Jack Falstaff

Jack Falstaff opened in San Francisco in late 2004 and I've heard surprisingly little about it. That it took over the space that Two B spent much more time designing than actually using, that it was the latest addition to the Plumpjack family and would carry on the tradition of a wine list priced at retail, that the Chef had some good credentials... those I knew. What is surprising is that I hadn't heard anything about how good the food actually is! In the City and in the mood for a good dinner after a few glasses of wine and free gourmet cheese(!) at the 3 month old The Hidden Vine (more to come), we decided to try Jack Falstaff: we like Plumpjack, we always liked the look of the Two B space in the ages they spent renovating it, and parking is a breeze when there's no baseball game. We got there a little before nine and spent ten minutes at the relatively small bar, which is quite sleek aside from the TV - there in deference, I suppose, to the stadium a few blocks away.The dining room itself is smaller than I had expected it would be and the dropped dark wood ceiling and charcoal and moss suede wall panels give the contemporary space a clubby, slightly masculine feel that contrasts with the more industrial glass walled patio just outside. Nice space, friendly, professional service, good sounding menu on the principle of slow food with modern presentation and lots of organic, seasonal ingredients. So far, so good. Then came my first course and we were clearly on a whole new level. I ordered the white corn soup with French chanterelles and sage brown butter. It was out of this world! Definitely one of the best soups I've had, and I really like soup and order it regularly. Even Oren, who objects to soup on some principle I've never quite understood, came back for a few more bites. The corn had an incredible sweetness that made me suspect maple syrup, especially this early in the season, but the waiter confirmed it is not sweetened at all - they just get really good corn and the sage brown butter with the chanterelles brings out the flavor. The base was silky smooth, with some whole kernels and the chanterelles added. I almost ordered more to take home and was the next day wishing I had. Oren had dungeness crab jicama rolls in which the jicama was slices paper thin to replace the usual rice-paper wrapper. He has little tolerance for cilantro, but finished them off all the same. They were good, but I was far too deeply involved with my soup to care much.For entrees, Oren ordered the pork shoulder with lime sweet potatoes and a fruit compote. The lime sweet potatoes were sweet and tangy. Reports on the meat were also positive, though it sounded as though it was nothing out of the ordinary. I had the house-cracked buckwheat tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, fava beans, a slow-cooked egg, and Parmesan - excellent! The tagliatelle were light and earthy and matched beautifully with the porcini and fava flavors. The egg was a little bit of a surprise - I think cooked so slowly and at a low temperature that the white had solidified but was only semi-opaque - almost closer to a light gray, milky jelly than what I usually think of as an egg; the yolk was a beautiful, runny gold. The color and consistency of the white threw me off a little, but overall this dish was top-notch in presentation and flavors and was quite different than anything I've seen on a California menu in recent memory. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite dishes: a single large ravioli encasing a perfectly cooked egg we had at lunch in Piemonte, Italy last fall. There was enough tagliatelle left to take some home and was wishing I had even more of it left at lunch the next day.We skipped dessert this time around, but the descriptions were tempting, especially the carrot cake with cream cheese ice cream. Next time... Though Oren hypothesizes that I may have chosen the two best dishes on the menu -- his food was good but nothing out of the ordinary -- there will definitely be a next time for us at this surprisingly low-buzz, high-quality addition to the San Francisco restaurant scene.