RN74 – Country French meets Urban Chic

Location: RN74  – Date: February 13, 2010

Dear Diary, Tonight I am dining in the French Countryside with my lovely companions. I can hear the train whistles in the distance, as our waiter has just delivered to us a lovely Burgundy. We clink our glasses in a cheery toast before beginning our meal …

In actuality, I am dining at RN74, an intriguing new wine bar and restaurant named after a highway that runs through Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. It takes the form of a re-imagined train station in the French countryside, as rendered uniquely urban by Michael Mina and his talented staff. The restaurant itself is situated on Mission in the Financial District of San Francisco.  It is a concept restaurant in that young, creative and imaginative vein that so many new establishments are adopting to remain a step ahead of their competition. The far wall of the dining area closest to the entryway contains a train departure and arrival board that marks the comings and goings of bottles of wine as they are purchased and consumed, rather than marking the arrivals and departures of trains. Upon entering, the interior immediately conjures up a sense of the lure of faraway places with its homage to a country train station, while at the same time evoking a big city “chic-ness” with it’s slick surfaces and muted lighting, all of which puts the guest in a celebratory mood. Hats off to the vibe.  It is both distinct and inviting.

While this blog attempts primarily to celebrate and recognize the East Bay’s substantial offerings in dining by focusing on restaurants located on the “other side” of the Bay, one cannot live in the Bay Area and fail to frequent San Francisco occasionally. It just wouldn’t be right.
 
Upon arriving at RN74, we were promptly ushered to our table to await the arrival of the remainder of our party, the Grad Student and her date for the evening, a Grad Student friend of hers from Georgetown. Not one to pass up an opportunity for a cocktail, I ordered from their house cocktail menu while we waited — something called the “La Femme” a delightfully refreshing blend of Gin, apricot and orange. The spiciness of the gin blended well with the citrus of the orange. Apricots have a nice warm almost meaty consistency, so the thick finish of the sweet apricot delivered a complexity to the cocktail. I found it a delightfully sweet, yet vaguely spicy concoction.

My Better Half ordered the Caipirinha, a drink we only discovered recently. The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, and is traditionally made with cachaça, which is a Brazilian rum made from sugar cane rather than molasses. The drink is a simple one, a mixture of this uniquely flavorful run, muddled fruit (in this case limes) and sugar. This is a drink my BH and I have come to rely on as a uniquely reliable go-to beverage. The version served at RN74 was no exception to this rule. Well-made and fruity, the lime had been adequately crushed to release its flavors and the drink was a winner. The sip I had transported me, conjuring rum-soaked beaches, ocean breezes and sand between the toes.

As we sipped our drinks, we got a call. Our Grad Student, along with her grad student, had both been delayed by traffic on their return from the wine country. So the BH and I opted to order some appetizers to pass the time as we waited. We requested an order of the Smoked Sturgeon Rillette along with an order of Paté de Campagne. Let’s begin by discussing the sturgeon rillette. The rillette’s culinary backstory is this: it is a soft, fatty preparation of meat (traditionally made with pork), that has been cubed or chopped, then salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded. Lastly it is cooled down with enough of the fat to form a paste, similar in consistency to peanut butter. This lovely “meat butter” is served at room temperature and can be spread on toasted bread. The first rillette I ever had was at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, where it was done to perfection with salmon and fairly smothered in butter.

The version of the dish at RN74 was its own unique little slice of heaven. The sturgeon meat was laden with just enough fat, mixed well while remaining somewhat chunky, retaining that hearty texture that is a vital component of the dish. The mixture was ladled into a ramekin and blanketed with creme fraiche. The thick, rich, cream worked with the fish beautifully, making its way into every scoop. We wasted no time loading up our toasts and digging in. Each mouthful conjured up a creamy bagel laden with lox, with a hint of Meyer lemon finishing it off on the palate. All these flavors came together in each decadent bite. I can honestly say I have yet to meet a rillette I didn’t love.

After the smashing success of the rillette, we were eager to sample the Pate de Campagne. This dish was a simple one. A healthy slab of a chunky-style charcuterie accompanied by salty green baby pickles — or cornichons, a dollop of hearty Bourgondy Mustard and a sampling of french prunes. This house-made meat was not quite as soft as a traditional pate, yet it’s slender cubed sticks were easily sliced thin and then layered with the toppings. This offering of pate’s “country cousin” was a min-buffet of flavors. I tried every variety of combinations I could manage: a bite layered with a thin slice of the briny pickle and a helping of mustard; a mouthful of meat spread with prune, or just prune and mustard. On and on. There were no combinations that I didn’t enjoy. The various versions produced dances of savory, sweet, salty and fatty in my mouth and all were just amazing. Like an amusement-park ride that constantly surprises with its new and unexpected turns.
Our companions were still delayed. We had more time to kill. So we ordered another round of drinks and the Hamachi Sashimi. It arrived rapidly, accompanied by a sliced curl of Daikon radish, some lovely Asian pears, hearts of palm and a smattering of pine nuts. Daikon is that nice mild white radish that is served with sushi for texture. In this dish the radish was left whole, sliced paper thin and layered over the fish. I took a small morsel of pear, a bite of fish and a slice of the radish and wrapped it together like a mini burrito. It added a lovely crunchy aftertaste of radish to the fattiness of the fish, which also mingled well with the pear. The fish was incredibly subtle in its flavors, maybe a little too much so after all the flavors of the two appetizers we had just enjoyed. I think my mouth was a bit on overload, as I found it a bit under-seasoned, but then I love stronger flavors, and am really a fan of heat. The BH, who loves more subtlety, found the delicacy of this dish exactly to his liking. It was, in fairness, a balanced symphony of nuance in its flavors.

The Grad Students Squared (hereafter GS2) finally arrived a bit stressed and mildly frantic after their ordeal in getting to the restaurant. The staff at RN74 could not have been more gracious and accommodating. We wanted to order a bottle of wine, and did so with the gracious assistance of our knowledgeable waiter. He briefly discussed with us what sorts of wines we preferred and immediately came up with a suggestion that gave us a nice, light and fruity mixture of pinot and merlot grapes that we all really enjoyed.

GS2 began to catch up immediately, ordering the Beef Carpacchio, an Agnoletti Pasta and the Confit of Duck almost as soon as they were seated. We were determined to salvage as much as possible of our dining experience. The Beef Carpacchio was delightful. It was well-seasoned, razor thin beef, accompanied by two crunchy fresh egg rolls that were likewise tasty.

A week earlier the BH had eaten dinner at RN74 with a group of business associates after working late at a mediation nearby. On that visit, he desperately eyed a dish of Pork Belly and Manilla Clams. Several of his companions that night were observant jews who follow the rules of kashrut when eating, so the thought of ordering a steaming platter of traife in their company seemed a bad idea and kept him from indulging. Needless to say he was thrilled to be back at the restaurant while the clams were still on the menu, with companions who would not be offended by his ordering it. Lucky for all of us. It was an incredibly creative dish. The crisp, fatty bacon of the pork belly, coalescing with the briny clams, all of it moistened nicely by a nice clear broth spiked with garlic and a hint of fresh tomato. YUM.

We arrived at our mains pretty rapidly, having lost the front half of the evening we were on a pace to salvage dessert. I had ordered the Pork Loin wrapped in bacon. It arrived, and the pork was as moist as pork can possibly be, giving way under my knife blade with very little pressure. Splendid. The BH enjoyed a perfect serving of lightly caramelized Sea Scallops, glazed a golden brown on top and soft and tender beneath, with the soft almost lobster-like sweetness of the meat seasoned to perfection. The Confit of Duck enjoyed by the male half of Grad Student-Squared was rich and savory, the accompanying lentils beneath the duck meat fairly melted in the mouth. The Agnoletti Pasta tasted house made and was creamy and savory, with a nice dusting of fresh-grated cheese. My half of GS2 shared a bite of her pasta with me (it was a special for the evening), and that bite produced a happy goodness in my mouth, the taste of truffles merging effortlessly with the cheese to glaze the palate in savory perfection. I can honestly say all four main dishes were stellar.

The service was extremely gracious about how late our additional couple arrived, they seated us without them and at one point came over to check on their arrival and to let us know that the next seating was at about 8:15. Rather than make us feel rushed, they delivered the information with the attitude that they would take care of us and manage the remaining time so that we could enjoy the dining experience complete in spite of the setback. They did just that. The staff handled our minor dining crisis with hospitality and aplomb.

Given the excellent time-management, we were able to enjoy dessert and coffee at the end of our meal. The three of us shared warm Beignets, an Orange Bavarois and a White Sesame Pot de Creme. The Beignets came with a warmed nutmeg-flavored creme anglaise. The cinammon and sugar-crusted dough, having been fried and still hot, absorbed the creme and was delicious. The Orange Bavarois was an exquisitely layered dish. The bottom layer contained thin slices of lady-fingers that had been made with just a hint of lavender, its middle layer was a lovely thick cream pudding the consistency of a creme brulee and the top layer was a thick slice of a perfectly ripe orange. This was a subtle dance of creamy vanilla, the sweet tang of the citrus, and the gentle savory air of the lavender floating throughout. Spectacular.

Lastly, we sampled a white sesame pot de creme slathered with a chocolate glaze and cherries over a delicate Bugne Lyonnaise pastry. Ahhhh. As I sipped my cappucino amongst such lovely company, I couldn’t help but be delighted that these are the meals of my life.

Although this delight is not in the East Bay, I suggest you treat yourself. Make the trek, check it out, and as always— Bon Appetit!

RN 74
301 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-2243
(415) 543-7474
http://www.michaelmina.net/rn74/

Dining time: so not their fault!
Table size: Roomy booth
Service: Excellent
Noise Level: Three – Four Bells
On this occasion it was not a problem, but it can get incredibly loud here

2 thoughts on “RN74 – Country French meets Urban Chic

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