Hawks Restaurant delivers on the goods at Quarry Ponds

By: ToLewis, Granite Bay View
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In all my years of eating, there are two things I really appreciate when it comes to dining out: Service and execution.

And in my experience, Hawks Restaurant at the Quarry Ponds in Granite Bay delivers on both.

First, let’s talk about execution.

I have been to Hawks on several occasions and each time I appreciate the restaurant’s casual-yet-refined atmosphere.

Executive chef Michael Fagnoni, who moved from San Francisco to open the restaurant with his wife Molly Hawks five years ago, says it was never the chef-couple’s intention to open up a “fine dining” restaurant in Granite Bay.

“We really just wanted to create a comfortable, everyday restaurant,” Fagnoni said, on a recent visit. “Everybody kind of thinks of it as being a little dressy, and that wasn’t our intention. That’s just kind of how it came out in the perception and it’s working for us.”

Fagnoni’s humility might speak to the accommodating, yet sophisticated nature of the restaurant, but it hardly represents the merit of the food.

Fagnoni creates eloquent, well-thought out dishes, artfully prepared from scratch with as many fresh, local ingredients as possible — and he uses only what is in season.

As a result, the menu at Hawks changes about eight or nine times throughout the year.

“We never do a full menu change, because that becomes insane,” Fagnoni said. “Every few weeks, we’ll change two or three appetizers, two or three entrees and just kind of keep it fluid like that.”

Fagnoni said there are a few items that have remained on the menu since the restaurant opened five years ago, such as the gnocchi – a soft potato dumpling served with sautéed hen of the woods mushrooms and parmesan cream sauce.

Other staples on the menu include the duck confit and the braised short ribs, which are slow-roasted with 50 pounds of onions for six to eight hours.

Fagnoni said the short ribs and the duck confit are always on the menu, but the set-ups change depending on what is in season.

On my recent rainy-night visit, I decided to go the “comfort route,” opting for the short ribs, which were served with a pomme puree (silky smooth mashed potatoes), red wine jus and root vegetables.

My date tried the petrale sole, which our server, Rod Vasquez, informed us was caught the day before off the coast of Monterey and pan roasted, served on a bed of braised leeks, pioppini mushrooms and poached Caribbean shrimp.

Now, let’s talk about service.

Nothing compliments a fine meal better than impeccable service from an attentive staff that is well-trained and can answer any question you throw at them.

One thing I have learned in years of dining out is to trust the recommendation of your server.

At legitimate establishments such as Hawks, it is more likely you will get an honest recommendation and less likely that the server will recommend something that is old or that the chef is just trying to get rid of.

Such was the case with our order.

Vasquez gave nice wine pairing recommendations to compliment our meal and even recommended that we change the order of our coursing.

For our first course, I ordered the house-made gnocchi to be followed by the mushroom soup for me and the beet salad for her.

Vasquez recommended we try the gnocchi for our second course since it is more rich, a fine idea which worked quite well.

Both courses were paired with a 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir for her and a 2006 Provenance Merlot from the Napa Valley for me. 

For the third course, Vasquez recommended I try the 2009 Chappallet Mountain Cuvee, a cabernet blend, to compliment the richness of my short ribs. Another fine idea.

Recommendations aside, the attentiveness of the staff throughout the course of our meal was unrivaled.

Throughout each course, back servers and wait staff replaced all old silverware with new, continually filled our water glasses and generally let us know they were present should we need something without intruding or interrupting our conversation.

Vasquez knew the answer to every question we asked about the food. He was obviously experienced and well-trained.

“We give everybody all the tools they need to succeed,” Fagnoni said. “You can’t expect somebody to know something if you haven’t given them the proper tools to begin with.”

Fagnoni sits down with his staff before every shift to educate and taste items off the menu so that the servers know exactly how to describe it to the guest.

It might seem trivial, but many restaurants don’t do that … and many restaurants suffer for it.

You had me at cocoa nib

Now — no fine meal would be complete without a sampling of the house dessert, which of course we had to try.

Simply stated on the menu as “Hawks Bar, Valrhona Cocoa Nib Gelato,” the Hawks Bar sounded like something that we had to have.

The Hawks Bar begins with a bottom layer of chocolate brownie, and is stacked with layers of white chocolate and caramel sauce, caramelized Rice Krispie treat, bavarois (cream Anglais with added whipped cream and gelatin), candied pecans and a sliver of valrhona chocolate over the top.

Served on the side is the house-made cocoa nib gelato.

“It’s our version of a candy bar,” said pastry chef Edward Martinez. “It’s classical technique executed very well.”

We couldn’t have agreed more.

Valentine’s Day

As the day to commemorate your special someone draws close, I recommend treating them to such an encounter as I experienced.

The restaurant will be offering a special Valentine’s Day menu for three days — a three-course Sunday Brunch on Feb. 12, and a four-course dinner menu on Feb. 13 and 14.

I’m not going to give away all the selections the restaurant will be offering, but I would bet that it is not to disappoint. The menu’s are, however, available on the restaurant’s website.

Toby Lewis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.