By Molly Gore
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
By Anna Roth
The morning after you've feasted on frog's legs, snails, pig's feet, lobster, crab, beef tenderloin, quail, squab, and foie gras foie gras foie gras (not to mention truffles truffles truffles, an assortment of cheeses, and a confusion of sweets) is not the morning you want to be calculating your body mass index and measuring the circumference of your waist, even if you've been prompted by a new report that being overweight today is maybe not as bad as it was yesterday.
The occasion for this banquet of luxuries was a celebratory dinner at La Folie for me, my parents, my beloved ex-piano teacher, Lois (who shares an April birthday with my mother), and Lois' husband, Ernst. Lois and Ernst were part of the party not only due to the natal coincidence, but also because they'd dined at La Folie before, which I hadn't, and could comment on the brand-new décor.
"It's so different I don't recognize it," Lois said after we tucked into a corner booth. Being so close to the opening of the kitchen resulted in a constant parade of the many servers fanning out into the big room, bearing their culinary burdens, a parade that sometimes became a bottleneck. "It seemed much more cramped before, and there were clown motifs, more expressive of folie ['madness']. It's so monotone now; I'm not sure if I like it." I liked it, although it did seem all one color (which I decided could be called oxblood, after discarding burgundy and rust), largely from the effect of the long draperies, on walls as well as windows, which also emphasized the height of the room. (The harlequin motif survives on some of the china.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Frog's legs with garlic purée and parsley coulis
Seared foie gras with pineapple ($10 supplement)
Sautéed black bass with truffle gnocchi
Assiette de boeuf ($15 supplement)
Rôti of quail and squab
Roasted apple filled with crème brûlée
Selection of French cheese
Open for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Parking: valet, $10
Muni: 19, 41, 45
Noise level: low to moderate
Our server was patient with us as we took our time perusing the lengthy, enticing menu. The left side offered two prix fixeoptions. The first was a vegetarian menu, the $60 Menu Jardinière, which included roasted butternut squash soup with orange-scented Swiss chard ravioli; a mille-feuilleof roasted beets and goat cheese; and an eclectic trio of potato, leek, and wild mushroom cannelloni, squash, eggplant, polenta, and tomato lasagna, and roasted Vidalia onion with a curry couscous. The second was the five-course Menu L'Aventure, for $85, with such adventuresome ingredients as frog's legs, bone marrow, monkfish liver, pig's feet, and rabbit.
The right side offered five courses: soups and salads, appetizers, fish and shellfish, poultry and meat, and desserts and cheeses, each presenting between four (for fish and shellfish) and seven (soups and salads) choices. From these you can assemble your own three-course ($60), four-course ($75), or five-course menu ($85). It took a lot of horse-trading to pull together satisfactory meals for every one of us, with as little duplication as possible. In the meantime we ordered a modestly priced bottle of a Mendocino County wine, Londer Gewürztraminer, full of fruit though advertised as dry, which happily arrived and was poured, for once, before the amuse-bouche; also happily, it was perfect for the gift, a tray bearing a pickled oyster on the half-shell and a tiny cocktail glass containing a ginger-topped tartare of dorade atop a delicious Meyer lemon gelee. When my father indicated that he didn't want a fish course, it was whisked away and replaced with a thin but well-flavored potato and leek soup in an eggshell decorated with minced chives, accompanied by a tiny truffled manchego fritter that elicited appreciative moans from the two people who managed to share it with him. (He kept the even smaller potato chip the fritter was decorated with to himself.)
With the amuse, which dazzled me with its bright and complementary flavors, chef Roland Passot had announced both his labor-intensive style and his lofty ambitions. I felt we were in masterful hands. And I was very, very happy with my first course -- a ring of plump, juicy sautéed frog's legs set around a target of snowy garlic purée and bright-green parsley coulis -- the dish named for its inspiration, the late French chef Bernard Loiseau. Aside from my frog's legs, the table was awash in soup. A lovely, grassy-tasting parsley and garlic soup didn't seem to gain much from its ragout of snails and shiitake mushrooms, slipped under a slightly coy decoration made from a carefully poached and peeled tomato half, dotted with bits of vegetation to mimic a ladybug in a garden. The taste of the truffled day boat scallop ravioli didn't quite make sense to me in its pond of silky foie gras broth, which also bore a seductive, rare collop of foie gras, which did deepen its flavor. I was the lone dissenter about my father's butternut squash soup with a duck and sage ravioli, chosen at the last minute because the rest of us had opted for three savory courses: I found it too sweet, but others exclaimed over it with pleasure. The dramatic presentations of the soups (a server lifted the domed cover of each deep white bowl to reveal its individual garnish, then carefully poured the soup atop it, at table) reminded me that restaurant-as-theater can be literal as well as metaphoric.
A server also poured hot broth over one of the largest lobes of seared foie gras I've ever seen, well worth its $10 supplemental price (over and above the prix fixe), perched on a round of caramelized pineapple. The muscat broth was perfumed with star anise and vanilla. Again I found the combination a trifle too sweet, but the fruit and aromatics didn't obscure the exquisite velvety flesh and earthy flavor of the foie, and provided a counterpart to what otherwise would have been unrelieved richness. It was the simplest of our second courses, and my favorite among them. I did love the unexpected and original apple gelee under the towering Dungeness crab napoleon, wittily layered with crispy pineapple chips, which added a level of taste and texture and echoed the lemon gelee in the amuse. But the blood oranges, shiso leaves, scallions, carrots, and toasted almonds that turned the butter-poached lobster into a salad seemed conventional and a little ladies-who-lunch. The multilayered mille-feuilleof roasted organic beets and goat cheese with toasted walnuts and a sherry vinaigrette was beautifully plated, but familiar in flavor and intent.