Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quince wins

San Franciscans are categorical about food. We're like the shop clerks in High Fidelity, only our nerdy lists tend toward "Top 3 dim sum spots outside of Chinatown," "Most authentic taco," and "Best cootie-free hot dogs."

Yes, we are very fascinating.

One category, though, has left me stumped and frustrated: "What's your favorite restaurant?" Seems like an easy question, but I've found myself muttering something about oh, I like different places for different things and the food's so good at Zuni but the service is bad and Incanto is really good if you're not spooked by offal, CAV is a great wine bar, Universal Cafe is sort of the classic San Francisco restaurant, Spice Hut in Menlo Park has good Indian food and...

Well, no more. I have a favorite! I finally made it to Quince.

We had a perfect meal. I'm not overstating here. It was my mother's birthday and the staff nailed every detail. The greeting at the door ("Yes, your table is right here"), the personalized menu ("March 26, 2007 -- Happy Birthday Elaine"), the perfect Lillet cocktail, the fresh flowers, the little warm rolls. Quince is polished and warm, a well-oiled machine that accommodates improvisation and quiet moments of pleasure. It's Pac Heights elegance without fussiness. Swept along in comfort, you're fully primed to savor the food.

And the food! Cauliflower sformato, like a dense soufflé or mousse, was enriched with parmesan, an earthy-airy game of tag. There was a salad with the sweetest pixie tangerines and blood oranges layered with watercress and pistachio. Agnolotti dal plin were tiny little pasta purses stuffed with ground veal, pork, and rabbit. Three bites in, I was high on umami.

We ordered the cheese course. We had dessert (Mom's served with a slender candle) and blood orange tea. We talked and laughed and slowly landed. They brought our coats, pulled the car out front, and we smiled, sighed, and left.

It was a splurge. But the bill was an even $200. For three people, on a night of such happy indulgence, I can't complain.

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