Tommy Toy's Cuisine Chinoise, SF
I was a bit apprehensive about going to a restaurant that billed itself as "Haute Cuisine Chinoise," as that suggested a number of things that I usually make quite an effort to steer clear of: fusion and poshness. But I didn't have much of a choice in the matter tonight. Fortunately, this place (655 Montgomery Street, 415-397-4888) had received rave reviews from all over for being "classically elegant Chinese, yet contemporarily French in style and presentation." I suppose it was fitting then that it was situated in San Francisco's Financial District just outside of Chinatown. This was a very ornate fine dining establishment, complete with tuxedo-clad Cantonese(?)-speaking waiters pushing wheeled candlelit carts (it was very dim in there - sorry for the crappy photos as a result). Jackets are not required, but I felt underdressed without one tonight.
I went ahead and grabbed their Signature Dinner, which is a prix fixe six-course set that blares out at you near the start of the menu. It started with an Imperial Minced Squab, which is a very Chinese thing, served in a little lettuce cup and eaten by hand (they provided several sets of hot towels to wipe your hands with). Then the menu switched gears to a French seafood bisque, topped with a puff pastry. Both were fairly straightforward with nothing to object to by any means. The lobster then arrived, decorated with a number of raw scallion stalks, mushrooms, and almonds, all while sitting on a bed of vermicelli (kinda like Sin Huat's Crab Bee Hoon in Singapore). I didn't mind this cornucopia of things sitting on my plate and I actually ate it rather diligently, which means quite a bit coming from a guy who doesn't really like lobster.
The Peking Duck that came next puzzled me though. This was served with the meat attached, thus becoming a far cry from the classic crispy skin one normally associates with this stuff. I couldn't tell if this was because it was a Cantonese place unsuccessfully trying to serve a Northern Chinese dish, or if it was because this was to be looked at as more of a French duck. Well, it was very tender and tasty on its own right, but calling it Peking Duck just seemed inappropriate (i.e., with all that meat attached, I ended up using a knife and fork to eat it instead of my hands). The meal closed up with some beef medallions on fried rice and some peach mousse.
In the end, this pretty much turned out to be as I had expected: generally decent quality food (and fortunately without suffering much of an identity crisis), but with an ambience that I personally feel is unnecessary and really can be done without (especially at a whopping price of US$67 for the Signature Dinner). What was even more interesting to me though was that nearly everyone in the restaurant that I could see was ordering the Signature Dinner, thus creating a huge amount of scale that these guys were undoubtedly leveraging into fat profits (apparently some of the a la carte dishes like the paper-wrapped fish were supposed to be pretty darned good though).
They even had a wall of fame upon entry, featuring photos of everyone from actors Bob De Niro and Nicholas Cage to politicians Mikhail Gorbachev and even Singapore's own Goh Chok Tong. It's funny though...if I really wanted to go to a celebrity-studded establishment for food, my heart would overwhelmingly choose Pink's instead, where the food is not only a fraction of the cost, but more importantly, it is food that really gets me fired up with a big fat happy smile on my face. The food at Tommy Toy's just didn't invoke that kind of a reaction with me.