I had never been to Graton. I didn’t even know where the town was. I knew it was somewhere in the Russian River AVA, aka Pinot Country, but that was about it. Graton is a one stop sign town, complete with two restaurants. Underwood serves some hard-core French classics, of which I’m a fan. The other restaurant in Graton serves a lot of polenta, of which I’m also a fan. But I wanted French food.
It’s tough to find “traditional” French cuisine that doesn’t have too many flourishes or modern twists to it. Of course, Underwood has more modern dishes, including some Asian flared offerings, but when viewing the menu, only French classics stood out to me. I chose a set of boring classics, French onion soup, Lyonnaise salad, and mocha crème brulee. Call them the “white bread” or “vanilla” staples of French cuisine, but I figure if a French-styled restaurant can’t make these correctly, what would make me believe they could make anything else correctly either.
No misses on any menu item I chose. I love pure replication of the classics but is replication a dying art? However, I also love creativity. I don’t want a lot or any creativity when it comes to French onion soup or crème brulee. Sure, you can make a crème brulee with an Earl Grey infusion or butterscotch, but the basics of the dessert are uniformly the same; hard carmel top, cold and creamy (not runny or gelatinous) bottom.
Perhaps, rather than pure replication of classic French dishes, which Underwood accomplishes, I also appreciate the pure technique apparent in the dishes. Having an appreciation of technique may actually be the root of why I like traditional French, and for that matter, Italian dishes. It’s technique that can embarrass or elevate a chef. Chef’s rooted in traditional technique can then take a classic and elevate it, make it their own, while still respecting history.
I liked Underwood. I like the classics. I like technique. But I also don’t want to get bored or stodgy.