Creating and serving an individual dish, whether it be an appetizer, salad, a main course, side or dessert, takes a certain amount of knowledge and skill. Putting all these different elements into a well balanced and harmonious meal takes real experience, and at times, reveals the touch of an artist. Recently I enjoyed such a meal prepared by personal chef Raul Salinas.
I first met Raul as a fellow diner, over a meal we shared at the Hidden Kitchen here in Sacramento last summer. He was at the other end of the table, so I didn't have much chance to interact with him. I was intrigued to learn that he was a professional chef and wondered what sort of fare he would have delivered to accompany the great wines he had brought to share. Little did I know I would soon have the chance to find out for myself when visiting the Quixote Winery in Napa a couple of weeks ago.
Raul himself is a quiet man, somewhat reserved on first impression. Even if I had sat next to him, rather than several seats away at that Hidden Kitchen dinner where we met, I suspect he would have let me do most of the talking while he observed, listened, poured a little wine and let his good taste do the talking.
It is axiomatic that the food of a chef will, like any other art form, reflect something of his or her character and personality. The lunch I enjoyed at Quixote was the beginning of my learning that on a new and experiential level. Raul's meal was perfectly composed of fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, with an amazing depth of flavor and understated elegance.
And, If the meal reflects the man, there is a certain humility revealed when a chef has the wisdom to refrain from culinary razzle dazzle, and rely instead on simple good ingredients, perfectly prepared. Here was our menu that day:
A starter of farm fresh eggs, from the neighbor of our host who has been raising the eggs organically for thirty years. The eggs were simply boiled and sliced, garnished with a few grains of kosher salt, and were the best I have ever eaten in my life. A lesser chef would have felt compelled to dress them in some superfluous way. Raul had the good taste to let them speak for themselves.
The salad woke up our taste buds, very lightly dressed, waltzing with persimmons and walnuts. Now he really had our attention.
The main course consisted of beef short ribs that had been marinated in a reduction of (what else?) the host's wine. It was meltingly tender, deep ebony in color, rich in flavor, and spectacularly delicious.
The beef was accompanied by a warm pilaf of barley and winter squash. It was the perfect foil to the intensely flavored meat, with it's own earthy textures and rustic flavors.
There were also braised brussels sprouts, one of my personal favorites. They were perfect, without a trace of bitterness.
The dessert featured was a warm apple cobbler topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. It was just the right note to conclude a very satisfying meal.
I am not one who has dined out much, nor tasted widely of the world. However I know a great meal when I have one, and Raul's lunch hovers near the top of my list. A meal to remember, from a young and talented chef. I don't know what his professional ambitions are, but I suspect Raul has got the chops to set his course and make it happen. I feel blessed to have been at the table for a taste.