Hoe a new row
Practically every restaurant worth its hand-gathered fleur de sel is “farm-to-fork” these days. There are myriad ways to do it, of course, but locally, a little gem in Winters is successfully hoeing a new row.
The surprisingly large Preserve exists not far from the main intersection in this little ag-centric town—just a block from the old favorite, Putah Creek Cafe (1 Main Street). It’s steampunk in its sensibilities, with heavy wood and riveted metal tables and a fashionably rusted delivery truck parked next to the back patio. The menu has an Old West-style font but boasts 21st-century offerings.
Winters local Cole Ogando owns the restaurant. His background is in construction, hence the impressive interior. Recently, he hired chef Robert Thompson away from Las Vegas to revamp the menu and make more use of local ingredients.
Currently, Preserve offers an all-day menu of bar snacks, salads, sides, pizza and sandwiches. It has unusually late hours—open until midnight on Wednesdays and Thursdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. It’s the perfect stopover after a show at the nearby Palms Playhouse.
Thompson plans to introduce more small plates and entrees in the next few months but will keep some of the current favorites. Chief among those is the Preserve platter of cured meats and cheeses, with überlocal Mariani dried fruit and nuts, olives, and Grandma Ogando’s jalapeño jelly. Crisp slices of Acme Bread Company baguette make a good foundation for smears of triple-crème Brie and spicy-sweet jelly. While some of the charcuterie is made in-house, expect more offerings soon. Local cheeses make appearances, too, although the servers may need more education on that front. Be sure to ask for details.
Salads include house-cured salmon with blood oranges and avocado, and beets with farmer cheese and red-onion jam. The pizzas are individually sized, with a flavorful fresh tomato sauce and plenty of Parmesan cheese. The crusts are nothing special, though; they’d be better crisper and thinner or thicker and chewier.
There are lots of sandwiches, all served with supercrunchy potato chips and a pickle. The slow-smoked brisket with garlic aioli is deliciously tender and not too fatty. Caramelized onions are a perfect complement. The pulled pork is meltingly succulent, with pickled jalapeño and shallots. Both are served on the aforementioned Acme buns. Surely Thompson can find more local options?
There’s an unusual vegetarian option, with shredded carrots, slivered almonds and Gouda on rye bread. It has an oddly sweet flavor reminiscent of raisins. Some of Grandma O’s jelly would be a better fit here. The Italian is stuffed with charcuterie and cheese, plus housemade tapenade.
There’s also a kids’ menu, with the usual PB&J and hot-dog options. The grilled-cheese is pretty top-notch, though—it’s extra crunchy from the panini press.
The beverage menu is more developed. There are 21 taps featuring a great variety of craft brews. Visitors can taste flights of hoppy beers, far-flung favorites or nearby choices—a nice way to compare different options. The requisite house cocktails are interesting. A Gin Granada combines Junipero Gin, ginger liqueur, and pomegranate jelly. The Shandy mixes house-made zingy ginger beer with Jack Daniel’s and a merlot-salt rim. Several Yolo County wines, including some from Turkovich Family Wines, are listed.
In fact, Turkovich once leased the glass-enclosed room behind the bar to make its cheese. In the future, Thompson hopes to use that space for more canning and pickling.
In general, the food is quite good but needs a few more of those unique additions, like in-house sausages and jams to set it apart. Think of it as a slowly fermenting pickle—working on a transcendent flavor that’s almost there.