So what is California cuisine? Place a diverse mix of people from Mexico, Japan, China, and Europe in a region with rich volcanic soils, large expansive coastlines, and water abundant microclimates (pre-drought of course). Add a local passion for food. The result is a culinary cornucopia notable for its local produce, fresh seafood, complex wines, ingredient presentation, and inspirations from a wide range of cultures. The cuisine has an expansive presence in the city and shows its influences throughout many categories of restaurants including French, Italian, and New American. Seven weeks ago restaurateur Daniel Patterson and chef Brett Cooper opened Aster, an upscale Mission restaurant targeting the California cuisine.
Not that the Mission District needed another upscale restaurant offering California cuisine. Similar $55+ per person establishments have become increasingly common these days in the Mission (and throughout the city) and we admittedly are getting food and wallet fatigue from these restaurants. Can Aster stand out from the crowd and offer a unique experience worthy of our hard earned money? Aiming to find out, we visited the restaurant to judge for ourselves.
Menu And Wine
Wine, an important aspect of California cuisine, can greatly enhance the dining experience when it’s properly selected and paired. Of the 23 offered wines, we chose a 2013 Syrah from producer Maxime Graillot. The wine, which glistened a burgundy red under candlelight, exhibited high acidity and was dominated by mineral and briny flavors. Considering its variety, we were expecting more complexity, fuller body, and a fruitier flavor profile.
Green Garlic Soup
After a borderline uncomfortable wait, our dishes began to appear. First came the green garlic soup, which arrived as a bowl of thick green puree topped with a medley of ingredients including chopped dill, parsley, coriander flowers, cubed croutons, and small dollops of yellow lemon curd. The soup’s velvety smooth texture, fresh garlicky onion flavors, and occasional zing of lemon pungency played an interesting dance on the tongue.
We then turned to our beef dish. Glistening under the lights in shades of carmine, slices of aged beef were set on a flattened heap of farro porridge and partially obscured by lettuce leaves. Given the dish’s $33 price, high expectations were set on the texture and flavor of the meat due to the aging process. Disappointingly, the aging did not work its magic, as the meat lacked the flavor, scent, and tenderness of aged beef. Connective tissue remained tough, making the meat difficult to chew.