Restaurant Review: Rubicon
Stuart Brioza was named executive chef at the restaurant in April 2004, the same date that Nicole Krasinski – to whom Brioza is married – took over as pastry chef. In January of this year, Brioza and Krasinski were both named by the San Francisco Chronicle as Rising Star Chefs for 2005, a distinction shared by only four others. And two years ago, Brioza – while serving as executive chef at Tapawingo, a restaurant in northern Michigan – was selected as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs for 2003. With all of these accolades in mind, I was hopeful and cautiously excited when a friend and I recently sat down for a dinner at Rubicon.
Our overall experience, unfortunately, was a decidedly mixed one. To be sure, there were glimmers of brilliance scattered throughout the evening, including in the food and in the service. But the consistency that is needed for a
|Chef Stuart Brioza|
I began my meal with the Sashimi of Smoked Hamachi (Taste: 8.5 / Presentation: 6.5) (Ratings Explained), which was outstanding. The subtle smokiness of the delicate hamachi was amplified nicely by bits of salty bacon, with well-conceived counterpoints provided by the smooth creaminess of avocado slices and the pronounced sweetness of summer corn. Despite the large number of competing flavors on the plate and the difficult challenge of balancing them properly, Brioza pulled it off masterfully. The composed presentation of the hamachi itself was quite attractive, but the designs made on the plate with the accompanying sauces – a line across the diameter of the plate, with a circular puddle of sauce on one side of the line – seemed almost amateurish.
The entrees that we ordered were similarly uneven. The Roasted Artichokes & Porcini Mushrooms (T:8.5 / P:6.5) had an amazing flavor, with white bean ravioli, spring onions, roasted artichokes, porcini mushrooms, and pepita crumbs. The star ingredient here, however, was lemon verbena – which took the dish to another level by giving it a brightness that not only hit the palate immediately with each and every bite, but also lingered there long after.
The Cinnamon Skewered Alaskan Halibut (T:5.0 / P:6.5) was not nearly as impressive. The concept sounded simultaneously unusual and enticing: a piece of halibut pierced with a cinnamon stick and then served with sweet onion, oxtail, cherries and toasted oats. And even when the plate was placed before me , the intoxicating aromas suggested that the dish might yield something
|Rubicon: At A Glance|
|Address||558 Sacramento St.|
San Francisco, CA 94111
For dessert, Krasinski’s Blueberry Meringue Tart (T:8.0 / P:6.5) was excellent. Indeed, the recipe for this was selected for the “Last Bite” feature of Food & Wine Magazine’s July 2005 issue, and the accompanying picture played no small part in luring my friend and me back to Rubicon. Flaky disks of pastry are layered with a compote made from fresh sweet blueberries and then topped with a browned peak of meringue, with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream served on the side. The flavors here were simple, clean and delicious. The Apricot Tarte Tatin (T:1.0 / P:4.0), on the other hand, was terrible. The pastry was soggy and chewy, and the apricots had an incredibly harsh bitter taste to them. Furthermore, the apricot-cardamom ice cream served on the side had partially melted by the time the dessert was brought to the table, and the portion that remained “solid” had a consistency more along the lines of whipped cream. I cannot remember the last time that I was served such an unappealing dessert.
The theme of inconsistency was carried over into the service as well. For example, shortly after we placed our order, it occurred to our server that my friend might be a vegetarian, because she had ordered the vegetarian entrée. Accordingly, and out of an abundance of caution, the server returned to our table just to let us know that the mushroom soup includes chicken stock – demonstrating an admirable level of concern and courtesy. Similarly, when we asked a waitress from a neighboring table if she could summon our server, the waitress kindly proceeded to help us herself. And yet, that same waitress, upon later spotting an empty wine glass in front of me, spirited the glass away without asking if I would like another. Instead, I had to wait until our regular server came back on her rounds – which seemed like an unusually long time.
The décor at Rubicon is an eclectic mix. On the one hand, the white tablecloths, dark wood and solid tableware suggest aspirations to a certain elegance. On the other hand, the exposed brick wall, casual-looking dining chairs, and wild multicolored blown-glass sculptures suggest just the opposite. The combined effect is more casual-plus than elegant-minus.
It is worth pointing out that the impressions set forth here are based on only one visit. It is possible that the kitchen was merely having a bad night when I was there or, for that matter, that Brioza and/or Krasinski were not even on duty that evening. Accordingly, further visits to Rubicon may well cause my assessment to change. Still, any restaurant that strives to be counted among the Bay Area’s best really cannot afford to have a “bad night,” particularly when there are so many other excellent establishments out there competing for diners’ dollars. From that perspective, Rubicon has some way to go -- notwithstanding the promising signs from Brioza and Krasinski.
|Number of Visits: 1|