The Fresno dilemma was how to choose two from among: Trelio, Cracked Pepper Bistro and Limon. Hunan excluded as we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in Sichuan cuisine at home in Atlanta.
( previous thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/849883)
From Fresno Deli: hummes (perhaps the best non-home prepared version ever encountered), eggplant with tomatoes and garlic, stuffed grape leaves (rice, not meat), olive variety and Bulgarian Feta. Would buy all these items again in a heartbeat. For our self catered supper in Yosemite environs, we dressed everything with a CA estate virgin olive oil from Trader Joes which had a huge nose and was really a surprising value at $6.99 per half liter.
We had the opportunity to lunch at The Schoolhouse and sup at Cracked Pepper Bistro and Trelio.
Lunch at The Schoolhouse.
30 minutes east of Fresno in Sanger. VG artisanal style pizza with exc. house made sausage, white clam chowder with clams cooked a la minute at time of service. Lunch special of grilled Pacific salmon over salad vg, exc onion rings, tasty ice cream (albeit with advance warning) served practically melted. The Fresno heat wave impacted their ice cream cabinet I guess. Nice selection of beers on tap. Would definitely return.
Cracked Pepper Bistro.
The Thursday night crowd filled the room and kept the noise level high, not quite loud enough to necessitate texting across the spacious two top bounded by an eight top and a five top but still, plenty loud. It's nice to see a small upscale place doing this well. I don't usually subscribe to the adage that 'nothing succeeds like excess' preferring balance as opposed to abundance but the Salad of Gem Letttuces with Pancetta' was the exception. Five or six cigar shaped 4" long romaine lettuce tubes slightly bitter under a mound of 3/16" x 1/2" freshly cooked pancetta bits piled high on the plate resulted in us both not being able to get enough. Equally good in its own way was the Caprese salad with tomatoes that were unearthly good to our food inc. abused east coast palates. DDD reported the Pacific salmon was grilled properly so much so that she guarded the leftovers assiduously. Rack of lamb stuffed with black olives and sun dried tomatoes was domestic judging by its size, it's two twin rib chops were frenched and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The carefully injected stuffing added nothing to the flavor and was easily removed and set aside without detracting in the least from how good a piece of meat this was. The lamb was accompanied by pencil thin asparagus and haricots verts. Wine was a crisp well priced screw top Pinot Grigio. No bread pudding (it looked awesome on the next table), just some ice cream/gelato/sorbet to finish with. Main course leftovers provided for Kings Canyon lunch the next afternoon. Would definitely return for this honestly prepared, amply portioned and well priced bistro fare.
Trelio was the pearl of our Fresno adventure, complete with peaks, valleys and from the wine cellar--a treat. At the start was a nice roasted beet and goat cheese 'salad'. And a mixed green salad with cruets of olive oil, vinegar and a salt shaker/pepper mill provided in place of the standard honey mustard dressing. Mixing the salad was a challenge without a bowl. Not an auspicious start. Next came an excellent crab cake with a vg remoulade and roasted corn relish. This we fought over although DDD easily won. Her salmon was described on the menu as prepared in 'Bouillabaisse Sauce', It came in a large flat soup plate, the bottom napped with deeply colored shellfish and saffron based sauce then ringed 360 degrees around with micro-vegetables. Mine was the rabbit assortment: braised rear quarter in red wine sauce with house made pappardelle twisted into a stogie, panko-ed sliced loin and the tiniest precision frenched rabbit rib rack both underlain with a coarse grained mustard sauce and several haricots verts. A terrific play on the classic gallantine of rabbit stuffed with breadcrumbs and duxelles in mustard sauce. Here's the thing, true of both dishes: the sauces were all built upon time consuming reductions that can only be done with classic techniques. You can sous vide til the cows come home in an attempt to concentrate flavors and you can as a result get your own celebrity cooking show--but you will never match the flavors such as Trelio Chef Mike Shackelford is putting on (it seems) every plate at prices that blow my mind. What else is there to say? Oh, the wine. Trelio features an extraordinarily deep wine list, seemingly all California/west coast. Which is a problem for me as I like wines of moderate alcohol (less than 13%) served at cellar temperatures that don't get up on their hind legs and jump out of their glass. The sommelier / proprietor listened sympathetically to my preferences and then good naturedly dug deep into his cellar far off the list to come up with a reasonably priced Oregon Pinot Noir that satisfied us all.
In SFO all of these places would be impossible to get into at 150% of the price. My only problem with all of them is that now I'm 2000 miles away in Atlanta trying to think of a reason to go back to Fresno other than to eat. Thank you Fresno and SFO hounds for your guidance.