Rainbird is bringing a new dining experience inside the historic El Capitan Hotel to downtown Merced. Executive Chef Quentin Garcia brings guests a five-course tasting menu that celebrates the flavors in the 209 and offers new and unique creations.
“Rainbird is a fun concept that will always change,” said Garcia. “Even in its infancy I’ve watched the team as a whole grow better, walk better, evolve better. Dishes have improved, changed, presentations become even sharper and the same with the service staff. They’ve adapted so well and adapt to changes with hyperfocus and sensitivity on the importance of the detail they will be expected to uphold.”
The quaint restaurant has complimentary valet parking and seats about 60 guests. The natural elements, earthy tones and relaxing atmosphere is very inviting to sit and stay for a bit as you indulge in the tasting menu.
They are open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch. The full bar may be small but the drinks served up are big in flavor and presentation.
Garcia has been in the kitchen since he was 11, making classic French dishes and making sure everything was in place for the chefs and cooks he was working with at that time. He has also worked in a variety of upscale restaurants through the years.
“I would say Claus Henrikson, Carlos Salgado, and Christopher Sorenson,” remarked Garcia of who inspired him. “These chefs taught me a lot of knowledge and still to this day are constantly pushing themselves into new territories that show me continuous evolvement and shaping of their own unique styles.”
The five-course tasting menu is created by Chef Garcia and features a variety of items that inspire him and are drawn from his experiences as well as the seasonal harvest from the surrounding agricultural area. He has built relationships with local farmers in the 209.
“A concept like this in the Central Valley is a first,” stated Garcia. “While the idea of a grand 10- to 12-course tasting menu sounds like a lot of fun, the cost of doing such and the length of experience may not have been the right way to go right out of the gate. With this price point for a five-course tasting menu, we found that we were able to capture a lot of people that were curious about a tasting menu and a dining experience like this. We’ve been able to capture repeat guests and begin to help define a new Central Valley upscale dining experience.”
The embarkation of the courses is the amuse bouche, which is a French term in translation is “mouth amuser” or in English a small appetizer like the White Onion Macaron or the Potato.
The White Onion Macaron is pork pate, chicken skin, lingonberry jam, and shiso that is served straight out of the forest on a bark slab.
“Some dishes, like the macaron come from my time foraging with Ben Halley at fish camp,” shared Garcia. “I came across this collapsed tree and noticed that it was shedding its bark. I thought that this would have been even more of an interesting service piece for the beginning of the menu more than any traditional plate would have been.”
The Potato is a fermented potato mousse, brown butter, pestled nasturtium, and topped with trout roe.
The next starter or second course on the menu is the Japanese Amberjack Crudo, Superfino Carnaroli Risotto, and the Smoked Cauliflower Custard.
The Japanese Amberjack Crudo is a petite salad with avocado mousse, pine roasted cucumbers, spruce tips, mandarin, and coriander.
When asked what kind of cuisine Rainbird offers, Chef Garcia explained that it is “Modern American with Nordic influence. On a bit of a fun note the past few dishes have found themselves kissed with some Japanese technique.”
The third course is their artisan bread which was a Rye and Farro Country loaf that was baked golden brown with just the right crunch and delicious flavor that was served up with three spreadable options including the cultured sunflower butter, golden raisin marmite and honeycomb that could be used alone or mixed.
The entrée is the fourth course on the tasting menu and will have three options like the Burroughs Lamb, the Rainbird, which is a coriander-cured Muscovy duck breast, or the Sauterne Poached Cod.
The Burroughs Lamb loin has poached apricot, lamb sausage, grilled spring onion and lamb jus.
“I wouldn’t define Rainbird as fine dining,” added Garcia. “I think that Rainbird is defining itself as an approachable new luxurious dining experience for the Central Valley but the term as simple as fine dining doesn’t come to mind when I talk about Rainbird. I believe that the more we dive into what this Valley has to offer the farther we can uphold ourselves to a new standard of dining experience.”
The final course is the dessert that has two options like the Pistachio Gelato or the Black Walnut Cake.
The Pistachio Gelato has coffee roasted sweet potato, black apple caramel, and preserved blueberries.
The Black Walnut Cake has burnt chocolate gelato, caramelized walnut mousse, and toasted meringue.
“I love the idea of being able to express creative freedom through cooking, and even more so being able to create an experience for diners,” explained Garcia about his passion on being a chef. “Besides making something delicious, some of my most memorable moments feeding others have been when a dish reminded them of something comforting, or even better, when I created a moment between diners that they deem as an unforgettable experience. It feels powerful and it’s a euphoric sensation to help deliver our version of hospitality to guests successfully.”
There is time between each course, which allows for the servers to explain what each course is and be attentive to the diners.
“This restaurant is a celebration of the bounty we have in one of the most exciting ways to experience it,” expressed Garcia. “It’s an adventurous dining experience being cultivated and serviced to you by locals within the community who have a huge sense of pride for the treasures that Merced has to offer. We look forward to serving you if given the chance.”