A new glamorous space arrives in San Francisco’s dining scene in the form of Gibson inside the Hotel Bijou on the edge of the city’s Tenderloin district, bordering the Union Square neighborhood.
It’s a spot with a food pedigree that gives it instant buzz after its official opening earlier this month: 1) Executive Chef Robin Song has helmed the kitchen of Hogs & Rocks and worked at Central Kitchen, Ame and the former Bay Wolf, among others; and 2) General Manager Austin Ferguson came from managing the popular AL’s Place in the Mission.
The 90-seat dining room harkens to a Rat Pack-era with stiff cocktails and Art Deco gold finishings accenting the large front bar and walls. A large ceiling mural adds even more ambiance, as does the large open kitchen with a fire hearth, where Chef Song fires up several dishes giving them a distinctive smokiness.
I dropped in for a weeknight dinner last week to check out the space. The friendly and professional service makes this a fine-dining spot auditioning for Michelin stars in the gritty edge of the Tenderloin (even though it’s in a boutique hotel, it’s also on the same block as a community service hall.
The price point also makes it clear that this is a spot for those where money is no object. The “shared plate” approach almost seems absurd given the small portions that really would mean a few morsels per person if the plate is indeed shared.
But beyond the value (or lack thereof) of the menu, let’s just take a look at the concept. There are small bites and “snacks” and a unique section called “Breaking Bread” where diners can choose from five options that goes well with freshly baked bread, ranging from duck liver mousse to goat cheese to house-made butter.
Side note: I started my dinner with a specialty cocktail called “Shrub Sour” ($14), which (no surprise to some of you who know I love Pisco Sours) is a rice whiskey drink with yuzu and topped with foam of egg white.
As I perused the menu thinking of what to eat but trying to keep the options light, my server let drop an item from a “secret menu,” a hot-cold sous vide egg yolk with caviar and green onions called the “chaud-froid” egg (French for “hot-cold”). This tiny bite (costing $11) was the size of the votive candle holder on my table, filled with a sous vide egg that was so gooey it was almost like it was raw. While the flavors mixing with the caviar was interesting, I couldn’t get past the yolk’s raw-like texture.
From the regular menu, I was intrigued by the warm bone marrow flan with Mendocino uni and wild nettle ($16). It came out reminding me of tofu at Japanese restaurants in a dashi broth, but here it was a delicate flan with the fresh sea urchin top. A plate of “roasted carrots” ($12) had a strong smokey flavor with a sunflower “risotto.” The meaty carrots contrasted with the pickled ribbons of carrots.
A smoked Sonoma duck ($23) also came out with a smokey flavor, to the point where it was a bit overkill with the smoke (I get it, you cook with fire). Still, the sliver slices of duck had a well-cooked slightly fatty and crispy skin that made it enjoyable to eat, but the side of beetroot ribbons were a bit on the bland side (and there was way more of it compared to the duck), helped only by the marinated blackberries.
The dessert menu offers up four “conceptualized” dishes, and I wanted to the try the “caramelized yogurt” ($11) because of the promise of black sesame (which seems to be the “it” flavor right now). The dish of yogurt came in a container with the cover topped by four cookies that looked like vanilla and matcha. The yogurt was also mixed with bits of freeze-dried raspberries and what seemed like cookie pieces. I felt the frozen yogurt proportion to the toppings were more toppings than yogurt.
The last bite
Gibson offers an exciting option to the dining scene nearby Union Square, with a menu that reflects a lot of creativity. But expect to spend close to $75-$100 per person to really leave satisfied because of the price point and small portions. It’s a spot worth checking out but plan to spend a pretty penny, and more.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Gibson, 111 Mason St. (at Eddy) inside the Hotel Bijou, San Francisco. PH: 415.771.7709. Open daily 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.gibsonsf.com
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