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July, 2008, Page 149
Petite rack of veal
Either way, the experience is first-class, relying on great ingredients and competent cooking over gimmick. Owned by resort guru Fred Unger of Hermosa Inn and Royal Palms, Estate House is a departure from his signature style of old, elegant Arizona. Like SouthBridge itself, this place exudes glitz and newness, from the sleek charcoal leather booths and curtains striped in black, gray and cream to the servers dressed in classic black vests, white collared shirts and silver ties. Yet, the ambience still is charmingly cozy, and the 19th-century French big-wheel bicycle that decorates one wall brings a sense of whimsy.
The cuisine showcases what chef Ron Dimas calls French-inspired wine country, with intriguing creations like truffled linguine carbonara ($26), gussied with bits of guanciale (an Italian pork jowl bacon) and duck egg. Dimas is a relative newcomer to the spotlight. (He previously ran Café ZuZu at nearby Hotel Valley Ho, best known for its meatloaf and blue-plate specials.) Yet, from the first amuse bouche, it’s clear he’s met the challenge.
On one evening, the amuse bouche is composed of a sugar-cube-sized bite of roasted rib eye resting atop a dollop of creamy ricotta sparked with lemon and cracked pepper. On another, an enormous fried squash blossom looks like an ungainly squid but oozes warm, lemony goat cheese under a crisp, light tempura drizzled with port wine that’s been reduced so deeply it’s almost sugar. A third option, part of Dimas’ six-course tasting menu, is generous enough to be an appetizer, mounding together tiny cubes of red and yellow beets, crowned with a triangle of Holy Cow Vache Sante.
It wouldn’t be hard to make a meal just of appetizers – they’re an enticing bunch. Try the trio of diver scallops ($14), barely seared and lolling in a puddle of truffle emulsion so delicate that the intensely earthy mushroom merely wafts its presence. Two croquettes of artic char and brandade ($14) both are firm and silky, swirled with smoked paprika aioli and a sprinkle of pickled shallots. But the star is the Labelle foie gras ($21). Dimas sears a hunk of liver to a caramelized crust and perches it over a tart-sweet chutney of pear and Meyer lemon. Next to that, he molds a terrine that’s so silky rich it coats the tongue then slicks it with truffle honey and a cap of chopped dates. A tiny pile of arugula and two light-as-air bites of toast cleanse the palate. I defy you not to finish every glistening, fatty foie speck.
A salad of wild arugula and camembert ($13) is almost as rich – the warm, gooey cheese wrapped in crunchy phyllo and scattered with chunks of blood-orange and toasted marcona almonds.
On each of my visits, my server warned that entrées run small (have there been complaints?), but I certainly don’t feel cheated. Chermoula-crusted lamb loin ($33) is a bland looking slab of meat on an orange-brown bed of roasted heirloom squash, dates and cipollini, yet it’s substantially satisfying. Pork osso bucco ($29) brings a large hunk of bone-in braised meat that falls apart with the touch of a marrow fork, set on a stewy bed of figs, just-crunchy chestnuts, a flurry of roasted Brussels sprouts leaves and creamy polenta that acts as a sponge for the savory juices.
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