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Walnut Creek Magazine

Merced’s Fine Dining ‘Rainbird’ Opens in Historic El Capitan Hotel

Feb 28, 2022 11:38AM ● By Fran Miller

By Fran Endicott Miller

Beyond its recognition as the gateway to Yosemite, Merced boasts a new reason to visit the agricultural rich region. Rainbird, a new restaurant in the El Capitan hotel (part of the JdV by Hyatt brand) is the definition of destination dining. From Executive Chef Quentin Garcia, Rainbird’s intricate menu is sourced from local and regional farms, emphasizing the vegetable-centric culinary movement while encapsulating chef Garcia’s impressive, international culinary training and experimental style. 

Chef Quentin Garcia. Photo by Aubrie Pick

The Rainbird team is also led by Director of Food & Beverage Benjamin Bennett, General Manager Daniel Adeh, and consulting Meilleur Ouvrier de France – Sommelier Christophe Tassan. The 60-seat restaurant is named for the regional bird’s unique migration patterns that signal the coming of rain and a forthcoming, bountiful harvest. 

“It’s been incredibly exciting to help build and define the evolution of the city’s cuisine in an agricultural region that’s like a chef’s playground,” said Garcia. “Our goal with Rainbird is to marry Merced’s hyper seasonal flavors with my background in global cuisine to give our guests a truly unmatched experience. I want people to not only enjoy our food, but also playfully explore the dish and its ingredients, and understand why it is being served.” 

After his formal culinary training in Europe, Garcia worked in a variety of upscale restaurants, including The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena and Blue Note in Napa. His love for Central California and the unique beauty of Merced drove him to create a true destination restaurant for the region, while finding ways to give back and support the community. Considered one of the nation’s most important and diverse agricultural regions - with more than 200 crop varietals - California’s Central Valley presents Garcia with a vast palette of local flavors and ingredients. Rainbird’s menu will benefit from Chef Garcia’s cherished relationships with the surrounding agricultural community and personal relationships with local farmers in Merced and beyondincluding J. Marchini Farms, Burroughs Family Farms, Humble Rice Farmer, and Joseph Gallo Farms, to name a few.  

Rainbird takes advantage of hyper seasonal produce, transforming and utilizing their flavors throughout the year through fermentation techniques incorporated into misos, vinegars, oils, shoyus, and other preservation techniques. Certain dishes will also have tableside presentations that accentuate the dining experience and offer further one-on-one interaction and explanation to the guest of how Rainbird’s culinary team works with the ingredients start to finish. Highlights from the opening menu include:

  • White Onion Macaron – pork pâté, chicken skin, lingonberry jam, shiso
  • Superfino Carnaroli Risotto – chestnut mushroom, Pinon pine nuts, vintage parmesan, slow cooked garlic, golden shallot oil
  • The Rain Bird – coriander-cured squab, truffle jus, melted napa cabbage, white balsamic mustard seeds
  • Pistachio Gelato – coffee roasted sweet potato, black apple caramel, preserved blueberries

Superfino Carnaroli Risotto. Photo by Gary LaMorte

The Rain Bird. Photo by Gary LaMorte

Rainbird’s artisan cocktail program features beverages curated to complement Chef Quentin’s cuisine. Cocktails will be crafted around a specifically chosen ingredient, inspired by seasonal produce sourced from Central California, with a nod given to the classic cocktail style. Highlights from the opening menu will include:

  • Sea Buckthorn – vodka or gin, Aperol, sea buckthorn shrub, soda
  • Acorn – bourbon, orgeat, grapefruit bitters, acorn shell
  • Drinking Bird – tequila reposado, pomegranate, grapefruit, gentian liqueur, honey

An optional wine pairing to each course draws selections from a curated 60-bottle list including both domestic and international purveyors.

Designed by NICOLEHOLLIS to mimic the earth’s natural elements, Rainbird’s interiors feature rich natural textures and soft pastoral tones like pale greens, creams and light blues. Paired with artwork sourced from California’s Central Valley (such as Margaret Haden’s ceramic clay and Daniel Van Gerpen’s agronomy-inspired canvases), the space showcases odes to the region’s agricultural purpose. A focal point of the restaurant is the Chef’s Table, made by local woodworker George Pena, from a 90-year-old Deodor cedar tree that was felled by a storm just north of Merced.  

Rainbird interior. Photo by Aubrie Pick 

Rainbird: 609 West Main Street, Merced, CA 95340 on the ground floor of El Capitan

Open for dinner Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m., with the addition of Thursday night dinner and Sunday brunch to follow.

Main image: Thyme Basted Scallops. Photo by Gary LaMorte

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