Tasting menus seem to be trending in San Francisco right now. And I’m not talking about the astronomically priced ones served up at places like Saison or French Laundry, but what I’ve noticed are the refined plates and casual settings for tasting menus at restaurants like Lord Stanley in Russian Hill.
More than a year old, Lord Stanley is a tiny 40-seat restaurant on the busy corner of Polk Street and Broadway, opened by husband-and-wife team Rupert and Carrie Blease. This chef couple have mad skills honed at places such as New York’s Per Se (for him) and Blue Hill (for her) and locally at Central Kitchen and Commonwealth.
The dishes they create at Lord Stanley reflect that sophisticated plating that highlights vegetables, but the dining room feels more like a neighborhood spot. Although the decor is sparse like a museum, the diners are dressed casually and comfortably, which is also reflected in the servers.
This refined-food-in-a-rustic-setting concept is probably what charmed the editors of Bon Appetit, who recently named Lord Stanley the third best restaurant in their annual Best New Restaurants in America. It’s not that surprising given that these same editors last year gave the same accolade (although ranked No. 1) to San Francisco’s AL’s Place in the Mission, which also has the same pattern of sophisticated vegetable-focused plates in a neighborhood setting.
On Thursday I was in the city for an appointment so decided to make reservations for dinner at Lord Stanley, and it’s a good thing I did as the restaurant has been filling up since the national nod. While I went for the $83 seven-course tasting menu, they do have an ala carte menu as well. (Wine pairing is $57, but I ordered a champagne cocktail, $18, to start followed by a glass of Cabernet Franc from France, $15.)
Seven-course tasting menu
The first course was impressive in its sublime nature with a chilled bowl of poached oyster (just one) with cherry tomatoes in tomato water. It was a refreshing ethereal nod to summer.
The next course of cabbage with house buttermilk and uni “bottarga” demonstrated the stunning style of the plating as the chefs made a bed of cabbage look like a jewel. The flavor was comforting, like eating boiled cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. While the uni bottarga provided a nice pop of color, I didn’t get as much of the umami flavor typically associated with uni, or sea urchin.
Other courses were equally familiar in flavors, such as the black cod with cauliflower and black olive or the vegetable course of lobster mushrooms with summer corn, chanterelle and almond in a light curry broth. These plates indicated a straight-forward approach that some might find ordinary.
The stars are plates like the wagyu beef with charred eggplant and red wine jus, with all the elements expertly cooked from the mouth-watering tender wagyu beef to the soft eggplant. (Some of you know I’m not a fan of eggplant, so it says a lot when I’m able to swallow down any eggplant on a plate.)
I ordered the supplemental dish of confit foie gras with pineapple and vanilla ($17 extra), which was a medallion of seared foie gras served with brioche toast. The vanilla poached pineapple added a sweetness that helped cut into the richness of the foie gras.
The dinner transitioned to dessert with a peach sorbet served with effervescent Lambrusco di Modena to clear the palate. That was followed by the dark chocolate pudding with black sesame and toasted rice. A transparent sugar sheet lay on top of the dessert bowl, which created almost that same cracking feeling you get breaking the top of creme brulee.
The chocolate was mostly overpowered by the black sesame flavor, and the toasted rice made me think I was eating rice pudding. But they all worked together, especially since I’m a fan of black sesame.
The last bite
In a time when people are shelling out hundreds of dollars for a meal, it’s nice to be able to get a taste of that lifestyle with elegant but approachable tasting menus like those offered by Lord Stanley. While not every dish is spellbinding, there’s enough excitement to make the price worth a visit.
The deets: Lord Stanley, 2065 Polk St. (at Broadway), San Francisco. PH: 415.872.5512. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.lordstanleysf.com
Bonus: See my complete meal, including dishes not shown in this post, in my video below.
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