Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RN 74: Outstanding San Francisco Newcomer

We had not even spent a full day in San Francisco yet and already had had a delightful meal at Moss (see separate writeup) and now were meeting our good friends John and Glenn for a much-anticipated dinner at RN 74, one of the hottest places on the San Francisco dining scene.

We dropped by their apartment for a warm-up glass of champagne or two, never a bad idea, before heading over to the restaurant, which is located in one of the new glass monoliths that is dominating San Francisco’s South of Market district. We learned, to our delight, that John is a close friend of Raj __, the proprietor of RN 74, dating back to the days when they were both on the staff of one of Michael Mina’s first restaurants. John has now moved on to a different profession and Raj has advanced through the ranks and is now wine director for all of Mina’s 17 (!) restaurants. RN 74 is his baby, with Mina generously allowing him to choose the concept and the details more or less as he sees fit.

Raj met us at the door and generously treated us to a cocktail each…Michael taught the bartender his signature “Canton Negroni” which was not as good as the master’s but pretty darn good, while John had something made with absinthe which was quite interesting as well.

Eventually we were ushered to a round banquette in a prime corner of the room. The dining room is handsome and intended to evoke a modernist interpretation of a French train station. Tables appeared to be well spaced and the room had a nice buzz without being overly loud.

We had a wonderful time there. The name RN (for route nationale) 74 is a nod to the main highway through France’s Burgundy district and naturally the wine list is heavy on all sorts of wine treasures. With the wine director himself choosing for us, I was able for once to disregard the list and concentrate on the food.

And we ate very well indeed. Michael and Glenn had a hamachi appetizer, which was sushi-like in concept and flawless in execution. Michael felt it was one of the one of the best fish dishes he has ever had. John had a dish of clams and pork which must have been great since it all disappeared rapidly. I chose a dish of squash-filled agnolotti which was rich and satisfying. We also had a generous order of tempura mushrooms which the four of us shared. And what could be bad about that?

For main courses, Michael had, predictably, roast chicken, and John had a pork loin dish. Glenn and I chose the steak, which was one of the best I have ever had. John’s pork loin, which he generously shared, was also outstanding. Michael’s chicken was good, from what I tasted, but not as exciting (but then, it was roast chicken…what do you expect).

With the meal, Raj provided a glass of Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace rose as an aperitif, followed by a wonderful Chardonnay that he makes himself from vines grown in the central coastal area of California. Not surprisingly, it is very much in the French style with just a hint of oak and no malolactic fermentation, so quite clean and crisp. With the main course, we were served a fine Pommard which complemented all of the meat dishes beautifully without being as assertive as a New World red can sometimes be.

All in all a very fine experience, not cheap of course but then fine cooking in a stylish setting with delicious wine rarely is (pity, isn’t it).

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