Okay, I’ll admit it: I was never a big Tyler Florence fan. Sure, Forbes recently reported that he’s worth more than 50 million dollars, but I always saw him as more of a television personality than a chef. Before 2010, he never even ran his own restaurant and now he’s got THREE in less than two years! (Wayfare Tavern, Rotisserie and Wine, & El Paseo) He’s clearly cashing in on his television fame.
These days, he’s getting plenty of press attention, both good AND bad. And I haven’t taken the critic’s giddy reviews over his flagship restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, very seriously. He used to be a spokesperson for Applebee’s for goodness sake. It must be his over 290,000 fans on Twitter making a big deal about this new hotspot for local celebrity sightings. They’re the ones raving about how the Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese are to die for.
Wait, did you say Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese? Maybe I should check this place out.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is classic old world San Francisco with its golden eagle emblem, black and dark colored wood accents, brushed metal plates and cushy booths. The service is as welcoming as Tyler Florence’s television persona, itself. Our server was at once knowledgeable, warm and genuinely excited about the food coming out of the kitchen. All this positivity was starting to wear off on me.
The menu is a greatest hits compilation of sophisticated American comfort food with a slight French slant, ranging from Deviled Eggs to Steak Tartare to Pork Hash.
The meal started with a homemade popover that was light, tangy and just plain impressive. Then we ordered the Organic Butter Lettuce Salad with the Palace Hotel’s Green Goddess dressing, and the Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad with shaved red onions, cucumbers and lime-cilantro dressing. The Green Goddess dressing and radishes were the perfect foil for the delicate butter lettuce. But it was the combination of the fresh, citrusy dressing and creamy, buttery avocado that really sang to me. It was a delightfully bright yet simple salad.
Then came the much hyped Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken that came with a mound of fried herbs, including rosemary and sage, and a wedge of lemon. I’d seen Tyler Florence make fried sage on his show Tyler’s Ultimate, but never expected to enjoy the mellow almost nutty flavor to pair so well with the chicken’s perfectly thin, crisp crust. The flavorful chicken benefited from the buttermilk brine, creating a moist, tangy meat. I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken at various places around San Francisco, but this was clearly the best in my book.
We paired the chicken with an order of Macaroni and Cheese, made with jack cheese and perfectly toasted garlic breadcrumbs; and fresh local Grilled Asparagus with chive blossoms.
The Mac and Cheese was smooth and creamy, just the way I like it. I’m not a fan of baked, clumpy, greasy versions of the dish. And the mild yet distinct garlic flavor was prevalent in the breadcrumbs, which is a good thing. I wish, though, that the cheese had more kick and depth. The jack cheese didn’t give it enough flavor power like I’d hoped. Regardless, it was still a decadent pleasure.
Since we were clearly going for gluttony, we finished our meal off with three different desserts: the Key Steamed Lime Pudding Cake with Buttermilk Ice Cream, Gooseberry Goat Cheese Cheesecake, and Carrot Cake.
The goat cheese cheesecake was a bit intense for me, though it was lightened by the gooseberries. And though the buttermilk ice cream was absolutely delicious, the pudding cake was a little grainier than I’d expected. I wanted something smoother, though the flavor and creaminess was there.
The most impressive dessert was the Carrot Cake, not because of the cake itself, though it was rich and moist the way it should be, but because of the pool of carrot syrup that surrounded it. Everyone at the table wanted to drink it straight! It tasted like spiced cider, rich with cinnamon and cloves. It was sweet, spicy and heavenly.
I’d mentioned to our server in passing that one of my dining companions was celebrating a birthday, and she smiled and proceeded to bring over my friend’s dessert with the obligatory lit candle on it. But it was the accompanying notecard signed personally by Tyler Florence, that impressed us. He wasn’t even in town let alone in the restaurant at the time of our meal, but it’s these personal touches in the service, the food, and décor that make this restaurant standout.
I didn’t want to prove myself wrong, but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it. And yes, I might just have become a fan of Chef Florence.