Armed with pastry chef Kaley Laird and sous chef Blake Askew, Top Chef runner-up Casey Thompson recently opened Aveline on the north edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Thompson promises an upscale California cuisine filled with passion and inspiration from her French roots and prior culinary experiences. This promise, along with a significant amount of buzz and media attention, brought us recently to Aveline’s doorstep. Below is a summary of our experiences.
Interior / Exterior
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-interior-and-exterior”]The restaurant, nestled in the ground level floor of the Warwick Hotel, resides near the corner of Taylor and Geary Street, two blocks west of Union Square. The entrance, adjacent to the hotel’s main doors, is both understated and minimally marked. Inside, the main dining area’s traditional styling and dated decor is out shined by an impressive rack of wine bottles embedded in the center wall. Towards the rear lies the partially open kitchen complete with modern stainless steel cooking ovens and a large expansive wood cutting board. The kitchen was bustling with activity but the dining room’s subdued ambiance was less lively than expected.
Cocktail De Triomphe, Rhum, Lime, Sloe Gin, Pink Peppercorn, Bitters ($12)
[maxgallery name=”cocktail-de-triomphe”]The Cocktail De Triomphe arrived in a highball glass filled with a pink liquid and crushed slushy ice. Most of the drink’s flavor complexity was overshadowed by its sweetness, however, there were interesting peppery notes from the cracked pink peppercorns. Instead of the conventional slushy ice, we were expecting a more creative approach to cool the drink.
Yolk Beignet, Wagyu, Lardo, Trotter Sauce ($25)
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-yolk-beignet”]The Yolk Beignet dish was presented as a domed shaped beignet topped with a thin slice of tender Wagyu beef and a sliver of lardo. A hidden poached duck egg laid at the beignet’s core and oozed a thick golden yolk when cut. The combination of the soft marbled meat, lardo, pastry, egg, and trotter sauce made for a unique, flavorful, and well prepared entree.
Amberjack, Salted Banana, Black Lime, Cherry Blossom, Ham Snow ($22)
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-amberjack”]A circular crown of raw amberjack portions, shaved radishes, salted banana chips, banana puree, cherry blossoms pieces, grated frozen ham, and black lime bits made up the amberjack dish. The salted banana chips and puree added an interesting sweet element but overall there was less flavor than expected given the complex array of toppings.
Palate Reset, Pistachio, Ricotta, Peach, Mint ($6)
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-palate-reset-pistachio”]The palate reset consisted of a creamy ricotta and pistachio based sauce topped with quartered mushrooms, charred peach slices, and shreds of mint leaves. The creamy sauce tasted fresh and the toppings imparted both a fruity and earthy flavor.
Campanelle, Pig Cheek, Smoked Yogurt, Cracklin’ ($24)
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-campanelle”]The campanelle dish comprised of pig cheek portions, flower shaped pasta, yogurt driblets, and fried cracklin chips, all dressed in a double cheese sauce. The slow cooked tender pig cheeks were flavorful and contrasted well with the crunchy and equally flavorful cracklin’. The underwhelming pasta seemed somewhat conventional compared to the other ingredients.
Buttered Peas, Candied Mint, coffee, apricot cake, meringue ($13)
[maxgallery name=”aveline-sf-butter-peas”]The buttered peas dessert came in a large shallow dish lined with a thick layer of pea based flan encircled by a heterogeneous array of toppings. Due to the dessert’s overall lack of sweetness, there was an initial period of taste bud confusion but gradually the ingredient’s flavor complexities and synergies won the tongue over. The treasure chest of toppings, which included but not limited to peas, apricot cake, brittle meringue wafers, crisped sugared mint leaves, sweet apricot marmalade, and crumbled pistachios gave an intense diversity of flavors with only subtle amount of sweetness. This audacious dessert was both unique and well fashioned.
Bottom Line [usr 3.5]
There were some flaws but overall the menu’s unique ingredients and unconventional dish preparations combined to form dishes that represented more than the sum of their parts and echoed an adventuresome and intelligent culinary philosophy. The final bill of $146 (including tip) is fine dining territory and we wonder if the city’s burgeoning young generation will appreciate such detail and pay a premium for this kind of effort. As the mature population might be less inclined to venture into the restaurant’s Tenderloin location, viability of the business will depend on a strong young base. For those willing to pay for a dining and culinary learning experience in an upscale more traditional setting we recommend giving Aveline a try.