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  1. jfdulac


    My brother is drafting a letter to her as we speak...
  2. jfdulac


    My brother and his wife had a nice meal at Coco500, too. Unfortunately, it was marred by their experience with the GM afterwards, when the restaurant refused to give them the balance of their gift certificate. It wasn't necessarily a minor amount, either. I'd given them the gift certificate at Christmas in 2006. He's been busy with work and also getting his MBA, and she's been working on a graduate degree, as well, so it took them a while to get to the restaurant. Finally dined there in December of 2007. "Really great food and service," he says. But at the end of the meal, they're told they have to forfeit the remaining balance of about $50. The GM - Clay Reynolds - was adamant about this. My brother says the guy argued with him and my sister-in-law for 10 minutes ("getting defensive, raising his voice, and lecturing us about the restaurant's bookkeeping processes - 'we have assets and liabilities...' no s--t, dude. so do I") before he finally gave in. Though in this case, giving in did not mean issuing a new certificate for the balance, but crossing out the old one and then angrily hand-writing the new denomination on it. Nice show. Putting aside Coco500's legal obligations, whatever they might be - why wouldn't they just issue a new certificate and not argue about it? At what hotel and restaurant management school do they teach this sort of thing? (And why is that school still open?) Obviously, if he had the balance on a new certificate, my brother would return -- and he'd clearly wind up spending more money on top of that. And maybe he goes back after that if he has two good meals there. Instead, they lose customers (no way in hell I'll ever return, even if I do like Loretta Keller's cooking). Not sure what kind of business plan that is, but it's not a particularly good one.
  3. 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.)
  4. I second the Taylor's recommendation. I buy most of my meat there. As previously noted, they also have a fine produce section. But for the best seasonal produce, you really have to hit the farmer's markets. (Or, you can pay obscene prices for the organic stuff at the Natural Foods Co-Op - though I still think much of the stuff offered at the farmer's markets is better.) Sunday under the freeway (5th and X) is the most extensive of the regular markets. Obviously, it's better during the summer than any other season. But you can find some pretty good stuff there now, too. I'd tell you which growers have the best products, but that'd be giving away too many secrets. ;-) Selland's Market Cafe (owned by The Kitchen folks) also has really good meats and a spanky deli, as well as some fine desserts. But it's not the sort of place you want to shop at when you're really hungry. You can wind up dropping a small fortune on a pint of this, a half-pound of that - and, oohhh, two of those, etc. If you're in the central city area and don't feel like driving down to South Sac for Asian foodstuffs, then check out the market on Broadway and 11th, or thereabouts. It's on the north side Broadway between the original Tower Records and Target - though much closer to Target than Tower. You won't find great dim sum here. Sorry. Masque doesn't serve brunch or lunch, btw. They have a casual side, the Cantinetta, but it ain't nearly the same.
  5. My Masque recommendation? See if you can get Angelo to cook off-menu for you. He's at his best when he's using the creative side of his brain - especially if he's coming up with dishes to match specific wines. Best meal I had in 2004, by a mile: A November white-truffle dinner at Masque in which Angelo created a menu based on the wines we lined up. Ran circles around my tasting-menu extravaganza at Bouley back in May, not to mention the rest of my previous meal-of-the-year contenders. Dare I say that it was one of the two best meals I've ever had, with the best of my French Laundry experiences the only thing standing in the way of a clear best-ever ranking? Yeah, I think I do. All these weeks later, I can still taste the foie gras tortelli with truffles, as well as the sweetbreads wrapped in pickled beef tongue served with baby bok choy on the side and a mound of truffles on top. Lordy, those dishes were good.
  6. Kriss, You should have heard the chef telling us about his Gaja epiphanies -- they all involved 1974s. Alas, no more in his cellar. Doh!
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. I've been a few times, and here are the three things I remember the most: No corkage for Sonoma County wines ... cool view of the kitchen through the glass wall ... hey, that's Joe Montana sitting over there! In other words: Nice meals, but nothing about the food was particularly memorable.
  11. Hey Jensen, Thanks for the link. That was actually my story. The worst part: I had to expense a meal there. (Somebody's got to do the dirty work, you know.) Josh
  12. Biba is no longer the only game in town. Angelo Auriana of Masque is going to redefine fine dining in this region. And that's a great thing. As for the Maloofs - Joe and Gavin are a horrible example. They eat very simple food (mostly, grilled meat) and eschew spices. In fact, they don't even like food prepared with garlic or onions. They are culinary cavemen, and even their personal chef, Christophe Cornet, has said as much. It's too bad, really. Christophe is a talented chef. I mean, here's a guy who was allowed to do specials in the kitchen of Michel Rostang in Paris, and who'd been chef de cuisine at Monte Carlo - one of the better restaurants in Vegas before they shut down the Desert Inn - and he's making steaks every night. Yawn. My point being, though, that to use the Maloofs as an example of where the dining scene is in Sacramento is folly.
  13. I've eaten at L'Image twice. I probably won't return. There's nothing technically wrong with the food - well, aside from the toughness of the faux Kobe beef, and the extreme dryness of the duck tossed with pappardelle. OK, so maybe there was something wrong with it. Wasn't very interesting, I thought. Also found the service aloof, at best. But hey, I DID like the beignets! Too bad they didn't have them on my second visit. That was really what brought me back.
  14. Masque, in El Dorado Hills. Just opened two weeks ago. It's already the best restaurant in the Sacramento region. Yes, I said it. It's a 25-minute drive (sans traffic) from central Sac, but it's well worth it. Former executive chef from Valentino. Great service. Great dining room. Great food. Wine list isn't quite up to speed yet, but hey, three out of four ain't bad. An absolute winner.
  15. Anybody know how far ahead they're booking right now? Planning a visit to NYC at the end of April and wouldn't mind stopping by for lunch on, say, Saturday, May 1. The last meal we had at French Laundry, for dinner in May, was spectacular on every front. I still have hallucinations about some of those dishes. In my best Homer Simpson voice: "Mmmmm, sauteed filet of Gold Coast pompano amandine with haricots verts, riso, preserved lemon zest and an orange marmalade reduction." "Mmmmmm, Keller's 'Caesar salad' of sweet buttter poached Maine lobster with roasted hearts of Romaine lettuce, foncit of sweet garlic, parmesean crutons and bottarga emulsion." "Mmmmmm, Elysian Fields Farm selle d'aneau roti entier with braised Jacobsen's Farm black kale, confit of yukon gold potatoes and spring garlic duxelles." Can't wait for them to reopen! Classic moment, on our way out of the restaurant: We were wandering through the courtyard, looking through the windows into the kitchen, when we noticed a guy hand-drying the Riedel stems - and inspecting each of them below a light. One of our friends says: "Is that Thomas Keller?!??" Indeed, it was. What a freak of a perfectionist. No wonder that place hits such high marks.
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