Caroline Pam Photo
Sienna's handmade ravioli feature fresh Jersey ricotta from Goat Rising in Charlemont.
6B Elm St., S. Deerfield, 665-0215
Hours: Wed.-Thu. 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m.; Sun. 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Closed Mon.-Tue.
When I started writing this column a year and a half ago, Sienna was one of my first priority stops, and that meal remains one of the most memorable of my tenure. It seems quite appropriate, then, that my last installment of At Table should revisit Sienna, since the South Deerfield institution has come under new ownership in the interim.
After eight years as chef-owner, Rick Labonte has passed the torch and headed off to Belize, leaving Sienna in the capable hands of Karl Braverman. Returning diners will find the restaurant largely unchanged on the surface. All the blocky modern artwork and fixtures remain, down to signature details like the clothespin on each napkin and Putumayo World Music CDs on the stereo and for sale at the bar. Our server summed up the transition as, “the same Sienna, except now there are more plants.”
Indeed, orchids now figure prominently in the décor yet still follow Sienna’s traditional propensity for all things local, since they were grown down the road at Green River Orchids. As ever, wines and cheeses are exclusively American, and native produce is featured throughout the menu.
The food is somewhat less ambitious than before, however. Many dishes now follow the formula of protein plus one or two sides, rather than the multilayered, unique compositions Sienna once offered. Formerly, the accompaniments were often so good they competed for your full attention in ways steamed asparagus, chard or green beans simply can’t. It’s a bit of a letdown to contemplate duck confit ravioli with nutmeg sabayon, for example, while recalling an incredible starter involving ravioli as just one element underscoring a stuffed Vermont rabbit loin and confit leg.
A few of Sienna’s staple dishes survive and are carried off well. Cornmeal-fried Wellfleet oysters are light and crisp, and enhanced by a lemony tarragon remoulade and fresh slaw of cucumber, radish and yellow carrot. Organic venison sirloin is juicy and tender, although the accompanying roasted shallot bread pudding paired with the mustard demi-glace triggered for me a bizarre yet uncanny evocation of a burger with all the fixin’s.
Fusion now plays a smaller role at Sienna, which is focusing instead primarily on creative adaptations of familiar Western concepts. The Thai mushroom soup I sampled demonstrated that perhaps this is for the best. Expecting a riff on an aromatic classic Thai recipe, I was served a dark porcini broth with shiitake and button mushrooms and not a hint of the lemongrass and coconut milk described in the menu.
Handmade raviolis are a treat found at few restaurants these days, and I leapt at the chance to taste one made with a local, fresh Jersey ricotta from Goat Rising in Charlemont. The cheese has mild and creamy soft curds with a sweet milky flavor unlike anything you can find at the supermarket. Unfortunately, as the sole filling in large ravioli, it was a little too much of a good thing.
The truth is, it’s not the same Sienna. If you once experienced Sienna’s virtuosic creations as a revelation, as I did, you’ll likely sense a change in tone. But I’m certainly not one to quarrel with simplicity, and some of the best dishes here are also the least intricate. Sienna has a proud history to live up to and its new incarnation carries it on in a slightly more subdued way.