Syrian Spiced Duck Breast with portobello mushrooms, grilled Black Mission figs, Yukon Gold potatoes, ragu of duck confit, and pomegranate molasses; Eggplant Napoleon with tomato coulis, feta, garbanzo beans, and red mustard greens; Pistachio Crème Brulée with Huckleberries
Occupation: Flight Attendant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Paul K
Reviewed Paul K: Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I take my taste buds all over the world looking for adventures in dining and satisfying treats. Then I find an enticing region that comes to me practically in my own back yard. Paul K is a small neighborhood restaurant that never ceases to amaze me. It is a vibrant marriage of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines that keep me coming back. I go there because I love the food. I stay a long time because I enjoy the whole experience.
I know I can look at a plate of food and remember how good everything tastes. What surprises me each time is how the flavors come alive in my mouth. All I have to do is think of the lamb riblets, and I can hardly wait one more minute before ordering them. Then, as long as I am there, the mezza platter is the easiest way to sample several dishes on one plate. Everything from the lemony garlicky artichoke hearts to the pomegranate molasses that accompanied my duck breast entrée is a culinary delight. Chef Daryl McDaniels brings the ingredients together in wonderful harmony -- they play off each other in a rare symphony of flavors.
And don't leave too soon -- it's worth the whole trip there just to have Richard, "perform" the dessert menu. His descriptions are inventively choreographed and so sensuously theatrical, you don't know whether to roll over and sigh or order something sweet. Be sure not to miss these seasonal and exceptional finales to any meal. You can also enjoy the interesting artwork on the walls and appreciate Richard as the artist.
I would and do go back when I can, and never hesitate to take friends. It is indeed a pleasure to introduce people to this fine adventure in dining. Everyone is made to feel welcome and comfortable in a genuinely friendly way. Paul K is a veritable trip to exotic lands, all wrapped up in contemporary flavorful dishes and uniquely delicious design.
Occupation: Information Technology
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Universal Café
Reviewed Paul K: Tuesday, October 11, 2005
I called Paul K on Monday and asked if they had any availability that night. The guy on the phone said, "Sorry, but we're not open on Mondays -- how about on Tuesday?" I said, "Okay," and he took my info. The reason I'm telling you this is because the person on the phone was really cool and he made my first contact with the restaurant a good one. To me, this is important, and it's a good thing.
Next thing I do is check out their website. Get an idea of what I will order and get the lowdown on the chef along with any other tidbits. Their menu looked very interesting, Mediterranean with a focus on pomegranate. There was a nice article on their exec chef, Daryl. More warm fuzzy feelings that made me think this was going to be a great place to check out. I've driven down Gough Street a million times and Paul K's sign always pulls my attention. Somehow I never ended up there. So this visit was, in some regards, "a long time coming."
I like how they have the partially frosted windows so you aren't distracted by the busy street they are located on. I like the attempt to shield the customers from the manic desperation of San Francisco's streets. However, it was hard to ignore, or even be persuaded to ignore, the four separate instances of fire trucks blaring in all their glory, going by with flashing lights that penetrated right into the dark, relaxed atmosphere they are so desperately trying to maintain. Wonder if they knew there was a fire station right down the street when they decided on the location.
So back to my first impression comments. Our reso was for 7:30pm, and we arrived a bit early, about 7:10pm. The place had maybe three tables seated with folks. We bust in and go straight to the tiny host desk, and I say, "Hi, I have a 7:30pm reso but we're a little early," (I'm great at stating the obvious) and the look he gave me when I said that was, "Wow, thanks for letting me know you're twenty minutes early. Boy, I would have never figured that one out." All this just by the expression on his face. Then he pointed us to the bar. Then he quickly recoiled and said, with a smile on his face, "I can seat you now if you like." Okay, what just happened? A complete one-eighty from pompous rude guy to gracious welcoming host. Can you say mood swing? Anyway, it put me a bad place, so take that into consideration as you read on. The point here, or at least the one I'm attempting to make, is that first impressions, especially for restaurants, are very important. No one wants to deal with high and mighty attitudes, especially right when you walk through the door. 'Cuz even if you switch to ass-kissing mode, the damage is done. Okay, this horse is dead. I'm moving on.
Atmosphere. As stated above, there is a sporadic siren distraction that hovers throughout the experience -- at least there was on my visit. But it is definitely bearable. The space is really nice: great color scheme, beautiful flowers, cool artwork. You can tell the place was done by someone who knew what they were doing. The small open kitchen was nice as well. I could see the chef (Daryl himself) at the stove. The bathroom was clean, decor was nice, but very small.
The vibe in the place is super hipster. I don't mind that too much. Just wanted to point it out. There is a slant toward arrogance from everyone, even down to the bus boy. Our server made his way over to our table. He introduced himself and started to tell us about the specials. Interestingly, he made a purposeful effort to over-enunciate each word as he waved his hands like a magician. I thought to myself, as he was doing this, "I bet he does this to keep the attention of the table, so they don't asked him to repeat the specials again." Then I realized that I was so distracted by his approach that I was too busy trying to discern his motivation behind the table sideshow that I wasn't even listening to him. I wonder how often that happens. I did catch the words "fettuccini with duck ragu," and that's all I needed to hear. Sounds good. We ordered that along with the Syrian duck breast. We started with an excellent soup and continued on with the mezza platter. We asked our waiter to recommend a bottle of wine. He went with the Heron Lake Pinot. We were smooth sailing with our soup and mezza platter -- it was all good stuff. I really enjoyed the two flavors of hummus, and the feta cheese was fabulous. The soup was very bold and full of flavor. Unfortunately, it did not go well with the wine.
Our main dishes arrived in a timely manner, and I wish I could say the same for the water refills. The cucumber slice in the water glasses was a nice touch -- just make an attempt to keep it floating, instead of stuck to the inside of my glass. So, my impression of the duck breast was not so good. The duck meat itself seemed a little tough and the pomegranate sauce/glaze seem to overpower all other flavors and did not work with the wine at all. I must say the figs helped to soften some of the tartness, but eventually they were no match for the invasion of the pomegranate. The fettuccini was really good. Hats off to the chef on that dish -- lots of flavor and good texture. But the wine wasn't working with this dish either. Pomegranate, again, might be the culprit -- it might be hard to work wine with this kind of ingredient. We didn't finish our plates, and asked to have the fettuccini wrapped up to go. Then we banished the hardly-touched duck to nowhere land.
Paul K is a restaurant with very bold flavors. I'm down with bold, rich flavors, they just weren't working for me. Dessert was good. There was a Paul K Sundae -- he named a sundae after himself. Does anyone else find that a little weird? It was good. Yummy ice cream with caramel and chocolate, topped with whipped cream and toasted almonds.
All in all, Paul K was OK. Maybe they should call it "Paul's OK." Maybe I was expecting too much or was somehow jaded by my first impression as we walked in.
Favorite Restaurant: Burma SuperStar
Reviewed Paul K: Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Paul K is in a great location, not too far from the Opera House and Market Street. Parking wasn't a problem on this night (no show going on) and from the outside you can see the great artwork and décor that awaits you. The friendly host directed me toward the neat-looking bar where I waited for the rest of my party to arrive. I could have taken a seat at my table since it was ready for me, thanks to the reservations I made online (another plus), but I decided to have a drink instead. The wine list was small and, though it had a funny and creative way of describing the wines ("Perfumed Whites You Can Dabble Behind Your Ears," "Bold Reds that Keep No Secrets"), there were no real gems on there. When the rest of my party arrived, we all shared a glass at the bar. Between my three dinner mates, we tried many of the wines, but weren't impressed by any of them. However, one friend switched over to a pomegranate martini, which was very good.
This is where the review turns south…
With four people we were able to try a number of different appetizers. Artichoke hearts with garlic and lemon, pepper-crusted ahi with tabbouleh and pickled vegetables, pomegranate-infused lamb riblets, and steamed mussels. I can't get too detailed about the flavors because most of the items were very bland. For starters, I usually LOVE artichoke hearts. But these hearts were hard and a bit dry. And although the portion was very large, the steamed mussels had no flavor to them, and about one-third of the order had closed shells -- a no-no for mussels! The Aleppo pepper added no flavor to the ahi, and I felt as if the tabbouleh and pickle accompanying the ahi were on the wrong plate. They definitely didn't belong. On the positive side, the lamb riblet was very tender, well cooked, and had a wonderful pomegranate-infused taste to it.
For dinner I decided to stick to what I knew would be cooked well and that was the lamb, so I ordered the grilled lamb chops, which were served with au gratin potatoes. I really enjoyed this dish and decided that Paul K definitely knew how to cook their lamb. The potatoes and lamb went very well together. My friend ordered the pan-seared sea bass, which was cooked perfectly, too, and served with delicious chanterelle mushrooms. Very tasty. However, the eggplant Napoleon lacked the flavor that you would expect from grilled eggplant layered with feta and tomatoes, and it was served over garbanzo beans that were overly dry.
For dessert we ordered three items:
The Paul K Sundae: A very simple sundae, made with toasted almond ice cream and topped with almonds. Pretty good.
Pistachio Crème Brulée: A very green pistachio flavor that went well with the huckleberries on top.
Chocolate Espresso Tort: Not too dense chocolate tort. Tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary here.
Although we didn't partake, they had a good selection of ports and Scotch.
I don't want to be too negative. The presentation and the décor were nice and the initial table setting of cucumber water (interesting) and pita (instead of bread) was very unique. However, the appetizers were disappointing, the service and wine selection did not stand out, and though some of the entrees and desserts were okay, I would not go back or recommend Paul K to anyone. In my opinion, it was as if someone built a restaurant to capture the theatre crowd, tried to prepare trendy food with a Mediterranean twist, but forgot to taste the food along the way.