Noblesse Oblige

Charles Nob Hill

We started off with his saffron panna cotta, which was surrounded by a small moat of tomato coulis (yes, tomato), and found it to be much better than it sounds. Legend has it that Toviano was inspired by the fire trucks he noticed racing up and down the streets of San Francisco, and decided to add a little something red to this dish in their honor. Saffron gave his creation a slight spiciness, lightly balanced with the otherwise sweet panna cotta; the tomato added a little tang. We also tried the pear tart with goat cheese, which was a wonderful, creamy delight, though the pear seemed somewhat under-ripe and not as flavorful as it could have been.

Finally, as though all that weren't enough, we dove shamelessly into the gâteau, made with Valrhona chocolate and accented with almond dentelle lace around the edge. Nothing says dessert like chocolate, and this version was smooth and spot on.

Throughout the meal, our servers -- and there were many in this relatively small dining room -- were appropriately attentive and invisible. They neither added to nor detracted from the experience; they're just part of the atmosphere at Charles Nob Hill. In the end, though, the nearly chilly professionalism gives the restaurant a feel that borders on pretentious.

Social Climbing: The surroundings at Charles Nob Hill 
are classic and sophisticated, but the food doesn't 
reach the heights of the tab.
Anthony Pidgeon
Social Climbing: The surroundings at Charles Nob Hill are classic and sophisticated, but the food doesn't reach the heights of the tab.

Details

Day boat scallops with foie gras $17

Rack of lamb $46

Monkfish with baby artichokes and cranberry-bean ragout $26

Niman Ranch filet $36

Saffron panna cotta $9

Valrhona chocolate gâteau $9

Cimicky Shiraz Daylight Chamber $40/bottle

771-5400

Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday through Sunday until 10 p.m. Closed Monday

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: valet

Muni: 1, 27

Noise level: quiet

1250 Jones (at Clay)

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The final bill came to $386, which is comparable to the tab at other high-end restaurants like Masa's and Chez Panisse. Yet we somehow felt a bit cheated at Charles Nob Hill (especially after one of our party was greeted with the lingering aftermath of someone else's illness in the men's restroom). Certainly, we enjoyed our meals. But none of us was dying to get back into the place after we left. Particularly in these lean times, for such a high price tag we expected a truly spectacular dining experience, and this one came up short.

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