Check it out:
The true pièce de résistance of the meal was undoubtedly the Yolk Beignet. According to our waiter, Executive Chef Casey Thompson took weeks to figure out how to perfectly cook the yolk inside the beignet so that when broken, it creates a luxurious sauce. The beignet is topped with a beyond paper thin slice of lardo and then served with a rich trotter sauce (Note to reader: the dish has a slice of lard on it. So, you might guess that the “trotter” sauce is made with, well, the parts of the pig that take it hither and hither. Yes, the trotters, aka pig’s feet). But, it was good!
The rest of the meal — the Fazzoletti, the Campanelle and the Sea Bass — were all good, but not nearly as remarkable as the dishes outlined above. These were indeed the highlights of our dining experience.
Here comes Diss #2. Dessert was decidedly not one of the highlights of the meal. Nope, not one bit. We understand that pastry chef Kaley Laird has more of a savory palate, but the desserts clashed loudly and irreparably with the delicacy of Chef Thompson’s creations.
We were adventurous and tried a Tomato Pie. I thought, “Hmm, maybe it will have enough spice in it to turn the tomatoes sweet.” No.
We tried “Batter.” Kudos on the presentation — in a mixing bowl as if you were spooning up the last bits of brownie batter. But, the batter was too dense and glue like. No refinement in taste or flavor combination. Just heavy chocolate goo.
Finally, we tried a Peanut Butter and Cheese Ice Cream. Bland. Uninspired. Far too savory to end the meal. Sorry Chef Laird, you need to take a clue from the simplicity and elegance of desserts that combine savory with sweet to make the perfect ending for a meal. Desserts like the ones created by Tiffany MacIsaac of Buzz Bakery here in Alexandria and a routine to contributor to Arcadia’s Annual Farm Dinner (see my recent post about her dessert at the farm dinner).
All in all, Aveline is well worth the trip. It is definitely an eating experience that comes along only rarely. With a few tweaks to the start of the meal and the end, this will be one of those restaurants you should not miss when visiting San Fran. Cheers!