Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Brunch at Stone's Throw

I wanted to love Stone's Throw.  I really did.  It opened several years ago, and seemed to be everyone's favorite neighborhood darling.  You know, the sort of place you desperately wish was in your neighborhood.  The sort of place that feels welcoming and homey, with an approachable menu at a reasonable price, but when dishes are set down in front of you, you need to take a moment to admire the plating.  Add in a signature dish or two that people can't stop raving about, the fact that they take reservations for brunch (!), and an entire dessert menu that is remakes of childhood dishes, and, well, it sounded like a recipe for success for me.
Brunch #2.
All those elements did ring true for me.  It was a comfortable place.  The menu was fantastic, and the plating beautiful.  Food was well prepared.  The service was friendly and never invasive, and they were on top of things like refills, share plates, and serving utensils.  Yet ... it didn't add up to anything special.

I visited twice for brunch, once solo, and once with a group of four.  I've also tried said signature dish at events around town.  That dish is a stunner, but everything else ... is just fine.  Certainly not bad, but, just, fine.

Setting

Stone's Throw is located in Russian Hill, definitely not my neighborhood, but an area with a great neighborhood vibe.
Curb Appeal.
The outside is warm and inviting, painted yellow, with cheery birds painted on the windows.  No outside seating or sidewalk decoration besides the entryway.
Bar.
The front of the restaurant features the bar, with counter dining for walk-ins.  Open and light filled, particularly on a weekend morning.  I'm not sure how crowded it gets in the evening, but the bar space didn't feel cramped.

Ceilings are high, with exposed wooden beams.  The yellow theme from the front paint job continues on the walls.
Tables.
The tables, like the bar, are wooden, as are the benches along the outside walls for seating.  Interior seats are padded wooden chairs.

Silverware, stoneware plates, and cloth napkins made up the initial place settings, along with a water glass.

Drinks

The drink menu, even at brunch, is slanted towards alcohol.  The first page of the menu is broken into three columns, only one of which is the food menu, another is beer, wine, cocktails, and the final column is "large format libations", as in, pitchers of Pimm's or mimosas.  The next three pages of the menu are all beer and wine.  I saw some folks order juice, but they are not on the menu.  Nor is coffee, although I was able to order that.

Tap water was offered in a jug, but half our group opted for sparkling.  They gave us different styles of glasses to keep track of which type of water each person was drinking.
Decaf French Press.
They do not have espresso drinks, only coffee.  Since I wanted decaf, I was given my own little french press, with assorted sweeteners and sugar cubes on the side, and a tiny pitcher of milk.  The presentation was nice, but the coffee lacked any flavor.  At least it didn't have "decaf funk", and it wasn't too acidic, but really, it was the least complex and least interesting coffee I've had in a long time.

Still, I really like having coffee alongside my brunch, so when my french press ran out, I ordered another, hoping that perhaps the first was just poorly brewed.  No luck, the second one was just as lackluster.

Food

I visited twice for brunch, once alone, and then a year and a half later with a group.
Menu.
The brunch menu is divided into 3 sections: snacks, sweets, and savory.  It comes tied on a wooden board, with more yellow accents.

The snacks section doesn't change much; it always has simple oysters, smoked salmon mousse, and their signature puffed potato and egg, along with a seasonal variety of doughnut.  Four items, all generally well reviewed, $8 each.  Stone's Throw has found some hits with this lineup, and haven't messed with it, sans switching out the filling in the doughnuts.

The sweets section has only three items, one of which is always the signature butter-fried pancake.  Others rotate between different styles of other sweet breakfast carbs, like french toast, bread pudding, and crepes, ranging from $12-15.

Finally, the savory section always has a token salad, several egg based dishes (one soft scrambled, one with a hash), and their other signature dish, "Da Burga", generally slightly more expensive than the sweets.

Visit #2: November 2016

For our group of 4, we opted to get two snacks, one sweet, and two savory, which was plenty of food, but not overwhelming.
Snack: Puffed Potato & Egg. $8.
"Cauliflower Mousse, Crispy Bacon."

While Stone's Throw has a number of signature dishes, the puffed potato & egg is certainly the dish that put them on the map.  It is available at both brunch and dinner, although at dinner the crispy bacon is swapped out for crispy chicken skin.

It is also the one dish I had tried long before I visited the restaurant in person, and was the reason I wanted to return.

The dish comes with 4 balls, stacked into a little tower, served on top of a base of cauliflower mousse.  The mousse is more like a sauce really, perfect to dunk your fried potato & egg ball into.  The bacon bits are on top the mousse, salty, crispy.  Tasty, in the way that little bacon bits are.  I like these components, but, our mousse was lukewarm at best, it clearly had been plated a bit too early.

But the star is the potato and egg balls.  They were nearly as good as I remembered.  Crispy fried potato shell, yolk inside that comes oozing out if you cut into it (or, do as I did, and pop it into your mouth whole, knowing the goodness inside that is about to come spilling out, just like a soup dumpling).  The fried bit wasn't greasy at all.

I enjoyed the dish for sure, but it being lukewarm was of course a bit disappointing.  Creative, unique, and signature for a reason.

My favorite dish of the meal, and one I'd still get again.  $2 a ball seems entirely justified.
Snack: Smoked Salmon Mousse. $8.
"Bagel Chips, Creme Fraiche, Scallions."

I decided to get a second snack for the table as well, the smoked salmon mousse.  No one seemed very interested in it, but I had read many stellar reviews of it, and I wanted us to have a little more food, but didn't want to get a fourth entree as that seemed like too much, so this seemed like a good middle ground.

It was ... fine.

The bagel chips were sliced bagel made into crostini.  More fun than regular toast points I suppose, and obviously smoked salmon and cream cheese go on bagels, but I didn't find them particularly interesting.

The mousse was light as could be, with a slightly smoky flavor, not fishy.  The pickled red onions were crazy tart, the capers added a nice briny saltiness, and, for those not allergic to avocado, I'm sure the avocado was another rich creamy component.  I was a bit annoyed that there was avocado, as the menu description didn't list it.  I should have mentioned my allergy though, my bad.  The description also said creme fraiche, which I guess was just mixed in to the mousse?

Overall, good for a smoked salmon mousse, and beautifully presented, but it didn't quite do it for me.  I appreciated that they gave the right amount of bagel chips for the quantity of mousse though.
Savory: Soft Scrambled Eggs. $14.
"Chili & Garlic-Spiced Broccolini, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Whipped Ricotta."

For our first savory dish, we went with the soft scrambled eggs  .I'm personally not an egg eater, but the group was leaning more towards savory than sweet, and I knew I'd likely be plenty happy with my puffed potato and then just the sweets anyway.  But if I was going to pick an egg dish, this would have been it.  Every once in a while soft scrambled eggs can be quite magical.  I still remember the first time I had them at the (now closed) Il Cane Rosso, and my mind was blown.

These ... weren't magical.  They were just scrambled eggs.  They even seemed a bit dry, not the rich, soft, creamy texture I was hoping for.  There were only two chunks of the oven roasted tomatoes, so I let my dining companions go for those.  I'm still not really sure what the breadcrumb like topping was, but it gave a little crunch.

The whipped ricotta was the one element to the dish I was really excited about.  But ... it wasn't great.  It didn't really taste like ricotta, rather was quite plain.

Overall, nothing in this dish did it for me, and it also seemed like it really needed a bread element of some sort.  My least favorite dish.
Savory: Chile Verde Braised Pork Belly. $14.
"Masa, Poached Eggs, Avocado Toast."

Our second savory dish was another egg dish, this time, poached eggs, over pork chile verde.  Not my pick, but the top choice of two of the others, so I had no problem adding it to our order, not really intending to eat much of it myself anyway.  They could have their eggs, I had my sweets coming ...

The chile verde and the avocado toast on the side both came topped with more pickled red onions, which really seemed to be the garnish de jour.

This too wasn't great.  The chile verde wasn't particularly flavorful, and the masa was kinda just lumps mixed in.  It really needed some oomph of some sort.  It was the one dish that went unfinished at our table.

Since I'm allergic to avocado I couldn't try the toast, but it actually looked pretty good, a thick slice, topped with plenty of avocado mash.  So trendy though, and it seemed a bit excessive alongside the big bowl of pork belly chile verde with two poached eggs.
Sweet: Hawaiian Sweet Roll Bread Pudding. $12.
"Pineapple, Macadamia Nuts, Creme Anglaise."

And finally, my sweet choice.  All of the sweets on the menu sounded pretty great, but since I was the only sweets lover in the group, we only ordered one.  I was really tempted by the cinnamon-spiced monkey bread with cream cheese frosting, apple butter, toasted pecans, and caramel, because, um those things sounded great, and the signature donuts of course, but I couldn't get past the Hawaiian sweet roll bread pudding.  I obviously love bread pudding, but I also totally love Hawaiian sweet rolls.  Even generic King's Hawaiian rolls are totally delicious in my world.  Add in macadamia nuts and creme anglaise and I was beyond sold.  (Side note: if you want Hawaiian inspired brunch, go to 'āina.  It is amazing. But be prepared to wait a seriously long time.)

Like our other entrees, this let me down.

I'll start with the positive.  The portion was quite large, 3 large chunks of bread pudding.  It was warm and moist.  But ... that is about where my positives end.

I didn't taste Hawaiian sweet rolls.  It tasted like any plain white bread as the base.  It wasn't custardy, it wasn't crispy on top, and it didn't have much flavor.

I tried to find flavor in the accompaniments, but the creme anglaise was entirely flavorless, and there was just a little pool on the bottom, not really enough to drench your chunk of bread pudding in.

The pineapple I guess was flavorful, but it wasn't particularly good.  Large chunks and some diced pineapple.  I didn't taste any different from canned pineapple.

And finally, the nuts.  They were not macadamias.  They were peanuts.  I like peanuts, but, um, this was supposed to be Hawaiian, and the menu said macadamias.  They should have mentioned the substitution when we ordered.

This dish desperately needed ... something.  Some spicing, a different sauce, just, something.  I almost asked for some maple syrup at least to drizzle on it.

Once we finished eating, one of my fellow diners asked if we were all satisfied.  He wondered if we should order something more.  I admitted that my sweet tooth wasn't really satisfied, but I didn't think ordering more there would do it.  He agreed, and said he wanted "something yummy".  Since Bob's Donuts was just a few blocks away we headed straight there to get donuts (long overdue review coming soon).  I think that about sums up the experience.  It just left us wanting something else.

Visit #1, June 2015

My first visit was alone, as a friend was supposed to join, and got held up.  I decided to dine alone anyway, and the staff were very friendly.
Decaf Coffee.
The decaf coffee just wasn't very good, even though it was served in a french press.  This was true on both my visits.  I drank a lot of it while waiting for my friend.
Butter Fried Pancake (half-order).
"Strauss European Style Butter, Vermont Maple Syrup."

A stack of pancakes is usually two decently large pancakes, fried in butter.  I knew I wanted to try the pancakes, but since I was dining alone, I didn't particularly want to stuff myself silly on pancakes.  Of course, I had done my research, and knew I could ask for a half-order, even though not listed on the menu.

The pancake is not only fried in butter, it comes topped with additional butter.  The syrup is served in a matching crockery small pitcher.

I took great notes while I ate this, as I was dining alone.  And ... I lost them.  I don't know how.  And I didn't write it up soon after the visit as I normally do, so I didn't notice that they were missing, until I came back to edit and realized my review stopped after the above intro.  Doh.

So I really don't have a detailed review to give.  I do recall not being particularly impressed, but, that isn't exactly a review with substance.  Sorry :(

Visit #0, April 2015

I say visit #0, because my first encounter with Stone's Throw was not actually at the restaurant.  Rather, it was at the annual Meals on Wheels Gala, where they featured their signature Puffed Potato & Eggs.  I did a quick little write-up about the Gala for my mom, so, I actually still had notes even though I wasn't planning to blog it.
Puffed Potato & Eggs.
Stone's Throw has been on my radar for a while, somewhere I've really, really wanted to go.

And luckily for me, they were offering up their signature dish: "Puffed potato and eggs".  What is it?  A deep fried mashed potato ball with an egg yolk inside, served over creamy cauliflower puree, topped with crispy chicken skin.

They actually had little deep fryers behind them, and were frying fresh to order, about 10 at a time.  They basically always had a line, and were totally running behind all night long, but the wait was worth it.  I heard numerous people making plans to go back for seconds.

Second best dish of the evening for me.  Creamy potato, crispy crust, and gooey egg.  I refuse to admit how many times I went back to their booth.  Devine.  I really can't wait to visit Stone's Throw now!
Stones Throw Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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