By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
Meritage is a relatively new restaurant in a time-honored space of the historical Claremont Hotel Club & Spa. The old continues to dazzle with a view of San-Francisco’s treasure box of a skyline at sunset; posh ambience with crystal chandeliers and potted palms; and inevitably bittersweet nostalgic feeling that the Classical Revival 100-year-old white-walled hotel atop the city of Berkeley seems to emanate.
The new brings to the table some spectacular pairings of California wine and cuisine, delivered by the new Chef de Cuisine Scott Quinn, Pastry Chef Janine Fong, Food & Beverage Director Sean Hubbard, and backed by the Meritage General Manger Frederic Zerah.
Let me recreate for you the sublime ecstasy of perfect flavor combinations in a chef’s tasting menu comprised of all the regular a la carte items and paired with artisanal small production wines.
Canape: Bacon wrapped Medjool dates. The aroma of crispy bacon over overly-sweet caramelized date is intoxicating. It is contrasted by a teaspoonful of creamy Maytag blue cheese, a tiny wad of pickled red onions, and micro greens.
First course: Champagne poached pear salad. In bright yellow, green, and magenta the sweet pear slice comes with succulent endive, whole Marcona almonds, a radish coin, and a sprig of mache salad. A rainbow of textures as well as colors, it is complimented by the sparkling Domaine Carneros “Le Reve” Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, 2006.
Second course: Roasted baby beet salad. The colors are unbelievable. The taste is divine. I know my beets, I come from a beet country, but I could never imagine this humble root to be elevated to the royal status of a rare delicacy. Chef Quinn did it – with the help of the freshest Prosciutto di Parma, plump pistachios, and “Di Bruno” Sanford and Benedict, pinot grigio Santa Rita Hills, 2010. The earthiness of the beets is elevated by the pinot grigio. It doesn’t sound likely, but it works.
Third course: Yellowfin tuna tartar. Ruby-red cubes of row fish make a jewel-like display alongside the garnet-red blood orange and fire opal-hued tangerine slices. The entire composition is sprinkled with edible flowers and bright flakes of espelette. Mild tuna and sharp citrus play against the bitterness of peppers and crisp tartness of wine.
Paired with Duckhorn Vineyards sauvignon blanc, Napa, 2011.
Fourth course: Maine sea scallops. The plumpest carefully browned scallop is resting on a bed of creamed quinoa, mixed with cauliflower, and topped with giant golden raising and micro greens.
The entire thing is bursting with freshness and at the same time comfortably soft and mild, encircled by a golden ring of Sonoma olive oil, and paired with Barnett-Sangiacomo Vineyard chardonnay, Carneros, 2011.
Fifth course: Oxtail rillette. A neat miniature rectangular of compressed oxtail meat is covered with a thin but tastefully pronounced layer of fragrant persimmon gelee and flanked on one side by wonderfully-oily toasted baguette crusts, and on the other – by a motley crew of house-made pickles.
Paired with wild, bold, deep, and full-bodied Chimney Rock cabernet sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa, 2007.
Sixth course: Sonoma duck breast. Juicy and medium-rare, a thick slice of the duck breast has delightfully crispy skin and is garnished with a slice of Cara Cara orange, a leaf of grilled Belgian endive, and a tad of parsnip puree for a heavenly contrast in texture.
Paired with Kokumi, pinot noir, Sonoma Coast, 2010. This rare pinot noir’s name means “food and wine harmony” in Japanese, and the entire course couldn’t have a better fitting name.
Dessert: “Elvis” bread pudding. Created by the Pastry Chef Janine Fong, this little masterpiece is served with a slice of caramelized banana, a scoop of peanut butter ice cream, and crispy bits of maple-syrup cured bacon. The King would’ve loved that!
Paired with the addictive Arrowood late harvest Riesling, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, 2007.
Needless to say, the service at Meritage is as graceful and polished as everything else – a combination of the old charm and the new efficiency.
When planning your visit to Meritage at the Claremont, as I do now, keep in mind the upcoming Berkeley Wine Festival 2013, which will be held here from March 16 through May 24 showcasing wines from Sonoma, Napa, and Central Coast. Founder Daniel Bruce has invited ten wineries to participate. Dishes for each winery dinner will be created by Chef Scott Quinn. More information at: www.claremont-hotel.com and www.berkeleywinefestival.com