I consider myself an avid bargain hunter, so I have never understood those who love to regularly drop $100 on a pair of jeans or a handbag. However, I do understand the urge for an occasional splurge. It is just that my luxury of choice usually comes in a culinary form rather than a fashionable one.
I had enjoyed Marstellerz as just such an epicurean indulgence in its previous life as Saffron, an elegant restaurant with excellent food in the historic Walker House in downtown San Dimas.
The Walker House was originally built in 1887 to be a railroad hotel, but thanks to a bleak economy, never hosted a paying customer. After becoming a family home, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. When it was renovated in 2009 , it became the new residence for not only the restaurant, but the San Dimas Historical Society Museum and Art Gallery as well.
It was already a pleasure to feast on their gourmet dishes, but to do so in a gorgeous three-story Victorian house with a wraparound porch, meticulously appointed with period appropriate décor—that was a splurge worth every penny.
When I heard that Saffron had changed hands, I was curious—would my cherished luxury be able to retain its quality? Mixed reviews online made me a bit anxious. A negative review from a good friend was the last straw—I had to return and see for myself. Just to make things interesting, I invited the friend who had reported a poor experience.
I easily made a reservation online at Open Table, but when we arrived, we found nobody to receive us. I took a few minutes to observe that the interior rooms still felt as grand and gracious as I remembered. When the hostess appeared, I was delighted that we were given the option of dining outdoors on the airy porch, since it was a gorgeous day.
A pleasant server arrived soon after we were seated and we ordered flavored ice teas ($4), peach for my companion, raspberry for me. We were intrigued when the teas each arrived with a miniature pitcher of flavored syrup on the side for us to customize our drinks to our personal palates.
My friend ordered the seasonal peach salad ($12). A veritable explosion of garden fresh color, it featured a heap of tomatoes, thinly shaved lean prosciutto, sliced almonds, red onions, and feta cheese on a bed of mixed greens. Topped off with grilled slices of ripe peaches and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, the salad was served with a fig vinaigrette.
My girlfriend raved about her salad. She said, “I never would have thought to put these flavors together. The saltiness of the prosciutto plays well off the sweetness of the peaches…and the textures—both the crunchy and the soft—they nicely complement each other. It’s like a concert of flavors that works together to create a beautifully orchestrated piece.”
Since my dining partner was already eating healthy, I decided to even the score by requesting the buttermilk crackling chicken sandwich ($12). Laid out on one side of a sweet challah bun were fresh lettuce, slices of ruby red tomato, red onion and dill pickles.
On the other side of the open bun rested a moist chicken breast, lightly pounded thin, dipped in a well-seasoned batter that was flash-fried to crackling and baked to retain the juices. I drizzled a bit of the accompanying ranch dressing over the chicken, slapped it together and bit into a crunchy, savory heaven on a bun.
The sandwich was served with a sizable side salad and pickle spear. The salad was a mound of crisp mixed greens dressed with ripe grape tomatoes, slices of red onion, feta and a side of vinaigrette. I could not finish the salad because I needed to save room for dessert (this was a splurge, remember?).
I decided on the vanilla bean crème brûlée ($8), since our server mentioned it was the chef’s personal favorite. Rich and creamy, it was topped with a fresh strawberry compote. From the first tap of the spoon breaking through the golden, glassy caramelized sugar crust, to the last scrape of vanilla-flecked custard, it was perfectly clear that heaven comes in both savory and sweet forms at Marstellerz.
When we were done, I turned to my girlfriend and asked if Marstellerz had redeemed itself. She nodded and said, “I’ll be back.”