Taste & Rest in Plymouth: Exemplifies new culinary “Gold Rush”

SMALL TOWNS INCREASINGLY are joining the nationwide boom in four-star culinary innovation, including the foothills and Sierra. Examples we’ve written about include Trokay in Truckee, Carpe Vino in Auburn, and the New Moon Cafe in Nevada City.

Now we’d like to introduce you to another superb restaurant in the foothills that rivals or exceeds any “big city” dining experience: Taste in downtown Plymouth, a Gold Rush town in Amador County. Taste is James Beard recognized, highly rated by Zagat, and has been a recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2008.

Taste is the creation of owners Mark and Tracey Berkner, an enterprising couple who had worked at hotels and restaurants in the Bay Area and Denver area before opening their own establishments. They were lured to Amador County in 1997 and have seen it blossom into a major wine-growing region.

“When we came here there were 12 wineries, and now there are 47,” says Tracey during an interview at Taste. “We’re at the center of it all.” The Berkners also enjoy the area’s proximity to world-class outdoor recreation. “Our first date here was skiing at Kirkwood,” she says.

The Berkners exemplify the new generation of chefs, restaurateurs and caterers who are revitalizing the foothills’ dining scene—what we’ve previously called the “new Gold Rush.”

The Berkners opened Taste in 2006, transforming the funky old Sportsman’s Club along Plymouth’s Main Street into a fine-dining restaurant. Three years later, they bought the Union Inn and Pub in Volcano. Then, last year they opened Rest, a 16-room boutique hotel two doors down from Taste. All told, the Berkners restaurants and lodging properties in Amador County now employ over 50 people, a sizable “economic engine” in a rural region. Taste is a warm, friendly place featuring New American cuisine, plus a wine bar. The menu is seasonal, with fresh, local ingredients from local farms, attentive service and an eclectic local wine list.

Taste has received praise for its imaginative offerings. One example is the “mushroom cigars,” a brilliant appetizer of crimini, shiitake, oyster mushrooms, fresh herbs and goat cheese wrapped in phyllo. This time of year, the winter squash soup (Del Rio farms winter heirloom squash, pickled beets, Taste “herbs,” ginger) is delicious. Other entrees might include Diamond H Ranch quail (chestnut and rye bread pudding, persimmon glaze, cranberry puree, sage-brown butter); New England scallops and prawns (roasted cauliflower, coconut milk, madras curry, cilantro, satsuma mandarins); or Creekstone Farms New York steak (pumpkin risotto cake, foraged mushroom, kale, pepitas and sherry cream sauce).

Meet the Winemakers

The dining experiences often are memorable, because Taste is a gathering place for the local winemakers. “Someone will order a Jeff Runquist wine and Jeff will go over and visit with them,” says Tracey.

Last year we enjoyed a winemaker dinner at Taste, honoring “Pioneers of Barbera,” with special guests Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards, Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines, Jeff Runquist and Chris Leamy, winemaker of Terra d’Oro.

Chef Berkner is receiving national acclaim. Three years ago, Taste received an invitation to prepare a meal at the world-renowned James Beard House in Greenwich Village New York, the first such invite for the Sacramento region in over 25 years.

Taste is open for dinner Sunday-Thursday and Friday and Saturday, and it is open for lunch on Friday through Sunday. The restaurant is closed Wednesday.

REST

The Berkner’s new 16-room boutique hotel is helping to improve Amador County’s lodging scene. Rest opened last year and is only two doors down from Taste. It is located in the heart of the county’s wine country and minutes from a popular craft brewery, Amador Brewing.

We enjoyed a restful night at Rest. Each room has its own charm. Ours was a 400 square-foot suite with a separate bedroom and living room that included a king-sized bed, sleeper sofa, jetted tub and a private balcony.

The rooms include luxury linens, comfortable pillows, plush robes, hair dryer, eco- friendly soap and shampoo, large screen TVs, minibar, complimentary WiFi, in-room coffee and tea service, continental breakfast, and a nightly local wine and appetizer hour.

The hotel has a guest library, and in-room massages are available. It also is dog friendly. All rooms are non-smoking.

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