Couture dining at Larkspur |

Couture dining at Larkspur

Cassie Pence
Special to the Daily/Ric StovallDining at Larkspur's Chef's Table, located practically in the kitchen, is a culinary experience of customized courses. Guests can watch and banter with the chef as he prepares the meal, and sommelier Kevin Furtado pairs each dish with a wine.

In the restaurant business, it is a constant battle with mediocrity. Larkspur Owner and Executive Chef Thomas Salamunovich is winning the war with his perfectionist ways and creative culinary talent.

“I don’t miss a thing. You have to focus on every detail or it will all slip,” said Salamunovich.

Larkspur isn’t just fine dining, it’s a culinary adventure for all five senses. The journey culminates at the Chef’s Table, a multi-course evening customized by the chef specifically for six to eight friends.

The meal is created according to your likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions. The ingredients are special-ordered, so you won’t taste anything that appears on Larkspur’s regular menu, which is the whole point of the dinner.

“It’s about building flavors, ramping up a meal. It’s about food and wine pairings,” said Salamunovich. “There are no menus, and the guests have no idea what’s coming next.”

Separated from the rest of the dining area by sheer, luminous curtains, the Chef’s Table is located practically in the kitchen, giving guests a bird’s eye view into the cooking action. The chef prepares the meal, serves it and explains the intricacies of each dish as the meal progresses.

“Guests are completely mesmerized with the kitchen. They stop talking and all stare at the action,” said Salamunovich.

The Chef’s Table is also an opportunity for Salamunovich and his executive chef Mark Curran to show off a bit. The dishes are elaborate with preparations and presentations that are less practical.

In the past, Salamunovich has seared beef on a 600 degree rock and has served specialty liquor out of glasses made of ice. Once, he served the meal without china and used knives to present the tastings.

Head sommelier Kevin Furtado, whose passion for wine borderlines obsession, plays an integral role with the degouste menu. He recommends both traditional and racy pairings, all while building a relationship with the guests, learning about their flavor profiles.

“It’s a long bonding experience. It’s a three and a half hour dinner, and I almost always end up sitting down with the guests at the end,” said Salamunovich.

Reservations for the couture dining experience must be made at least two days in advance. The cost is $125 per person, in addition to cost of wines, which is available for a variety of budgets.

Contemporary American cuisine with a French soul

Salamunovich spent many years cooking in Europe, particularly France, where he learned French technique and devoted himself to their cuisine. Larkspur’s fare is contemporary American with a French soul.

“My philosophy is to prepare food with as much integrity and passion as possible with a nod to proper technique,” said Salamunovich.

Dinner is served every day from 5:30 p.m.-close, and the menu changes frequently. Salamunovich listens to loud classical music as he computes his cuisine ideas, which he culls from his own experiences. His wife, Nancy Sweeney, also owner and director of marketing, inspires a lot of the menu items, as well.

The butternut squash and gala apple soup with styrian pumpkin seed oil and chives ($10.50) is bountiful in flavor with a stunning, colorful presentation. The other winning starter is the burgundy braised short rib of beef with panzanella and parmesean ($15.50).

For dinner you can’t go wrong with the veal scaloppini with twiced baked potatoes and creamed spinach ($32.50). It’s an entree the chef can’t take off the menu because of its popularity.

Although it’s hard to order chicken at such a fine-dining establishment, Salamunovich’s chicken is the best I’ve ever tasted.

The petaluma natural chicken ($28.50) is pan seared to crisp the skin and then baked in the oven to lock in the juices. It’s savory, yet simple, comfort food.

“There is no better technique to cook chicken,” said Salamunovich.

The organic Scottish salmon with baba ghanoush, curry and chick pea vinaigrette ($27.50) is a dish on the menu that can be prepared as a low fat, low sugar or whole grain option.

To finish with dessert or cheese, that is the question Smith is the queen of dessert. She makes all the sweets in-house, and the choices change often, usually with the seasons. She names the chocolate pudding cake with “oil and vinegar” ($8.50) as one of her favorites. It has an Oreo-cookie type bottom and is drizzled with a high-grade balsamic vinegar and then served with olive oil ice cream, which gives it floral characteristics.

“It’s very different, but very good,” said Smith.

The pastry chef has become famous over “Allana’s” donuts ($8.50), which this year she decided to fill with vanilla cream. They are fried to order and served with petite valrhona-godiva hot cocoa.

Smith also selects the artisan cheeses, described in detail on the menu, you can choose three ($14.40).

“It’s very European to eat cheese as dessert. You’re usually drinking larger red wines with dinner and cheese is a good complement while you’re finishing your wine,” said Smith. “Cheese is also a good option if you want to go low sugar or low carb.”

Lunch at Larkspur or the Market

The Larkspur Market is located right next to the restaurant at the base of Golden Peak, making it a healthy, gourmet option for lunch while on the slopes. It’s butterscotch yellow walls and dark wood remind you of an old-world bistro, and so does its fare.

“From start to finish, everything in the Market is made from scratch with quality ingredients,” said Smith, who heads up the market.

Five different sandwiches a day are pre-made on Larkspur’s house-baked artisan bread, such as the oil-cured yellowfin tuna nicoise style on olive batard. Salads, three soups and wraps also fill the menu. In the morning, guests can choose from sticky buns, banana breads, breakfast sandwiches or quiche, and the Market also offers coffee drinks. The Market is open during the winter season from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

“The market is about in-and-out and convenience. We cater to the little kids. We even offer organic baby food,” said Smith.

If time is no concern, Larkspur restaurant serves lunch daily from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., and there is a bar menu served all day.

Larkspur’s lunch items are comfort food with a gourmet twist, like the palisade tomato soup and three grilled cheese sandwiches with field greens ($11.75). But it’s hard to suggest anything but the “Lark burger” ($10.50), served with homemade fresh-cut french fries.

Compound butter is packed inside the meat so when it’s grilled it bastes from within. The onions are soaked to remove bitterness and the lettuce is chopped paper thin. If burgers could be royalty, this one would be the king.

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