26 April 2008

Dinner at Fournou’s Ovens, San Francisco

This is kind of a strange review for me to write. On our last night in San Francisco, after lot’s of fun touring Wine Country, shopping in the City, and trying great restaurants, we had a reservation at Fournou’s Ovens, located in the Renaissance Stanford Court on Nob Hill. We had a great meal. But this is the first restaurant I’ve written about knowing that it wouldn’t be around much longer. I’m providing the link. But if you want to eat there, you’d probably better check and see if it’s still open.

First the story, then the review. We picked Fournou’s Ovens for several reasons. It was located close to where we were staying. We knew that Nob Hill is a prestigious neighborhood, so we assumed it would be good (and we also assumed it would be expensive). Most of the reviews we read online were favorable. We could make a reservation using Open Table. And the photos from its web site made it look particularly appealing.

When we arrived, everything was as attractive as we had imagined. The restaurant is down one level from the hotel lobby, and it has a feel of a European cellar restaurant like we’ve enjoyed on some of our trips. A focal point of the décor is a wall of roasting ovens decorated in hand-painted Portuguese porcelain tiles.

Our server, Dimitri, was very good – attentive, but when it was clear that we were not in any rush, he let us relax and leisurely peruse the menu. Over the course of the evening, we made small talk with Dimitri. As we ended our dining experience, somehow he felt compelled to tell us the news. The Stanford Court is scheduled for a complete renovation during 2008. As part of the project, the hotel will put a new restaurant on the lobby level serving Asian fusion food.

As he told us the news, Dimitri gravely informed us that he didn’t know what would happen to the ovens, implying that perhaps they would not be preserved in the renovated hotel. It’s already true that the ovens are purely decorative. They are no longer used for roasting, all of which is done in a contemporary restaurant kitchen out of public view. Perhaps because we showed an interest in his story, perhaps because he simply wants people to preserve the images of the ovens, Dimitri insisted that he take our photo in front of them. He took three. The first two were kind of corny. He had us pose with one of those long-handled utensils that you use to put things into and out of a wood-fired roasting oven. (They look like a weird American Gothic image.) But as we smooched, he snapped one last shot that I like. You can kind of see what the ovens and tiles look like in the background.

We did thoroughly enjoy our meal. I had a classic Caesar salad. My wife had a lobster, apple bisque. Both were very nicely prepared and delicious. While we usually try to order different entrées, this time we both really wanted to have the sea bass. It was pan seared and served with watercress and roasted red bell pepper sauce on a bed of lentils.

I suppose in San Francisco, you can get Mediterranean-inspired American food in any number of restaurants. Maybe you can find it in an equally attractive venue and at more reasonable prices (though I didn’t think that Fournou’s Ovens was particularly expensive. It was a good value for what we got.) I suppose I got caught up in Dimitri’s distress about the future of the restaurant. I feel a little odd recommending a restaurant that may be gone by the end of the year. But if you’re in San Francisco, and if Fournou’s Ovens is still open, you should consider eating there.

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