The historic Fugazi Building lies in the heart of San Francisco's bustling financial district. Built nearly a century ago by the successful Italian banker, John F. Fugazi, it is a landmark in The City by the Bay. Today, it's home to Georges, a sustainable seafood restaurant, underground bank vaults and all. While Georges specializes in seafood, we threw a curve ball into this review by requesting the meal be fully vegetarian. With SF's notable vegetarian population, it seemed a good way to determine if Georges can satisfy both the seafood lovers and the vegetarians in a party.
As we walked into Georges, Jay, one of the co-owners, greeted us and seated us promptly despite the full house. We were seated in a booth near the back with full view of the open kitchen. As wafts of delicious sauces and fried batter scents floated in the air, our eyes were drawn to the modern and minimalist decor furnishing the restaurant. The bar and bustling kitchen dominated one side of the restaurant, with tables and booths on the other, a massive wall of wine at the rear, and a sizable fish sculpture around which the restaurant centered. Underground, the catacombs of the historic bank were transformed into a spotless prep kitchen and various stations. Their bar, which was packed for the duration of our meal, was perfect for a classy happy hour after a long day in the district. Lighting in the restaurant was relatively bright and ideal for the modern atmosphere. The noise level was good for a night out with friends or a date night, but not ideal for a romantic weekend evening to pop the question or have a quiet conversation.
We began with two non-alcoholic drinks. The Basil and Mint Lemonade and a mild Gewurtraminer Grape Juice Spritzer were refreshing and indicative of the meal to come. While we've enjoyed the aroma and flavor of unfermented Gewurtraminer grape juice before, the basil lemonade was what surprised us. It was a wonderful drink combination that's simultaneously tart, sweet, and fragrant, and it's one we'll surely try to make at home.
Since we requested vegetarian intentionally at the last minute, Chef Michael prepared some dishes off-menu. His attention and conscientiousness was superb. For starters, we had Fromage Blanc Pizza with Heritage Corn, Beech Mushrooms, Leeks, Cilantro, and Truffle Oil. The use of mushrooms was a good choice, imparting a robust and earthy flavor to the pizza. We particularly enjoyed the thin crust's crispy texture and the sweetness from the fresh corn balanced well with the savory and aromatic components. No particular ingredient overpowered the dish, and it was one of our favorites of the night.
Our second course was Seared Heart of Palm over Grilled Watermelon, Olive, Padron Pepper and Celery Puree in a Watermelon Reduction. Of all the things we tried at Georges, Chef Michael's creativity really shone through this dish. Typically this dish is served with seared scallop, which he ingeniously substituted with heart of palm. While the texture of heart of palm is much like young bamboo shoots and quite different from scallop, this dish holds well on its own. The use of padron peppers was a great contrast to the sweetness of the watermelon. In terms of balance, we both would have preferred a little less sweetness, but it was satisfying and unique. It is quite possible the scallop version would have even more balanced flavors.
Our final savory course was Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Pesto. We enjoyed the Parisian touch in this dish where the gnocchi was cut from choux pastry, boiled, and then fried. The nuttiness in the pesto and the cutting acid of the cherry tomatoes stood out in this dish. The pesto was made of spinach rather than the traditional basil which made it milder, allowing the other ingredients to come through with balance.}?>
We ended our meal with two exceptional desserts, Chocolate Cremeux, Pistachio Financier, Olive Oil Caramel and White Peach Sorbetto with Moscato d'Asti. Both were fabulous, and as good as any savory dish of the night. The olive oil caramel, in particular, was fragrant, decadent, and a brilliant choice; if Georges sold the stuff in jars, it would reside in our pantry. Neither dessert was overly sweet, enticing us to finish every last bite.
As we were leaving Georges, we asked Chef Michael who Georges was. We thought Georges was perhaps another co-owner of the restaurant, but to our surprise, Chef Michael pointed to the large blue fish sculpture in the front of the open kitchen. Seafood is their forte, but Chef Michael and his team surprised us with their creative cooking, and we look forward to dining there again.
Connie is an avid cook and writer who specializes in no-excuses vegetarian food for her omnivorous friends.
Georges (San Francisco, California)
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