World of Flavor
Mélange fuses diverse cuisines and wines to powerful effect.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
Allan can barely hide his conspiratorial glee. “And how is the sea bass?” he asks with a barely restrained grin.
The anticipatory arc of his eyebrows shows that he already knows the answer but, aware it’s our first time at Mélange, finds joy in hearing it affirmed: Yes, the local sea bass “small plate” ($8.50)—like the Lobster Hand Roll, Portobello Mushroom Raviolis and Stuffed Pheasant before it—is exquisite, its sauce absurdly good. Stacked into a small, stylish tower with crispy polenta, sautéed tomatoes and cilantro, the fish has perfectly moist-break-on-the-tongue texture; meanwhile, its burré blanc sauce offers an opus of subtle flavors that include a spice so light it almost feels imagined (from roasted poblano chile) and a perfect tickle of citrus (lime). With the cilantro adding another nice accent, and a foundational house-made black-bean tortilla that has no business being as good as it is, the sea bass is a perfect plate. Alex and I had it for dessert.
It is also a fitting conclusion to an evening of high-ticket French-leaning world fusion cuisine that had exquisite dish, absurdly good sauce as its theme. The celestial tastes here speak to why, even by the time we are scavenging the last drips of burré blanc from our plate, not one group in the 45-person spot has left since we arrived. Between the warm orange walls, beneath the small orange single light hangs, behind the tall glass front windows and atop the burgundy carpet of the former Favalaro’s, they’re relishing in the limited but lavish options presented by Chef-Owner David Frappiea’s ingenuitive two-panel menu. One panel holds daily specials in small and big plate sizes—like Jumbo Sea Scallops and Seared Foie Gras ($17) and Bison Short Ribs ($26), respectively; the other shows “seasonal offerings” like Shrimp and Goat Cheese in Puff Pastry (small plate: $12.50) and Filet Mignon (big plate: $28). All borrow inspiration from a range of international places, from the local coast (scallops) to Cambodia (ambrosia sauce on the ribs).
Each of the lingering parties appears to have followed the house water—which touches down in a tall glass flask with a hinged rubber cork—with a selection from the wine list that Frappiea says he’s constructed to cover an eclectic and overlooked range of international wines. This makes sense, as Mélange (“mixture” in French) promotes itself as much as “a fusion of food and wine” as a fusion between diverse cuisines. Frappiea adds that he rotates the wines by the glass—which include some two-ounce and five-ounce pours—as often as he changes his food specials: at least once a week.
Alex and I decided to share a flight of French whites to go with the Maine Lobster Hand Roll ($12.50) and the Portobello Mushroom Ravioli ($6.50) small plates with which we started. French Whites is one of four daily wine flights which today include “Rosé” ($12), Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon ($17) and Italian Varietals ($22). Each flight arrives tableside ferried in a cast iron three-glass carrier with a paper placemat organizational guide.
The caramely 2004 Domaine Serge Laloue Sancere proved excellent alone but the slightly citrusy-sweet 2003 Chateau Laboure-Roi Bourgone Blanc went best with the lobster roll (the Domaine Cocoret Chablis, 1er Cru, completed the grouping), a genius treat that just about made us cross-eyed with the quality of its cognac crème sauce and silky paper-thin crêpe wrap.
The three triangular raviolis’ packaging, a translucent glass-noodle-like shell, was as tasty and creative as the crêpe. Inside hid morsels of meaty portabella accented by Madeira wine that mated seamlessly with another epic complexity of a sauce, a roasted duck broth that rode a flicker of peanut flair and balance from the microgreens to greatness. Given the pair of dizzying sauces, the fact that our busboy or server didn’t offer us another piece of airy artisan sourdough to dip seemed vaguely inhumane.
While a rustic guitar plucked acoustic chords through the stereo and voices trickled down from the tiny bar, which sits on a raised split-level next to bigger family-style tables and the open kitchen, we decided the roast duck broth made our main course decision easier: The daily special Pheasant Breast ($24) would be less redundant than the highly-recommended Duck Two Ways (spicy egg roll and seared duck breast, $24.50).
While fleetingly anticlimactic because the flavor of the pheasant itself wasn’t as nuanced as the sea bass or raviolis, it nonetheless offered a multifaceted flavor of its own due to its stuffing of leeks, smoky bacon and wild mushrooms. And the sauce, of course, a caramelized collaboration of baby onions and pan juices, was excellent. Unsurprisingly, Allan wasn’t surprised to hear we like it.
As servers often do, he said, “Everything here is good.” At Mélange, a focused seasonal menu and the kitchen’s expertise make him right. Every server should be so lucky.
542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove • 5:30pm-close daily except Sundays • 333-0301.