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Angelo Auriana's Masque

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#1 jfdulac

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Posted 09 May 2004 - 04:26 PM

Some friends from Seattle were coming to Sacramento for a conference, so I thought it might be an ideal time to organize a wine dinner at Masque, the new El Dorado Hills restaurant by the longtime former executive chef at Valentino. Out went the word, and before long we had a dozen folks – 10 of them from outside the area.

We asked Angelo to build a menu around some wines, as he seems to enjoy coming up with pairings. It would also give him a chance to go off of the regular Masque menu – something he hasn’t done a lot of yet, as the restaurant is barely a month old, and he’s been busy trying to get the kitchen crew to master the core menu (more of a challenge than you might imagine, as the staff is pretty green, and nobody had worked with him before).

Though the restaurant was packed, with long waits for every table and a very large group in the rear private room, Angelo created an inspired menu for us and executed it pretty much to perfection. The meal was served at table set up under the stars, near the outdoor fireplace. A wonderful setting for a memorable meal.

With 1988 Krug Brut (en magnum, plus a 750)
Tonno with eggplant bruschetta: The tuna was quite nice – gently seasoned raw cubes with some sort of thinly sliced crunchy vegetable adding textural contrast - but the spotlight was on the eggplant, which had an incredible mouthfeel – somewhere between heavy whipped cream and pate. The taste was also sensational – salty, oily and eggplanty. We couldn’t figure out the preparation. Did he whip the hell out of it? Did he add butter/oil/fat? Was there a secret ingredient? Angelo later explained that he’d diced the eggplant into tiny pieces, sautéed it, drained off the oil (sunflower, I believe), then whipped it with goat cheese. Served on a toast point, and excellent with the Krug.

With 1997 Marcassin Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay (twin 750s)
Cardoons tortino with sepia ragu and toasted hazelnuts: The tortino was otherworldly, like a savory flan. Again, great textures – and an interesting contrast: I loved the tortino vis-à-vis the sepia, the former soft and spongy, the latter just slightly chewy. Fava beans and the hazelnut pieces added additional textural contrast. Interestingly, each bite of the tortino seemed better than the last. Somebody noted that it seemed so simple that you almost forgot how great it was – until you had another bite. I could’ve eaten 10 of them. Great match with the Marcassin, which can be a difficult pairing because of its massive size and high-toast/grilled hazelnut profile. This was one of my favorite dishes.

With 2001 Kistler Kistler Vineyard Pinot Noir (twin 750s)
Pan-seared red mullet with rabbit loin in a porcini brodetto: Two pieces of mullet on top of the brodetto, with beautiful petite porcinis (stems intact), small pieces of succulent rabbit and some sort of radish sprout. Any combination of the ingredients you tried seemed seamless, and the brodetto was so good that at least half the diners mopped up their plates with hunks of pugliese. A couple of us worried that the Kistler would be too big for the fish, but the full-flavored brodetto made it work.

With 1990 Andre Brunel CdP Cuvee Centenaire (twin 750s)
Neapolitan pasta with a three-meat ragu and pecorino romano: The only dish from our menu that’s regularly available at Masque, and it was a winner. Not necessarily a great match with the Centenaire, which seemed to call for something more substantial/robust, but on its own, fantastic. Angelo made a fresh batch of pasta at 3AM the night before our visit, and he then cooked it with great care - thick al dente slabs that were perfectly chewy. Again, just sublime texture. Nothing particularly progressive here – but I believe the beauty of the dish is supposed to be in its traditional simplicity. Fantastic flavors.

With 1985 Pichon Lalande (en magnum)
Quail doppiopetto arrosto with bacon and snails in quazzetto: Snails and quail sounded like something out of Dr. Seuss – and when somebody mentioned this to the chef, he said he came up with the idea when he mentioned quail and somebody thought he’d said snail, and after they both laughed, he decided it sounded like an interesting combination. And it is. The bacon was wrapped around the boneless quail breast, which was wrapped around the snails, all of which was served with the savory tomato quazzetto. The flavors melded nicely, though I thought the dish lacked the textural excitement of some of the others – even if the slightly chewy snails did set off the succulent, soft quail fairly well. I loved the flavors, though, and they went very well with the Pichon Lalande, which some say has past its peak, but which seemed to be right at its apex – or just about to reach it - in large format.

With 1982 Giacosa Rionda Riserva and 1990 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis (in 750s)
Traditional risotto Milanese and five-hour braised veal cheeks: In a word, ohmygod. I had remarked to some of the diners that Angelo still talks about a risotto he made at a dinner party I attended in November. I thought it was excellent; he thought the finish on the rice sucked, and he was still thinking about it last month when he mentioned how disappointed he was in the dish. Having had this batch, I can see what he means. The stuff in November was good. This, however, is risotto as the gourmet gods intended it to be prepared. Crunchy yet soft. Creamy yet somehow almost airy. Just sublime. And that’s to say nothing of the veal cheeks, which were off-the-charts good. So tender, so packed full of flavor. Just outstanding with the earthy, ethereal Giacosa (the wine of the night for me, hands-down). The Sandrone, which was more forward, oaky and extracted than the Giacosa, also went well with the dish, but the interplay was more impressive with the other wine. My favorite dish of the night – simple yet sophisticated, which pretty much sums up Angelo's cooking.

With 1993 Elio Altare Arborina (twin 750s)
Three-spice venison medallion in tart cherry Barolo sauce: How exciting to have some game that actually tasted gamey. I’ve had too many examples of venison/elk/etc lately that just didn’t deliver on that promise; no worries here, though. Not sure where Angelo sourced the venison, but it was excellent meat. I had a hard time pinpointing the spices, as the dominant flavors were the reduced Barolo, the tart cherries (excellent) and the game itself. I got anise, but beyond that, well – I’ve no idea. But the dish was damn good, especially when the bite included a cherry from the sauce. Hubba. Nice match with the Altare.

With 2001 Shafer Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet (en magnum)
Selection of cheeses: I skipped the cheeses, but I did try an accompanying pear compote, which was sweetened with honey and spiced with mostarda. Awfully good.

With 1997 Petits Quarts Bonnezeaux Vendage Grain Par Grain (in 750)
Apple torta and apricot sorbet: Again, straight-ahead – but again, very good and a great match with the GpG. Note: The pastry chef at Masque is Casey Hayden, who previously worked at Fleur de Lys, Postrio and Spago/LA.

With 1997 Zind Humbrecht Tokay-Pinot Gris Clos Jebsal SGN (in 750)
Ricotta cheesecake, local cherry compote and piccola crema al carmello: The wine was a bit off, and the bite-sized crème brulee in a pastry crust was fairly straight-ahead – not bad, not great, just in between. But the ricotta cheesecake was outstanding. The texture drove me nuts – as did the flavor. Insanely good. Even though I'd already consumed way too much food (and wine), I still rallied and finished off a second cheesecake.

A great night that was incredibly well priced (just $100 pp for the food, and $15 per bottle corkage).

I had to laugh when one of the diners - a well-traveled gourmand from Minneapolis, who'd spent the week eating his way through the Bay Area - said to me, about midway through the meal: "If I knew you had restaurants like this in Sacramento, I would have come up earlier." To which I said: "We didn't have restaurants like this in Sacramento -- until now."

I suspect I'll be spending quite a bit of time at Masque.

#2 dfunghi

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Posted 10 May 2004 - 05:55 PM

Sounds like a roadtrip may be in my future. Nice reporting.

David West
A.K.A. The Mushroom Man
Founder of http://finepalatefoods.com/

#3 clayton

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 10:28 AM

Thanks for the report. I am going to try and get in there in June. Do they have a website?

#4 jfdulac

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 10:34 AM

They do, but it's not particularly useful just yet. No menus, no chef's hisstory, no online reservation possibilities, no pictures aside from an external image of the restaurant.

Masque Web site

Edited by jfdulac, 11 May 2004 - 10:34 AM.

#5 PamelaF

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Posted 15 May 2004 - 05:27 PM

The accompanying deli/lunch option, Cantinetta, looks quite interesting as well.

Wood-fired pizza, panini, and so on.

As reviewed in the Friday, casual dining column:


Too bad that I do not get out that way very often.

Pamela Fanstill aka "PamelaF"

#6 jfdulac

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 03:18 PM

Another tasting menu at Masque last night. We didn't offer any advance warning on our wine brings this time around, so Angelo came into the private dining room, took mental notes of the wines on table and said, smiling: "It's like Iron Chef. Tonight's secret ingredient is....Gaja!" And then, he literally ran out of the room, heading back into the kitchen to put together the meal.

With 1982 Moët Dom Perignon
Buffalo ricotta with mostarda di Cremona and sweet pickled onions
The ricotta, flown in from Tuscany, had a texture and consistency that placed it somewhere between whipped butter and ice cream. Lovely mouthfeel, then. Good intensity of flavor, and still quite fresh despite the trip. The onions and spicy fruit compote were nice accompaniments. As pleasing as this dish was, and as well as it went with the Dom, all I really found myself thinking about was the champagne, which was stunning. I don't know that I've had another bottle of tiny bubbles that I've liked more than this one.

With 2002 L'Angevin Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Branzino carpaccio with tiny cherry tomatoes and baby arugula
On its own, the bass was a bit neutral - slightly sweet, but lacking a truly strong or distinctive flavor. Taking a bite with bit of the delightfully sharp arugula or one of the small, ripe tomato pieces certainly helped; but the dish truly came together when the fish also picked up some of the EVOO and at least one granule of the red clay salt that was sprinkled on the plate. The salt, from Hawaii, was explosive. Must get some. I didn't care much for the L'Angevin, which is made by former Peter Michael assistant winemaker Robbie Meyer. (Too much charred wood for me.) But the dish went really well with the last of the Dom!

With 1997 Gaja Sperss and 1997 Gaja Costa Russi
Traditional risotto Milanese with thinly sliced porcini
One of Angelo's specialties is risotto, which he really nailed at our earlier wine dinner, when he added five-hour braised veal cheeks. This time, he went really simple, topping the risotto with slices of fragrant and fairly flavored porcinis from Oregon. As with the earlier example of risotto, this stuff was excellently prepared - al dente, creamy but not heavy, etc. The porcinis added a nice dimension, but I couldn't help but think how great this would taste with white truffles. Or, for that matter, five-hour braised veal cheeks. I think the baby Gajas called for something a bit more full-flavored than the porcinis. But this was still a fine dish.

Softshell crab, veal tenderloin and potato gnocchi with an orange reduction sauce
Angelo wanted to send out another dish for the Gajas, which themselves were an interesting study (the Costa Russi was flashy and ostentatious and immediately gratifying - very New Worldish, really - whereas the Sperss, which had been double-decanted nine hours before dinner, played itself close to the vest, all reserved and backwards, though it occasionally showed signs of brilliance - a mysterious, long-term wine that kind of reminded me of the 96 Latour in that regards). Anyway, an interesting surf-and-turf combo that worked much better than I thought it might. The Chesapeake Bay crab was tender and salty, the veal (I don't recall where it's from) more pleasingly robust than most examples I've had - though it was still tender, having been cooked just so. The star of this dish, though, were the four pieces of gnocchi, which had the most amazing texture. They were soft, spongy and almost airy - kind of like the perfect cannelle. Incredible flavor packed into each piece, though the orange reduction really enhanced it (and also brought out the best of the Sperss). I could have eaten a huge bowl of just the gnocchi over the sauce.

With 1985 Heitz Martha's Vineyard and 1989 Clerc Milon
Colorado loin of lamb with a bittersweet chocolate-Montepulciano reduction and grilled squab with Granny Smith and a balsamic sauce
Angelo asked if we were in the mood for lamb or squab. Naturally, we said both. So, he plated the proteins together. The squab was solid - good bird, very subtle saucing (though it didn't even need it), nice tart-sweet crunch from the bits of Granny Smith. I found the lamb much more successful, though. A very good piece of meat, cooked just long enough, and really enhanced by the rich chocolate-wine sauce, which also showed a trace amount of tomatoes. A lot of flavor packed onto this plate, but the Heitz had all the stuffing to match. And thankfully, this bottle showed no TCA. Just a terrific example of aged California Cabernet, is all. The Clerc Milon - soft and supple, if a bit funky, in a dirty-diaper kind of way - couldn't quite hang with the Heitz, though it was still a nice drink.

With 2001 Weinreider Eiswein
Passionfruit cheesecake and torta di cioccolato
The cheesecake was better than the straight-ahead, passion(fruit)-less version we'd had at our May wine dinner - the fruit and coconut shavings adding more interest. But it was still cheesecake (though it went awfully well with the Austrian eiswein, which is relatively obscure but remains one of the great sweet wines I've had over the past few years). The torta di cioccolato, on the other hand, was unbelievably good. Sort of your basic, rasberry-infused take on the dish - except that the pastry chef adds a crunchy crust to the bottom, which gives it this really exciting textural dynamic. Plus, it just tastes damn good.

#7 tanabutler

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 04:02 PM

Thanks so much for writing this up. Great reportage.

You should take me next time! I'll bring my new fancy-dancy digital camera. Whee!


#8 grandcru

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Posted 14 June 2004 - 02:28 PM

Gajafest? You're killin' me, Josh! Thanks for both reports, especially encouraging since I make it up to the Foothills for tasting/buying most every year, and am always interested in culinary destinations.
Kriss Reed
Long Beach, CA

#9 jfdulac

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Posted 16 June 2004 - 03:43 PM

You should have heard the chef telling us about his Gaja epiphanies -- they all involved 1974s. Alas, no more in his cellar. Doh!

#10 jfdulac

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Posted 16 February 2006 - 10:38 AM

Is it true that Masque has closed? (I know that the chef and dining-room manager haven't been in the restaurant in weeks. But I've heard that they might have shut the doors on the place this week.)