The Elbow Room Bar & Grill has been one of Fresno’s most popular watering holes since 1955, and is living proof that a great tradition can evolve into a better version of perfection. Chef de Cuisine Eric Rodriguez’s food is so much more than just a meal—it’s a culinary experience. One that is made all the more outstanding when complimented by General Manager Daniel McGee’s terrific staff. This accumulation of excellence resulted in the eighth edition of Shake+Stir being the most above and beyond to date. Hosted by CVLUX’s Donna Ensom, Dr. Shannon Barnhart, Genelle Taylor Kumpe, Kelly Lilles, Roseanne Guaglianone, and Lisa Bonadelle had the opportunity to sample the latest menu revisions in the form of four courses with accompanying cocktail pairings, which are destined to be your go-to favorites as this Indian summer persists.
Situated on the northern end of Fig Garden Village, Elbow Room’s offerings include more than one of the best patios in town. Their Private Banquet Facilities come with a separate Banquet Menu that makes planning a breeze. Three room options are available: the Banquet Room (seats 48), the Vineyard Patio (seats 70), and the Wine Cellar (seats 20).
As the ladies took their seats in the Wine Cellar, something about a video of Kelly dancing had everyone buzzing… “Oh, I watched it four times!” exclaimed David Manning, CVLUX’s Editor in Chief. The room is lined with windows exposing Elbow Room’s extensive wine selection, and is overseen by the kitchen where Chef Eric creates his masterful plates—very intimate. Up to 20 guests can be served as many as six courses, and tastings can be arranged where parties can sample dishes (in 1/3 scale) with complementing cocktails.
While Elbow Room is known for its artisan style, Chef Eric explained that he encompasses the five components of an award-winning dish (height, color, flavor, texture, and profile) when he creates “a fancy comfort dish, but it’s healthy!” Plus, he loves to take advantage of the Central Valley’s seasonal produce, and he gets a kick out of “attacking your senses” with his food.
It was revealed that this was not Genelle and Kelly’s first experience with the chef. “He likes to take care of his guests,” Genelle began to sing Chef Eric’s praises, making the anticipation all the more fervent as he came out to explain the first course.
The Herb Crusted Lamb Loin Atop Wilted Spinach and Red Butter Lettuce salad is tossed in juniper red wine vinaigrette with feta, halved red cherries, and European cucumber slices. “Tender. Loved the herb-crust. And well-seasoned. It left me wanting another bite,” said Shannon.
The first cocktail out was the Cucumber Basil Martini, also known as “liquid salad!” Well put, Kelly…very well put. The Botanist Gin, St-Germaine Liqueur, fresh lime juice, and a splash of agave nectar, muddled with cucumber and basil was so tasty that Shannon grabbed the photo-op drink for herself.
Most are familiar with this feeling—knowing you’re full but can’t stop eating because it’s just so good. The Portobello and Porcini Ravioli will be your next experience with that conundrum, which Lisa clearly understood. “I’d absolutely order this! I’ll just work out a little more.” The pasta pillows are served in a sweet vermouth broth with asparagus spears and wild mushrooms, then finished with thinly-sliced, crispy leeks, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh chervil. Seriously, divine.
The Grapefruit Dropped Martini is a mixture of Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit Rose, St-Germaine Liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice, a splash of agave nectar, and served in a sugar-rimmed glass. “I could have a pitcher of that!” Genelle eagerly shared.
If you’re a shellfish coinsurer, the Diver Scallops Wrapped in Brown Sugar and Black Peppered Applewood-Smoked Bacon is a must-try. “They are seared perfectly,” Lisa and Shannon agreed. This is the benchmark for flawless scallop preparation—fork-tender, with a butter-like sensation. Served over a bed of red quinoa, grilled peaches and mixed vegetables complement the dish brilliantly, and the drizzle of bourbon peach glaze is a wonderful finishing touch.
The California Smoked Sour goes down easier than its whiskey sour cousin. Woodford Reserve Bourbon, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, and a dash of bitters are served in a hand-smoked glass, and topped with a frothy egg white. “It’s strong, but I like it. There’s a little bit of bite at the end,” observed Kelly. Honestly, it looks like beer, and you can indeed smell a hoppiness—but only in the best way. Roseanne offered that it tasted “kinda like a persimmon with a nice bitterness.”
“The flavors in this one are going to rock you!” Chef Eric proclaimed as the Seared Alaskan Halibut was brought to the table. It’s served over a tomato saffron broth with cannellini beans, asparagus, applewood-smoked lardons, and accompanied by steamed caulifini (i.e. the lovechild of cauliflower and brocolini). “If I wasn’t so full, I’d eat the whole thing,” admitted Kelly of what was deemed the best fish dish in everyone’s recent memory.
Don’t let the Blueberry Bliss cocktail’s name fool you—it’s actually pink. Tito’s Vodka, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and a bit of lavender is muddled with blueberries and basil, creating a lovely speckling of greenery. “You initially taste the basil,” Genelle explained, “then the sweet and sour comes through.”
Though the ladies had difficulty deciding which dish was the evening’s favorite, they easily identified fall traditions they were looking forward to continuing. All things Halloween (decorations, costumes, parties) immediately took the top slot, with the return of the PSL not far behind. Family, friendship, and food are at the center of those upcoming festivities. Elbow Room has fostered the perfect concoction of exceptional staff, a fantastic environment, and outstanding food at the hands of a gifted chef, and the latest menu additions fit seamlessly into that repertoire of incoming autumn cuisine faves. So instead of picking only one to try, just come into Elbow Room with the intention of coming back to sample the other new dishes.
Hosted at Elbow Room Bar & Grill
Managing Editor Lauren Barisic
Photographer Don Dizon