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Believe the Hype

Since opening on April Fools' Day 1989, Postrio has garnered more press, visits from luminaries, and rave reviews from foodies than should be legal in this country; these accolades automatically categorized the Theater District destination as "potentially bogus" in my book. Part of the Wolfgang Puck empire, which now includes canned soup and bottled coffee drinks (ouch), Postrio is one of a mere handful of fine dining restaurants in San Francisco to which administrative professionals will always return when booking fat cats for power dining, regardless of trends.

The hype, the California cuisine (so early 90s in concept), Pat Kuleto's creamy-glamorous interior with its mandatory, dramatic, grand staircase entry, the clientele of suits and globetrotting debutantes, art by fancy glass man Dale Chihuly, and pricing to make a wealthy man blush could all add up to a potentially mediocre experience.

However, there's a rule about making assumptions. I dined at Postrio recently, and I could not quite believe how lovely it was; the menu was far more creative than I'd imagined. They started off our tasting menu with a composed salad of sliced heirloom melons, Laura Chenel goat cheese, peppercress, macadamia nuts, rice wine vinegar, and Japanese chili flakes. Paired with a Lucien Albrecht Tokay Pinot Gris from Alsace, it was a bright and exciting introduction to the cooking of brothers Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal, who run the kitchen while Wolfgang pursues his global empire-building.

Manifest destiny or no, the food gets even more magical: the next course brought a huge, pan-seared ravioli filled with soft hen egg, spinach, and mascarpone, topped with the mildest shaved truffles I've had the pleasure of consuming (truffles these days = overused). If I could eat a Postrio soft hen egg ravioli every day for the next 40 days, I would turn into an Indonesian princess and float away on a bed of roses. It's that good. The accompanying Peju Provencal Rose, along with the first wine, converted my date from red-wine-only to "I'm going to buy some rose" in the space of an evening. Pretty tight!

We tried other fine and tasty dishes: a highly successful roasted king salmon with seafood sweet potato cannelloni, favas, and a yellow coconut Thai curry, and a salt-crusted Niman Ranch NY strip with braised beans, arugula, tomato confit, and roasted garlic olive butter that ranked, let's say, a 7 or 8 out of 10. Dessert by pastry chef Christine Law was almost overkill, but that's not to slight her warm, delicate brown butter plum galette with ginger-vanilla ice cream and blackberry-zinfandel coulis, paired with a dusky 1994 Sandeman's LBV.

The service? Excellent. Better than excellent. GM James Minch's erudite team seems to know everything about the menu and wine list; at least our waiter did. I like it when the front of the house understands the line between attentive and nauseating. When I knocked over my ovoid water glass in my first ten minutes at the table (genius), a staff member gracefully appeared with a crumber to remove the ice cubes, another floated over to drape a fresh tablecloth over the offended area, and yet another breezed over with a fresh glass of water. Pretty great!

I'd recommend Postrio for an occasion when money is no object, but you really don't need to be bothered with worrying whether the food, service or ambiance will measure up. It's solid. Take a fancy date there, go with friends to celebrate extremely good news, use it for impressing clients, or, ladies and gents, flock to the bar for martinis and appetizers if you want to make eyes at overstuffed menfolk in gray and spa-going businesswomen in flowing linen suits! Most assuredly you will end up making eyes at one another, and that is where the magic is made.