Every restaurant has a story. Some are quirky, others horrifying, and a few are just plain endearing. Hawks in Granite Bay, open since August, is the make-you-smile kind, involving a young, energetic couple who move
to a new town and set about redefining the way locals experience their restaurant meals.
Molly Hawks and Michael Fagnoni, classically trained chefs, fell in love while cooking together in the Bay Area, got married, relocated to Granite Bay, and recently spent their third wedding anniversary poaching quinces and roasting guinea hens in the kitchen of the restaurant they opened in the Quarry Ponds Town Center shopping complex.
The restaurant’s design is restrained: soothing gray-blue and brown walls, striking white orchids placed on crisp white tablecloths, and black-and-white photos of local farmscapes. From the rear of the restaurant, diners can gaze out at a pretty pond banked by carefully tended flower beds. The young staffers are warm and attentive, though some are far more experienced than others. The restaurant has its own sommelier, Kevin Tyson, plucked from midtown’s 58 Degrees & Holding Co.
The menus are trim and thoughtfully focused on the season at hand, and ingredients are locally sourced when possible. I was delighted to encounter a shiny thatch of sharply flavored purslane&emdash;a succulent herb not often found on Sacramento menus&emdash;with my foie gras terrine appetizer. The purslane’s green assertiveness cut the richness of the foie gras and acted as a tangy foil for the perfumy sweetness of the plate’s jewellike slices of quince. The kitchen also pan-roasts meaty, earthy matsutake mushrooms&emdash;harvested in the Pacific Northwest and eagerly sought out by chefs&emdash;to accompany its dry-aged rib steak.
But it’s the greens that shine at Hawks. The ravishing young farm greens salad was flanked by a pair of cleverly deviled quail eggs on crunchy croutons. I was enamored with the Sierra Beauty apple and Belgian endive salad, tossed with glazed pecans and chunks of salty, creamy Roquefort cheese. And at brunch, the sauted Bloomsdale spinach&emdash;crinkly, silky and fragrant&emdash;completely overshadowed the eggs Benedict it was designed to enhance.
Dinner starts with an amuse-bouche of soup, which arrives in a sturdy shot glass. On one occasion, it was a velvety-smooth potato leek soup, topped with frothy, peppery watercress cream. Another evening, it was woodsy wild-mushroom soup, capped with a heady sherry cream. Standout appetizers included the Mediterranean mussels mariniÃ¨re, so fresh and briny, I could close my eyes and practically feel the brisk wind of the Pacific Ocean. The hauntingly sweet pumpkin soup, drizzled with maple brown butter and dotted with toasted walnuts and tiny fried sage leaves, was an exuberant celebration of fall.
Dinner entres, on the other hand, were somewhat spotty. The dry-aged rib steak was astonishingly chewy, and its matsutake mushroom partner tasted undercooked and musty. The white-root-vegetable risotto was disappointingly one-dimensional, with a bland, creamy flavor and undercooked rice. However, the Alaskan halibut&emdash;crisply, deeply seared and resting on soft butter beans and tender grilled artichokes&emdash;was terrific. So was the Niman Ranch pork chop, supermoist and served up with gorgeous chunks of caramelized apples and cipollini onions. If you think you hate brussels sprouts, try the slow-roasted short ribs: fork-tender meat surrounded by sweet squares of roasted butternut squash and browned, delectable brussels sprout leaves. The dish will change your mind about this much-maligned vegetable.
At brunch, the eggs Benedict paired poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce with a thinly sliced grilled pork chop on top of doughy, housemade English muffins. I didn’t realize how much I loved the traditional juxtaposition of salty, chewy Canadian bacon with lemony, rich Hollandaise sauce until I bit into the pork: The dish seemed to cry out for a salty, headstrong element to balance it out. The wild-mushroom and brie omelette, though tasty, was extremely rich, accompanied by excellent roasted fingerling potatoes. The glittering star of our brunch: delicious ricotta pancakes topped with toasted pecan butter.
Don’t for a minute imagine you can duck out without ordering dessert. Local pastry talent Michelle Andreotti has created a dessert list that shines with creativity and first-rate ingredients. A pristine, vanilla-poached Seckel pear snuggled against a spicily fragrant walnut cake, and a dainty Meyer lemon souffl tasted even better with a dousing of candied ginger crÃ¨me anglaise. The fresh cookie plate&emdash;six warm cookies, including chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and snickerdoodle&emdash;was like a comforting hug. I especially liked Andreotti’s lush coffee pot de crÃ¨me, smeared with a sweet layer of butterscotch and accompanied by hazelnut shortbread.
Not fast food:
Hawks serves up a spectacular burger on a house-baked bun with extra-crispy french fries .
Nuts for dessert:
The warm Scharffen Berger chocolate tart comes with a jagged shard of crunchy pine-nut brittle
Hawks: Quarry Ponds Town Center, 5530 Douglas Blvd., Suite 110, Granite Bay, (916) 791-6200; hawksrestaurant.com
Hours: Mondayâ€“Friday 11:30 a.m.â€“10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 5â€“10 p.m., brunch Sunday 10 a.m.â€“2:30 p.m.