TBD, the newly opened restaurant in the economically burgeoning area of northwest SOMA, has been garnering a lot of attention lately. We decided to dine here to see for ourselves how owner Matt Semmelhack and chef Mark Liberman incorporated the open wood-fired grill concept to the overall dining experience.
When we first arrived we were greeted by a comfortable ambiance, friendly staff and warm air radiating from twirling flames from the grill beyond. Our friendly hostess expeditiously guided us to our mezzanine seats overlooking the fiery burning center piece below. As the burning wood and smoldering embers seared and cooked the meats, our cozy and inviting atmosphere was being further induced by the stacked firewood, cellar organized wine bottles and ambient lighting.
We then turned our attention to the folded arranged paper menu. We were delighted by the unique dishes, simplicity of the pricing and food preparation schemes. Dishes are arranged in their cooking method from raw and smoked to ember and fire grilled. In addition, items such as ember grilled Uni and smoked Nantucket Scallops reflected the originality and diversity of the offered dishes.
Soon after we ordered our drinks and entrees, they started appearing on our shared table. The first to arrive was our bourbon aged sherry drink with infused bitters. Our expectations of aged sherry and bitters giving the drink a full-bodied and complicated flavor profile were quickly dashed when the results were mild and watery. Undaunted from our drink we moved on to our unexpectedly small portioned but promptly served dishes. The Nantucket smoked scallops in our first dish were disappointingly 10 degrees colder than desired and the accompanied chopped grapefruit and tangerine did not result in a synergistic pairing. The highly anticipated Uni in the Sea urchin dish had a delicious creamy texture but it was paired with a rather uninteresting array of potatoes. The urchin needed a savory or similar component to offer the right tensions in the mouth and tongue. The roasted lamb plate contained a good mix of grilled bitter greens but many of the meat portions were fatty and detracted from the eating experience. And lastly, the plumped sausage in our veal and pork sausage dish either did not contain the correct ratio of fats or was just simply overcooked and dry. Despite the underwhelming entree experience, the pinnacle of satisfaction came from our s’mores dessert with its creamy marshmallows, soft and velvety chocolate chunk, topped with crunchy graham-like crumble.
We felt our final bill topping over $100 (including a 20% tip) was undeserving despite the restaurant having all the right aspects and ingredients for a “3 dollar” type restaurant. The dishes suffered from three fatal flaws: the center pieced ingredients were inaccurately paired with dull accompaniments, the elements of taste tensions were missing, and the quality of meats were misappropriate for the premium nature of the restaurant. The 5 basic taste elements (sour, salty, bitter, fat, umami) were missing and/or not having the proper harmonious interactions. A premium restaurant needs more than unique ingredients, warm atmosphere and helpful and friendly staff. It needs a properly executed menu game plan that creates a synergistic effect within the ingredients representing more than the sum of its parts. To put it another way, the food has to be good.
Since other aspects of the restaurant were promising and the dessert was exceptional, we decided that we come back in 6 months to identify whether the execution has improved.
Our Rating for this restaurant :
Summary of our tastings
Stouter Old Fashioned Bourbon barrel-aged stout oloroso sherry, bitters
Winter citrus Nantucket Scallops and fennel juice
Uni, dry-farmed potato, jalapeno and scallion
Roasted lamb, chermoula, puntarelle and sunflower seed milk,
Veal and pork weisswurst, red cabbage and apple cider
S’mores Marshmallow, chocolate and chicory