Valentine's Winners -- Isn't it romantic?
Sierra Lodestar 02/08/12


Isn't it Romantic: Four Valentine's Day Winners

By Antoinette May Herndon

Searching for the perfect venue for a proposal? Or, at least a proposition? My goddess! Valentine's Day is upon us. We must make the most of it. But , where to go? CHISTROPHER'S RISTORANTE ITLIANO in Sonora seems awfully romantic to me. It's one of those oh, so la mio places where diners twirl the spaghetti slowly, stylistically around their forks while gazing soulfully into each other's eyes.

Clearly, some of this passion radiates from the chef-owner, Chris Segarini, a localite who launched his career at the Culinary Academy in Columbia, honing his skills later in Napa, Sonoma and New Orleans.

Chris's to die for minestrone is made with fresh zucchini, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, basil and pinto beans in a thick vegetable stock. It's the minestrone you look for at Italian restaurants but rarely get.

From then on choices get tough. A special favourite is the Fettuccini Pesto. ($11.95) Imagine toasted pine nuts and Chinese garlic blended with fresh basil and parmesan cheese tossed with béchamel cream. A pasta to dream about, but then consider the Veal Picata, thin pounded medallions sauteed with lemon, capers and white wine ($18.95 . It's fabulous too.

At Amador City's IMPERIAL HOTEL, Mary Ann and Jim McCamant have done the impossible by introducing two opposing concepts, "frontier" and "elegance" to their 1879 vintage inn and blending them into something sexy and opulent.

Whimsy is the operative word and it makes for a fun evening. Think exposed brick, silk hangings and vivid paintings

The menu is packed with delicious choices but Pumpkin Ravioli ($13) served with butter, garlic, wine and sage sauce is a sure winner. But then who can resist the wild white Mexican Shrimp rubbed with chilli and ginger in a lemon garlic sauce ($24)?

Desserts, a specialty at the Imperial, are the creations of Ingrid Fraser, a Culinary Institute star featured in Sunset Magazine. Faced with such temptation, who wants to be strong? Go for the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart ($7.50).

There's no better restaurant around than tiny Plymouth’s no longer secret treasure, TASTE. Imagine an Art Deco paradise of wood-plank floors, ochre-hued walls, golden light and dark wood furniture.

Ambience at Mark and Tracey Berkner's bistro is sleek, suave, yet somehow warm and friendly. Tracey manages the restaurant while Mark cooks up a storm in the kitchen.

The food's fabulous at Taste where dinner frequently begins with a signature round of Mushroom Cigars (crimini, shitake, and oyster) wrapped in phyllo dough. ($9.50)

Grilled Colorado Rack of Lamb is a perfect follow up. Included are fava bean hash, cipollini onion, Spanish chorizo sauce, Bloomsdale spinach, and green garlic puree ($37) But then so are the Seared Day Boat Scallops ($29) or the Double Pork Chop served with braised calypso beans plus pear and walnut salad. ($30)

V in Murphys is another par excellence dining house. Perhaps you saw the charms of Michael and Melissa Ninos's Murphys bistro described in some detail in my Jan. 25 column. When it comes to a romantic venue, you really can't beat V.

Everything about V is intimate and elegant. Small dining nooks with tables for two, dark polished floors, gilt -framed mirrors, soft cream walls, whirling

ceiling fans. Book now and you can have a cozy table by the fireplace.

Be prepared for City prices at V but also Nob Hill quality and ambience. Think Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon at $32 or Girmaud Farms Duck Breast for $33. Expect the ultimate cocktails for two concocted by Lauren DeValle and top notch service.

Time now for a caveat. Perhaps you were wondering when or if I would get to it. None of these restaurants are inexpensive, no imagining otherwise.

Are they worth it?

In my own opinion, the answer is yes. You don’t have to be wealthy to dine at Christophers, the Imperial, V or Taste, but you do have to consider food, service, and ambience to be key components in a life worth living. Each restaurant consistently offers top quality and that sometimes involves financial planning to make it happen.

I think peace of mind is important too. For special occasions--anniversaries, birthdays, and, of course, Valentine's Day--isn’t it worth something to just relax and know it will all be wonderful?

VITALS: Credit cards are accepted at each of the following and reservations strongly advised. Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano is at 160 South Washington St., Sonora. Phone: 533-2600. Taste, 9402 Main St., Plymouth, 245-3463 V Restaurant & Bar, 402 Main St., Murphys. Phone: 728-0107.

The Imperial Hotel, 14202 Old Highway 49, Amador City. Phone: 267-9172.

Pictures: The Imperial Hotel Bar in Amador City is always a magnet

The Imperial Hotel's dining room in Amador City spells frontier elegance.

2 to choose from for Taste

Diners at Taste in Plymouth take their food seriously.