A long, lusciously decorated table was set for 120, ready for a four-course meal with wine pairing. Chef Jean-Georges Vongericht presented Farm Fresh to Tempting Table, a gourmet spread with a focus on seasonal produce. The concept is old, but seems to have been forgotten in these modern times of processed foods and international imports/exports. Our bodies are not immune to our environment; since plants grow with different seasons, our diets should follow the lead. Besides being healthier by consuming super fresh produce, eating what’s locally in season further lessens the impact on nature because costs (in labor, transportation, and environmental damage) are minimized.
Hosted at the Bellagio in the Grand Patio, we enjoyed a sumptuous final meal before returning home. The table and settings were both rustic and elegant. Before the first course was served, we sipped sweet cocktails named Angel’s Tear, with American Harvest vodka, St Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh white cranberry juice, and a rose petal.
Each course was paired with a particular wine, poured just before the plates arrived. From left to right, and in order with the courses, we sipped Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire Valley 2011; Trimbach Riesling “Cuvee Frederick Emile,” Alsace 2006 (from the Chef’s home town in France); Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2010; and Joseph Phelps “Eisrebe,” Napa Valley 2010.
This was a caesar salad like no other. Shredded kale was tossed in a robust and tart dressing of parmesan, lemon, mint, mustard, garlic, and serrano chili. The parmesan balanced the tartness, the mint helped to tone down the strong raw kale flavor, and the serrano brought about a spicy bite to add extra depth in flavor. This was a very zesty way to open up our palates to fresh, well prepared fare.
A dessert before the dessert course, we relished in these large and tender “marshmallows of the sea” with a nice sear, resulting in caramelization. They rested atop a bed of vegetables. A light and tart new onion vinaigrette sat at the bottom, to be dipped into with snap peas, morel mushrooms, artichoke hearts, asparagus, acorn squash, and spring fronds. Some of the vegetables had light flavors, but the vinaigrette enhanced their natural taste. The selection of vegetables provided contrasting textures and different kinds of green flavors, some sweet and some earthy. A “moss” was created with five dehydrated and powdered herbs, spooned over the top and garnished with chive blossoms. This dish was a very rich homage to the bounty of the land.
The prime regular tenderloin cut was buttery and lean, from the top 1% of Nebraska beef. Normally August gets ribeye when offered a choice of steak, but this filet mignon was so good in texture and taste, she might be a convert. This cut was an excellent representation of the meat used at Prime Steakhouse, so we will definitely make plans to visit the next time we’re in town. Its hat was a spinach and gruyère crêpe, which was delicate and cheesy, but in texture more than flavor; it did not overwhelm the beef. The cut’s pedestal was sauteed spinach, in an intense beef broth made with short ribs, red chili, and Japanese seaweed. It had a mildly spicy kick with a deep beef flavor that melded well with the sauteed spinach. The broth and spinach, Zach says, could easily have been a soup on its own.
To round out the meal, this layered trifle was divine. A crisp, airy meringue disc sprinkled with dried, flaked rose petals melted when bit into. It adorned a scoop of tangy rhubarb sorbet, which was surrounded by five fluffy marshmallows. These were supported by thick whipped cream over bright raspberry preserves, on top of a moist and light genoise sponge cake and a smooth base of tropical lychee puree set with gelatin. August was worried at first that this dish wouldn’t satisfy her because she is a devout chocolate lover and typically avoids fruit desserts, but she proclaimed, “I don’t need chocolate after this!”
Chef Vongericht informed, inspired, and indulged our taste buds. It’s amazing what delights can be concocted when using a finite set of ingredients that are local and in season.
Home of the famous millionaire’s bacon, Sweet Maple is a breakfast and lunch joint you can’t pass up. Everyone knows that, though, so make reservations when possible, show up early, or be prepared to wait for a table – and it’s worth it. Nearly everything is fresh, local, and house-made, such as the millionaire’s bacon that requires four hours to cook!
August’s stepmother selected the scramble of spinach and white cheddar. August tried a bite, and can attest to the great texture of the egg and the slightest bit of give in the spinach. Everyone had their own portion of the potato medley, and we all loved it. The bold variety of cuts cuts was crispy yet tender in the center, perfectly salted, and accented by a great selection of herbs.
August went towards the leafy greens as well, with a mushroom, arugula, and mild goat cheese omelette. This was a delicious and perfectly cooked remix of her typical order; mushrooms are obligatory, but when restaurants don’t have goat cheese she’ll get Swiss, and spinach is the common green. She likes stronger cheeses, but the mild goat cheese in this was a good level, or else any stronger would have overpowered the vegetables. Toast isn’t that important to her, but she liked the style of ciabatta and the fact that it was very lightly toasted.
We all oohed and aahed when August’s dad’s kimchi benedict was brought out. It began with a base of Thomas’ English muffin, then tofu, sauteed kimchi, poached eggs, chipotle hollandaise, and green onion. He loves the spicier things in life, so this was just the thing for him.
Zach was the token sweet tooth at the table today. He chose the inch-thick pain de mie french toast soaked in Grand Marnier batter, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and served with house-made maple butter and pure maple syrup. A crispy outside and fluffy tender center was the ideal mouth feel – not soggy, not dry, not overcooked, and not raw. The mild orange flavor wasn’t overly sweet, and pure maple is always a treat. Zach added two strips of millionaire’s bacon. Sweet, smoky, mildly spicy, and fairly lean for being thick cut, the great flavor lives up to its name. This is a rich bacon, you betcha. The over-medium eggs he got extra were cooked as per requested, and he got the potatoes extra too since he wanted to try a different kind of breakfast potato he hadn’t before. He was so inspired, after the Chocolate Salon, he bought the same mix of purple, red, and yellow from the Fort Mason Farmers Market.
Wow. If breakfast is your favorite meal of the day, this may well become one of your favorite restaurants.
Our one-and-only vehicle needed service today, so we brought it to our preferred garage in Martinez, but that left us with several hours to kill downtown. We thought, what would it be like for people who had to come to the county seat for, let’s say, jury duty? Where are some good places they can walk to and trust for a meal? Today we sampled from three restaurants, to provide a spectrum of what’s not just available, but also great quality.
Victoria’s is a home-style cafe open every day for breakfast and lunch. We got breakfast here since it was still pretty early. The omelet we ordered doesn’t have its own name – in full, it is called the spinach, mushroom, bacon, avocado, and cheese omelet, with hash browns and toast on the side. The egg of the omelet was light and fluffy, and the cook obviously knew what (s)he was doing because there was no brown or tough, chewy skin as a result of being cooked too quickly; eggs are supposed to be cooked “low and slow.” The vegetables were all fresh and superbly sauteed, and it helped that the spinach was thoroughly washed (unlike the restaurant down the street). There was an abundance of ripe avocado inside and out, and the bacon was crisp. They don’t skimp on ingredients, but they know how to make a proper omelet as opposed to a scramble. The thicker-cut hash browns were crispy but still had a tender potato center, and the toast was of high quality with oats on the outside and wheat germ mixed in.
In the past we’ve been here for lunch and have loved the Reuben and the beef melt. Since we were here so early and knew we’d have to do lunch somewhere, we forwent our favorites to try this omelet for breakfast, and it’s on the list of favorites now, too. Zach says that avocado isn’t his thing in an omelet, but it was different here and he really enjoyed it today. The staff is always cheery and super friendly, so if you’re looking for fresh food and service with a smile, visit Victoria’s.