Friday, February 3, 2012

Dine About Town: Isa

Alas we come to my last Dine About Town excursion. 3 might have been a little short of my goal but I enjoyed some great new restaurants and I am already looking forward to the next opportunity! Saturday was a big day of Food & Wine adventure for the girls and I starting with the ZAP Zinfandel festival which I will post about next week, followed by dinner at Isa a French/Californian restaurant in the Marina. After many many many conversations about where we should go (Oola, Bottle Cap, & Luella were all discussed) we finally settled on Isa, in part because many of the others weren't participating Saturdays (again, their lose!) and also because we would be meeting up with friends in the Marina after dinner so it would be convenient. I am so glad we did! First off they were offering one of the most extensive menu's out of everyone, secondly because everything we had was incredible. Due to our last minute decision we weren't able to make a reservation but in the end it worked out better than we could have hoped. We arrived just in time to grab 4 seats at the bar and got to enjoy the company of a very cute very friendly bartender while we dined.

While perusing their website I found the story of the Executive Chef Fascinating. Chef Luke Sung was a Taiwanese immigrant at just 14 years old when he began working in kitchens by the sides of his father and uncle. Over the next 12 years through high school, college, and beyond he worked under some of the most esteemed chef's in the business and returned to San Francisco at just 26 to begin a restaurant of his own. Blending the flavors and techniques of Provence with the finest California ingredients Chef Sung creates the exact type of food I love to eat.

As I have mentioned many times I love dining with my girlfriends. They let me explore and eat off all of their dishes and order whatever I ask of them. I appreciate their trust that I will not steer them wrong when it comes to enjoying incredible food. As the 4 of us looked over the Prix Fixe menu to see what our options were our Bartender/Server suggested that most dishes were served with a family style aspect in mind. This was just swell for us since we intended to share everything anyway!

For our first course we settled on- Mussels steamed with white wine, garlic, & tomatoes and served with grilled bread, Butter Lettuce Salad with Bartlett pears, candied walnuts, watercress, & Point Reyes blue cheese, Dungeness Crab Salad with avocado, apples, grapefruit, & tarragon, and Baked Laurel Chenel Goat Cheese with basil pesto, tomato, concasse, & pinenuts.

I've only tried mussels one or two times previously never really being sure I would like the texture. I have to say I really enjoyed these, to the point that I might brave trying to make them at home. They had such an inherent sweetness and were completely tender, not chewy or rubbery as I had always worried.

Both salads were delicious. The crab salads lovely presentation (it seems long plates are very "in" right now) showcased all the different ingredients. I particularly liked the way the grapefruit segments played with the crab, bright and tangy not overly bitter but just the right counterpoint to the rich sweet chilled crab.

The real triumph for us was the baked goat cheese. Three thick slices laid over the bed of concasse tomatoes and garlic baked and topped with crunchy buttery toasted pine nuts and fresh chopped basil it was delicious spread over the crusty bread provided. I'm already looking forward to trying to imitate this one at our next get together. Recipe/directions can be found here!

Along with our meals we enjoyed a few of their signature Soju cocktails. Soju is a distilled Rice based liquor native to Korea similar to vodka in it's clear appearance and minimal flavor and can basically be substituted for any clear liquor in classic cocktails. I started with their Number 7 cocktail with fresh blackberries and ginger topped with champagne (see picture at top). Fresh and fruity the Soju blended well into the flavors of the drink. Tori had their lemon drop and commented on how well balanced the flavors were, not too sugary sweet (since the soju isn't as harsh the bartender didn't need to add as much sweetness to cover the alcohol). Later in our meal Kerry tried one of their house Greyhound (they seem to be big on the grapefruit) cocktails and was very impressed by the pleasant flavor on that one. I finished with a Negroni a lighter departure from the one I had at Luna Park perhaps because of the milder flavor of the Soju instead of gin or the bartenders lighter hand with the campari.

The first entree to arrive was Kerry's Spaghetti with Himalayan Truffles, Tomatoes, Basil, & Parmesan Cheese. As simple and delicious as they come this pasta in it's brothy sauce was warm and comforting with it's light fresh flavors.
As it's pasta counterpoint Tori's Truffle risotto with baby shiitake, hon shimiji mushroom & reggiano was rich and earthy with the arresting aroma of black truffle and sharp salty tang from the reggiano Parmesan. The Arborio rice took on it's full expression of creamy texture and the mushrooms were tender and cooked just right.
Amanda opted for the Grilled golden gate natural Angus Flat Iron Steak giving us a great balance with the pastas. Cooked to a perfect medium rare the meat was tender and flavorful enriched by the moutarde vert (herbed mustard) &  Bordelaise sauce of red wine, shallots, butter, bone marrow, & demi glace. The potatoes were well seasoned and roasted as were the hericot vert.
Last to arrive were my Scallops. Pan Seared and served with mashed potatos, brussel sprouts raosted with bacon, and a truffle sauce this is pretty much my dream meal come to life. If I had to eat one meal every night for the rest of my life this would be it. The scallops were just cooked through so the texture was crisp on the top and bottom tender through the center and not at all chewy. The mashed potatoes were smooth and not too thick. I could have gone for a heavier roast on the brussel sprouts as the were a little more firm than I prefer and maybe a quarter cut instead of halves to make them easier to eat but their flavor was great and the little pieces of crispy bacon brought out the best in every aspect of the dish. I sopped up as much of the luscious sauce as I could with the potatoes and scallops, it was good to the last drop!

While chatting with our Bartender at the beginning of our meal he had suggested (and we of course agreed) that the best thing to do was to order 1 of each of the 4 desserts. We would have come to this conclusion on our own but it was charming how much he enjoyed our eagerness over the menu and our desire to try as much as possible. Without our even needing to ask he had the desserts ready to go when we had finished.

Our 4 options were (Starting from the top going clockwise) Vanilla Gelato with Biscotti, Grapefruit Granita, Semifreddo all' Amaretto (with amaretti cookies), and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee. After sampling them all we came to the consensus that the Granita was our least favorite. While it might make a refreshing palate cleanser after a particularly heavy course as a dessert it was a little too bitter for our tastes. Amanda's favorite was the gelato with it's thick creaminess, The creme brulee was enjoyed by all but was not particularly remarkable, by and large my favorite was the semifreddo. With it's seeming layers of the amaretti cookies crumbled through out it had a delicious grainy texture and toasty nutty amaretto flavor. I wished I didn't have to share (although as always it was much better that I did!).

We had a great time time dining at Isa. My one regret was that since we sat at the bar at the front I didn't get a chance to get a good look at the dining room, in particular their large back heated and covered patio. Hopefully sometime this summer I'll have an evening to go back (with reservations) and enjoy their space a little bit more!

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