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The Prickly Pear Cantina, Danville CA

Clayton is a Seasoning And Salt reader as well as a friend from well over a decade ago, who took up Zach’s offer to pick an eating challenge to tackle.  Zach would pay if Clayton didn’t complete whatever challenge of his choosing, but hopefully Clayton would win the glory and Zach’s wallet would be unaffected.  No matter the outcome, Clayton let us document his attempt for this article, and we got to enjoy our own entrees at The Prickly Pear Cantina while cheering him on.  We were excited for the evening, not just for Clayton but also to try Chef Rodney Worth’s take on Mexican fare.

Clayton is, by no means, a professional eater.  We only set this up about a day before it happened, and in inviting his friends to be witnesses, three managed to make it on short notice.  He did what he could to prepare for the El Jefe Burrito Challenge, such as drinking as much water as possible to keep his stomach from shrinking without the calorie intake.  In the first few minutes we all thought, including the managers, that Clayton would be the fourth to win out of the 100 or so people who have tried this challenge.

jalapeño chimichangas

jalapeño chimichangas

While watching Clayton eat so quickly, the rest of the table thought he would finish before any of our food came out!  We were wrong, though, and we got to nibble on two tasty appetizers.  First was the chimichangas, which were totally different from the style we had the other day.  These were tortillas with a smooth cream cheese filling and roasted jalapeños, fried and served with cilantro crema (essentially a Mexican-style ranch dip).  The flavor of the jalapeños was stronger than their mild heat, so even those with sensitive palates can enjoy these chimichangas.  From the frying process, the tortillas became slightly flaky and crispy yet still tender and easy to bite through.  The cilantro crema provided an extra creamy coolness and refreshing cilantro aftertaste that completed the plate.

carnitas bean dip

carnitas bean dip

A crispy tortilla bowl is the clever carrier for the cheesy bean dip with pork carnitas.  Bean dips are fairly familiar and known for the creaminess, but the carnitas brought a little meaty tenderness, plus it acted like a thickener so that the beans didn’t just dribble off the fresh, home made chips.  The dip was very creamy, cheesy, gooey, and above all rich.  A savory and deep red sauce was blended into the dip, and some diners couldn’t get enough.

almost done!

almost done!

Checking back in with Clayton, somehow he had managed to consume roughly 75% of the burrito in about 20 minutes!  He surely had this in the bag, since to win the challenge one needs to eat the whole plate in 45 minutes.

taco salad

taco salad

The ingredients for August’s taco salad seemed completely benign: romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pinto beans, sour cream, avocado, shredded jack cheese, cilantro ranch dressing, and in this picture chicken for the meat.  It was the proportion and presentation that blew away the people at the table.  The thin, crispy, airy tortilla shell was somehow shaped and then mounted on a spoonful of refried beans to keep it in place, cradling the mounds of fresh vegetables, cheese, and other fixings.  The chicken was very moist and flavorful, as it was spiced but not spicy.  This is a taco salad to serve as a comparison for future taco salads for a long time.

the mexican flag enchilada platter

the mexican flag enchilada platter

Who doesn’t love a cheesy, gooey enchilada?  How can it get much better than having three kinds, each with its own sauce?  The green on the left was a salsa verde with a chicken and cheese filling; to the right was the red sauce with shredded beef; and sandwiched in the center was plain cheese with mole.  The green enchilada was very bright, tangy, and refreshing with a blend of cilantro and tomatillo.  The red enchilada was “super cheese filled,” with tender and well-spiced beef in a mildly spicy sauce.  The mole had a hint of sweetness with a rich toasted sesame flavor.  Whole sesames were supposed to be sprinkled all over this dish but Zach had to request it without.  The mole, though, was so finely blended that the texture was creamy and smooth with no sesame chunks for Zach to worry about.  Since he can’t have whole nuts and seeds, it was nice to enjoy the flavor of toasted sesame seeds in this form.  This is an ideal item an indecisive diner who would like to try un poco de todo.

churro fritters

churro fritters

We didn’t check the menu for desserts when we first sat and made our appetizer and entree orders, since we were so jazzed for Clayton.  After having the dinner dishes cleared, our server listed off the various sweet items and churro fritters stood out in August’s mind.  She asked the server what the most signature and popular dessert was, and when the server said churro fritters, that sealed the deal and we had to try them.  We’re so glad we did, too, because they were a hit at the table.  About a dozen perfectly bite-size fried dough, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, sat amidst dark caramel and Mexican chocolate sauces with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  With many arms reaching across the table, this dessert disappeared rapidly.

One of those reaching arms was Clayton’s.  He only went about three bites past the last picture you saw up there.  Even with nearly 10 minutes remaining, he could not finish the burrito.  In describing the challenge, he said that it got to the point that “it hurt, like a third through it hurt, but then I got half way and it was like the same pain… Each bite hurt the same until the very end, then it got a little worse” but that was just enough to have to call it quits.  We heartily applaud his efforts, because he accomplished so much more than anyone else in the dining room could fathom – there were plenty of well-wishing onlookers rooting for him, but we all understood that it is a tough challenge to take on 1 lb. of carnitas, 1/2 lb. of chicken, 1 lb. of rice, 1 lb. of beans, 1/2 lb. of jack cheese, rolled in five tortillas, with enchilada sauce, sour cream, and guacamole.  Here’s to Clayton, who braved El Jefe; may he join us again for another challenge soon.

The Peasant And The Pear, Danville CA

We found ourselves a hidden gem this evening, almost literally.  The hidden part is what’s almost literal, since the address for The Peasant And The Pear is on one street but the parking lot and main entrance is off the next street over.  Once you find it, though, you won’t be disappointed.

pear burrata

pear burrata

We dined here tonight with another couple, which meant it was easy to justify getting multiple appetizers.  Most impressive was the pear burrata: house made burrata cheese with pear honey compote on a toasted baguette, and drizzled with 18-year-old balsamic vinegar.  The cheese had the texture of a fresh mozzarella with a subtle extra creaminess to it, and the fresh cream flavor came through.  The compote was mildly sweetened with the honey so the sweetness to pair with the cheese wasn’t overpowering, but it was still rich in flavor.  Zach liked this appetizer so much, it’s something he will try to recreate for future dinner parties.

fondue

fondue

It was Zach’s first time having fondue tonight.  Pear slices, grapes, and hunks of crusty bread came with a garlic-rubbed pot filled with melted New York white cheddar.  The fondue itself was good – creamy, gooey, and cheesy.  The fruit was fresh, and the bread was a good quality sourdough.

caesar

caesar

Zach got (and August nibbled on) a Caesar salad featuring whole romaine hearts, croutons, shredded Grana Padano cheese, and classic Caesar dressing with real anchovies.  The romaine was super fresh and abundant, house made croutons added a great crunchiness, and the dressing was very, very real – creamy, tangy, and mildly anchovy-ie.

italian lamb shank

italian lamb shank

On a bed of creamy provolone polenta sat August’s osso buco-style Sonoma lamb shank that had been slow-braised in Chianti.  The polenta was surely one of the creamiest August and Zach had tried, and it soaked up the lamb demi-glace marvelously.  The lamb itself, she’s happy to report, passed the fork test and required no knife.  It was a huge shank, too, making for an all-around amazing entree.

chicken madeira

chicken madeira

Zach got the chicken Madeira, a boneless half chicken in Madeira wine sauce with sauteed green beans and fingerling potatoes.  He’s usually not a fan of dark meat, however this half chicken had both white and dark and he ate just about all of it, as both were equally juicy and seasoned well.  The skin was rendered perfectly leaving it crispy.  The Madeira sauce was not overly sweet which was a good thing; Zach says he’s had some in the past that were way too sweet.  He soaked up a little bit of sauce with each bite of chicken.  The vegetables on the plate were cooked well and it was obvious from the flavor that they were very fresh.

prosciutto-wrapped prawns

prosciutto-wrapped prawns

One of our friends ordered the special of the evening, which was prosciutto-wrapped prawns with asparagus, sweet potatoes, and an orange carrot sauce.  We’re not 100% sure on the flavors, but it was a pretty picture and we wanted to share it with you.

pear tart

warm pear tart

The final round that we all split, because we were so full, was this warm pear tart.  The pastry shell was buttery, flaky, and scratch made (not from a freezer).  The caramel sauce wasn’t overly sweet; August thought it had more of a mild burnt caramel flavor.  The pears were tender and refreshing, and the ice cream was exceptionally creamy and added a nice element to the plate.  The struesle gave this just an extra little oomph that made it a delight.

Our server Kim was friendly and attentive, and even walked by us with dishes that other tables had ordered so that we could take a peek.  Just as impressive as the service is the fact that this restaurant supports “sustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices” such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch program.  We arrived at an early-ish dinner hour and quickly the other tables filled up, including several large parties, attesting to the popularity.  For a romantic dinner or a celebratory evening, find your way to The Peasant And The Pear.