Grub Street just had the pleasure of a media preview at Keiko à Nob Hill, which officially opens tomorrow evening in the storied former Charles Nob Hill space, in the base of the Clay-Jones Apartments (1250 Jones Street). Chef Keiko Takahashi, who earned a Michelin star in 2008 for her food at El Paseo, returns with a tasting menu in a very similar vein to her earlier work, featuring a couple of her signature dishes from that era, including a seared foie gras with an espresso reduction and an artichoke purée; and a duo of squab with squab-stock reduction. It’s obvious why Michelin smiled on Takahashi: Her food is formal and precise, a touch whimsical, big on flavor, right up Michelin’s alley and in a French vein.
As co-owner (and Takahashi’s husband) Seigo Takei explains, the two decided to close El Paseo both because their Marin audience was not fond enough of Takahashi’s innovative food, and because they could not move enough of their 38,000-bottle wine cellar (i.e. the Marin folk weren’t big enough drinkers).
We are especially fans of the squab dish — served as a seared breast with a rich and balanced squab jus, and as a squab charcuterie of sorts, with warm thigh meat and liver chopped and served in a cabbage dome — but we’re even bigger fans of the pricing: The entire eight-course tasting menu (which we did not get to try) is priced at $88, which includes a few extras like amuses, and this is definitely a bargain. For à la carte options, there is only the izakaya-inflected but still French bar menu, with dishes priced between $8 and $27. These dishes will only be available in the bar, and eventually in the front lounge area as well. See the tasting menu here, and the bar menu here.
You have the option of wine pairings for $78, and your cleansing/non-drinking friends also have the option of what we believe is the city’s first and finest non-alcoholic wine pairing selection, for $58. Co-owner and winemaker Takei has created a series of custom flavored, non-alcoholic wines, several of which — in particular his non-alcoholic sparkling wine — do an excellent job of mimicking the layered and complex characteristics of wine, without the booze. “I have a friend who doesn’t drink,” Takei told us, “and I always felt bad when we would go out for these meals, when he couldn’t have the pairings and would drink iced tea through the whole meal. So I wanted to create something that would be as nice and interesting as a selection of wines.” Takei has blended all of these himself, using verjus, un-fermented Cabernet juice, etc., and adding tiny amounts of syrups and tinctures in order to bring in new flavor elements like citrus and spice. He admits the red wines are the toughest — and the Cabernet juice tastes like just that, without tannin or structure — but this is nevertheless a great boon for the non-drinkers out there.
Also, you can always order off the by-the-glass list, or the 5000-bottle-strong vintage wine list that Takei has been collecting for years.