After my reservation at Fleur de Lys in San Francisco was confirmed, I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I was excited to finally try this highly acclaimed restaurant, but I was also nervous about liking the food. I had dined at Keller’s more casual Burger Bar the night before and thought it didn’t live up to its hype despite having a good burger there. Would it be the same at Fleur de Lys?
Just one taste of the amuse bouche blew all my doubts and misgivings of the restaurant away. It came with a small bowl of fava bean puree with a fried fava bean and one single shaving of cheese standing upright like soldiers. On the side, there was a small shot-glass of lemongrass soup. The fava bean puree was unusual but good. The fried bean on top reminded me of the Chinese fava bean snacks my dad used to get me as a kid. The lemongrass soup was to die for. It was chilled, creamy, and had a citrusy, punch. Its slight acidity made it a wonderful way to start the meal.
The BF, who asked for a modified vegetarian tasting menu (to make it vegan) also got a little something to start his meal with: roasted watermelon and a watermelon gelée. The roasted watermelon was sweet and unusual, but the star of this dish was obviously the gelée. Its consistency was between that of a custard and of jello, which was strange. The sweetness of the watermelon and the unexpected flavor of the green stuff on top, which I think was basil or some strong herb, was an unexpected but good pairing.
I had asked for a four course tasting menu with all the choices (except for dessert) left up to the chef. There were so many good things on the menu that I didn’t want the burden of choosing myself. Customers also can just choose what dishes they’d like for each of their courses, but I like to be surprised.
My appetizer was a crab salad, some small bites of beets on goat cheese, and a spoonful of lobster mousse topped with caviar. To say this was decadent would be an understatement. The big chunks of crab were sweet and fresh. The lobster-based dressing drizzled on top was acidic enough to make a good dressing to the greens, but did not overpower the delicate flavor of the crab at all. The mousse was light on my tongue — almost like it wasn’t there. I may be sick of beet and goat cheese salads, but the small bites of beet were presented artfully. The goat cheese was also interesting in that it was quite mild — milder than the other goat cheeses I’ve had. And the snap pea? Delicious.
The BF was served asparagus soup with morels and fennel. The dish was brought out as a disc of morels and fennel and then the waiter poured the asparagus soup out around the disc. It was a nice touch to the presentation. There were also some fried shiitake and asparagus tips included on the side. The soup itself was light and refreshing.
My second course was pure heaven: lightly smoked and salted pork belly and a tiger prawn. The pork was slightly salty, tender, and in all ways perfect. The prawn was cooked delicately so that it wasn’t the least bit overdone. This made the sweetness of the meat stand out wonderfully. I forgot what the white sauce was on the bottom, but it was light and added to the prawn instead of distracting any attention from it. What a masterful dish.
Braised fennel is not something I’d really thought about until that night. The BF’s second course was a large half of braised fennel. The braising mellowed out the sharp anise flavor of the fennel and made it practically melt in my mouth. I’ll never shun anything braised ever again.
My main was lamb two ways. The first pieces were medallions of lamb cooked and sauced perfectly. Lamb is something that I usually have mixed feelings on because a lot of places tend to cook it more well done than I’d like, but this wasn’t the case at all here. It was the best lamb I’ve ever had. Each bite was juicy and still slightly pink on the inside. In the porcelain tandoori was lamb cooked in an entirely different way and to a different texture. This was slow braised so that the meat actually fell apart as soon as my fork hit it. While I enjoyed this preparation and its sauce, I still preferred the simple medallions of lamb because it tasted like lamb in its purest sense.
The BF had a truly gourmet dish of vegetables topped with slices of black truffle and these curious crunchy chips made of porcini broth set into a thin film and then baked. I had definitely never heard of that before. My usual complaint about vegan dishes at high-end restaurants is that sometimes they seem like just an afterthought, but this was certainly not the case in this dish. It was obvious Chef Keller put a lot of thought into this dish.
For dessert, I had the Grand Marnier souffle. I was afraid this was going to be too sweet, but I still ordered it because I wanted to see how the kitchen did dessert. It was perfect! The outside was poofy and light. The inside (with the Grand Marnier sauce) was custardy and delicately sweetened. The scoop of cardamom ice cream was a good balance the warm pastry.
The BF was served sorbet on top of a rectangle of caramel popcorn. He’s pretty jaded about sorbet at places like this because that’s usually the only dessert option available for a vegan, but he seemed to enjoy this one — especially the coconut lemongrass scoop.
Then, when I couldn’t eat another bite, the waiter brought out petit fours. Cute, sweet, and delicious. I especially liked the chocolate tart that had some liquor in it.
My experience at Fleur de Lys was pretty much all that I had hoped for and more. The sommelier was extremely nice and poured us some tastings of interesting wines to try out. Even though we only ordered one bottle of wine, we ended up trying 3 that night. The most unusual was the last one he brought out for us to taste after the BF and he geeked out on wine a little bit. I thought it smelled like a cigar, in a good way, but he mentioned that the smell was more commonly known as “ashtray.”
What surprised me about my meal was that I was expecting more traditional French dishes, but there seemed to be a modern twist on most of them. It was a very pleasant surprise that I’m sure added to the enjoyment of the meal.
After dinner, Chef Keller was by the door, shaking hands of customers on their way out. It was nice to see one of the people behind our fantastic dishes and to tell him that I enjoyed the meal. I got a little star-struck and even asked him if I could get a picture with him, which he graciously agreed to. What a swell guy!
Our damage came out to be about $300 including tip for the two of us. I had braced myself for this, so I didn’t take it too badly when the check came. The meal and experience was certainly worth it, but I’m sad that I probably won’t have a meal like that for a long, long time.
Fleur de Lys
777 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA