Our first experience with Dean Fearing’s new restaurant at the Ritz Carlton was at the grand opening luncheon September 15th. The food was very good, but there was a fixed menu and none of the dishes were what I would have ordered if left to my own devices. On the other hand, despite the fact that I normally don’t like shrimp, I was impressed with Dean’s barbequed shrimp taco.
The luncheon was held in Dean’s Kitchen, where you get to actually watch the chefs at work. Naturally, being the grand opening luncheon, the room was full. We got to see Dean from afar, along with Cat Cora. It was a nice experience, but I wanted to hold off on forming an opinion of the new place until I’d had a "real" dinner there during regular business operation days.
Last night, to celebrate finishing our tax returns just in time for the October 15th deadline, we returned to the Ritz and had an early dinner. With reservations for 6:00 p.m., we were the first people seated in the Sendero dining room, which has glass walls on three sides that look out onto the patio/bar area with an outdoor fireplace on one side and the small narrow pool with fountain dining area on the other. The weather was perfect so they had the glass doors opened up and butterflies were fluttering through the dining room.
One thing that struck me was how very different the atmosphere was when compared to the Mansion during Dean’s reign there. To go from the dark wood Old English Library like setting of the Mansion dining rooms to this wide up, bright and airy space was quite a change.
I ordered the tortilla soup to start and Tom went with a flash-seared five-spice hamachi with avocado wasabi cream. Of course, I couldn’t help comparing the soup to the signature tortilla soup at the Mansion. They’re not the same – as with all the dishes we’ve tasted, the new version is lighter and has more of a "fresh veggies" taste. There were fewer tortilla pieces and no waiter coming around with extra cheese to top it. It was good, but in a different way. I’m undecided as to whether I prefer the old soup or the new.
But my feelings about my entree are not at all ambivalent. The menu listed "pan roasted spiced filet and chicken fried Maine lobster with Queso Fresco potatoes and a Chico spinach enchilada." I mentioned to the waiter that I’d love to have the lobster but don’t eat beef. He said they could do a double lobster. That was a lot of lobster, but it was so good that I finished the whole thing. This was by far the most tender lobster I’ve ever eaten. The breading was super light, like tempura. I’ve had the chicken fried lobster at the Mansion and this was better. The potatoes were very good, too, but the spinach enchilada was wonderful. This was the best meal I’ve had in a very long time. The only thing I can remember that compares to it was the Chilean Sea Bass at the Mansion when Dean was there. The "magic" that was always a trademark of Dean’s food at the Mansion definitely came with him to Fearing’s.
Speaking of Dean, he came around to the table and stood and chatted with us for several minutes. He greeted us like old friends and we talked about the difference between the Mansion and Fearing’s. He made the rounds of all the tables, but he stopped at ours first and seemed to stay there longest. 🙂
The dining room was about half full throughout most of the meal. The tables are well separated so you don’t hear the conversations of other diners. The wait staff were attentive to exactly the right degree; they didn’t hover but they were there, transparently, whenever our glasses got close to empty or the bread basket ran dry.
We were both highly impressed with our second experience at Fearing’s and plan to go back soon. This could easily become our new favorite place to eat for special occasions – although we do plan to give the remodeled Mansion and its new chef a chance in the near future. All in all, it was a splendid evening.