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Windsor Winner

[whitespace] Mariposa
Michael Amsler

Spreading their (butterfly) wings: Mariposa co-owner Shawn Kearney-Tang, above, has brought a splash of sophistication to Windsor.

New restaurant serves stylish, unfussy fare

By Paula Harris

IT'S EVENING and we're in the car heading for the old part of town. Driving slowly along a quiet neighborhood street, we spy a small patio enclosed with a white picket fence, where tiny lights beckon from the trees and a few diners relax beneath white canvas umbrellas, nursing glasses of something sparkly. In the background is an old frame house fashioned into a sophisticated restaurant, where the appetizing smells of gourmet cuisine and the sounds of mellow jazz waft from the open door.

Are we in Sonoma? Healdsburg? Glen Ellen, perhaps? Nope, guess again. It's Windsor. Mariposa, a 5-month-old restaurant on Windsor River Road, is changing the face of the county's youngest town, hitherto regarded as a culinary wasteland.

Chef Ray Tang--formerly of Postrio and Boulevard in San Francisco, and Lespinasse in New York--is now treating Windsor to his talents. Mariposa means "butterfly" in Spanish, but the menu is French with shades of Asian. The restaurant is tiny, only nine or so indoor tables, so reservations are recommended. Inside, the minimalist decor is offset by a warm wood floor, low ceiling, and tea lights, which glimmer through colorful glass holders on each table. Our server brings us good crusty bread and we prepare to feast.

First up is a sublime potato leek soup with asparagus and truffle oil ($5.75). The pistachio green soup features two white asparagus spears crisscrossed atop. The subtly flavored and creamy broth holds a hidden surprise: tender-crisp chunks of leeks lurk within.

Next, we try the sweet garlic and chive gnocchi with a ragout of chanterelle mushrooms and fingerling potatoes ($7.75). These are melt-in-the-mouth pillows with a toasty exterior. The gnocchi, ultra-thin potato coins, snipped chives, garlic flecks, drizzles of parsley coulis, and the delicate meat of chanterelle mushrooms blend seamlessly into an amazing layer of flavors.

The sizzling black mussels with a sweet pepper curry and sautéed pea sprouts ($7.50) sizzle indeed. They arrive in a small (but very noisy) square cast-iron skillet. A taste of those plump, rosy-coral-shelled mussels is like a blast of sea spray. Thin red pepper strips, pea sprouts, and a thin sauce with a gentle bite of curry give the dish an Oriental twist. Flirting with gluttony, we next order the butternut squash risotto ($12.75), a large bowl of steaming yellow rice scattered with a few lusty red pomegranate seeds, a generous dollop of mascarpone cheese, and some wilted greens.

The one low point of the meal is the red wine braised-beef back ribs ($16.50). The dish features two large beef stick-to-the-ribs ribs, a pool of rich gravy, and a smooth purée of mashed potato with a horseradish kick. While the meat from one rib falls off the bone, the meat on the other is fatty and tough. The dish also tastes overly salty.

Though the wine list is small, it includes some great selections. Eleven wines are offered by the glass. While the service seems a bit harried at times, it is good overall. The servers are quite laid back (they even wear jeans), and add to the stylish, yet casual, atmosphere.

From the tiny dessert list, we choose the blackberry zinfandel sorbet ($3.75), which is an intense icy treat--vividly colored and brimming with fruit flavor. We also try the lemongrass and cardamom crême brûlée ($5.25), a spicy, creamy concoction with a flavor reminiscent of chai tea.

Our parting advice? Give those trendy gourmet towns a miss this time. Get in the car and head for Windsor. Just be sure to make a reservation first.


Mariposa
275 Windsor River Road, Windsor; 838-0162
Hours: Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Food: French with Asian influences
Service: Good though a bit rushed
Ambiance: Stylish, but casual
Price: Moderate to expensive
Wine list: Great quality, mid-priced selection, and several good wines by the glass
Overall: ***1/2 stars (out of 4)

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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