Monday, August 27th, 2012
Madrona Manor, the demure Victorian bed and breakfast tucked among the vineyards of Westside Road, has stars in its eyes. And Michelin is written all over them.
As Sonoma County’s most critically-acclaimed restaurant, Cyrus, prepares to serve its last meal in October, Madrona’s executive chef Jesse Mallgren (who has won a single star since 2008) is bringing together a culinary all-star team that includes a new pastry chef, food and beverage manager and mixologist, in addition to his own proven talents in modernist Wine Country cuisine.
BiteClub got a look at the team in action this week, as Madrona Manor officially launched its new lounge program — a combination of artisan cocktails, luxe desserts and by-the-plate dishes from the dining room menu — that’s part of a longer term game plan to fill the Cyrus void and bring a new generation of diners to the Manor.
Here’s our look inside their 2012 playbook:
– Luxe Libations for Less: You don’t often get Prada for a Payless price, but top shelf artisan cocktails for $11? New mixologist Pam Bushling’s a brainy bartender with a science degree and a passion for small producer/importers like Petaluma’s Tempus Fugit who make a coveted violet liqueur. Drinks include the Lola, a sexier margarita with watermelon, tequila, mezcal, lime and Hawaiian lava salt rim; a herbaceous basil-infused gimlet and the Casagrande, Makers Mark with ginger-infused syrup, estate made limoncello and Bundaberg ginger beer. And we’re just saying, she’s got a way with hard-slapping those herbs.
– Dessert Accompli: The Manor’s liquid nitrogen ice cream cart is nifty, but a one-time wonder. New pastry chef Emmanuel “Manny” Fimbrez is a 28-year-old confectionary wunderkind from SF’s tony Saison. Like Mallgren, he loves deconstructed dishes that mix whimsy, texture, temperature and flavors in surprising ways. Unfettered by a dessert menu (his are included in the tasting menu), he isn’t shackled to brownie sundaes and lava cakes, instead offering a lacquered brioche beehive filled with sweetened sheep’s milk cheese, honey and topped with shattered “milk glass”. Sound complicated? It is. And that’s the point. You can eat Oreo’s and pudding pops at home. We loved his frozen “cookie milk”, rice-infused ice cream and bouche de noelish “Chocolate”. See pix below…
– Lounge Menu: The restaurant’s $85 tasting menu is still a steal by most upscale Wine Country restaurant standards, but the a la carte lounge menu features many of the dining room’s dishes including Suzuki Crudo with local uni, fresh wasabi and bean flowers ($13), basil steamed lobster ($17), seared Japanese mackerel ($12) or grilled dry aged beef with mung bean risotto and fennel pollen ($24), along with cheese courses and desserts ($12) available on their picturesque porch or small interior lounge. Manage your expectations: This isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet, but little nibbles of precise, carefully crafted dishes from Mallgren’s kitchen.
– Stuff the Stuffy: The fresh, young team at Madrona are decidedly unstuffy, though they can certainly button it up for more starched clientele. They’re quick to point out, however, there’s no dress code (we’re comfortable if you’re comfortable is their motto), diners are invited to walk around the kitchen gardens and sprawling landscape, and Mallgren has even left a space on the menu described as “previously occupied by a foie gras dish”. You’re welcome to interpret it however you’d like. Five courses too much fun? The bed and breakfast has 22 well-appointed rooms should you need a place to crash after your four-hour meal.
– The Garden: Nearly every multi-starred chef has their own culinary garden, and Mallgren has one of the prettiest we’ve seen. Estate-grown produce including pears, herbs, berries, tomatoes and citrus make up about 20 percent of the total menu.
Want to check it out? Madrona Manor, 1001 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, (707) 433-4231. www.madronamanor.com
The Lounge Menu is served Wednesday through Sunday from 6pm until around 9pm (cocktails start at 4pm). The dining room is open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner, beginning at 6pm, with reservations strongly recommended.
One note: Keep in mind this isn’t a bar, but a small interior lounge and outdoor patio seats at a bed and breakfast, so it’s not the place for your bachelorette party. More like a pre-dinner cocktail with your sweetie. The inn is sometimes booked by large parties, and therefore closed to the public, so call ahead to make sure they’re open.