My wife and I introduced two friends to Gourmet Garden in Reedley last night. Although Reedley has less that 15,000 people, it supports a truly fine gourmet dinner house in Gourmet Garden. At lunch, the Gourmet Garden is just another unexceptional deli, but at dinner, someone sprinkles fairy dust, and the pumpkin turns into a coach and four.
We opened by sharing a goat cheese appetizer that has become a legend. The owner tells us that he left it off the menu one season (the menu changes four times a year), and nearly had a rebellion on his hands. He had to reprint.
Our guests had a sort of Mexican boullabaise, and the duck with a dried fruit sauce. The duck was superb. I didn't get to taste the fish stew, but was told that it also was excellent. I had the lamb ala Romana, which was perfection itself. My wife's salmon was unfortunate, but itself the cause of a most unusual happening.
Desserts here in the valley are usually worse than anything else. I had a chocolate cake that was surprisingly good, and not just relatively speaking either. The ladies shared an average tiramissu.
I selected a 1997 Raymond Reserve Chardonnay that was not a good match with my lamb, but which went very well with all of the other dishes on the table.
The service, while by no means haut, was much better than the local standard. It is difficult to offer first class service in an area where most people applying for service positions have never seen anything other than "Hash House Annie".
On the way out, the waitress called us over to the register. I had a moment's anxiety, was there some problem with my credit card? No, it turns out that the chef and owner, noticing that my wife had neither eaten her salmon nor taken the leftovers home, had inspected the remains, and determined that it was so undercooked as to be unfit to eat. Since my wife had a cold, she had been unsure if it was the dish or her, and had said nothing. The waitress was refunding the cost of the meal, totally without any complaint on our part.
And that, to me, is as accurate an indicator of pride in one's work as I have ever seen.