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Cracked Pepper Bistro report [Fresno]

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Finally made it back to CPB with six houndly companions last Friday to try their dinner menu. This was a birthday party for our two dear friends that keep all their pals plied with fine wines throughout the years. The plan was for Lady PB and I to split the tab with another couple, but they cheated and treated us all, therefore never got to see the total. The staff however was gracious enough to give me a menu and their wine list so I can at least provide some measure of the fare, except for the wines, which the honorees insisted on providing.

Appetizers: We were all over the board, I'd had (and loved) the Mala-Insala Napoleon ($11) (pumpkin seed encrusted eggplant, goat cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes and pesto misted with aged balsamic) for lunch shortly after CPB opened, and attempted to convice LadyPB and girlfriend that they really should share one (the goat cheese was the hard part to sell to them), a disclaimer on the menu states that "Eating this possibly leads to madness" but since we're all half to three quarters of the way there, what could be the harm? Turned out that the rest of our party found the other apps to be enticing as well, so we ended up ordering all but one (mixture of olives roasted w/ garlic & spices) on the menu. They were Pan Seared Crab Cake (11) w/ tomatillo lime puree and creme fraiche, Thai Curry Skewers (12) tender filet brochettes w/ mint cabbage slaw, and my choice, Escargot-116 (13) on mini phyllo triangles w/ lemon ginger beurre blanc and jicama beet salad (no clue as to what the 116 stands for). The eggplant napoleon, as expected, was a hit with all (several have ordered it previously), if you haven't tried it, don't delay. The meat skewers were fantastically tender with the mild curry infused throughout, the escargot was taken to a new level by the sauce, simply incredible. While the placement on the little phyllo pieces was a nice change, I couldn't help but wish they had been served in the shell so I could slurp up more of the sauce. By the time I got a taste of the crab cakes it was a little underwhelming, not that they weren't done extremely well, fresh tasting and all, but just seemed to be pushed out of the way by how incredible the others were.

Salads: LadyPB and I split a CPB Caesar (10), well done with house made croutons and butcher bacon, the others liked this but I would have preferred anchovy, the execution was fine otherwise. Also offered is an Organic Mixed Green Salad w/ handmade goat cheese dressing (8) and a Fried Pumpkin Salad (9) tossed w/ pepitas and a creamy cheese fondue. We found out later into the meal from friends at another table that we blew it by not ordering this one.

Entrees: I went with one of the two new additions to the menu, Prawn Risotto (28), pistachio pesto grilled prawns atop creamy marscapone risotto finished with cilantro oil. All I can say is I had a hard time giving away bites of this dish in exchange for tastes from the plates of my pals. A little smoky note to the prawns with the creamy risotta was just heaven. Two in our group ordered the Lamb Chops (28) hoison glazed loin chops w/ romano-chive roasted fingerlings and seasonal vegetables, one of the finer, most tender, perfectly cooked cuts of lamb I've tasted in a while, and a generous portion of three thick pieces. Our host and wine mentor went with the Braised Short Ribs (26) slow braised, w/ pan fried red potatoes, sweet onions, and seasonal vegetables, and was quite happy. Very meaty and tender. Another had the Achiote Glazed Pork Tenderloin (27), oven roasted w/ achiote glaze, chorizo, arroz frito and verano vegetables. The pork was very tender and the glaze added such a flavor party for the taste buds. Our pal that treated us had the Almond Wood roasted filet Mignon (35 or 29 for petite cut) w/ Chef Vatche's signature mushroom crust, brandy cream sauce and celery root puree. Simply tender melt in your mouth with a decadent richness. As it turned out we only missed sampling two other items on the menu, Mediterranean Rosemary Seared Chicken Breast (22) and (the other new one, iirc) Pappardelle (32) creamy vanilla orchid vodka sauce on the pasta w/ pan seared sea scallops.

Wines: As mentioned our guests supplied a great selection, a Witness Tree and a Rosemary's Pinot Noir, a Caymus '99 Cab, another '97 Cab and an OR Pinot Noir that memory fails me. As mentioned earlier a friend at another table was Jim Lamar of Professional Friends of Wine, http://www.winepros.org/ , so naturally an exchange began by us sending his table a couple of glasses, he reciprocating with a '97 Beringer Cab, etc, etc. I mention this because it wasn't until the next day when I looked at CPB's wine list that I noticed Jim's obvious influence on the selections, some of which are:

Roar '05 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Windward '04 Estate Pinot, their house wine is Folk Machine '05 Central Coast Pinot (9/36

)

Medium to full-bodied include 2004 Neyers Tofanelli Zin, Elyse 2004 Eagle Point Zin, and 2004 ZCS from Santa Barbara Winery.

Bold include Longboard 2003 Rochioli Cab, L'Aventure 04 Optimus, Halter Ranch Estate 04 Cab, Robert Sinskey 03 Carneros Merlot, and Montage 03 Cab (8/32)

Dessert wine is Olde Shandon (nv) Syrah Port (8).

Sparkling covers Moet & Chandon '98 Dom Perignon (230), a NV Baumard Cremant De Loire (36), Jean Louis NV Brut Blanc de Blanc (8/18 split), and a surprise, Hou Hou Shu NV Sparkling Sake (16/g)

Fruity to Semi-sweet: Foxen 04 chenin Blanc, Paraiso 05 Riesling, and 2005 Clairborne & Churchill Dry Riesling.

Light to medium: 2005 Denner Theresa (70% Roussanne/30% Viognier), William Fevre 2005 Champs Royaux Chablis, and the house '05 Folk Machine Sauvignon Blanc (9/30)

Full-bodied: 2004 Domaine Bouchard Chardonnay, Blackjack 2005 Chard, 2005 Demetria Gaia Vineyard Chard, Alban Vineyards 05 Viognier, Domaine Alfred 05 Goss Creek Chard, and a few others.

Dessert: Most sane people would have passed at this point, but we ended up sharing a decadent bread pudding, a chocolate volcano cake, a wedding cake (everyone raved about, I passed on this one), and a creme brulee that I can't recall if it was mocha, tiramisu, or ....? Do recall that it was all excellent.

Chef Vatche came out a couple of times to check and see how we were doing, most gracious and friendly. Bottom line, CPB is putting out some of the finest cuisine this burg has seen in a while.

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  1. Sounds great. Have not eaten at the CPB yet, but it sounds like a must. I am new to Chow and am very happy to be able to get so much info. I have known that the CPB was open but the only reports I have encountered have been on this site. Thanks.
    I looked up escargot on the internet and many sites report that there are 116 edible varieties. Glad it wasn't a Texas size portion of 116 snails served with a lobster bibb.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Franken

      Welcome to CH, Franken, and thanks for the sleuth work. That's interesting about the number of edible varieties, the local folklore that I've heard states that the ones found here are one of two (or the few?) used in Europe that were brought in by emigrants, and as long as you've never used chemical controls on your property, the ones roaming the gardens in the valley here are ripe for eating, after a 24 hour diet of cornmeal and a starvation period, iirc. Anyhow, I kind of like the thought of a 116 variety chow -challenge, mmm.

      1. re: PolarBear

        I am currently taking a zoology class and recently finished up a section on our friends the gastropods (snails), whose name interestingly enough, means "stomach foot". Anyway, the starvation period is necessary since snails carry parasites dangerous to people (mostly lung and blood flukes, iirc). We still have some of our snails in the laboratory who have not eaten for quite some time..hmmm.

    2. Thanks PB for your exhaustive report! Hubby and I must get over there soon. We have been having so much fun with tacos lately and eating breakfast at Julia's, that we forget that Fresno has other cuisine beside Mexican.

      2 Replies
      1. re: glazebrookgirl

        Been having the same dilemma, gbg, trying to tear myself away from Don Pepe's al pastor and lengua tacos/tortas, but I just can't do it until I try their ceviche tostada, sigh... so much foood.....

        1. re: PolarBear

          I tried the ceviche tostada at Don Pepe's a couple of months ago. I haven't had much ceviche, so my basis of comparison is a bit weak. But I liked the tostada very much. The ceviche was finely textured (in my experience, most ceviche is coarsely chopped); and, iirc, had nice fish flavor without being overly fishy and with a good tanginess. I'd really like to have it again, but I keep getting side-tracked into other dishes.