Best of 2001: Best Fungus Among Us

El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn
17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive,
Rancho Bernardo

It looks like a roast turnip, sitting there on the plate next to the squab topped with foie-gras-whipped-cream chantilly -- just a pale brown plebeian-looking clod. Then you take a bite and the "turnip" turns into a big lump of fresh, almost crisp porcini mushroom, frequently encountered dried but rarely served fresh, and rarely in a single chunk. Heaven and earth combine in a bite. The menu changes daily, so that's only one of the parade of surprises that diners may encounter in a dinner cooked by French-born Patrick Ponsaty, a protégé of Tapenade's Jean-Michel Diot. You may encounter a garnish of nippy "sea beans" with your sautéed fish, or a delicate, foam-topped white asparagus mousse breathing rich fumes of black truffle. Or perhaps your duck's bed of polenta will be set atop a vanilla cookie. Once you start eating, you'll forget that you had to drive to RB, dress up in a coat and tie, and negotiate the too-small parking lot -- this is the food of astonishment.

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