Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bellatrix Serves Up Great Tastes and Great Grapes

As a rule, I try to stay away from country club and golf course food, preferring to dine at the various restaurants our fabulous valley offers. But I would be remiss in this town, to avoid mentioning a few of them, which go beyond the traditional fare to step out of bounds and offer fine and surprising cuisine. Bellatrix, at the Classic Course, is one of these exceptions.
Chef Greg Monette has created a menu that offers creative twists on conventional favorites, served up with a vast wine menu and a wait staff that knows its grapes. On my recent trip there with my Vino Chick friend, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the small and elegant touches: a hostess who offers up a hook for your purse; a starter basket of bread that comes with a trio of exquisitely green-tasting extra virgin olive oil, freshly made and grainy hummus, and whipped butter; and an amuse bouche that features a fat and tender scallop bursting with the subtle overtones of grapefruit and curry and a large shrimp fragrant with thai lime.
The meal that followed was equally flavorful. A decadent appetizer of fried goat cheese arrived in a small, lightly breadcrumb-coated ball, soft and pliant to the fork, and perfectly spreadable for the sliver-sliced crispy baguette chips. An entrée of halibut arrived on top of linguisa sausage-spiked risotto that was adorned with buttery clams and creamy mussels like a big bowl of brothless cioppino. But the highlight of the night was the generous wedge of chocolate gateau cake for dessert, which bite after decadent bite remained light and rich at the same time. Upon asking, I discovered the reason for this was the use of mascarpone cheese instead of flour.
These sorts of unconventional modifications to ordinary classics, like the chocolate cake, are exactly why I will eat here again. Will be interested to see what other California-based favorites will be spiced up ala Chef Monette for the pleasure of my palate. 
I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed many a memorable restaurant meal in my life, and there is one common denominator that has tied all of these culinary experiences together-a killer wine list. I discovered just that during a recent experience at Bellatrix, a gem of fine dining located inside the Classic Club in Palm Desert. The restaurant's name is derived from the magnificent star in the constellation of Orion, so it was only fitting that some heavenly pairings were in order.

Bellatrix offers enticing twists on contemporary favorites, all while keeping it simple or as my dining partner and blogging peer Kimberly puts it "primal, back to basics, hunks of meat and seafood with a nuance." She's right, and for food this simple yet still complex, the wine has to match up.

We were fortunate that our server, Casey, was well versed in the subtleties of pairing our culinary choices with selections from the restaurant's extensive wine list, which features a wide array of California Chardonnays, Pinots and Cabernets, with 34 selections offered by the glass.

My appetizer of delectably juicy Korean short ribs was met with the smooth and silky 2007 Summerland Trio, a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. A lover of all things Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I especially enjoyed the way its bright red fruit complimented the rich protein of the short ribs.

A seafood trio of scallop, shrimp and ahi tuna was accompanied by the ever-enchanting Caymus Conundrum, a heady Napa blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay and spicy Viognier. The wonderfully floral and buttery, tropical notes of the wine paired excellently with the vanilla sauce that the scallops sat atop, the wasabi that garnished the tuna and the sweet chili sauce that accompanied the shrimp.

My favorite part of the evening arrived at the table next...a moist and amazingly tender parmesan-encrusted lamb shank, surrounded by Kalamata olive ragout and toasted gnocchis. For this plate of perfection, Casey surprised me with his choice of a Bogle Petite Syrah, which I found to be smoky and full of black fruit with a hint of caramel. Its supple and full tannins matched well with the iron-rich lamb meat-about as primal a meal as it gets.
 For our decadent dessert of chocolate cake, Casey recommended a well-aged port...but by this time, I was quite sated. I have a feeling the lush, alcohol-tinged fortified wine would have been a perfect match...not unlike the rest of the evening.   

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