Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mustards Grill - Yountville PLUS Vague Police Musings

Mustards Grill is generally the local standby for good food. Everyone I know loves Mustards. And tourists do, too. So, Chad and I went there as our own Valentine's dinner on Saturday night to see what it's all about.

After my introduction to Cindy Pawlcyn's style at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, Mustards Grill felt oddly familiar. The black and white decor with splashes of color through flowers and paintings. The individual pepper grinders and tiny bowl of salt. The folksy, yet knowing humorous touches on the menu and decor.... such as this sign at the end of the hallway to the bathrooms.
The food was great, though the desserts were even better than the main courses. Or maybe I'm just that kind of person. So, since I started with The End anyway, I'll proceed with dessert.

I had the pear sorbet with poached pears. When I ate my first spoonful, I wondered if they'd scooped ice cream on top of the sorbet. It was so creamy.... but tasted of pears... so I looked down, and WOW, that was the sorbet. Just like the Cara Cara Orange Vanilla Sorbet at C's BK, it was amazing. So smooth and creamy and concentrated goodness with its own unique taste... and notice that its presentation is almost exactly the same as at C's BK. The poached pears were also fantastic; rather than mealy or wooden like some that I've had, they were syrupy and solid; maybe they poached them in a dessert wine. It also came with a snickerdoodle, of which I am a registered enthusiast.
Chad had the Warm Guittard Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart with Jack Daniels brown sugar ice cream, coffee caramel sauce. Rich and amazing. I stole at least three bites without even attempting to distract him.

For the main course, I had the grilled duck l'orange with celery root and pommes Erasto. It's a brave presentation because the duck appears big and liver shaped. It's a cleverly arranged breast and leg/thigh, though, and conceals most of the slivered fingerling potatoes. The sauce was orange-cognac, and the slivered orange peel in the celery root salad on top was a nice counterpoint. I like it when one ingredient is used in different elements of a dish. It ties it together. I suspect that the potatoes were cooked in duck fat. They made me perk up, savor, and force Chad to have one right away. Erasto, by the way, is the name of a chef at Mustards. The duck itself was a wonderfully flavorful meat coated by a centimeter or so of duck fat/skin encrusted with herbs. Crosswise, it looked something like to an iced cake. Glorious.
Chad had the "Truck Stop" special with a steak, sweet potato gratin, and broccolini, in a slightly creamy sauce that seemed to be made of beef juices. The gratin was especially flavorful. I swear we saw flecks of herbs in it, but the waitress denied it. And the steak... it was good steak. Great flavor, and unlike the steak frites at Cindy's, it had a satisfying chew.

You'll notice, too, that our food and sauces were--well--shiny. There was no holding back on flavor conducting, heat retaining butter and oil. Yummy, but this is calorie splurge food.

There were two disappointments to our visit, though.

One was our waitress who kept trying to get us to order more stuff. I resent it when I'm asked to order additional courses or items that I clearly didn't allude to. And to ask multiple times throughout the meal, and to ask my date after I had said no, lacks tact. She should have just came out with it and asked "Would you like to spend more money?" We also got our check not even halfway through our desserts. She was hardly helpful with questions, too. These may be details--and displayed by only one admittedly crucial employee--but they make the difference between making you feel like you're spending your own special holiday at a hospitable restaurant and making you feel like you're being pushed through a money-making feeding ground.

Also, we were disappointed by the drinks, and about 90% of this was because of one factor: limes. Whether it was the lemon-limeade, the El Guapo (their name for a caipirinha), or the margarita, we kept running into limes that weren't properly offset by sugar. They were just unpleasantly sour; and as you can tell, limes are a big part of the drink menu. And my cherry cosmo barely tasted of cherry; it tasted more like triple sec with cranberry juice. That's a shame because they use a house infused cherry vodka for it. After the transcendent cocktail Chad had at C's BK, this was all that much harder to accept. The drink menu looks great, and has so much promise, but the bartender was off that night.

One fantastic aspect of the drink menu is its reverse cocktail section, which are cocktails with much more juice/flavoring than alcohol (and priced accordingly), so that drivers can indulge a little but still drive safe and legally....

There's a very long story here about our reaction to a California Highway Patrol checkpoint blocking Hwy 29 Saturday night, but I'm just going to boil it down to: don't drink and drive. It's going to turn out badly. You are being watched. And not only by police. If you try to park on a residential street to try to burn off some time, the residents will turn on their lights.... shine flashlights at you.... and call their neighbors to ask them to try to get a better look at you through their window(s). And I wasn't even over the legal limit since I only had one drink at the beginning of the night; I was just being extra careful. Also, there's a Napa veterans' residence campus off Hwy 29, where the speed limit is 15 mph. And you will still be watched. Because everyone knows that an unfamiliar VW Beetle is sure to stir up trouble.


Anonymous irene said...

mmm...mmm...mmm. well written descriptions ... of the pear sorbet (i am also a snikerdoodle enthusiast...)and the Warm Guittard Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart with Jack Daniels, as well as the main courses.... made me wish i were enjoying them along w/ you... lucky you!

7:41 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you! I wish I could have mail ordered those out, too :)

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must not have gone on a Saturday if you have complaints about the drinks. The bartender who is usually there on Saturday is known to make the most bad ass drinks this side of the Mississippi, and I can personally confirm that, because I was there last Saturday, and tried the Bloody Mary. The common sense thing to do when the limes aren't "properly offset by sugar" is to ask for less lime or more sugar. Did I mention the Bloody Mary kicks ass?

12:11 PM  

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