Basking in the glow of Quince in San Francisco

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Devil's Gulch rabbit rack

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Quince, the much-heralded Italian restaurant in the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco, is the kind of place where, on any night of the week, you might find the likes of food cognoscenti Ruth Reichl, and actors, James Spader, Roy Romano and Peter Krause, dining. It’s easy to feel like a glam celebrity at this gorgeous, historic 1907 brick and timber building , even if you’re not one at all– and that’s because Quince treats you with such utmost care that you can’t help feeling a bit special.

After hearing so many friends and chefs rave about the restaurant, which is a short stroll from the Club Quarters San Francisco hotel, my husband and I finally decided to splurge on dinner there recently.

There’s a warm glow to the restaurant, with its exposed brick walls, artsy chandeliers and gallery-ready, contemporary paintings. The waitstaff — both the men and women — are nattily attired in sharp, dark suits, giving them the air of serious professionalism.

They provide some of the best and most seamless service I’ve seen in a long time. Each and every time that a server pours a wine for you to taste, he/she will tilt the bottle at a particular angle as you try a sip — and continue holding it that way until you’re done — all the better for you to examine the label more closely.

Although two tasting menus are usually offered each night, we decided to order off the a la carte menu instead.

Chef-Owner Michael Tusk had the night off, leaving Sean O’Toole, formerly of Bardessono in Yountville, overseeing the kitchen as his culinary director.

An elaborate amuse bouche arrived after we had ordered. The rectangular plate held a small cup of vivid green English pea soup with a crunchy, sweet dice of Pink Lady apples and the zing of horseradish. Alongside it were a sliver of sweet roasted beet, a dainty cauliflower panna cotta, and a dynamite lobster fritter.

I started with the Monterey Bay abalone ($18), slices of which had been breaded and crisped, then served on a bed of nutty farro and red frill mustard for even more varied textures on the plate.

My husband’s yellowfin tuna and sea urchin salad ($17) was accented with a quail egg, capers and tiny radishes. It was delicate and nuanced, and with a lovely, almost creamy nature to the tartare.

Whatever else you order at Quince, you must have one of the pastas, which are all made in-house. Dumpling-like cappellacci, with fragile skins, were filled with juicy, ground spring lamb ($20). Rosemary and Pecorino added even more succulent flavor. A substantial plate of pillowy tender gnocchi ($20) hid moist chunks of Maine lobster. This glorious dish tasted so intensely of lobster that after one bite the aftertaste just lingered on and on like a fine Cabernet. Even weeks later, I’m still mesmerized by this dish.

The Devil’s Gulch rabbit rack ($29) arrived with its tiny bones Frenched perfectly clean and its flesh wonderfully tender. Creamy red wine riso and kohlrabi rounded it all out.

I could have eaten a whole bowl of the sweet Kishu tangerines, broiled till caramelized like candy, that accompanied my flaky John Dory ($31) with cauliflower and the first of spring’s peas. Fortunately, there were more Kishus in the vivid sorbet alongside my dessert of burnt honey budino ($11), a wedge of dense, caramel-like pudding that was so rich, it was downright naughty.

Teeny-tiny cubes of pistachio torrone, citrus pate de fruit and pine nut cookies ended the evening.

As we departed the lively glow of the restaurant with shoulders squared and head held high, we felt somehow more important and inexplicably regal. Quince will do that to you.

— Carolyn Jung of FoodGal

[Photo credit: Carolyn Jung]

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