A crowd of people lined the sidewalk at the entrance of an unsuspecting brick building at 1226 Lincoln Way in Auburn…eager to secure a spot at the bar since reservations had filled. Soon enough, at exactly 5 p.m., we were greeted into Restaurant Josephine.
The ambiance is a cross between the Gold Rush Era and mid-century France—raw brick revealing itself through fleur-de-lis wallpaper, romantic lighting, emerald velvet booths, and granite tabletops. Think Parisian fashion atop a historic soul.
The co-owner and pastry chef, Courtney McDonald, kindly showed my plus one and me in. Slipping us in at a table directly in front of the open kitchen, we could see her husband and head chef, Eric Alexander, masterfully work.
We started with our server’s recommendation: creamy mushroom toast. The texture from four different mushroom varieties alongside the crunch of the toast, sherry cream sauce, and melted warmth of the farm-raised cheese was simply beautiful.
Chef Alexander’s training at the Culinary Institute of America (where the couple met and both graduated) and his 13 years as head chef at Carpe Vino truly shined with the entrées, boasting seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with French flair and Eastern European accents.
First, the grilled Niman Ranch pork chop. Perfectly cooked with a juicy, pink center and slightly charred and smoky exterior—then served alongside an apple, bacon, prune, celery, and walnut relish and creamed cabbage—it was one of the best cuts of meat I’ve ever eaten. The sweetness of the apple paired with the saltiness of the bacon and delicate texture of the pork could only be made more perfect by the slightly tangy notes of the relish and velvety cabbage.
The crispy “iron” half chicken was a pleasant contrast to the pork chop. Its slightly smoky yet delicate flavor was heightened by the grilled lemon, watercress, and fines herbes sauce. Served with grilled bread and garlic purée, every piece was moist, tender, and slipped right off the bone.
For the sides: charred Brussels sprouts with pomegranate molasses and the mac n mimolette, which exuded melted cheese as we pulled each creamy bite of comfort into our mouths.
Finally, it was time for dessert. We chose the mandarin “creamsicle.” The well-crafted base of butterscotch parfait and pistachio shortbread topped with a delicate scoop of mandarin sorbet and citrus confit was a wonderful, light ending to a fabulous dinner.
If you’re looking for the perfect place for a romantic Valentine’s meal in quaint, classy environs with world-class cuisine, look no further. Restaurant Josephine is one of the hottest tables in town.
Hours: 5-9 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday); closed Sunday and Monday
Try This: Mushroom Toast, Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop, Moules Frites, Josephine Burger, Mac N Mimolette, Mandarin “Creamsicle”
Drinks: Full bar; beer, wine, & cocktails
Heads-Up: Daily specials and menu change based on what's available from local farms and producers; private events; reservations recommended; special multi-course, prix-fixe menus for holidays; desserts made in-house
by Ryan Martinez | photos by TAYLOR GILLESPIE
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