Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Madera: Sneak Peek

Chef Peter Rudolph
Pity the poor venture capitalists. Most of their investments end up being a bust. Relegated to the wasteland that is Sand Hill Road, they have nowhere nearby to commiserate over a beer let alone celebrate, on those rare occasions when everything goes according to plan. Well you can stop feeling sorry for them starting April 2nd when Madera at Rosewood Sand Hill opens.

I had the privilege of attending a preview lunch yesterday and got a chance to chat with the Executive Chef Peter Rudolph and Wine Director, Paul Mekis. Their enthusiasm was a joy to behold as were the food and wine pairings. I had mixed feelings about the food at Campton Place under Rudolph. Sometimes it hit the mark other times it missed it completely. But everything I tasted yesterday was spot on.

First up, an oak smoked warmed Hog Island sweetwater oyster with cucumber, avocado and fromage blanc. The herbal vegetal flavors played off the barely smoky oyster and was an inspired combination. It was perfect with sparkling wine. Madera will have a Champagne cart and included on it will always be at least one grower produced Champagne.

A tender piece of octopus was well seasoned and surrounded by vegetables, a nice contrast from the typical Spanish style plating with potatoes.

Arctic char
Next a take on "surf and turf", smoked arctic char with artichokes, crispy veal sweetbreads topped with tarragon. This was one of Rudolph's signature dishes at Campton Place and it's a keeper.

Farro stew
Rudoph explained his own meal choices have leaned towards more vegetables these days and it was clear from the farro, mushroom and vegetable stew with oak grilled leeks. The chewy farro with the crunch of walnuts was hearty and satisfying and the vegetables and plump mushrooms were fresh and full of flavor. Vegetarians and meat eaters would be happy with this dish, it's by no means an afterthought and might just become a signature dish.

Kurobuta pork
The Kurobuta pork chop from Snake River was brined and grilled over black oak then served with beans, mushrooms and a bread dumpling wrapped in cabbage. The pork chop may have been the best I have ever eaten. Really. It was intensely flavorful and perfectly cooked. It had more smoky flavor than most of the other dishes which was fitting. The dumplings were tender and had bits of vegetables inside them, frankly I thought they could have been a side dish or main dish on their own instead of a garnish on an already full plate but that's a minor quibble.

Ricotta cheesecake
I'd be remiss in not mentioning how well the dessert fit with the rest of the meal. The pastry chef Shannon Swindle is diabetic and perhaps that influences his less sweet and more adult desserts. The serving of delicate vanilla flecked ricotta cheese cake was creamy but not overly sweet, accented by grilled fruits and a few caramelized nuts.

The wine list has over 600 wines and over 100 are Pinot Noir, a good wine to pair with gently smoked and grilled dishes. The list is impressive and the mark up reasonable, ranging from 2 to 2 1/2 times retail. It features lots of interesting French choices some familiar and others less so. You can view a sample of the wine list here.

While there is no set tasting menu, you can arrange to have as many courses as your would like and to have wines paired with them as well. Rustic but refined in it's food and decor, the restaurant fits well with the surrounding rolling hills and it's easy to imagine the energy you will feel when it's filled with deal makers and holiday takers, even just those sneaking away for a leisurely lunch...

2825 Sand Hill Road
Menlo Park CA

Opens April 2, 2009