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Zachary Jacques
1821 Pleasant Valley Road
Placerville, CA


Out front.Reader-eaters, do you squirm when you hear the phrase "wine bar"? I don't know about you, but I've found many wine-related venues in the greater Bay Area (Napa and Sonoma, are you listening?) to be a tick higher on the pretension meter than I can handle, even though everyone pretends it's all casual and country-style. Perhaps I am more sensitive to this kind of thing than some, but I always find myself thinking, surely I am the only Target shopper in this place! I become acutely aware of the fiber content of my clothes and my ignorance when it comes to sneaky silent letters.

Listen, it doesn't have to be that way.

The SIGNVisit Zachary Jacques to remember what it's really all about: the füd and the wine. This place, located off Highway 50 in Placerville about 45 minutes from the Tomato, features "Country French Cuisine" and great wines, many of them local. It's quite popular; a reservation in the dining room can be hard to get. But here's the beauty part: the adjacent wine bar seats at least 20, and you can pop in unannounced, score a table, and order from a scaled-down but still very impressive version of the dinner menu.

ZJ is my brother's find. He knows a whole lot about how to make wine (I believe there is a silver medal hanging about somewhere in his house), but he doesn't spend much time dreaming up flowery adjectives to describe the end product. Basically, it's good or it's not. You like it or you don't. This approach is respected at Zachary Jacques. They judge not. They leave that to the circuit court magistrates. They just want you to enjoy your füd and drink, although if you wanted to talk about "noses" and hints of vanilla I'm sure they could accommodate you.

A fun thing to do is get a flight of wine, which is like a sampler. They bring you several small glasses of different wines grouped together for some reason (region, variety of grape). We both opted for this, the only disadvantage being that eight wine glasses take up quite a bit of room on the table. We had to put our water glasses on a nearby counter. We have our priorities, after all.

The appetizer was a first for me: snails. Well, you can call them escargots, if you are trying to impress. The menu uses both names, further proof that they just don't put on airs at this place. Good to eat, seafoody texture, mild taste, and c'mon, they're swimming in an herb butter sauce! They bake them in a cute little ceramic dish crafted exclusively for this purpose.

Apparently the whole thing goes into the oven, and then to your table. Result: hot snails that stay hot, and the butter stays melted too, which makes it that much easier to sop up with the crusty fresh baked bread.

It makes for a surprisingly substantial starter, although the snails themselves number six.

Then we had two wonderful salads, mine accompanied by little goat-cheese toasts.

The Magi's BrotherAnd the entrées -- oh, very nice! My brother had big shrimps (some might call them prawns) in a rich and spicy broth-sauce flavored with ginger and lime that I found curiously Asian-tasting, but really, who cares? My working definition of French füd is that it comes with a rich sauce, so this definitely qualified. And oh yeah, it tasted amazing. Like you'd have dreams later about this dish, good ones. I had pork tenderloins in mustard sauce, and it lived up to all my expectations, which were high, given what had come before. I was ever so slightly worried that it might be, well, not mustard-y enough, perhaps merely splashed with mustard rather than really made of mustard, but no! This was a bold sauce (it makes me laugh to use that phrase, but it's the only appropriate one under the circumstances) and it was all mustard, all the time. Velvety, tangy, sharp, creamy, somehow simultaneously. And plenty of it too, again mopped up with the bread (we asked for a second basket at this point). I know some would disagree, but truly, I do think that mustard is food of the gods. I must make a pilgrimage to Dijon, and soon.

I think the chef could have been slightly more selective about the bits of tenderloin included in my dish. There was a stray bit of gristle here and there, but I can't fault the flavor one bit, and let's face it, you could serve a WonderBra in that sauce and it wouldn't be half bad.

Is there anything more happy-making than a dessert cart? This is a form of transport on a par with Santa's sleigh. We summoned it. The selections were all appealing. We settled on a lemon tart, with a lovely shortbread crust. My brother also had a glass of tawny port, in honor of his birthday (which I, being only about a 6.5 on the sister scale, had forgotten about).

Well, it ain't cheap, but everything's relative, right? I thought the food was great for the price, which worked out to around $75. Without the wine and port, it would have been more like $50. But I'd really recommend budgeting for the juice. It added a lot of pleasure to the meal. And when it comes to pleasure, those French seem to know what they're doing.


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