The three-year-old, eco-friendly resort is one of only a handful of hotels in the world to be LEED platinum certified, the highest standard for environmental design. It’s always been a hotel of great beauty and thoughtful attention to detail. But it’s struggled to have a restaurant truly worthy of its surroundings and on par with the other world-class dining establishments just steps away.
Opening Executive Chef Sean O’Toole did a fantastic job, but he departed in 2010. The restaurant was left rather rudderless — and it showed in the food — until the middle of 2011, when the talented Victor Scargle, formerly of Go Fish in St. Helena and Julia’s Kitchen in Napa, was hired.
To go along with the new chef, the restaurant got a complete overhaul, too. Formerly, you’d have to wind your way through the property to find the restaurant. Now, there’s a new door at the front of the hotel that clearly leads you to Lucy, the restaurant named for the matriarch of the Bardessono family who once owned this swath of former farmland.
I had a chance to dine as a guest under each of the restaurant’s chef changes. A few weeks ago, I was invited back to check out Chef Scargle’s new menu.
The dining room used to be one unencumbered room done up in elegant, golden earth tones and tables made from reclaimed wood. It’s much different now — bathed in deep purples and dark grays with hard-edged metal light fixtures, giving it more of a trendy hotel vibe. Low wood partitions wrap around some of the seating areas to provide a bit more privacy, but can make it difficult for servers to notice when diners need something.
The menu makes liberal use of the produce that’s grown on the grounds in “Lucy’s Garden,” as well as other sustainable and organic ingredients. It is divided into “Garden,” “Ocean” and “Range.” Some of the dishes are available in full or half portions, a nice touch for those who want to try many different things.
Dinner starts with an amuse. That night it was a shot glass of chilled cauliflower leek soup. Bread is served with organic butter flecked with black lava salt.
I started with the lovely “Freshly Dug Carrot Salad” ($13). Five types of carrots were featured every which way — confit, fried, shaved and even with their feathery fronds. The curry shallot dressing brought out the natural sweet, earthiness of the carrots.
My husband, cognizant of the fact that California will ban foie gras starting July 1, zeroed in on the seared Sonoma Artisan foie gras ($20) with buttery brioche Charlotte. Its richness was tempered by a roasted apricot puree and fresh mulberries.
Next, we shared the Maryland soft shell crab ($19) done up with an Asian vibe with cucumber “noodles,” pineapple guava grown on site, and a hot and sour vinaigrette. The cucumber went a little limp under the heat of the crab and the weight of the vinaigrette. Maybe green papaya would have been a better choice, as its sturdier texture would have held up better.
Since I had to get my own fix of foie before it was too late, I decided on the pan-roasted Alaskan halibut ($35). The moist fish, seared beautifully on top, was sauced with foie gras butter, which lent depth and rich earthiness almost like a demi glace would. But the flavor was far more special than that. Fava beans, English peas, artichokes and ramps — all cooked nicely al dente, rounded out the dish.
My husband’s “Don Watson Milk Fed Lamb” was the priciest dish on the menu at $44. Sauteed fava leaves gave a burst of bright color to the dish, which was otherwise monotone with lamb loin slices, lamb sweetbreads and a ravioli filled with braised lamb leg and shoulder meat. The dish had rustic appeal, but some folks might be put off by the amount of chewy silverskin on the loin. In this still lethargic economy, it’s hard for a restaurant to justify pricing a dish that steep unless it’s at a high-end steakhouse serving prime and Wagyu beef. For this lamb dish to pull off that price point, it needs more refinement and finesse.
The cheese plate ($17) featured Cowgirl Creamery’s washed rind triple cream, Red Hawk; Fiscalini cloth-bound cheddar; and an unusual orange-hued Red Rock cheddar-blue cheese. They were paired with honeycomb, from the on-site bee hives.
For dessert, there was a thick butterscotch pot de creme ($11) that hid a surprise layer of chocolate on the bottom.
Bardessono may still have a ways to go to compete with its vaunted neighbors. But it’s making strides. No doubt Scargle, who has helmed well-regarded restaurants in the past, will be up to the task of making it true destination dining.