Foliage - San Francisco, Preita Park/Bernal

Went to Foliage, the restaurant now in the space vacated by Michelin-starred Marlena which has since moved to Japantown as the already acclaimed Adams 7 (and is excellent, by the way). Owners Stephane Roulland and Julia Indovina are by all accounts difficult owners/restaurateurs and the falling out they had with the Marlena chefs was well publicized and angered the neighbors. They brought in young Chef Mo Béjar to helm Foliage, and when my editor asked me to review the new restaurant at their publicist’s request, I was really looking forward to a reasonably priced ($75) prix fixe menu. Hailing from the Central Valley, Chef Béjar’s dishes have the requisite farm-to-table/sustainable and beautiful aesthetic, and they sounded interesting and fresh, with a few culinary twists and turns.

We started out with the house-made milk bread with cultured butter. The other option was a butter service - the same bread with a spiced/herbed salt and Spanish jamón - but we went for the basic.

A gorgeous round of puffy, yeasty bread, with a very generous slab of butter gleaming with crystals of crunchy salt. Plenty for us to have two delicious wedges apiece, and gave us high hopes for the rest of the meal.

The prix fixe menu offers two options per course, plus some optional add-ons. We decided to get each of the options, so that we would get to taste everything.
First course: amberjack crudo with lacto-(fermented)pineapple, banana, macadamia nuts, and thinly sliced kohlrabi.

The vegetarian option was Brokaw avocado with essentially the same ingredients.

Both had a little funkiness, and an inexplicable paprika oil at the bottom of the bowls. The amberjack was lovely, but it was an odd combination of flavors – banana and fish connote a somewhat Caribbean vibe, but it didn’t really work for us. We were also puzzled about the choice to take the same ingredients and simply substitute avocado for the protein. Perfect, missed opportunity to make a wholly different, inventive vegetarian option. While we weren’t thrilled with the amberjack dish, the vegetarian dish was just lackluster.

Second course: shrimp toast and ricotta gnocchi.

Beautiful dishes, both. The shrimp toast was great - super crispy, light, highly spiced, with a sichuan peppercorn aioli, and perfectly cooked shrimp. I’d get it again (and in fact, I did.) Our only quibble was the osetra caviar was wasted on this, you literally could not taste it with everything else going.

The gnocchi dish came with a very tasty gorgonzola sauce, pooled under beautifully wilted and browned sweet cabbage, topped with fried sage and toasted nuts. Unfortunately, the cabbage was the best thing on the plate; the ricotta gnocchi themselves were severely tough and dense. Overdone, underdone? We found them inedible, and when the runner eventually came around to ask if he could take the plate (without asking why the dish was untouched), I told him that the gnocchi were too hard. He apologized and said he would tell the chef. When he returned, he informed us the chef admitted that they were usually softer, and asked if we wanted him to try making them again or did we want another shrimp toast? Maybe we should have taken him up on the offer for a re-do, but we took the safe-bet toast. My question is: How does that go out to a table? And were others eating those heavy gnocchi without complaint?

At that point, the courses seemed to have slowed down. I’d finished a glass of Cremant bubbly, and asked the runner for the list so I could order a glass of wine. He misheard me and brought another glass of the same sparkling wine. He apologized, and began to take it back, but my sister said she would just take it so it wouldn’t go to waste. She hadn’t planned on having alcohol with dinner. I ordered a very good Cabernet.

Next came our entrée courses. The options were local cod over sweet potato puree with fava greens and charred leeks, or roasted cauliflower with a vadouvan crema for the vegetarian dish. Or, for an additional $15, a coulotte steak (described by our server as “the best cut, the top of the sirloin.”) with mole, chayote, citrus, and chocolate jus. We ordered the fish and the steak.

The cod was a bit on the small side, slightly overdone, the skin could have been a little crisper for my taste, but overall had good flavor. The underlying sweet potato puree and leeks were good, the garum (an ancient Roman fish-sauce-like concoction) very subtle. I was busy eating my portion of the fish before switching off with my sister, so I didn’t notice she was having trouble with the steak.

When they first put the dish on the table, I asked if the thin brown sauce underneath the steak was the mole, and our runner said no, that’s the chocolate jus. A minute later, unbidden, Chef Béjar himself came by with an extra little ramekin of the orange mole, which had been hiding under the chayote. A nice gesture, though I didn’t need more; I just hadn’t seen it on the plate. We chatted with Chef a few minutes, asked where he’d cooked before, wished him well.

The steak was rare (which we both like) and I finally noticed my sister sawing away at the meat for an interminable amount of time. She looked at me in disbelief. “You need to cut this into really small pieces or you won’t be able to chew it.” I tried my hand at it, and sure enough it took at least 10 seconds to hack free a tiny piece and then another 10 to chew it until it was soft enough to swallow. Again, we just could not eat it. The mole itself was strange – citrusy, almost, unlike any other mole I’d ever had. The chayote was hard and flavorless. Our server finally came by and asked us how we were enjoying the course as she stared at the full plate. I showed her how hard it was to cut through the meat. She replied, “Yes, because it’s a very chewy cut.” Before I could show my amazement at this explanation, she quickly asked if she should take it away and I said yes, please.

In all the time I’ve been reviewing for Mission Local, I really can’t remember sending a dish back, much less two in one meal. By this point we were looking around at the quite full restaurant and wondering if it was just us? We’re normally not that picky (in fact, I often get accused of liking everything indiscriminately), and we don’t relish making a scene. It was baffling, as no one else seemed to be having an issue but seemed to be enjoying their meals thoroughly.

Dessert course: one was a mango semifreddo with tuille crumbles, a little mango jelly, and mint.

“Semifreddo” means “half-frozen.” The ice cream here was a solid disk, and we had to wait a bit for it to soften. It tasted fine, however; very subtly mango flavored.

The other dessert was a white chocolate panna cotta with huckleberries. The panna cotta was creamy and not too sweet. All in all, there was nothing wrong with the desserts; they were just unremarkable.

The kicker? As I reached for the bill, my hand hit my glass which still had some wine in it – only my second glass of the evening, mind you – and in dramatic fashion knocked it onto the table, smashing it loudly, flinging wine and bits of glass everywhere. A shard actually drew blood from my sister’s hand. Mortified, I saw myself through the eyes of our servers and Chef: “Oh, was that the drunk woman who complained about everything?” I apologized profusely, everyone was gracious, mopped up the mess and made light of the incident. They all handled it with class and kindness.

They also graciously took the $15 steak off our bill without my asking, charged us for the wine that was a mistake (which yes, we’d drank), and handed us a bill for close to $250. (NB: I never told anyone at the restaurant that I was reviewing that night.)

I really hate writing bad reviews. Anyone can make a mistake; a bad dish can happen in any kitchen – but don’t send it out. If a cut of beef is so chewy, cook it some other way. The deficiencies in the dishes we returned were basic errors in execution. I know it is an excruciatingly difficult thing to open, run, and maintain a restaurant for any length of time, in this city, or anywhere. What a feather in Chef Béjar’s cap to have opened in this lovely space, with a ready-made clientele.

I’m hoping this was simply an anomaly, as I’m sure the Precita Park neighborhood is mourning the loss of Marlena.


It does look like that steak would be better at medium-rare.

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Sorry you had a negative experience. I’ve cooked coulotte steak several times and it was never particularly chewy.

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I wish other restaurant reviewers, professional or otherwise, had the same level of humanity/awareness/decency as you do.


what an incredibly nice thing to say, @digga, thank you!

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I did have the publicist actually email me after the review came out and said she felt I had been fair. Which was nice to hear. I mean, you know, I don’t do this to make anyone feel bad - we all just want good food!