By Molly Gore
By Molly Gore
By Pete Kane
By Lou Bustamante
By Pete Kane
By Ashley Goldsmith
By Pete Kane
By John Birdsall
I won't say every Bite took us to the exquisite fringe of perfect deliciousness -- we had another oyster, spicy fish tartare, a sausage-shrimp bundle with sweet-and-sour sauce, and a crisp, pearl onion-potato dumpling. But some did: a torchon of rich, creamy foie gras over celery root salad, a perfect baby-back rib, crisp and well done and falling off the bone, a silky, lightly spicy lobster pot de crème, a roll of exquisitely piquant jasmine tea-cured salmon, and tuna sashimi wrapped in shaved cucumber, bathed in a tart, earthy, pungent, electric, truly unbelievable truffle ponzu sauce. Throw in the 10th Bite (from Nathan's hamburger, which we all had to try), and then our third appetizer -- a square plate filled with brick-red curry, creamy, cloudlike coconut milk risotto, and braised duck -- and no corner of the palate was left untouched.
With prices in the $25 to $32 range, we expected the world from our three entrees, and got it from 2 3/4 of them. Leslie adored her wasabi sesame-crusted halibut with tender white asparagus and sweet, milky carrot jus, while John couldn't stop raving about his teriyaki-spiced smoked quails, so juicy and infused with flavor it was impossible not to acknowledge chef Denton's expertise. Both dishes were too beautiful to eat (we ate them anyway), though not as beautiful as my choice: a whole Thai snapper cooked two ways.
This arrived on a pair of white, rectangular plates that, when set together, formed a square. One half of the fish had been stir fried, then served over a blend of pea shoots, English peas, and chanterelles, infused with a mysterious taste of mustard, or anise, or perhaps celery, or all three. Though the vegetables were divine, this half of the fish seemed bland compared to the other, which was steamed the way it might be in traditional Chinese restaurants -- the tail, head, and skin still on (but boneless), swimming in a broth pocked with globes of rich, tangy fat. Except -- and here's the fusion part -- the fish was topped with two pale slices of foie gras whose flavor had seeped into the tender, melting flesh on an almost molecular level. None of us could taste this without his or her eyes rolling back, it was so rich, and all of us wanted the sensation to last forever.
826 Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94107-1166
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
538-0918. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner every night from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. on weekends). Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: valet available, otherwise moderate to difficult. Muni: 12, 30, 45. Noise level: moderate.
Nine Bites $20
Coconut milk risotto with braised duck $12
Teriyaki-spiced smoked quails $25
Wasabi sesame-crusted halibut $27
Whole fish two ways $29
Banana empress rolls $8
Azie Bloody Mary $7
Then came a bit more chitchat with Deborah, who, in what seemed like a single breath, told me John's quails had been smoked for 32 hours, that the mysterious flavor I tasted in the pea shoots was a blend of mustard seed, basil, chive, and coriander oils, then told Nathan about her favorite character from Stars Wars. And then, as if to prove she really was the female MacGyver, a wineglass fell from the next table and shattered, at which point Deborah flung her apron over the offending shards, then disappeared and returned in a clean, new apron, then continued chatting until an expediter handed her one ... two ... no, make that three desserts: a warm chocolate cake with a rich, molten center and kumquat ganache, served with three small scoops of ice cream, a summery peach tart with cardamom cream and peach frozen yogurt, and banana empress rolls wrapped in a chewy-crisp skin, served with peppered fudge sauce and silky banana crème fraîche ice cream.
We probably should have drawn the curtain to our booth, because things just got crazy after that. I remember Nathan standing over the table, his fork so huge it looked like a shovel; I remember moans; I remember that everything was spectacular; and then, finally, I remember that our desserts were gone. We weren't even full, really, since the portions at Azie are a bit svelte, but then, none of us was hungry, either (I didn't eat again until the following afternoon). We definitely had an appetite for one last treat, though -- four rich, creamy, cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles that accompanied the bill.
There are excellent restaurants, and then there are destinations. Count Azie among the latter.