Monday, May 28, 2018
As Good As It Gets
Just had to get that out of my system. Since Friday night I'm pretty sure I had one of the meals of my life. While on any given night The Bear and Star is providing what it aptly bills "refined ranch cuisine," Chef John Cox and his team (and team is important here, you'll see) want to get to show off too, to spend some more time on the refined end of the spectrum. Hence the kick-off of Friday Night Chef's Tasting Menus, served for no more than 12 folks in the Chef's Room, the one that looks right into the kitchen and is a cross between a library and a mad scientist's lair--what's more fun than that?
Maybe the soft-shell crab up there in photo one. I fell in love with soft shell crab back in my Baltimore days, but generally it was yummy barfood, something surprisingly delightful in a sandwich. This presentation, however, was something else, starting with its texture, where it seemed just the coating was the crunch, not even a hint of shell. Its crabiness played off the silky sweet corn puree it sat on, and then there's chorizo aoioli--no, not pork-laced but all the spices they use to make their chorizo instead. The greens, billed a pea shoot salad, was the ultimate spring slaw.
(Oh, there was a new prototype oyster from Morro Bay to kick off, but my photo didn't happen. It's delight did, though.)
Ah, and the wine pairings. I've already, for no good reason beyond hoping to keep this paean under 1000 words, left out the greeting wine, the Fesstivity Brut Rose (a fine oyster match) and the 2015 Tatomer Riesling (Graham just rocks it), but for the strawberries they found a truly odd wine, 2017 Harrington Mission, Somers Vineyard. Lodi isn't just for box wines anymore, you know, and this dusty red, partially fermented carbonically, made the berries even berrier, somehow Inspired.
Meanwhile as to that Parker Ranch lamb--one of the 20 ingredients that came from the ranch, btw--Chef Cox talked about how he liked how beefy it was, and he was right, even to the chew. They also came up with a brilliant caramelized buttermilk "crumble" to coat the loin with, a winning texture-flavor combo for the hearty meat. That's a smoked sunchoke puree holding in the little reservoir of jacked up lamb jus, and some salvia marinated cherries (spring spring spring). The pair was a 2015 Villa Creek Avenger, kindly decanted as their tannic and hearty wines tend to need air or age. As the evening's somm Allison put it, "It just gives you a hug."
So, if you're looking for something special, look Los Olivos way. Chef Cox and his team are calling.