Archive for July, 2007

Pilar

Pilar is the creation of the husband and wife team of Didier Lenders and Pilar Sanchez. Sanchez was formerly the executive chef at the Greystone Restaurant at the CIA. Before that, she worked at Meadowood Resort, the Wine Cask, San Francisco’s Clift Hotel and Café del Sol, a French-Mex in Paris. Didier Lenders was Alain Rondelli’s sous-chef at Ernie’s in SF back in the early 90’s and was a former executive chef at Meadowood as well.

The restaurant is simply decorated with celery-green walls, a gray cement floor and a banquette that runs down the sidewall of the small dining room. The kitchen is an open one at the rear of the restaurant.

The menu at Pilar changes daily and is based on the best “finds” of the local Farmer’s Market and what the chefs feel is the best their suppliers have to offer. Seasonality is the key.

This is one of our favorite restaurants in Napa. If I lived in the Valley, Pilar is a restaurant I would go to frequently, probably once a week. You can go for a simple lunch and be very satisfied. You can do a light dinner. You can have them cook a menu. You can eat everything on the menu. It is just a relaxing and completely enjoyable meal. I love the restaurant, their style, their graciousness and absolutely love the food.

Instead of writing up just one meal, I thought I would show the versatility of the restaurant and show photos from the many meals we have had here. It is by no means a complete list of every item we have had, but just a glimpse of the range of possibilities.


Oyster, Grilled Pineapple and Ginger Mignonette – the mignonette is a signature accompaniment and absolutely wonderful.

Mignonette


Sweet Corn soup with White truffle oil and chives – absolutely delicious. This is a word that will be used over and over again to describe the cuisine at Pilar – it always taste fresh and it always tastes good

Sea urchin veloute, crispy celery root leaves – uni, uni and more uni – very rich and so very satisfying. no photo
Mushroom Toast, Crimini Mushrooms, herbs and garlic on a fresh goat cheese crostini.  As always, freshness is paramount, tasting as if they had just been foraged.
As a special favor for us, Didier and Pilar made the cromesquis filled with foie. When both he and Pilar worked at Ernie’s, they learned the preparation from executive chef Alain Rondelli. From what I understand, Rondelli created this foie dish for Marc Meneau and then added it to the menu at his own restaurant in SF called Rondelli.

As an aside, the cromesquis are made by melting foie gras and blending it with truffle juice, Port and cream. The mixture is then shaped into one-inch cubes, coated with fine-grain bread crumbs and then quickly deep-fried. Much like Kinch’s cromesquis, you pop an entire cromesqui into your mouth, and when you bite down, the hot liquid bursts forth. Delicious and it brought back wonderful memories of Rondelli’s restaurant. (By the way, I “stole” 3 more after dinner in the kitchen).

Monterey Bay Sardines, Fennel Slaw, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette – this is the ultimate comfort food – market-driven, prepared simply

Grilled Monterey Bay sardines with an escabeche of a local farm’s fresh peppers marinated in cabernet sauvignon vinegar – another preparation of the sardines and equally tasty.

Grilled radicchio with balsamic poached dried cherries, Parmigiano Reggiano, and apple wood smoked bacon – we have had variations of this “salad” many times and I never bored by its addition or the variations.

Omega Seafood’s smoked salmon tartare, preserved Meyer lemon, grilled potato flatbread – the salmon was of the highest quality and again executed perfectly.

Heirloom tomatoes, pickled red torpedo onions, mozzarella made in house, chiffonade of basil, chives – I called this “sunshine on a plate.”

Ahi Tuna with Heirloom Tomatoes, Pickle, Red Torpedo Onions, Tobiko Caviar, Chives, Olive Olive Oil – another example of the importance of seasonality – summer on a plate

Roasted Poblano Chile Stuffed with 3 Cheese Polenta and topped with Black Bean and Pasilla Chile sauces, and Crème Fraiche – this is just extraordinary – what finesse, what flavor and what extraordinary culinary skill.

Piquillo Pepper stuffed with Olive Oil Braised Ahi Tuna – it looks as it good as it tasted.

Poached Salmon en Papillote with Ratatouille and basil

Pan-fried Petrale sole with Grenoble sauce, capers, lemon, parsley and olive oil toasted brioche – delicious
Local Halibut Filet, Leek Fondue, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Crispy Leeks and Yukon Gold Potato Chips – This was delicious. The fish was cooked perfectly. The mushrooms tasted as if they had just been foraged and had a rich, woodsy taste. The Yukon potato chip would make Lays furious and the leek fondue a perfect compliment. What I like most about Didier/Pilar’s cuisine is the “clean” plate. By that I mean this is not fussy or overwrought cuisine – throw 30 ingredients in the air and hope something works.

Pan Fried Sand Dabs, Locally Grown Heirloom Tomatoes, Pickled Torpedo Onions, Eggplant Caviar Puree, Herbs, Fleur de Sel – the tomatoes were excellent and the sand dabs were exquisite

Local Leopard Shark with summer melon relish — fennel, red onion, melons
Maine Lobster Risotto, Fava Beans, Herbs and Preserved Meyer Lemon – this was a half portion so portion size is huge. Both the tail and claw is served in a half portion. The risotto was cooked to perfection and the lobster sweet as well as fork tender.

Nantucket bay scallops, foie gras vinaigrette, mashed potato – this was a masterpiece. The scallops were seared and the foie gras vinaigrette included veal stock, balsamic vinegar and foie gras. This was a classical dish and there is no way to convey the elegance of the sauce.

Foie Gras Terrine with Savory French Toast, Apricot Compote, Wild Watercress – this was an absolute winner. The pairing with the savory French toast (Didier later explained he makes it with allspice, nutmeg, cream and eggs) was just a different and lovely way to serve foie.
New Zealand Venison Flank Steak with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Machego Cheese/Heirloom Tomato “Pudding”
Braised beef short ribs with pumpkin and California raisin tamale – Pilar has just been named to be a spokeperson for the California Raisin Board. Yesterday, she spent the day doing a shoot of her original raisin dishes for them. The tamale dish was one of them – excellent. The short ribs were meaty, tender and full of flavor.
Veal scaloppini, strozzapretti pasta, fresh wild morel and lobster mushrooms
Muscovy Duck Breast, Foie Gras, Sage Spatzle, Cippolini Onion Compote, Wild Huckleberry sauce – the stunner in this dish was the spatzle. I could have eaten a plate just of this. Of course pairing fruit with duck is nothing new, but the huckleberries tasted farmer’s market fresh.
Roasted Rack of Lamb, Pearled Barley, Mint, Manchego Cheese, Eggplant Caviar

Duck Confit, fresh cranberry beans ragout, roasted yukon gold potatoes, frisee, arugula, red wine sauce

New Zealand venison flank steak, sweet potato and yam “risotto”, wild huckleberries from Mendocino – Pilar’s food is very straight forward – the bells and whistles are in the flavor and again the quality of the food, well-executed

Colorado lamb loin t-bone, cannellini bean ragout, Himalayan black truffles – cooked beautifully

Angus Hangar Steak, french fries, garlic aioli, grilled asparagus – The steak was toothsome, full of flavor and the aioli a perfect addition. The fries and saparagus were equally delicious. 

Grilled rabbit in porcini butter with haricots verts and cipollini – absolutely perfect. 

Manchego cheese croquette, prunes – what a way to have a cheese course. 

I usually do not eat desserts, but the desserts at Pilar are very special and shouldn’t me missed.

Peach Crostada – nice with fresh peaches and creamy, homemade ice cream.

Carnaroli Rice Pudding, Moscato Poached Raisin

Toasted Coconut Souffle with Mango Sorbet

Praline Souffle, Scharffen Berger chocolate gelato – delicious

Warm Apple Tart, vanilla gelato – excellent with perfect pastry
I hope I have given the reader a feel for this restaurant and why it should be on everyone’s MUST GO TO LIST.
Unfortunately, this restaurant is closed.

Bouchon

Bouchon is Thomas Keller’s bistro in Yountville. It is a perfect restaurant with delicious food.

A dozen oysters – split between the 2 of us – 6  St. Simon oysters from New Brunswick and 6 Tatamagouche Oysters from Nova Scotia.


My husband had his usual of Croque Madame – toasted ham and cheese sandwich on brioche with a fried egg and mornay sauce served with french fries.

 

I had the lamb’s tongue salad with frisee. As you look at the photos you will see it as first presented, then deconstructed a little and then the final deconstruction – absolutely perfect.


Cheese for dessert from Sally Jackson.

A perfect lunch with gracious service.

Manresa

For the first time, I met Cynthia Sandberg and I have to admit I was overwhelmed by her passion and her height – 6 feet to my 5 feet. This is not a supplier in the sense that FL uses Jacobson’s farm, this is Manresa’s farm – a close collaborative relationship with Chef David Kinch and Cynthia in the most compatible marriage of ingredient to the table. A vegetable becomes more than just a vegetable, an herb is more than just an herb, and an egg yolk is a gorgeous yellow. Manresa is so much more than dining – it is love affair between the earth, the soil and the sun. There is a reverence for the product, be it animal or vegetable.

There is no way that I will do justice to the menu – I am not that good of a writer and so many plates reflected the soul of an artist that just seem to defy words. Also, I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies; I tried to write everything down, but good conversation and wine did get in the way.

Menu
Petits fours “red pepper-black olive”

Vegetables from the garden – these 4 words are the ultimate understatement, exquisite crudités that included carrots, zucchini, radishes, ice plant with an herb crème fraiche.

Sorrel and Olive Oil Ice – a refreshing palate enhancer

Amaranth and Borage Barbajuans – Barbajuans (in the Monegasque dialect) are actually fried pouches or ravioli made with rice flour with the addition of the amaranth and borage

Eggplant with smoked miso – again 4 words that I can’t really explain

Summer Croquettes – Insert croquette in your mouth and in one bite the liquid summer corn with a touch of vanilla and cayenne explodes throughout your mouth.

Arpege Farm egg – I make this very well thanks to Chef David Kinch, but I am thinking of raising chickens much to my husband’s horror. The Manresa egg is just wondrous.

Caviar consommé, wild amberjack belly with Iranian Oscetra caviar – this is just an OH MY dish – I can’t begin to explain the taste components of this dish – salinity, ocean, salt, texture, top quality fish

Shellfish with sausage, Yerba Buena – I love fish – all fish – so swordfish, littleneck clams, peekytoe crab, cuttlefish, spicy sausage, cherries and mint – Thank goodness for Dana – server extraordinaire and her detailed descriptions.

Garden veloute with mustard – Just imagine a deep green garden veloute with stone ground mustard to enliven the veloute

Spiced vegetables with brown butter –zucchini, tomatoes, radish, carrots, puree of radish tops to name a few with a brown butter “sauce” with vadouvan. I have had vadouvan with Ludo’s lobster dish, but who would have thought how much this spice would enhance vegetables.

The vegetable garden – any resemblance to going to a farmer’s market and buying fresh veggies and having fresh veggies from the hands of Cynthia and Chef David is deceptive, misleading and basically a misnomer. Many, many years ago, at Eugenie les Bains we were served a market basket of just harvested vegetables from Eugenie’s gardens. The presentation was simple – just a market basket of vegetables. We were enthralled by the simplicity and the just picked freshness.  Manresa’s vegetable garden was a Miro painting of the most exquisite cooked vegetables coaxed by David and Cynthia with “God’s hands” helping out with the weather. Also on the plate was something signifying dirt – actually purple potato, parsnip and chicory.

Golden pursulane and tomato with smoked roe, roasted red pepper and tuna broth – the roe popped in your mouth and was enhanced by the rich tuna broth. From a google search about pursulane:

“Purslane is more than merely edible landscaping — it is a culinary delight! In fact, it is a succulent herb”.
“Purslane’s stem is round and smooth, and it trails along the ground like a small vine. Young plants have a green stem, but, with maturity, stems take on reddish tints. Purslane has small, oblong, green leaves, which form clusters. The leaves resemble small wedges and, like the stem, are juicy.”
“In order to preserve purslane’s juiciness for eating, harvest this delight of your edible landscaping in the morning or evening, when you won’t have to compete with intense sunlight. Purslane can either be used raw in salads or sauteed as a side dish. In addition to the crispy texture you would expect from a succulent, purslane also has an interesting peppery flavor.”

Monterey Bay Abalone and slow egg, sucrine lettuce and bread crusts – I love eggs so I am a sucker for any egg dish with a beautiful runny yolk. The Abalone was perfectly cooked and the bread crust sautéed in pork fat added a new meaning to the combination of egg and abalone.

Summer roots with beef tendon, seaweed pistou – I am going to need help describing this dish – my notes are totally non-existent. I just remember eating the most tender piece of beef I have ever tasted.

Squash blossom fritters and nasturtium ice cream

Red plum and pistachio sable, raspberry and rosewater sorbet

Chocolate and ollalieberry pudding

Petit fours “strawberry-chocolate”

What an extraordinary meal. As I said at the beginning, my descriptions do not do justice to this cuisine.


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