Sienna

November 17, 2015 – We’re exploring a new area.  One with which neither of us is familiar.  And, of course, we’re on the prowl for great restaurants.  For great food.  We scored on our first try!

Mark and Karoline Platt, the owners of Sienna in El Dorado Hills, have successfully created a tastefully designed restaurant.  It has four stunning fireplaces, which tend to make a large venue seem cozy.  The restaurant offers multiple dining rooms, including a chef’s table in the kitchen, which is itself 3,600 square feet.  The chef’s table seats ten.  As soon as I meet eight more people we’re going for it.

Executive Chef Cassie Buchholz has put together an imaginative menu, which is described as New American.  That means to me an eclectic assortment of offerings grounded in American comfort food.  So it is at Sienna.

It also pleases me that while the wine list is properly extensive, the dinner menu is two pages including appetizers, salads, wood fired flatbreads and entrees.  That says the goal of the restaurant is to present a reasonable number of offerings that they execute extremely well.  A wise approach.  And they do execute extremely well.

Zack was assigned to tend our table.  A personable young man whose knowledge of the menu as well as the house specialty cocktails and the wine list made the evening more enjoyable.

I started with their Pear Autumn Martini.  The bar uses Purity, a first rate vodka distilled in Sweden.  The vodka is infused with pears in house, then shaken with a cranberry-pomegranate reduction and a bit of pear simple syrup.  The result is a cocktail that is martini-licious.  It looked so good that my wife, who usually prefers wine, ordered one for herself.

We decided to share the Ahi Tuna Trio.  Ahi prepared three ways.  My favorite was the poke on a wonton crisp.  The sesame oil in the salad was especially pleasant.  But the seared ahi and the sashimi with watermelon-mango salsa were also exquisite.

My wife shocked me when she didn’t order the short rib.  I can’t recall a time when she passed over a short rib if it were on the menu.  She asked Zack to bring her the Butternut Squash Ravioli.  The dish was slightly sweet, a result of the squash, pears, figs, bourbon-apple cider sauce and pomegranate-white balsamic reduction.

Since she didn’t order the short rib, I did.  Someone had to maintain family tradition.  The meat was braised in ale producing that wonderful, fork tender quality that makes a properly prepared short rib so delicious.  It was accompanied by Parmesan whipped potatoes and gingered baby carrots.  Pleasurable dining at its best.

We’ll be back to Sienna.  And when we get there I’m betting my wife will go for the short rib.  I just don’t think she can pass it up twice.

 

 

 

Parada

November 11, 2015 – I’ve always thought that it is the serendipity of life that makes it interesting.  That theory was proven to me again recently.

Many years ago I was offered an executive position in Walnut Creek, California.  I flew down to spend a few days with the company.  They treated me well.  In spite of that, I declined the offer.

Fast forward to November, 2015.  My wife and I were driving across California.  It was getting late in the evening.  We were hungry.  Looking for a restaurant where we could get a quick meal.  Along comes serendipity.

We spotted a parking place right at the front door of a restaurant.  That good fortune alone stopped us in our tracks.  We knew nothing about the restaurant.  No idea what kind of food it offered.  I didn’t even know what town we were in. We were hungry.  There was a parking spot at the front door.  What more did we need to know?

The restaurant was Parada.  The young lady manning the maître d’s stand told us it was Peruvian.  I’ve had cebiche but other than that I knew nothing about Peruvian food.  We were hungry.  And we had a great parking spot.

I ordered a Green Buffalo cocktail.  Sounded refreshing.  It arrived in a tall glass.  It was green.  I usually shy away from green drinks.  But what the heck.  I didn’t know what town I was in.  I was in a Peruvian restaurant.  I took a drink.  Amazing.  The only word for it.  Made with Buffalo Trace bourbon (hence, the name), muddled kiwi (hence, the color), lemon juice, Pimm’s No. 1 and ginger beer.  How can you go wrong with those ingredients?  One of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.

My wife ordered one of the chef’s specials.  Braised short ribs accompanied by cole slaw.  I wasn’t surprised.  I’ve never seen her pass up braised short ribs if they were available.  The short ribs at Parada were well more than available.  Barely clinging to the bone.  Cut with a fork.   That gelatinous texture that makes short ribs so wonderful.  She was happy.

I ordered Camarones al Ajo.  Large shrimp in a sofrito with garlic paste, accompanied by a few slices of French baguette.  The shrimp were cooked perfectly.  The sofrito, a sauce usually made with various peppers, onion and garlic, was as good as a sofrito could be made.  I ate the shrimp.  Used the bread to sop up as much of the sauce as I could.  Then used the spoon they had wisely provided to finish the sauce.  It was that good.  Complex flavors.  A nice bit of heat.  Delicious.

Parada is the latest restaurant opened by Peruvian native Carlos Altamirano.  After serving an apprenticeship at several noted Bay area restaurants Chef Altamirano opened his first Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco.  In relatively quick order he opened a second San Francisco restaurant and a third just north of Half Moon Bay.  That restaurant, La Costanera, was granted its first Michelin star in 2011.

As I finished the sofrito, leaving the dish looking almost clean except for the empty shrimp tails, I asked the waiter what town we were in.

Walnut Creek, he told me.

And there’s that serendipity thing kicking in.  If I had accepted that job years ago, I could have been eating Chef Altamirano’s wonderful Peruvian delicacies all that time.

Well, no.  Actually I couldn’t.  Chef Altamirano opened Parada only four months ago.

No problem.  It’s not too late.  We’ll be passing through Walnut Creek again one of these days.

 

 

 

Cauliflower with a Jalapeno Mornay Sauce

October 31, 2015 – There was a big bowl of candy sitting near the door.  Waiting for Halloween trick-or-treaters. The door bell hadn’t rung all evening.

In the kitchen, a big, beautiful ribeye awaited attention.  It wouldn’t wait for trick-or-treaters.  They weren’t getting steak anyway.

It needed an accompaniment.  Cauliflower, I thought.  Haven’t had cauliflower in a long time.  Cauliflower it would be.  Cauliflower in a Mornay sauce.

Mornay is a fancy name for a cheese sauce.  It’s a variation on a Béchamel sauce.  Béchamel, or white sauce, along with veloute, Hollandaise, tomato and espagnol were the five French “Mother Sauces” classified by the great August Escoffier in the late 19th century.  Escoffier was the first celebrity chef and half of the team that established the Ritz Carlton properties as the benchmark for hoteliers and restaurateurs.

Traditionally a Mornay sauce is made by adding cheese and an egg yolk to a Béchamel.  It’s good but I wanted a little something extra.  I found cheese with slivers of jalapeno embedded in it.  Spicy.  Deliciously so.

If you can’t find cheese with jalapeno, it’s a simple matter to grate the cheese, mince some jalapeno and toss them together.  Same thing.

Cauliflower with Jalapeno Mornay Sauce

1 cauliflower                                                  1 cup milk

4 tablespoons butter                                     1 cup grated cheese with minced jalapeno

4 tablespoons flour                                        Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the over to 350.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.  Add the cauliflower.  Bring the water back to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer the cauliflower until a knife will slide easily into it but it’s not mushy.  Crisp tender.  About seven minutes.  Drain the cauliflower in a colander and let it cool enough to be handled.

Melt the butter in a pan.  Stir the flour into the melted butter.  Continue stirring until it’s smooth.

Add the milk a little at a time over low heat, stirring until the sauce is smooth and thick.

Add two tablespoons of the grated cheese and jalapeno.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle another two tablespoons of cheese onto the bottom of an oven proof dish.  Break the cauliflower into pieces.  Arrange the flowerets in the dish.  Spread the Mornay sauce over the cauliflower flowerets, covering them completely.  Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese and jalapeno over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is fully melted.

The door bell never rang.  I have a bowl of Halloween candy to eat!

Bon temps!