Last year I turned the big 4-0 and wrote this post about the incredible birthday present that my dear wife gave me. Since this year would be the much less climactic 41, I was prepared to just ease into and out of the day without much fanfare. The last 10 weeks at work have been very busy, so honestly I was looking forward to just downshifting and taking it easy.
But my wife, being the amazing, wonderful person she is, had other plans. A month ago she had attended a client function and met Jeffery Pooler, the owner of Pearl on the River, a new localrestaurant in Sacramento. They got to chatting and my wife learned that Jeff had opened Pearl earlier this year and was really making his culinary footprint on the city. According to Jeff, Pearl on the River is committed to featuring the freshest, most flavorful dishes from local farms. Their ‘live menu’ means that the menu may change daily to accent the best of the local region.
Pearl’s other specialty is that their executive chef, Matthew Jones, loves to work with wild game! After learning this little gem, my wife decided that an evening at Pearl on the River with 16 close friends and fellow hunters would be the perfect birthday present.
We decided that we would bring Chef Matthew a trio of fowl including ducks, geese, and pheasants to work his magic. The mallards and pintails as well as Canada geese and specks were some of those we had harvested a couple months ago in Saskatchewan, which I wrote about here. We had fewer pheasants than I would have liked because the season was barely two weeks old. But they were whole birds so I hoped Chef would have enough to do something interesting.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous because I knew nothing about Pearl or Chef Matthew. There are a couple of other nice restaurants in Sacramento that have become known for their wild game feasts, but because my wife had met Jeff and arranged everything (including dropping off the meat), I just quietly hoped that these guys knew how to prepare wild game – which is very different from domestic, farm-raised meats.
Arriving at Pearl we learned that the restaurant had reserved the upstairs kitchen for our group, which can seat about 25 guests around a horseshoe-shaped open kitchen where Chef Matthew, his sous chefs and assistants cook, entertain, and talk with their guests all evening. They thought of everything to give their guests an interactive experience, including mounted cameras inside the kitchen that had a live feed to flat screens on the walls so you could get a birds-eye view of the chefs at work.
As Chef Matthew began plating the first course in front of us, I drew hopeful that the dish was going to taste as good as it looked. And did it ever! The evening would provide seven courses overall, and started with an amazing paired appetizer of goose breast pate’ on crostini with applewood smoked bacon and lemon dressed micro arugula, and duck breast pate’ on crostini with truffle oil and micro arugula.
The subtle smoky flavor of the bacon with the pate’ was a tremendous combination!
The second dish was comprised of duck confit won tons with an asian-style cranberry dipping sauce. The richness of the duck with the spark of the dipping sauce was the perfect combination of strong and sharp flavors put together in one amazing dish.
The evening was off to an incredible start, and any anxiety I had about this chef’s ability to create spectacular food with wild game were quickly vanished.
Next was a very interesting dish - duck confit ravioli with rich duck stock and parmesan cheese. The duck stock made this dish. It was a very light broth that really allowed the flavor of the ravioli to shine.
At this point we moved from the starter wine into the main red with an amazing bottle of Roth Estate cabernet. I really love Roth Estate wine. My wife bought a bottle a year or so ago simply because she thought it was cool that there was a wine with our last name. Turned out that Roth winery is a small family owned vintner located about 50 miles of my house in the heart of the world famous Napa Valley. The cab is deep and oaky with just the right richness for the next dish, which was grilled rare duck breast marinated in orange juice with spicy orange glaze and potato parsnip puree. Although it doesn’t sound like the wine would go with this dish, it actually paired very well. The orange flavor was very ‘behind-the-scenes’, which didn’t conflict with the wine in the least bit.
On to dish number five! Frisse and spinach salad with blue cheese, apples, roasted goose breast tossed with sherry vinaigrette accompanied with a fried duck leg. Of the seven courses, this was my third favorite dish of the night. I am a sucker for blue cheese and apples in spinach salad so you throw on some goose breast and it’s near perfection. The little duck leg on the side might as well been just for looks, but I appreciated that Chef Matthew tried using every part of the game we had given him.
Next was a dish that I felt was the best dish of the evening. Roasted pheasant with baby green beans, butternut squash bread pudding and cranberry sauce. OMG! This was a like our own little sneak peak of Thanksgiving dinner, but kicked up about ten thousand notches. The pheasant was pulled (think pulled pork) and accompanied the butternut squash bread pudding perfectly! Get that combination on your fork, add a touch of cranberry sauce and this one really knocked it out of the ballpark.
At this point all of our guests were buzzing with how wonderful each new dish had been better than the last one. But honestly we were starting to run out of room to taste much more. Even though each of the dishes had been small, six plates equal a lot of food. So when Chef Matthew announced that we would be moving on to dessert, we were glad to know that we would be rounding out this incredible meal with a palate-cleansing finishing dish.
What we didn’t expect was that Chef Matthew had one more trick up his sleeve – house made chocolate dipped duck confit vanilla ice cream. What’s that you say, ‘chocolate dipped duck confit’ in vanilla ice cream. Why yes, that is what I said! This one you will just have to take my word, it was incredible! It was the perfect combination of sweet vanilla with a touch of chocolate saltiness in between when you found a small piece of duck confit. It was the most interesting and one of the most fun desserts I’ve ever experienced. If the pheasant wasn’t so amazing, this would have been my favorite dish of the night.
Between all of the incredible food were a lot of laughs, good fellowship, and a good-natured ribbing from seasons gone-by. I would like to thank owner Jeffery Pooler, executive Chef Matthew Jones, the sous chefs and helpers for putting on an incredible event. If you are ever in Sacramento and want a fantastic wild game meal, look up Pearl on the River for a truly amazing experience. From the live cooking in front of your group, to the bantering with the guests, it was a wonderful night that accentuated how great it is to hunt, eat, and live.