Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Restaurant Review February 2008
By “The Elusive Epicurean”
I have a French surname, and because of this, people have assumed many things: that I speak French (I don’t), that I cook (not so much), and that I must ever be chic (er, no). Sadly, I must report that my ancestors crossed the Atlantic centuries ago. Whatever innate sartorial or culinary talents they possessed have clearly been frittered away throughout the generations. I am as un-French as anyone.
Sometimes, though, I am haunted by the Might Have Been. The culinary legacy of my grannie with the oh-so French name was this: dinner upon dinner of chopped hot dogs, cottage cheese mounds, and experimental microwave cookery. But, what might have been? What if my ancestors had hoofed it all the way to Louisiana instead of plopping down in Kankakee? Would I have been raised on tasty cuisine? I can only dream.
After eating dinner at Bleaux Magnolia, dream I do. I had already eaten much of their lunch menu, mostly as takeaway and all delicious. My favorite is the pulled pork sandwich ($10). The pork is deliciously tender; cooked in a pomegranate-molasses-rum barbeque sauce, then served with a persimmon macadamia slaw on a soft roll. And, I can never order lunch without getting the “Voodoo Sweet Potato Steak Fries”, served with a chipotle aioli ($5). Yum!
Delicious as their lunch goodies are, I was unprepared for the exceptional dinner that Bleaux Magnolia turned out. If you haven’t yet eaten at this little jewel of a restaurant in downtown Napa, you’ve been missing out.
Happily, Bleaux Magnolia’s tasting menus are a great way to sample this take on Creole fare. Both three- and five-course tasting menus are offered. We decided on the three-course, with wine pairing, at $48 per person ($33 without wine). Prices throughout are for ala carte items. And, while we’re talking fine print here, you will appreciate this: there is no corkage. Yes, that’s right. No corkage. Ever.
My companion, Miss Guinness, began with the butter leaf salad with roasted red and golden beets, candied macadamia nuts, rye croutons and a gorgonzola cheese dressing ($9). I chose the crab cakes, which were served with mango aioli and a persimmon-jicama-macadamia nut slaw ($13). Both were delicious. The gorgonzola dressing had a pleasing, subtle kick, and the crab cakes tasted fresh and homemade.
Miss Guinness is a vegetarian (her only failing) and, although specific vegetarian items aren’t listed on the menu, Bleaux Magnolia will happily prepare something special. Miss Guinness is always thrilled when she doesn’t have to stick to the requisite salad or pasta option, and Bleaux Magnolia didn’t disappoint. Her roasted vegetable gratin with trumpet mushrooms was so flavorful and satiating that even the most rabid carnivore would have been happy to go meat-free.
My first choice, the Niman Ranch pork osso bucco ($23), had sold out, so I ordered the cornbread-crusted catfish ($19). In the end I was grateful I’d ordered something I normally wouldn’t. This wasn’t some bland steamed fish that would get me a gold star from my trainer. Served with sautéed spinach, black-eyed peas, pork jowl, caramelized onions and a huckleberry sauce, this fish was decadently rich and delicious. I will order it again and again.
The grand finale was the bananas Foster. What can I say? It’s heavenly. And, the food pyramid does say to eat your fruit. Order two. Per person.
Bleaux Magnolia is located in downtown Napa at 1408 Clay Street. Tuesdays through Saturdays, lunch is served 11:30 to 2:30 and dinner 5 to 9. On Sundays, brunch is served 11 to 3 and dinner 5 to 9. Closed Mondays. For more information, call (707) 252-2230 or check out http://www.bleauxmagnolia.com.