By Gloria Glyer
Ana Divac’s latest offers European-style food in glamorous surroundings.
L’Image offers an aura, a touch of intrigue and a sense of adventure with a French touch. It’s all there in the glamorous—but not pretentiously so—restaurant at Pavilions. The owners share the name Divac: She is Ana, a restaurant owner, and he is Vlade, center for the Sacramento Kings. Visitors to their eatery might expect something more than just a place to have breakfast, lunch or dinner: You never know who might show up for early-morning eggs or post-game onion soup.
L’Image could be described as a bistro because it strives to be informal, but you might want to dress up a little. The dining area is open, offering sightlines for those wishing to see and be seen, especially on the tastefully designed patio. There are not many places to hide, except for one corner along the banquette. Sole diners are encouraged to bring along a newspaper or pick up a magazine from the rack at the entry. The interior is colorful and stylish, matching the food being served.
At L’Image, a group easily could be satisfied and sated by ordering only from the amuse (appetizer) section of the menu, but if you did that, you would miss the skate, the steak frite and the mignon de porc aux pommes (tenderloin of free-range pork with puréed potatoes, sautéed Granny Smith apples and Calvados cream).
For starters, we ordered pissaladière; the classic mussel soup known as moules Billi Bi; a large artichoke with a trio of dipping sauces; pâté de canard; and brandade beignets. The pissaladière, a specialty of Nice in southern France, was a flatbread topped with caramelized sweet onions, niçoise olives, anchovies and Cowgirl Creamery crème fraîche. It had everything going for it, beginning with the very thin and very crisp crust—the perfect foil for the onions, olives, anchovies and tangy crème fraîche. The moules Billi Bi—a creamy mussel soup made with Spanish saffron and shallots—was served with toasted French bread, perfect for dipping into the soup. (According to food lore, Louis Barthe, a chef at Maxim’s in Paris, created the soup for an American tin millionaire named William “BillyÂ” B. Leeds, who adored mussels. It’s pronounced “Beelly Bee.Â”)
The artichoke came with three dipping sauces: one tomatoey, another oil, a third aioli. None had any zing, but the ‘choke was perfectly prepared. The housemade pâté had the delicate scent of Armagnac, but the real treat was the accompanying soft, dried figs, which provided a slightly sweet but complementary touch.
The brandade beignets were light, fluffy, deep-fried puffs of puréed salt cod and potatoes, scented with garlic and chives. The beignets, served with a fiery sauce of oil, chiles and garlic called rouille, were positively addictive.
Vegetarians could find comfort in the grilled-vegetable panini, made with fire-roasted peppers, onion confit, herb sprouts, goat cheese and avocado, dressed with olive tapenade and roasted-tomato vinaigrette. A bit messy to consume, the sandwich offered a heady combination of flavors that meshed with style. There’s also a grilled-cheese sandwich called brioche au fromage, with melted Comte cheese oozing from the housemade brioche.
Each entrée we ordered provided variety and satisfaction. Who could resist the sliced Kobe beef ordered—and served—medium rare, with pommes frites, presented in the au courant cone-style container, along with sweet onion confit? The beef was fork-tender, intensely peppered and delicious. My taste buds especially enjoyed the pork medallions, which can be ordered medium rare, with potatoes, apples and Calvados cream. The mix is traditional, but the Calvados accentuated the apples while enhancing the delicate pork.
Skate could become the signature dish for Chef Geoffrey Blythe at L’Image. The large, flat, scaleless, cartilaginous fish must be fresh—it was—and sautéed with care—it was. Caper brown butter added flavor to the dish, which was accompanied by caper pods.
The weak point was the salads: a niçoise with ahi and the traditional garnishes, and the saumon with couscous. Neither was dressed properly—that is, with enough dressing to make it palatable. The ahi was perfectly prepared, but the red wine vinaigrette did not add anything. The saumon (or salmon, if you prefer) received the proper preparation for the clean, uncluttered salad, and the couscous gave an updated touch, but the herb vinaigrette had not been applied with a generous enough hand.
Six desserts completed our meal, with the orange mandarin sorbet at the top of my list for its refreshing touch. The coconut sorbet had no flavor. Tarte Tatin, crème brûlée, Vahlrona chocolate soufflé, and cherry and almond clafouti provided something for everyone. The soufflé was served hot and topped with a vanilla sauce, and the tarte had a nice cinnamon touch and was topped with a scoop of chocolate ice cream.
Something to keep in mind: If you make a reservation for a large group, be prepared to give a credit card number. Too many people making reservations forget to cancel when plans change.
Suggestion: How about some pillows on the banquette, which has been designed with basketball players in mind? Diners in our group placed handbags behind their backs to be more comfortable.
The Divas Speak
Most of the Divas already had given L’Image a tryout, with mixed reactions. The Diva lunch proved to be better than expected, but was that because the crew was trying a little bit harder? I could see the staff whispering in the background and hovering around the bar to watch our reactions.
Paulette Bruce-Miller picked three in the “would order againÂ” category: brandade beignets, moules Billi Bi and steak frite. Other dishes needed more seasonings. Bruce-Miller loved the red walls and the fixtures.
Bernice Hagen gave high-fives to the moules, skate, pork, salade niçoise, Kobe beef, pissaladière (without the anchovies) and the pâté de canard. About the wines, Hagen said: “I liked the Swanson Merlot—very smooth and fruity; but the Murphy Goode Sauvignon Blanc was thin and a bit sweet.Â” She picked the chocolate soufflé for her favorite dessert, followed closely by the tarte Tatin for its crisp pastry and delicate, thinly sliced apples.
Joan Leineke praised the brandade beignets, saying: “They were so light and fluffy and nonfishy. It is hard to make beignets that aren’t like grenades.Â” She appreciated the cinnamon in the tarte Tatin and wondered if it was Vietnamese cinnamon, which she says is the only kind to use. “DeliciousÂ” was the serious wine taster’s comment on the Swanson Merlot Napa Valley 2000, but the Murphy Goode “The DeuceÂ” Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma was a little weak for her taste.
Gayla Mace, whose restaurant is at the Pavilions, has paid neighborly visits to L’Image for its setting, which she calls very pretty and interesting. Mace puts the skate at the top of her food list. “You can’t get it anywhere—it’s so special. Geoffrey has his fish purveyor from San Francisco bring in it. I just wish it wasn’t on top of the potatoes, because it makes it soggy. It’s a fish that is so delicate, sogginess can happen very easily.Â” She enjoyed the brioche au fromage, the chocolate soufflé and the ice cream with the tarte Tatin. On the other hand, Mace would not order the vegetable panini, primarily because there are so many other things she would rather try. “The ingredients squished all over when you tried to eat it,Â” she said.
Peg Tomlinson-Poswall looks forward to eating on the patio, where she would have the salmon salad. “I really enjoyed the flavor—so light and clean-tasting, perfect for a summer day,Â” she said. The steak and frites got the big “love, love, loveÂ” vote from Tomlinson-Poswall. She picked the claflouti and the soufflé as her favorite desserts, and would have liked the tarte Tatin better without the ice cream. The cappuccino was a little weak.
For the rest of this story pick up a copy of Sacramento Magazine’s June issue.