Michael Tusk’s fine dining restaurant Quince is arguably San Francisco’s finest Italo-American restaurant. In a dark, sexy dining room, he serves food that focuses on California’s fantastic produce, whilst drawing inspiration from Italy’s culinary techniques.
The atmosphere at Quince is relaxed. The service here is incredibly friendly, professional and warm. Combine this with the elegant, sexy design of the dining room and you have one of the more beautiful restaurants in town. Apart from being a beautiful setting for the food served here, the contrast with Tusk’s other restaurant Cotogna could not be greater: Whilst one is more rustic, bright and simple, the other exudes elegance and sophistication.
In terms of food too, the difference is clearly noticeable. Tusk’s cuisine at Quince is not much more complicated than it is at Cotogna, but it is that much more refined and polished. The gutsy flavours that you would hope to find from a chef who is heavily influenced by Italy are there, but at the same time you have a very strong technical side to the cooking here.
California’s products stand at the heart of the cuisine at Quince. The degree to which this is the case is shown if one looks at one of the few dishes that are less successful on the menu: A spot prawn with grapes. The combination of flavours here is interesting, as the sweetness of the grape nage adds a different component to the beguiling complexity of the spot prawn. The only issue is that the prawn itself appears less fresh than would be ideal. If one compares the quality of prawns served at Quince with that of Saison or Manresa however, it appears less impressive.
On the other hand, Tusk’s food can be captivating: a dish of cannelloni with pigeon and mushrooms shows this better than most others. Autumn on a plate one could say; and that is exactly what it tastes like. Beautifully tender, rich and juicy pigeon is combined with homemade pasta. The mushrooms add that earthy element to the dish and make it a primo that is delicious.
Equally good is a dish of pork with corn. Several cuts come perfectly cooked and served with intensely flavourful corn. Whilst corn often appears banal, being too sweet and one-dimensional, here it works perfectly with the meat. The latter is of very good quality, and its perfect cooking ties the whole dish together. This is not food that tries to show off, but seems composed and calm. It is food that appeals to the soul, whilst being technically impeccable. Herein lies Tusk’s great strength: He is able to create simple, gutsy dishes, dishes that anyone can like.
In a city such as San Francisco Quince has managed to establish its very own position. Whilst Benu and Coi tend to steer towards Asian-inspired cooking, Manresa and Saison practice product-fetishism of the highest order, Quince serves food that is rooted in California’s produce, but uses Italian techniques. Given the great service and compelling cuisine, it is clearly one of the city’s more interesting restaurants.