We can blame Chad Robertson for setting a standard of perfection by consistently turning out perfectly chewy/crusty/memorable loaves at Tartine Bakery. That bread made me think – when foodies make such a monumental deal about food, why shouldn’t we expect perfection in every bite? So, while others give you reviews, Perfect (or Not), launched on May 12, 2014, seeks perfection.
My stomach was already upset when Aster replaced a neighborhood favorite, Beast and the Hare. Sure, Aster had a great pedigree—its parents were Brett Cooper (known for his cooking at Outerlands ) and the Daniel Patterson Group (Coi and Alta)—but did the Mission really need another designer restaurant?
It didn’t help matters that Aster’s menu was absurdly, even unintelligibly, pretentious. (There was, for example, “uni daily preparation.” Okay, so that’s sea urchin . . . prepared daily? Aren’t most items at a restaurant of that caliber prepared daily? Alternatively, is that a requirement for a gourmet sea urchin? Have other restaurants been foisting over-the-hill sea urchins on me?
Then, to rub salted butter in the wound, I couldn’t even get a reservation. Maybe, I thought, I should just review the menu.
But a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the menu had come down a couple of notches to a point where I didn’t need a translator. Kimberly, a young friend whom my husband, Mark, and I have known since she was a baby, had just turned 21, and we decided to give Aster a try.
Reservations are still tough to get, so there we were at 6 p.m., in a roomful of shaved-headed bros, many of them drinking champagne. Mmm . . . second round funding celebrations?
Mark’s first take on the menu: They charge $5 for bread.
So do Italians, I said, ever upbeat. And the bread—and salted butter—were excellent.
We were off to a great start. My first course, a garlic soup with olive oil crouton and pickled fennel, was amazing. Kimberly said her cucumber salad “looked like a garden” and tasted even better.
For his main course, Mark had the lamb with spring porridge of green farro and pioppini mushrooms. Kimberly had potato black pepper dumplings with maitake mushrooms, peas and turnip. Both were spectacular. My rabbit meatballs were a bit rubbery but, no matter, Mark generously shared his perfectly cooked lamb.
We finished off the meal by sharing two desserts: a beet and rhubarb cremeux and a concoction of raspberries, buckwheat and farmers cheese. Both were excellent, and almost light enough to make us feel guilt-free. Kudos to pastry chef Sean Ehland.
What was as good as the food was the atmosphere. Regular readers of this irregular column know that one of my pet peeves is that the Mission is full of terrific restaurants where chefs execute superb dishes—and the management wants to hustle you out the door. That didn’t happen at Aster. The service was gracious and we could hear each other talk. (Of course, it was mostly about the food.)
Is it wrong to call a place “perfect” after only one meal? Maybe. I’ll just have to return. I hope I can get a reservation soon.