Many folks tied to the Sacramento food scene have maintained a long-running, often appropriate and sometimes misguided discussion about the quality of the area's restaurants. Often, the discussion focuses on the lack of inspired, inventive and edgy meals (the definition of edgy is subjective and elastic, ranging from keeping the bones in the chicken breast all the way to, say, serving all those "gross" parts of animals, as well as vegetables you've never seen before).
The discussion and debate revolve around wooing customers without turning others off, food costs, and all kinds of other factors...like staying in business during a dreadful and persistent recession. In these times, is it best to play it safe or fire up the edgy ideas and invite people to be more adventurous eaters?
When I saw the rather stunning menu for an upcoming wine dinner at Maranello in Fair Oaks, I had hope. It would certainly be considered a highly adventurous - and possibly high-risk -- meal in Sacramento. We're talking veal carpaccio and lamb belly wrapped in lamb sweetbreads. Now that's edgy. It made me think of the kind of thing Mark Liberman is doing at AQ in San Francisco.
So I gave executive chef Gabriel Glasier a call and asked him to walk me through the menu, complete with his thoughts.
Glasier is intense and articulate. He balances a cerebral side with a chef's instincts when it comes to designing dishes and menus. The wine dinner is showcasing Terre Rouge and Easton wines based in Amador County. The five-course dinner is $85 and includes wine pairings with each course. There are also two starter dishes, or amuse bouche offerings, with its own wine pairing. In other words, lots of food and wine, and an impressive array of ingredients, flavors and artful combinations.
When I wrote a recent story about Josh and Jade Bieker's global adventures in search of great meals, Josh made the point that a major part of a great dining experience is the willingness to cede control to the chef and trust what the chef is doing. I agree.
I asked Glasier about the knock that Sacramento menus are too conservative. He replied, "I know it's a real frustrating thing for a lot of chefs, but I think it's a perfect time to be pushing forward. Restaurants in the area are starting to get recognition and I think we do have the clientele.
"A lot of chefs aren't pushing forward and a lot of that is in response to our economic situation. But right now, a lot of people who are going out want more value for their money. It's not necessarily quantity. They want a better experience. For some people, adventurous eating is trying things they haven't had before, like sweetbreads or different shellfish."
Glasier's regular menus are creative in their own right, but these special wine dinners are a great chance to push even more, gauge the feedback and, indeed, expand the kitchen's repertoire.
Glasier started with the wines.
"I tasted and tasted and then revisited them again, and I really tried to explore the nuances in the wines," the chef said. "Then I stopped and thought, 'What's going to help contrast those wines or elevate them to a new level?'"
As you study the details in the menu, remember one thing: this is all new territory for Glasier. He hasn't made any of these dishes before. He wants to push himself and he wants to encourage his clientele to follow him and trust him.
I have eaten plenty of his food and have often marveled at the flavors, the range of ingredients and the precision of the cooking.
This wine dinner has the makings of something very special. If we do, indeed, want to see Sacramento's stature elevated in the culinary world, Glasier's efforts should be supported.
He tells me there are still seats available for this wine dinner. If you are not familiar with Glasier's work, I highly recommend you give this dinner a try. I'll bet you walk away thinking that the Sacramento area's dining scene is trending upward and in very good hands.
Here is a look at the menu (apologies for the awkward formatting). For a better look, visit the restaurant's website.
Terre Rouge & Easton Winemaker Dinner
Special Guest Bill Easton, Winemaker
Fava Custard, Brown Butter Phyllo, Vin Gris Foam & Grilled Paella Stuffed Calamari, Manchego Aioli
2009 Terre Rouge Vin Gris d' Amador
Pan Roasted California Black Cod, Vanilla Saffron Hollandaise, 24 Hour Parsnip Puree, Nectarine Mostarda, Charred Orange Reduction, Mizuna
2008 Terre Rouge Viognier
Porcini-Crusted Veal Carpaccio, Shaved Black Truffle & Oil, Black Currant Brioche, Micro Mache
2008 Easton Pinot Noir
Grilled Lamb Sirloin, Purple Potato Mille-Feuille, Applewood Smoked Hedgehog Mushrooms, English Pea Panna Cotta, Shaved Delta Asparagus
2007 Terre Rouge L'Autre
Lamb Belly Wrapped Lamb Sweetbreads, Raspberry Sauce Au Poivre, Grilled Arugula Rapini, Green Garlic Vinaigrette
2007 Terre Rouge DTR Ranch Syrah
Tangerine Sabayon, Coconut Macaroon, Pinenut & Sweet Ricotta Filling, Ginger Poached Pear
2008 Terre Rouge Muscat-à- Petits Grains
$85 per person
Executive Chef Gabriel Glasier
Sous Chef Thomas Daly
Pastry Chef Katie Pagliero
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.