I stared in awe at the autographed Restaurant Gary Danko menu that adorned my neighbor’s wall. The neighbors were foodies. So a framed and matted menu wasn’t out of place at their house.
The menu included foods like squab, quail and sweetbreads. I remember thinking to myself: “I must go to this restaurant.”
I was 10 years old at the time. And since then, I have craved a visit to Gary Danko (800 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109), often called San Francisco’s best restaurant.
It may have taken me seven years, but last weekend, I finally made it to Danko.
A Portion of Apprehension
But on the day of our reservation, I became a little nervous. What if I wasn’t satisfied at the end of the meal?
Small, composed portions are often a trademark of haute cuisine.
These small portions are served as part of a multiple-course meal, but even so diners are often left with an unsatisfied appetite and a large check.
And that isn’t okay.
I view fine food as an art form. I appreciate the thought, techniques and creativity that goes into every single plate.
But if I (my parents, really) am going to spend the money haute cuisine demands, I need to be full at the end—not stuffed, but satisfied.
Thankfully, Danko doesn’t skimp on the portions.
The menu is a long list of dishes, separated into appetizers, seafood, meat, game and birds and desserts.
Diners can choose a three-, four- or five-course prix fixe meal at Danko. Customers have complete freedom in composing their courses. In theory, one could order five desserts.
But ordering three courses as opposed to five won’t yield less food.
The chefs at Danko portion out their dishes with the intent of fulfilling their customers’ appetite. So if a customer orders three courses, each will be larger than those of a five-course meal.
From the second I walked into the restaurant, the experience was seamless.
Right as we were seated, we were given a small bowl of wild mushroom soup.
At Danko the number of waiters per table equals the number of diners.
So when a course came out for my party of four, four waiters gathered around the table, made eye contact with each other, and in one fluid motion set down the plates simultaneously and walked away.
The food was absolutely stunning.
I won’t go into details for everything I tried. But I can tell you that Danko’s lobster risotto, their most popular dish, should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Very rarely do Americans eat real risotto, for it’s difficult to make properly.
Well, in addition to being real, this risotto, with large shrimp and lobster chunks, was scented with a crisp licorice flavor.
Now I don’t like black licorice at all. But a light licorice flavor from star anise or fennel is to die for. It’s so clean and refreshing.
And the lemon-pepper duck breast actually melted in my mouth. It was served with a crispy duck hash and bacon-braised endive.
The coolest course was the cheese course.
The cheese specialist wheels around a large table with about 15 different cheeses. He gave us a brief presentation on each one before we narrowed our selection down to four.
My choice was Rogue Creamery’s blue cheese. It’s wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy, which adds a wonderful subtle flavor.
I then realized that Rogue Creamery refers to the Rogue Valley in Oregon, famous for pears.
The pears used in the pear brandy are the same ones used in Mr. Neukom’s and my favorite ice cream that we relish every year in Ashland, Oregon, at the Shakespeare Festival.
I thought that was a funny little coincidence.
By the end of the meal, I was completely full. And every plate I tried had wowed me.
Now I’ve been to my fair share of fine restaurants. But I think Restaurant Gary Danko is at the very top of my list.
Though it took seven years, it was worth the wait.
If you go, try the risotto.