We were fortunate enough to dine at The Kitchen over the weekend with special friends in honor of a birthday. This was our second visit in less than 12 months, which my husband says makes him feel a wee bit guilty and very, very spoiled. If you have never been to, or ever heard about The Kitchen, it is a dining experience like no other. This is completely interactive dining theatre, where chefs and food perform and you can roam around the kitchen, chat with the chefs, peek in the walk in or wine cellar. The menu changes monthly and consists of five courses, plus an intermission course of sushi, sashimi and crudo at $125 per person, plus tax and tip.
While Chef Noah gave an introduction to the evening, the staff brought out individual ramekins of black truffle buttered popcorn. They did this on our previous visit as well, and I thought the popcorn was better, fresher, crunchier last time.
The first course was Maine Lobster Bisque and Tahitian Vanilla Bean Flan
with Roasted Chilies, Fried Sage Oil and Toasted Pepitas. As with our first visit last August, I felt this was the strongest of the courses, though I suspect that may have a great deal to do with it being first in line. The bisque was not cream thickened, but instead they thickened it with pureed risotto. This was bisque, with a small mound of lobster, crowned with a flan. Now, I’ve had the lobster-vanilla combo before at other places and been turned off, but this was brilliant. I could have licked the bowl clean, but instead scraped up the last bits with bread. I was tempted to ask for seconds, because you can, but I decided to pace myself. But you can have seconds, or thirds, even if you get to the end of the meal and want to revisit any of the courses, you can.
Speaking of the bread, it was very good, a bit fluffy and a bit chewy, flecked with rosemary. But they brush it with melted butter before warming it, which gives it a salty-buttery thing on the crust.
They offer optional wine pairings for each course, by the glass or by the bottle. The bottle prices are nearly retail, the cellar is pretty interesting, and it generally seems that the five bottle pairings run about $200. In my two dining experiences there, I feel they do an ok job on the pairings, but there is about one miss per meal, meaning the wine and the food don’t come together smoothly in the mouth. Corkage is progressive, $20 for the first bottle, $30 for the second bottle. We brought two bottles and bought three bottles and they waved the corkage, whether it was for giving staff tastes of the wines we brought or buying more off the list than we brought, I don’t know. For the first course, we brought a bottle of Alexana* 2006 Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley. The perfumed aromatics, silky mouth feel and Meyer lemon-like acidity on the finish paired beautifully with the soup, though I suspect the 1999 Robert Hunter Brut de Noir Sonoma Valley ($50) they were offering as the suggested pairing would have interesting as well.
The second course was Central Valley Lamb Carnitas and Taleggio Manicotti with Italian Style Duck Consommé, Chives and Black Truffle Tater Tots. This was a very savory, subtle dish, which was sort of homey and very good. But in my mind it was overshadowed by the over-the-top luxury of the first course. The lamb comes from a small purveyor in Sanger, and truly was the least gamey I’ve ever had. The black truffle tator tots were quite good, so good that I asked for a plate of them. But I wanted ketchup with them, not just any kind of ketchup, but some sort of house made slightly spicy ketchup. I was too distracted to ask, but it would have been just the thing. This course was paired with the 2005 Orogeny Green Valley Pinot Noir ($48), which they kindly decanted. We were impressed with this wine for its generous red fruit, silky mouth feel and touches of spice.
Wisely, dinner is interrupted by an intermission in the courtyard offering sushi, sashimi and crudo, preceded by a detailed explanation of what is being offered. The trick is to move fast, get out there ahead of the crowd (and the line) and get a few things to try. After the line winds down, revisit the table and you’ll find some things that weren’t there the first go round. This evening they had sashimi of sea bream, salmon, and hmm, was it yellow fin tuna? Melted in the mouth. The also had various rolls, which we had watched being made earlier in the evening. One of the highlights was fresh, real wasabi root grated on a sharkskin covered board. Plus beautifully briny raw oysters, tempura vegetables, fried rock shrimp and one other goodie I couldn’t figure out. It was heaven.
Returning to our table, the next course continued the seafood orgy with Wild King Salmon and Giant Scallops with a Ragout of Dungeness Crab Fry Legs, Green Olives,
Thyme and a Pinot Noir-Blood Orange Glaze. I really enjoyed the creaminess of the seared, sliced scallop, the contrast of the salty green olives against the meaty sweetness of the Dungeness fry legs (there are few things more beautiful than a large sauté pan filled with whole bits of fry leg meat and flecks of green olive), and the pinot noir blood orange glaze. The pairing offered with this course was 2006 Mount Aukum Rhone White Blend, El Dorado County ($38). A blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viogner and Grenache Blanc from the Fairplay appellation, this wine was lovely and crisp, but we didn’t think it was a good match with the dish. I wanted something with a bit more weight, and thought longingly of the Orogeny Pinot Noir or another light to medium bodied red.
By the time they brought out the Walnut Scented Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin with a Confit of Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Foie Gras, Roasted Cabernet Reduction, Shallots and 'Just Made' Béarnaise I was feeling fairly full. We passed on the suggested pairing of 2002 Marshall Cellars Napa Cab Sauv, Beckstoffer Vineyard ($60) and instead enjoyed the not-yet-released 2005 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon*, which after a couple of hours in the decanter, was beginning to show well. The beef had been grilled over walnut, but I didn’t detect much walnut flavor. After a few delicious bites I asked to have it boxed up. Reheated a day later, it was a delicious combination of flavors and textures, with good beefy flavor. Mmm. It was better than I had remembered.
I managed to make room for dessert, which consisted of Britni's Donuts and Cinnamon Rolls, Coffee Ice Cream 'Brulée' and Salted Pecan Brittle. The only element of this dish I can’t recall are the cinnamon rolls, but this is the type of combination that I love (coffee, caramel, salt and spice). The suggested pairing - MV Warre’s Otima Ten Year Old Tawny Port ($40 bottle) – tasted a bit rough and young to me. We ordered a plate of just donuts, and dunked in the port made the port softer. These were tiny, yeasty donuts deliciously reminiscent of the donuts my Mom made when I was a child.
Following the meal, the birthday girl and I crowded into the demonstration kitchen to select an herbal infusion. They set out a tray loaded with fresh herbs, wild honey and flavorful spices, and you can either create your own combo or select from one of theirs. We simply asked the tea mistress what her favorite flavor was, and she replied that she had two favorites; one more spicy and sweet, the other more herbal and citrusy. We asked for a pot of each and it was a calming, restorative end to the meal. We lingered over the infusions, talking and laughing, and suddenly everyone else was gone and it was time to go.
It was another truly amazing evening, and we will definitely be back. While $125 per person may not be cheap, coming from the Napa Valley, I think it is a tremendous value for what you get. On both visits I have felt the first course overshadowed the second course. I have also felt their wine pairings to be hit or miss, but their list is good and reasonably priced. However, as much as I love wine with my food, next time I may just skip it so I can truly focus on the food.
(* Full disclosure: I work for Revana Family Vineyard in the Napa Valley, owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana, also owns Alexana Vineyard in Oregon.)