November 11, 2009

Mmm Mmm Murray Circle

I have to admit, it felt pretty silly to travel less than 15 minutes for a one night staycation at Cavallo Point but the experience went beyond any expectations I had. First of all, the property (set in old Fort Baker buildings) does an extraordinary job of fitting in with its natural surroundings – gorgeous fields of long, sweeping grass; seats strewn about the property to sit and admire a sunrise or sunset; fire pits for late night chatting with fellow guests; and simple architectural designs so as not to distract from the natural beauty of the surrounding hills, wildflowers, and Golden Gate.

But on to the good stuff…Murray Circle is the restaurant at Cavallo Point, open to guests as well as the public. I’ve read about it in SFgate, 7X7 and Tablehopper and have been waiting to make a trek over the bridge to check it out. I wrote to Murray Circle about two weeks prior to our reservation with a complete lists of dietary restrictions and more importantly dietary recommendations. When we arrived, the hostess confirmed that the chef had received the list and our waitress also promptly displayed an actual printout of the email I had sent. To say the least, I was impressed.

As for the menu: Diners can choose to order separate plates from the menu (separated into three categories: vegetables and fruits; fish and shellfish; and meat and poultry) or to order a chef’s tasting (at an incredibly reasonable $65). My man friend and I asked if it would be possible for both of us to order a chef’s tasting – his being the normal fixed-menu items and mine a slightly altered version. This is where things get really good.  Not only did the chef say he could make a custom tasting menu for me, but that I could pick anything from the entire menu. The world was my oyster, and yes, I could have some of those too.

This amount of dining freedom never happens. My choices are usually limited and to have everything on the menu at my fingertips was something that I had not experienced in the past five years. All three courses were beautiful, delicious, and sodium girl safe. For a fairly new, one-star Michelin restaurant, Murray Circle lives up to all the accolades.  Prices are San Francisco affordable (avg $20 per plate), the service was friendly, and the overall feeling was casual and warm.

Also of note, our sommelier, Sabrina (yes, there are three and a huge wine list of ranging prices) was a gem. After chatting with her about her own history in the Bay Area and her favorite wines, we were treated to a glass of a no longer in production Ladera Vineyard Merlot. I have never tasted a red like this before and meeting someone like Sabrina makes dining out an unforgettable experience. Being friendly and inquisitive always leads to good things…like a memorable meal, an unforgettable glass of wine, and maybe a new friend too.

So get on your bike or in your car and make your way over to Cavallo Point and Murray Circle for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just some wine on the porch. And for those of you with restrictions, let your mouth drool and heart melt over this menu:

Course 1: Young lettuces salad with winter fruits, thinly sliced vegetables (beautiful rose colored turnips) and a home-made champagne vinaigrette.  I tasted citrus and star anise as well as freshly chopped herbs.  It was crisp and light with a perfectly silky dressing. Clean plate number one.

Course 2: Wild halibut with purple cauliflower, peas, and carrot shavings. The fish was cooked perfectly.  It had a melt-in-your mouth creamy texture and the plate was very colorful. No outrageous burst of flavor here, but it was simple and well prepared. Clean plate number two.

Course 3: The true knock-out. Side by side cuts of slow roasted duck breast with crispy, golden skin. Flanked by more of the purple cauliflower, pea, and carrot combo and in the middle, a surprise treat of caramelized turnips. Vegetables prepared right taste like candy. The molasses flavor of the turnips brought out the natural sweetness of the duck. It was hard to share this dish, but I had to let my companion experience the ingenuity.  Just a little bit of creativity goes a long way in sodium free cooking. Clean plate number three.

Course 4: No room for dessert, but had an endless pot of french press coffee and too much wine (half a bottle of Crocker and Starr). Will have to come back for a smaller tasting and some sweet treats.

Breakfast: Yes, Murray Circle does it all. I ordered the farm fresh egg omelet with mushrooms and spinach. Reading this on paper doesn’t exactly sound exciting. But when I received the fluffy, sunshine yellow omelet and split it open, to my surprise I found some beautiful chanterelle mushrooms. My breakfast was another example of how good ingredients need very little flavor to be delicious. The farm fresh eggs had their own nutty essence, the chanterelles were meaty, and even the spinach had an herbal bitterness for balance. A little olive oil and pepper and voila, a delicious breakfast. Thank you to Murray Circle for such incredible service and the willingness to make so many sodium free delicacies.

And a quick update: I have now dined here three times, every experience being equally impressive .  The food has proved more flavorful and inventive with each visit.  During my last trip, my dining partner and I ordered the same dish, which was accompanied by an uni (sea urchin) reduction sauce. Of course, I thought my sodium free version would be uni-less. But surprise! Not only did my plate look as equally gorgeous as the regular version sitting across the table, but I was served my very own sodium free, freshly prepared uni reduction. That is incredible service and proof that extraordinary, complex food can be sodium free.

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