Friday, October 30, 2009

Dinner at the Mountain

On Saturday the 24th, my sister who lives in Calabasas and appreciates fine dining, and I dined at Brian Ayer's Mountain Restaurant. Ayers is Cordon Bleu trained and features "slow food" at his upscale but affordable eatery. Everything at the Mountain is prepared from scratch. "You won't find a can opener or a microwave here," said Ayers who, along with wife Courtney and an accomplished waitstaff, provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere to complement their very fine cuisine.

Before detailing what for both of us was one of our finest meals, here or anywhere, I'll add that we took a great deal of food home. Portions at the Mountain are generous. It is one of those places you go anticipating each entree, each side, each dessert, each bite and leave wishing you had room for and could have eaten more.

Maureen started with Mountain's signature shaved celeriac, fennel and green bean salad with horseradish dressing. I had the heirloom tomato salad with toasted pine nuts, apple balsamic reduction, sheep's milk feta and basil. We shared. For me, the heirloom tomato salad was one of the best food experiences I've had. The apple balsamic reduction perfectly complemented the already lucious tomatoes.

Each of us had a special entree for the night - Maureen had a wonderful halibut and I had venison, both beautifully prepared and presented. My sister thought, from prior experiences that she would not like the venison (too gamey she thought) but after sampling, loved Brian's venison version.

We ordered two sides friends had recommended we try - the organic peas with brown onion gravy (great) and the macaroni and cheese made with aged cheddar and gruyere cheese. Now I am a macaroni and cheese fan. I'll admit to even liking, as most cash strapped college students might admit, Kraft macaroni and cheese. Having said that, Brian's mac and cheese set a new bar - not heavy, wonderfully light, and extraordinarily flavorful. The best!!!

And, as if we weren't already bursting, I insisted on ordering the organic apple pie with vanilla double cream. Brilliant!!!

Salads were $7; entrees generally range from $18 to $28 (there is a Thursday evening local special for $16 that is a meal in itself).

Although the Mountain has been doing well, as well it should, Brian and Courtney are a bit worried about the coming winter and whether business will be sufficient to support the kind of dining experience they provide.

If you care about this restaurant and these good folks who have chosen Idyllwild for their venture, please support them as well as you can throughout the winter. We and they deserve that Mountain be successful.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mountain Restaurant Winemaker's Dinner, Sept. 30

Already generating the kind of buzz reserved for the best of fine dining restaurants in chic sophisticated metro areas, Chef Brian Ayers' Mountain Restaurant in Idyllwild hosted the first Winemaker's Dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 6:30. Internationally pedigreed Chilean winemaker Cristobal Undurraga of Koyle Vineyards, whose family has been making wine in Chile for over 100 years, presented the evenings' wines, delightfully detailing the process of making them and highlighting their unique qualities.

Ayers, wife Courtney, wait staff and assisting chefs Carl and Shannon, generated applause and approving murmurs of digestive approval with each of the five courses of the degustation size plates presented to a capacity crowd of expectant diners. It felt like theater - the anticipation, the first taste of each entree, the looks of amazement after that first bite, the excited communication to your tablemates of what you were experiencing, and the mental reminder to slow down and savor each moment, made the 2 and a half hour dining experience the consummate expression of what "slow food" is all about.

For it is not just the food, exquisite as it was, or the wines, as excellently as they complimented the courses, it is the idea of relishing the food, your tablemates, the conversation, and the delight of sharing a meal - a quintessentially civilizing experience - that makes "slow food", an international movement to counter fast food, so important. Experiencing "slow food" takes those of us old enough to remember back to a time when we as families sat together around a table, ate together, talked together, and spent meaningful time together. Maybe then it was not cuisine of the excellence that Mountain serves, but it was a time of sharing that we, as a culture, are losing.

So it was that Becky and Jack Clark, Ray and Corrine Brown, Vanessa Rivera Del Rio and her husband Jason Hlebakos, Grace Reed and I sat together, laughed togther, ate and drank together, and, importantly, shared an experience that we will savor for some time to come.

Here is the menu:

Rosemary marinated swordfish medallions over spaghetti squash with arugula pesto sauce accompanied by a sophisticated Savignon Blanc.

Game hen cooked two ways with sauteed spinach , fresh summer peach and tarragon chutney and a distinctive Chardonnay.

Lamb loin slow roasted with olives served over potato (the most amazing potato puree) with a sherry and marjoram vinaigrette. The wine, a red, was a Carmeniere.

Char-grilled beef tenderloin with Jerusalem artichoke puree and traditional Bordelaise sauce, graced by a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon.

A chocolate and coconut creme brulle accompanied by french press Batdorf and Bronson coffee.

At the beginning of the evening, Brian, Courtney, Cristobal, Brandon Lee of Quintessential Wines in Napa, and the wait staff greeted diners as they came in. At the end of the evening, Brian, Carl and Shannon circulated among the diners to pay their respects and say good evening.

Was it a hit? Oh yes!

Something to note - Brian and Courtney want this restaurant to be local-friendly. The portions on the regular menu are large and reasonably priced. Each Thursday there is a locals' special, at a feature price of around $16. Although this was my first time at the Mountain, many locals at the Winemaker's Dinner had already been there 3 or 4 times.

May Brian, Courtney, Justin and all who work to provide this venue its gracious, unpretentious, and warmly welcoming atmosphere, with some of the best food in the Southland, succeed beyond their wildest expectations. They deserve it. And what an honor to have this restaurant in Idyllwild.