I think — I hope — we’re emerging from the anti-carb backlash.
Sitting down to the tasting menu at Sons & Daughters, you don’t get bread while idly perusing the menu. An entire sourdough loaf with a ramekin of salted butter is effectively the fourth dish. At that point in the procession of courses, you could be fed a palate cleanser or something light and transitional, but chef-owner Teague Moriarty wants to treat that most San Franciscan of breads as its own entity, on par with the asparagus that followed. There is also no menu, in fact — at least, not until you walk out and receive an envelope sealed regally with a wax S&D stamp. But there is more bread: a toasted slice of brioche sprinkled with Grains of Paradise, and later, a pretzel ball.
It’s the little gestures that keep Sons & Daughters from feeling like it suffers from a seven-year itch that it’s closed itself off in a suffocating air of self-regard. At 28 seats, it’s a small operation, and there isn’t much of a wait staff; chefs run some of the courses themselves. Throughout, there’s a nice combination of steely dedication and relaxed play. A dish of hibachi-grilled asparagus with pickled beech mushrooms and cured egg yolk runs down the checklist — seasonal, varied yet harmonious in color and texture, plated with plenty of negative space like Modernist Lincoln Logs — but it’s also delicious. And wine director Amy Currens decanted the wine accompaniment, a 2014 Gruner Veltliner, with a remark that the winery, Nicolaihof Wachau, is “probably where the unicorns are born.” Eat it, Sand Hill Road.
Earlier this year, Moriarty parted ways with former co-owner Matt McNamara — who took over their other joint venture, The Square — enlarging the tasting menu. At no point does it feel padded out to justify a higher price tag. And notably, more than most tasting menus, even at this caliber, Sons & Daughters refuses to push beverages to the margins. Whereas some of its peers might let a single glass of wine cover two or three simultaneously presented bites, Currens cuts herself no slack. (This is reflected in the ratio of the prices, too: $150 for the nine courses, and $89 for the eight pairings. And for reference, Lord Stanley, the other Michelin-starred Nob Hill restaurant cooking in more or less the same idiom, charges $97 for seven courses and $57 for wine.)
Things are good even before the bread, starting with an amuse of mulberry, squab prosciutto and avocado puree. It comes on two metal spoons that look like little formal-dining catapults. A bite of morels with fromage blanc and fava puree had a nice, softly pickled texture, but it was tepid when it would have been better hot or cold. Paired with a rosé from Provence chosen for its companionship, it differed from the next pairing — also a rosé, this time from Corsica — that was all about contrast with the herb cream on the butter-braised radish with smoked abalone and fiddlehead fern. It was Nova Scotia on a plate, and if the shellfish was a little rubbery, there’s nothing to quibble with in terms of flavor.
Back to that foie gras: It’s exceptional. As rich as rich gets yet without feeling overdone, this terrine goes straight for that melting-butter sensuousness that makes you stop paying attention to anything but what’s happening in your mouth. It even looks like dessert, topped with a bit of strawberry, but the braised chard and the clean, stimulating Rudesheimer Klosterlay Riesling kept it right where it needed to be.
An ice-cream-with-rye-crumble intermezzo made with La Chouffe, a Belgian ale, sounds like it would taste like a fermentation vessel, but the dominant note was good old lemon. Then it was on to trout croquettes with caviar and crème fraîche, which sounds exactly as tasty-if-not-particularly-inspired as it was — and then the real trout dish arrived, a delicate cut poking out of a bit of black-garlic sauce like a dorsal fin. Roasted lamb — in two separate pieces, seared in different ways — with mashed English peas, boquerones, and mint was a almost battle between the meat and the sides. The pea puree, which was studded with whole peas and so effortlessly fresh that it threatened to take over the whole plate, had to contend with boquerones that added nothing except the flavor of low tide (and a possible connection to the Tempranillo that came with it). That’s harsh, I admit — and I do enjoy anchovies and sardines and all that, pinky-swear — but although unpleasant, they didn’t contaminate the other components. The lamb was wonderful.
The next and final segment had a cleverer and much more enjoyable through-line. With a detectable rhubarb flavor, a Bugey Cerdon Gamay heralded the cheese course, and a rhubarb-and-ginger sorbet followed that. I’m always wary of desserts that get too cerebral, and warier still of foams, but the cherry ice cream with verjus granita and juniper foam pulled it off. However wordy and complicated, this was nothing more than frozen treats, with pistachios on top. You couldn’t really call it a sundae, but it was gratifying nonetheless.
Months before the real harvest season, it’s nice to see a kitchen look around at what late spring has to offer and essentially crack its knuckles with anticipation. These Sons & Daughters may have divorced parents now, but the kids are all right.