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Gary Danko Review


Incidentally, some other friends and I went to Gary Danko on last week, and it was exquisite. Here's the (very long) review. For those of you who don't know, Gary Danko is one of the top (four-star) restaurants in the bay area, usually fighting with The French Laundry and Boulevard for top ranking on zagat and other rating guides.



The scene reflected a formal elegant sophistication. Nearly all men were in suits and ties andwomen were in nice dresses. (As for our party, with button down shirts and only one tie among us (me) and no jackets, we were comparatively under-dressed.) Servers wore very dark suits (over blue shirts) or dresses. Decorations included flowers submerged in water in tall glass columns and some abstract paintings with shades of a primary color spread smoothly over the surface to appear almost cloud-like. (I really liked these paintings.)


After being seated, we were immediately provided a tiny square bowl of soup they called ambrosia, and I thought the name appropriate. In Greek mythology, ambrosia is one word for the food of the gods. Our ambrosia soup was quite good and involved a set of indescribable and indistinguishable flavors, thus being a soup for which no descriptive name is appropriate and thereby also serving as an superb palate cleanser.


Having disposed of the soup, the servers gave everyone a bread plate and some slices of fresh bread. And even the bread was high quality, with a soft light brown interior and a hard but not too crunchy exterior. The bread was ample too: until the end of the meat course (most of the way through the evening) one's bread plate would be magically refilled whenever it had less than a slice left. Being good and plentiful, the bread was dangerous; some of us had to make conscious decisions to stop eating it lest we fill up before even the first of many courses.


The menu was a single dense page, offering three-, four-, or five-course meals made from a wide selection of appetizers, seafoods, meats, and desserts. When I say a wide selection, I mean it: it included a wide selection of fish, shellfish, meats, and game birds, even including some unusual items like frog legs, sweet breads, squab, and quail. (The menu can be found on Gary Danko's web page.) In retrospect, given the soup, bread, and wine, the five courses most of us ordered was a bit much, even spread over a long evening of food and banter. (But it is a good experience for trying items.)


A neat feature of this multi-course design is that one could choose as many items from each category as one wanted. I, for instance, chose a five course meal consisting of two appetizers, one fish, one meat item, and a dessert; some chose two seafood dishes or two desserts or even different numbers of courses. How this worked I'll describe more later.


We ordered some caviar to start with, and it was excellent as were its accompaniments. Now, when I say excellent, since I don't really eat caviar with any frequency, I can't say whether it was excellent or not for caviar or whether the fact that it was Iranian Osetra made a difference (because I'd never be able to tell). But I can say that it was a tad rich, a tad salty, and it really really does melt in your mouth. (M&Ms' ability to do this pale dramatically in comparison.)


But the caviar might've not necessarily been the best part of the caviar order. Indeed, we were also provided little two-inch diameter pieces of fried bread (upon which to place the caviar) that tasted much like a cross between bread and a butter cookie. If it weren't so obvious how unhealthy these were, I could've just kept popping them in my mouth without any caviar. But they complemented the caviar well, as did the cream fresca that also came. Even together, it all still melted in one's mouth.


Now on to the courses themselves. By necessity I'll focus mostly on the items I ordered because obviously I can say the most about them.


My first course was an appetizer: Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Maitake Mushrooms, Tomato, Fennel and Tomato Oil. Honestly, I was slightly disturbed by the amount of oil sitting around the edge of the risotto. Now, I know tomato oil probably isn't that bad for you but the appearance really didn't appeal to me. That said, the the lobster was good; the risotto itself was okay; the mushrooms and tomato were really the items that made me happy with this dish.


Duck Prosciutto Salad with Foie Gras Torchon and Apricot Chutney, another appetizer, served as my second course. I ordered this because it sounded unusual. The salad was good with its vinaigrette/wine dressing; I'm not sure the prosciutto added much, flavor-wise. The chutney was great! It looked and appeared in texture to be similar to a mashed sweet potato so it was surprising and nice when the flavor came up a bit tangier than that.


Others had appetizers, Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Red Onions and Bing Cherries, or Glazed Oysters with Osetra Caviar, Zucchini Pearls and Lettuce Cream, and seemed pleased.


A seafood dish, Seared Yellowfin Tuna with Sweet Corn Orzo, Roasted Tomatoes and Haricots Verts, was my third course. The tuna was fresh and good but really nothing special. What made this dish, however, was the sweet corn orzo underneath the tuna. I should proclaim that I'm usually a fan of orzo because it can provide a feeling of lightness that few other foods can provide. And here it did just that, and with a creamy and sweet corn base provided a clear wonderful flavor.


Some compatriots had a seafood plate of Roast Maine Lobster with Chanterelles, White Corn and Tarragon. It looked wonderful; the lobster was already broken open (cut lengthwise with a little piece removed from the top) to open all its flesh for easy access. And it must've tasted great too: one of the attendees' (that isn't normally known for eating rapidly) entree disappeared the fastest of everyone's.


Perhaps now is a good time for a digression about timing and service. All of us got our items at exactly the same time; the plates were similarly cleared identically. This was done amazingly fast with the assistance of a few people and with such coordination I could imagine each of them being a different member in an orchestra playing the same symphony. Occasionally some people wouldn't have an item during a round; for instance, some of us had three items before our meat item and other only had two. They had us re-sync at the beginning of the meat round, re-sync again for cheese, and re-sync again for desserts.


Besides the service in, well, serving, the exceptional service came out in two other places also. As one example, during part of my meal after I'd finished my glass of a good (and uncommonly sweet) Reisling (a white wine), I went to pour a small sip of a bottle of Cabernet (a red wine) into my glass to try. Perhaps before I even started pouring, a server rushed over almost apoplectic to offer me an appropriate wine glass. I think she may have started running the instant my hand touched the bottle (because they always acted as wine pourers for us anyway). As another example, one compatriot came back from the bathroom and the following (paraphrased) conversation ensued. "Wow. I've never had the bathroom door opened for me before." "Really? You've never had someone at another restaurant open the door for you?" "Well, I've never had someone _run_ to open the bathroom door for me before."


Digressions aside, I believe I was about to describe the meat course.


Taking a suggestion from our waiter, my meat course, Herb Crusted Loin of Lamb with Israeli Cous Cous, Yellow Zucchini and Garam Masala, was the course I was the happiest with. It's not just the thin sliced grilled lamb, but the cous cous and zucchini, all with a bit of unusual spices -I wouldn't have guessed it was garam masala if the menu didn't list it- made this dish the most uniformly tasty.


I got the opportunity to try others' Soy Mustard Glazed Beef Filet with Eggplant and Red Pepper Marmalade and this was similarly excellent in flavor, preparation, and execution. (I love how throughout this review I don't have to describe how each seafood / shellfish / meat is cooked simply because everything was cooked -executed- to perfection.)


After the meat course, those that selected the cheese tray as one of their courses got to select and eat their cheese. The tray had a wide selection of cheese, both international and domestic and ranging from cow to sheep to goat, and the cheese was very well described / explained. The cheese eaters declared themselves quite happy, saying this was better than many cheese selections they'd had at other places in the past.


Three of us selected the Flambeed Peaches with Crepes and Raspberry-Lemon Ice Cream as our dessert. This was done as a performance piece with the first few steps similar to a peach version of Banana's Foster: melt sugar and butter, saute peach slices, add alcohol (in this case, Grand Marnier), flambe, add a little cream, and add a few crepes and let them soak up the sauce. To serve, place raspberry-lemon ice cream at the edge of a plate, add crepes to center, and put peaches and sauce on them.


How did it work? The peaches were in their prime; the crepes were good although they didn't add much (though they did make it easier to get more sauce with each bite); and the raspberry ice cream was terrific on its own and -I was surprised- also accompanied the flavors of the peaches quite well.


Another attendee had the Baked Chocolate Souffle with Two Sauces for dessert and loved it. I can't tell you how it tasted but I can describe how it looked. It came in a wide cylindrical dish and rose a good two inches straight above the top. Clearly right out of the oven, it started ever so slightly collapsing as it cooled. But two sauces (one chocolate; I forget the other) were poured on top in the center as it was served, making the center collapse and letting the sauces mix and meld and diffuse through the inside of the souffle.


The dinner was so elaborate and had so many courses and so much always going on (whether conversation or digestion) that we were all surprised how late it was when we left the restaurant. Dinner had been three and a half hours! So late so that I missed the last BART to the east bay and had to take a taxi home. (This was cheaper than I expected; only $40 and peanuts in comparison to the meal.)


It should not be understated: Gary Danko is an expensive restaurant. Our bill including wine, caviar, and everything was amazingly large. But it was picked up by a very generous friend of mine (who also left a very generous tip), and who happens to be single. So if any of you reading this happen to be female and single, or happen to have a single female friend who'd like to meet a generous man who's enjoys good food and is a big fan of cheese trays, tell me and we'll see if we can set them up. (Or, if you have multiple such friends, tell me too, because I'm available also :>, though I'm not such a big fan of cheese trays.)


Original Announcement


Basically, I decided that for an occassion like this, we should go to the place that's most over the top and over hyped. Also, I looked at Michael Mina's menu and decided it was too "safe" in its choices for my requirements of quirkiness in my dining. -Seth



Some additional restaurant hype for Gary Danko:


It's rated the top bay area restaurant for 2005 and has tied or beat the French Laundry for number 1 in the past few years consistently.



Comments from Other Attendees


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