April 24, 2012

April 24, 2012
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A Coastal Pimm’s Cup with bay leaves and borage flowers, and Spring Shrub behind; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

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Duck confit in its nest of springtime veggies; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.

Last weekend I got to peek inside the newly renovated Martini House building in downtown St. Helena for a media preview of ~GOOSE & GANDER~. Though the garden patios were still a work in progress, the upstairs dining room and basement bar looked ready to rock. And rock they did, with a mind-blowing cocktail menu from bar manager Scott Beattie and his team of crack mixologists, and a parade of outrageously soulful eats by chef Kelly McCown.

While the basement bar was hardly touched by renovations, the menus have taken off in entirely original and delicious directions. Some highlights of the cocktail hour portion of the evening: first, a Spring Shrub, made with St. George Botanivore gin, lemon, ginger, seltzer, and rosemary-pear shrub (a “shrub” is a pre-cocktail era drink made primarily with a reduction of fresh fruit-infused vinegar. Did you know? I didn’t); the colorful Cucumber Collins, made with Square One Cucumber vodka, fresh huckleberries, yuzu, and sliced fresh and huckleberry-pickled cucumbers; and the insane fried Castelvetrano olive and escargot skewers, showered with fennel pollen, and paired with melted anchovy butter for dunking. Oh yes they did.

Upstairs, the weird balconied hole in the middle of the Martini House dining room has been filled in to give better table spacing and a centralized energy. Rich red walls and dark leather booths modernize the look of the exposed wooden beams without losing the soothing historic vibe. Chef McCown said he wants Goose & Gander to feel like a true “public house,” where people hang out, eat really delicious unfussy dishes—he calls his menu “rustic American pub food”—and just relax and feel comfortable. Although he admitted the kitchen does use some modern techniques (the pork T-bone is cooked sous-vide before it’s fired, for example), you won’t find any foams, tweezers, or antigriddles in the kitchen. He’s after layered, complex flavors and textures that taste amazing without a whiff of pretension.

The menu wasn’t yet finalized when I was there, but I am praying fervently that I can revisit the crispy-skinned confit duck leg (a glorious by-product from Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras’ operations—which are, sadly, moving to Nevada soon); the seared scallops with fried green tomatoes, coil of pancetta, and jalapeño beurre blanc; and/or the luscious Loch Duart salmon topped with crisped prosciutto curls. The chicken breast was a shocking sleeper hit too, with its punchy potatoes and gremolata—but then there was that tender pork T-bone, smothered in a saffron and curry infused piperade with whole candied garlic cloves. Too much goodness for a single night.

And, there’s more: chef McCown has also scored an exciting exclusive on restaurant service of the new charcuterie line by David Katz (of Panevino fame). Katz’s delicate lavender-scented salumi, lamb chorizo, tender duck prosciutto, and more will eventually be available through limited retail channels, but Goose & Gander is the only restaurant that will be slicing it up for you.

The soft opening for the public is today, Tuesday April 24th. 1245 Spring St. at Oak St., St. Helena, 707-967-8779.