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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chicken Liver Mousseline at Decantr

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 7:52 AM

click to enlarge Decantr's chicken liver mousseline with quince butter and pickled onions, $12. - JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall
  • Decantr's chicken liver mousseline with quince butter and pickled onions, $12.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chef-sommelier duo and Mina veterans Josh Skenes and Mark Bright have fine dining in their DNA helixes. Saison, which launched in 2009 as a pricey weekend pop-up in the events space at the back of Stable Café, succeeded ― expanded, even ― despite the Great Recession and gloomy assessments that big-bill dining was deader than the housing bubble.

In November, Skenes and Bright grew their franchise even further when the opened Decantr, Saison's clipped-syllable wine bar and casual eats place in Stable Café proper. Casual, though, is relative. I slid along the hard wooden bench into one of Decantr's café tables last night, fully expecting an array of tapas-like noshes. What I found was a short menu full of Skenes polish ― Saison lite, really, dishes with French technique and a flickering formality, despite the dead-casual setting.

click to enlarge Whole roasted sand dabs with wild fennel "citronette," $16. - JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall
  • Whole roasted sand dabs with wild fennel "citronette," $16.

Skenes' chicken liver mousseline with quince butter ($12) offered up a flawless example of the French knack for importing flavor into silken fats: the livers' mineral, blood-tinged richness, spread against a field of pure texture that proved the savory equivalent of chocolate ganache. At the other end of the flavor spectrum: a pair of roasted sand dabs on the bone ($16), capped with a ruffle of fennel rings braised till soft, awash in wild fennel "citronette," a sort of lemon juice broth floating green globs of olive oil. The fish in question turned out to be completely wrong here ― the sauce's acidity completely masked the delicately muddy taste that defines sand dabs.

Bright has built a list of a dozen and a half wines available in volumes of up to 750 ml, a short roster of Belgian and Bavarian beers, a single sake, and something called the blending bar: three Pinot Noirs you can combine in any configuration via10-ml increments. That part of Decantr feels as playful, as casual as the Stable's hard-surfaced café setting, even if Skenes' dishes feel as if they might really be more comfortable sitting on a linen tablecloth, in a room not blasting Beck, and where you didn't just lay out $40 (before tip) for two smallish dishes and a glass of the cheapest wine on the list.

Decantr at Stable Café: 2128 Folsom (at 17th St), 552-1199.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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