The Elite Cafe serves a simply excellent duck breast. Pan-roasted perfectly, it’s sufficiently seared on the outside with that just rare enough ruddiness inside to make it perfectly juicy, tender, and sweet. The duck is an Elite Cafe staple, partnered up with braised winter greens and sweet potatoes. The greens provide a grounded, earthy balance to the candied sweet potatoes and sweet duck meat, which swims (no pun inherent) in a small pond of its own jus.
The colors on the plate–brown, pink, orange, and dark green–comprise a painterly palette rife with fantasy. It’s a plate that exhibits the strong visual appeal of food in all its dazzling variety. And while the sweet potatoes were candied far too sweetly for my taste, Elite Cafe’s duck breast is still one of the best I’ve had in 2009, a high recommendation.
This is a near-perfect duck dish, and among top duck dishes I ate in 2008. Something about roasting a bird with a wood-fired oven or grill captures the real essence and flavors of meat exceptionally well, and chef Philip Wojtowicz has really mastered the technique in all the great meat dishes at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant. The duck breast is sliced and flayed apart, like rosy wings or arrow tips, and plenty of jus remains from the meat. The sole improvement to this dish would be some crisping on the fatty duck skin. But hey, it’s duck. That’s an expectation.
An additional nice note about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is that you can select from a handful of seasonal vegetable sides. I opted to partner the duck with creamy risotto with fresh corn, scallions, Parmesan and rich broth. It was sterling, to say the least.
The Spot: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is my favorite place to eat in Big Sur, hands down. It transforms from a funky little bakery in the morning that serves up incredible pastries to a lovely and heart-warming little spot for a romantic dinner in the evenings. Every pastry, every dinner I had there was excellent. Two of the three folks behind this little gem are are an emigre couple from Los Angeles, pastry chef/co-owner Michelle Rizzolo and her husband, chef Philip Wojtowicz.
What’s great about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is its straightforward, unpretentious excellence and down-home, rustic simplicity: picnic tables on the patio and heavy little wooden tables and chairs inside.
The service is friendly and sweet and, if any place can demonstrate the inexpressibly tender magic of one of the most magical spots on Earth, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant certainly does. It’s the gastronomic soul of Big Sur, and Rizzolo & Wojtowicz capture Big Sur’s zeitgeist in every bite. It doesn’t just get to your stomach; it stays in your heart.