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Note: The Dining Room is closed. The current dining venue is The Lobby Lounge.

From San Francisco:

The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco

Filling a Big Toque

The Dining Room

The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco has been among the best restaurants in San Francisco since it opened in 1991. Its exquisite, formal décor, top-of-the-line wine list, ultra-professional service and live dinner music combine to create a showcase for the food, while its kitchen has launched the careers of many prominent Bay area chefs.

The current leader of The Dining Room’s culinary brigade is Ron Siegel, a polished veteran of San Francisco fine dining. Most recently the executive chef at Masa’s, Siegel has a resume that reads like a Who’s Who of Northern California restaurants: Aqua, The French Laundry and Charles Nob Hill preceded his recent postings, along with a year of training under Daniel Boulud in New York.

Ron Siegel

That would create a buzz for most chefs, but for Siegel, the attention was whipped to a frenzy when, during his tenure at Charles Nob Hill, he was invited to compete on the Japanese television show, Iron Chef, and defeated chef Hiroyuki Sakai in the “lobster challenge.”

Siegel now faces a new challenge: He succeeds a pair of very big toques.

Most recently, Sylvain Portay cracked the whip in The Dining Room’s kitchen. Portay, who held the executive chef’s job for eight years, came to San Francisco from Le Cirque in New York. Portay earned numerous awards for the restaurant with his classical French approach and, with our 18-point rating, ran one of the highest-rated restaurants in the country

The chef who established the reputation that The Dining Room continues to enjoy today was Gary Danko, who reigned over the stoves from the restaurant’s opening until 1996, when he left to open Viognier in San Mateo and then his award-winning eponymous restaurant in San Francisco. Danko shepherded the careers of many notable chefs while at The Dining Room, including Lance Dean Velasquez of Home, David Frakes of Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena, Scott Giambastiani of Viognier and Tim Goodell of Aubergine in Newport Beach.

Although one might expect to see The Dining Room menu acquire a Japanese accent under Siegel, for now, the menu has taken a decidedly American turn, offering starters like chilled corn soup with lobster tartare and golden osetra caviar; and pan-seared quail with spice-roasted figs.

Entrees include four sophisticated fish options. Snapper is infused with lemon verbena and paired with Vidalia onions. Showing his interest in things Asian, Siegel gives his porcini-crusted black bass a fusion accent by serving the fish over glass noodles in a curry broth. Heartier appetites could indulge in the Niman Ranch lamb chops accompanied by ratatouille-stuffed zucchini blossoms and roasted fingerling potatoes. The prime beef rib-eye arrives indulgently paired with bone marrow, wild mushrooms and bordelaise sauce.

The six-course tasting menu is well worth the $89 price, with a $15 supplement to sample a selection of artisanal cheeses. Test the Iron Chef’s judgment when you go this route, because one course is Maine lobster with corn pudding and lobster sauce. Vegetarians who grew accustomed to Siegel’s meatless prix-fixe cuisine will be happy to know he has brought that concept with him to The Dining Room, also a six-course list for $89.

(Updated: 09/13/10 NW)

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