La Folie

by thedishandthedirt on December 21, 2010

There are a number of restaurants in San Francisco that you just expect will be named one of the Top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area by The Chronicle, or get a coveted Michelin star.  La Folie happens to one of those places.  I consider  La Folie to be a venerable institution because it’s been putting great food on its plates for what feels like a very long time (since 1988, actually).  And Roland Passot, the chef that began his culinary journey in Lyon and who not only opened, but has kept the Russian Hill restaurant on culinary maps, still guides La Folie at the helm.  He’s a guy that didn’t just come up with the menu; he’s also the guy that’s in the kitchen, on the line, helping execute his vision.  I haven’t been to the restaurant since pre-first-child (and now there’s 3!), and since then, the restaurant revamped its interior while supposedly still maintaining its high quality.  When I did go, I liked it, but I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I mostly blame that on the large table of 10 businessmen whooping it up like they were at a frat party.
The Dish:
I have to be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed trying to describe my meal at La Folie because let me tell you folks, I was not f’n around this night.  I went for the five course Autumn tasting menu ($95).  On top of that, there were 2 amuse bouche, a palate cleanser, and petit fours with the bill.  So really, I had 9 dishes.  I have no idea if I’m up to the task to describe these.  Here goes…
Photo courtesy of Eve K., Yelp

The first amuse bouche was a cured tuna with cucumber, chervil, grape caviar, and a lemon gelee.  I love tiny little bites like this, where the flavor impact can be immediate and resounding; these little bites to me feel liberated in their intensity because they aren’t fettered by return trips by your fork to the dish.  They hit the note and move onward.  The second amuse was a poached egg with cauliflower cream, potato crisp, chive, and brioche.  This little egg, served in its shell and looking so completely innocent, was incredibly decadent with its luscious yolk and milky cauliflower cream.  I took the brioche, shaped like a french fry, and stirred the egg with it, allowing all that glorious yolk to get entrenched in the bread…oh yummmmmy.

I moved on to my first course and thought I’d be getting something light, yet rich when it read “Foie gras soup.”  But alas, if anything, Passot is no miser.  Known for generous portions, my little soup was a full on slice of seared foie gras served on a turnip braised plus an coffee-sized cup of foie gras soup with a truffle cracker.  The seared foie gras was, of course, luxurious and decadent.  The soup, surprisingly, was not my favorite, probably because of the gritty liver mouth feel left after each spoonful.  There was also something else in there that lent some bitterness in the aftertaste, and I wonder if perhaps there was some play with actual coffee in the dish…hmmm.  Food for thought, I suppose.

Photo courtesy of KN, Yelp
I moved on to the pan-seared branzino with brussel sprouts, bacon, truffled gnocchi, and beurre blanc.  I was elated when I saw this dish.  There was no stuffiness to it, just two generous portions of branzino on top of brussel sprouts, gnocchi, and a pool of beurre blanc.  Along the perimeter of the plate were single brussel sprout leaves and gnocchi; inside the single brussel sprout leaves was a creamy mixture of sliced brussel sprouts and bacon.  I loved this dish.  Besides being delicious and accessible, there was no fussiness to it; everything on the plate was satisfying by itself as well as together.  This, my friends, felt like a lusty French meal.
Next up, the pan-seared Creekstone beef tenderloin with bone marrow custard, a bearnaise croquette, chanterelles, and braised greens.  When I cut into the tenderloin, it was so gorgeously red that I actually uttered “wow.”  The taste was even better.  The bone marrow custard on top of the tenderloin brought the dish to the stratosphere…of indulgence (and giving me another pound to lose of this “pregnancy” weight).  While the chanterelles were a bit too acidic for my taste and the bearnaise croquette challenging the capacity in my stomach (despite wearing pants with elastic around my stomach), the braised greens were wonderfully earthy and salty and I scooped those up into my mouth in a few bites.  Don’t get me wrong here, all those other items on the plate were lovely as well, but at this point (knowing I had a cheese course coming and dessert), it was all about prioritization.
The cheese course was next, a couple slices of St. George, a semi-hard cheese, with honeycomb, walnut bread, and a small salad.  I didn’t bother with the accoutrements except for the honey to slather onto the grassy cheese.

One palate cleanser later, and then came the Edam cheese souffle.  The souffle had a dusting of powdered sugar on top along with some bacon bits!!  How can you not love bits of bacon?  Alongside was a cannele of fromage blanc ice cream with a sesame tuille.  The plate was gorgeous and restrained and the taste delightful and satisfying.  The ice cream brought tartness, the tuille added a bit of sweetness, and the souffle, a perfect combination of savory and sweet — nevermind the fact that the souffle was perfectly poised in its cup, evidencing how precisely it was prepare and baked.

Photo courtesy of Cookie Monster N, Yelp
The Dirt:
I confess that I actually wasn’t looking forward to returning to La Folie.  My visit years ago colored my vision of it, and clouded my memories of the actual food.  This particular evening, without the influence of a boisterous table of ten next to me, and some nice conversation with my visiting mother, I was able to actually take the time to enjoy what was being placed in front of me.  And what was placed in front of me was some glorious food.  I love that Passot is still so passionate about his craft that he’s still in the kitchen, but what I love even more is that his food is warm, inviting, and soulful– all the while masking the genius behind each component, so that the diner doesn’t get confused, but just enjoys.  
And speaking of enjoyment, I had a rare, uninterrupted, lovely dinner with my mom, who shared with me a few cool tidbits.  1) I shouldn’t bother asking her to slow down because she wants to go full tilt until she dies (morbid, yes, but the point to me was “get off my back, I’m not slowing down just because you think I’m old.”); 2) she is a shopping addict and can’t leave a store without purchasing something (and has been like this since she was a little girl); and 3) my eldest sister is eyeing all of my mom’s good jade, so I better get my butt down to L.A. and claim what I want quick!!!
And in case you want a more casual environment, Passot also has a lounge serving up some of his fare in a more casual environment.  Bauer’s two cents here.

La Folie on Urbanspoon

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