Had a chance to get to San Francisco this week - barely there for 24 hours, but had enough time to realize, once again, that this is pretty much my favorite city on the planet. No other place I've been has more elegantly combined the urban chaos of a great city with an abiding love for the good life. I love that it's a city defined by bookstores, by wine, by food, and by living life outdoors. Can't do much better than that.
24 hours is, sadly, not enough time to do anything outdoors, or even stop by a book store, but it was enough time for some food and some wine. After an afternoon of meetings at the University Club in Nob Hill(itself pretty awesome), all 28 of us filed out, got into bat-out-of-hell cabs, and headed out to Burlingame for dinner at Il Fornaio.
Disclaimer: This place is a chain. I'm not generally a fan of chains, but this is not a huge one, and they make their own pasta. Sometimes you've got to make an exception.
The food was, honestly, pretty fabulous. And it was surprising in a couple of ways. First off, you expect food at an upscale 20-location restaurant to *look* amazing. That's the easy part - the garnish and and the color. In that respect, Il Fornaio fell a couple of notches short. The appetizer plate was pretty, but my pasta arrived looking absolutely limp and lifeless, with a few bedraggled shreds of basil as its sad adornment. The taste: out of this world. The pasta was silky and perfectly cooked, the sauce subtle and simple. Those draggles of basil were actually remarkably fresh and sweet, and worked well with the garlic and bite of the sauce.
The second surprise was dessert. This is a place that seems made for dessert. Italian desserts are about as good as they come, and places with a little capital can generally find some talent to throw around the kitchen. But the dessert that came out was actually kind of cloying and overpowering. The name escapes me, but the dessert involved cake, mousse, and berries alongside a puddle of vanilla bean and raspberry sauce. Individually, the items were pretty solid, but taken together, the balance was all off. Far too much mousse, far too much sauce, not nearly enough of the berries or the cake. In the end, it was pretty much a garnished tower of sweet chocolate mousse.
Overall, it was a lovely experience - not without it's blemishes - but Il Fornaio delivered in some of the hardest stuff, and effortlessly managed to make 28 people, all lugging various luggage, completely at home at one very long table.