Sent Sovi (Saratoga, CA) – Youthful Exuberance

My mission this year is to try out-of-the-way restaurants in the area. I find myself enjoying restaurants outside of the city more and more; less crowds, more serious eaters, and better food (I’m a grumpy old man at 30.) Manresa, Farmhouse Inn, Sawa Sushi, Cafe Gibraltar, Flea St Cafe, and La Salette have convinced me the north & south don’t get their culinary dues & respect.

Sent Sovi was near the top of my list; a Caribbean-influenced chef cooking French cuisine. Sounds interesting enough, I’m game. Went on a Sunday night, the place is fairly small (~ 15 tables), and there were only 5 parties or so around 8pm. Sat down, checked the menu, and decided on the tasting menu.

White Truffle Porcini Popcorn
Small dish of popcorn w/ a dash of white truffle oil and porcini dust. Whimsical perhaps, high art meets low brow (didn’t the visual arts do this in the 60s?), i begin to wonder if I made a mistake in ordering the tasting menu. (Afterall, this isn’t a marvelous creation like WD-50′s kimchee potato chips.)

Pork Terrine
Next up was a terrine that failed to inspire. This is what you get for experimenting w/ a tasting menu at a newer restaurant, I thought to myself. The terrine was not terrible, just unremarkable. It had a deep rich flavor but it wasn’t anything unique.

Potato Soup
By this time, the soup was the make or break dish. Out comes a bowl of potato soup and it was delicious. Very thick, full of cream, with a dash of spices in the middle. I scraped my bowl w/ my bread, wanting more.

Seared Foie Gras
You can never go wrong w/ seared foie gras so i had hope the meal would get back on track. Typical seared foie gras w/ a quince confit. No complaints here as i could eat foie gras til i explode.

Marinated Seafood Salad
This was his Caribbean influence showing through – a nice bowl of seafood filled w/ scallops, shrimp, crab, and white fish. Toss in some lemon & lime, ceviche-like, but if you’ve ever eaten in the carribean, you’ll recognize its origins there. Fresh seafood, refreshing, but it seemed a tad out of place.

Peach Sorbet w/ Rosemary Water & Black Pepper
Mmmmm….. This intermezzo was delicious… The peach sorbet and the rosemary syrup (not really water) were simply harmonious together. The freshly cracked black pepper elevated this ‘dish’ a step higher. Mmmm….

Pork Loin chop w/ Black Truffle Mashed Potatoes & Asparagus
This was a misstep. The pork loin chop was not very thick, and as a result, it did not have a nice juicy center. The whole thing was a tad on the dry side. The black truffle mashed potatoes were delicious – very creamy w/ chunks of potato – just how i like them.

Pear
The pear was soaked in some liqueur w/ a pile of creme fraiche. I’m not the biggest fan of pears but i scarfed this down.

Lemon-infused Beets w/ Pistachios
I hate beets but Chez Panisse & WD-50 (how different can you get?) taught me that the best restaurants will make one love food they hate. After the dinner, I asked the waiter if they had any beets left over and he brought me a small plate. Yum! The acidity of the lemon brought a nice jolt to the beet, a “bright” flavor together and the pistachios added extra texture and an earthy balance to each bite.

The Chef
Afterwards, the chef came out and chatted. He was very affable and you could tell he really enjoyed what he was doing. I quizzed him on his favorite restaurants in the area and he told us how he came to be at Sent Sovi. He also described a prawn dish w/ mole sauce he made earlier at a chocolate festival – yum! And he’s young – I later read he’s only 27-28. He gave me his card and told me to email him in advance the next time we stop in.

Final Impressions
The tasting menu was not a cohesive experience, nor was every dish perfect. There were definite winners (soup, salad, & sweets) and clear missteps (popcorn & pork.) I chalk this up to youthful exuberance, a chef still searching for his own style.

However, i think it’s a place worth checking in every 6 months or so. I want to see how his Caribbean influences develop and ultimately impact his French cuisine. It’s the kind of place you want to see succeed and he’s the kind of chef you want to see make it. I’d order an entree & main course next time, maybe make a special request, and I think I would be perfectly satisfied.

- chuck