Right now is the sweet spot of the citrus season in Placer County. The Auburn Farmers’ Market is laden with lemons, orange, kumquats and tons more. . .though Mandarins are on the way out. So Chef Alexander is jumping on the opportunity to create another tantalizing menu for one week only, “A Tart & Tangy Citrus-Palooza,” from February 23 to 28. Cost is $59.95++ per person; call 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com for reservations. . .that are an absolute must on weekends.
As our custom over the last four years, I sat down with Chef for a blow-by-blow review of each of the four courses that comprise this feast (with choices and vegetarian options). There are some very complex preparations and oddball citrus in the line up (cara cara orange, for example), which lead to a protracted and challenging conversation. No worries, I’m happy to do whatever I can to help simplify decision making for our beloved customers.
Here you go. . .start salivating:
First Course (choice of one):
Dungeness “Crab Cake” (Brioche, Blood Orange, Avocado, Radish, Cilantro Shoots): This is actually a “faux” crab cake because there is no mayonnaise used in preparing the salad. Chef starts by removing the brioche crust and then rolls it out thinly before cutting into round pieces to fit the shape of a ring mold. He prepares the salad with chunks of crab tossed with melted butter, egg yolk, bread crumbs and citrus zest (no mayo!). Plated with avocado aioli (pureed avocado and house made mayonnaise), blood orange segments, thinly shaved radish and micro cilantro shoots.
Grilled Monterey Squid (Buddha’s Head Citron, Green Papaya, Key Lime, Thai Basil, Peanut): The squid is seasoned and seared on a hot grill, cut into slices and then combined with shredded green papaya, Thai basil, shaved Buddha’s head citron (no juice is used from this very odd citrus, just the rind. . .marking the first appearance of this ingredient at Carpe Vino). This mixture is tossed in a dressing made from Key limes and fish sauce and then plated.
Burrata Cheese (Cara Cara Orange, Ruby Grapefruit, Chicories, Pistachio Butter): Burrata is a classic, fresh Italian cheese with a mozzarella curd shell and a rich creamy center. Chef constructs this dish with a base of pureed pistachio and extra virgin olive oil topped with a Burrata portion, ruby red grapefruit sections (from Eric’s farm) and cara cara orange segments (a red flesh navel orange). The dish is completed with chicories (a bitter green) piled on top.
Second Course (choice of one):
Purée of White Coco Bean Soup (Meyer Lemon, Fennel Pollen): As Carpe Vino regulars have come to appreciate, Chef Alexander’s soups are absolutely killer. Expect no less from this entry, made with fresh white coco beans from Provence. This is a simple preparation with complex flavors. Chef soaks and cooks the beans and purees with garlic, EVOO, stock and cream. He garnishes with thin shavings of Meyer lemon combined with EVOO infused with Meyer lemon. The mixture is dusted with dried fennel pollen.
Winter Citrus Salad (Beet Hummus, Spring Onion, Zaatar, Bergamot Scented Labneh): For what appears to be a straight forward salad, there is a ton going on in this Middle Eastern-inspired dish that starts with roasted red beets pureed with chickpeas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice to create a hummus that is layered on the plate. Chef arranges a “mélange” of citrus on top (basically everything on the menu in other dishes) and plates with bergamot (a citrus-scented oil) blended with labneh–yogurt that has been drained and thicken, then formed into balls which are rolled in “zaatar,” a mixture of dried herbs, sumac and sesame seeds.
Main Course (choice of one):
Seared Hawaiian Onaga (Shrimp Gyoza, Hakurei Turnip, Yuzu Kosho, Citrus Leaf Dashi): A quick look at the ingredients and the Japanese inspiration is crystal clear. Chef starts with portions of Hawaiian Onaga (also known as long tail red snapper), a white fish he pan roasts and serves on a bed of shrimp gyoza, house-made dumplings made from ground shrimp, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, scallions and soy sauce stuffed into wonton wrappers. Served in a bowl with dumplings and baby turnips on the bottom with yuzu (a variety of Japanese citrus from Pine Hill Orchard) kosho on top (a spicy Japanese condiment made with yuzu rind and jalapeno). “Dashi,” a flavorful broth made from kombu seaweed, bonito flakes (dried, salted, smoked fish) and fresh citrus leaves, is poured over the top.
Egg Rigatoni and Duck Confit Ragu (Caramelized Fennel, Olive, Pangrattato, Sauce A L’Orange): The core of this dish consists of three parts: a dried rigatoni pasta made from eggs; duck confit–cured and slow-cooked in duck fat; and sauce a l’orange, a French sauce made with reduced orange juice, Gran Marnier and veal stock. Chef combines a portion of cooked pasta with, caramelized fennel, black olive and duck confit ragu that he heats in the sauce a l’orange. The pasta is plated and then topped with pangrattato, bread crumbs that have been tossed in EVOO, browned and then combined with herbs and orange zest.
Roast Porchetta of Pork Ribs (Applewood Bacon, Parsnip, Brussels Sprouts, Kumquat Mostarda): Boneless baby back ribs are tied together, wrapped in applewood bacon and then roasted. Cut into slices, medallions are plated on a bed of parsnip purée, Brussels sprout leaves and fried parsnip chips. Kumquat halves are poached in white wine, sugar, spices, mustard seeds and mustard seed powdered that is reduced to create a condiment capable of cutting the richness of the pork with a sweet and savory kick.
Dessert Course (choice of one):
Buckwheat Chocolate Torte (Minneola Tangelo-Cardamom Ice Cream, Mandarin Marmalade): Pastry Chef Courtney McDonald has created two choices for a final stanza, the first of which is a flourless torte made from buckwheat (relax gluten intolerant. . .it’s a grass) that lends a nutty flavor. Beyond buckwheat, this dense, rich torte is comprised of chocolate, eggs and sugar. House-made ice cream is infused with Minneola-tangelo zest and juice along with a hint of cardamom.
Bearss Lime Cream Pie (Toasted Coconut, Candied Lime): Chef McDonald starts with a crust made from graham crackers, topped with lime curd (lime juice, sugar and egg yolks cooked until set). The pie is topped with whipped cream infused with coconut and coconut milk. The dish is finished with toasted coconut and candied lime zest. “Bearss” is spelled correctly and refers to the variety of local lime Chef has selected.
Hope to see you in the Friendly Confines for another magnificent prix-fixe!
gary, Drew & the Carpe Vino crew