Spring Fling

California’s Bacchus Group of fine restaurants shares a dinner party menu of farm-fresh flavors

Spring Fling
Part of the Bacchus family: Alison Sullivan, Tim Stannard, Julie Kim-Beal, Andrew Green, Elle Leung, Mark Sullivan, Brannin Beal and Kendra Stewart (seated) (Aubrey Pick)
From the May 31, 2023, issue

Woodside, Calif., a small town about 30 miles south of San Francisco, may not have the national marquee restaurant names of bigger cities, but it is well-known among food and wine lovers.

Woodside is home to Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the Village Pub, which opened in 2001 and was the first restaurant from the Bacchus Management Group. Nearby are the group’s Village Bakery and Selby’s. In San Francisco is the company’s Grand Award–winning Spruce, home to some 2,500 wine selections and a 15,000-bottle inventory. All told, Bacchus has over a half-dozen restaurants from Mill Valley to San Jose.

The Bacchus properties exude the easy charm and sophistication of the West Coast’s best restaurants. The venues are comfortable and the service warm, but the food embodies a friendly yet cosmopolitan version of California cuisine. Some of the dishes are disarmingly simple. “The food that I do has a rusticity, but it’s still elegant. It’s really ingredient-focused,” says executive chef Mark Sullivan, who oversees the cuisine for Bacchus’ restaurants.

One dish might be a bowl of just pasta, egg yolk, Parmigiano and truffles, while another is straight-up meat and potatoes—but the meat is a rib eye cap and the sauce has a classical pedigree, similar to the roast lamb recipe, with a citrus-olive jus, found below.

Ingredients are highly seasonal and owe greatly to the group’s exclusive partnership with SMIP Ranch, a 5-acre farm in the hills above Woodside that grows produce exclusively for Bacchus restaurants. Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm also introduced direct-to-consumer sales through a CSA program, and they are planning to supply the restaurants again.

Bacchus is run by Sullivan and three other partners: Tim Stannard, founding partner and president; Andrew Green, president of fine dining; and Brannin Beal, president of casual dining. Stannard says his single mother, who ran human resources for restaurant groups, would take him along when she had meetings: “I was a rambunctious kid, so she’d take me into the kitchen, turn a plastic milk crate upside down and tell me to stand on it. This was back in the early ’80s; restaurant kitchens were different. If you’re a 9-year-old boy, it was awesome ... [people] yelling at each other, fire, sharp knives. That’s where I first fell in love with restaurants.”

Stannard attended culinary school and then college, but a job running the San Francisco restaurant Bix sealed his future. “I finally got to do what I had intuited I was missing,” he says. “I could control everything, from the music we played to uniforms to what went on the plate. I was having so much fun.” He went on to run PlumpJack in San Francisco, and by the end of the millennium he was ready for his own place.

Sullivan took a year off from academics to pursue his passion for cooking. His résumé includes a number of  Bay Area destinations, plus work in respected kitchens in Europe. This experience gave him classical chops and a deep appreciation for farmers. Growing up, both dining out as a family and eating together at home also made a lasting impression on Sullivan. “There was an aspect of family and appreciation and love that happened there,” he says.

The chef weaves together his family life, travel and philosophical bent in the kitchen: “For me, cooking comes from the heart. There are cerebral aspects of cooking, but ultimately it’s a love affair. A lot of the tasks are mundane, so you have to embrace them—even something as simple as double-shucking fava beans. If you’re doing it properly, there’s no time served there. It just is.”

Green grew up in the Midwest and was first exposed to wine when visiting his father in Davis, Calif. “I started taking daytrips to Napa Valley,” he says. “The first time you drive there it literally looks like you’re on a movie set.” His career includes stints at Bay Area restaurants as well as a winery. “Of all the jobs I’ve done in my life, [the winery] was the most honest work,” Green admits. “You’d go home so tired every day, and you’d actually use your hands and make something. I loved every minute of it.”

Then, he heard about an opening at what would become the Village Pub. To Green, the place screamed pure potential. He signed on as its first sommelier and became its wine director soon after. He built the list quickly by running the cellar as a profit center and developing partnerships with producers and importers who gave him pole position as a buyer.

The Bacchus corporate culture is simple: Offer the same hospitality to everyone as you would to guests in your home. “Our overall core value,” Green begins, “is everyone leaves happier than when they walked in. We initially applied it to the guests, and then we realized that if you put just as much emphasis on your employees, you were more likely to have a [positive] outcome for your guests.”

The group’s cuisine doubles down on that idea. As Stannard says: “Whenever we cook a spring meal together, we focus on fresh and light flavors, ingredients that need to be treated delicately and simply. No long-simmering braises; instead, think fresh cherries tossed with sweet wine and lamb rolled in a cloud of fresh herbs.”

 Fava beans with carpaccio of Champignon de Paris, watermelon radishes and Meyer lemon vinaigrette
Brioche croutons, thinly cut mushrooms and shallot vinaigrette spotlight fresh fava beans. (Aubrey Pick)

Young Fava Beans

Carpaccio of Champignon de Paris, Watermelon Radishes, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

“Champignon de Paris is basically a white or button mushroom. Before I went to Paris, I hadn’t had the ones that are so fresh they have a kind of bloom, almost like cheese. I make a bed with them and radishes, put bright, sweet fava beans on top and a vinaigrette over. Sometimes I’ll add a little pecorino but, really, less is more.”—Mark Sullivan, executive chef

  • ¼ brioche loaf with crusts removed, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons shallot, finely minced
  • ⅓ cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons calamansi vinegar
  • ⅔ cup premium-quality, extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 watermelon radishes (aka strawberry radishes), approximately 2 inches in diameter
  • 3 pounds fresh young fava beans, in their pods
  • 16 large Champignons de Paris (aka button mushrooms)
  • 16 small mint leaves, snipped into tiny triangles
  • Salt and coarsely cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Finishing salt, to taste

1. Make the brioche croutons: Place the butter, thyme and garlic in a sauté pan over medium heat. Allow the butter to foam, then immediately add the cubed brioche. Gently stir the cubes so they’re nicely coated in the butter, adding a pinch of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Turn the heat to low and continue tossing the brioche croutons in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and crispy.

2. Make the vinaigrette: Place the shallots in a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt, 4 cracks of pepper, the lemon juice and vinegar, and let the mixture macerate for 5 minutes. When the rest of the dish is ready, whisk in the olive oil.

3. Snip off the ends of the radishes and peel the green outer skin. Slice the radishes 1/8-inch thick on a mandoline, then quarter into wedges. Dress the wedges with a pinch of salt and coat with a little of the vinaigrette. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.

4. Shuck the fava beans from their pods and boil them in 4 quarts of salted water for about 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain the beans, peel off their outer skins then split them in half and reserve, chilled.

5. Shave the mushrooms paper-thin on a mandoline. Divide the shavings evenly over 8 serving plates, ensuring each plate is covered uniformly. Season the mushrooms with salt and coarse black pepper, to taste.

6. Scatter the fava beans over the shaved mushrooms. Drizzle the Meyer lemon vinaigrette over each of the 8 plates, coating the mushrooms and beans. Garnish with the radishes, croutons and mint leaves. Sprinkle with the finishing salt, to taste. Serves 8.

Wine Match

Alzinger Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Wachau Ried Mühlpoint 2021

“Alzinger is one of the best producers in Austria, but anybody reading this should be able to go to a good wine shop and find a good Grüner. Alzinger makes really clean and racy styles, and the Federspiel is lighter, delicate, less alcohol, in the spectrum of Wachau style.”—Andrew Green, wine director

Wine Spectator alternates: Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez Rías Baixas Atalier A Cruz das Ánimas 2020 (91, $30); Laurenz Five Grüner Veltliner Kamptal Singing 2021 (89, $16)

 Sweet peas, pancetta and fresh ricotta carbonara with a glass and bottle of rosé
This nest of fresh pasta pairs delightfully with Provence rosé. (Aubrey Pick)

Hand-Cut Spaghetti alla Chitarra

Sweet Peas and Pancetta, Fresh Ricotta Carbonara

“I love ricotta with pasta, especially in the spring, and I love it with peas. This is a version of a carbonara, and whipping in ricotta is a good trick because you're less likely to curdle your carbonara and it provides a little extra creaminess, which I like. Chitarra is basically spaghetti but it’s hand-cut and square, so the texture is a little different.”—M.S.

  • 2 cups pancetta, diced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups English peas, shucked
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh chitarra pasta (if using dried, approximately 1 pound)
  • 5 ounces premium-quality, full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 5 ounces Pecorino Romano, finely grated
  • 5 egg yolks
  • Salt, to taste
  • Reserved pasta water, as necessary

1. In a large sauté pan, render the pancetta in the butter and black pepper over medium heat until lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and reserve cooked pancetta in pan until needed.

2. Blanch the peas in boiling, salted water for approximately 4 minutes, or until tender. Drain the peas, shock them in ice water and reserve, chilled.

3. Bring 6 quarts of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta in the water for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the pasta just begins to soften. Drain, but reserve a cup of pasta water for later use.

4. While the pasta cooks, whip the ricotta, Pecorino Romano and egg yolks together with a whisk until satiny in texture. Add the cheese-egg mixture to the rendered pancetta. Cook the contents on low heat, mixing in pasta water (2 to 3 ounces at a time) until the mixture takes on a creamy consistency.

5. Combine the drained, cooked pasta with the creamy carbonara sauce and toss over very low heat for 1 minute, or until everything is thickened and warm. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in reserved pasta water to achieve desired consistency. Fold in the peas and serve immediately. Serves 8.

Wine Match

Peyrassol Côtes de Provence Rosé Château Peyrassol 2021

“For late spring, early summer picnics on the Sonoma Coast with this pasta—which makes a great picnic dish—I’m bringing a lighter-style Provençal rosé. For some dishes, you might want tannins to cut fat—not with spring vegetables. You want complement, not conflict.”—A.G.

Wine Spectator alternates: Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence Rosé Cuvée Tradition 2020 (91, $37); Joel Gott Rosé Central Coast 2021 (89, $16)

 Savory Herb-Crusted Roast Saddle of Spring Lamb with Slow-Cooked Yukon Gold Potatoes Boulangère, with glasses and a decanter filed with red wine
It's hard to say no to lamb roast bathed in a citrus-olive jus. (Aubrey Pick)

Savory Herb-Crusted Roast Saddle of Spring Lamb

“For the traditional version, I sear the lamb on a rack at 450° F for 30 minutes, then take the roasting rack with the lamb on top and put it over Potatoes Boulangère (recipe below), so that the rack is resting on the sides of the pan and not directly on the potatoes. Then I put it all in the oven. The lamb drippings enrich the potatoes and give them meaty lusciousness.”—M.S.

  • 1 boneless whole saddle of lamb, about 5 pounds (tenderloins included)
  • 1 cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup lavender honey
  • 2 cups minced herbs (½ cup savory, ½ cup parsley, ¼ cup thyme, ¼ cup chives, ¼ cup tarragon, ¼ cup chervil)
  • 4 ounces garlic cloves, triple-blanched
  • Salt, to taste
  • Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • Vegetable oil

1. Place the lamb on a cutting board and trim any excess fat and silver skin. Mix the Dijon mustard and the lavender honey, then brush the mixture liberally inside the lamb saddle, reserving ⅓ of the honey mustard for later use. Season the inside of the lamb saddle liberally with salt and coarse black pepper. Sprinkle the lamb all over with the minced garlic and 2/3 of the minced herbs, setting aside the rest.

2. Roll the lamb saddle into a cylinder and tie with butcher’s twine every 2 inches to ensure a uniform roast (if there is an overlap when rolled, trim off any excess).

3. Sauté the roast over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally so it caramelizes nicely on all sides. Roast in a convection oven at 275° F (or 300° F in a conventional oven) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the lamb reaches an internal temperature of 120° F. Let the cooked roast rest for 30 minutes in a warm environment.

4. Just prior to slicing, brush the exterior of the roast with the remaining honey mustard. Roll the lamb in the remaining herbs, ensuring it’s uniformly coated. Slice the roast into ½-inch-thick rounds and serve with the Citrus-Olive Jus (see recipe below).

Citrus-Olive Jus

  • 3 cups beef or lamb broth, reduced to 1 ½ cups
  • ½ cup mandarin orange juice, reduced to ¼ cup
  • 2 tablespoons Banyuls vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup mandarin orange segments, cut into thirds
  • ¼ cup oil-cured black olives, soaked for 30 minutes in cold water, rinsed, patted dry

Warm the broth to a simmer. Whisk in the mandarin orange juice, vinegar and olive oil. Add the olives and orange segments. Season with salt, to taste.

Slow-Cooked Yukon Gold Potatoes Boulangère

  • 6 ounces guanciale or pancetta, finely ground with ⅛-inch die or diced small by hand
  • 8 yellow onions, diced small
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, grated
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 bunch thyme, bruised and tied
  • 1 cup Sherry
  • 3 ½ cups veal or chicken stock
  • 3 ¼ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 bunch chives, minced

1. Render the guanciale (or pancetta) in a large, heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add the diced onions, grated garlic, bunch of thyme and salt. Continue cooking until the onions are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the Sherry and reduce to a glaze. Add the stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Reserve the mixture for later use.

2. Slice the potatoes 1-inch thick. Place the cut potatoes in a single layer in a lightly greased, 2-inch-deep, full-sized roasting pan. Spoon the reserved guanciale mixture over the potatoes, so that the onions lie on top of the potatoes and the stock covers three-quarters of the potatoes.

3. Cook the potatoes in a convection oven at 275° F (or 300° F in a conventional oven) for 90 minutes, or until tender, glazing the potatoes every 15 minutes with the stock and onions. When finished, the potatoes will be deeply caramelized, with hints of char. Broil briefly if necessary to achieve desired color.

4. Prior to serving, garnish the potatoes with the minced chives and thyme. Serves 8.

Wine Match

Château Vieux Taillefer, St.-Emilion Grand Cru 2018

“A lot of my food-and-wine pairing is just closing your eyes and thinking about the classics. Lamb and Bordeaux is as classic as it gets. This is a small property. We sell a huge amount of petite châteaus from Bordeaux, in addition to classified growths. There’s a lot of value in these properties that sell for $25 to $40 a bottle retail.”—A.G.

Wine Spectator alternates: Château de Ferrand St.-Emilion 2020 (92, $40); Oberon Merlot Napa Valley 2019 (91, $23)

 Sweetheart Cherry Savarin and Crème Fraîche
Topped with sweetheart cherries, this dessert is both simple and elegant. (Aubrey Pick)

Sweetheart Cherry Savarin and Crème Fraîche

“One of the things that’s been critical for my career is travel. One cannot fully understand a cuisine until one goes to the origin place. When I was just infatuated with Moroccan food, I went to Morocco for three weeks. When you go to Europe and try a savarin cake in Paris, it's an aha moment. If it's done properly, it's like a brioche. It's soaked nicely and it just works well with fruit and cream. It's just very simple and elegant.”—M.S.

Savarin Cake

  • ¾ cup water, lukewarm
  • 1 packet dry active yeast
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 ¾ cups bread flour, high gluten
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1. Combine the yeast and the water in the bowl of a countertop mixer. Whisk to dissolve the yeast, then set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Mix the eggs well with the yeast and the water by hand. Return the bowl to the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt, mixing with the paddle attachment until a paste consistency is achieved. Still using the paddle attachment, add the butter to the bowl and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on medium until the dough audibly slaps against the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with plastic wrap. Rest the dough in a warm place for 30 minutes.

3. Coat the savarin mold with cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Spread the dough evenly into the greased mold. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed or brushed with oil, to prevent sticking. Place the covered mold in a warm area and wait for the dough to rise to the top of the mold, around 30 minutes, depending on the temperature in the kitchen.

4. Once the dough has risen, bake in the mold in a still oven at 350° F for 30 minutes, then switch to a convection oven (or setting) at 350° F (or 375° F in a conventional oven) until the cake is golden in hue, about 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Unmold the cake onto a rack before it completely cools. Note: If you’re not using the cake that same day, wrap it tightly and freeze.

6. In a saucepan, warm 2 cups of the Riesling Soaking Syrup (recipe below), but do not simmer or boil it. Place the cake on a rack on top of a sheet pan. Slowly and gently pour all the warmed syrup over the cake so that it’s saturated, allowing the excess to drain into the pan. Transfer the syrup drippings to a pitcher and repeat the soaking process. Press very gently on the cake to release a bit more syrup. Note: The cake should be moistened throughout, but not water-logged and dripping.

7. Place the moistened cake on a large serving plate or platter. Fill the cake’s center about halfway up with the Crème Légère (recipe below) and spoon the macerated cherries on top. Note: It’s OK if the cherries spill over the middle of the cake. Reserve the juice from the cherry bowl to use as a table-side sauce. Some guests might enjoy a splash of straight kirsch liquor on their cake slice, too. Serves 8.

Riesling Soaking Syrup

  • 2 ½ cups cold water
  • 1 ⅔ cups sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • ½ vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1 cup Riesling auslese, sweeter variety
  • ½ cup premium-quality kirsch liqueur
  • Pinch of salt
  • Zest of 1 lime

Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean seeds to a simmer in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir well to dissolve all of the sugar and disperse the vanilla. Add the wine, kirsch and a pinch of salt. Pour the syrup into a storage container and add in the lime zest. Note: Do not cook the lime zest. Cool completely, cover and chill until ready to use.

Crème Légère and Cherries

  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1 ¼ cups crème fraîche
  • 5 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ pounds sweetheart cherries, preferably from Marsh Creek
  • 1 jar cherry preserves, preferably from Bonne Maman
  • 1 tablespoon premium-quality kirsch liqueur

1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the whip attachment, whip on medium until soft peaks are formed.

2. Wash the cherries and pull off the stems. Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl. In another similar-sized mixing bowl, halve each cherry with a paring knife, popping out and discarding the pits. Repeat this process until all the fruit from the original bowl is cut.

3. Cook the cherry preserves over medium heat in a small saucepan until the jam becomes liquid. Strain out the cherry pieces and save them for another use. Add in the kirsch, then dress the fresh cherries with the boozy mixture, ensuring the cherries are completely coated. Cover and chill for an hour or 2 to macerate the cherries.

Wine Match

Dr. H. Thanisch VDP Riesling Auslese Mosel Bernkasteler Doctor 2007

“We're huge advocates of German Riesling and have been for the past 20 years. Just about any auslese is great with a spring dessert that involves strawberries, cherries, crème fraîche or things like that. I'm old school, and here I want a traditional, prädikat, fruity-style wine.”—A.G.

Wine Spectator alternates: Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Auslese Mosel Graacher Himmelreich 2020 (94, $66); Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon-Chaume 2020 (92, $31/500ml)

Food Cooking Pairings california

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