Martini House – St. Helena


We got to The Martini House at the end of a very long day of wine tasting, and many of us were hoping to tuck into a comforting steak. But they were out… Out of their beef tenderloin on a Friday night. Now, I was held to the reservation — threatened by a $25 charge per person if I canceled in less than 24 hrs or didn’t show up — so it would have been nice if they upheld their part of the bargain to have a key ingredient like steak on hand. Sigh…

It’s hard to hold that against them too much, though, because everything that we ordered was fantastic… And exploring a menu a bit never hurt anyone. It even turned out that the Duck Breast had a magnificent earthiness that approached that of steak. Their cuisine is very much Napa-style – seasonal ingredients, intriguing combinations, and as it happens, perfectly prepared.

There is a tasting menu comprised of all mushroom dishes, which I think sets a tone for the rest of the menu. Most of the plates seem anchored with an earthy element (often mushrooms; or in the case of the salmon, brisket ravioli), and the other flavors are supple enough to build themselves up around it. And if you like mushrooms, the chef is certainly passionate about them, and the Martini House serves a wide range of them.

The decor is that of a luxury lodge that still feels comfortable enough around the edges to relax in. I liked how the main floor had a large square opening in the middle of it for a staircase to the floor below and its bar; the arrangement of tables in the remaining square edge looked interesting.

My only regret was that none of us could even think about getting dessert — we were just completely full. So, I have very good reason to go back. Soon.

amuse

Amuse bouche of puff pastry, and I believe I heard something about a butter mousse… Creamy, crispy, and very welcoming.

Mushroom

Cream of Mushroom Soup with Toasted Croutons and Chives. I loved this soup, which tasted like a cream of mushroom should. And even better, I liked the subtle layering of it — on the bottom were minced mushrooms, then the soup, and then the half soft/half crispy croutons on top. I liked being able to regulate each spoonful, and that it had such a large ration of mushrooms and croutons so that you don’t run out prematurely.

salad

The waitress wasn’t kidding when she told us about this off the menu Salad that was basically just lettuce and dressing.

Veal

Roast Veal Tenderloin with Maitake Mushrooms, Fiddle Head Ferns, Pot Roast Carrots, and Mushroom Veal Jus. I like how maitake mushrooms are served as a big wedge, with the thin mushrooms as a cascade on the side. Cutting into them somehow feels interactive and fun.

Duck

Sonoma Duck Breast with Potato Rosti, Sage, Pineapple and Green Peppercorn Chutney, and Chamomile Jus.

Chad

Roasted Lamb Loin and Braised Lamb Shank with Peas, Carrots, and Fresh Chick Peas, with Horseradish Cream and Lamb Jus.

salmon

Seared Atlantic Loch Duarte Salmon with Sour Cream Potato Puree with Peas and Carrots, Brisket Ravioli, and Salsa Verde. I love the plating of this dish — the ravioli on top of the salmon and all the concentric circles with different textures.

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