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Cox: Making progress

  • Agoston's Noodles features a sauce of beef and root vegetables over house-made pappardelle noodles and topped with with horseradish and house made sour cream at The Kenwood Restaurant in Kenwood, on Wednesday, February 26, 2014. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Chef Anthony Paone, at the new Kenwood Restaurant in Kenwood, has a simple philosophy that informs his cooking. As he recently wrote in a blog post on the restaurant's website: "I want to live a long and healthy life. I want my family and friends to live long, healthy lives. I want YOU to live a long and healthy life."

So he goes to great lengths to find organic ingredients from local family farms, and the health-promoting aspects of the food at the Kenwood get full marks. As to the gastronomic pleasure of his creations, it's hit and miss at this stage, but mostly hit.

The new incarnation of the restaurant replaces traditional French-Swiss cooking with a more American menu. Innovations abound, from the western-themed full bar (ask bartender Jenn Grossbard to make you her signature mochatini) to the naturalistic pond-and-waterfall feature newly installed beyond the outside patio.

Kenwood Restaurant

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The 27 wines by the glass run between $9 and $11 and include local favorites Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay, Benziger Sauvignon Blanc and, from just across Highway 12, Kunde's Sauvignon Blanc. Among the reds, David Noyes' Merlot will pair nicely with some of chef Paone's meaty entrees. There's also a full bottle list. Corkage is $18.

If you're hungry when you're seated, bread is available, but you have to ask for it.

Roasting, drying and then pickling red and yellow beets intensifies their flavor and adds a probiotic fillip to a Beets and Citrus Salad ($11 **-1/2). Tangerine and blood orange segments give some acid snap, and Bellwether Farms' incomparably good ricotta cheese helps with a savory element. Just for fun, there's a crisp, thin, sweet honey wafer.

You seldom see lovely, anise-flavored chervil used these days, so it was exciting to see it among the ingredients of the Duck Liver Mousse ($10 *-1/2), a cold, loose puree of duck liver with a strong, unappealing flavor reminiscent of braunschweiger liver sausage. It was served with blood-orange jelly and pickled shallots, chervil and black pepper, and slices of seeded toast.

Chef Paone likes to buy whole carcasses of high-quality meats, and found a local source of red wattle hogs, a heritage breed developed in Texas and known for its exquisite flavor. This practice allows Paone to use the whole pig in a variety of ways. For instance, on the daily specials menu on a recent night, red wattle showed up in a sandwich of smoked and pulled pork shoulder on a focaccia bun with vinegar sauce and potato salad. There was that pig again — head to toe — in a dish of fried hog's head and trotter cakes with sweet and spicy pickles.

But its best use was as a Smoked Bacon Rib ($9 ***). These country ribs are kind of spare, as most of the meat is removed to make boneless chops. But what's left is smoked and slathered with house-made hoisin sauce, a sweet, bean-based Chinese barbecue sauce that bakes onto the rich, chewy meat and is a delight to gnaw off the bone. It comes with small turnips roasted in duck fat.

In a variation on a traditional Mexican posole, chef Paone goes back to the pig one more time for a Pork Belly, Octopus, and Hominy Stew ($10 **-1/2). In addition to the red wattle pork belly, the octopus is local and the hominy is Napa Valley Rancho Gordo corn. The meat and corn swim in a pasilla and guajillo chili broth enlivened with oregano, lime and fried tortillas. Texturally it's a mishmash, but tastewise it sings.


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