San Francisco has no shortage of restaurants, fine dining or otherwise, with menus boasting crazy high prices. Seven dollar bacon strips anyone?
The city’s newly-opened Avery restaurant isn’t any different in that sense. The prix-fixe East Asian-infused eatery takes reservations through Tock, the high-dollar restaurant equivalent of OpenTable that allows guests to reserve and pay for meals beforehand. No post-meal payment needed.
The restaurant is currently offering three menus: Cello Player, a smaller course plan for $US89 a person, Avery’s Room, a reservation for six to eight people featuring a special menu from the kitchen, and the seafood-themed Bouquet of the Sea for $US189 a pop.
I took a gander at the latter during a recent visit to Avery and concluded that when it comes to eating in this city, you get what you pay for – which in this case is 10 meticulously-crafted, delicious dishes for $US189 a person.
Here’s what it was like.
In the city’s Fillmore neighbourhood, Avery’s storefront is minimal and could be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.
The entry way features a black slatted wall. We were seated behind it, in a cosy booth.
My friend helped himself to one of the fleecy knit blankets available by the front door — they’re great for keeping guests warm in San Francisco’s infamous chilly night air.
We were seated on the restaurant’s downstairs level. Both floors are cosy and small, with only three other tables around us.
Through a hallway, the kitchen is in plain sight…
…and that’s where the magic happens.
Before Avery, chef Rodney Wages lent his culinary expertise to kitchens in other high-profile eateries, like Atelier Crenn and French Laundry. Needless to say he’s seasoned and, based on my interaction with him, a no-nonsense, straightforward chef, focused more on his food than on niceties. It made me respect the space more.
Our experience began with a toasted grain-y broth, filled maybe a quarter of the way in an artisan-looking bowl.
Our waiter, Max, told us to pick it right up and sip it. So we did.
Following the Grains was raw sea bream garnished with Japanese pickled turnip and cherry leaves, placed on a striking red platter. We ate them, and everything else in the meal, using the provided chopsticks.
Next up: the Everything Trout, one of the signature dishes.
These grilled fellas were adorned with roe, or fish eggs, and Everything seasoning, the same kind that you’d find on an Everything bagel. They were served on a textured plate that, in some strange way, complimented them even more. It started to become clear how much thought truly goes into every dish and its presentation.
Each dish was also spaced pretty well apart: a new one came every five to eight minutes I would say. Toasted potato cakes came next, overladen with strips of Spanish Iberico ham, and served with cultured cream. The cream mixed with the salty ham was fantastic.
A fan favourite, our server told us, was the Ableskiver, or Danish pancakes. They were piping hot and served on an arrangement of disconnected gold plates in varying sizes stacked on top of each other. The plate mesmerised me more than it probably should have.
The pancakes were stuffed with shrimp and avocado, all blended together into a hot creamy mix. I could see why it was a favoured dish.
With the pancake balls also came grilled oysters with tomatoes, a dish I vowed to try and replicate though I doubt it will come out as good.
At this point in the meal, I was starting to fall behind in consuming my champagne and my Japanese “sake” rice wine.
My waiter brought me three different sakes throughout the night to be paired specially with certain dishes: the first was very bold, the second was a bit sweeter and the third, my favourite, had a strong cereal-like twinge to it. I loved and drank every glass, albeit slowly.
Next came the grilled cod perched atop a puffy cloud of Bearnaise Mousseline, a spinoff of Hollandaise sauce. I did a double take when our server said there was also chorizo in there somewhere…
…but sure enough, a deep spoonful of it confirmed as much. It was a pleasant unexpected taste.
My second favourite dish of the night was the Tortellini en Brodo, which came with foie gras and cultured butter.
The broth was heavenly and paired well with the grain-tasting sake.
The presentation of the Northern Coast dish was my favourite of all 10 courses.
All of its ingredients are sourced locally from California and together looked like something straight out of the ocean, in a good way. The bowl consisted of lamb carpaccio with morels, Abalone, and greens from the coastal area. The Abalone was my favourite out of the trio – it was perfectly tender.
One of Avery’s specialties is the Wagyu beef, meat sourced from the small Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was served with a surprising companion: BBQ sauce. The touch is a personal one from Wages, who’s a Kansas native. They paired perfectly together, with the beef literally melting in my mouth. It stunned me for a moment.
In between the last dinner course and our dessert course was a cheese tart with candied nuts. I have a rocky history with the delicacy, but these guys won me over. And, as my friend commented, it was a nice stepping stone between dinner and a sweet dessert…
…which was hands down my favourite part of the meal.
Small cakes served with Australian winter truffle and apricots came with ice cream made from grilled milk. Yes, grilled: burning coals are thrown into the milk, where they’re extinguished, which is then used to make the cream. A smoky aroma contrasted with each creamy spoonful. I’ve never had anything like it.
Overall, my visit at Avery was a special treat, one that, despite the bite-sized portions, left me feeling surprisingly full. It was a nice change from my usual $US3 pizza slice for dinner. Though with meals costing at least $US89 a person, eating at Avery will be reserved for special occasions for me.
Avery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30pm to 9:30pm. It’s located at 1552 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, Calif.
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