“Chris, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Pelican Hill? I’m desperately trying to find a through-line for our column and I’m so overwhelmed. It seems Herculean. There is too much to say and not enough space to write it,” I said.
“Well, try to describe how you felt after the experience was over,” Chris said coaxingly.
“That’s easy. I thought that Andrea Restaurant strategized an epicurean assault on all five of my senses using every single one of their five stars with perfect precision. How’s that?”
“Now that’s what I call an opening line,” he laughed.
And that’s exactly how I felt. I’ve dined at five-star restaurants all over the world and worked for world-class hotels. Dining at Andrea was one of those rare experiences when everything comes together harmoniously – the perfect marriage.
Pelican Hill has left no architectural stone unturned in creating that perfect marriage of 16th century architecture, interior design, art and landscaping – but it goes beyond that. There is an ease here that immediately envelops you in its caress. The palette, music, menus, wine, service – everything has been specifically and deliberately chosen to heighten the guests’ five senses and unique, personal experience.
And that’s what Chris and I began to discover during – as I call it – our mini-vaca to Pelican Hill Resort.
We were greeted warmly by Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Dubray and Andrea’s Chef Luca Cesarini, who guided us on a tour of the kitchen,
“We source most of our produce locally from The Irvine Ranch,” explained Dubray. “This year in particular, we are proud of our first olive oil harvest from trees on the resort. We pressed a small batch and the quality is outstanding. We are preparing to harvest over 400 trees next year. This means our guests will be treated to something special that no other resort can offer.”
“Our dedication to bringing our guests the finest ingredients perhaps is reflected in both our pasta and gelato rooms, which are climate controlled. We spend over 50 hours a week making six different pastas. You’ll try some.” Luca smiled at us.
“We’re ready and at your disposal,” I laughed.
Andrea’s General Manager, Paolo Casciato, led us to the outside terrace and offered the wine list.
“Paolo, rather than order a full glass, would you be so kind as to pair really small wine tastings with each course?”
Our first course arrived: San Daniele Prosciutto Riserva and Figs Vincotto.
“Oh, Chef remembered that I love figs,” I said excitedly.
“To begin, I will pour a taste of the Livio Felluga, a Merlot-Cab blend, that’s bold in style and will compliment the pastas,” offered Paolo. “Here we have Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Ravioli with Sage Butter.”
“This is what Thomas was making in the pasta room. You can’t get fresher than that. I’m getting goosebumps!” I laughed.
“And this is called Pope’s Hat, it’s very traditional in Italy. We stuff it with pumpkin, coat with bread crumbs and bitter almond,” Paolo explained.
Chris took a bite and smiled.
“Pope’s hat? This would definitely make me religious.”
“Good one, Trela,” I laughed.
Paolo returned with a different wine to accompany our next course.
“I’m going to take you to the Piedmont area of Italy with a Barbaresco. The Santo Stefano will pair well with the Risotto and Porcini mushrooms. It’s a great palate cleanser so try it now before we bring out the Parmesan wheel.”
“You’re kidding! Chris, have you ever had risotto prepared tableside? No? This will be a treat.”
“Why is this special?” Paolo asked. “Because we cook the risotto in the wheel, then top it off with black truffles. This makes a wonderful marriage of flavors.”
“A spoiled marriage,” I said as Paolo removed the Parmesan wheel.
I took a bite and tried to muster something to say, but no words came out. Chris looked at me, puzzled.
“I’m … speechless. Absolutely speechless.”
“Now that’s a rare occurrence,” noted Chris.
I took two more bites, then paused again.
“Every course so far has been more surprising then the next. I am thoroughly impressed by the attention to detail. I could not recommend this restaurant more highly. This is at the top of my list. Period. End of discussion.”
“You like it?” asked Paolo as he walked by the table.
“I am so overwhelmed, I can’t tell you how amazing this experience has been so far. I want the chef to know I’m about to weep. And the Barbaresco is incredible.”
“I’m glad. Now I’m going to switch you to a Chardonnay made by Antinori, Cervara della salla. No oak, very clean, perfect with the fish,” he stated.
“Sea bass? With eggplant, red pepper, squash and braised tomato?” I admired the colors of the entrée.
“And ash oil drizzled around the plate made from burnt onions,” Paolo explained.
“The flavors in this … Tell your guests if they want to order Fall, this would be the dish,” I hummed unabashedly.
“I love the decorations on the plate. They’re delicious,” Chris commented.
“I love it! The decorations taste good,” Paolo laughed.
“And the white wine works well, too. The crispness is great,” Chris added.
“I have to agree, the Chardonnay is spectacular. Paolo, you really have turned my world upside down,” I accused outright.
“How so?” he asked, perplexed.
“Because you taught me it’s OK to work backwards,” I smiled.
“I’ve never worked backwards with wine before. We started with a big, bold red then progressed to reds lighter in style, and finished with a white. It is a wonderful lesson.”
“You can do that, but you have to have the food that complements it. The perfect pairing of bold and subtle flavors–one highlights the other. The wine complements the food and the food complements the wine. There are some rules, but …”
“The wines we had today were obviously made to go with food, but California wines are often a meal in themselves, and often trickier to pair with food.” Chris interjected.
“Well, I enjoyed living vicariously through the wine and food tastings. I was literally transported to Italy. Chris may be a California loyalist, but I think this has been a rewarding experience on many levels for both of us, and extremely educational.”
“We get what we put in, no?” said Paolo.
“The perfect marriage, no?”’ I smiled.
For more information on Andrea Restaurant, including their new three-course 30-minute lunch, visit PelicanHill.com.