1987 was an interesting year -- gas was under a dollar, the world population was nearing five billion, the stock market crashed, a storm of hurricane-like power hit Southern England killing two dozen, The Simpsons started airing as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, Baby Jessica fell down a well, the Golden Gate Bridge turned 50, Dianne Feinstein was the outgoing mayor of San Francisco, and the Giants lost the National League Championship Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Fast-forward 25 years to 2012 and gas is just under four dollars, the economy is a bit battered, Frankenstorm has stomped all over the northeast coast, The Simpsons is still on TV, and the Giants won the National League Championship Series in seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals on their way to a World Series championship. 1987 also saw the opening of the Hotel Nikko in downtown San Francisco, where it has remained a fixture. To celebrate its silver anniversary, ANZU, the restaurant on the Nikko's second floor, is offering a special tasting menu until the end of November.
The $49 five-course menu by chef Phillippe Striffeler (who has been at ANZU for 16 years) is arguably the best tasting menu deal in the city currently. Toss in the optional $30 wine pairing, and you have the makings of a great evening out. The dinner begins with the light "Ahi Blossom," an amuse of tuna and scallop topped with tobiko caviar. The tuna sashimi's mildness is matched with a gentle, but needed kick to the crotch by the spicy scallop while the tobiko adds pleasant little pops. A comforting Brentwood corn and lobster chowder comes next, ensconcing your taste buds in rich flavors and a velvety creaminess that would make George Costanza happy. Morel mushrooms contribute earthiness and umami while little kernels of corn provide texture. Like a good 1987 Cracker Jack prize, there are generous chunks of lobster hidden about the chowder. If an option existed to order a bowl twice as large, you would want to exercise that option. In fact, exercise that option a few times.
A lovely looking roasted root salad of baby beets, parsnips, and turnips follows the soup. The flavors of the salad are muted, allowing for the schmear of Burrata to momentarily stand out. Unfortunately, once the small dollop of Burrata is gone, it is back to the now lonely salad and the blood orange vinaigrette. Unfortunately, eating the small and slippery vegetables and wire-like frisee have an awkwardness reminiscent to undoing a bra in the backseat of a car in high school. In the dark. While buzzed on Zima. The honeycomb is a nice touch, adding sweetness and crunch, but also allowed an uncomfortable amount of beeswax to sneak onto the plate.
Redemption comes in the form of the main course. Well, at least if you choose wisely. Diners are given the option between a Wagyu beef onglet and a Misoyaki smoked black cod. If you are really hungry, go for the sizeable onglet, but if you are looking for the more flavor satisfying choice, go with the black cod. The beef dish, being a Wagyu hanger steak, was juicy when prepared medium-rare, but definitely on the tough, but manageable side. The gritty Salinas purple cauliflower mash did not help, but the anis shallot sauce and leek fondue kept things interesting while the generous serving of meat easily sates one's hunger. The cod on the other hand is beautifully delicate and the better dish. The misoyaki's saltiness and sweetness counters the savory Honshemenji mushrooms and truffled Yukon gold potatoes, like a seesaw of flavors engaged in a perfectly delightful rhythm on your tongue. The firm squash and potatoes ground the otherwise buttery and elegantly cooked fish.
Lastly, paying homage to one of San Francisco's most famous residents, dessert is known only as "The Fog." A dry ice and water garnished plate serves as a playful setting for a dark chocolate mousse cake filled with banana cream. The cake is smooth and bitter, like that guys who wore Drakkar Noir in 1987, while the cream filling is sweeter than both your United Colors of Benetton of shirt and Z. Cavaricci pants combined, but in a good way.
While there are certainly a few misses with the 25th Anniversary menu at ANZU, the soup, cod, and dessert are enough to make it a meal one should check out, particularly with its price and limited availability. Plus, if trends continue, the hotel and restaurant's 50th Anniversary will see a world with close to ten billion people and gas at $17, meaning it will be a whole lot more expensive to enjoy that menu and to get a seat at any restaurant.