Tuesday | January 16, 2018
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Let’s Talk Food: Following the Michelin stars

Last week, I wrote about how a restaurant obtains a Michelin star. The restaurant must be on the cutting edge of new food trends and have a relentless pursuit of excellence combined with a drive to push the envelope. Only then would a restaurant be noticed by a Michelin inspector.

The first Michelin-recommended restaurant, Orchard City Kitchen, by our standards, certainly qualified in the quality-of-food category. It was packed and, I thought, noisy. However, that’s the sign that it is busy and packed with young, Silicon Valley-type folks. Some were tables of eight, celebrating an occasion; others were on a date. The waitress was attentive, gave great suggestions and was friendly. Having great wait staff makes a great difference in one’s dining experience and is certainly a consideration in obtaining a Michelin star.

Orchard City Kitchen is in Hamilton, which is located in California’s Silicon Valley. Similar to izakaya-style dining, it consisted of selecting small plates for communal dining. It was great because we were able to sample many dishes. The menu was divided into vegetables, cheeses, meat, fish and BBB, which were biscuits, bacon and honey butter.

I love to order this way as it gives you the opportunity to try many dishes instead of just one entree.

We ordered the half-grilled artichoke with bagna cauda mayo. The artichokes were super fresh, (the artichoke capital, Castroville, is a stone’s throw away) tender and the smokiness of the grill boosted the flavors further. The summer squash blossoms, seared baby squash, smoked tomato coulis, huge slices of summer truffles and salsa umbria were excellent and decadent.

For the meat course, we ordered smoked duck breast, corn pudding, farro, sherry vinegar gastric and compressed melon; KFC, or Korean fried chicken, green onion, sweet heat with crispy garlic; and pork ribs with broccoli di cicco and stonefruit, mae ploy, sunflower seeds, cumin, coriander and Thai basil. Fish course items were hamachi tataki with truffled garlic puree, pickled cherries and cucumber with chili oil and seared Hokkaido scallops with black garlic puree, mashed edamame, crisp wonton and lemon confit.

Dessert consisted of a savory carrot cake with a goat cheese cream cheese frosting and coconut soft serve ice cream with caramelized pineapple, black sesame seeds, macadamia nuts and arbaquina olive oil.

It sounds like a lot, but they were all small plates, and it gave us the opportunity to taste so many dishes. Each dish was well-thought out, the service was excellent, ingredients fresh and in season and all worthy of a Michelin star.

It did not receive a star in the Michelin Guide 2017, but this is what Michelin inspectors said about Orchard City Kitchen:

“Jeffrey Stout at the helm of this international small-plate spot, which has been getting a level of buzz that radiates far beyond it’s humble shopping center environs. Polished yet casual with a big front bar and patio, a meal here is best enjoyed with a group — so come prepared to max off the menu.”

The second Michelin-recommended restaurant was Casanova Restaurant at Carmel by the Sea.

The building was built about 1920 for Aunty Fairy and Tom Bird, who lived there till 1976. She was a cook for Charlie Chaplin and was known for her peach pie. In 1977, the Georis family purchased the house and the Casanova restaurant was created. In 1987, they excavated under the restaurant to build a wine cellar. In 2003, a room was remodeled to house the Van Gogh Table, where Van Gogh ate his daily meals while boarding at the Auberge Ravoux in France. Besides having a Michelin star, Casanova is known as the Carmel’s most romantic restaurant.

Classified as a French and Italian restaurant, I ordered the Moules Frites, and when the pot of mussels arrived it brought me back to the wonderful meals I remembered from Paris. The mussels were cooked in white wine, garlic, leek and butter and were done perfectly.

My husband, Jim, ordered seafood fettucini. The mussels, clams and shrimp were cooked perfectly and the sauce, a creamy pesto, went perfectly with the housemade pasta. That dish reminded Jim of a wonderful seafood pasta dish in Capri, Italy. Our son, Reid, ordered the creamy grits with shrimp and scallops, which was excellent.

Our third Michelin star restaurant, Vung Tau Restaurant, located in San Jose, is known for its homemade sauces and authentic flavors.

The tofu in the goi cuon, or tofu spring rolls, was fried to a golden brown, wrapped tightly with sprigs of green onions sticking out at the ends. They were served with a wonderful housemade dipping sauce.

Banh khot, or crispy shrimp “cupcakes,” were a must to order and when we observed Vietnamese families on adjacent tables also ordering this dish, we knew we made the right choice. It was served with ram-ram leaves, mint, Thai basil and lettuce. We watched as the experienced ate the cupcakes and knew we did it incorrectly. We tried to eat the cupcake with a whole piece of lettuce, but the proper way was to tear a piece of lettuce and eat them with some ram-ram, mint and basil. The cupcakes were made of coconut flour, which made them gluten-free. It was a wonderful dish.

The caramelized catfish in clay pot, ca bong lau, was in a tamarind sauce and was very tasty, with complex flavors.

Ca tuyet chien sot Thai, or sea bass fillet, was batter-fried with a sauce of mushrooms, onions and red peppers and topped with cilantro sprigs. The flavors were excellent.

Rau muong, or morning glory, was stir-fried, done simply but delicious.

If there were more of us, we could have ordered a couple of more dishes, but we certainly had enough to eat.

It was a great experience to search for Michelin-recommended restaurants, and after the wonderful service, ambience and cuisine, it makes you really appreciate what goes into achieving a Michelin star.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.


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