Occupation: Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Spencer
Reviewed Chez Spencer: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
14th Street between Folsom and Harrison Streets is not exactly a charming street. There is little to no lighting on the street, and parking isn’t always easy, which is exactly why when one walks into Chez Spencer, it is like entering another world — a hidden oasis in the Mission. The ambiance is definitely one of the highlights! One enters through a gate, and it’s as if you’ve left the Bay Area and have just entered a restaurant built inside a wine-cave somewhere in France.
One walks through an outside garden, which includes the restaurant’s herb garden and olive trees, into an enclosed patio (where you can also dine) with its tiny, sparkling, white lights, and through the fantastic, enormous wooden doors into the restaurant. WOW! It has a vaulted ceiling with dramatic, arched beams, skylights, a wood-fired oven, and beautiful art and flowers tastefully arranged throughout the restaurant. Although it’s a spectacular setting with an industrial edge to it, there is still an intimate and romantic feel. The warm, even cozy lighting (whether sitting outside or in), as well as the pleasant music (live on the weekends), playing in the background that one can hear, but still carry on an intimate conversation, all add to the romantic elegance of this secret oasis.
My dining partner and I experienced excellent service. We walked in, announced ourselves to the French maître-d’, and were immediately taken to our table on the step-up platform area on the left side of the main room. We could view the sauté chefs working at their station from this vantage point, which was interesting, but not a distraction. The maître-d’ turned out to be our waiter, Florian, who was delightfully attentive and conversational if one asked him questions, but not so intrusive as to infringe upon our evening.
We asked Florian to pair our wines with each course, and he did a superb job of pairing, as well as making us feel like we were also choosing by explaining each wine and checking in with each of us to see if this was something we agreed might be a good match. Also, we asked him his recommendations on the food, despite having dined there often in the past. I was delighted to find his picks, to the dish, matched my own favorites from the menu.
I would definitely not say our meal was “bang for the buck,” especially considering that the butter-poached lobster starter was $25 alone, but the tasting menu with or without the wine pairing might be a better choice. Actually, we would have done this, but I simply could not live without having the HEAVENLY sweetbreads, which I believe are the best, certainly in the Bay Area, if not the world. OOOO LA LA! They are a specialty of the house.
All of the food was fantastic, but I have to say the sweetbreads were my favorite dish! I know that not everyone is a fan of sweetbreads and/or even willing to try them, but these are the ones to throw all caution to the wind! They are sautéed and served in a sherry wine vinegar and truffle vinaigrette with a Parmesan crisp and some arugula greens on top. The sweetbreads are sautéed to perfection, and one feels like one is eating a wonderful, warm beignet, set off by the rich sherry wine vinegar and truffle vinaigrette, and all of the richness is then cut by the light, peppery, and fresh arugula leaves. MAGNIFIQUE!
The asparagus is cooked perfectly al dente with some shaved Parmesan to add a slight salty or savory flavor to the grassiness, and a truffle-emulsion (which seemed more like a slightly flavored truffle-aioli with a hint of citrus and garlic) is drizzled on top. EXQUISITE!
The butter-poached lobster was cooked a la perfection: buttery, soft, sweet, and just chewy enough. It was sitting in what seemed to be a wonderful, smooth, and creamy artichoke dip or spread, much more viscous than what I traditionally think of as a “bisque.” We were both surprised at what a lovely, rich, and creamy dish this was! MARVELOUS!
For our mains, my partner had the wood-roasted Sonoma duck, which was deliciously savory slices of duck breast, cooked medium-rare, and served in a light, sweet wild berry and duck jus with sweet little cornmeal pancakes. I had the delicious rack of lamb, which was served medium-rare, cooked to a beautiful reddish-pink, and complemented by the charred edges. It was served in a rich port sauce with sautéed, buttery haricot vert, and carrots. DELICIOUS, both of these dishes!
The bread is très français: flaky on the outside, the crust crumbles onto your bread plate as you tear off a bite, but it is also light, airy, and chewy on the inside. And the butter…so creamy and sweet! The only thing I might change about these two items that would make a HUGE difference in, not only taste, but also perception of the whole experience is: one, they could warm the bread; and two, serve the butter at room temperature, so it’s easier to spread.
Let’s talk about my favorite course of any meal: DESSERT! HOORAY! My partner had a decadent warm chocolate pudding cake with Flowers of the Alps Tea Anglaise. A melt-in-your-mouth piece of heaven! I had a luscious, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth apple-almond tart with glace au lait. SUPERB! The only recommendation I would have for my dessert is that the topping should be creamier and not as icy as it was.
To sum up our experience: MARVELOUS! If one is looking for a romantic getaway with deliciously prepared foods, excellent service, and an intimate ambiance where one can carry on a conversation so as to enjoy one’s meal this is it. Chez Spencer is a hidden, romantic oasis in the Mission, a secret one should definitely share and experience with a loved one.
Occupation: Executive Recruiter
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Marnee Thai Restaurant
Reviewed Chez Spencer: Friday, February 12, 2010
One approaches a fine dining establishment like Chez Spencer with certain expectations about the quality of food, service, and ambiance. On each and every level, this lovely restaurant surpassed all expectations.
The first positive indicator was a telephone call from a representative of Chez Spencer confirming our online reservation twenty-four hours in advance. When we arrived at 6 PM on a Friday evening, the hostess gave us a choice of the bustling inside room or the quieter and more romantic covered patio with heat lamps. When she alerted us that a live piano player was starting inside in an hour, we opted for the patio.
We were soon greeted by our server, Avery, a fresh-scrubbed young woman with a very caring customer service approach, who answered our questions and complied with each of our requests.
I got a glass of aromatic Côtes du Rhône red wine. For starters, we ordered the butter lettuce salad, served with a zesty lemon-mustard vinaigrette and freshly ground black pepper, and the red and gold beet salad, which came with a different vinaigrette dressing, candied walnuts, and a perfect bit of blue cheese. The careful preparation and simple execution of the salads foreshadowed more good things to come.
As luck would have it, I was walking past the wood-fired oven, open and visible behind a partition, as our entrees were pulled out and plated. The wood-fired oven sits in the middle of the inside room and helps create a “food prep as theater” vibe.
Sure enough, moments after returning to our table, the entrees arrived. Avery was accompanied by a bearded man, who I suspect, was Chez Spencer’s executive chef and owner, Laurent Katgely. Not a single detail was missed.
We enjoyed a beautifully aged and exceedingly tender filet mignon with seasonal mushrooms. Hints of garlic and salt underscored the complex flavors of the steak. It was simply perfect.
We also savored the sturgeon served on a bed of green beans and other vegetables. It was masterfully cooked to a toothsome texture just this side of flakiness. As requested, the béarnaise sauce was served on the side.
These sumptuous entrees were shared and consumed slowly for the fullest possible enjoyment. As we finished, the couple at the next table asked about our entrees. We discovered they were celebrating their first anniversary as we were celebrating our 29th. The Chez Spencer ambiance encouraged this conviviality. The votive candles with paper shades cast a warm glow in the room.
In keeping with the celebration, we indulged in two desserts. The cookie bowl had a number of delightful treats, including a coconut bonbon, a chocolate brownie, a meringue cookie, and two biscotti. The warm apple-almond tart was a rich pleasure with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The perfect complement to the meal.
What a wonderful find: an elegant, unfussy, upscale French brasserie featuring simple, perfect ingredients, expertly prepared and served by a warm and caring staff in a lovely space that felt like an oasis of tranquility. I will be back.
Occupation: Web Marketing Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Broken Record
Reviewed Chez Spencer: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Chez Spencer’s interior is quite nice with a toned-down industrial feel and open kitchen at the end. I thought it was a little too dark inside, making it difficult to read the menu or see what we were eating. The ambiance, otherwise, was nice and it wasn’t too loud.
We started with cocktails from the bar. We had the Pear Lime Ricky (pear eau de vie, lime, soda, and sugar) and Chez Spencer Martini, which were both very good.
I started with the bouillabaisse with saffron aioli. The soup is cream-free and has pureed fish and a slightly spicy tomato-based broth. I loved the bisque-like texture, and the lack of cream kept the largish portion from being too filling. It was very flavorful and had just the right amount of spice/heat. The pan-seared scallops with hearts of palm and sauce verte were also excellent. The three large scallops were cooked perfectly, and the vinaigrette-like sauce was flavorful, but didn’t overpower the scallops or the hearts of palm. I thoroughly enjoyed the bite I got of this dish.
For our main courses, we ordered the wood-seared venison with jabron potato and juniper berry-peppercorn jus, and the wood-grilled filet mignon with morels a la crème and truffle butter. I had the venison, and it was perfectly cooked and not even slightly gamey. The meat was sliced into medallions and laid over the delicious sauce. I loved the garnish of tiny micro greens mixed with mint; it made a refreshing counterpoint to the meat and potatoes. I wasn’t a fan of the potatoes. I thought they were a little bland and a bit too rich. However, I’m not a fan of au gratin potatoes, so it wasn’t that the restaurant didn’t execute them correctly. This was the one point in the meal when I missed having salt and peppershakers on the table.
The filet mignon was ordered very rare (blue) and came out medium rare. When we got the waiter’s attention, he immediately took it away to be replaced. The second one was better, and our server apologized for the error. It wasn’t a big deal, but it did put the pace of the meal off, since I had finished my main course by the time it came out again. The mushroom cream sauce was chock full of morels and would please any mushroom lover.
For dessert, we shared the hazelnut parfait “a la neige” with milk-poached meringue, espresso caramel, and Piedmont hazelnuts. This was lovely, basically a frozen hazelnut mousse topped with a soft meringue and espresso-flavored caramel. It was surprisingly light and refreshing. We both loved this dish.
I thought that, overall, the restaurant was quite good but a bit pricy, although certainly not out of line with similar local restaurants. The service was good, but not great — they were a little slow in refilling our water glasses, but did catch up as the meal went on. I will definitely keep Chez Spencer on my shortlist of places to go on date night!