Charming, subtle, and illuminated by romantic candlelight, La Valencia’s newly remodeled Sky Room seduces diners with a French-based cuisine infused with new accents of local ingredients.
“I pair different things together and focus on textural elements that provoke excitement, using food like real art and tasting every brush stroke before it hits the ceramic canvas,” says executive chef Vaughan Mabee. “There are no bad tasting Picassos in my restaurant, only delicious Salvador Dalis.”
Mabee likes everything fresh — moving when it hits the pan, picked that morning, and delivered that day, including venison, elk, and boar from his homeland of New Zealand. “The flavor pops in your mouth and freshness is everything,” he says. “I spend the first third of my day grabbing products for this restaurant.”
I realize Mediterranean influences are largely at play with the mention of gnocchi. Accommodating my Southern Italian decent, Mabee assures me that under the guidance of chef Emilio Bertoli, he learned the importance of the ingredients and the techniques for the gnocchi dough. This wintery invention of fluffy potato dumplings in step with Tuscan greens, butternut squash, crispy sage, and duck confit in white wine and French butter with Parmigiano-Reggiano reminds me of home. Pair with Marimar Estate Chardonnay, 2006, Russian River Valley.
The New Zealand Elk Carpaccio has a strong and peppery sweet outer covering with enhancements of pea tendril, wild arugula, Meyer lemon, Pecorino Romano, marcona almonds, and shaved Italian black truffles that lend nothing short of a bold bite. “It’s like a good punch in the mouth,” chuckles Mabee. Pair with Freemark Abbey Viognier, 2006, Napa Valley.
The dish closest to Mabee’s heart is the Sous Vide Colorado Lamb with sautéed Himeji mushrooms, Yorkshire pudding, garlic puree, and glace d’agneau. “The lamb I cook is special because it has elements of my childhood all throughout the dish,” he explains. Pair with Panther Creek Pinot Noir, 2004, Willamette Valley.
The New Zealand Venison is a rack sautéed in a pan to a medium-rare evenness. An authentic and classic-style Anson Mills polenta boasting a silky, beaded texture is synchronized with miniature Chino Farms organic brussels with bits of pan-fried pancetta and vin cotto. Pair with Cascina Morassino Ovello Barbaresco, 2006, Piedmont, Italy.
On a whim, Mabee decides to indulge me with his revamped version of Italian tiramisu. Pastry cream, egg whites, and truffle essence are aerated with sugar and mascarpone cheese to a silky texture. With espresso-soaked Lady Fingers in the middle and a melting Italian espresso granita on top, it’s yours for the asking. (858/454-0771, www.lavalencia.com
) MARIA DESIDERATA MONTANA