Thursday, December 6, 2012
Enotria - Happy Birthday to Me
2012 marked my 25th anniversary of living in Sacramento. Originally it was supposed to be just a stopover as I intended to eventually go to Los Angeles and try to get into movie production. I had been told that the Central Valley was the armpit of California and so I had low expectations for Sacramento. Yet here it is 25 years later and I can tell you that I LOVE Sacramento and can't imagine living anywhere else now.
Over these many years there have been some businesses and restaurants that have weathered the economic storms. Only a few have managed to endure where others succumbed. One of those is Enotria.
When I was married (and I've been divorced for 12 years now), my husband and I used to go to Enotria for special occasions. Back then Del Paso Boulevard was kinda gangsta and seemed an odd place for fine dining. The space was cramped, the building old. Then they renovated in 2010 and the new space is wonderful. What once had been the parking lot was turned into the wine bar/entry with comfy lounge seating to wait for your party or your table. The patio (which I've never experienced in all these years), is large with a nice waterfall feature. The hostess will take you down the long hall that connects to the dining area, which occupies the same space as the old days, but remodeled.
I was thrilled when they announced that the new Executive Chef was to be Pajo Bruich. Bruich had been gaining notoriety for his innovative and creative cuisine that didn't seem to have a home. He did pop-up events and then was at Lounge on 20 for a while, but he needed a proper place here in Sacramento. We couldn't afford to loose this culinary talent to the Bay Area or Napa. It's almost like a slap-to-your-forehead "Aha!" that he should be at Enotria. It just seems like a perfect fit.
I decided that I would treat myself for my birthday and use a very old Enotria gift certificate I had. I don't have issues with dining alone, especially since I'm a bit selfish with coupons/gift certificates. I want to use the full value on myself! And so I did for my birthday.
I was seated in at a table that was familiar but different. I was tucked into the corner where the wine shelves are, the same place they've been through old and new. As I looked at the menu I knew that the descriptions would not do any justice to what would eventually come out of the kitchen. Bruich is tricky like that. With use of molecular gastronomy as well as traditional techniques, his dishes often leave you wondering which ingredient is which when you see it.
The server came to explain how the menu worked. I could choose either 5 or 7 course prix fixe or I could order ala carte. It might be prix fixe, but you still have choices instead of being forced to the chef's whim. I chose the 5 course and was allowed to pick an item from each of the four columns with the 5th course being a sorbet cleanser before dessert. Don't be fooled though. If they call sorbet a course, then you can count the amuse bouche and the bread as two more courses and be up to seven!
I like that Bruich takes the time to come out of the kitchen to visit tables. He's always done this and I think it's always a professional touch. I asked him for a recommendation and he suggested the lobster first course as it was new to the menu. He also checked on me later in the meal.
As I move into the meal I will say outright that I'm a poor one for detailed descriptions of flavors, etc. I just like what I like and know good food and service versus bad. I also apologize to Pajo if I got some of the descriptions wrong.
The first thing to come out was the amuse bouche - a shot glass of mushroom soup with a thyme foam atop.
Bread came out next. Not just one, but three, small, round globes of fresh bread. Although they looked identical, they were each different. A sweet (?), a pretzel, and a challah, served with a house churned butter. Yes, I said house churned. Each roll had a sprinkle of a different salt on top. I haven't been a fan of pretzel buns of late, but I found I really enjoyed the chewy crust of the pretzel bun the most.
The servers explained the details of each course as it was presented. This is important because, as I mentioned above, the menu descriptions never accurately describe what you see on your plate. For instance, the Bruich recommended lobster dish just says, "Lobster, caviar, green apple, macadamia". What you see is claw and tail meat from the lobster, apple gelee cubes, fried macadamia nuts, and a hollandaise spuma with caviar. How can you not love lobster? I loved the crunch of the macadamia and the different, softer crunch of the tart apple cubes. (Wished for a few more of those.) I did feel there was too much of the hollandaise, which was strong in flavor and enough to leave a pool behind after I finished it. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful presentation and delicious.
My next course was the pork belly and, unfortunately, my least favorite of the night. It was pork belly with chorizo, kim chi, and peanuts. You see the pork belly, which is sitting on a smear of a chorizo and black squid ink sauce. On the right is kim chi with a kim chi sorbet on top of it. At the bottom is pickled peanuts. I just didn't care for the peanuts at all, but my biggest problem was that I found the pork belly to be extremely salty. I couldn't quite figure out if it was coming from the pork belly itself or from the sauce. Anyway, I mentioned it to the server and she told Bruich because he came out to ask me about it. He said he was having one prepped so he could taste it himself. Never heard back his verdict on it, but I'm a saltaholic and just found it too salty.
That's probably why I got a bonus dish. Bruich brought me out the chestnut pasta which was made, obviously, from chestnuts, served on top of a chestnut mousse and garnished with bits of Brussels sprouts, fried sage leaves, fontina, and chestnuts. This was fabulous and I practically licked the bowl!
For my entree course I had selected the scallop with beet, root vegetables and quinoa. The curried quinoa and beet smear is underneath and you see little accent globs of yogurt and passion fruit. Now I, like most people, looked at this and said to myself, "Just one?" But it was the size of medium sized cookie and so I cut it into about six or seven pieces. This worked out perfectly with the amount of accompaniments on the plate. If you are a scallop lover, you don't want to pass on this item.
Before my dessert course there was the sorbet course. White chocolate sorbet sitting on top of a cranberry compote. A mini dessert on its own.
For me the dessert had been the hardest thing to choose. Whereas the other menu items I could sort of figure out where Bruich might go with them (even though you can't trust the descriptions), dessert had me confused. Especially since one was focused on squash and another was bourbon. I asked for the server to be more descriptive before making my choice for the more adventuresome of the list - the squash. It's described as squash, vadouvan, white chocolate and brown sugar. What you see is a white chocolate shell that, once you break through it, you find a squash puree inside. To the top of the screen you see a brown sugar sponge cake that has been dehydrated until it is crunchy like that freeze dried ice cream the astronauts get. And then there is the surrounding crumb of oats and brown sugar. I'm all for dessert and adventure and so I enjoyed the novelty of this dessert.
Interestingly, as I ate dessert I contemplated how the desserts were being made by Edward Martinez, who had been at Hawks in Granite Bay. Meanwhile, Elaine Baker had been with Bruich at Lounge on 20 and now she's the new pastry chef at Hawks! Kind of a swap!
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. It's hard not to if you like culinary adventure. Bruich is happy to lead you on that road of discovery. Luckily he's staying in Sacramento so that I can take those mini taste vacations whenever I can afford it.
Enotria- 1431 Del Paso Boulevard
corner of Arden Way and Del Paso Boulevard