Saturday, June 22, 2013

All the way to Nirvana - SIerra Mar at The Post Ranch Inn

There are meals that are memorable, and then there are meals that are MEMORABLE.  And now, 5 days later as I finally sit down to write this post, I can say with confidence that the meal I had on Monday June 17, 2013 was, without a doubt, the best I have had to date.  I had been to Sierra Mar at the luxurious Post Ranch Inn only once a few years ago to enjoy a cocktail and appetizer at the bar.  One would have to admit that it is pretty damn hard to have a bad view in Big Sur, but the floor to ceiling unbroken view of the wild pacific here evokes the sensation of being cantalevered over the abyss, sailing above the water in a small plane.  Perched at the edge of the cliff, the setting itself is stunning, let alone the somewhat secret entrance up and through the hotel's reception area that resembles a high end architecture firm more than a hotel reception area.  A lit path guides you to the top of the hill where at the crest Sierra Mar awaits one's entrance.

My table was tucked into an intimate nook facing west, and  I watched the whitecaps hoping to possibly decipher a spout or two of whale or a school of dolphins dancing about (I didn't).  My mood began to soften and I could feel hours and weeks of hard work dissolving.  Whether  the negative ions from the ocean below or the crisp taste of vodka with lemon and tonic water were responsible for this new state of euphoria didn't matter.

I had already checked Sierra Mar's menu online, and although the four course tasting menu sounded appealing, with delicious items like Maine Diver Scallops and Grass Fed Filet Mignon, I couldn't resist going all out and chose the very different and indigenous "Taste of Big Sur"  featuring locally picked leaves, seaweeds, seafood, wild meats and so on.  I realize I risk alienating a few with my conspicuous consumptive tendencies.  But just for a reality check, I work more than full time catering, bartending and serving people, so being served and pampered in this way is one of my biggest pleasures.  Hey, I don't have kids, so...  If you go, plan to spend many hours enjoying the view, the nice wine list with an inventive selection of California and European choices.

I've made numerous attempts at writing about this meal in the last several days and the only approach that seems to do it justice are photos and a few words, an attempt at food poetry perhaps.  Because really, that's what the meal was, poetic, symphonic, subtle, and just right.  Just exactly right.   The chefs there played with pickling, toasting, grinding, pureeing, seasoning just so, and presenting with a whimsical style.  There was tromp l'oeil, a bunson burner and a charred log involved in my meal.   As is often overdone in California modern cuisine, with smears and salts dotting about and just too many flavors to really get them all into one bite,  the chefs at  Sierra Mar figured had it down pat.

Goat Cheese
Acorn dust and flesh
Lettuce of Miner's
Pickled succulent bloom

Poached and vinegared sardine
curled into a musical note
crunchy ocean bite

Smokey Eggs
Black Cod
Salty Goodness

Forest Floor Fungus
Porcini Fairy dust
Truffled cheese
Meringue tromp l'oeil

baby abalone twisted
amongst sea greens

crispy companion
drenched in toasted butter and roe
perched upon the shell from which it came

Science experiment
percolated stock
spicy elixir

 Sweet Shrimp
Stone Bowl

A Turkey that once gazed down from above
roasted and pressed with fatty flesh
and peas and asparagus and morels

Venison, bacon,
onion in leaves of brussels sprouts
tufts of green borage

lemon custard, just a bite, and its dark outside now so you can't see it
deserving of a flash:
charred log
chocolate ganache with toasted hazelnuts
crisped meringue

happy Rivesaltes (fortified white grenache from 1978) and a perfect espresso finished me off...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Writing and why I haven't

I've had intentions many times over the last several months to write about an upcoming meal.  For example one that could have been great fodder was the Japanese farm to table dinner at Salt Water in Inverness, CA I attended in April,  hosted by author Nancy Singleton Hachisu who put out a beautiful book about life on her husbands farm outside of Tokyo.  Being a self declared "nipponphile," my expectations were a bit high.  Hoping for the subtle flavors of just the right amount of soy, or a hint of sesame in the background, or even some sweet miso or delicious dashi, I was disappointed to find that most of the food was seasoned with salt and really, only salt, not even grey salt or brazilian salt, just plain ol' Maldon salt from the shores of Essex, England.   Okay, I shouldn't be complaining, as that stuff is some of the best around, crisp, flat wafer-like little morsels of goodness that seem to melt right into any food it sits atop.  Okay but I wanted more flavor, Nancy, more layers and more representation of the Japanese subtle art of seasoning. That is why I didn't write. The best dish at that dinner was the sake lees ice cream at the end.  There was a little something lacking in every course.  It was good, at some times mediocre, but not great.  And in my little corner of the world where my motto is "Life is Too Short to Eat Bad Food," I just wasn't inspired to write.  And that has been happening a lot lately.  I just don't enjoy writing about bad or boring or mediocre food.  That is why I'd make a horrible critic.  Or maybe, that is why I'd make a good critic. No chef would hate me and no restaurant would close due to my poor and perhaps skewed review (yes, some critics do have that kind of power)  If i don't write about your uninspired dishes then I'll possibly save a few people nights of lost sleep,  or road rage after reading one of my oh-so-unsavory ramblings.  But really, writing about amazing experiences with food, flavors and setting makes me happy.  And why regurgitate (excuse the pun) a uninspired or poorly executed meal?  It's like reliving the bad parts of a relationship to your friends over and over again.  No one wants to hear it more than once and the recap itself  conjures up unsavory emotions that are better off left alone.  A bad meal belongs in the past.  But a good meal, well,  that belongs at the forefront of memory and pleasure to be enjoyed long after its over.  And that is what happened to me last night...