Monday, February 20, 2006

Redd Wine Country

6480 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Chef Richard Reddington (formerly Auberge du Soleil and Chapeau)
Lunch Monday through Saturday
Brunch Sunday
Dinner nightly

REDD on Urbanspoon

Last tried: July 2009

Yountville has become so commercial and touristy that it is beginning to take on the artificial feel of Santana Row, and I was sad to discover that this new imprint has infected the atmosphere and cuisine of Redd. The previously subtle Asian undertones in the composition of the dishes have become clunky Asian fusion. The tasting menu portions are unappealingly large, as though the kitchen is attempting to make up in size what it has lost in finesse. Everything, including the wine list, appears to have turned more toward the direction of the kind of in-your-face luxury that would be more at home in the Vegas dining scene.

This style seems to be working for business though. Every corner of the dining room, including the bar area and the patio, was jam-packed.

Tried: February 2006

Redd is the new kid on the block of established institutions such as Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon, and the legendary French Laundry. With Chef Reddington's creativity and versatility, Redd is not only holding its own but a real contender in wine country dining. The restaurant is open and bright, with large windows and a patio encircling the outside. The clean white walls are accented with caramel-colored wood frames and floors, and the airy dining area feels like the spacious living room of a wine country home, with suspended wire light fixtures and retro-60's style chairs adding a modern feel.

This same mix of comfort and casual sophistication is reflected in Reddington's menu, ranging from clam chowder and roast chicken to foie gras, quail, and duck confit. Families with kids, young and old couples on dates, cyclists in their biking gear taking a break, people in suits conducting a business meeting, and wine country visitors looking for fine dining all seemed to be having a great time, whether sharing a crusty prosciutto pizza, reaching for bright green-white iceberg lettuce cups filled with generous heaps of stir-fried spicy chicken, digging into a large shrimp salad with avocado and bacon, or enjoying a leisurely tasting menu elegantly presented by the kitchen with the same finesse as those restaurants that do exclusively formal dining. This chef can do it all and he does it well. Even more impressive is the fact that Redd's tasting menu, available even at lunch, offers different dishes for each diner for most of the tasting menu. I am not sure how Reddington has the energy to do all this when the restaurant is open for lunch six days a week, dinner seven nights a week, plus Sunday brunch, but the diners are the lucky beneficiaries of his aspirations.

The first courses were raw fish offerings: yellowfin tuna carpaccio marinated in lemon oil, topped with half moon slices of beets, with thin crisp fresh radish disks and cilantro microgreens, accompanied by a drizzle of fragrant basil oil; and a ringmold tartare of maguro and hamachi, combined with crunchy sweet pieces of Asian pear and apple mustard dressing, on a bed of sticky rice, accented by chili oil and garnished with sesame seeds, chopped chives, and more cilantro. The radishes, beautifully presented in paper-thin slices, were crunchy and peppery. The red and yellow beets were as tasty and flavorful as they were colorful. Had the tuna carpaccio been fresher, it would have been perfect with the radishes, almost sugary beets, and accompanying fragrant basil oil. The tuna and hamachi tartare were also less than ideally fresh, even though the spicing was very well done, and the sticky rice underneath was mushy. I wished that the sticky rice had been pan-fried into a chewy patty or just left out altogether in favor of the toasted brioche sticks that came with the dish. With fresher fish, these preparations would have been incredible. But the wine pairing with these dishes, a Schramsberg rose sparkling wine and a Junmai Daiginjo sake, were lovely.

The next courses were seared scallops on a cauliflower puree with toasted almonds and a balsamic reduction, and tender, meaty slices of cod in a yellow curry sauce with chorizo and clams. Seared scallops are hardly exciting anymore, but when fresh and prepared well, I still appreciate them. The cauliflower puree was as smooth as whipped potatoes but with an added picquant flavor that complemented the scallops as well as the roasty, nutty taste of the toasted almonds. With a glass of 2002 Trimbach Pinot Gris, the combination was satisfying. A richer, oakier white wine, the 2000 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was paired with the cod preparation, which matched the meatiness of the fish, balanced out the spiciness of the curry, and the saltiness of the chorizo and clams. Each seemingly disparate element of this dish, tied together with the wine, came together to create a very pleasing, unified taste.

Things really started rocking with the next series of dishes. The butternut squash marscapone ravioli was rich and sweet, with just enough savory dimensions added by the brown butter sauce and ragout of dark greens. The gnocchi with wild mushrooms accompanied by a bit of duck confit meat as a garnish was novel and interesting, as well as delicious. The ultimate, however, was the pork belly with burdock root and soy caramel sauce. The kitchen had cooked the pork belly exactly to the point where it was meaty and soft without being overly fatty. The al dente julienned burdock root drenched in the soy caramel sauce added crunch, sweetness, and unbelievable flavor. The 2003 Parador Tempranillo from Napa had enough robust flavor and acidity to bring it all home.

Then came my perennial favorite: Foie Gras. Reddington definitely did the ingredient justice. Each of the preparations-- the soft terrine of foie gras dusted with a layer of crushed pistachios, foie gras cream on buttery, flaky puff pastry, and seared foie gras with apple puree, with a dash of freshness added by a sprig of frisee lettuce-- was dead on, hitting the right notes of richness, savoriness, texture, seasoning, and contrasting yet flattering accompaniments.

At this point, Reddington was on a roll. He followed the variations of foie gras with pan-fried skatewing on a bed of celery root and black truffle puree, surrounded by madeira jus, and monkfish with salsify ragout and a prosciutto emulsion, described on the menu as "saltimbocca" (the sage, white wine, and prosciutto flavors certainly jumped in my mouth). Both the skatewing and monkfish had been cooked precisely until it was soft and yielding to the fork but immediately taken off heat before getting tough. I also found the use of different root vegetables for the purees to be gratifying in that they allowed for different flavor combinations while reminding the diner of the familiar texture and comfort of potatoes. To match these very rich flavors, the young wine director of Redd, Chris Blanchard, very cleverly went with a 2003 Chateauneuf by Vieux Mas des Papes. The wine brought out the black truffles and highlighted the prosciutto and sage, without overwhelming the fish.

The final savory courses were beef tenderloin with a side of horseradish breadcrumb crusted braised short ribs, fingerling potatoes, and a Bordelaise sauce, and a pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes, roasted apples, and a mustard jus. The beef and short rib dish was incredibly opulent, especially with the thick swirl of sauce containing red wine, brown stock, and shallots. While each meat was prepared exactly right, it seemed that some of the individual flavors got lost. The pork tenderloin, however, was faultless. It had all of the satisfying and homey flavors of pork chops and apple sauce, but the extra-luxurious ingredients substituting in for the familiar elements elevated the dish from home cooking to chef's tasting menu. Even though we were beyond stuffed at this point, we ate every single bite.

To close, we had panna cotta with blood orange segments in a citrus basil bath, and banana cake with coconut ice cream. Although the citrus was a little overpowering, the panna cotta had that perfectly jiggly, creamy consistency of undercooked cheesecake batter, and the sweet custard was delectable. The banana cake was warm, sweet and moist, with a syrup-glazed top, and balanced nicely with the icy coconut ice cream.

I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny afternoon in Napa Valley than a decadent tasting menu dejeuner with wine at Redd.

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