A tale of two dinners

I was just last night saying to a friend that in the two-plus years DPaul and I have been in our place, we underwent a radical shift from eating out several times a week to maybe a couple times a month. Of course, I said this over dinner out at the end of a stretch of two weeks when I had already eaten out three times. Hyopcritical, me? Never.

In truth, we eat in most nights. And when we do go out, we have a bad tendency to fall into the habit of revisiting the same places. But lately I’ve made an effort to try to get out and sample new places, at least new to us.

I don’t post about every meal I eat out. It has nothing to do with any grand mission statement about visiting a restaurant so many times before commenting. I am not a reviewer per se. I merely remark on my own experiences, and sometimes I feel the need to revisit a restaurant before I can forge a coherent opinion. Other times I’m just too damned busy or lazy to write one up. In this case, I’m cramming two restaurants into one post in part because of time constraints and in part because, as they were just two days apart, I came away with an interesting sense of contrast on the two places.

Last Saturday we dined at RNM, somewhat spontaneously before a party. The following Monday, six of us went to Les Amis for a friend’s birthday. We may as well have dined in different cities.

Rnm_1I’ve been meaning to go to RNM for some time now. It’s not that it’s that hard to get to, nor that it’s such an unfamiliar spot. In fact, when I first moved to San Francisco, I lived two short blocks from that spot, though it was something else back then. (And I couldn’t possibly tell you what, but it was definitely several years pre-Pasta Pomodoro.)

I was immediately enamored with the space, all understated and modern without being fussy. That we had just come from a friend’s house where she was plying us with cans of Sofia I am sure had no influence on our impression of the place. We kicked things off with some kir royales made with Chambord in lieu of cassis, lending a nose-tickling sweet-tart note.

Though the restaurant bills itself as serving small plates with a French and Italian influence, the menu has starters and entrées just like any other. I had a beet and goat cheese salad that was perfectly fine, if less than innovative, but I like me the beets. Our friend Hugh, however, had a chestnut-mushroom soup that was to make you weep. For the entrée, I had a seared black cod on a bed of lentils (you know how I like the lentils); it was quite possibly the best fish I have ever had. Crispy sear on the outside, creamy flesh within. I couldn’t have been happier.

The desserts were unmemorable, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. In all, for a hit-and-run meal, I found it pleasant and reasonably affordable. Add RNM to the list of return-worthy spots.

LesamisMonday’s meal was to celebrate Hugh’s birthday, making two consecutive meals with him in scarcely as many days. The initial plan was to go to Acquerello, but they were not open on Monday, so the game of OpenTable schedule-jockeying for a group of six began. Ultimately, Hugh chose Les Amis from the list of viable options.

I’ve long been curious about the building that houses the restaurant. For years it was Zaré, which lived out its entire life without me ever gracing its halls. A member of a group of restaurants including Cafe Bastille and B44, Les Amis had promise, style and a conspicuous lack of prices on the online menu.

The interior is far more intimate and less cavernous than the monolithic façade would have you expect. From the moment we stepped in to the hushed room, we announced, "we’re going to be the loud party tonight." They were fine with that.

I opted to start with the parsley soup with escargots on recommendation from our server. The soup was stunningly green, dotted with several large, plump snails that were succulent and not at all rubbery. However, the whole creation was undersalted and bland. My duck with braised endive was tasty enough, if slightly more done than I would have cared for.

I will admit that DPaul’s dish of rabbit three ways was pretty grand, most especially for the tiny rack of rabbit, its minute, Frenched ribs jutting out like eyelashes. And that it was served with the liver — and that I liked it — was quite remarkable.

Of course, as is typical with a table of six discrete diners, selecting wine was a challenge. I wanted a nice light Burgundy, which our server agreed with. However, she steered me to a $125 initially. I went for it, figuring the first bottle would be the memorable one, but how many of those could we go through? At about $20 a glass, things were gonna rack up fast. The second bottle was merely $75, coasting on the bottom range of prices, and it was decidedly inferior.

So $30 entrées and a wine list that medians out around $125 a bottle. It’s clear that Les Amis subsists on a steady diet of business lunches and client entertainment dinners hosted by people with bottomless expense accounts. The service, food and atmosphere were all perfectly fine, but for the prices, I wanted more than fine. I would be hard pressed to return.

598 Haight St (at Steiner)

Les Amis
568 Sacramento St (at Montgomery)

  • sam

    I know the chef and sommelier of les amis – I will pass on your comments to them.

  • Tea

    Have you tried the fries at RNM? My friends and I call them crack fries. Very salty, very good!

  • oooh, can’t wait to try the crack fries. 🙂

  • Sam: Hooookay. Emphasize the part where there was nothing wrong. 🙂
    Tea: Crack fries? Why must you do this to me?
    Anita: I guess you and I are going down together. Thanks to Tea. We’ll end up in the gutter, covered in potato scraps and coarse salt. So not pretty.