Sunday, August 01, 2004

saturday dinner at fifth floor

my family and i like to go out and have a nice dinner once a month or so. since my brother's birthday is tomorrow, this month dad wanted to go someplace fancy. after his quest for reservations on or near the appropriate date, the candidates were acquerello, masa's, and fifth floor. when the votes came in, fifth floor won by a landslide. my reasons for choosing fifth floor are threefold: 1) i haven't tried it since laurent gras took the helm, and i've heard such wonderful things about his creativity. 2) we'd eaten at masa's within the past year, and i really didn't care to go back so soon. 3) since i have a gift certificate to acquerello, i will be going sometime in the near future with just mr. dexygus.

my only reservation with the restaurant was that i had to get dressed up. if you know me at all, this is a chore i loathe. first of all, i have like 2 dresses. my normal garb includes t-shirts, jeans and flip-flops. needless to say, being in a dress is very uncomfortable, and makes me self-conscious because i so rarely do it. plus, having to walk in heels. but once we sat down, i was able to relax somewhat despite the fact that our table was smack dab in the middle of the room.

ok, so let the review begin. i have mixed feelings about fifth floor. there were probably as many hits as there were misses. keep in mind, however, that this will be a somewhat frivolous review, as i really don't remember all the components of all the dishes (their online menu will help a lot, though it's not identical to our menu last night), and my palate isn't too sophisticated.

lobster knuckles with avocado puree, and (some kind of) gelee. this was perfect, and sadly, the highlight of my meal. the lobster was sweet and succulent. the gelee, which was just barely set, definitely had umami going on. the avocado kind of tempered the gelee and brought everything together. two perfect little bites.

spring composition. this was just ok. some veggies (carrots, peas, green onion, beet, string bean) boiled or steamed served with parmesan (or other hard cheese) and pistachios with a goat cheese sauce.

sashimi. large order, though it was only 10 pieces, ranging in size from your standard 2-incher to pieces the size of your fingernail. sorry, i didn't catch the names of any of the fish. we weren't really too impressed with this. everything was impeccably fresh, but some fish were not very flavorful. i did love this little pink one though. it was so sweet.

english peas and shellfish. this was very nice, though our waiter had not heard me order this. when we asked about it, he immediately got the order to the kitchen, and it came as we finished up the other appetizers. this was a cold pea soup topped with a shellfish ceviche (clams, lobster, oyster). i really liked this dish, but my brother said it reminded him of the jolly green giant.

crabmeat and avocado. this was ok. the crab was very fresh and sweet, but there was way too much avocado.

lobster cappuccino. we had to try this, since i think it's one of their signature dishes. it was very good. the menu describes it as lobster broth emulsified with chestnuts, prawns, and sauteed lobster. yep, that's what it tasted like. plus, there were a couple chunks of really good lobster.

as if i hadn't had enough lobster, i ordered the lobster with jerusalem artichokes. my only other options were fish, and they didn't sound appealing at the time. this dish stumped me. i enjoyed eating it, though it wasn't anything special. it was served with a purslane salad which i liked. i always like eating succulents. everything thus far had been intensely flavored, so i was surprised (maybe dismayed) that this dish wasn't. maybe the chef didn't want to detract from the crustacean, i don't know, but it wasn't very memorable.

i didn't taste any of the other entrees at the table, so i'll just tell you my family's impressions of them.

prime short rib. my dad and my brother ordered this. they really enjoyed it. my dad, especially, was impressed with how tender, yet firm, the meat was. apparently, chef gras bakes it slowly. my dad, who makes short ribs fairly often, usually braises his, but he is eager to try the slow-baking method.

niman ranch pork belly. mr. dexygus and my future sil, angela, ordered this dish. it didn't quite meet their expectations. it is poached with black truffles, and roasted crispy on the edges. angela thought that it was too one-dimensional. it needed some acidic note. mr. dexygus couldn't really enjoy it because the whole time he was thinking about how he shouldn't be eating a chunk of meat that's 75% fat.

desserts: i have to say that overall, there was too much going on with the desserts. too many flavors. there were individual components that i liked, but i really can't enjoy a 5-component dessert as a single composition.

chocolate and raspberries. guanaja soup with citrus confit and raspberry granite. valrhona chocolate isn't my favorite because it's too fruity for my taste, but i really liked this soup. the raspberries and citrus in the soup were also nice, but i didn't like the bits of ginger. the granite was served in a champagne flute with a raspberry syrup poured over it. i thought the syrup tasted medicine-y.

cherry clafouti. with apricot-caramel ice cream, champagne foam, and apricot-ginger preserves. the clafouti, which was served in its own dish, was good. i couldn't even taste the ice cream though because the preserves completely overpowered everything.

tapioca and mango. mango sorbet with tapioca, and roasted mango on the side. this was ok. it reminded me of something i'd had recently at an asian dessert place.

strawberry and rhubarb. strawberry salad with lime zest, rhubarb and vanilla panna cotta. i really don't think strawberries should be on a menu if they're not perfect. they weren't even close. plus, the lime was too strong for it anyway. the panna cotta and rhubarb, though, were so good. the panna cotta was just barely set, and its sweetness was offset by the tart rhubarb. it was nice and simple. we kind of fought over this one.

i hate when i rag on dishes or restaurants or whatever. it makes me feel so snobby. but man, for those prices, you expect perfection. well, price isn't the issue. even if it was half the price, i'd have the same complaints. oh, speaking of complaints, i was put off initially because of their strict no-substitutions policy of the tasting menu. they had a 6-course tasting menu for $95 that if chosen, the whole table would have to partake. there were two course that i wouldn't have been able to eat because of meat. i asked our waiter if i could have substitutions, but he gave me a firm no. i was a little irked. i've been to several high-end restaurants where they not only allowed substitutions, they actually created something new for me (or maybe i'm not so special, and it was just their standby vegetarian option. yeah, that's probably it).

i might go back to fifth floor. when the dish is a hit, it's really a hit. i just have to know what to order.


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