Prima, Walnut Creek CA
It’s prom season for high school students, and August’s classes are asking her for ideas. Prima is a place both of us had heard of for years, and to be honest most of what August heard was about the vast wine selection. Tonight we learned that good wine is made great when paired with excellent food, but you don’t even need wine to fully enjoy these plates.
From the antipasti menu we picked the asparagus. Owner/Chef Peter Chastain personally explained the frico to us: Montasio cheese, which is much like asiago, is simply fried, crispy, savory, and artsy. Zach especially liked the fennel seeds mixed into the cheese, because paired really well with the slightly sweet Montasio. He also appreciated the shallots in the vinaigrette, adding a mild, spicy earthiness. The asparagus from Victoria Island was fresh and grilled just right, and the sprinkling of fennel pollen was a nice addition. A bite of the farm egg with half an asparagus spear, a section of blood orange, and a chunk of frico was simple but so refreshing and fulfilling. Presentation, clearly, is fanciful and fun.
August may have found a new favorite salad. If all restaurants served something like this, it would replace Caesar as her go-to leafy green mix. This insalate had roasted hedgehog, cremini, oyster, and chiodini mushrooms, medjool dates, lacinato kale, pine nuts, and lemon vinaigrette. She took a bite and said, “Zach, make this please?” and he said, “Okay, we’ll get Farm Fresh to You and start using more ingredients like this.”
Gnocchi, as you know, dear reader, is our favorite pasta; August also likes miniatures, so she thought the tiny cast-iron casserole dish was adorable. The hand-made gnocchi was tender and light, and layered with ricotta, pesto, broccoli rabe, and melted leeks. The pesto was mild and, due the nature of being baked, a little crispy to contrast the soft gnocchi. There are many pestos that can be overpowering, either for the garlic or the basil, but this was very well balanced.
Alright, so the bone might make some prom goers snicker. But the meat quality and taste with leave anyone at a loss for words. This mass of porterhouse sliced off the bone was served on a bed of arugula with lemon and parmigiano cheese shavings, and green garlic mashed potatoes on the side. This is beyond perfect for a date night, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, prom dinner, or any other holiday of that ilk because it is ideal for sharing – well hey, it’s labeled on the menu as a dish “for two.” Part of our conversations with Chef Peter was about sourcing of ingredients close to home and the quality found among smaller producers like Niman Ranch. The meat was buttery, almost like it melted and required very little chewing, for it was that tender. It was seasoned and cooked extremely well, bringing out the flavor of the beef. The side of mashed potatoes was creamy, light in texture, and had a well-rounded garlic flavor but was not at all overpowering.
When we walked in we were surprised by hostess Sarah – she was one of Zach’s classmates from high school! She, just like server Chris, were strong cogs in a well-oiled machine of collaborative staff. Attentive, conversational, and knowledgeable (just like Chef Peter), every team member seemed to love working here. How could they not, when they’re justifiably confident in the food they prepare and serve?