Paso Robles, California, April 8, 2011—HALFWAY HOME: THE CENTRAL coast of California. We haven't been in this town for years, not since before a serious earthquake damaged it severely back in 2003. Since then it's more than recovered, apparently; it's become a major center of wine tourism. We had trouble finding a motel; we had trouble getting a dinner reservation.
But we succeeded on both counts. For dinner I had a delicous first course: barely cooked asparagus stalks, ranging from 3/16 to 3/8-inch diameter, dressed with good olive oil, blanced lemon zest, and shavings of Parmesan cheese — a fine and subtle combination I'll have to repeat at home this spring.
Next, a marvelous interpretation of a recipe I've always loved, rabbit and rabbit sausage. You can find this in Ada Boni's indispensible Italian Regional Cooking, where you're told to chop up the rabbit's organs with some pancetta, basil, salt and pepper — I'm doing this from memory, I may be forgetting something — and moisten it with white wine and olive oil, and stuff the rabbit with it before you roast it.
Tonight the rabbit sausage was in a coiled casing; the rabbit itself was cut into bite-sized pieces and cooked sous vide, Lindsey thinks, to make it extraordinarily soft, silky, moist, and succulent; and accompanied by cavatelli, little semolina pasta shapes, in a tomato-meat ragù flavored with pioppini, wild mushrooms.
This added up to one of the best meals of the last month, no question about it. Dessert wasn't up to the same level: three little crèmes brulées, flavored with vanilla, orange-blossom, and pistachio, unfortunately overcooked and thuddy; with a little Danish-style cookie, unfortunately hardly cooked at all.
Otherwise, an extremely good restaurant, with an interesting, thoughtful, locally focussed menu and wine list, professional and knowledgable service — but, this night anyway, an incredibly noisy dining room, the noisiest I think I've ever encountered.
Halter Ranch Roussane/Picpoul/Grenache Blanc/Marsanne "Côtes de Paso Blanc", 2010; Rosé, L'Aventure, Syrah/Cabernet sauvignon (70/30), 2010: both very interesting, professional, assured.
Artisan, 1401 Park Street, Paso Robles; 805.237.8084
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