Coi – 1/7/11

Coi
373 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133

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Coi is currently San Francisco’s only Michelin two-star restaurant (and one of two in the Bay Area, Manresa being the other). It’s been open since 2006, and somehow neither I nor my parents have yet paid a visit. A large part of it is due to my mother’s negative experience at Daniel Patterson’s former venture Elisabeth Daniel. However, it’s consistently received numerous accolades and is considered one of the best restaurants in the city. It was time for a visit.

The 11-course, $145 tasting menu is the only option available in the dining room (a la carte is available in the lounge). Interestingly, the menu is devoid of any of the usual suspects one might expect to find at a restaurant like this; lobster, foie gras, caviar, and truffles are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the restaurant’s focus is largely on local and seasonal produce of the highest quality. Only 3 of our 12 dishes would contain any meat or fish.

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Bread and butter were both made in-house. The bread came out nice and hot each time – very good. The butter’s presentation was odd; the rough shards lacked the neatness and deliberateness of the rest of the food.

FROZEN MANDARIN SOUR angostura bitters, kumquat, satsuma ice

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This first course was an apertif of sorts. A vodka mandarin gel was topped with satsuma ice. This was slightly salty and slightly tart; the citrus was definitely strong, and some kumquat/satsuma rind added a little bit of texture.

OYSTERS UNDER GLASS marin miyagi oysters, yuzu, rau ram

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Two large oysters were placed underneath this “glass,” which was a yuzu flavored gelee.  The oyster was good, and the citrus (a classic accompaniment) was applied in the form of this gelee, which had a little bit of an almost al dente texture to it. Pretty interesting.

PASTURE beets roasted in hay, fresh cheese, wild sprouts and flowers

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Colorful presentation here. Beets roasted in hay? Hm, never heard that one before. The beets were mixed in with cheese, creating a slightly sweet, yet savory combination. The sprouts provided just a little bit of welcome texture for this interesting and enjoyable dish.

CRAB MELT, CALIFORNIA STYLE steffan’s lardo, wheatgrass

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Next was this California style crab melt. Dungeness crab was placed on a thin, crispy piece of toast with some wheatgrass and pea shoots. The crab was tasty and worked well with the earthiness of the pea shoots and wheatgrass, while the toast added just a bit of crunch. However, we stumbled upon 5 pieces of crab shell within 2 of the portions – definitely a problem; this took away a lot from the enjoyment. Nevertheless, this was a delicious dish.

SUPPLEMENTAL DISH olive oil, brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, preserved lemon

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Because of the crab shell error, we were given an extra dish here. If you’re ever indecisive about ordering soup or salad, this might be the dish for you. This was kind of a soup/salad combination – various vegetables were placed in a warm, soup-like vinaigrette. The waiter spoke at length about the quality of this olive oil and how it was the first pressed oil of the year. The bold, fruity flavors of the oil were apparent, and I enjoyed the variety of textures from the vegetables – fresh, clean flavors.

FARM EGG cauliflower, nettle-dandelion salsa verde

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Next up was this dish highlighted by the slow-cooked farm egg. The yolk was beautifully runny and gushed out when broken. It was a tasty egg for sure, and I liked the mini croutons for their texture.

EARTH AND SEA steamed tofu mousseline, mushroom dashi, yuba, fresh seaweed

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The steamed tofu mousseline was topped with a delicious mushroom-dashi broth that screamed ‘umami.’ The tofu mousseline had ginger and lime overtones, and the custard-like consistency was nicely balanced by the pickled radish and slight chewiness of the yuba.

SAVORY CHANTERELLE PORRIDGE crisp root vegetables, cress, sherry

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Best dish of the night. This porridge took on a risotto-like consistency with the bold flavor of chanterelles. Absolutely delicious. The cress added a slightly herbaceous quality, while the crispy root vegetables added texture. Superb.

PRATHER RANCH BEEF potato, coastal grasses, monterey cypress

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This was the lone meat dish of the night. The beef was perfectly cooked, leaving it tender and rather flavorful for tenderloin. I enjoyed the potato puree accompaniment as well as some of the leafy greens; however, the vinaigrette was a little overbearing with the vinegar.

SALAD wild chicories, aged sherry vinaigrette

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We substituted the cheese course for this simple salad. It was fine.

LIME SHERBET frozen yogurt, pomegranate, mint

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This was the first of two desserts. More of a palate cleanser, the lime sherbet was pretty good. I didn’t need the tartness of the frozen yogurt as there was already enough with the lime.

BREAD & CHOCOLATE brioche ice cream, pistachio, tarragon

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The chocolate had good chocolate flavor which paired well with the brioche ice cream and pistachio pudding. The pistachio crumbles were fantastic, adding some nuttiness and texture. The caramelized brioche, like sweet croutons, were another source of texture, and were very good on their own too.

Lastly we were presented with a few petits fours. Pinenut bread with chocolate and firethorn berry jellies were on offer this night. I thought the bread/chocolate combination was a little repetitive given the last course, but the jelly was very good. It had a very supple texture and a gingerish, tangerine-like flavor.

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Coi put together one of the most interesting and unique menus I’ve had in a while. It’s sure to expand horizons and definitely give anyone something they’ve never had before.  For the most part, the dishes were pretty light and “healthy” feeling – I was waiting for something meaty, rich and filling for much of the meal. However, no one left hungry.

The execution of the dishes was spot on, except for the glaring error of the crab shells. Coi is a very different restaurant from Gary Danko, which is what I feel is the most popular choice for “best restaurant in the city.” Coi is much more innovative and produce-based, while Danko is much more comfortable and meat/fish-heavy. Both are good.

Katana-Ya – 12/30/10

Katana-Ya
430 Geary St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Katana-Ya is generally regarded as one of San Francisco’s top ramen houses, if not the best. The line to dine here begins before the restaurant opens (see picture below), and remains late into the night (often past midnight). Reminds me of LA’s Daikokuya. I was a little wary, however, as San Francisco does not really have good Japanese food, in comparison to its SoCal couterpart. I didn’t even have my first bowl of ramen until I moved to Los Angeles.

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We arrived a few minutes before the restaurant opened at 11:30 on a Monday. This picture was taken right as they were opening the doors. Clearly, it’s a popular place. Luckily, our party of 5 was able to squeeze in and secure the last remaining table.

The restaurant is located within a block of Union Square, which is a festive place during this time of year.

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We ordered a couple of appetizers to start with.

Gyoza

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I found these to be fairly standard. Not exceptional but not really bad either. The wrapper had a good chew to it, but the browning was a little uneven, a little burned at parts.

Chicken Karaage

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This was a pretty good chicken karaage. A crispy exterior covered really moist and juicy chicken thigh meat.

Shoyu Ramen

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Here came our much-anticipated ramens. Each bowl has the option of shoyu, miso or shio – this was shoyu. I would say this bowl was fairly pedestrian. The flavor of the soup was decent – it had a hearty soy flavor without being too salty. I didn’t think it had too much depth though. I would have preferred the noodles to be a little more chewy too; they weren’t overcooked, but they weren’t al dente.

Katana-Ya Ramen (Shio)

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The eponymous ramen is this bowl filled with fried gyoza, chicken karaage, corn and egg. The shio broth was pleasant, though somewhat light in flavor. I’m not really a fan of fried things in my soup – my preference is to have them on the side to dip on the spot.

The ramen at Katana-Ya is fairly mediocre to the ramen standards I’ve been accustomed to in LA. Having said that, it’s a decent bowl that could satisfy a craving on a cold day. I wouldn’t say it’s worthwhile to wait in that line though…

Fraiche – 12/16/10

Fraiche Culver City
9411 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

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Chef Benjamin Bailly is a bit of a blogger darling. During his short stint at Petrossian in West Hollywood, I read blog after blog post raving about his food. I’m not really a huge fan of caviar, and I don’t go out of my way to find a caviar-centric menu. As a result, while there were some dishes I absolutely loved (the truffle mac and cheese, for one), I don’t think I fully appreciated my meal at Petrossian.

In December, Bailly moved on to Fraiche Culver City, a restaurant that serves rustic Italian/French cooking. Definitely something in my comfort zone.

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Danny of Kung Food Panda, a big advocate of Bailly’s food at Petrossian, organized a dinner of 18 bloggers/foodies to come sample Bailly’s latest menu.

Olives and Bread & Butter

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Waiting for us at the table were some olives and bread & butter.

Piquillo Cheese Spread – Chorizo, Manchego
Tonnato Dip – Tuna, White Anchovy, Capers
Smoked Trout Rilletes – Lemon, Chives, Creme Fraiche
Chicken Liver Parfait – Green Apple Jelly
Olivade – Ricotta, Olives, Roasted Tomatoes
Eggplant Caviar – Raisin, Marcona Almonds

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Also waiting for us at the table was a selection of potted meats and spreads with some crostini. With so many varieties and so many people (and pacing was important, this was going to be a long meal), I didn’t get a chance to sample each of these. However, my favorite was the piquillo spread for its sweet and savory combination of flavors.

Hamachi Tartare – Shaved Turnip, Lime, Espelette Pepper

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This tartare didn’t quite look as I expected it to, with the fish sort of hidden. However, the taste was spot on with the hamachi’s light flavor accented by a little bit of turnip and lime citrus.

Vitello Tonnato – Veal Steak Tartare, Arugula, Parmesan

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Next was a steak tartare. I thought some of the pieces of steak were a little chewy/sinewy for me, but overall was pretty good. The nuttiness of some parmesan and a good crostini completed the dish. Loved the arugula too.

Brussels Sprouts – Chorizo, Manchego, Dates, Almond Piquillo Vinaigrette

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The brussels sprouts were blanched nicely, yielding a cool, crisp “al dente” texture. Just a little bit of chorizo flavor accented the brussels sprouts, while the vinaigrette helped to cut the richness of the sausage.

Bouchot Mussels – Fava Bean, Tomato, Chorizo

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I found some of the mussels to be a little undercooked for me, but I thought this was a pretty solid dish. The chorizo and tomatoes were key elements in the flavorful broth.

Basil Risotto – Escargot, Lemon, Tomato

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Unique looking risotto here – the basil gave it a brilliant green color. The risotto was rich and creamy with just enough basil flavor. The escargots were tender, and the lemon provided the right amount of citrus. I really enjoyed this dish.

Seared Foie Gras – Frisee, Rhubarb Pomegranate, Speculoos

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I thought this was a beautifully prepared piece of liver. The texture was very rich and melt-in-your-mouth, with the pomegranate adding a little bit of welcome tartness.

Crispy Loup de Mer – Sunchokes Soubise, Crosnes, Salsify, Mushrooms, Bordelaise

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This dish signaled the start of the entrees with an impressive presentation of the fish. I found the skin to be perfectly crispy, and the flesh to be really moist. Awesome. The mushrooms were a great accompaniment.

Taglieneri Neri – Maine Lobster, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil

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I was really looking forward to the pastas here, and this first one got me excited. The pasta, made with squid ink, was a nice al dente, and the small chunks of sweet lobster were exactly what I wanted. The tomatoes and basil added just a little more flavor to this successful dish.

Lamb Papardelle – Tomato, Olives, Onetik Goat Cheese

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The pappardelle was also al dente, and I enjoyed the chunks of meaty lamb dispersed throughout the pasta. The ragu was rich, hearty and pretty flavorful.

Hand Cut Maltagliati – Pork Ragu, Scallion, Gruyére

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I enjoyed the rich pork ragu on this pasta as well, but I found the maltagliati pasta to be fairly stuck together. Maybe this was because we took too long taking pictures, as this wasn’t a problem with any other pasta. The scallions added a welcome crispness and freshness.

Bucatini Carbonara – Slow Poached Egg, Pancetta, Parmesan

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Loved this dish. Carbonaras can so often be too rich, muddled in an overly-creamy, cheesy sauce. Not so here. The sauce was quite light actually, but didn’t skimp on the flavors of the layered cheese, pancetta and egg. The pasta was perfectly cooked as well. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Truffle Burger – Onion Fondue, Boschetto, Truffle Aioli

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Next was Chef Bailly’s famed truffle burger. This was prepared to a medium-well temperature so I didn’t think it was as juicy as it could’ve been. However, the flavors were all there with the arugula, onions and truffle aioli. The fries were fantastic – crispy on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside.

Soft Polenta – Wild Mushrooms, Slow Poached Egg

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I thought this polenta was nice and creamy, but a bit too overwhelmingly cheesy for me. I always enjoy a slow poached egg, though.

Praline Tiramisu – rum espresso, vanilla bean
Pot De Creme – Manjari Chocolate
Pot De Creme – Caramel

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To start of desserts, a selection of pot de cremes and a tiramisu was served. The chocolate pot de creme was my favorite of these – rich with a delicious chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Tart – Tres Leches Gelato, Almond Crumble

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I enjoyed this chocolate tart. It was combined with an almond crumble, which lended some texture, and the tres leches gelato was a brilliant flavor of gelato to go along with it. I thought these flavors were pretty well balanced.

Chocolate Coulant – Toffee, Peanut Butter Ice Cream

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The peanut butter ice cream really separated this dish for me. Chocolate and peanut butter makes quite a combination, and it worked very well here.

Apple & Pear Clafoutis – Brown Butter, Candied Brioche, Caramel Ice Cream

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Finally, this was the last dessert (I think we were all pretty full at this point). I enjoyed the cinnamon and apple flavors here, with the candied brioche being an interesting way to add some texture.

That was a lot of food. Chef Bailly definitely took good care of us (and our stomachs) and provided a good variety of dishes to sample the menu. Given the number of the dishes, there were some that I did not like as much, but overall this was a strongly executed meal that was quite delicious. For me, the pastas were my favorite (the loup de mer was very good too!), and the desserts displayed a nice mix of sweet finishing dishes.

Commonwealth – 12/28/10

Commonwealth
2224 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

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In my opinion, one of the most exciting dining trends is chefs cooking serious fine dining in reasonably-priced, casual environments. These chefs are focusing on putting good food on the table – that’s what everyone’s there for; and, because they’re cutting out the expensive decor and extra waitstaff, the prices are very reasonable.

Commonwealth opened in August and immediately became a hot restaurant in San Francisco. SF Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer said about the food: “what lands at the table could have come from the playbook of the four-star Manresa or Coi.” Those were some pretty bold words – and Commonwealth is less than half the cost of either of those two.

So, when I was able to get a reservation for 2 on a (very) stormy evening, my mother and I ventured out to try this cuisine. We opted for the six course tasting menu which is priced at $60, with $10 of each menu going to a rotating charity (Meals on Wheels, in this case).

Instead of bread, Commonwealth serves these potato chips with seaweed.

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They were normal potato chips (think Lay’s) with just a little bit of seaweed in them. Unique.

Dungeness Crab, green apple gel, Jerusalem artichoke, tarragon

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I would have liked the tender, sweet chunks of crab on their own. Add to it that it was paired with the acidity of the pickled sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) and creme fraiche, and had a little bit of herbaceous complement of the tarragon, and this was a nice first course.

salt cured foie gras, umeboshi, seaweed brioche

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I really liked this dish. The foie gras was delicious – rich and creamy as a spread to go with this wonderful seaweed brioche. Toasted to a crisp, the subtle sea flavor of the seaweed brioche went together nicely with the foie gras.

kabocha pumpkin, black kale, yuba, broccolini, coconut milk, peanut

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This was my mother’s favorite dish. The ingredient list was very unusual; I was wondering how everything would go together. Even though there was no meat in this dish, it had a savory feel to it. The pumpkin and broccolini were cooked to an al dente texture, contrasting the tender, squishy yuba (bean curd). I thought the coconut milk foam was an interesting touch too. The flavors melded pretty well together.

sweetbreads, chestnut veloute, celery, asian pear, truffle cream

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I am a fan of sweetbreads, and these were no exception. They were fried, giving them a crispy exterior and a soft, rich interior. The celery added a little bit of crunch, while the chestnut veloute added a little bit of richness and sweetness.

quince-rooibos sorbet, vanilla soda

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This was a bit of a palate cleanser. The quince flavor was definitely front and center, and the sorbet had a nice richness to it as well.

cinnamon mille-feuille, cardamom marshmallow, burnt honey ice cream

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Lastly, we had a deconstructed mille-feuille. The layers consisted of, from left to right, cinnamon cookie, chocolate ganache, cinnamon cookie and caramelized cardamom marshmallow. I thought this was a pretty cool presentation and delicious too. Putting them together was kind of like a s’more, and the burnt honey ice cream was a nice accompaniment.

I was impressed with this meal; I think it was the strongest of my week-long San Francisco stay. The menu was fun, inventive and executed well. Chef Jason Fox successfully melded together flavors that aren’t commonly seen on the same plate. The fact that he can put a menu like this together for $60 ($10 goes to charity), with a la carte dishes all being $15 and under – it’s no wonder this has been such a popular spot in the city.

Luce – 12/27/10

Luce
InterContinental Hotel
888 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103

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One of the chefs I was most highly anticipating at Test Kitchen was Dominique Crenn. Unfortunately, her sole Dec. 5th appearance conflicted with the finale of LudoBites 6.0, which is where I ended up dining. However, I stumbled upon a happy coincidence – BlackboardEats had a 30%-off promotion to Luce (where she is executive chef) just as I would be in town. Score!

Luce was named as one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire when it opened in 2008, and first garnered a Michelin star in the 2010 guide (which it retained in 2011). With a victory over Michael Symon on Iron Chef America, the buzz surrounding Crenn has never been greater. As a result, she’s opening up her own restaurant (Atelier Crenn) in mid-January, leaving her position at Luce in doubt.

This may be one of the last meals Luce serves with Crenn as executive chef, and it was a strong one. We started with an amuse from the kitchen.

Lobster, Citrus, Beets

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I enjoyed the slightly tart citrus (clementines and grapefruit) paired with the sweet lobster – promising start to the meal.

No tasting menus are offered on Sundays or Mondays (something I didn’t see publicized anywhere, not even on the menu), so we opted for a selection from the a la carte menu.

Abalone, Pork Belly, Yuzu Kosho and Enoki

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The abalone was cooked perfectly, leaving it quite tender. The pork belly was pretty lean (which I like), yet tender with a crispy exterior. I enjoyed the pork-abalone combination. The broth, with yuzu kosho and enoki mushrooms, was just…in a word…addicting. Excellent dish.

Black Ink Trofiette “Carbonara,” Baby Squid, Smoked Pancetta, Egg

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I found this dish to be strong as well. The al dente pasta was combined with tender calamari, the meatiness and smokiness of pancetta, and the richness of an egg. We were instructed to stir everything together – the result was a layering of distinctive and delicious flavors.

Lobster, Heirloom Carrots, Fennel, Cumin, Quinoa and Uni

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The lobster was cooked well, and I enjoyed the fennel’s complementary flavor. The quinoa was executed well, and served as a nice accompaniment.

Venison Mosaic, Fall Vegetable, Coffee and Grains

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The venison was cooked sous vide yielding a very tender piece of meat. The mosaic of daikon and beets was a nice presentation, though I didn’t think it added a whole lot of flavor. However, the bulgur salad and coffee did add a lot of flavor - yes, coffee. I thought the coffee-venison combination was pretty bold and worked well.

Chocolate Semifreddo, Raspberries, Hazelnuts

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This was the classic chocolate and raspberry combination. The semifreddo was smooth and creamy with a good chocolate flavor. I didn’t think this was outstanding really, but was a little bit of a letdown considering the strength of the previous courses.

Coconut, Mango Sorbet

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This was a really light dessert, which I appreciated. The coconut was like snow – light and airy, and the coconut and mango flavors were both evident and paired well.

I thought this was a pretty strong meal. The desserts were just okay for me, but the appetizers and entrees were very good. The restaurant was surprisingly rather empty on this night; it’s unfortunate that more people aren’t enjoying this cuisine. The restaurant will undoubtedly change as Crenn transitions to her new project (whether she stays at Luce or not), but I’ll be interested to see what she’ll be cooking up there.