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Frisson, Tonno Rosso, and Roy's
by Thor Elliott on Nov 11, 2004
Should you find yourself downtown with a hankering for finery, here are three spots to give a whirl: Frisson for design-savvy glam and Litebrite flavors, Tonno Rosso for the bay view and rustic Northern Italian cooking, and Roy's for pork lumpia and homemade ginger ale sorbet floats.
Combine a warm orange coral reef with a sleek Northern European airport terminal and a DJ spinning easy-pop and downtempo dance tracks, and you're inside Frisson, where Chef Daniel Patterson (formerly of Elisabeth Daniel) uses foam like it's 2001.
Oddly enough, I can't encourage you strongly enough to go to Frisson for the vegetarian dishes: this kitchen makes a tiny corn macaroon amuse bouche taste like the sunburst essence of the best ear of corn harvested in the best corn year in history. Same for a roasted beet-endive soup ($8), served like so: a white bowl is delivered then uncovered, revealing a pouf of light green endive foam (hiding chopped endive and walnuts). The server pours bright magenta beet puree from a small tureen to yield the earthiest deep-pink moment of your life. Similar highs are achieved with a corn-brioche pudding ($11) with corn meringue and white truffle (lots of truffles on this menu…perhaps excessively so?)
A rear garden designed by Sean Quigley of Paxton Gate is cool but underwhelming, as were the meat dishes we sampled. Golf ball-sized sweetbread ravioli in black truffle foam ($16) contained far too much filling to be enjoyable, but maybe I just like my herbed brains in smaller quantities. At least give me a knife for the suckers; I had to ask for a knife, otherwise it was just me, my spoon and three giant balls of "whoa" floating in a slippery, milky truffle broth. Grilled venison loin ($19) was fine, but boring after the eye-popping vegetable dishes that had preceded it.
To the credit of the kitchen: although we were not warned while ordering dinner that a roasted peach dessert with caramelized sugar flakes and fromage blanc souffle ($10) would be unavailable after a certain hour, we were presented with the very dish not long after settling for something else when dessert time came around. It was incredible: the souffle had this crazy white chocolate flavor, and a thin almost-crust on the outside of gauzy foam -- it was light, airy, and exactly what a toasted marshmallow wishes it could be. Exciting!
I liked that our waiter told me that the Hog Island oysters on the half shell would have a slight watermelon flavor, and they did. I loved ordering a simple pasta, the spaghettini Caesar ($13), and finding that it was extraordinary: a light, al dente creation with just the right amount of parm, garlic, anchovy -- and arugula. The menu does change, so I can't have spaghettini Caesar today, but I can have pappardelle with braised rabbit, and that sounds just fine.
While Tonno Rosso is not so hip as it is casual/classy, the former home of Red Herring does capitalize on the "authentic, regional Italian" trend with fair success, and its bayfront location near the Embarcadero doesn't hurt. We really liked the pan-seared Kobe beef top sirloin with garlic and rosemary ($18), and future visits may include foodie dishes like braised squid in spicy red wine ragu with grilled bread ($9) or seared calf's liver with avocado and cipollini onions ($15).
Roy's is a mega chain that far surpasses the Emeril's empire, with 32 outposts worldwide serving Chef Roy Yamaguchi's Hawaiian fusion cuisine. For Pacific Rim dining, why choose Roy's over a local jewel like Moki's Hawaiian/Japanese in Bernal Heights?
Don't choose. Go to Moki's for the groovy neighborhood dinner, and Roy's if you're feeling a little more like getting your big-shot on. The clean, spacious dining room at Second and Mission is groomed for the expense account set gone business casual, though the bar is slightly less formal-feeling, and closer to the open kitchen. The $9 cocktails are delicious and strong, like the Roy's Secret Mai Tai: Mt. Gay rum, orange Curacao, pineapple and OJ, with a Myers rum floater in a Collins glass. The house drink at Roy's is the Hawaiian Martini, made by infusing Skyy, Stoli Vanil, and Malibu with fresh pineapple.
We found the saucing on the seafood entrees to rely too heavily on butter, but perhaps that is what you get when you order a $45 platter of pan-seared Hapu'upu'u (fish), scallops, mussels and clams in a seafood white wine scampi butter with lobster foam. Still, the charred misoyaki butterfish with panko crisped tofu and sizzling soy vinaigrette ($28) could have used a bit more acid for balance. We found the yellow fin ahi tuna Poketini ($14) to be a bit heavy on the spices, but we really liked the wood grilled Szechuan-spiced baby back ribs ($10).
The best: smoked Kalua pork and cabbage lumpia with coconut pineapple chili glaze ($7); it might be the most excellent eggroll-type item ever. Even better: a fruit sorbet float with homemade fresh ginger ale. A lighter, sweeter, more effervescent dessert there is not! It spanked the signature melting hot dark chocolate souffle. All the empire builders seem to go bananas with the signature dishes, but I guess I can't blame them. Prince fans want to hear "Little Red Corvette" no matter how badly he wants to go off in some overwrought new direction. So Roy puts his roasted macadamia whitefish ($26) on every menu, Michael Mina serves black mussel souffle each night, and Emeril goes "Bam!" OK.
by Thor Elliott on Nov 11, 2004
Frisson, image credited to Terry McCarthy
Tonno Rosso, image credited to David Rice
Roy's, image credited to David Rice