Chef Targets Los Altos’ Finer Side

Posted on June 4, 2013 by  
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Chef Morgan SongSeared and pureed, poached and braised – the tasting menu at Los Altos’ newest restaurant reads like an encyclopedia of culinary technique.

Beginning in late June, 30 diners will have the opportunity to take a 10- to 14-course tour of the eating world each evening at Ambience, opening at 140 State St.

Chef Morgan Song’s draft menu offers a guide to the tartare, the coulis, even the jello of ginger. But there’s no molecular gastronomy to be found in the lengthy draft, which stops shy of modernism’s edible foams and spheres. Song nonetheless rings all the bells of a serious modern menu, with bone marrow, black garlic, quail eggs, Songyi mushrooms, fava beans and green horseradish.

A dozen courses require three to four hours to appreciate, Song said, so patrons will have the restaurant to themselves for each evening’s $125 repast – no swapping tables as waves of customers come and go. In addition to the $85 wine-pairing option on the preview menu, Song said the sommelier would offer extra choices from the restaurant’s reserve wines.

A veteran of Rodin in San Francisco and Ambience in Sacramento, Song’s attention to detail and presentation has won him accolades, and his signature use of wild game has carried through to this new menu.

His style, a French-influenced cuisine he describes as “new American,” targets the extreme end of the fine-dining spectrum. Song said that in 1986, when he implemented a five-course tasting menu at Rodin, customers didn’t seem as drawn to the novelty. But today, the prix-fixe menu has become a familiar part of the Bay Area landscape.

“I love to show all the different flavors and presentations. It’s not just eating, it’s for the experience – the total experience,” he said.

Although Song has a background in Asian cuisine as well as French and American, he said hints of that might appear only in one sashimi element. His tasting menu includes the unusual feature of a dual option for nearly every small-portioned course, meaning that a twosome could, working together, taste upward of 20 dishes in an evening.

Ambience will seat only 14 tables each night, in a space on State Street that previously housed a revolving series of Chinese restaurants. As of late last week, the gutted interior of the dining room promised a total revamp, with wooden floors and custom-designed furniture yet to come.

“It’s going to be in a modern style, with some unique paintings,” Song said.

He is new to Los Altos but said he found the State Street location after taking a friend’s recommendation to visit the downtown area. He’s been cooking in the region for the past quarter-century and comes most recently from his Sacramento-area restaurant, which he closed last winter to make the move to the Peninsula.

Sample menu items

• Poached day boat scallops, tomato coulis, fried tarragon

• American Kobe beef tartare, quail egg yolk, D’Anjou pear, pine nuts, black truffle oil

• Venison tenderloin, Burgundy apricot nappage, golden Yukon potatoes, thyme marjoram butter



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