Wined and dined

Last week, my father called to say that he’d read one of my reviews. “How come you never talk about the wine?” he asked. When you write for a living, everyone has an opinion. If you’re, say, an office manager, I bet your family doesn’t call you up to ask, “How come you ordered ballpoint pens instead of rollerballs?”

Anyway, Dad, I’m finally going to talk about the wine. In discussing Baccaras, an elegant and ambitious restaurant in Folsom, I can hardly help it. Wine service is a major focus and a major strength of the establishment. The sommelier and general manager, Ehsan Mackani, is listed on the menu alongside executive chef Luc Dendievel.

Both deserve the marquee treatment. Baccaras offers a fantastic, and fantastically expensive, dining experience. At first, the location—described by a helpful reservation taker as “behind Merrill Lynch”—seems unpromising. But on stepping into the spare yet warmly elegant dining room, the box-store ambience of East Bidwell Street falls away. Starting with the delicate transfer of paper-thin lemon slices to our water, using toothpicks, the service was steeped in ceremony without ever feeling stuffy. Instead, the servers seemed genuinely interested in our experience, a hallmark of a well-trained staff. Even a minor blunder (I was brought the wrong appetizer) was handled smoothly and quickly.

The wine service was equally impressive. The list is a serious one, with plenty for oenophiles. I spotted French bottles that nearly approached four-figure prices, as well as an unusual number of wines by the glass. Moreover, nearly all of those are available in taste-friendly two-ounce pours. My husband and I both ordered tastes to start—he chose a Riesling, I a brut rosé sparkler—and they were poured at our table by the completely un-intimidating sommelier.

Each dish on the menu has a suggested wine pairing. When I hesitated over a pairing, the waiter sent the sommelier over to discuss the 2003 Keenan “Summer Blend” chardonnay, paired with a tempting dish of sea scallops with chanterelles and corn. I don’t like huge, oaky chardonnays, but he reassured me that the Keenan was crisp, summery and un-oaked.

It turned out to be delicious. Before we got to the entrees, we had not only starters but also an amuse-bouche; in this case, a soupspoon full of intense cucumber-dill soup with a smidgen of caviar. The chef sends an amuse as a mini-starter to each table. This little extra course has become trendy in high-end restaurants in New York, San Francisco and the like, but it’s still a surprise, and a pleasant one, in Folsom.

I also had soup as a starter, an unusual sunchoke vichyssoise. Its unassuming taupe color belied its earthy flavor—the essence of sunchokes. It was poured tableside around a tiny tower of creamy artichoke-potato salad, topped with lobster. Though wonderful, it paled, literally and figuratively, next to my husband’s starter, the “tomato three ways.”

Two of the three—a tiny peeled tomato stuffed with crab salad, and a shot of tangy, chilled-tomato soup with basil—were excellent executions of familiar dishes. But the third, described enigmatically as “pressed with cantaloupe,” was a complete and delightful surprise. Roulades of tomato surrounded thin slices of cantaloupe like colorful pieces of sushi. The flavors of tomato and cantaloupe mingled perfectly.

Before the main courses arrived, there was a palate-cleanser of bracingly medicinal thyme granita. It was a perfect lead-in to my expertly seared scallops. Each was nestled on a tiny bed of spinach with a translucent, yellow-green leaf that tasted like corn to the 10th power, but with a bitter edge. The leaves were corn shoots, the sommelier explained when he stopped by to ask how I liked my wine, which married beautifully with the creamy corn sauce and salty-sweet scallops. The dish was exquisite, perfectly balanced and seasoned, and the portion size was just right. On the other hand, $30 seemed steep for four scallops.

My husband’s American Kobe flat steak was cooked a bit past the medium-rare he specified—one of the meal’s only flaws. Nevertheless, it was extremely tender, with excellent beefy flavor. The slow-roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions complemented it beautifully.

Desserts included standards, like warm chocolate cake, and surprises, including an intriguing rhubarb consommé. This was fabulous, a compote of sweet-tart rhubarb surrounded by a clear pink bath. There was also an ethereal chiffonade of peppermint leaves; a scoop of ice cream; and teensy, warm madeleines. They—and the dessert—beat anything Proust could have imagined. My husband’s creamy, frozen Myers’s Rum soufflé, melting slowly over caramelized pineapple, was as unrestrained as the rhubarb consommé was refined.

After dessert, there was one more sweet note in store: a plate of tiny confections, including mocha truffles, pâté de fruits, and pistachio tuiles. These were another example of how well Baccaras treats diners—and a good way of softening the blow of the check. Although the quality, attention to detail and excellent service justify the premium prices, you might want to wait for a special-occasion meal. I’m already thinking that when my father asks where I’d like to go for a birthday celebration next year, I might pick Baccaras—just so we can talk about the wine.