California French Cuisine done right at Paon

Most restaurants that try to have something for everyone tend to let that lack of focus dilute their offerings. In the case of Paon, their patio, dining room, lounge and wine bar all flow together seamlessly. The individual menus share some dishes yet are unique enough to make sense for the space and the audience. The interiors tend to do the same, which is due in large part to interior designer Dru White, who has managed to give Paon a warm, established atmosphere, like it’s been around a while.
Paon describes its menu as California cuisine with French technique and influence featuring seasonal, locally grown organic produce while spotlighting organic prime meats, game, and fish prepared with traditional French sophistication. While seasonal and local ingredients should be a given at any fine dining establishment, it seems like it’s protocol today to let people know. Regardless, it’s a good thing.
Proprietor Mayur Pavagadhi has assembled a stellar team of respected restaurant industry professionals including managing partner Steve Barr, formerly of the Wine Cellar & Brasserie in San Diego, long considered one of the best at pairing French food and wine in San Diego. The rest of the team is top notch as well. The bartenders in the lounge, the dining room servers, and the wine experts in the wine bar all exude a confidence and professionalism that is refreshing in the North County dining scene. Mayur has a passion for excellence and a customer first mentality that is also not seen often around these parts. He truly cares about the customer experience and it shows.
We left our wine pairing to Mr. Barr throughout the evening and he nailed it. We started with a refreshing glass of Arger-Martucci Iliad, a unique blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Muscat. The combination produces an exotic bouquet and flavor experience that highlights each varietal but is not dominated by any single grape. It sounds like a crazy blend but it really works.
So now on to Paon’s Caifornia French cuisine. While it’s not a new concept, the potential of it always excites me. I compare it to surfing in Biarritz France, which was like pairing the freedom and laid back nature of surfing with the time-tested culinary traditions of France. It just worked and I always look forward to what a kitchen will produce with that mix.
While I have not tried the lounge and wine bar menus, I will be back to sample those offerings as there is nothing more than $15 on either. The dining room starters lean toward the French influence with an escargot bourguignon and a Hudson Valley Foie Gras mixed in with gnocchi and ravioli. We tried the butternut squash ravioli starter, which was a very ample portion but could not detect the squash flavor in the thin filling. It was tasty, but the flavor came more from the sauce. A field green salad was good and again, the portion was enough for two to share. Next time I’m trying the grilled lamb salad, which sounded really good but given our entrée selections of pheasant and venison, we thought we should keep it light to start. Starters and salads are in the $10 to $20 range except the Black Pearl American Paddle Fish Caviar for $75.
I am a big fan of game and with pheasant, duck and venison on the menu, I was quite happy. I went for the pan roasted pheasant with wild mushrooms, Swiss chard, truffle risotto, foie gras and Madeira sauce. The pheasant was moist, very flavorful, and sat upon a bed of perfectly cooked risotto. I’ve had my share of pheasant and this was the best by far. My companion had the black pepper roasted New Zealand Cervina venison with Swiss chard, celery root puree, and port cherry sauce. The celery root puree was a fluffy light alternative to mashed potatoes, nice touch. It was cooked to medium rare perfection and very, very good. I will be back to try the two preparations of duck and the veal duo. There are seafood selections as well and entrees range from $17 to $40 in the dining room. Of course the wine selection is superb and the staff is more than happy to guide you through it. A full dessert menu looks fabulous as well and we managed to split a delicious chocolate Valrhona Grand Marnier cake.
Paon is open for dinner daily at 5:30 p.m. Visit www.paon.com for wine bar and lounge hours. Paon is located at 560 Carlsbad Village Drive. Call (760) 729-7377 for reservations.

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