We weren’t going to let our previous dinner at Artisan be our only impression of dining in wine country. On our second night of vacation, the BF and I visited Deborah’s Room located at Justin Vineyard.
After a long, winding drive on a sunny California day through vineyard after vineyard, we finally located Justin Vineyard. Deborah’s Room describes the dining room of Justin perfectly because it really is just a room with a handful of tables. The decor was a bit stodgy and old-fashioned, but I assume the majority of the people dining there, old, rich white people, felt right at home.
We had already called ahead to warn the kitchen about the BF’s vegan diet and they were happy to oblige. It was good we called because the kitchen staff is quite small and the actual kitchen was only about twice the size of my own kitchen. I’m sure they appreciated the extra time they got to prepare.
Deborah’s room only gives the option of a prix fixe menu with a few options per course ($95). A wine pairing for each course can also be included for $45 extra. Considering that I had enough wine through the course of the day of wine tasting and the BF couldn’t drink that much anyway, I opted for just a glass of wine for the entire meal.
We all started off with a (vegan) amuse which was a chilled cucumber (or was it broccoli?) soup. This soup was much better than the cucumber gazpacho we had at lunch. The texture was smooth and consistent and the taste was pleasant. I noticed a hint of curry in the soup, which was both surprising and palatable.
For the appetizer course, I chose the mac and cheese. I know, I know, how quaint to have a mac and cheese dish at a fancy schmancy restaurant. Let me tell you, this was the best mad and cheese I’ve ever had. The sauce was more of a cream sauce with cheese than a true mac and cheese sauce, but oh, was it good. The salty, smokey flavor of the pancetta lent a great deal of depth to the sauce while the scallions and peas added enough contrast and freshness to each bite so that my taste-buds weren’t overwhelmed with the heavy sauce. I’ve never thought of scallions on mac and cheese, but this is definitely something I’ll have to try at home.
The vegan appetizer was a warm asparagus salad with morels. The white asparagus, something I’ve never had before, had a completely different texture than regular asparagus. It was both crunchy and tender, almost like jicama.
When the starter course came, I thought, “Wait, what? I thought appetizers were starters??” Then I remembered I picked fried calamari for this course. To most, fried calamari sounds like bar food. I admit I thought that too, but I certainly wasn’t going to order the foie gras after just having it a few days ago. The fried calamari was unlike any bar food I’ve ever had. The batter was crisp and light, perfect with the green sauce artfully placed on the plate. The stand-out element of this dish were the slices of Spanish chorizo below the calamari. I had never had Spanish chorizo before, being more familiar with its Mexican brother, but man was it good. It had the firm texture of Chinese sausage, but with a sweeter, tangier bite. After one taste, I was a fan.
The vegan starter was an arugula and beet salad — pretty standard as salads go. The BF thought it was better than the previous two salads he had at Artisan and Thomas Hill Organics but the beets “weren’t well integrated with the salad.” It may sound simple, but a good salad with balanced dressing is pretty hard to make.
The vegan entree was a simple vegetable risotto, but don’t be fooled — it was no simple feat. The risotto was tender and flavorful without being too over-powering. It certainly beat the tomato risotto we had at Craft the last time we went there. Considering risotto is hard to do well on such short notice, I’m glad the chef had time to prepare.
My entree was the most perfect flank steak I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth. I was already getting full by the time it arrived, so I wasn’t put off by the three slices. Each slice was cooked to a perfect rare: cooked on the outside, but slightly cool and pink on the inside. Every bite was so tender and flavorful, it wiped away the disappointing steak I had the night before.
I’m not one to have sauce on my steak, but I have to say that the pan reduction included on the side was mouth watering and good. With just enough pepper and salt to highlight the taste of the beef, each time I dipped a bite of steak into the sauce, it was like the flavor was magnified ten times.
The mashed potatoes the flank steak was served on was heavenly as well. They weren’t fluffy, unsubstantial mashed potatoes. They were bold, heavy, and so, so delicious. If the entree contained just the potatoes and the pan reduction sauce, I would have a pretty happy camper.
The next course was the cheese course, which included a healthy portion of blue cheese. I’m a fan of blue cheese and all, but the serving was too much for me to handle. I would have liked half that serving and maybe the option of a second cheese. The most interesting part of the cheese course was the pine nut sap which was drizzled on the plate. It had the consistency and sweetness of honey, but none of the actual honey taste. It’s a good choice for serious vegans who avoid honey as well as people who want to add that type of sweetness without the overbearing taste of honey.
For the vegan non-cheese course, the chef sent out a strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was freshly made and tasted of just-picked strawberries, but it was the mint sauce on the plate that really stood out. It was a refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the sorbet.
The strawberry sorbet was seen once again during the vegan dessert, served on top of some berries. The berries were a little too sweet and syrupy according to the BF, but I didn’t get a taste of it.
I was too busy polishing off my panna cotta. It was rich, a perfectly smooth texture, and most importantly, not cloyingly sweet. It reminded me that I needed to order panna cotta more often. The tangy berry sauce the dish came with just heightened the creaminess of the dessert. The nuts, which many people might overlook, were also toasted and candied perfectly. All in all, it was a very pleasing way to end the meal.
Deborah’s Room is pricey, but I left completely satisfied. Our waiter was a bit too ingratiating, but some people like that. The chef and rest of the kitchen certainly did a great job with crafting a tasty, vegan dish to match each course on the regular menu. It was also nice that the chef and assistant chef came out at the end of the meal to talk to each table. The wonderful location and delectable dishes makes this somewhere I’d love to visit again when I’m in the area.