Thursday, November 25, 2004
The festive looking tables with blue umbrellas on the terrace of Grapesteak, the former Summer House in Carmel Valley Village, are what originally attracted my husband Laurent and me to this restaurant. However, we chose to eat inside once we saw the fireplace, attractive art lining the walls, and the comfy chairs at well-spaced tables. Grapesteak’s owners, Nargis and André Lengacher, have infused the revamped restaurant with a good life ambience. The restaurant boasts elegant, new menu items that highlight Carmel Valley wines. The wait staff provides gracious service that was not always consistently present at the previous Summer House.
Last month, when the restaurant was still in the transition process, Laurent ordered pan-seared trout ($15.95), which arrived with a flourish. The chef spread out the fillets to look like a sting ray atop Brussels sprouts and red pepper strips. The tart-lemon caper sauce added flavor without masking the delicate flavor of the trout. Laurent said the Yukon mashed potatoes were so flavorful that they did not need any additional butter.
I tried Chef Chris’ wild boar stew in a cabernet reduction ($21.50) and was for the most part pleased with my choice. The majority of the morsels were tender and impregnated with the flavor of lingonberries, bacon, and wild mushrooms. Some morsels were not as tender as others, but I still liked this dish. The aroma of the rich sauce made me appreciate the sauce’s flavor double-fold.
The wild boar stew came with a German pasta called spaetzle that reminds the diner of the Lengachers’ German-Swiss roots. Spaetzle flour dough gets shaved through a wide-holed grater and boiled. The result looks like miniature dumplings and satisfies the appetite like a matzo ball. Chef Chris had lightly sautéed the spaetzle making it even more delicious. Braised red cabbage also came with my meal, which cut the rich sauce well.
We ordered some Carmel Valley wines with our meals. Laurent tried a Chateau Julien chardonnay ($6/glass), which he said had a pronounced oak flavor. I tried the Talbott pinot noir ($6/glass). It went well with my wild boar stew.
On a more recent visit, I tried the herb-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb in a merlot reduction with shallots ($22.95). The chef arranged the lamb in a spiral above my mashed potatoes. I ordered the lamb medium rare, and it was so tender that you could cut it with a butter knife. The delicious merlot sauce made each bite of lamb succulent, and Grapesteak truly lives up to its claim of serving wine country cuisine by having this item on the menu.
Laurent loved his sautéed Monterey Bay sand dabs ($15.25) that came with saffron risotto de-glazed in chardonnay. The sand dabs tasted like fresh caught. They were covered with a creamy sauce laced with a few sour capers. The risotto was light and a great accompaniment to the fish. Seasonal steamed vegetables like purple cabbage and red peppers with onions came with our meals.
We ordered some of Grapesteak’s tempting desserts on this visit: bread pudding ($4.95) for Laurent and a floating island ($4.95) for me. Laurent’s bread pudding was served warm with a rum sauce. He said Grapesteak’s bread pudding tasted much better than the cold versions he has sampled in the US and England. I agree that warm bread pudding represents the epitome of sweet, comfort food.
A heap of warm, freshly made, soft meringue made up the island mass in my dessert. The island floated in a yellow sea of tangy cream sauce and had sliced almonds decorating its top. I liked the savory flavor that the almonds added to the dessert. The floating island packs fewer calories than expected as it is made from egg whites, but you still might want to share it.
Grapesteak has updated the Summer House lunch menu, retaining favorites like Chinese chicken salad ($11.50), while adding items like Roma tomato buffalo mozzarella salad ($8.25), crabmeat corn chowder ($5.50), and Dungeness crab cakes with sweet pepper cream ($10.50).
The Lengachers love music, and host an opera night with dinner once a month at Grapesteak in association with the Opera Institute of California. The average set price for the three-course dinner is $24.95.
Love for art is evident and well-evidenced by the walls
covered with flower paintings by Carmel Valley artist Simon
Bull, whose work is included in the collections of the British
Royal Family and the President of Italy. Fine art and music,
fine food, and fine service all make Grapesteak a pleasurable
wine country dining experience.
6 Pilot Road, Carmel Valley Village
Tues-Fri 11:30am to 9pm
Sat and Sun 9am to 9pm