Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cooking at the Plumed Horse

I was lucky enough to be surprised by a private cooking class with chef Peter Armellino at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga last weekend. How many people can say they got a cooking class with a Michelin one-star chef for Mother's Day?!

After we arrived, we were given a quick tour of the restaurant, glasses of cava in hand. I hadn't been to the Plumed Horse since its remodel, but the main dining room is now beautiful in an understated, modern way (my memories from before was that it was a bit fusty). There was a chef's table with floor-to-ceiling views of the kitchen - I can't wait to dine there soon.

We started by looking at various items that Peter had picked up that morning at the Saratoga's farmer's market, including green garlic, fava beans, the ubiquitous local asparagus, as well as English peas. Peter showed us how to prepare them all for a spring vegetable risotto. Fava beans and the green garlic were new to me, so it was great to see how to use them. Unfortunately, they all had to be blanched separately (different cooking times) - not the favorite prep step for this lazy cook!

He went through the basics of risotto technique and had his sous-chef finish off that part of the cooking. He then added salt and pepper to a beautiful piece of halibut and pan cooked it with olive oil and lots of butter. In the meantime, more wine was poured and we started salivating at the thought of tasting the finished dish.

The risotto was perfectly creamy, yet with the requisite bite and not overwhelmed by a cheesy taste - in fact, we added no parmesan at all. Just some creme fraiche for the finishing touch. The halibut was tender and delicious. And super easy to prepare.

We then moved on to the dessert course, with chef Jon Kristie, who melted seemingly vast quantities of chocolate (Valrhona 72% disks) and butter in a double boiler. We were all relieved to find out that this would make about 70 servings of the chocolate fondant dessert for the restaurant's dinner service! The dessert was easy to make with just a few more ingredients (eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour) and was delicious with a molten center. It was served with a homemade vanilla ice cream.

I have to make a special note that the dessert wine poured was a Wehlener Sonnenuhr riesling which my normally teetotalling girlfriend enjoyed so much that she had 2 more glasses!

The whole class took about 90 minutes and we each left with a box full of ingredients to make 4 servings of the dishes we had sampled. And a bottle of cava (or in my girlfriend's case, her new favorite riesling!)

I thoroughly enjoyed the class and the conversations with Peter, Jon and Josh who ran the front-of-house. They mentioned that they make a white truffle risotto when the season starts in November - can't wait to try that as well! Plus Jon's special banana split dessert with caramelized bananas and homemade banana ice cream...mmmm

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day Brunch at Madera

We tried out the restaurant at the brand new Rosewood Hotel on Sand Hill Rd in Menlo Park yesterday. This is part of a huge complex of offices at the corner of Sand Hill and 280. Although I didn't find the architecture of the hotel very appealing, the interiors were modern and comfortable, with a gorgeous bar area with a patio with views of the hills. I could see this as a great place for drinks at sunset.

The restaurant Madera was quite large and for some reason, our party of 8 was shown to a nice private room with an outdoor patio with a fireplace. It would be nice for a dinner party or intimate shower.

The menu was a $65 prix fixe for Mother's Day, which was a little pricey for the area, but the restaurant is an upscale choice. It included a glass of bubbly, which was actually a Spanish cava.

I started with a great salad of purple asparagus and grilled trumpet mushrooms. The mushrooms was very tasty, although it was served with a soft cheese and was a little unnecessary. I'd go back for this salad alone.

Another nice appetizer was the spring pea soup - very light but with a full pea flavor.

For the entree, I decided to go for the New York steak (seemed like a waste to get Belgian waffles when it was a $65 prix fixe!). There was a bit of a gap in service so I was very hungry when the entree was served. So I started eating right away and forgot to take photos... My dining mates had the Eggs Benedict (served either with salmon or canadian bacon), which was pronounced to be pretty good.

For dessert, I had the ricotta cheesecake served with balsamic strawberries. Nice but nothing to write home about. My daughter had a chocolate terrine, served with grilled brioche - it turned out to be a spreadable chocolate and was like a fancy version of nutella and toast. The dessert winner was a sour cherry almond cake, served with a sour cream ice cream.

And they served an excellent Earl Grey in a nice french press. Top marks for the tea service.

Overall, I don't think this is a destination restaurant by any means, although the space is beautiful. The service pacing was not the best. But it's a beautiful space and in a location where it will get lots of corporate business. If you're in the area, have a drink at the bar.