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Cuisine Noir

Le Mouton Noir
Christopher Gardner

Bicoastal Bravura: Jason Siccone brings East Coast ideas to a West Valley landmark.

New ideas at Saratoga's chic Le Mouton Noir roam the American gastronomic landscape with delicious abandon

By Christina Waters

PLATES HAVE RARELY BEEN as beautifully filled as those over at Le Mouton Noir, now that new owner Jeff Breslow and chef Jason Siccone are running the show. Even the pretty pink and white dining rooms of this long-famed, always reliable Saratoga Village restaurant paled in comparison to a parade of dazzling orchestrations showing off both the chef's Atlantic coast origins and his skill in mixing cross-continental metaphors.

Appointed with antique country inn attitude, the various rooms of this eccentrically shaped venue filled rapidly on a chilly evening in mid-week. Obviously, the word on chef Siccone was good, and besides Le Mouton Noir is known for delivering attentive service as well as menu expertise.

The current menu is brief and to the point: a few starter specialties and salads, plus grilled East Coast sea scallops, quail, lamb, Atlantic salmon, duck, Angus beef and a dish of utter luxury involving medallions of veal tenderloin and fresh Maine lobster tail.

Determined to save room for one of pastry chef Kelly Chapman's desserts, we ordered the evening's special gnocchi with Dungeness crab ($10.50), a dish of wild mushrooms ($9.75), pan-roasted quail with pheasant sausage and risotto stuffing ($23.50) and the veal and lobster, finished in a Madeira wine, lemon and truffle sauce ($26).

Our third companion on what was to be an un-boring evening was a bottle of Edmeades Pinot Noir 1994 ($40) from a wine list devoted to safe, surefire hits from recent vintage California premiums. Our waiter, whose colorful banter set a relaxed tone for the evening, allowed us plenty of time to select, change our minds and finally decide, as the berry-filled wine opened into spectacular full bloom.

I'll get right to the point--the gnocchi dish almost surpassed believability. From a central cushion of fresh, sweet Dungeness crab meat rose a garden of tender asparagus and slender baby carrots--all fully flavored and delicately steamed. Succulent yellow zucchini, still hot from the grill, lay next to rosy petals of endive and radicchio. A lemon-intensive sauce tinged with sun-dried tomatoes--the kind someone hand-dries, not the tight, leathery commercial product--scented every element. Fat cabochons of gnocchi, tinted green from herbs and possibly spinach, surrounded the crab meat--gnocchi so light and delicious they defied every law of physics.

Another appetizer, much-applauded by my companion, bordered on overwrought for my taste. Sandwiched by crisp, black-sesame-studded puff pastry, earthy wild mushrooms had been tossed in creamy goat cheese--a very rich combination--encircled by a pool of roasted apple sauce, sprigs of fresh sage and pretty julienne strips of green apple. The concept sounded right--earthy funghi meets tart fruit--but the effect of creamy-rich filling and too-sweet apple sauce was cloying.

Our entrées, each a romp of visuals, textures and fresh flavor contrasts, were at once sumptuous and lots of fun to approach. Game for anything, my companion Virginia applauded the presentation of two roasted quail--stuffed to rotundity with pheasant risotto--on an emerald forest of baby bok choy and kale. Pungent morels and pan-roasted pistachios dressed the enormous expanse of the white plate, punctuated with a few pea pods and infant carrots. The quail was absolutely perfect--moist, crisp-skinned, aromatic with cognac. And winter greens made a natural match.

My dish involved vertical strata from the buttery rare veal medallion topped with a tender Maine lobster tail--which itself was topped by slices of black truffle--to tiny clouds of mashed potatoes festooned with crunchy ribbons of flash-fried potatoes. The truffle and Madeira sauce threatened to overwhelm, yet the freshness of the accompanying artichoke hearts, potatoes and asparagus--all served on the same plate in a vibrant collage--managed to prevail. This chef loves to play many melodies on a single instrument, and while he pushes the edge of flavor multiplicity, he manages to stay on-key.

Our meal ended with decaf espresso ($2 each) and a shared dessert of hazelnut torte ($5.75), in which the two triangular slices of hazelnut-intensive cake lay against a pool of tart orange curd--a brilliant pairing--topped with barely sweetened whipped cream. A sprig of fresh mint and two tender raspberries completed this dreamy picture.

Le Mouton Noir

Address: 14560 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Phone: 408/867-7017
Hours: Dinner from 6pm weeknights, 5:30pm Saturday, and 5pm Sunday; lunch Saturday 11:30am­2pm
Price: Moderate to expensive
Chef: Jason Siccone
Ambiance: Rustic yet elegant country inn
Cuisine: New American with nouvelle tendencies

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro

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