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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Scott Howard: Restaurant Review CLOSED

Chef and restaurant Scott Howard have taken over a location on the edge of the financial district that began as the Cypress Club, an over-the-top 1990's glittery copper and tile studded nightclub that was all flash. Fortunately the focus has flipped to the food rather than the now restrained interior.

The menu at Scott Howard is ambitious to say the least. Before you even get to the main courses there are raw and charcuterie offerings in addition to salads, appetizers and soups. A raw bar is tucked into the corner of the dining room but not accessible to diners. This is the type of thing that keeps me from being more enthusiastic about the restaurant. Though the food was often delicious there is a general sense of incongruity. To me, something just seems schizophrenic about having a refined raw bar and a more earthy charcuterie. The two raw items we tried, a wild trout tartare amuse bouche and a hamachi tartare with apple sorbet, almonds and cocoa nibs were refreshing and innovative but not as interesting as other starters.

A creamy rillette with huckleberries was nicely spiced, rustic and perfect for fall. Another amuse bouche, a chanterelle soup was creamy and well-balanced. The carrot soup is one of their signature dishes. It's hard to imagine a more exquisite carrot broth, it is the most intense delicious carrot soup ever. Topped with a light sabayon and a drizzle of truffle oil it is a bit like Scott Howard itself, a study in contrasts and surprises.

I got a chance to try the sous vide cooked short ribs and they are the melt-in-your-mouth variety, rich, flavorful and deeply satisfying, destined to be a favorite. I also enjoyed a scallop and veal cheek entree with a flourish of creamy cauliflower that was very well-paired. While I'm not generally fond of "turf and surf", veal and scallops marry very well and Scott Howard showcases their flavors and textures wonderfully.

Surprisingly what really blew me away were the side dishes. We had the potato gratin with goat cheese which as Lee pointed out is potatoes, cream and goat cheese, what's not to like? Rich and crusty it was the kind of dish that makes you want to take it to bed with you. The other side dish was a seasonal mix of roasted brussel sprouts, apples, fennel and a swirl of chestnut puree. The sweet yet earthy flavors were just perfect for mixing to your hearts' content.

The dessert, a baba au rum was solid but not spectacular, though I would like to try some of the other offerings such as the banana caramel cream pie. So all in all a good meal but a bit unfocused. Is Scott Howard trying to be more cutting edge than Gary Danko but less formal? Less fussy than Michael Mina but equally as edgy? I'm not sure. But if you can put aside the ambiguity, you'll find Scott Howard a perfect destination for an expense account business dinner or a special night out.

Scott Howard
500 Jackson St
San Francisco
Mon-Thurs & Sun 5:30-10 pm
Fri & Sat 5:30-10:30 pm