Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Three Great Nor Cal Restaurants

Auberge Du Soleil in Napa Valley (180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573; (707) 963-1211; features French and Mediterranean cuisine that is creative, flavorful and expertly prepared by Executive Chef Robert Curry. Winner of the "One Star Award: in 2007 from The Michelin Guide and the "Mobile Four Star Award," Auberge Du Soleil is considered one of the wine country's finest restaurants. The Prix Fixe tasting menu is outstanding, pairing excellent wines with outstanding signature dishes. Some of the selections from this menu include a starter like Ahi Tuna Sashimi, Crunchy Vegetables, Crème Fraiche, Sevruga Caviar, paired with a 2004 Nikolaihof "Hefeabzug" Gruner Veltliner from Wachau-Austria; a main course of Seared Scallops, Veal Sweetbreads, White Corn, Summer Black Truffle, paired with a 2004 Martin Alfaro Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains; and a dessert of Hot & Cold Foie Gras with Peaches, Pain Perdu and Almonds, paired with a 2002 Bon Pere Germanier "Mitis" Amigne de Vetroz from Valais, Switzerland. Food like this makes me wax poetic. Auberge Du Soleil is a gem in the wine country that should not be missed.

Sierra Mar in Big Sur (Post Ranch Inn, Highway 1 in Big Sur (831) 667-2800; features top-tier contemporary Cal-New French cuisine in a marvelous setting. Voted The #1 Hotel Restaurant in California by the Zagat Survey in 2006, and the #1 Hotel in the World by Conde Nast Traveler in 2003, Sierra Mar is perched atop a 1,200 foot cliff above the Pacific -- and if the view doesn't take your breath away, the food surely will. With a 4-course Prix Fixe menu at just $85 per person, you can't go wrong. For our first course, I had a Carpacio of Ahi Tuna with Gribiche & Quail Egg One-Eyed Susans. The Ahi was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the Gribiche was exquisite. My dining partner had Sweet Corn Fritters with Fried Green Tomatoes, accompanied by a Green Tomato Chutney and Pasilla Chili Jus. My second course was a Lobster-Coconut Bisque with a Thai Lobster Summer Roll. The bisque was one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted. My dining partner had a Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup with a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. It was good, but I never would have ordered it. I didn't come all the way to Big Sur to eat grilled cheese. My third course was a Grilled Prime Rib Eye Cap "Oscar" with Asparagus, Dungeness Crab and a Choron Sabayon. My dining partner had the same. The prime rib was magnificent and went well with the richness of the crab. For dessert, we both had the Light Meyer Lemon Pudding with Huckleberry Compote. It came highly recommended and it did not disappoint. The service at Sierra Mar was perfection and the entire experience an adventure in culinary ecstasy! I can see why everyone loves this place!

Passionfish in Pacific Grove (701 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove (831) 655-3311; offers a very unique California dining experience with outstanding food and wine in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. Chef Ted Walter is well-known for changing his menu all the time, which means that you'll always find new and exciting items every time to visit Passionfish. Walter is a big advocate of using the freshest sustainable seafood, slow cooked meats, farm fresh organic greens, and delectable house-made desserts. Walter is also into the culinary theory that "simpler is better", which I cannot agree with more. So many restaurants serve food that it overwrought with sauces and ingredients that don't add anything to the dish. They're basically showing off. Walter serves food that is healthy, flavorful and ecologically sound. They also have an amazing wine selection, which led to them winning several Wine Spectator awards. When we visited Passionfish, we had the Asparagus Fries with a sesame aioli ($7); Oysters in a carrot ginger sauce ($8); a Roasted Beet Salad with goat cheese, greens and fried onions ($8); a Tilapia entree with a balsamic-garlic butter sauce and thyme mashed potatoes ($17); Idaho Trout with sautéed artichokes, banana potatoes and basil ($16); and a Dick Confit with a honey-vinegar reduction, chili potatoes and braised fennel. As you can see by the prices that I have listed here, Passionfish is not incredibly expensive, which is a refreshing change when you consider all of the restaurants in San Francisco that are grossly over-priced.

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