Mineral Restaurant is a haven for vegetarians
By The Record
October 02, 2008 12:01 AM MURPHYS – Imagine the best hand-crafted Bay Area boutique food without the traffic jam. Instead of breathing fumes from Shattuck Avenue in the heart of Berkeley’s gourmet ghetto, you have sweet mountain air, and an intimate courtyard tucked between stone-walled buildings dating to the Gold Rush.
That’s what it was like to dine on a recent Sunday afternoon at Mineral Restaurant in Murphys.
Meat eaters be warned: Mineral is vegetarian, though not dogmatically so.
Where: 419 Main St., Murphys
Information : (209) 728-9743 or www.mineralrestaurant.com
Type of food: vegetarian California fusion cuisine
Bathrooms: scrupulously clean
Atmosphere: informal patio/bar setting in a Gold Rush-era foothills village.
Parking: on the street or in lots a few blocks away
What our ratings mean
***** An exceptional dining experience.
**** An enjoyable dining experience.
*** A reliable dining experience.
** An unfavorable dining experience.
* A miserable dining experience.
Price (average cost of entrée):
Expensive: $25 and above
Value: $15 and less
Eggs and dairy products appear on the menu, although pure vegans will have plenty of choices.
The restaurant is tiny, and often staffed only by its owners: Steve Rinauro in the kitchen and Maya Rinauro in the front. Still, there are indoor and patio tables. The patio, which offers glimpses of passers-by on Main Street, was a natural choice on a warm fall afternoon.
After seating guests, Maya Rinauro soon returned with a carafe accented with a sprig of fresh mint and a hibiscus blossom floating in the water.
Currently, everything on the menu is offered a la carte. The Rinauros formerly offered fixed price meals that included multiple courses. But they cut their prices and shifted to the a la carte format this year as the economy declined and diners were more reluctant, Maya Rinauro said.
We decided to begin with one of the menu’s small plates, the eggs tannat ($7), which are hard-boiled eggs decked out in black lava salt and flavored with goat cheese emulsion, a citrus marinade and Mexican saffron. A papaya avocado salad ($12) arrived at the same time.
Both the eggs and the salad came elegantly displayed on translucent plates like works of art. And all the details of each dish – the flavors, the textures and even the temperatures of all the ingredients, showed the same level of care.
The avocado in the salad was as pleasing and soft as the goat cheese and the thin, julienned strips of cucumber. It is no easy feat to have even a tropical fruit such as the papaya at the perfect stage of ripeness when it hits a plate in Northern California.
In part because of the seasonal nature of the ingredients, the menu here changes regularly.
The main event for our small party was the arrival of the X-burger ($12), a vegetarian hamburger featuring a patty made of oat, wheat gluten, and carmelized vegetables; and the chef’s plate ($16), which included hummus, jicama salad, pickled vegetables, couscous and warm flat bread.
The X-burger had a smoky, freshly grilled flavor and came with a side of potato chips that were so thin they were translucent.
The chef’s plate featured a salad that combined pickled cabbage, onion and beet with some fresh corn and lightly seared chunks of Brussels sprouts. The hummus had a pleasant kick from being flavored with freshly ground cumin.
One great advantage of relatively low-fat vegetarian fare is it leaves room for desert. We had the stone-fired sweet pizzette ($14), sort of a tiny pizza in which tomato and mozzarella are replaced by honey and mascarpone, with lavender blossoms thrown in as an accent.
Mineral has a modest but selective wine list that includes wines from Europe, Argentina and Northern California in a variety of price ranges.
Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Donald W. Blount at (209) 546-8251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.