So a week or so ago I took my mom to Maude, pistachios being one of my, and her favorite things. For those of you familiar with me, you will know that the tagline is not necessarily a compliment to Maude. As a general impression though, the food at Maude’s pistachio menu tasted very much like one finds one NYC tasting menus at 2- or 3-michelin star places. So for those of you who love that kind of thing, you’ll be ecstatic to eat at Maude.
Missing, for me, is attention to flavor as opposed to emphasis on technique, and intellectual breakdown of dishes. To me, places like Maude, nor the NYC institutions that it clearly takes its cues from are desirable in comparison to the places in SF that somehow retain soul and immense flavor in their deconstructed, and intensely technique-driven tasting menus. But I digress.
We began with little pistachio falafel wraps. Tasty, if a bit thick, a pleasant enough bite from the caviar, overall not necessarily spectacular, but not unpleasant either.
Rhubarb wrapped filled with foie gras and pistachio butter were next. They looked stunning. They tasted…insane. The rhubarb was intensely sour, like zingingly sour, like those warhead candies that burned some kids tongues sour. I barely remember what the foie/pistachio tasted like as it was pretty much entirely drowned out by the intensity of the rhubarb. I was thinking the whole meal was about to go off the rails with this snack. If the whole menu was like that, I might’ve thought it was a daring move, but part of me thinks it was just a miscalculation of balance in a dish, or a sign of having little understanding of such a concept. Other dishes would also display this conceptual failing.
The official courses began with a Celtuce Salad adorned with pistachio crumbs, yogurt blobs, and sundry weeds. Hard to say what was going on here, but it caused both my mom and me to break out with slight allergic reactions. To say the salad was underdressed would not capture this really. The celtuce was very fresh, and excellently prepared but it overpowered everything else in the dish. It was like eating straight raw celtuce. Not really that appealing in the end, though I appreciated the fresh produce. As a composed dish it seemed to make no sense, again showing no concept of balance by letting the celtuce overpower the palate.
A very light soup of english peas and pistachios in a pea and pistachio broth was much better. Possibly the best course of the night actually, as it displayed an unusual take on pea soup, but was wonderfuly flavorful. The pistachio and peas complimented each other in a lovely way. Vegetal, nutty, refreshing. Quite nice.
Lamb tartare with pistachio, olive, and tomato wafers was another good dish. The tartare itself was not very funky, and was immensely creamy and luscious. The wafers gave a bit of crunch and tasted of those sort of classic Mediterranean flavors. It was simple, unfussy, and pleasant enough.
Then a block of foccacia with pork pate and pistachio butter. The pork pate was from the shoulder, and kind of like a mortadella pate, and the pistachio butter was quite chunky. The bread itself was very nice. This was a very comforting dish to eat.
Lobster poached in pistachio broth showcased excellent lobster, quite succulent indeed. The pistachio puree it sat in was also light and tasty. It showcased something new with lobster, although the other elements on the plate seemingly added nothing to it. It was a nice lobster, but not life-changing, more classic.
Pistachio-ricotta ravioli were delicious. I would’ve liked more pistachio flavor in the ricotta personally, and also 3 ravioli. I don’t know why but for me 2 felt like a rip off. It’s a minor quibble I suppose, but a quibble nonetheless. I have to admit that I was really looking forward to the pasta course though, and I’ve seen more interesting things done with pistachio and pasta outside of elaborate tasting menus. I was somewhat disappointed that they went with such an easy choice here, but there is no mistaking it was tasty. Again, the greens did not really add much other than decoration, although they were edible.
The requisite duck course was either very uninspired, or hopelessly clumsy. The duck was cooked pretty much in accord with classic technique, and was fine, although somehow less flavorful than any other duck I’ve had in such a context, no bite, or must to the meat. Still, it’s classically cooked duck, so it’s got crispy skin, rendered fat, and tender meat, you can’t go too wrong with it right? The kumquats and fiddlehead ferns alongside of it made a good show of trying to make it wrong. The ferns odd texture and lack of flavor served only to mute the duck flavors and give the whole dish an odd mouthfeel. Really odd choice. The kumquats were overpowering mostly…if you took a bite with all three things, basically it sort of tasted of kumquat snot as the fern muted the duck flavor, and left only the texture with the piercing kumquat notes… the little bit of pistachio sausage made from the duck’s legs was alright, but not particularly memorable. Hard to understand what was going on here.
Thank The Flying Spaghetti Monster that the cheese course was pretty good. A nice big blog of cheese with beets, and greens. Really savory, and tasty. A real treat after the disastrous duck dish.
Finally, perhaps the only thing I crave from the entire meal, a little snack of a yuzu ice cream sandwich with pistachio cookies. Great at cleansing the palate. The yuzu ice cream was so luxurious in its texture with the yielded, shortbread-esque pistachio cookies… mmmm I wish I could buy these things by the dozen to keep at home.
Their take on spumoni was a wild dessert with a lot of elements. Strawberry sorbet, pistachio gelato, pistachio brittle, strawberries, etc… All of it was pretty pleasant. You couldn’t say anything bad about it, routine and tasty.
Finally finishing snacks. Baklava, pistachio of course, was a little on the dry side for my tastes, but was classical enough. Pistachio Turkish delight was quite nice. The little white chocolate pistachio macarons were immensely flavorful little bites of bliss though. Not the worst way to end a meal.
They gave us jars of pistachio butter to take home as well.
The heritage wine pairings were fine, though not necessarily spectacular or anything, at least there were some interesting wines it seemed like, though I never really felt like they necessarily precisely “paired” with the dishes in a direct manner. I can throw up photos of all of them if people are interested.
So can I judge Maude off one meal? I don’t know. The kitchen seems talented enough. The conception just seems off to me. Stone wasn’t there though. I was strongly reminded of many meals in NYC. Lots of classical technique, but not really a lot of flavor. I dont know that I tasted anything spectacular, or truly craveable. Maybe the little ice cream sandwiches were craveable, but it’s pretty hard to fuck up an ice cream sandwich. Some things were downright bad. And most of it was just insanely forgettable. For the money, that should never be true. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the worst meal I’ve had recently. I certainly enjoyed myself more at Alma, about 1000000x more at Hatchet Hall, and even at Lukshon, or Yoma…I don’t think there was a single thing at Maude that even hit the kind of awesome flavor combo compositional heights of the egg banh mi at Saigon Sandwich =/
For this meal, I didn’t get Maude. Maybe worth another attempt in the future…but I think I’d rather go spend the money on somewhere mind-blowing in SF. Sigh.