Sunday, May 11, 2008
When I am writing a review of a restaurant and I have mixed comments I always wonder whether to start with the good or the bad. On the one hand, the bad always colors the rest of the review and if there is something spectacular I don't always want that overshadowed. On the other hand, I wouldn't want any of my 2 readers to feel that a failure on the part of the restaurant was dismissable. As I sit here and consider our Mother's Day Eve meal at the Saddle Peak Lodge, I am weighing how I want this review to be read, and what I want my 2 readers to take away from the review. Because literally every single morsel that entered my mouth was so sublime, I decide to lead with what worked last night. The food worked.
The first food brought to our table was an amuse-bouche, a pureed roast tomato soup. I could have licked the inside of the cup. Other diners were served theirs in a test tube-like container. They must not own enough to have one for everyone when the restaurant is full. I like to think that the demi-tasse actually provided me with more soup than the schmantzy test tube. Deep thoughts.
For starters, we shared two orders of the Santa Barbara spotted prawns with grilled ramps (the culinary equivalent of the Snuffaluffagus) on a bed of lovingly olive oil dressed arugula. Ramps? Always lovely. Prawns? Grilled just right, tender and butterflied for easy access. But the stand out flavor in that appie was the high quality olive oil on the arugula.
For mains, both D and Mom ordered the flat iron steak. The components of this dish were both creative and toothsome. However, the three components seemed like separate dishes, as opposed to one unified offering. But still, so SO good. Quebracho wood grilled prime angus flat iron steak, cooked to perfection. They do not make the mistake of undercooking the meat at Saddle Peak like the kitchen does at many carnivorous restaurants. It was served with a marrow bone. (D gave me his, he is afraid of anything this exotic.) The marrow had been taken out and mixed with a touch of pureed potato, stirred to a whipped consistency, then poured back into the bone. We were thoughtfully provided a spoon to scoop out this wonderful liquid, but the spoons should have been smaller or my tongue should have been longer, as I couldn't quite get every last droplet. Also on the plate was a creamed swiss chard, which I thought a stellar choice to replace the ubiquitous steakhouse creamed spinach. The texture is heartier and the flavor more robust than spinach, yet still has the same effect on the plate. The Yukon potato, bacon and comte terrine was basically layers of potato, bacon and cheese. Nom.
On my supper plate was the Chef’s wild game trio. Moving from left to right, elk, quail and buffalo. Although I was informed my dish did not come with sides, each of the three were well accompanied with the following: elk paired with wild mushrooms, quail atop pureed potatoes, buffalo with spinach. Perfection. This dish, moreso than the flat iron steak, seemed like a complete piece as opposed to separate components. I ordered it cooked to the chef's suggestion, medium-rare, and found medium-rare at Saddle Peak to be exactly to my liking whereas in many steakhouses medium-rare is a touch too bloody for me. I ate everything on my plate except the quail bones.
All of our food was splendiforous. The setting was so lovely. We were escorted to a patio table under the trees without asking.
A heat lamp was provided at exactly the right temperature to keep us warm but not too toasty. We watched the sun set over the Calabasas hills, and enjoyed the warm glow from inside the beautiful dining room after dark.
I hate to malign such a wonderful experience with complaints and negativity so I will keep it brief. Our server sucked. It was never the message that she gave that sucked so much as the method of delivery. She was short to the point of rudeness and informative in a darn close to hostile manner. From start to finish, I was shocked that she has a job at Saddle Peak or anywhere else where they clearly care so much about their diner's experience. This review is an interesting juxtaposition of the review of Providence. I found the food at Providence during my recent visit unremarkable, but the service made the experience so wonderful I will surely overlook the lackluster food and visit again soon. And also here, angry, inattentive and deceptive service will not keep me away from Saddle Peak. If I am approached by the same server next time I will simply ask for another. Saddle Peak is not to be missed on any possible opportunity to dine there. My only regret is that it is too far away to pop in for a casual mid-week meal, and that the bar area is really too small to eat in.