Thursday, May 6, 2010

Away We Go: Enterprising Chef a Tour Guide for Experimental Pairings at Vintage Palm Springs Hideaway

I love to travel, and I tackle food and wine with that same indomitable spirit of adventure. Well sated, I came back from a recent visit to Citron, a vibrant, eclectic hideaway inside the Viceroy Palm Springs, with the feeling that I had completed a journey into culinary nirvana.  
The restaurant is draped in Hollywood Regency charm, which after meeting Executive Chef James Bailey, I realized is not just contained to the dining area. Bailey is a serious talent and not afraid to take chances. The inventive creations he dished out that evening included a trio of sweet corn demitasse (corn stock and puree with sea salt), cedar-wrapped salmon belly and a Kumamoto osyter topped with Yuzu Shiso granita- and that was just the amuse bouche.
That and a deliciously creamy poached egg yolk with brioche toast topped with Ossetra caviar were paired with a Non Vintage Brut Rose from Nicolas Feuillatte. This champagne has a beautiful effervescence with heady aromas of raspberry and strawberry, which went well with the briny oyster and delicate fish eggs.
A decadent treat came in the form of Sonoma foie gras with pistachio butter, 12-year aged balsamic, strawberries and brioche. Bailey stepped out of the box a bit by pairing this one with a Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat. Typically a wine served with dessert, its honeyed flavors married well with the richness of the foie gras and the acidity of the balsamic.
One of most colorful and fresh dishes I have ever enjoyed was Bailey's cucumber gazpacho with fresh heirloom tomatoes, pickled Serrano peppers and Dungeness crabmeat. A roadside farmer's market in a bowl, the soup's spicy and earthy flavors joined well with the stone fruit and steely smoothness of our 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.
Also paired with the Sauvignon Blanc was a beet salad with brown sugar walnuts, chervil and endive. Grilled shrimp with appled herb salad and summer truffles was served with a 2006 Cakebread Chardonnay, full of fruit with a buttery finish that matched well with the rich truffles.
Bailey paired a 2007 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir with his black trumpet mushroom-encrusted lamb, cooked sous vide with English Pea veloute and roasted mushroom jus. He and I agreed that the Pinot was a bit too light in body for the intensity of the lamb, but its exotic spices and notes of black cherry and chocolate did compliment the dish's bright flavors.
Moments later, I came to the realization that this same Pinot and our dessert, a strawberry soup with Greek yogurt panna cotta, Tahitian Vanilla and strawberry carpaccio, were pretty well matched. Not a pairing I would have conceived on my own, but then again, the night had been full of pleasantly unexpected unions-and to think I had almost left my passport at home...

Guest columnist Natalie Brand's take on the evening:
What makes a memorable meal? Good company, good conversation, a pleasant atmosphere and, of course, impeccable food. Nicky and I had all the right ingredients in abundance at the Viceroy Palm Springs Citron, where executive Chef James Bailey went above and beyond during a special tasting. Each course shined on its own, but, they also complimented each other beautifully and deliciously, leaving you hungry for more.

To start, we had a 3 part amuse meant to wake up the palate: sweet corn demitasse, salmon with meyer lemon and dill wrapped in cedar paper, and a Kumamoto oyster. Close your eyes and imagine eating the essence of corn on a perfect summer day. The Chef used corn stock and puree with sea salt, but it tasted so creamy and rich, yet still refreshing and simple. Next to the corn, a perfectly cooked, bite-size piece of salmon, moist and just slightly flavored by the smokiness of the cedar. The third element, a Kumamoto oyster, considered the perfect variety for beginners, which worked well for me, since I haven’t quite acquired the taste of a true oyster lover. It was mild and sweet and went swimmingly well with our glass of Rose. In fact, Nicky described them as “dancing.”

Next up, a poached egg yolk perched on two toasted squares of brioche, topped with a generous heap of caviar. Rich, but just the right size, so it was fulfilling, instead of overwhelming. This would work great as a breakfast appetizer as well, alongside a mimosa.

Chef Bailey served up more decadence for our third course: Artisan Sonoma foie gras and brioche on top of a pistachio butter sauce that I can only describe as out of this world. It would have went well with anything! Warm strawberries and aged balsamic (my favorite) cut the richness of the foie gras and added just the right sweetness to the dish. The intensity of the flavors really surprised and delighted.

Then to lighten and clean our palates, the Chef brought out a bright and beautiful gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes, a few, thinly sliced pickled serrano peppers with sherry vinegar, a wonderfully light but extremely flavorful soup, topped with Dungeness crabmeat, as if it couldn’t get any better. The tomato water, poured in at the end, was worth drinking alone (which the Chef let us try in wine glass before pouring into the bowl). All elements combined made an ideal warm weather dish; healthy, filled with nutrients, yet completely satisfying. Oh, and yes, it paired perfectly with a bottle of 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.

For course four, the Chef delivered lobster for me, grilled shrimp for Nicky, who’s allergic to lobster (poor thing). I believe you can never go wrong with lobster, and, on this night, the Chef served it butter poached with a salad of granny smith/Fuji apples, fine herbs and summer truffle vinaigrette. A pleasing, seasonal dish, which left you craving an ocean view and more fresh seafood!

But, I count the fifth course as my absolute favorite. You’ve never tasted lamb cooked so perfectly, tender and mushroom encrusted. A beautiful cut, sitting atop creamy pea veloute, along with roasted mushrooms and mushroom jus. Each bite of lamb melted in your mouth; the rich vegetable accompaniments enhanced and enriched the meat’s natural flavor even more. I believe we all cleaned our plates!

At this point, we’re beyond satiated, but it’s time for dessert and my sweet tooth is always game! Strawberries count as one of my top food staples, so imagine my delight at strawberry soup, poured over yogurt panna cotta, with Tahitian vanilla. And, we’re not talking about just any strawberries, but “Harry’s Berries,” from Oxnard. A family farm that’s been around for decades, dedicated to growing “ordinary foods with extraordinary flavor,” according to their mission statement. I can attest firsthand that they more than deliver. To take these amazingly sweet and juicy strawberries, and make a puree? Unreal. The tart greek yogurt provided just the right contrast.

Wait, dessert’s not over. In my opinion, the best way to end any meal is with chocolate. And, this wasn’t just any chocolate creation, but a very grown-up kit-kat bar, that featured a crispy layer of dark chocolate topped with more chocolate in the form of a rich frozen chocolate mousse. A gratifying taste of nostalgia that left me licking my fingers and leaving only crumbs on my plate!


  1. This sounds delicious... wish I had been there to partake! :) Great job James.

  2. Looks amazing!!!

  3. Sounds so yummy, it seems wrong - much like the lobster eggs benedict I enjoyed over Mother's Day with my family. Let's just say CJB sure knows how to use a truffle!!!

  4. looks like the chef knows what he is doing! Looks fun

  5. Anonymous said...
    Visually stunning...quite an impressive effort.
    A labor of love for sure!

  6. When and where is he opening a restaurant in Milano? Silvia, Milano

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