SF Chefs Grand Tasting: Top 5 Picks (Photos)

I sampled every dish of the evening and here are my top five picks among the very best San Francisco has to offer.

SF Chefs 2011 Saturday Night Grand Tasting "Decadence After Dark" in Union Square was a sold out event.
SF Chefs 2011 Saturday Night Grand Tasting
SF Chefs 2011 Saturday Night Grand Tasting

Saturday evening’s SF Chefs Grand Tasting showcased some of the most innovative chefs in San Francisco and their culinary creations. For those that seek the most memorable of culinary experiences, San Francisco is the nation’s mecca with the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country at 3,588 and growing. According to health department records, there is one restaurant for every 227 residents. This trumps New York City which has one restaurant per every 347 people.

With so many restaurants and so few days in the year (think about it, you could go to a different restaurant for the next 10 years and perhaps have a chance of eating at all of them), the Grand Tasting event at SF Chefs is an incredible way to go speed dating with some of the city’s best.

Taste something you like? Perhaps it warrants a future visit for the complete experience. Surely if it catches your taste buds in the expansive tent at Union Square, with its excited and understandably eager crowds, and amped music, the experience seated would be even more compelling.

I sampled every dish of the evening and here are my top five picks among the very best San Francisco has to offer.

Number 1: Ahi Tuna Parfait, Brick & Bottle
Ahi Tuna Parfait
Spicy Ahi Tuna Parfait, Haas Avocado, Wasabi Cream (Brick & Bottle, www.brickandbottle.com). It is no secret I love sushi and this parfait was refreshing and savory at the same time. The ahi tuna was fresh and gave this dish structure while the wasabi cream gave a nice kick and the Haas avocado imparted a nice long finish. There was a nice bit of flavorful soy to enhance the flavors but not overwhelm.
Number 2: Eggplant Caponatina with Burrata, Delarosa
Eggplant Caponatina with Burrata
Eggplant Caponatina with Burrata: Sauteed eggplant with celery, pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, capers, olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper and burrata cheese (Delarosa, www.delarosasf.com). I love burrata which is much more interesting in my opinion than just mozzarella on its own. This was a refreshing dish and embodies the whole essence of farm to table. The olive oil gave some bright notes to this dish that enhanced the sweetness of the tomatoes and the textures of the burrata.

San Francisco Food news, events, photos, videosSTARK INSIDER TV: Illy Chefs Challenge

In this segment I witness a battle royale at Union Square and interview all-star SF chefs: Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), Russell Jackson (Lafitte), Chris Cosentino (Incanto) and Elizabeth Falkner (Citizen Cake, Orson).

Number 3: Pork Rillette, Seasons
Pork rillette with bacon
Pork rillette with bacon, pickled peaches, cilantro pudding and crisp new york rye. (Seasons Restaurant and Lounge, Four Seasons Hotel, San Francisco, www.fourseasons.com/sanfrancisco/dining), This dish by far had the most complex name. I had to get Chef Mark Richardson to repeat it several times before I wrote it all down. I let him know that when a name gets over 3 words, it is the chef
Mark Richardson, Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel
Mark Richardson, Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel
Number 4: Tartare of Lamb and Sea Bass, The Taverne at Lark Creek
Tartare of Lamb and Sea Bass
Tartare of Lamb and Sea Bass with fresh tofu skin, Japanese cucumber and barley miso (The Taverne at Lark Creek, Chef Aaron Wright, www.tavernatlarkcreek.com). This had some of my favorite components coming together into a bundle of joy. The lamb and sea bass was tender and flavorful and was well balanced with the tofu skin and cucumber. I loved the format it came in, like a maki roll. The flavors exploded in your mouth.
The Taverne at Lark Creek
The Taverne at Lark Creek
Number 5: Bittersweet Blackberry Lavender Chocolate Cake, The Moss Room
Bittersweet blackberry lavender chocolate cake
Bittersweet blackberry lavender chocolate cake. (The Moss Room, www.themossroom.com). I am not a big fan of chocolate desserts because often times they are just too sweet, but this was a surprising one. It had nice blackberry notes and the little nib on top was (I think) coffee because it imparted a nice bitterness to the finish of this dessert. I also liked the base of this dessert as it added a nice wafer texture to the block of rich, fudge-like brownie. It was one of the few desserts at the Grand Tasting and I am glad it made a showing.

I enjoyed many of the other dishes. If there was point for improvement or criticism, I would say to chefs, “Watch the salt!” There were a couple of times during the evening when I would look at a wonderfully plated dish, anticipate as I bit into it the richness of crab meat or the subtle complexities of a creation crafted with a multitude of ingredients, only to be hit with what I’ve now labelled as the “salt bomb.” It is what the “fruit bomb” is to wine.

How do you know when there is too much salt? As an avid eater and taster, for me, it is when the salt stops enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients and becomes the prima donna. Unless we are at a salt bar, this should never be the case.

Otherwise, a spectacular evening. I am always amazed that behind the glitz of such an event, the amount of focus, precision and stamina chefs and their teams must have to pull off such an event.

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.