Eating an epic meal at one of the city’s premiere dining destinations is always an enjoyable event, but when you sit down to that meal with the world-class chef who prepared it, the experience becomes unforgettable. I had the recent pleasure of dining with Chef Sean Thomas on a memorable Friday evening in the Mission, as I savored some of the dishes that he crafts with artful precision at The Blue Plate (3218 Mission Street)
This superb enclave for New-American dining has the cozy feel of an elegant townhouse. When you step inside you are immediately enchanted by wooden facades, delicate displays of modern art hanging from the walls, and the tranquil and verdant outdoor garden which constantly beckons your attention while you scan the interior. But you’re here to eat and The Blue Plate has its priorities straight as the kitchen sits front and center, located right next to the entrance.
It’s impossible not to notice Executive Chef Sean Thomas hard at work, preparing the meticulously-engineered menu which changes daily. In order to stay one of the Mission’s most desirable restaurants for over 13 years you have to keep the people happy. And The Blue Plate, of course, has something for everyone. Although many associate the place with high-end comfort food, like their masterful Mac n’ Cheese, gourmet Meat Loaf and positively addictive southern Fried Chicken, they offer a cornucopia of flavors that goes well beyond pedestrian fare.
Thomas received his pedigree from New York’s prestigious WD-50, a restaurant renowned for its imaginative use of molecular gastronomy. The accomplished chef has taken some of his expertise across the cost to the Mission, but here he makes the food much more accessible. Of course there is a ‘wow’ factor to everything that rolls out of the kitchen here, using gourmet gadgets like immersion circulators and dehydration machines. However, the dishes beg to be eaten, not gawked at with unnecessary pretention.
And that’s certainly not to say that the delicate balance of flavors aren’t extraordinarily precious. I began my meal by diving in to the Spring Lamb Ravioli–a magical medley of housemade Italian pasta dumplings wrapped around supply-ground meat, melting in the mouth with tones of umami, light on the gamey flavor that I usually associate with lamb. Fava beans, pickled baby fennel and shavings of baby carrot all added to the affair, injecting chunky dollops of roots and licorice into the mix. The hearty, earthy flavors were emboldened by the complex tartness of Haden Fig’s 2010 organic Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.
Working backwards, I made my way to a few appetizers–both of equal magnificence, while Chef Thomas walked me through their impressive intricacies. The House-Made Ricotta, impossibly light and fluffy, like biting into a cloud, was accompanied by slow-cooked artichokes, fennel pollen and a true carnivores delight: boudin noir. Blood Sausage typically isn’t for everyone, with it’s strong and often rusty characteristics. Yet this example defied the conventions, it was at once delicate in flavor and perfect in texture. The mixture of the dairy with the meat was so mellifluous that you wanted to make sure to get a little bit of both onto each forkful. Any fuller-bodied Cabernet would wash down these flavors with ease. Chef Thomas beamed with vicarious delight as he observed my unabashed satisfaction at his culinary creations.
At last I arrived at the Grilled Local Sardines, prepared with a succulent linguiça sausage and grilled radicchio. Much gentler in flavors than many would assume this dish to be, Thomas’ expertise in engineering flavors is fully apparent here as the subtle saltiness of the fish is propped up against the heavier, ham-like profile of the linguiça. Texturally they link up, providing something soft and something sturdy with each bite.
Chef Sean Thomas and his crew at The Blue Plate are experts at what they do. Having the privilege to sit down with him as he humanized the preparation of all these masterful arrangements was truly an honor. Any evening spent here is guaranteed to be supremely satisfying, and because their menu changes so frequently you’re going to get something different every time you come. The one thing you can count on to remain the same: night in and night out, Chef Thomas nails it.