Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Restaurant at Meadowood

Last weekend, D and I drove up to St. Helena to have dinner at the newest Michelin three-star restaurant, The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Along the way, we stopped at the ferry building for lunch and got an amazing cheeseburger from the 4505 Meats stand and a fatty pork sandwich from Il Cane Rosso.

We made further stops at Bouchon Bakery for macarons, and Oxbow Public Market, where we cobbled together the next day's breakfast: sausages from The Fatted Calf, baguettes from The Model Bakery, and Appalachian and Midnight Moon cheese from the Oxbow Cheese Merchant.

We finally arrived in St. Helena a little after 5pm. The property at Meadowood is gorgeous, and reminded me a bit of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. All of the staff were really nice and we were directed to a parking area, and then up a small brick path.

When we arrived at the door to the restaurant, we found it locked. It was 5:15pm, and our reservation was for 5:30pm, so granted they didn't technically have to be open for us yet, but still I found it strange. Anyway, we walked around for a few minutes looking around the property, so we were pretty cold when we finally entered the restaurant just before 5:30pm. The maitre d' offered to take my coat, and I told him I'd keep it as I was still warming up, but he insisted the dining room was very warm, so I let him take it. He was right about the temperature in the dining room, but later on when I had to use the restroom I discovered it was outside, so I was pretty cold getting there and back.

After we entered the (cozy, intimate) dining room, we were seated at a nice window table and our server (really nice, a little too chatty) was soon over with our menus. Meadowood offers two options: an eight-course prix fixe, and a four-course menu where each person gets to pick four dishes of his/her choice. We discussed it for awhile, eventually the "soy-cured foie gras", the lobster, and the duck swayed us towards the tasting menu.

Before the menu began, we were served several substantial amuse bouches. The first one was a "crudite pillow" filled with liquid fromage:

Next was my favorite, a hominy and pork fritter with powdered sour cream.

This dish was served simultaneously; it consisted of flash frozen vegetables with lettuce creme fraiche and garlic vinaigrette snow. I was surprised by the use of several molecular gastronomy-style techniques throughout the meal.

Finally, we were brought a persimmon-flavored mousse with citrus peel, eel bacon, and some other garnishes. I am not a huge fan of persimmon but this dish was well-executed and I did enjoy it.

Then it was on to the menu itself. The first course was the soy-cured foie gras (wrapped), with what tasted like marinated giant clam on the side. I enjoyed it, but D prefers foie gras served whole, instead of as a terrine, so I think he was a bit disappointed.

This was described as a garden potage with roasted grains, matsutake mushroom, and whipped bacon. It was pretty yummy although the whipped bacon was a little overwhelming, but not especially interesting, flavor-wise.

I liked the creativity of the next dish, which our server described as "deconstructed dim-sum". The white part was langostine in a rice flour wrapper. Underneath was pork belly with honshimeji mushrooms, and there were scallops on the side. The langostine was yummy if a bit salty, but the pork was not that great; tougher than I expected.

The "charmoula rubbed duck" was served with celery leaf, rhubarb, and mustard. Again I thought it was a bit saltier than I would have liked, but I did enjoy the tartness of the rhubarb and mustard seeds.

This dish was entitled "black and white" and contained sweetbreads, served with black truffle, black trumpet mushrooms, and parsnips. The sweetbreads were tender but again salty, but I liked the mushrooms very much.

I thought the presentation of this cheese dish was very cute. It was pecornio with bits of pear and macadamia nut brittle, served with a nutty bread and some spiced chips.

The palate cleanser was quite interesting; it was made of rye and geranium mead, with green apple gel underneath. The taste wasn't very strong but I guess that was the point.

The dessert was called "impressions of coffee" and again the presentation was nice, but at this point I was starting to get tired of the deconstructed look. Also, although tasty, almost everything on the plate tasted pretty much the same; like coffee, just with different textures.

At this point D and I were discussing our impressions and we had concluded that the food did not quite live up to its three-star billing. Then, the server arrived with this presentation of mignardises:

She described the treats as: almond financier brushed with mushroom and fennel powder, goat cheese puff, campari gelee, chocolate fudge, and marshmallow with fruit jam. They were sitting on top of a (non-edible) piece of real moss. This left a really good final impression on us, but we still concluded that while worth the visit, we probably would not return again, given the price and the distance we had to drive to get there. I do wonder if we had gone before the third star was awarded, if our expectations would have been lower and if we would have had a difference experience.

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