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[whitespace] Strawberries
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Just Desserts: Waiter Jonathan Di Blasi holds up a strawberry-vanilla 'Savarin,' an edible sculpture of local strawberries and ice milk.

Sensational Sent Sovi

Reinventing his culinary palette, Chef David Kinch translates seasonal bounty into sensuous sophistication

By Christina Waters

WITH A GRACE other restaurants can only envy, Sent Sovi continues to deepen its Saratoga niche. The oriental carpet, nouveau table lamps and swag window treatments all exude a French countryside mood. But chef Kinch is pure Californian in his restless devotion to seasonal motifs. Add to that an increasingly intricate intelligence, and the result is food even more finely wrought than I'd come to expect from this brilliant maverick.

Conceptual foraging keeps the chef's evolving energies on fast-forward. Tiny droplets of intensely infused oils adorn the showpiece plates, edible polka dots of basil or passion fruit. Summer unfolds throughout the meal, in sweet white corn, delicate lamb's ear mache, succulent beets, snap peas and young zucchini. The gracious staff feels part of an expertly trained, contented family and the meal flows from course to course beautifully.

A frosty flute of Sharffenberger Pacific Echo NV Brut ($8) and another of the house merlot made by Mt. Eden ($9) joined a wildly inventive and delicious amuse bouche of baby chanterelles and duck prosciutto, enhanced by bits of toasted almond, shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano, fingerling potato and dots of basil oil. The miniature universe of plush, salty and vibrant contrasts was served in the center of a huge, octagonal white plate. Very smart--and comparable to what might begin any respectable meal in Paris or New York.

Split into two classic martini goblets came a starter of Sevruga caviar topping a mousse of avocado cream. ($22) Elegant comfort food, the pale green starter was flecked with pistachio oil and crème fraîche. Unexpected and edgy, it was beautiful to look at. Two appetizers continued the theme of flavor intensity--mine an archipelago of tiny cubed yellow, pink and red beets--every flavor intensely focused, with a fluff of baby lettuces and dice of goat's milk ricotta all in a luscious basil vinaigrette ($14). Jack rhapsodized about his chilled soup of roast eggplant--we recalled Christmas dinner in Florence at Il Cibreo--upon which floated galaxies of sweet and salty flavors. Capers here, toasted pine nuts there, yogurt caponata, a hit of caviar--our mouths couldn't believe it.

Entrees are hand-crafted and take time to arrive. When they do, the results are miraculous. My entree involved slices of rare squab on creamy, buttery mashed potato, sided by a hill of white corn on top of which was draped a bouquet of slender wild asparagus. Foie gras-perfumed vinaigrette made the whole dish a single, harmonic creation ($30). Another entree of wild striped bass, roasted and supple, was topped a rich creation of morel-intensive mushroom risotto, studded with slender green beans and a few small jewels of sweet turnip.

As always, the beautiful plates at Sent Sovi disarmed us completely, blazing with flavor complexity. This food is so unpretentiously artful, so surprising, that you scarcely realize how perfectly sized the portions are. We dined well, but never felt stuffed. In fact, we were able to consider desserts ($8 each), created by pastry chef Irit Ishai, whose passion for flavor alchemy matches that of Kinch himself. Imagine a crimson bowl of roasted apricots, centered by a scoop of silken ice cream perfumed with thyme. Now imagine that on the plate nearby is a long, slender tube of filo pastry filled with a warm dried fruit and nut interior. I was stunned by the complete logic of this two-stage creation. Apricots, roasted and heightened by the unusual poetry of the thyme ice cream, also influenced the strudel filling inside its fragile pastry wrapper. It was as close to a perfect dessert as I've ever experienced. But Jack just smiled over his fabulous dessert. Fit for a pharoah, the evening special spotlighted a central pyramid of coconut macaroon, surrounded by an intense tropical passion fruit cream. The entire edible diorama was strewn with lichee fruit, passion fruit and papaya, all exploding with ripeness. Such sexy desserts, each like an exotic country with its own fabulous identity. Sent Sovi continues to set the pace.

Sent Sovi
Address: 14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Phone: 408.867.3110
Hours: Dinner only. Closed Monday
Reservations strongly recommended
Entrees: $18-$30

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From the June 28-July 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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