Worth a wait
Granite Bay, CA 95746
Hawks, located in the upscale Quarry Ponds shopping center in Granite Bay, took a while to open; it was promised for spring, and then summer, but it finally arrived in the fall. But Hawks is so autumnal is its mood—with its chic mushroom-toned walls and pumpkins sitting on a shelf under the bread table in the dining room—that it’s almost hard to imagine it opening at another time.
That, though, is presumably the point. Hawks is another one of those local-seasonal restaurants with a frequently changing menu and a reliance on area farmers for specialty, of-the-moment produce—like quince or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. The owners and chefs are Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks, a husband-and-wife team who met while cooking at Woodside’s acclaimed Village Pub. Now they are balancing the bounty of their new region with high-end imports: dayboat scallops, Idaho trout, Roquefort and so on, not to mention an inviting selection of wines. Our server steered us to an absolutely delicious German Riesling when we ordered a plate of house-made charcuterie, and it was indeed a perfect match. That charcuterie plate followed a complimentary amuse-bouche, sent to all the tables; the night we visited, it was a shot glass of piping-hot, earthy wild-mushroom soup, topped with a sherry crema that brought out its woodsy flavor, just enough to whet the appetite.
Despite this extra course, we were unable to resist the lure of house-made charcuterie, which included a duck-liver mousse, duck rillettes, and a country pork pâté. It wasn’t light, but it was ultra-restrained and a perfect serving size for two. The charcuterie sat demurely on an oval plate, with a doll-sized purslane salad, three little cornichons, and a just-pungent-enough mustard sauce daubed alongside. I loved the little slices of rillettes, with their duck-fat flavor, and the pork’s coarse texture was perfect with the grilled Acme bread, brushed with oil and garlic, that came with it. A couple of slices were just a touch over-grilled and almost charred, but still tasted good—especially when smeared with the satiny duck liver, my favorite of the three meat preparations.
After that came an endive salad with Sierra Beauty apples, pecans and Roquefort for me, and pumpkin soup with maple brown butter and fried sage for my husband. The soup was suave and lightly sweet, offset by the dusky herbal notes of the battered sage. The salad was dusted with very finely chopped pecans, so that you got a bit of nuttiness to offset the bittersweet notes of the rough-cut endive and thin apple wedges—with occasional pops of strong, creamy cheese. A dusting of fresh herbs, including some tarragon, rounded out the complex flavors.
One unusually pleasing aspect of our meal was the service, which was precisely correct (plates and utensils cleared in unison at every course) without being overly formal. Touches like this, the heavy linens and spacious but intimate tables bespoke a pleasing attention to detail and to diners’ comfort. We also liked how the manager handled a slight delay with our entrées; they were slow to arrive, but he hurried to our table to proffer an apology. We didn’t mind the leisurely pace; something about the atmosphere of the restaurant encourages lingering. (We were seated in a quiet back room, rather than the busier but appealing main dining room.)
When the entrees arrived, they proved worth the wait. My husband—after some dithering between crispy duck confit, a white root-vegetable risotto and server-recommended slow-roasted short ribs—had gone with the confit. It was just salty enough, with lushly textured flesh contrasting crunchy skin. The accompaniment—tiny leaves of wild arugula with an unexpectedly refined and aromatic side of bulgur wheat with dates and Marcona almonds—was different enough to be interesting, and tasty enough to match the duck’s sophisticated comfort-food feel.
I was in the mood for something lighter and chose the halibut with tender butter beans, tiny and delicate grilled artichokes and an herbaceous Italian salsa verde. The halibut itself was perfect, seared to a golden shatter on the outside and just separating into thick, moist flakes. I loved the combination of the artichokes with the tangy sauce, and the big beans were cooked to a just-right floury texture.
Portions were restrained enough that we were full but not stuffed, and the dessert menu made us want to keep eating. Treats like fresh-baked cookies, brioche with roasted apples, or a chocolate pine-nut tart all enticed, but I couldn’t resist a Grand Marnier soufflé with candied citrus crème anglaise. (I haven’t seen a soufflé on a dessert menu for a while.) My husband, with my encouragement, went for the Valrhona hot chocolate with fluffy house-made marshmallows, which melted into gooey sweetness in the thick, dark chocolate. (I’m a sucker for a homemade marshmallow.) The soufflé was perhaps just a shade more eggy than ethereal, but its sweet orange flavor and the tableside service—the server broke into its perfectly golden, risen crust to pour in a hit of that crème anglaise—were delightful.
Sated, we got ready to leave, but not before facing the bill. A meal at Hawks is not inexpensive, but to cushion the blow, you end with the grace notes of wee house-made candies: two slivers of crystallized orange peel and a delicate sugared mint leaf dipped in rich chocolate. These closing notes rounded out a near-perfect evening—one that justified the time it took not just to serve the food, but to get this thoughtfully planned, beautifully executed restaurant open.