Monday, March 19, 2007

Mason's...very high brow!

Brooks and I went to Mason's 2 weeks ago, and we're finally publishing the review! We made reservations for 6 and arrived a few minutes late (my fault), but they had no problem seating us right away. We had a great table with an incredible view of their open kitchen. I was sitting with my back to a mirrored wall, and Brooks enjoyed admiring himself and people-watching all the goings-on in the restaurant. A problem we've had at a few places is table size: Brooks and I like to order LOTS of plates, so table size is essential (as well as timing on the part of the server)...anyway, the table was definitely big enough, and the service was professional. I've always wondered about the correct pronunciation of prix fixe...our server took time at the beginning of our meal to inform us: apparently it's "pree fee"...I thought it was "pree fix". The only problem we had was the chronically late wine: almost every glass that was paired with my prix fixe menu came a minute or three after the food. Other than that the service was friendly, available and not overbearing...exactly how I think it should be. Our busser was also very attentive and friendly.
The menu descriptions are incredibly mouth-watering, and they mention the geographic origin of most main ingredients. Local ingredients are emphasized, and I loved knowing more about the menu items and where the food was coming from. The sparkling clean open kitchen also contributed to the transparency of the menu.

What we had:
I had the chef's prix fixe menu with wine parings, while Brooks ordered a la carte from the menu and wine list. The kitchen sent out amuse bouche, one-bite 'previews' to encourage our appetites, as if we needed any encouragement! They consisted of a shrimp salad (I didn't catch the description from the server) on a dill scone...very delicious! Brooks' champagne opinion: As always we started the evening off with sparkling wine/champagne. The only choices by the glass were Chandon and PiperHeidsieck, so we ordered one of each. The Chandon was a Blanc de Noirs, a standard decent sparkling wine, the Piper Heidsieck Brut is a much more subtle mature sparkling wine with the creamy taste and texture expected from the Methode Champenoise.

Our first course was Jerusalem artichoke, toasted cashew and wild mushroom soup with cashew cream and crispy artichoke chips (Kristen's prix fixe) and a roasted beet, avocado and citrus salad with mache and an herbed ricotta crostini. I think we are pretty much in agreement about the soup: it was tasty, but the smokiness of unknown source overpowered any other flavors...nothing special. The roasted beet salad was exquisite...possibly the best I've ever had. The earthiness of the beets went well with the classic combination of citrus and avocado, and the balance of acid was perfect! I've encountered a few beet salads that overdosed on the vinegar, and this one blew them out of the water. Wines: 2004 Loosen Brothers "Dr. L" Reisling and Patassay Pinot Noir. Brooks' wine opinion: The Dr. Loosen Riesling was very good, but I thought it it was odd choice to pair with the smoky soup. I would have preferred a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. The Patassay Pinot Noir was excellent.

2nd course: Sautéed Massachusetts dayboat sea scallops with yukon gold potato gnocchi and an english pea broth (Kristen's prix fixe) and Brooks had sautéed Equadorian white prawns and braised Bledsoe Farms pork belly with vanilla bean caramelized pineapple and braised romaine hearts. The scallops were excellent at first taste, but an overpowering, almost burning saltiness took control of my palette the longer that they were in my mouth. Too bad because they would be great otherwise. The english pea broth was quite salty as well. The prawns and pork belly dish was very innovative. The prawns were served with their heads intact, but were still peeled and deveined. The individual elements might have been unremarkable by themselves, but with the vanilla bean and caramelized pineapple stand out unexpectedly; this was one of our favorite dishes of the night. Wines: 2004 Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay and the Cabernet. Brooks' wine opinion: The chardonnay was good for chardonnay, but I don't like California chardonnays in general and this was a good example of why. Any semblance of fruit character was overshadowed by burnt butter and a skunky mercaptan odor. The Cab was good, but not particularly remarkable hence I can't remember who made it.

3rd Course: Grilled Beef tenderloin with wild mushroom raviolo, foie gras-porcini cream and braised winter greens (Kristen's prix fixe) and Brooks had a duo of Sonoma artisan duck: seared duck breast and confit leg with roasted brussel sprouts, applewood smoked bacon and caramelized rhubarb. Both of these entrées stood out to us on the menu, and we didn't really consider ordering anything else...what sounds better than foie gras-porcini cream?! The beef tenderloin was beautifully cooked mid-rare on the charcoal grill. The porcini and foie sauce imparts an earthy flavor to the dish. I was a little disappointed with the duck...the menu description had my mouth watering, but the breast was overcooked to medium (we ordered mid-rare) and the sauce seemed too sweet. Brooks, on the other hand, enjoyed the duck breast despite it being slightly overcooked. The duck confit was good, but I would have liked it to taste different than the carnitas that we make, which it didn't. Wines: 2004 Norton, Mendoza, Argentina, Reserve Malbec and another glass of the Pinot. Brooks' wine opinion: The Malbec was badly corked. It was a bit surprising that this obvious taint was not detected before the glass arrived at the table, but the wine was quickly replaced when brought to the server's attention. The Patassy Pinot was so good that we reverted back to drinking pinot.

Dessert: Warm meyer lemon soufflé with passion fruit anglaise (Kristen's prix fixe) and Brooks had a meyer lemon panna cotta with marinated strawberries and organic balsamic gelée. Though these desserts had Meyer lemon in common, the similarities ended there. The soufflé was amazing...warm, moist, tangy, with a little crunchy sugar on top. I couldn't pick up any passion fruit in the angaise, but it was yummy anyway. The panna cotta seemed too firm, and the mouthfeel was not enjoyable; I felt like I almost had to chew it. The strawberries lacked flavor and had a strange, soft texture...I'm guessing from marinating them? The balsamic gelée was actually pretty good, but I think the flavor was way too strong considering what it was being served with. The Wines: 2004 Sobon Estate Orange Muscat Reserve and Banyuls.

All in all, an evening at Masons is a memorable dining experience. Apart from some oversalting issues and overpowering rogue flavors, Masons creates some of the finest food in Sacramento. If you want to go to the swanky lounge next door, be sure to wear shinable shoes.

Mason's Restaurant
15th and L in downtown sac

1 comment:

Soni said...

Forget about the shoe-issue; it appears that the best way to tell if a place is too snobby for its britches is if they wrongly correct you on the pronunciation of something. You were correct in your pronunciation of prix-fixe (just remember the hyphen, it's important grammatically). Many erroneously try to make the second x silent just because it's French, but if they knew the language at all they would know that end-consonants followed by an e are rarely silent.
I recommend you return there with really ugly shineable shoes and make a point of correcting the server, armed with knowledge of this linguistic phenomemon known as "hypercorrection" (
Oh, and in case anyone was wondering (I was, so I looked it up), there is no correct spelling for "shineable" (vs "shinable") because it is not considered an actual word...yet. ;)

-- 'Shameless Wordie' in Sac