Donato Enoteca – Good First Impression

As a part of my normal day, I manage corporate cash for a large company. I do dream of other means of subsistence but this job does have some perks. For one, I do get a very nice discount on video games, since that large company I work for, is Electronic Arts. Being asked out to lunch for business discussions and sales pitches is the other perk. As a result, I was lucky to have lunch at restaurant that was new to me, and our bankers at Wells Fargo are great people who just want to say hello once a year.

The menu is very traditional Italian, and I mean that in a very good way. I was looking heavily at the roasted duck leg risotto, but when I saw the carbonara I had to ask, “Is this true carbonara?” Our waiter replied, “yes, a true carbonara. It’s made with guanciale, cheese, and egg.”  I love carbonara, and I cook it often at home because nobody makes it in a restaurant. To be honest, when I heard guanciale I was going to order this dish. This piece of pork is so much better than pancetta or bacon.

I had high expectations for this simple little dish, and I was not disappointed. The dish was fairly priced at $10, and the flavor was well-balanced between the cheese and the fried pork. The only negative was that I couldn’t have a glass of wine since I was on the clock.

The appetizers dishes of calamari and the prosciutto were also very rustic and rang Italian. No fried calamari here, just freshly cook squid with a drizzle of olive oil. Simple, but with great flavors. Along with seasonality, that is Italian style cooking.

I plan to go back soon with my wife and daughter for another trip to culinary Italy.

Loren

Donato Enoteca
1041 Middlefield Rd
Redwood City, CA 94063

(650) 701-1000

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The Plumed Horse – Saratoga, CA

Background:

You would think that going to a restaurant with a Michelin star you would expect a great meal, but at The Plumed Horse it was a surprisingly fantastic meal. I have seen this restaurant in Saratoga at least 100 times as I love climbing Highway 9 on my road bike. Before the remodel, the restaurant looked to be stuffy and old with its awning. It was unappealing to enter, and perhaps it was purely a figment of my imagination, but it prevented me from wanting to go.

Fast forward 25 years, and I had an urge to have a great meal with my wife and wanted a culinary experience.  As a home cook it’s important that the food be very good, but also inspirational for me to integrate into my cooking. The resulting meal was inspiring, visually pleasing, and it rewarded you with a great evening.

The Thoughts on Selection:

After perusing the 2010 Michelin guide, I saw several restaurants that I wanted to go. French Laundry, which is nearly impossible to get into unless you have a day to live, and God decides to make your reservation for you. There is Fleur de Lys, (my long time favorite) but we had previously eaten there.  Gary Danko is too loud, so we ended up picking COI, but Saturday night in North Beach wasn’t thrilling me. So I changed the reservation to Manresa in Los Gatos based on it’s Michelin 2 stars. My wife wasn’t thrilled with the menu at Manresa, so I broke through my past stereotype, and changed the reservation for the third time, to The Plumed Horse. When I then looked at the website and the menu, I was very excited about my decision.

The service: The front staff was nice and they quickly sat us. Normally I would expect a restaurant to really charm you to make you feel special. You are about to drop big money and I didn’t get that special feeling, but it was nice enough. We were lucky to get a 4 top table which allowed us to sit closer together rather than sitting across from each other which is very nice for conversation. Our server and sommelier was Jeremy, and the first thing he did was asked about any food allergies. He also did a great job in introducing us to the menu, and the tasting menus with wine pairings. We picked the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings, and he gave us a head start on our 1st wine, NV Chandon Etoile Rose, from Sonoma/Napa.

Advice: When we arrived at 8:30 p.m. it was pretty loud inside the dining room, but as the dinner continued it became quieter as other guests left. If you want a more romantic or intimate dinner, arrive later than early.

The Meal:

First Course:

Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Tartare

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, quail egg, toasted brioche

This was one of the lightest and tastiest tuna tartares that I have had in a long time. The tuna was perfectly prepared and had an essence of the sea, a very pleasant and refreshing start. Then with the creaminess of the quail egg and texture and salt from the caviar, this was a perfect start. The pairing with the Chandon Etoile emphasized the tartare by elevating the substance of the dish with a moderately bold and lovely wine.

Wine Pairing : NV Chandon Etoile Rose, Somoma/Napa

Second Course:

Black Pepper & Parmesan Souffle

Dungeness crab & Uni fondue

This was one of the hightlights of the entire meal for me. The soufflé was perfect, but the Uni fondue with crab was out of this world. I could eat this dish every single day it was that good. The fondue as it entered the soufflé created this chowder in a bowl, but with complex flavors and a stick to your ribs satisfaction. The third course is as good, but if you went to the bar and ordered just this one dish, and one glass of “GVR” you would be very happy. Paired with this dish was a white wine from South Coast Winery in Temecula, and it was as noteworthy as the savory dish. The wine was crisp, had a long and rewarding finish, and really empowered the dish to ultimate highs. As of today, I am going to buy several of these bottles to add to our cellar and it registers as one of my favorite white wines.

Wine Pairing : 2008 South Coast Winery “GVR” Temecula, California

Third Course:

Seared Artisan Foie Gras

Black princess grapes, cayenne & molasses peanuts

When you see foie gras on the menu, you are instantly excited about eating something so decadent. When a dish comes to your table many times your eyes are treated to a great looking dish. As our third course arrived we saw this piece of foie, but we were rewarded with a smell of grandma’s home baked pie. The scent was so warm and cozy it was nearly impossible to eat it. Tasting it was a reward for sacrificing our remembrance of our pasts. I don’t eat foie very often, and this ranks among the top. To illustrate how much we liked the foie, we forgot to drink the Riesling with the meal. Fortunately, the wine was a brilliant finish to the dish and was very satisfying.

Wine Pairing : 2004 Dr. Loosen “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” Auslese, Reisling, Germany.

Fourth Course:

Slow cooked Alaskan Black Cod

Smoked duck, matsutaki mushrooms, watercress

There are a couple of reasons that I like this dish, first, the cod is from Alaska where it’s sustainable and fished responsibly. It is nice to see a Michelin star restaurant care about the ingredients and prepare a beautiful fish dish without sacrifice. The second reason is that cod is a very light and pleasant fish. The dish itself was good and it offered a good step away from the foie dish before, but there was enough texture from the fish, duck, and mushrooms. Paired with a very good wine it was a skillful way to get you over the hump for the tasting menu.

Wine Pairing : 1996 Christophe Violot-Guillemard “Beaune Clos du Roi” 1er Cru, Pomard, France

Fifth Course:

Mishima Ranch Kobe, charred rare

Yuzu kohsu, braised rutabaga, ox tail croquette

Now we’re talking. The Kobe beef was perfectly prepared and with a touch of the yuzu kohsu there was a dash of spice. Mixed with the oxtail croquette you had a wide range of flavors that paired very well together. Perhaps the oxtail could have been left out as it has a different flavor profile than the kobe.

The cabernet that was poured with the fifth course was a perfect illustration of why cabernet tastes so good. A richness, long thoughtful finish, and delicious aroma brought out the best from this dish. I dare to say that this wine made this course above average and without a thoughtful wine pairing the taste and importance of the kobe could have been lost.

Wine Pairing : 1999 Thunder Mountain “Doc’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon

Sixth Course:

Point Reyes blue cheese

Pear mostarda, chestnut honey, graham cracker

By now, you are getting seriously full and on the limit of needing a cab to get home. This dish really opened up your palette for one more dish and despite it “petite” stature it really kicked in good. A small spread of the blue cheese dipped with the graham cracker while brushing some honey along with it was a powerful combination. The Gewürztraminer made the powerful blue cheese go away nicely. Normally, I don’t like Gewürztraminer due to it’s sweetness, but our sommelier mentioned that late harvest means that the sweetness is tapered. He was right. I’m still not a Gewürztraminer fan, but at least I know there is a time and place for all wines.

Wine Pairing : 2006 Littorai “Lemon’s Folley” Gewürztraminer (Late Harvest), Sonoma Coast

Seventh Course:

Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé

Conrado Farms Black Mission Figs, crème anglaise

I ate every bite of this dessert and the soufflé with crème anglaise was very  good. I like Valrhona chocolate for it’s dark and bold taste, but I was hoping for something a little more inventive on the dessert realm. Never-the-less, it was a very gratifying dessert, and the port was a perfect pairing with this dessert.

Wine Pairing : Port

Summary:

The Plumed Horse is a great place to go because everything is well executed, the dining room is beautiful, and the service was always thoughtful and unobtrusive. The also have ala carte menu and a vegetarian tasting menu that allows  a wide range of flexibility with your meal.  In addition to the restaurant they have a beautiful bar with fireplace. Michelin Guide just awarded them another 1 star for 2011. Congratulations to The Plumed Horse.

Reservations are available through OpenTable or at:

14555 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070-6013
(408) 867-4711

http://www.plumedhorse.com/

Here are the highlight wines from the dinner.

2004 Dr. Loosen “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” Auslese, Reisling, Germany

2008 South Coast Winery “GVR” Temecula, California

1999 Thunder Mountain “Doc’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon