Restaurant Review: Watercress, San Francisco

It’s pretty easy for me to find something wrong about a restaurant — I can be an overly critical guy, and sometimes my standards approach snobbery (I’m working on that). In considering what to write about the dinner I had last week at Watercress, it strikes me that really the only thing I can find wrong with it was that the corkage fee was a little high ($18 per bottle compared with $10 – $15 at other boutique restaurants in the area.). Perhaps this is a preventative measure on their part — if the corkage was $10 a bottle I would be in there all the time and they’d get sick of me. This restaurant is simply too fantastic for words.

The first and most important thing to talk about is the food: innovative Asian / French Fusion with a traditional bistro undertone. From start to finish everything we were served was incredibly fresh and extremely well prepared. I started with a cream of celery root and fennel soup with a dash of basil chili oil. While there was a touch too much white and black pepper in the soup, in all other respects it was perfect. The other appetizers being eaten by Ruth and my friends included a goat cheese stuffed won-ton and a selection of oysters on the half shell (VERY fresh). I think someone got a salad but I was too involved in slurping up my soup to write it down.

The entrees are huge — I was hungry and could barely finish my pork loin chop grilled with whole black peppercorns and a Fuji apple compote over mashed potatoes. Ruth preferred my chop over her steak and frites, saying it was a little more interesting, but she enjoyed her beef nonetheless.

The desserts, while thankfully not on the same scale as the entrees, were equal in quality and presentation. I had the most amazing individual cheesecake with caramelized sugar and dark chocolate truffle on top, drizzled with a Muscat strawberry coulis. It was so good I nearly ordered another one. Seriously. Ruth’s profiteroles were impeccably crisp and fresh — some of the best I’ve had in years, and better than others I have had at restaurants like Jardiniere and Aqua.

The service is delightful. Everyone we talked with was extremely friendly. When I walked in a bit early with my 3 bottles of wine, the host struck up a conversation about a couple of the wines which he was familiar with, and then thoughtfully stopped by early in our meal to see if I wanted to decant one of the bigger reds that he knew might benefit from some air.

This restaurant has gotten some knocks because it’s been downscaled from its previous incarnation as Watergate (which has moved to a new location). Some people have bothered to note its mismatched chairs and bare tabletops. Frankly the chairs aren’t mismatched (there are 2 varieties in the restaurant that I could see) and the tabletops are fine without the linens. The tableware is served and exchanged as necessary like any good restaurant, and they pay good attention to the quality of their stemware.

Of course, the clincher to all of this is the unbelievably low price of the food. Their (unrestricted) 3 course prix fixe menu is $20. Given the size of their portions, I have NEVER gotten so much value for my dollar at a French restaurant in San Francisco. While there are other restaurants that offer reasonable tasting menus (such as Le Charm) the food at Watercress is superior in quality, especially the desserts.

Finally, I should note that while I didn’t partake of the wine list when I was there, I scanned it and noted with pleasure the fact that they’ve got some nice, off-the-beaten-path wines at reasonable prices, with several in each category available by the glass.

Kudos to Rebecca Kwan and her team. This is a winner, and given that it’s just a 3 minute drive from my house, I’m going to be eating there a lot.

1152 Valencia Street (bet 22nd and 23rd)
San Francisco, CA 94110

FYI: Parking in that neighborhood sucks. Ride Muni or take a cab.