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[whitespace] Sent Sovi
Christopher Gardner

Thanks for the Memories: Chef David Kinch and hostess Aimee Hebert labor to create a dining affair to remember.

Saratoga's stellar Sent Sovi continues to highlight the innovative touch of David Kinch--a reputation deliciously intact

By Christina Waters

A BISTRO THAT exists to frame the creative work of its resident artist: that's Saratoga's Sent Sovi, where David Kinch cooks up one irresistible idea after another. In his culinary Eden the most intriguing seasonal items are given care and attention--calibrated not to the rococo point of nouvelle, but to the exact degree necessary to highlight each shape, each texture and each sparkling clear flavor.

The food is in the foreground, my companion Jack noted on our second visit last month. Each mouthful is important, he said, his mouth full of francese dredged in a plush, fruity olive oil. Nothing is overdone, from the opening amuse bouche of truffle-laced ahi with garlic chives, to the final bite of warm almond cake. Well, actually, a gorgeous slice of oven-roasted pork loin ($20) was a bit chewy last time, and a sea bass filet on a bed of braised escarole ($22) was overcooked. But our appetizers that evening were archetypal. A vertical creation of ahi tartare ($11), shaped into a pretty turban interlaced with truffles and transparent slices of heirloom potatoes, was outstanding. A deep faience bowl of agnolotti ($11 with Spanish ham and roasted turnips) was drenched in brown butter, making it a bit rich for an opening course.

Even better was our recent opening salvo at Sent Sovi. Jack's house-smoked salmon terrine ($10) was a delicate braiding of the rich and the tart, with sensuous leek and pungent goat cheese enfolding each thin slice of salmon. The compact creation wore a tiara of baby frisée and was accompanied by a pool of citrus sauce flecked with pepper and micro-dots of crème fraîche.

Meanwhile, I began the prix fixe ($54 without wine) with a splendid plate of foie gras. A rhubarb black pepper aspic bathed the rich foie gras--each ingredient heightening every other. While I admired my second appetizer--a life-changing dayboat sea scallop topped with asparagus and hazelnuts, sitting atop a few wax beans, baby favas and infant carrots in an asparagus cream sauce--Jack enjoyed a plate of bold squid ink risotto, dotted with impeccably fresh mussels (each one a song) and criss-crossed with flash-fried salsify ($10). Portions of each course were kept small enough to focus attention--small, but deeply satisfying.

Entrees continued to impress us with Kinch's attention to seasonal produce and his ability to weave earthy materials into ethereal experiences. A double fan of rare Muscovy duck breast ($23) was connected by a central gratin of tender fava beans, sweet yellow beets, pancetta and leeks. My entree, rack of lamb, was generous, rare and delicious. It was adorned with tiny White Rose potatoes, braised salsify--an unusual and utterly delicious rarity--and a few umbrella mushrooms of intense flavor. What a dish, I thought, managing to finish every trace. With a little help from Jack, who had already asked for half his duck to be wrapped for home.

We shared my cheese course of a melted slice of Spanish Zamorano, accented with honey and pinenuts. Too much honey, we agreed, and the cheese was diminished by being presented on toast points. A slice of Pecorino might have worked better.

Along with Illy Caffe espressos we shared my warm almond cake, arriving dusted with a few almonds, a slick of crème anglaise and two fat ovals of frozen parfait flavored with the licorice bite of pastis liqueur. (On another occasion we'd loved the impeccable craftsmanship of a pear tart, $7, served with a memorable crème fraîche ice cream, yet wished the pears themselves had yielded more flavor.) The cake succeeded with a sensuous yin/ yang of textures and temperatures, the cool and the warm, sweet and sour, earthy and delicate. That juxtaposition of sensory experiences is exactly what Sent Sovi honors.

The experience isn't cheap. But then neither are the memories.

Sent Sovi

Address: 14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga
Phone: 408/867-3110
Cuisine: French countryside meets contemporary California
Hours: Dinner Tue.-Sun. 5:30-9:30pm
Chef: David Kinch
Entrees: $19-$24; monthly five-course prix fixe dinner

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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