Occupation: Feng Shui Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Grand Café
Reviewed Grand Café: Monday, April 30, 2012
Feel like a king, eat like a celebrity — the Grand Cafe is a soufflé for the soul! Whether romancing a date, gathering with friends or impressing out of town visitors, the opulent Barbary Coast-era ballroom with its beautiful mosaic columns, 30’ ceilings and quirky, playful statues offer the feeling of old world class, and its French cuisine with a California twist is a delectable treat.
Enter through, or even stay and dine in the bar, which is usually packed with happy hour clientele scooping in the oysters (a specialty here). Or pass through to the grand dining room where every detail has been taken in design and comfort to give the feeling of luxury. In fact, the whole aspect of the space is uplifting, and from a Feng Shui perspective, it makes chi do a happy dance.
Our waiter was exceptionally knowledgeable on the particulars of the food preparation and guided our selection. The Black Kale Salad amazed my nutritionist/culinary graduate companion as they’d taking the time to massage it tenderly with salt before serving with toasted walnuts and roasted cauliflower in a tangy vinaigrette. We also tried the French Onion soup, with a layer of cheese a 1/2” thick and a light broth, it was both filling and easy to devour.
For our mains, we tried the swordfish, served on a pillow of buttery potato puree under a giant slice of ham that was undeniably delicious. I had the Herb Gnocchi, which would have impressed my Italian grandmother. The nettle pesto was unusually fresh and springy, the roasted carrots melted in my mouth, and the fava beans and ferns made the dish as delicious, as it was creative and beautiful. We also tried the Macaroni with Gruyere side, which proved to be our downfall as we couldn’t finish it, even though the bacon flavor and cheese was yum.
Grand Cafe is my favorite restaurant in San Francisco for so many more reasons than just their incredible food and exuberant staff, they’ve been using local and sustainable foods long before it was popular, and one can seriously not understate the feeling of dining in such a majestic ballroom.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Phnom Penh House
Reviewed Grand Café: Sunday, May 7, 2012
The Grand Cafe looks like a big, fancy train station, with its high ceilings and gigantic chandeliers reflected in the oversized mirrors. Everything is large inside, including the tables and generous serving sizes—and as I write this, I’m now wondering if that’s why it’s the Grand Cafe. Makes sense, right?
We started with the Rabbit Sausage Flatbread simply because it had rabbit. When do we ever get the chance to eat rabbit? The sausage was good—it had a nice texture and a subtle gamey taste, which I enjoy, but my favorite parts were the mushrooms and the flatbread itself.
Did you know that black kale is actually green? I know that now, but it came as a bit of a surprise when my “Black” Kale Salad arrived. I mean, purple carrots really are purple. Anyway, despite the boring normal green kale, I enjoyed this salad immensely, similar to a classic spinach salad. I kept encouraging my boyfriend to take bites so we could talk about it—“The candied walnuts are so crunchy! Are these currants?” He ordered the Tuna Niçoise, which was good, too, but not nearly as exciting.
For our entrees, I ordered the Steak and Fries and my boyfriend had the Roasted Duck Breast. Both were so delicious that they defied a description; they were just delicious. I would eat them again. I wish I was eating them now. I did, however, prefer the farro that came with the duck over the chard that came with the steak, but that’s just because I’m not the biggest fan of bitter greens.
Our server, Thi, was very nice and attentive without being the slightest bit overbearing. Our water glasses were hardly ever less than half full (more than half empty?). When we asked for our leftovers to be wrapped up, I unabashedly asked for the rest of the bread from the table, too, and when she came back, she told me she included two additional baguettes. So nice!
We were absolutely stuffed, even without finishing our entrees. If my stomach were a proverbial bottomless pit, I would have been all over the Meyer Lemon Cheesecake, but for better or worse, my stomach is a regular-sized and definitely has a limit.
I wouldn’t have gone to the Grand Cafe on my own accord, but I did enjoy it. If I had a somewhat conservative friend visiting San Francisco, I would recommend going there, if we were in the area. It would also be a nice place before or after a show at the Curran or ACT. I might not ever go back, but I will always remember it fondly. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to attend to.
Location: Los Altos
Favorite Restaurant: Pho Vi Hoa
Reviewed Grand Café: Sunday, April 29, 2012
Our experience at the Grand Café started out so promising, by the end of our meal I was wondering if I had blacked out (but I only had one Kir Royale!) and woken up in just another run-of-the-mill steak frites joint. If not for the breathtaking interior featuring a warm, cavernous, Art Nouveau-inspired dining room in which to ground my experience, I may have walked away believing just that. Indeed, it must be this breathtaking space from which the Grand Café’s name is derived…it certainly wasn’t the food, anyway.
To be fair, the food wasn’t bad. In fact, the appetizers we ate were wonderful. The fava bean tartine was like a spring take on bruschetta, creamy, tangy and herbaceous from crescenza cheese and basil and mint salad. The seared foie gras, served on a crouton, has the mouthfeel of a rich, pate-slathered French toast. And the macaroni was simple but well-executed, studded with ham AND bacon, with lots of crispy, browned edges on the fusilli pasta that offered a pleasing textural contrast.
However, the entrees were frustratingly inconsistent, even amongst the elements comprising a single dish. The flank steak I ordered, for instance, was tender and perfectly medium-rare through the middle, but was marred from excessive charring and being drenched in a viscous red wine sauce that was shockingly bland given its deep burgundy hue. And, at first bite, the accompanying fries—sprinkled with Parmesan, truffle oil, and herbs—were light, crispy, and packed with umami flavor. However, by the time the pile was half-eaten, they seemed heavy and overwhelmingly earthy. Equally disappointing was dessert: profiteroles featuring a lovely, rich vanilla-bean ice cream wasted inside puffs of dry, stale pâte-a-choux.
Service was also up-and-down. Our server was friendly, patient and knowledgeable about the menu and wine list. Unfortunately, he was also prone to lengthy absences, even though the dining room was never more than half-full.
In sum, I would recommend the Grand Café, but only for drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the bar. For dinner, there are plenty of other equally good, if not better, restaurants for a more reasonable price.