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Fine Dining in Yosemite National Park

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Venturing to Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains of east-central California is an all-day event, well-worth the drive from the Central Coast.

We visited on a whim one Wednesday in the early fall, marveling at the sheer size of everything – the giant sequoia trees, towering granite cliffs, and delicate misty waterfalls. After gazing at Half Dome in the hazy distance from Tunnel View, and hiking around the base of El Capitan, trying to spot any climbers ascending the 3,000 foot vertical behemoth, we finished our sightseeing at Bridalveil Falls. Our national park adventure was awe-inspiring and made us feel very small in the world.

But the day wasn’t over yet.

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To reward ourselves after a long day of hiking, we freshened up, put on our classiest attire, and made our way to Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst, California, a tiny tourist town about 30 minutes from the center of Yosemite valley.

Founded by an Austrian-born head chef and restaurateur, the Elderberry House is a magical fine dining experience of five unique courses, not including the optional cheese platter, endless bread/butter, and surprise appetizers/desserts provided by the chef during the meal. Ingredients are sourced from local farmers’ markets and nearby Central Valley farmers to ensure the best quality and peak flavors of each season.

Our evening was perfect, highlighted by exceptional service from the attentive waitstaff, a serene wooded setting, and Michelin star-tasting food.

Read on to see every detail of our five-course meal (nine courses if you include all the tasty treats from the chef, not listed on the menu). Time to learn a few French cooking terms!

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Iced raspberry tea

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We cute. So fancy.

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(Pre-dinner appetizer, compliments of the chef)

Tangy mandarin granada (refreshing icy texture) topped with a fuyu persimmon and fresh basil.

An amuse-bouche (pronounced “am-ooz boosh”) is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons but are served for free and according to the chef’s selection alone.

Most five-course meals open with the amuse bouche, a dish that can be eaten in one bite and should ideally excite and prepare the palate for the dinner to come. The amuse is normally not counted as a course.

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(Pre-dinner appetizer, compliments of the chef)

Sweet hazelnut cream parfait, topped with almond crumble, blueberries, and edible fresh summer flowers.

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Cozy private dining room overlooking the courtyard and water fountain.

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Five cheese platter (from left to right, zigzagging in a “W” shape), served with fig and almond-studded crackers, hazelnuts / pecans / pistachios, and fresh seasonal fruit.

Cabricharme – a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese with an edible rind, from the La Fermière de Méan dairy co-op in Belgium. The salmon-colored crust is thin, with flecks of golden mold. Inside is a pillowy ivory paste, as squishy as biscuit dough. Don’t cut away the rind; its saline crunchiness is appealing against the moist, silky middle.

P’tit Basque – a semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese that was introduced in 1997, and was created by the French dairy giant Lactalis. P’tit Basque is aged 70 days before serving. Flavors are earthy, mild, nutty, pungent, subtle, and sweet.

Snowdrop – a surface-ripened, bloomy rind cheese made from pasteurized goat’s milk, cultured by Haystack Mountain creamers in Colorado. It has a thin rind beneath which the paste ranges from oozy and satiny to creamy, depending upon the ripeness of the cheese.

Humboldt Fog – a soft goat’s milk cheese made by Cypress Grove of Arcata, California, in Humboldt County. It is named for the local ocean fog which rolls in from Humboldt Bay. Humboldt Fog is a mold-ripened cheese with a central line of edible white ash much like Morbier cheese.

802 Blue – a sharp, soft cheese from Bardwell Farm in Vermont, made from the milk of either a cow, sheep, or goat. Blue cheese is a general classification of cheeses that have had cultures of the mold Penicillium added so that the final product is spotted or veined throughout with blue-grey mold and carries a distinct smell. Flavors are sharp, salty, rich, and peppery. My favorite!

 

The Ten Commandments of serving and eating cheese (if you’re fancy enough), according to La Fermière de Méan, the co-op in Belgium that makes the Cabricharme cheese.

  1. Eat cheese in order of strength, mildest to strongest.
  2. Arrange cheese on a round platter, in a circle from mildest to strongest.
  3. Put low-fat cheeses on a separate plate.
  4. Offer two knives: one for milder cheeses, one for stronger cheeses.
  5. Offer a variety of breads. Crackers are acceptable for pressed-paste cheeses.
  6. Condiments should be on a separate plate. Use them to mellow, heighten or complement flavors. Acceptable with hard cheeses: mustard, cumin or caraway, cornichons.
  7. Accompaniments include chives, shallots, small white onions, celery ribs, radishes, walnuts, apples. Lightly dressed salads like Belgian endive are also fine.
  8. Cheese goes well with cider, beer and white or red wine. Some say that strong cheeses go with black coffee.
  9. Keep cheese between 43°F and 50°F, either in the refrigerator’s vegetable compartment or in a cool cellar.
  10. Take cheese out of the fridge 1 hour before serving and keep your cheese platter covered with a damp cloth.

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Finally, the five course meal begins! Course #1 – Thyme-basted halibut with sweet corn risotto, crisp summer herbs, a pesto emulsion, confit tomatoes, and dried perigord truffles.

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Course #2 – Carrot ginger bisque with a summer seed medley and coconut cloud.

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Fancy table settings to put you in an elegant mood.

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Course #3 – Lemongrass-braised short rib with a tower of potato gratin, confit fennel, shishito peppers, caramelized onion wedge, charred plums, on top of a stone fruit demi-glace.

Confit – a garnish made usually from fruit or vegetables that are cooked until tender in a seasoned liquid.

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Course #4 – Salad of Farmers’ Market green and red tomatoes surrounded by a chimichurri sauce, black lava salt, parmigiano reggiano crisps, and arugula duet.

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Course #5 – Dark chocolate and praline mousse torte topped with almond crisps, next to a swoosh of passion fruit curd and strawberry trio (fresh in sauce, frozen sorbet, dollops of puree).

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Fun fact: Erna’s Elderberry House has a sister! The award-winning restaurant is situated in the stunning landscape next to Château du Sureau (pronouced “shh-ah-tow doo soo-row”), a five-star hotel and spa on the same property, with rooms ranging in price from $420/night to $1,200/night.

Château du Sureau

(Photo courtesy of chateausureau.com)

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(Post-dinner palate cleanser, compliments of the chef)

White chocolate and pistachio bonbon, citrus sablé cookie, roasted apricot pâte de fruits (jelly shapes).

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Complimentary satchel of signature Elderberry House elderberry tea mélange.

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“The Cellar” after-dinner wine and liquor bar, serenaded by the sweet sounds of Frank Sinatra.

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That’s Half Dome back there in the hazy distance. I know it’s hard to see past our crazy hats.

Brandon wore his Half Dome shirt from The North Face on this trip and didn’t even realize the coincidence!

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Bridalveil Falls – just a shimmering misty trickle this time of year.

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Loved spending the day with these good-looking dinner mates! Thank you, favorite in-laws, for treating us to this amazing meal and unforgettable day at the national park!

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