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Week in Reviews Special: Quince the Best in the West?

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Writing for the Financial Times, Nicholas Lander, a well-known British restaurant figure, spends three consecutive evenings at three of Northern California's best restaurants: The French Laundry, Cyrus and Quince. His choice of Bay Area restaurants to visit shouldn't particularly surprise you, but his conclusions probably will. First up, the French Laundry:

We decided to put ourselves in the kitchen' hands, not fully realising, when we agreed to this at 6.45pm, we would be letting ourselves in for a 15-course marathon (at $300 per person for the food alone), which would finally see us rise from the table at 11.15pm without indulging in coffee or petits fours. By which time, I was wondering when chef/proprietor Thomas Keller or his head chef last sat down and experienced dinner in the restaurant as their customers do. Had he done so the night I was there, he might have left as disappointed as I did.
Was it simply too late an hour for the 56-year-old Brit? A contrarian, stir-the-pot take? Who knows, but for whatever reason, Lander does not bow at the Church of Keller, though he does declare the standard of cooking "much, much higher" than Per Se before heading to Cyrus and Quince for Rounds Two and Three, and here's where it gets interesting.

For the most part, Lander glosses over his meal at Cyrus to concentrate on Quince, the winner of his informal three-day contest:

Everything we ate was first class. A tartare of halibut incorporated local melon surprisingly well. Squash blossoms were stuffed with smoked mozzarella. Small, crisp patties of oxtail with chanterelle mushrooms were good. The pasta course, for which Tusk is renowned, included reginette with squid, green beans and pesto, salt cod ravioli and cappelletti with summer truffles ... Tusk's desserts are good too. Of the three, this was the best and the best value.
Strong words, yes? To restate the crux of the Financial Times article: not only did the French Laundry fall short of its reputation as the nation's best restaurant, but Quince proved to be better overall than both Cyrus and French Laundry, a thesis that pretty much goes against all recent Bay Area media findings. We can't imagine Keller slipping (that's serious sacrilege), but maybe it was a one-time comparison thing and Quince hit all the right notes? Maybe Lander is simply trying differentiate himself from the French? Discuss away.
· Best of the west [Financial Times]


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