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Innovative Cuisine, Conservative Decor
by Karen Solomon on Jan 20, 2006
Chef Scott Howard, whose career sails caught wind while working under famed chef Norman Van Aken in Miami, hung the shingle with his moniker on the old 500 Jackson (formerly Cypress Club) in September. He got his start in the Bay Area at Fork in San Anselmo, where he honed his global menu for the adventurous Bay Area palate.
On a recent visit, the mixed crowd, some local celebs among them (such as Mr. Williams of the Williams-Sonoma set) seemed to be enjoying themselves tremendously -- in large part due to Howard’s signature cuisine, which ranged consistently from very good to superbly excellent.
A polished dining room that whispers "expense account" offers seating for 125; a mid-sized bar serves thoughtful wine as well as far-flung cocktails. The décor consists of tasteful wood and tawny accents, and the floor plan boasts that great rarity: breathing room between tables and a pleasantly low noise level.
The menu reads like a series of haiku (count the syllables in “Venison…Baby turnips...Juniper...Chanterelles...”) and it moves in equally poetic strides between a la carte meat and fish dishes, including raw preparations and charcuterie.
The seven-course tasting menu began near the summit with a delicate fluke sashimi slice gently laced in coconut juice and a whisper of Kefir lime. A pig’s feet-focused guinea hen roulade with pistachios and truffles set us back a few spaces; the cold luncheon-style meat was well salted, but not very flavorful.
All was forgotten once the large, chewy sweetbreads arrived dotted with bacon and more truffles -- sexed up in a leggy, truffled Madeira. What made this dish absolutely remarkable was sommelier Britt Gildersleeve’s (formerly of Charles Nob Hill) pairing with Hanahoto Kijoshu sake, a Sauternes-like, desserty brew whose nuttiness and sweetness brought out the best in the smoky, rich dish.
I’ve always liked carrots, but Howard’s signature preparation of carrot broth is anything but modest rabbit food, and the orange tubers have their moment in the sun. The oft-overlooked vegetable is transformed into a luxurious, velvety essence bursting with flavor enhanced with chervil and sabayon and -- can he possibly be serving this ingredient three times in a row? -- a deep splash of truffle oil. The result is spectacular.
Did I mention there was truffle oil? It’s good that I’m a fan, because there’s more to come. It was added, unnecessarily, to the Maine scallops and veal cheeks, both sublimely browned and butter-tender in a classic combination of surf and turf. And with the peppery Long & Reed Cabernet Franc, their sweetness and density was sealed.
Fresh porcinis and baby carrots were a welcome addition to the protein party, despite the fact that they were just window dressing for short ribs, which were cooked perfectly so as to be tender, holding their integrity without falling apart.
Dessert was an unmemorable poached apple upside down cake, made clean and peachy with a glass of Mendelson Pinot Gris. With proper service and solid pacing, it was a fair ending to a storm of a meal.
Scott Howard is a formidable addition to the city's collection of high-priced rooms appealing to the financial district set. However, with a soaring price point and an interior that eschews glamour for a more conservative elegance, Scott Howard doesn't possess that sexy, night-on-the-town vibe. That being said, the cuisine at this comfortable establishment is certainly worth a visit.
by Karen Solomon on Jan 20, 2006