Day Boat Scallops; Ahi Tuna Tartare Cones with Apples, Chiles and Sesame, Stuffed in a Light Pastry; Heirloom Tomato Salad with French Feta, Herbs and Olives
Occupation: Film Festival Volunteer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Vignette
Reviewed Vignette: Thursday, August 24, 2006
Here’s a menu you could literally throw a dart at and whatever you hit will be gourmet excellence. I know that sounds a bit like a cliché, but in this case, it happens to be true. Having dined there at least twelve times, I know firsthand that this is true, since I have ordered everything at one time or another.
The ambiance is elegant but not stuffy. The background music, unobtrusive, usually jazz (e.g. Billy Holiday, Big Band, etc.). A very important feature for us is the acoustics. This is one of the very few restaurants in SF where there is no need to shout to be heard across the table. The artwork has a general musical theme and is all by one particular artist. Not abstract or complicated, it adds to the dining experience in a pleasant way.
I enjoy taking friends there for special occasions or to catch up after long absences in an atmosphere where conversing is not a chore. My only possible regret is that my secret undiscovered restaurant will now be discovered.
Occupation: Marketing Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Little Star Pizza
Reviewed Vignette: Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Who would have thought that within the unpretentious Orchard Hotel, you’d find a hidden gem of a fine dining experience, but after last night, I can say that, yes folks, you can.
I had the pleasure of dining at Vignette yesterday evening. Sadly we were some of the only customers in the establishment, but that also added to superb customer service we received. I don’t mean to say our wait staff was bored, but rather that they all seemed genuinely interested in making sure our meal was an experience.
Each night features a Tasting Menu worth considering, but being a party of four, and wanting some variety, we decided to split some appetizers and order our own entrees.
I can easily recommend any of our starters, but the Ahi Tuna Tartare Cones and the Sweetbreads were particularly tasty. To be fair, so was our third appetizer, the Artisan Foie Gras!
For entrees, it’s hard to go wrong, really, and the menu changes enough to offer choices for the regular diner. I ordered a newly added California Poussin (chicken) entree, which was perfectly crisp yet tender. You know you have something special when you can take a relatively common item like chicken and do something unique and flavorful with it. The rest of my party ordered the filet of beef (also quite excellent), the venison loin with huckleberry sauce, and the duck (normally part of the tasting menu but they accommodated us!).
Throughout dinner, the bartender -- who actually put together their wine list -- came by with tastings of wine to pair on the house. He had already recommended an excellent Malbec, which went nicely with all our dishes. For dessert, the Sorbet Trio is a winner, as is the Make Your Own Sundae.
As I mentioned above, we almost had the restaurant to ourselves. Granted it was a Wednesday; it’s almost ironic that in a city of gourmands, something of Vignette’s caliber can go unnoticed. So, if you’re looking for the hottest dining scene in town, you won’t find it here; what you will find is a delicious and unrushed dining experience, perfect for enjoying with good friends.
Occupation: Product Designer
Favorite Restaurant: Zatar
Reviewed Vignette: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I was very excited about trying this restaurant after I read online that they are committed to organic food. It’s hard to find a fine dining place in downtown SF that is organic. (There are a couple great ones, but I won’t mention them here.) We found Vignette tucked into a hotel that I had never seen before and probably would never have found, so I am curious as to what kind of business they draw. It was kind of slow in there, and the dining room was a bit corporate for my taste. But our first courses were absolutely extraordinary. My husband and I were in heaven with the tuna tartare cones, which had the perfect combination of chilies and sesame. A couple of those and a nice glass of wine would be a great light meal. Vignette scored a total 100 on all the starter dishes. We were lucky to have come in on a night when they had a fresh arrival of sweet organic corn, and they used it well in several dishes. The sweet corn soup was one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted. Although it was creamy, which usually indicates “heavy” to me, it was light and frothy, and the flavor combinations allowed the corn’s natural sweetness to shine through. Then, the heirloom tomato salad blew us away. My husband is a notorious tomato hater (which I’m convinced is because most store-bought tomatoes suck) and yet he ate as much of it as I did with obvious enjoyment. I’m a huge fan of French feta, and the herbs and olives, combined with these perfect tomatoes, made for an extraordinary salad.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the entrees. I really hate saying anything negative about a restaurant that has obvious great qualities and a wonderful, sweet, helpful staff, but both of our entrees were inedible. My herbed gnocchi with organic vegetables tasted and felt deep-fried. Why would anyone deep-fry gnocchi? Although the few vegetable in the dish were very flavorful, the gnocchi itself was so heavy that I felt like I was eating a super-bowl snack. Complete with the tummy ache. Then, unfortunately, the halibut we ordered was not to our liking at all. Halibut is one of my favorite fish, specifically because of its delicate, white meat. However, we seemed to have been served the darkest parts of the fish, and worse yet, the fish also seemed fried. The resulting flavor was heavy, oily, bland, and fishy. The beets and fennel were good, if I have to find one good thing to say about what was on that plate.
Another great part of the meal was the wine, although it was hard to find a good bottle for under $50. They had a couple Spanish wines that looked intriguing in the $40 range, but we just weren’t not in the mood for something Spanish. We ended up splurging and going for a $54 bottle of Willamette Valley, Oregon, Pinot Noir by Broadley. (Their David Bruce Pinot Noir, which I think is okay but not great, was totally overpriced at $59.)
All in all, for me personally, I think Vignette is a really mixed bag. Although we had some great dishes, we spent over $150 and didn’t really eat our entrees, so that is a bit of a bummer. Since I heard the owner is Australian, I would give them the benefit of the doubt that their other meat entrees are good, but, since I don’t eat meat other than fish, I couldn’t say. Their Meyer lemon sorbet was spectacular, but for the combination of highs and lows we experienced, I personally wouldn’t go there again. I certainly wouldn’t tell someone not to try it, but I don’t think it’s the best option to recommend to in that area.