Quince is one of the great fine-dining restaurants, not only of San Francisco but of the U.S. - akin to the Michelin-starred, fancy Italian restaurants of the world, like Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. Executive chef and co-owner Michael Tusk's pasta is brilliant, but that's just for starters. New chef de cuisine Jonathan Black brings an East-meets-West Coast sensibility - and experience in NYC at the likes of Per Se - to his collaboration with Tusk.
Quince just debuted its spring prix fixe menus: you can order six courses for $130, plus $95 for wine pairing, an eight-course tasting menu or a nine-course vegetarian "Garden" menu - both of which are $180, plus $120 for wine pairings. The tastings are full of treasures like Dungeness crab and Anson Mills grits decadently layered with sea urchin. And if there's any time to order vegetarian, it's spring, when chefs' produce palette is overflowing with new vegetables to play with. Based on a recent visit, here are the highlights of both new spring menus at Quince, complete with dessert and palate cleansers that are inspired by Valentino and Versace spring fashion lines. 470 Pacific Ave.; 415-775-8500
To start: rare Belon oysters from Maine are dotted with elderflower, pink peppercorn, grapefruit and puffed grain.
White asparagus fresh from Holland is doused in morels, spring garlic and vin jaune, a creamy sauce made with "yellow wine," akin to a dry sherry, from Jura, France.
From the spring vegetarian menu, green asparagus is colorfully marked by quail egg, mustard creme, miner's lettuce and a pumpernickel crumble, toasted in butter.
Silky king salmon is accented by celtuce (yes, it's a celery lettuce), fava beans and colorful nasturtium flowers.
Splurge on the spring menu: a $40 supplement adds in Tortelli alla Cecilia Chang, a decadent pasta tribute to the great Chinese restaurant legend and SF local, Cecilia Chang. The tortelli pasta is filled with smoked sturgeon and potato, marked by dill and generous dollops of caviar.
A dreamy vegetarian course: tender potato gnocchi filled with liquid cauliflower sauce, colorfully marked by Pantelleria (Sicilian-style) capers and Romanesco broccoli.
Chef Michael Tusk's skills with pasta shine in a dish like tender suckling-pig tortellini, lush in fonduta di Parmigiano-Reggiano (a Parmesan sauce), inflected with hints of nutmeg. The dish reminds us of the unreal pasta courses at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy.
Quince wine pairings are surprising and exciting (especially when poured in Riedel Sommeliers Black Series glasses, nontransparent glasses that mask the color of the wine for further intrigue), covering regions from Salinas, CA, to Austria and Germany. A 2001 Margaux (made from Tempranillo grapes) from Bordeaux, France, is a luxurious pairing with squab.
The cheese cart is a visual and edible delight, with two cheeses chosen per tasting menu, paired with port.
Juicy squab (pigeon) from Paine Farm is surrounded by riso nero (black rice), zucchini and wild ramps, with a flavor perk from anise hyssop.
Sfera, another word for a spherical ball, is the name of this artful dessert course from executive pastry chefs Alen Ramos and Carolyn Nugent: a creme de violette shell encloses lychee sorbet accented with black currant jam.
End all those courses with a shot of amaro (herbal-bitter Italian liqueurs) chosen from Quince's amari cart. We sipped Fernet Lazzaroni Amaro from the Lombardian province of Varese, Italy. It's marked by classic herbaceous-minty notes, transporting us straight back to Italy, where lingering over a gentle, bitter and sweet liqueur post-dinner culminates a fantastic, hours-long Italian meal.