There are some meals you suspect the chef is onto you and the flavors you enjoy most. At Bear, Executive Chef Garrison Price understood my global soul.
Before landing at Bear, Executive Chef Garrison Price took a tour of the world’s cuisines, spending time learning Italian techniques at New York’s il Buco Alimentari & Vineri, the benefits of flowers at botanically-focused il Fiorista and the art of blending Asian and western flavors at Hawaii’s now-closed Kauai Grill and José Andres’ China Poblano in Vegas. Translating these myriad influences and flavors into a menu that considers form, texture, and innovative fermentation and preservation processes is no small feat. And at first glance, the menu sparked many questions about what is charred and what is fermented – how could I distill what appeared to be so many interesting flavors into a meal I and my companion would enjoy?
Chef does some of the work for you, simplifying dishes down to their ingredients –
OYSTERS half dozen with pear & seaweed mignonette
GEM LETTUCES radishes, green strawberries, lavender, vinaigrette, tarragon
– seems straight-forward, right? But Price has a million tricks up his sleeve, lifting each dish beyond its description, creating thrilling bites in dish after dish.
What to Drink
Do you love sherry cocktails? If not, why not? If you follow me on Instagram, you already know about my love affair with sherry and whiskey cocktails. Add rum and sherry and make it a love triangle. I was immediately taken with the restaurant as there wasn’t just one but TWO cocktails with sherry in them. I swooned. I tried the Boot Spur which melded rum, amontillado sherry, and chocolate bitters, and it was everything I had hoped it would be – savory, nutty notes, aroma of chocolate. Delicious. I did not try the Lavender Fields which brought gin together with fino and Lillet Blanc. Next time.
What to Eat
From the menu descriptions, I couldn’t quite figure out which dishes would naturally work best with one another. I ended up selecting CUCUMBER, SALMON, BISON TARTARE, CRISPY RICE and TAGLIATELLE. All of them had character.
CUCUMBER Dressed with gochujang, a traditional Korean condiment made from chiles, fermented beans and garlic, the dish was surprisingly subtle, the sweetness of the sauce more apparent than its chile heat, the ferment a quieter background note. I wished for more dressing – maybe served on the side instead of lying innocently on the bottom of the cucumber stack where it went unseen until the final serving.
CRISPY RICE Served in rather large rounds, the rice is at once chewy and crispy, savory and sweet, roaring with mushroom umami and the sweetness of coconut. I was again surprised that I was not smacked in the face with chile heat from the Thai bird chiles. I wondered if chef is brining them to temper the heat quotient.
SALMON The dill and yogurt combo is classic, rendering the dish instantly familiar yet the salmon skin was nearly white, a visual that threw off my son who did not recognize it for what is was until he popped it into his mouth. Its crisp character appealed so immediately, he nearly ate them all before I even got one! The skin’s puffy crunch played with the apple’s sturdier crunch balanced by the pop of trout roe. The dish worked beautifully.
BISON The cured egg yolk was glossy and thick, the tendon puff had excellent crunch and the colatura and capers added savoriness. Couldn’t stop eating it. So many chefs pair bison with cheese so I was glad to see it done up in this fresh and inspired style. It is an important protein in the American culinary cannon.
TAGLIATELLE The bitterness of the watercress was a great match for the pecorino. The pistachio added creaminess, as did the pasta texture itself. Nice.
Bear is placed at the center of Stanly Ranch, a new property from Auberge Resorts. The hotel, flanked by newly planted trees and a vast parking lot, still looks a little lonely. Maybe because the entrance is not grand, we drove right past, thinking the restaurant must be a little further on property. Once we were oriented, we found Bear easily, the entrance icon glowing in the sun. Its wide patio allows every table a view of the mountains And we really liked the roof-slash-adjustable shade that allowed for custom adjustment of the sun’s intensity. It suited the space well.
Price manages what at first appeared an uphill challenge, making a coherent meal out of seemingly disparate flavors. By deftly combining textures and global flavors, he makes a flavorful whole, a meal to remember. The setting has all the right notes but needs a bit more time until it is in full bloom. At the moment, it’s more of an awkward teenager who hasn’t settled into his height. That day will come soon enough.
200 Stanly Crossroad, Napa, CA