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Stonehill Tavern: The Conclusion of an Amazing Meal

May 22, 2013

When I last left you, I had gone on and on and on about all of the chef’s compliments dishes that my husband and I had been presented with at Stonehill Tavern after having ordered our dinner.  The restaurant is situated on the grounds of the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, where my husband and I had gone for a quick weekend getaway trip.  The trip was almost more of a “staycation” than a vacation because Dana Point is only about 20 miles south of our home in Orange County, California.  The resort is amazing, situated on the crescent-shaped Monarch Beach and boasting a championship 18-hole golf course along with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, which can also be seen from the outdoor terrace at the Stonehill Tavern, an incredible Michael Mina restaurant.

After having plowed our way through an incredible bread and butter starter, as well as 3 different chef’s compliments dishes of ahi tuna tartare, blinis with creme fraiche and trout roe, and comte gougeres, we finally received the first of the dishes that we actually ordered.


My starter dish was a salad called the “OC” salad.  Composed of poached Maine lobster, farmers market citrus, avocado and brioche this was a scrumptious and luxurious salad.  I had expected a small salad with just a few pieces of lobster meat.  What I received blew my mind away.  I am assuming that this is referred to as an “OC” salad representing the Orange County lifestyle of ultimate luxury with a health conscious society, so you have the ultra glam Maine lobster and the creamy avocado which is a famous California addition to salads, and combining it with farmers market citrus and turning it all into a healthy salad.  Instead of just a few scant pieces of lobster meat here and there, I felt like I pretty much got a whole lobster’s worth of meat on my plate, nice chunky pieces of delectable lobster meat perfectly poached.  Atop the lobster meat were 2 wedges of buttery lettuce topped by a tangy and sweet avocado vinaigrette.  The salad also consisted of small wedges of terrific citrus of what I believe was pink grapefruit and pomelos with a perfect amount of tang and tart which combined nicely with the sweet lobster meat and the creamy avocado vinaigrette.  Also, the addition of housemade brioche croutons which provided for a great buttery flavor and a crunch to compliment the buttery lettuce and a few slivers of shaved radish which provided a peppery bite and terrific crunch to pair with the tender lobster, and the cool crispiness of a few slices of cucumber.  And the final addition was sliced creamy, nutty, California avocado which just brought the whole salad together.  This was one of the most unique, luxurious, and delicious salads that I have ever eaten.  The ingredients were bold, but the flavors were really subtle and they combined together so well to create something velvety smooth.


As part of my husband’s chef’s tasting menu, he was presented with the first starter course which was Araucana hen egg, served with dandelion, woodlands ham, pumpernickel and black truffle.  The egg was presented at the table atop a sea salt platter to provide a beautiful resting platter for the delicate egg shell.  The top third of the egg shell had been removed, and the creamy egg and mushroom mixture had been poured back into the egg and topped with the pumpernickel and woodlands ham along with dandelion flowers.  Inside the egg was the hen egg mixture and sitting at the bottom was slivers of black truffle.  The mixture was liquidy and creamy, rather than having a cooked soft-boiled egg-type mixture inside.  My husband was blown away by the combination of the creamy egg and black truffle combined with the crunchy pumpernickel and salty woodlands ham.  My husband said it was amazing and he’d never experienced anything like it.  He loved the flavors and the textures of the dish and only wished that there was more of it, especially of the woodlands ham which combined so well with the Araucana hen egg mixture.


We couldn’t believe it, but yet another chef’s compliment dish came to our table about this time.  What we received was black brioche with truffled egg salad.  These were cute little 1-bite egg salad sandwiches, for lack of a better word.  The black brioche was a very thin and more like a cracker than bricohe bread.  There were 2 slices of black brioche with truffled egg salad sandwiched in between.  My husband loved this chef’s compliment dish because he loves truffles.  It tasted more like truffle oil on little black crackers than an egg salad sandwich.  The truffled egg salad was very luxurious and the black brioche provided for a nice crunch to this little dish.  The dish looks more like baby Oreos than it does a truffled egg salad sandwich!


Next up on my husband’s chef’s tasting menu was the roasted sablefish.  When this came to the table, it looked like a work of art!  It was like a mini-forest on his plate.  The sablefish is served with steamed Manila clams, baby bok choy, broad beans, mushrooms and a broth of dashi.  The broth was fantastic, I stole the baby bok choy from my husband’s dish and tasted the perfect cooked bok choy with the dashi broth which was perfect for the oily sablefish.  My husband said this was his first experience with clams, and he enjoyed the Manila clams and the mixture of the mushrooms and broad beans with the broth.  Finally, my husband said that the roasted sablefish was delicious and perfectly flaky and a terrific light second course to the chef’s tasting menu.


So, we thought for sure that we were done with the chef’s compliment dishes, but to our surprise, we weren’t!  Can you believe that?  Crazy!  Although, this time, it was just a small roll.  However, it wasn’t just a bread roll, it was described to us as seaweed bread, served with butter topped with some fleur de sel.  This was a very unusual roll, it was obviously yeasty and bready, but it didn’t exactly have the yeasty flavor, which must have come from the seaweed.  There were small green bits of seaweed throughout the roll, and it was quite surprising how much milder the taste of the roll was because of the seaweed.  Very interesting idea.


The next dish to arrive was an appetizer that my husband ordered separate from the chef’s tasting menu.  He really wanted to give it a try, and decided to order it.  Our waitress had recommended that the first 2 courses of the chef’s tasting menu be served first and then the appetizer as the first 2 courses are more on the lighter side and the appetizer is a bit heavier.  What my husband ordered as his appetizer was the handmade pea raviolo.  The raviolo is basically a sheet of pasta rolled out, filled with fresh California peas, folded over and then cooked al dente.  The raviolo is served alongside morel mushrooms, Serrano ham, quail egg and coconut-spring garlic.  The Serrano ham was cooked crispy, just like bacon, but not as salty and was a nice garnish on the dish.  The coconut-spring garlic was turned into a foam which dressed the dish and proved to be a flavorful compliment to the raviolo.  The morels were super flavorful and my husband loved it.  And the raviolo itself was amazing.  My husband said that he was really glad he ordered it in addition to his meal because he really liked the flavor of the perfectly cooked raviolo and the fresh peas inside.  It was one of his favorite dishes of the entire evening.  I hate peas, but he asked me to try a pea because he thought I might change my mind about fresh peas, and I do have to admit that I didn’t hate the fresh peas as opposed to the frozen mushy peas you usually get.  With the peas being fresh,  they had a bit of a crunch to them, like they were a bit under-ripe and firm.


The chef’s tasting menu continued with my husband’s favorite dish of the evening, the Barbary duck.  He liked it so much he was still talking about it the next day.  The duck was served with Balinese peppercorn, kohlrabi, Medjool dates, and hibiscus.  The dish was brought to the table, again looking like a work of art, and then the duck sauce was poured over the duck tableside.  On the dish was also a small square of what was sort of jelly/jam-like flavored like star anise and covered with a gold leaf.  One bite into the duck, and combined with all of the various flavors on the dish and my husband was in love. He absolutely thought that the flavors paired well together, the duck was perfectly cooked, and whatever was in that jam/jelly thing really made the dish come together as one cohesive plate.  It already seemed like so much food had come to the table, and yet we weren’t done yet.  My husband still had 2 more dishes as part of chef’s tasting menu and I still had my entrée and a dessert plate to come!


My husband’s last course before his dessert was the Wagyu beef served up with garlic roots, field asparagus, comte cloud and pistachios.  Again, this dish looked more like art than food. The white comte cloud filled the dish like nothing I’d seen or tasted before.  The dish came with a couple of medallions of perfectly cooked Wagyu beef.  Combine the beef with the comte cheese cloud and the dish was heavenly.  The asparagus was flavorful and perfectly cooked and the garlic root provided for even more flavor to the dish.  My husband loved all of the dishes of his tasting menu to this point, but still found himself thinking back to his Barbary duck course.


For my entrée, I ordered the butcher’s double cut of Imperial Wagyu beef cooked medium rare and served alongside pureed potato.  On top of the strip of Wagyu, was a compound butter made of organic leeks and beef marrow, which added a wonderful richness and flavor to the meat.  Also served with the dish was beef jus to use as steak sauce as needed.   The Wagyu was incredibly flavorful, perhaps the most flavorful steak I’ve ever eaten.  The compound butter of the leeks and bone marrow just added a richness and depth of flavor that I’ve never had before.  The steak was just out of this world.  The potato puree was the perfect pairing with this dish to cut through the richness of the bone marrow compound butter on this excellent piece of Wagyu beef.


After all that food, it was finally time for dessert.  For my husband, his dessert was already included in his chef’s tasting menu.  What he got was something called tempura gianduja with marshmallow fondue, Thai basil and kumquat ice cream.  Talk about something whose name doesn’t give away what the dessert might be, plus a bunch of ingredients which on their own sounds interesting, but together sounds kind of weird and different!  Unbeknownst to my husband and I at the time, gianduja is a sweet Italian chocolate which contains 30% hazelnut paste invented in Turin, Italy at the time of Napoleon.  So, this dessert was really centered around a tempura-battered and fried ball of chocolate.  This dessert looked so cute and whimsical when it was brought to the table.  The tempura’d gianduja was dusted in a bit of powered sugar and placed next to a cloud of marshmallow fluff surrounded by cookie crumbs.  On either side was a Thai basil mousse and a canal of kumquat ice cream.  The Thai basil mousse was incredible.  I’d never seen anything like it, and while you’d think that a basil mousse wouldn’t fit in with the dessert, it actually worked.  The mousse did have a distinct basil aroma and flavor and was easily identifiable as basil, but also noticeably as Thai basil as opposed to sweet Italian basil.  The stronger Thai basil flavor worked better in this form as a mousse because Thai basil also has hints of mint and cinnamon which work in a dessert setting.  My husband loved the whimsy and creativity of the dessert and thought it was fantastic.  He loved the different textures from the tempura chocolate to the marshmallow fluff, to the mousse and the ice cream.


For me, my dessert was one that was recommended by our waitress, the chocolate toffee bar.  I thought that this would literally turn out as a homemade candy bar, but that’s not what it was at all.  It was kind of like a deconstructed candy bar that was kind of pieced back together.  And each layer of flavor of the candy bar was very pronounced from the peanut, to the toffee, to the caramel.  The dish that came out to the table looked almost like a thin slice of chocolate cake covered in glistening chocolate sauce and topped with all sorts of whimsical designs, what it actually was inside was the candy bar put together in layers and covered in chocolate and topped by squiggles of chocolate, caramel and toffee.  The white powder atop the candy bar and on the dish looked like it was confectioner’s sugar, but in fact was powered peanut.  That is a true work of molecular gastronomy and the new age of cooking in action.  The powder did in fact taste just like peanuts but in silky powder form, and that kind of brought the whole dessert together.  On the side was a canal of homemade salted caramel ice cream which paired well with the toffee and chocolate flavors of the candy bar.  This was probably one of the most whimsical desserts I’ve ever had.  But what I loved was that the whimsy never once took away from the flavor of the dessert, it only added to it.


As if we hadn’t an amazing amount of delicious food, or food in general, we received one last chef’s compliment dish, or rather, compliments of the pastry chef, it was earl grey miniature ice cream cones topped with some sprinkles.  These were the most adorable ice cream cones ever!  Handmade, tiny waffle cones filled with the most amazing earl grey ice cream.  One tiny taste of the ice cream revealed a very aromatic and decadent earl grey ice cream.  The ice cream was completely infused with the essence of earl grey.  But the taste of the ice cream wasn’t completely overpowering.  As a 2-3 bite treat, this was perfect.  And I am not even a tea drinker.  This was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.


And finally, as a parting gift that is given to all guests at the restaurant, we were given a little container with filled with Stonehill Tavern’s very own rosemary gray salt which they infuse themselves.  This is the same rosemary gray salt that went into the ricotta and honey mixture that was given to us with the grilled semolina bread at the beginning of the meal.  It’s just a little gift of something different and magical that we can take away from the restaurant and experiment with in our own home kitchens.  So nice!

What an amazing dinner experience!  As we left the Stonehill Tavern that night, my husband said to me that this was the best dining experience that he’d ever had.  We’ve been to fancy places, and hole-in-the-wall places that all served incredible food, but this dining experience – from the food, to the preparation, to the presentation, to the service – was hands down his favorite.  Even days later, we find ourselves still talking about our dinner experience at Stonehill Tavern.  Without any hesitation we would definitely go back there again for a special meal!


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