Dr. Pierola’s laboratory 

The food at Jeannie Pierola’s new “lab” isn’t exactly experimental, but it’s tasty.

When I hear that a “food+drink lab” named after America’s greatest inventor is opening in the Bay area, my pulse quickens. I’ve been an acolyte of modernist cuisine since the ’90s and have made obsessive pilgrimages to Alinea, Moto, and Jose Andres’ MiniBar.

Then I learn that edison is the brainchild of Chef Jeannie Pierola, whose bona fides include a brilliant tenure at SideBerns. I crouch like an Olympic sprinter in the blocks listening for the starter’s pistol. I AM READY!

Edison’s handsome website proclaims: “Our crew of culinary savants and cuisine daredevils produce creativity. The results are new interpretations of everyday food expertly engineered into current, modern cuisine.” My iPad is dotted with drool…

It’s very clear that lots of thought has gone into the concept for edison, both in terms of the industrial chic interior and menu graphics. It screams attention to detail and delivers high concept at low prices. The unpadded booths in the center of the restaurant are chic but not so comfortable; thank heavens I eat with my mouth and not my butt. The menu is largely made up of small plates tapas-style, and much of it has Spanish references even though it’s really a bit more eclectic.

The small plates are labeled “spark” and “cold or hot start.” They offer crisp fried white anchovies with sauce gribiche (edison’s version is a riff on creamy vinaigrette); velvety golf ball-sized goat cheese truffles with a date, foie gras, fennel pollen and “shattered” citrus core and a tangerine chocolate glaze; chicken liver mousse with apricot, pistachio, tangy sansho peppercorn and crisp toast. An avocado leaf seared tuna features green mango salsa, aji Amarillo (a flame-colored chili pepper used in many classic Peruvian dishes) and tamarind (a savory sweet and sour fruit) crunch. They’re all tasty, but only the truffles offer surprise.

Crispy cracked conch and bacon fritters are served with a burnt honey dip that allows the pickled mustard seeds to stick; the result is surprisingly mild. They’re no match for the stunning duck confit foie gras tacos that include a red chile sauce and avocado tomatillo salsa. They’d be the hit of the menu, if it weren’t for the cornflake/sweet corn-crusted yellow eye snapper. Paired with edamame succotash, tomatillo avocado broth, and coriander salad, the soft, succulent fish is balanced by a crunchy coating in an absolutely delicious maelstrom of flavors.

Almost as good is the sous vide & buttermilk fried organic chicken resting on a butternut squash waffle with a chanterelle-squash fricassee bound by a transporting truffle honey sauce. The flavors are exciting, but still don’t seem to have sprung from the lab of a mad culinary genius.

Unfortunately, the kobe culotte steak is not as luxe as one would like. The patatas bravas and black truffle aioli add welcome flavor and the tiny cabrales-stuffed cherry tomatos steal the show, but the accompanying spinach — surprisingly sautéed with golden raisins — is way too salty, so the result pales in comparison to the fish or chicken. I really hope they offer tapas-size portions of the entrees on down the road.

One fun aspect of Edison’s is the semi-visible kitchen, so I have a clear view, and thoroughly enjoy the chefs (in their crisp grey color-coordinated jackets) and their laser-like focus on the food, taking great care and pride.

After all of the welcome emphasis on freshness and technique, what’s totally inexplicable to me is the fact that the fresh-cut fries are disastrous. In my quest to find a full-service restaurant that can produce better fries than my minor-league ballpark benchmark, I’m consistently thwarted. My only logical explanation is that edison’s fries are the purview of some new low-level line cook. Making fries is not rocket science; you soak them to purge excess starch, give them a low-level cook-through, and crisp them at a higher temp.

Our first batch arrives at the table in an attractive white paper cone held upright by a stainless spring — and burnt, but not crisp; a combo difficult to achieve. All the other food shows great attention to detail and garnish; how can these fries escape this kitchen? We send them back; surely this is an anomaly.

Batch two isn’t burnt, just overly brown, soggy and greasy. If only edison’s were a mega-chain, I could imagine an inept “Undercover Boss” who got stuck with the fry station. End of rant.

We skip the liquid nitrogen shakes to sample three other desserts. The menu trumpets a flavor profile for each handsome plate: [earthy | cool | familiar] edison crullers, cardamom glaze, carrot ice cream, white raisin purée; [crunchy | chewy | fudgy] dark chocolate tart, coconut ice cream, frozen bananas, double dog espresso rum sauce; [spicy | warm | creamy] sweet corn financiers, blackberry cremeaux, peach ice cream, basil soil. Only the crullers seem new; others are pleasant, but better in concept than on the palate.

So what can we conclude? My expectations are too high. I need to abandon a desire for foam, spherification, hot gelatin, and my other associations with a food lab and accept that Pierola and her posse’s food is very good and priced right. But, please, fix the fries.

NEXT WEEK: The Show Palace Dinner Theatre


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