by Paula Sugarman, Owner/Creative Director of Sugarman Design Group
Last night Lowell and I were treated to a delectable and entertaining dining experience by our friends Fran and Harley. They flew in from Madrid for an unexpected visit and invited us to The Kitchen, a quasi-incognito restaurant right here in Sacramento, California. It was such fun I want to share it with you. So for just a moment I’m going to diverge from the world of wine labels to the savory joy of culinary delights.
Randall Selland and his wife Nancy Zimmer started the Kitchen in 1991. He wanted to share his love of cooking with people in much the same way he would in his own home. He calls this unique dining concept a demonstration dinner. It’s a marriage of culinary and performance arts.
There’s only one seating per night, and it’s on a reservation only basis. The building completely lacks signage or visible windows, the only hint of sophistication being the gargantuan glass door handles at the entrance. We were met there, our reservations confirmed, and ushered into a darkened room with dramatic lighting. The focal point is a full-on gourmet kitchen, a veritable stage, with a counter that wraps around three sides, seating about 25. Tall tables set in white tablecloth style provide more seating and create a kitchen amphitheater.
Further into the room is the prep kitchen that is open to the public. We were invited to roam and talk with the bevy of chefs working on the evening’s meal. They were friendly and eager to answer questions. We took a side trip to the extensive wine cellar. There were many interesting labels, so we snapped off some quick shots. We did the best we could with the low, intimate lighting which was not conducive to photography.
Chef de Cuisine, Noah Zonca gave a dazzling performance as he introduced the dishes that would be served, the thoughts behind the recipes, how they would be prepared and where these finest of fresh ingredients came from. He introduced us to a huge Australian hamachi and deftly carved it into filets and sushi. The rest of his crew worked with him to plate and serve dishes for all of us in the room. The menu was superlative and we savored every bite.
- March 2010 Dinner Menu -
Maine Lobster Bisque Thai Style with a Coconut ‘Crème Brulee’
Fresh Turmeric and Chives
A Warm Salad of House Made Bacon Confit Blood Orange, Frisée,
Arugula and Croutons
Intermission with Sushi ~ Sashimi ~ Crudo
Australian Hamachi and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Crispy Blue Prawns,
Lemon ‘Caviar’ and a Chervil Hollandaise
Beef Tenderloin with a Fresh Horseradish Crust Small Vegetables,
‘Clouds’ of Blue Cheese and Butter Poached Potatoes
Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Tart
Candied Pecan ‘Dos Leches’ Ice Cream
I got so excited about the performance aspect, I forgot to tell you about the food. The Maine Lobster Bisque may have been my favorite course. Chef Noah explained that to keep the flavors concentrated, they thickened it with very soft rice, kind of mashed up instead of cream. Instead of saffron, they used turmeric for coloring. And there was this incredible…no, INCREDIBLE fresh ginger in it like I’ve never tasted before.
My next favorite part was the intermission. All good performances have a break in the middle. In this case it meant that we got up and did a little walking … straight over to a table arrayed with sushi, sashimi and tacos tartare. The wasabi was freshly grated on a sharkskin board and there was more of that tantalizing ginger. You know how sometimes you just can’t get the pieces separated with your chopsticks and end up hawking most of the mound? Embarassing, but convenient. There was a plate of lobster tempura, OMG, and uber fresh sashimi; salmon, hamachi and tuna. Turns out the intermission was a real workout and I snuck back for a bit more.
The wine was flowing, most often, there were 3 or 4 wine glasses at each place setting. Harley is a wine expert. (Ask me about the time he beat Fran on a bet that he could tell the difference between a $300 cab and those of lower price in a blind tasting…but that’s another story.) Both he and Fran did a good job of pacing themselves. Many times, they left wine in the glass as they went on to a new vintage. I, on the other hand, am a good Jewish girl and hate to waste any of the juice. By the time intermission was over, I started to lose track of exactly what we were drinking. But when the Beef Tenderloin arrived with that lovely crust of horseradish, so did a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot. It smoothly complemented the perfectly grilled meat which was snuggled up to a fluffy puff of blue cheese. The potatoes were tiny half inch balls in perfect proportion to the cutest eensy roasted mushrooms, beets and root veggies. How one poaches potatoes or even thinks up these ideas is a mystery to me.
I’m usually not a big fan of sweets, but I do love caramel. And the Chocolate-Caramel tart had the most intense caramel flavor I have ever tasted. My resolution to push away my plate after just one bite quickly dissolved. But I did manage to skip the ice cream.
Fran and Harley enjoy the opportunity to dine often in top restaurants of the world. Of all the best eateries on the planet, The Kitchen has come to be one of their three favorite dining experiences. This is sage prose coming from such cosmopolites.
Not bad, Sacramento!
Paula Sugarman is owner and creative director of Sugarman Design Group, a California graphic design studio specializing in brand identity, wine label design and food package design.