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House of the Rising Son: The Saratoga dining destination finds new life in the hands of young chef Josiah Slone.

Saratoga Via France

The reinvention of Sent Sovi sends taste buds on a bumpy ride toward succulent dessert

By Christina Waters

SARATOGA'S Sent Sovi restaurant was a favored bon vivant haunt until chef David Kinch relinquished it early this year in favor of his new project, Manresa. In April, 25-year-old chef Josiah Slone and partner Rolando Locci took over the French-inspired menu, opting to keep the restaurant's name and interior design intact.

A revisit to the new version of Sent Sovi gave me an excuse to dine with an elegant friend, a friend with radar taste buds and a taste for chocolate. Touches of copper still adorn the main room, but the artwork has changed, and the staff seems even more attentive. A convivial but well-behaved wine-dinner party held down the center of the pretty dining room.

Virginia approved of a bottle of Savannah Chanel Pinot Noir 2000 ($48), which opened nicely in huge balloon goblets while we worked our way through a fragrant cache of pain de compagne. An opening amuse offered tangles of green papaya spiced with sesame seeds, cilantro and rice-vinegar dressing. Like almost every restaurant in California, Sent Sovi's menu incorporates Asian ideas.

Both appetizers and entrees brought mixed results. An order of fresh corn bisque ($11) was luxurious and full of sexy late-summer flavors, but a creation of crisp spring rolls ($9) filled with lentils seemed not to have been fully thought through. Plump prawns spicy with coriander sat atop the soup, so thick was the delicious corn purée, and several thick strips of perfect, ripe avocado laced the middle. We both loved it and found it as accessible as the lentil rolls were unmanageable. Crispy thin rice paper shattered upon impact, by teeth or by fork, and the lentils themselves tended toward dryness.

There was a very lengthy pause between courses, possibly due to the presence of the large party, but our waitstaff didn't let us feel neglected. Two amiable waiters made charming small talk as they kept our wine and water glasses filled.

Entrees were abundant and attractive. One plate produced two roasted quails atop a pool of very tangy pomegranate-shallot sauce ($24). Cubes of decadent apple wood-smoked bacon, roasted grapes and a delicious portion of romano beans played supporting roles. Somehow, the quail never rose to the occasion, not being quite crisply roasted enough and hence without fully developed game flavor. Virginia found the pomegranate sauce too "vinegary," but while I agreed it was full-on tart, I found that aspect of it a welcome foil for the sweet grapes and earthy beans.

My entree of pan-roasted Sonoma Liberty duck breast was delicious ($26). Arriving exactly as requested, between rare and medium rare, the breast meat was meltingly tender. The accompanying fingerling potatoes, however, tasted as though they'd been cooked much earlier, and the tiny sheaf of asparagus leaned toward the metallic. Great duck, however, and especially wonderful with the big plummy tones of the pinot noir.

The dessert menu at Sent Sovi is sheer temptation. Intrigues such as berries with Chantilly cream, roasted Gravenstein apple with Stilton streusel or maple crème brûlée give way to the deeper waters of serious chocolate: Valrhona chocolate espresso mousse, bittersweet chocolate gelato. We came to an abrupt halt at chocolate mascarpone cheesecake with candied citrus crust ($8), and with the aid of a serviceable house coffee and an excellent espresso, plunged in without looking back.

Some desserts win you over with visual appeal, others with ingenious combinations of textures and flavors. This simple slice of pale chocolate cheesecake--aided by a rosette of whipped cream--seduced us the old-fashioned way. It tasted absolutely divine. Barely sweet, the whipped cream hugged the inner curves of chocolate romanced by exceptionally buttery cheese. A delicate crust, lightly citrused, made no intrusive moves. It supported, supplied a hit of crisp and then it stood back, allowing the chocolate density to go directly into the cerebral cortex by way of the second chakra. Sent Sovi means "killer dessert" in Saratogan English.

Sent Sovi
Address: 14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Phone: 408.867.3110
Hours: 5-10pm Tue-Sat, 5-9:30pm Sun
Cuisine: New American
Price: Expensive

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From the October 2-8, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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