October 23, 2007
Pick, Then Shovel

My wine column in the Taste section of tomorrow's Sacramento Bee will be on Rich and Siri Gilpin and their Calaveras County winery Lavender Ridge Vineyard. But their wines weren't the only treat when I visited Murphys the other day.

The progressive and artful vegetarian restaurant Mineral, which like Lavender Ridge's tasting room is along Main Street in Murphys, just recently added a lunch menu. The menu runs strictly to burgers, albeit novel burgers. The patties are as red as raw beef, but they're strictly meatless. Executive chef and co-owner Steven Rinauro caramelizes vegetables like carrots, onions and beets, then blends and shapes them with wheat gluten, olive oil, oat bran and spices to form the bright, moist and wholsome patties. The look and texture take some getting used to, but the flavors were forthright and complementary, not at all sacrificed for wholesomeness.

Six styles of burger are available, including one with French feta cheese, red pear chutney, micro greens and herb aioli ($10). A spicy Cajun version includes shaved run onion, green olive remoulade and Southern spices ($10). And a third is enriched with triple-cream Brie and herb aioli ($12). They're served in a focaccia burger bun baked at the local Rustica Bakery, and come with sides of Caesar salad and housemade potato chips seasoned with Chinese five spice.

Murphys is an old Mother Lode gold camp, but Mineral provides an exceptionally modern take on vegetarian cookery. Three chef's tasting menus as well as an a la carte menu are available for dinner, with such dishes like an empanada with red-sugar pickled black plums, gochu jang (a miso chile sauce), toasted coriander seed oil, and jalapeno "dust;" a soup with a lemongrass ginger broth, smoked tofu, tapioca pearls and chive oil; and olive-oil ice cream with a white balsamic consomme and buttered pound bread.

The burgers are available 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, the dinner menu 5-9 p.m. Wednesday trough Sunday. Mineral is at 419 Main St., site of the former burger joint Pick 'N Shovel, Murphys; (209) 728-9743. More information about the principals and their menu is at their Web site.

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