Petite Charcuterie Plate: Pâté with Fruit Conserve, Fois Gras with Minced Black Truffles, and Rillette; Herb and Lavender Encrusted Lamb Chops with Potato Purée and Braised Lamb Morsels, Summer Vegetables, Wild Mushrooms with a Red Wine Reduction; Parchment-Baked Figs and Raspberries
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Viognier
Reviewed Viognier: Thursday, September 21, 2006
From the moment I arrived a Viognier, I knew that I would have a wonderful dining experience. When I walked into the restaurant, I was immediately greeted by the concierge, who showed me to a lovely booth by their cozy fireplace. The restaurant was decorated in a modern yet casual style. Elements of wood, stone and glass were apparent. Earth tones and vases of sunflowers offered a warm and inviting atmosphere. My place setting was a lovely saffron-colored charger with a paisley mosaic design with a gold rim. It was a nice contrast to the cream colored linens on the table. I fancied the sterling Laguiole steak knife with its trademark “little bee” above the handle. I purchased the farmer’s version of this knife during my trip to Paris a few years ago. A glowing votive candle and a silver bud vase with a lavender calla lily accented the table nicely.
Under the direction of Chef Michael Greuel, I was presented with a fabulous meal. It was consistent with my expectations of rustic French cuisine. I began with a glass of Maso Cavali Pinot Grigio. My waiter then surprised me with a wonderful amuse bouche consisting of a crostini with smoked salmon and crème fraîche with a julienne of apples and chives. It was lovely. I selected their signature charcuterie platter as my appetizer. The samples of rillette, pâté with a fruit conserve, and the foie gras with minced black truffles were a perfect match with my selection of warm homemade breads. I was in heaven!
My entree selection was the herb and lavender-encrusted lamb chops with a potato purée with morsels of braised lamb. Tender summer vegetables and wild mushrooms dotted the plate. A rich red wine and natural jus reduction glazed the plate. It was a wonderful and generous portion.
Even though I didn’t think I could eat another bite, I gave in and selected one of their Grand Desserts of figs and raspberries baked in parchment. It was presented in a little parchment package secured with bamboo toothpicks. The waiter presented it tableside and skillfully opened it with a small pair of scissors and small silver tongs. It was an artful pairing of fruit with a sliver of bay leaf for contrasting flavor. A yogurt mousse and almond financiers enhanced this dessert.
This was truly an amazing meal. I think you would agree.
- Portion size: Substantial entree for French faire. The appetizer was in keeping with the counterpoint of the richness of the menu items.
- Quality of food: Superb! They utilized seasonal items and prepared all the dishes with quality ingredients. The cooking staff adheres to skillful execution and artistic presentation.
- Service: Impeccable. The top-of-the-line waitstaff enhanced the dining experience.
- Décor and atmosphere: Warm and inviting. Low lighting and candle accents. Low volume jazz flowed through the restaurant. A stone fireplace added a lovely glow and character to a room steeped in earth tones. Enhancements came from the elements of hardwood flooring, high ceilings, large bay windows, and deep crown molding. The booth was very comfortable, and it was accentuated by tapestry backing and leather seating.
- Bang for buck: Pricey, but well worth the money spent. It was a total dining experience; not just having dinner.
- Comfort: Very comfortable. They’ve created an “unrushed” dinner. You start to relax the moment you enter the establishment.
- Wine service (if applicable): Although I am not much of a wine drinker, the wine list appeared to be extensive.
- Noise level: Low noise level. It was very quiet and the acoustics maintained a comfortable level even though there was a cooking class going on in the next room.
Viognier is a French restaurant located above Draeger’s Epicurean Center. For any foodie, it is an amazing place to shop, explore, and eat. Draeger’s boasts a flower market, a bakery, deli-service, sushi maker, wine boutique, a REAL butcher counter, a professional cookware shop, gift and cookbook library, and a cooking school. I could live there…seriously. It has great parking and easy access to Caltrain (two blocks away).
It’s a special restaurant that really forces you to relax and enjoy your dining experience in keeping with the French manner. Americans tend to eat and run. Viognier is the reinforcement to taking time to truly enjoy your meal. As I dined, a mother/daughter (adult) team was seated in the booth in front of me. It became apparent that the mother was a novice to French food and loved it. She asked the waiter if the crème fraîche could be purchased downstairs in Draegers. He said, “Yes.” The daughter then replied, “My mother wants to buy everything now!” Behind me sat a Frenchman who obviously found comfort in the food of his country. Both parties were a nice contrast in my dining experience.
In the salon next to the restaurant, a cooking class was in session. Chef Tom Douglas was the instructor. He was the James Beard Foundation Award 1994 Winner Best Chef of the Northwest. He was demonstrating his famous crab cakes. Admittedly, I glanced through the windows as I dined. I secretly wished I could’ve joined the class after my memorable meal. I would definitely recommend Viognier to my family and friends.
Occupation: Director Public Relations
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Charanga
Reviewed Viognier: Saturday, September 23, 2006
The service was wonderful. They called me Mr. Rhoades. They were so thoughtful, helpful and friendly. I feel the quality of the food was very good.
We started the meal with the charcuterie -- the large platter -- all were made on site. We ordered the large sampler platter for $29. We all enjoyed it, and the waiter did a wonderful job of describing the different meats. It was a promising start.
I also had two Cokes -- these were fountain drinks -- I really enjoyed the Cokes.
The bread was all baked there, so it was very fresh and hot. It was awesome. Plus they would give us more every time we asked, which I did quite a bit. The butter that they served had salt on it. It tasted great.
My two friends and I ordered off the prix fixe menu; it came with soup or salad and I chose the salad. My friends had the onion soup. Two of us chose the rib-eye steak as the entrée, and the other person chose the ahi tuna.
My salad was good. My friends really enjoyed the onion soup. It was flavored heartily with onion, and unlike other French restaurants, it did not have the heavy layer of melted cheese and crust. The steak was tender and moist, and the portion size was nice, about four ounces. It was a nice steak -- very friendly. It came with collard greens and mushrooms. The collard greens were bland as were the mushrooms. My friend, who has a fondness for bland food, really enjoyed it. My friend who had the ahi tuna thought it was nondescript in contrast to other restaurants that do a really job on ahi tune, e.g. House, which has an amazing mustard sauce.
My friend had the lamb chops, which were not on the prix fixe menu and they were great! I would definitely recommend them and would go back just for that entrée. The lamb chops came with mashed potatoes.
The prix fixe menu came with a choice of sorbet or ice cream. Two of us choose the sobert, which was watermelon, melon, and cantaloupe; light and delicious! One of us chose the ice cream.
I enjoyed the lamb chops, the bread, and the Cokes. I would return just for that. After dinner, I was still hungry and went downstairs to Draeger's where I proceeded to gobble up two cookies.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Grubstake
Reviewed Viognier: Wednesday, September 27, 2006
I had heard and read much about Viognier but had resisted trying it because I’m suspect of grocers partnering with restaurant operators in schemes of expanding their bottom line at the cost of a primary focus in their business. I’m happy to say that Viognier is a pretty good white-linen dining room that complements one of the greatest independent grocery operations in existence, Draeger’s.
To me, the dining room felt like a cross between a Cheesecake Factory and a Denny’s in terms of design, because of the color choices, which were predominantly blonde woods, out of the can yellows, and burgundy wall shades. They all lent an institutional feel to the space. Sophisticated appointments, like reach-in floor to ceiling wine coolers, an exposed kitchen, and cheap lighting work together to eliminate the destination feelings of great dining rooms.
That said, the food was quite good, and the service was excellent. We were shown to a generous table for two that looked out through flowering vines from the 2nd level that Viognier occupies directly above the gourmet market. There is a full bar, expensive and sophisticated wine list, and trained servers who can guide the diner to smart pairings sure to help guests.
We went for lunch and first tried a silky and lush pumpkin soup with pear chutney and mascarpone, which was sensational. We then shared a salad made up of fresh greens with seared scallops and shrimp, ripe Haas avocado, and bacon in an inconsistently dressed vinaigrette, which lacked acidity. A generous serving of warm housemade breads and chilled butter were served and replenished throughout the meal by professional and attentive waitstaff, who were unseen but always close and observant.
I have always measured a good restaurant by the burger they serve, because it showcases so many important things a restaurant must do to make it a noteworthy contender to a burger aficionado, starting with the meat, bread or bun, produce, cheese, condiments, cooking, and presentation. As routine and simple as we think a great burger is, it is a big challenge to a full service restaurant because of the difference in cooking times and quality of all the ingredients that a good burger demands. I’m happy to say that Viognier’s burger is a good one and is worth a try. It was cooked to order, medium rare, and came with excellent heirloom tomatoes, butter lettuce, red onion, mustard, catsup, and mayonnaise. The bun had been grilled or toasted with a hint of butter and worked perfectly with the whole thing.
For dessert we shared a panna cotta, which was OK but not something I would accept again. With the produce department just below the restaurant, I’d expect a broader selection of fresh fruit pastries and sorbets, but that wasn’t our experience this visit.
I would visit Viognier again and will recommend it with a few simple reservations.