First of all, I made my reservation using Savored. Formerly known as VillageVines, it's an interesting restaurant deal concept. Basically, you make your reservation online through their system. The reservation will cost $10, but 30% (40% in Boston) will come off your total bill (including wine!) at the end. Great savings and no commitment to buying something you don't want with a later upsell. No hassle, and the reservation can be cancelled pretty close to reservation time. They have a large number of restaurants on their list so it's worth using even for the occasional dinner out. I definitely suggest checking it out, and if you decide to sign up, please use my referral link here.
I obviously wanted to make sure that it worked, so I visited a couple of weeks before my reservation to see if anything was off limits with the discount. In that regard, SHO's Reservations and Training Manager Heather was extremely pleasant and helpful. I found out that while we could not ask for some specially created extended tasting, the discount would apply to the prix fixe or the tasting menu, and was still applicable when we decided to have the tasting menu and supplement a course from the prix fixe.
As for the rest of this review, I must warn all those readers who really just look at pictures that unfortunately, I forgot my camera due to a hectic day, and the cell phone I used to take some pictures did not have a flash, and ran out of batteries early in the meal.
First, a mention of the service. While the service was not bad, it left much to be desired for a restaurant with food of this caliber. I did not like that some of the people who brought food had accents that made it hard to hear them describe the dish (something that I mentioned back in my 2009 review), and in one case they didn't even bother with the description of the dish. At the end of the meal, we were hoping to get to thank the chef in person and discuss one of the dishes, but he was on the phone, and after we waited for a while, there was no further update. There was definitely a bright point though in Marissa, who was engaging and helped us pick out some wonderful wines. I think she is the co-wine director, as her name is listed on the online wine list. However, I also saw her bringing out dishes to some tables, which kind of muddles her role in my mind. That, in essence, is what I feel is missing about the service at SHO. A sense of order. A hierarchy of server, captain, manager, etc.
The food, most importantly, was exceptional. We had the tomato-centric tasting menu, supplemented a fish course, and replaced a couple of dishes to cater to dietary restrictions. Everything was tasty with some smart and interesting touches.
We started with a selection of canapes. Here was a small shot glass of pea puree with coconut foam. Light and refreshing.
Fried balls of potato and a little foie gras. The foie gras flavor wasn't particularly strong, and overall it had a nice beignet-like taste even though it was savory.
After the canapes, we had a small amuse. It was a sweet prawn with masago and was fresh and light, although not particularly intense in flavor.
The bread selection was quite good, with white, multi-grain, and rosemary olive rolls. My favorite was the multi-grain, which had robust flavor and texture from the seeds on the outside while the inside was soft and warm.
The real winner though, was the truffle butter. Among the best we've ever had with a perfect combination of creaminess and truffle flavor. Notice how much bigger the serving is compared to the regular butter. We ended up having about 5 servings total for the 3 of us.
CARPACCIO OF ROMA TOMATO CONFIT Simple, familiar, tastes were given ingenious textural twists. The tomato confit was peeled and oven-baked, allowing it to have an intensified flavor along the lines of sun-dried tomatoes, while remaining very juicy. Even better, the juices were contained in the bite of the carpaccio itself instead of leaking away. Also on the plate were small mounds of goat cheese panna cotta, which had a smooth, silky texture.
OVEN ROASTED TOMATO AND FENNEL SOUP The soup was fine, but the interesting components of the dish were a tomato gelee underneath the soup and a green basil espuma which combined for an interesting mix of textures. I think another component with a crispy texture would have really completed the dish. In addition, the garnishes on the peeled tomatoes were both very pretty and provided subtle hints of flavor.
TOMATO OIL CONFIT PRAWN The tomato oil and prawn smelled wonderful and was very well cooked. The sweet prawn went well with the warm tomato oil and was livened by a tomato and kaffir lime leaf sambal.
SALT PRESSED PETUNA OCEAN TROUT My friend DC could not have the prawn, so they presented this dish of alternating chilled slices of ocean trout and pear. It was quite good, and an especially fitting cold starter. None of us had tried or even thought of this fish and pear combination before, but it works.
SOUS VIDE EAST COAST HALIBUT Perfectly cooked, this was a robust piece of fish sauced nicely with a black olive oil and a cherry tomato vinaigrette. However, I felt that this was probably the least special of the dishes.
CRISPY DIAMONDS OF BRANZINO This was the dish that we added because that's how we roll. Perfectly cooked with crispy skin and flaky flesh, the accompanying liquid arugula, kalamata olive, and baby cucumbers were a fantastic combination of flavors and textures coming together in harmony in each bite.
UPSTATE NEW YORK QUAIL Absolutely wonderful. For the tomato-centric menu that had been fairly light up to this point, this was the perfect last savory course. The quail flavor was strong yet warm and comforting. The meat was soft and juicy but with a good biting texture that gave way to the foie gras on the inside. The foie gras managed not to dominate the quail flavor, but instead accentuated the flavors by adding a fattiness and a creamy finish to each bite.
CHILLED FINGERLING ESPUMA WITH COLD GNOCCHI, QUAIL EGGS, AND KAVIARI CAVIAR My friend DC couldn't have the quail, and instead went with a cold appetizer to end the savory courses. This was another example of innovative textures with familar flavor combinations. The cold potato and caviar is a classic, and the quail eggs did a nice job of bringing it all together.
SATUR FARMS YELLOW TOMATO SORBET Our pre-dessert was relatively simple and tasted exactly like what it was supposed to be.
TRISTAR STRAWBERRIES, TOMATO ESPUMA, AGED BALSAMIC Again a relatively simple dessert. The strawberries were sweet and went well with the tomato espuma, although I didn't think the balsamic was necessary.
CHOCOLATE CREMEUX WITH HONEYCOMB AND MILK ICE CREAM We were just there to have a good meal, but during our quail course, SC mentioned that we should just consider this meal an early birthday celebration as we had ordered some of her favorite wines. This was just in passing conversation, but they must have overheard and thoughtfully brought this extra dessert with "Happy Birthday" written in chocolate on the plate. This was delicious, with two different textures from the chocolate on top and the honeycomb inside. The milk ice cream was perfect in bridging those two components.
CHOCOLATES AND PETIT FOURS An okay selection.
Speaking of wine, SHO has a very impressive high end wine list, including 4 DRCs. And they aren't even the most expensive bottles! Browsing through the list online, they have a bottle listed at $15000. For our meal, we started with a Laurent Perrier Rosé, Tours-Sur-Marne, followed by the Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, 'Le Grand Maupertuis,' Domaine Anne Gros 2004 for the meal proper, and ended with a Riesling Beerenauslese, H. Boch, 'Trittenheimer Apotheke,' Mosel, which held up well to both the strawberries and the chocolate.
Savored did indeed come through, with over $300 coming off our final bill. Looking back at my 2009 review, the food really has always been exceptional at SHO. Now that there's a 30% discount involved, there's no excuse not to go.