SFoodie is willing to put ourselves on the line for you. So when we heard Twenty-Five Lusk is offering a 6-course Champagne and strawberry themed menu for $90 -- $60 food, $30 wine pairings -- through Blackboard Eats, we ran over to throw ourselves on that grenade.
Wine pairing is easy with sparkling wine, which goes with almost anything. That's good for this menu, because fresh strawberries -- and most fresh fruits -- are a challenge for wine. You generally need the wine to be sweeter than whatever you're drinking it with. A dish of fresh strawberries would make the world's best Cabernets taste sour. Try it.
Fortunately, because of the way they're made, almost all bubblies have a little residual sugar, sometimes below the level of perception, but enough to keep their flavor from being ruined by slightly sweet foods.
Thus while sparkling wine isn't usually our first choice with oysters, when Twenty-Five Lusk starts the meal with three oysters with a strawberry verbena Champagne mignonette, we're happy to have a glass of bubbly.
It's a good dish for people leery of oysters, as the strawberries cover up the brine of the sea until the finish, which you can wash away with the Roederer Anderson Valley Brut NV as soon as you like.
The second course is like two tiny dishes in one: a seared diver scallop with foie gras torchon and grilled strawberries. The crusted, slightly charred scallop is delicious. Foie gras and strawberries are a great combination, with the sweetness balancing foie gras' saltiness. We tried forking up all three but the two elements are best eaten separately, although the dish does point out that scallops and foie gras are more similar than we thought, salty and plump and rich.
Wine director Cezar Kusick pairs this with a sweet bubbly, Collet Demi-Sec Champagne NV. Foie gras is traditionally served with sweet wine and this is a smart move, because we tried the foie gras with the remaining dry bubbly and suddenly that wine didn't taste good anymore.
Kusick has an interesting background. A native of Poland, he came to San Francisco in the '90s, ran a construction business, then sold it to go to culinary school. He got a job behind the bar at Rubicon and Larry Stone, one of the state's more influential sommeliers, recognized his palate and moved him up the ladder. He has been at Twenty-Five Lusk since its opening, and his outstanding, reasonably priced wine list is as much an attraction for us as executive chef Matthew Dolan's intricate, seasonal menu.
Our favorite wine on this special menu is Iron Horse Green Valley Brut Rosé 2005, which costs $50 retail and thus would probably be at least $75 on a restaurant wine list; it's not on Twenty-Five Lusk's yet. We were surprised to see it on this prix fixe meal.
Made from 81% Pinot Noir, this wine is sooo close to a still Pinot, with an earthy aroma and plenty of dried cherries and mushrooms on the palate. We were totally happy just drinking it -- but wait, there's duck too? Roasted Sonoma duck breast, in fact, served rare and juicy, with enough grilled notes from the edges to give it contrast.
Kusick breaks away from the theme for the main course, grilled wagyu filet mignon with a strawberry demi-glace (that we couldn't taste), serving a still red, Lemelson Stermer Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2006, $72 on the wine list.
"I thought, let's give people an education as well," Kusick said. "People may not know these are the grapes used in Champagne."
We mentioned that in the '40s and '50s, fine restaurants commonly served Champagne with steak; we've seen the menus.
"Rich aged Champagne, especially rosé, is good with steak,' Kusick said. "But we're talking about $700 a bottle. You can't do that with a tasting menu."
The Lemelson's more California-like than Oregon, with rich cherry flavor and a little alcoholic heat in the aroma. It was OK with the steak, but we saved a little Iron Horse and thought that was even better with the rare beef, and we told Kusick so. So maybe he'll adapt.
We were pretty full by the cheese course but we loved the dehydrated strawberries served with the Jurassic D'Ete cow's milk cheese from France's Jura region. We also loved the Graham Beck South Africa Sparkling Rosé NV, just $34 on the list: it had more strawberry character than any of the other dry wines.
"I bought 600 cases of this wine, and now they're out of it," Kusick said. "I think I sold more of this wine than anyone else. They invited me to South Africa in November, but I can't go, I'm too busy here." Volunteers to substitute?
The sweet and thankfully light finale is strawberry mousse served with chocolate sorbet and a glass of Elio Perrone Bigaro Piedmont 2010, a light, sweet, only slightly sparkling wine with just 5% alcohol, and an appropriate aroma of balsamic strawberries. Fresh mint strips atop the mousse add to the feeling of refreshment.
The $90 price tag is a little steep compared to what Blackboard Eats usually does, but we had a lot of food and entertainment. If you decide to just get the $60 meal without the wine pairing, a bottle of the Graham Beck would be our recommendation, if he has any left, and if the Iron Horse still isn't on the list.
Here's how it works: You go to Blackboard Eats' site and get a passcode for the meal. Then, you schedule a reservation at the restaurant some time in the next month, telling the staff when you reserve that you're getting the special Champagne/strawberry meal. That's all we know about Blackboard Eats. But we do know we liked this meal a lot: a Champagne grenade that sent shards of strawberry everywhere. We're heroes, we know.