It's hard to say what made us go back to Rubicon... we'd been there less than a month ago for a holiday dinner with my company. Dinner that night was exceptionally good -- everyone raved as we walked out, and we all found ourselves asking "What happened here?"
Rubicon used to be very... dependable. Solid food, an extraordinary wine list, hushed tones -- a great place to take clients for a business dinner. But Rubicon for a date? Never.
So, when C called to ask if he could take me to dinner... well, I jumped at the chance. Then, when he suggested Rubicon, I found myself hesitating for just a split second. I jumped onto the Dine About Town website, and looked at their menu. Sounded amazing. "Rubicon it is -- meet you there at 8:30?"
And so, I walked into Rubicon, promptly at 8:30 and walked up to the handsome gentleman in black, sitting at the bar and sipping a glass of Roederer. "How lucky am I?," I thought, as he ordered me a drink.
Soon after, we were led to our table on the first floor (I'd never sat downstairs before), where we did a bit of people-watching and wine-picking and menu-perusing. Jennifer, our sommelier, had assisted me last month in selecting a wine, so I had a wee bit of familiarity with the list this time around. I ordered a bottle of '96 Serafin Pere & Fils Gevrey-Chambertin ($70), and she came over to pour for us. She called me by name, asked how our holidays were -- it was unexpected and so appreciated. The wine was... breathtaking. Everything we love about wine -- soft, well-integrated tannins, gently gamey, loaded with bacon fat and spice.
We decided to go with the DAT menu -- it looked spectacular, and we couldn't pass up a chance to see how Chef Brioza handled it.
C started with a Chestnut Soup & Celery Root Soup with Duck Prosciutto & Gizzard Confit. It was a silky, dreamy, earthy soup. I had Grilled Calamari with Garlicky Salt Cod & Citrus Vinaigrette. One of the best squid dishes I've had in a long time; these were deeply flavored with a rub, and cooked to perfection. The bacalao was served cool, a nice change from the ubiquitous "crostini" treatment.
As we sat chatting, Jennifer brought over a plate of what looked like fried little birds... she set them down in front of us and said, "This is a little gift from me -- Buttermilk soaked fried quail with lemon confit".
To borrow from my muse a moment, oh for FUCK'S sake. Fried chicken ain't got nothing on fried quail. The meat was ridiculously sweet and moist; the batter was perfectly crisp, not greasy, and with a shiver of cayenne to give it oomph. The lemon confit was genius... brilliance. Take the texture of June Taylor's marmalades, combined with the deep flavor of Mourad Lalou's preserved lemons, warm the whole thing and... shit, I'm drooling again. Needless to say, we took one look at each other and pulled every last bit of meat off that little bitty leg with our teeth.
At this point, we were happy as clams, but worried that our entrees wouldn't hold up to the splendor of the bird. We needn't have been concerned. Our Smoked & Glazed Pork Belly with Soft Polenta, Dried Fruit Condiment & Braised Greens was exceptional (yes, we broke the cardinal rule and both ordered the same entree -- do you blame us? It's PORK BELLY!). The skin was incredibly crisp (I would have liked a steak knife, actually, but none was offered) while the meat was intensely flavorful and meltingly tender. The polenta was mild and as fine a texture as I've ever seen (really, more like Cream of Wheat). Every element on the plate worked well individually, but putting all of them together in a single bite really showcased the complexity and depth of the flavors, and how well they balanced each other.
By now, we were stuffed but still had dessert coming. We decided to try both of the offerings on the DAT menu, and while they were both very, very good, I felt that they were perhaps a bit more complicated than I would have liked.
The Pistachio & Dried Cherry Nougat Glacé with Winter Fruits was very unique and pushed my palate a bit farther than I expected, both texturally and flavor-wise, while the Wild Anise Chocolate Mousse-Espresso Shortbread, Fleur de Sel Caramel finally broke my limit for "too many elements". I think petite portions of either of these desserts, as part of a tasting menu with a palate cleanser before and a simple flavor profile afterwards would be stellar. But as an average-sized dessert, after three courses of complex flavors, they finally led to palate fatigue. I just couldn't handle more than a couple of bites of each.
Service throughout dinner was very good, from the runners delivering and explaining the amuse bouche of duck liver mousse with vanilla oil to our bread plates rarely being empty for more than a couple of seconds. Thinking back, I don't believe there was a single misstep.
Towards the end of our meal, Chef Brioza came over and chatted with us for a good long time --he's engaging and charming and made us feel so incredibly welcome, as did Pastry Chef Nicole Krasinski.
If you haven't been to Rubicon recently, do try them during DAT. I think it's a great representation of what the kitchen can pull off, and if it's to your taste, I bet you'll be back soon after. And while Rubicon's regular menu isn't inexpensive, it's comparably priced to several far less impressive restaurants in the city.
As for C & I, we've put Rubicon into our regular rotation.
558 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA