Michelin-Starred Madcap Turns 6 Years Old
When Madcap opened in 2017 in San Anselmo, I considered its then eight-course $80 tasting menu a bargain.
Fast forward to six years later when I dined a few weeks ago, and that opinion still holds. The price tag may have risen to $140, but it’s still quite reasonable in the world of lofty tasting menus.
Especially when you consider that the restaurant’s owner and executive chef is Ron Siegel, who was not only on the opening team of the French Laundry, but went on to head the kitchens at San Francisco landmarks Charles Nob Hill, Masa’s, Michael Mina, and the Ritz-Carlton. Not to mention that he triumphed as the first American chef to trounce an “Iron Chef” on the original Japanese cooking competition show.
Madcap is a warm and welcoming family affair with Siegel’s wife Kimberly running the front of the house, and son Dillon now director of wine and beverages.
The tasting menu has expanded to about 10 courses, not counting an array of snacks at the start and sweets at the end. An optional wine pairing is $100. There’s usually a supplemental course or two offered, as well.
Like the French Laundry, most dishes are one, two or three bites — just enough to rev the palate without tiring it, and allowing the diner to experience a wide range of dishes. Siegel’s time in Japan had a lasting impact on his cooking, imbuing it with a reverence for those singular ingredients and flavors, which can be found throughout his tasting menu.
Dinner starts with snacks. On this evening that included shot glasses of warm, soothing miso clam soup, or in my case a shiso miso version (owing to my clam allergy) that had a lovely citrusy-mint lilt; a delicate, crisp, and savory cannoli filled with corn puree, apple gel, and smoked trout that was all at once sweet, smoky, salty, creamy, and crispy; and steamed buns sandwiching napa cabbage slaw and pork belly so succulent that juice squirted out at the first bite.
A taste of the last days of summer arrived in a dish perfect for anyone who’s vegan, with creamy cashew cheese drizzled with basil oil and finished with the thinnest sliver of white nectarine and a crisp crouton.
Next, what could very well be my new favorite snack: shrimp wrapped in shiso leaf, then fried tempura-style until impossibly airy and crisp. Dip the morsel into the garlic, peanut, and soy sate sauce, and you’ll wish you had another six on your plate.
The next morsel rivaled that one — a maki-like roll made of thinly sliced cucumber that held finely diced, rich tasting, Southern California bluefin tuna. Dip in into the sweet-tart umeboshi sauce for a clean, refreshing bite that sings.
I opted for the supplemental course that night, Kaluga caviar crowning crispy skinned mackerel with onion puree alongside indulgent buttery potato with creme fraiche ($30).
Brickmaiden bread from Point Reyes Station arrived warm and crusty with butter.
For the next course, heirloom tomatoes and basil showed up two different ways: first, a vivid tomato soup with burrata and Thai basil that tasted so fully of vine-ripened summer heirlooms; and a tomato salad with burrata and dehydrated olives that added an almost tapenade taste, along with large leaves of Thai basil that cast its beautiful fragrance and flavor across everything.
Speaking of aroma, you’re sure to smell the next course even before it lands on the table. That’s because of the unmistakable, intense maple syrup-like bouquet of candy cap mushrooms that permeate the spuma with miso and lemongrass that covers the soft, oozy Jidori egg. A buttered toast point comes alongside, making this the most elevated version of egg soldiers.
Japanese shimi aji is a mainstay at Madcap. Served as sashimi, it gets a playful garnish of a radish cut into a fish shape, along with shiso gel, yuzu gel, and a bequiling Syrah grape sauce that plays up the taste of the fresh fig slice garnish.
Eggplant, both stewed and roasted, star in the Ora king salmon dish with skin as crisp as a potato chip. The dish appears deceptively light and delicate. Yet its dashi broth couldn’t be more robust tasting with a powerhouse of umami,
Tortelloni are another staple at Madcap, one that I always look forward to because of the thin, supple pasta sheets that hide a juicy filling of flavorful duck. With a chanterelle and miso broth, it’s Italian meets Japanese.
Dry-aged Flannery ribeye signals the last savory course, with creamy butter beans and a swipe of romesco sauce. The beef arrives wonderfully crusted on the outside, and with a taste that fills your mouth entirely.
Dessert is an airy brown sugar mousse cake with apple cider gel and mascarpone sorbet. A play on a classic Okinawan black sugar cake, it’s light yet so expressive.
Superb canneles follow, crusty on the outside and impossibly custardy within, with that delectable burnt sugar taste throughout.
The final treat are caramels and chocolates, already neatly wrapped up to take home — along with the lasting memory of a truly fine meal.