Thursday, September 16, 1999
Stamenov was ready for the challenge of Bernardus, attracted to the challenge that it would demand to bring a head-on project from ground-zero into orbit. "What really got me was the quality. It was there, from the first time that I talked to [the management team] and saw the china they'd picked out and the quality of the kitchen they wanted to put in. The challenge of doing something I hadn't done before," Stamenov reflects, "that's what brought me here."
An affinity for the environment was an equally strong draw. "The association with the winery is another thing. It's just a more natural setting to work in. The winery people bring in the grapes, the plums from the tree---we're making our own vinegars, and using the vineyard clippings for grilling."
Marinus is the Old World-style dining room where Stamenov plies what he deems as his "best stuff so far." The restaurant takes its name from the estate's vineyard, hailed for its varieties of Bordeaux vines, from which the menu takes its clue: it celebrates wine at every phase, starting in the kitchen all the way to the final course. It's a menu that invites tasting, with nine first courses followed by five or so selections from the list of "Indulgences" small plates that make big impact, like sauted foie gras with wild huckleberries and red wine verjus.
Then comes the list of main courses, and with only 52 seats in the main dining room, the kitchen gets to really cut it loose. From wild striped sea bass in saffron-mussel sauce to three cuts of Prime beef, including Argentinean rib-eye, each choice offers delectable introspection before deciding. And be prepared to linger; the list of hand-crafted cheeses and pastry chef Tracey Seppi make it impossible to do otherwise.
Signature DishIt's difficult to choose just one dish from the Marinus menu. But if there has to be a winning dish, Bernardus' Monterey Bay spot prawns gets the prize, the ultimate local delicacy.
Stamenov features garlic and herb roasted spot prawns in all their glory, heads-on. Just like New Orleans-style crawfish, Monterey-style prawns demand getting in there hands-on, to savor the juices from the head. This time of year the roe adds even more flavor, working especially well mixed with the Israeli (a larger-grained) cous cous accompaniment.
Marinus offers local spot prawns fork-ready and sauted warm, served over just-blanched haricot verts tossed with heirloom tomatoes and fava beans. "The beans are just shelled, young and sweet, and give the dish its fresh, crispy texture," the chef explains. Hints of cilantro, mint, parsley and chives, and a splash of truffle vinaigrette add further layers of flavor.