My friends know my sad tale of my last Kitchen experience. Basically, it was miserable and I called a cab home before my favorite course - dessert. Nothing to do with the restaurant, it was all my date's fault. Up there as my worst date ever. What I do remember about the food was good, it just got overshadowed by this awful date.
Suffice it to say, I needed to give The Kitchen another try under much better company. Paul organized his yearly event for the Epicureans. What better company than to go with a bunch of food lovers and friends so that I could sit with a group and discuss the meal and have a good time. That's why I stashed $20 bills into a piggy bank over a few months so that I could afford to go again.
After all, The Kitchen starts at $125 just for the food, before drinks, tax, and tip. This night the two wine flights were either $70 or $85. Then add possible sake, beer, coffee, etc. So if you drink alcohol, you will easily be over $200 for the night and maybe even reaching toward the $300 mark. Thank goodness I am allergic to alcohol! Cheap date = me. (Even my soda was $5!)
I had recently been telling a new friend about The Kitchen. He is new to Sacramento and has had experience with high end prix fixe restaurants in other cities. I explained to him that The Kitchen is different than any he's been to before. First of all, they let you wander around the entire facility. You can go into the freezers and kitchen and poke around if you want to. If you see a chef doing a technique that you would like to learn, you can go right up and help and learn. If you like a certain course, you can eat seconds, thirds, as much as you like til you make yourself sick of it. LOL. And if you have allergies or can't stand something, they'll accommodate. One of tonight's courses was a mushroom pot pie. I don't do mushrooms, so I requested a non-fungi one. My friend was surprised that they were so accommodating. But that's what you are paying for, the experience as well as the food. Consider that you can go to the French Laundry or other fancy Napa or S.F. restaurant, pay the same high price, and will you get to have as many servings as you like? I've never heard of any other restaurant doing that unless it's a buffet.
And, I should note, that the food is the very best quality of everything flown in from all over the world. I do remember thinking the last time I was there that I would be happy to take a trash bag of the tossings home. What I mean, for instance, is that they will cut a duck breast and give you the absolute choicest slices of it and the still (in my eyes) choice trimmings will be tossed aside. Hello! I'd still eat that! Nothing wrong with that bit there!
So off I went with high expectations and a little bit of anxiety. After all, the place holds a powerful bad memory for me. As I entered the place, which hasn't changed decor in the three years since I went, I was a bit uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that I got seated at the counter again. Wasn't too happy about that. But I sat between two nice couples who were good company. I had Jennifer and Phil on one side and Jim and Amy on the other.
Then the horror. Camera runs out of juice and we've just arrived. Note to self: Check your battery and bring the spare!!! Luckily Debbie agreed to share her photos and we are much better off because she had a real camera. Not the little pocket/purse one like I carry around that takes barely adequate shots. TY, Debbie!
Everything started a tad late - about 7:40. Noah, the head chef, began with his welcome and introduction of the staff. Then the activity started. Noah continued talking about each course with a lot of detail. Behind him the crew began a well orchestrated routine of plating 50 servings of each course. They would lay out ten heated plates on the right side of the counter and an assembly line would plate up and serve. Then they would move to the left counter and plate the next ten. Back to the right side for ten, etc. And even though it took about five minutes per set to add every little detail, your food still arrived hot. That is impressive.
Let me explain, for example, the plating of the first course... (Their explanation's are provided in the indented block quotes.)
- First Course -
Wood Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
with House Made Pasta, Fresh Goat Cheese
and a Rock Shrimp-Panzanella Salad
This first course is a wonderful way to ease into a fall evening. Randall and Noah are preparing a warm broth-y heirloom tomato soup from the very best last of the season tomatoes coming to us first from Heidi Watanabe in West Sac, then, as the month progresses and the weather changes, from Patrick Hoover in Placerville. Both growers bring us outstanding tomatoes that are juicy and sweet with flavor that is simply phenomenal. We will be sad when tomato season is over, but we take solace in the fact that we can savor them for at least one more month. Our plan with this dish, which may evolve, is to take our fresh house made herbed pasta sheets and fold just-made goat cheese created by our favorite cheese-making husband and wife team out of Modesto at Nicolau Farms into them so that the cold cheese melts into the warm pasta sheet. Then we’ll take lightly crisped big, juicy Gulf Rock Shrimp, (the ones we’ve cornered the market on – you will not taste a better rock shrimp right now), and some olive oil soaked sourdough croutons to make up the Panzanella, or bread salad, portion of the dish. Randall says the olive oil we’re using from Tuscany will add a lovely hint of peppery spice to the dish. Little fresh cherry tomatoes finish the first course with a burst of sweet juicy flavor.
The first guy lays down a 3x3 inch square of cooked and oiled pasta. Next person puts a little dab of the goat cheese down. Then comes a little drizzle of some flavored oil. Next square of pasta over the top to make an unsealed ravioli. A small ladle of the tomato soup is poured atop. Another person comes and adds a small mound of the tomato and bread crumb salad. Another tiny sprinkle of more goat cheese. The addition of the rock shrimp, a squirt of aioli, and a few threads of chili that look like long saffron and it's off to you. About four or five people assembled it for you.
Noah made a point to explain the goat cheese because not everyone likes goat cheese. This is made to order for him locally. He says that he received the cheese a day after it is made so that it is super fresh and very mild. As it ages it would develop the sharper, gamier taste that some people can't stand. It was, indeed, very mild, soft, smooth, and fresh.
- Second Course -
Wild Mushroom-Black Truffle Pot Pie
with an Aged Madeira ‘Crème Brulee,’
Brussel Sprout Slaw and Slow Roasted Shallot Broth
Fall is a wonderful time for mushrooms, and our favorite mushroom lady Connie Green will be procuring the absolute best of the season for us, so the varieties will change weekly and perhaps even nightly, but you’re almost guaranteed some gorgeous Chanterelles. We’ll cook down the mushrooms and mix them with heavenly black truffle butter made from real Perigord Black Truffles from France and place the mixture in our own super-flaky classic potpie shell. A rich and decadent béchamel-like sauce sweetens the deal. To the side, we will also prepare a crème brulee of sorts, this being a savory version made with Madeira wine and porcini mushrooms dust crisped on top with parmesan cheese. This crème brulee component is a melt-in-your-mouth, creamy, earthy burst of flavor and a wonderful companion to the potpie. All the components will rest harmoniously in a soothing, robust broth of slow-roasted shallots.
I don't do mushrooms and so I had put in that request for a non-fungi pot pie. Mine had cauliflower and bean. This was the only course that I did not finish. I had to pace myself and I found the creaminess and the pastry from the pot pie to be too rich and heavy. I was no fan of the creme brulee either. It had the familiar texture of a creme brulee, but was rather bland of flavor. It had been topped with a crisp parmesan lace flake on top and that was what added the flavor.
It was now time for the half hour sushi/sashimi break. Everyone moved out to the patio where there were plates of salmon, hamachi, ahi, and a few rolls. They also served real wasabi, grated fresh off of a root, and some tempura shrimp and veggies.
- Third Course -
Grilled Patagonian Toothfish and Maine Lobster ‘Confit,’
a Medley of Clams, Mussels, Local Crayfish
and Clam Chowder Jus
Our third course this month features grilled Patagonian Toothfish, also known in the U.S. as Chilean Sea Bass. With the fish, we have a slow poach of Maine Lobster that is cooked down in its own juices, hence the “confit,” along with a little duck fat for flavor and depth. We also bring you a little medley of razor and East Coast clams and a main component sauce that is akin to a clam chowder broth or jus. The final fabulous touch is local crayfish from our friend Kelly, who you can find at the Farmers Market under the freeway every Sunday. He’s getting the big, fresh river crayfish that Randall loves and that look like little lobsters. They are much better than the small, grayish ones that burrow down in the mud that you may have experienced before. These ones are fresh and clean and delightful.
This course was fabulous for anyone who loves seafood. I was still having to pace myself, so I didn't order more, but now wish that I had. The fish was grilled to perfection over a wood fire grill so that you got a slight smokey char it. The mussels were packed with flavor so that we were curious what broth they had cooked them in.
- Fourth Course -
Mishima Ranch Wagyu Beef Tartare, Slow Roasted Piedmontese Tenderloin
with Fall Bean Pesto, Cabernet-Bone Marrow Glaze,
Thyme, and Carrot Butter
If you were with us in August you got to try this wonderful beef from Mishima ranch right here in Northern California. They are raising Wagyu cattle that is basically the American version of Kobe. It’s very rich and fatty but cleanly flavored beef that is actually packed with all the “good” fats and so is not necessarily bad for you - if you don’t eat too much of it! Of course, we encourage seconds. This beef tastes amazing and is grown antibiotic and hormone free for an all natural, perfect beef flavor. We are serving you both the tenderloin grilled and the rib eye cut served tar tar style. Randall and Noah have experimented with various preparations and cuts for this Wagyu Beef and have determined that the tenderloin is amazing simply grilled and that the fatty and ultra-rich rib eye is actually best raw. If you recall, we served it Carpaccio-style on the August menu and it was a huge hit, even making converts out of those who didn’t normally like raw beef. The accompaniments to the beef are simple and complementary – a fall bean pesto of whatever is best at the Farmers Market that week – green beans, black eyed peas, etc., and a deep and woodsy flavored cabernet-bone marrow jus. The subtle notes of a carrot puree with emulsified butter and fresh thyme finish this final savory course.
For this course the tartare was served in a small bread 'taco'. My friends and I found the bread distracting from experiencing the tartare, and so we ate ours without. This way we were really able to appreciate the flavor and texture of the ground up beef and pesto. The sliced tenderloin was an absolute perfected medium rare and so tender and delicious. The braised greens were delicious, but another distraction from the beef, and so I barely touched them. I ordered seconds of the beef course as we were now getting to the end of dinner.
During the beef course we were also served the optional upsell item of the foie gras. Noah slightly seared a two ounce portion just to get it some quick heat and to really melt the fats. It was served with a port reduction huckleberry sauce and it cost an additional $15. I had never had foie gras while my dinner partners all raved. I asked Jim on my side if he wanted to split one since Amy wasn't interested. I was concerned about paying that much and then finding out I don't like it. Jim graciously offered to buy it and still split it with me. I did, indeed, enjoy it. It was buttery creamy and paired well with the sweet tang of the sauce.
- Dessert Course -
Layered Milk Cake and Gold Raspberry Mousse,
White and Dark Chocolate, Peppermint
and Three Melon Sorbets
For a spectacular fall dessert, we are doing our version of the traditional Mexican Tres Leches cake that is moist, light, and sweet but not overly so. We will layer the cake with gold raspberries grown by Patrick Hoover in Placerville (find him at the Wednesday and Sunday Farmers Markets) and a rich white chocolate mousse. We will also have a cooling component of peppermint and then ultra-refreshing melon sorbets that will change varieties, but will probably usually be a mix of the French Charentais, watermelon, and a green Japanese varietal.
Since I had missed dessert completely on my last visit, it only made sense that I should have a double helping of dessert this visit. I did not care for the melon sorbets because I don't like melon. But the pastry was light. Jennifer and I had worried that we would not like the cake because we both think Tres Leches is too sweet and soggy. Luckily it was such a small element.
During dessert there was also coffee and tea service. The tea service was what was really interesting. They brought out a large assortment of fresh herbs, plants, and other tea elements so that you could have a freshly concocted tea as you liked. I asked another diner what she was getting and she said she got "Jeff's special" which had things like vanilla, lemon and orange zest, clove, elderberries, lime leaves, and some other things, but no actual tea. It looked and smelled fantastic and she enjoyed it very much. Jeff then was experimenting since he said that he was still trying to find a combination that would work well with rose. So he put some things together and Jennifer and Phil tried them out. They finally agreed it needed more work because the scent of the kaffir lime leaves overpowered their senses and the tea itself was too light and without any body.
Overall my experience was much nicer this time around. A companion would have been nice since I was the only solo person, but I was lucky to have friendly and generous dinner companions. Special thanks to Jim for letting me try the foie gras for the first time.
Yes, The Kitchen is expensive. But as I said in the beginning, you are paying for the best ingredients, gourmet cooking, excellent service, freedom to wander and to eat as much as you want. It's not a place that most people will ever get to try. But if you can splurge for a special occasion, you will not regret it.