Thursday, March 12, 1998
The side bar on the menu reads "small plates, casual mood, seasonal American food." The other catch phrase that Chef Wendy Little is quick to add is fun. Little was ready to have some fun with the menu after 20 years or so in and around four and five-star resort properties, where fine dining is the usual incumbent.
Little got an early start in the kitchen, cooking her way through school all the way to a degree in bilingual education, by which time she had figured out her preference for the kitchen, instead of the classroom. "But it was time to move on to a real restaurant," she adds, "besides just the hippie, organic, vegetarian kind."
During her 11 year tenure at San Ysidro Guest Ranch she was given the opportunity to study cooking in France at LaVarenne. "Although I already had a lot of experience cooking by that time, it helped me to become more well-rounded," she reflects.
Positions followed at Mustards Grill in Napa, the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara and, ultimately, the opening chef''s spot at the Post Ranch Inn''s Sierra Mar in Big Sur, where Little formed a lasting alliance with owners Michael Freed, and Myles and Rhonda Williams.
Working together since 1992, Little went on to work for Freed and Williams at the Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort as well as The Lodge At Skylonda in Woodside. As of six weeks ago, she went into partnership with the Post Ranch partners in opening Zig Zag.
"In many ways, even though we''re only 38 seats, it still requires all the preparation and the care that goes into all the stocks and soups and sauces you''d find at a five-star place," Little explains. "But there''s not as much of it. And there''s not all the formality that goes with high-end fine dining. I looked at this space and tried to think of what would work here and decided on casual and fun."
While you won''t find demi-glace dripping off of everything, you might run across some interesting vinaigrettes--dried cherry to accompany the grilled quail, lentil with the pancetta-wrapped sea scallops. Or an avocado salsa along with the beef taquitos, and saffron aioli paired with the potato-wrapped prawns. It borrows from the multitude of influences that creates the fabric of new American cuisine.
"It''s pretty eclectic," Little admits. "I''m really interested in Japanese cuisine, so there''s some of that--the sesame-crusted rare ahi, for instance."
But it''s also a menu that strives for balance. Vegetarians will delight in the tower of forest mushrooms with an intense mushroom gravy; traditionalists might go for the barbecue short ribs with mashed potatoes.
The menu consists mostly of small plates, rounded out with four or five daily and nightly specials for appetites that lean to heavier portions. However, for folks that might prefer to skip around without committing to a grandiose meal, this is a menu that invites adventure. And with about 20 selections that hover around the $8 range, it''s tempting to try more than one, and save room for dessert.
"It''s how I like to eat," Little professes. "When I go out I never order entrees. I like to try several different things and wines by the glass, so I can really try a lot of different tastes.
"We really took a look at how dining continues to change," Little explains, "and how people are eating differently now. And I knew I wanted to do something different than what is already here," she adds. "And we''ve seen it work. People have come back two and three times in a week. The only theme that I really felt we should stick to is fun." cw