Take Your Palate On Holiday at Holiday Inn 5 min read

I first met Chef Kriztian Karkus at the Meritage Resort several years ago. His food got my immediate attention: top-notch ingredients, deep, rich flavors, great aesthetics. I was sad to learn of his departure, and most pleased to discover that he had plans to re-surface with his own restaurant.


Chef Kriztian Karkus

Chef Kriztian Karkus

Hungarian by birth, global in his culinary approach, Kriztian learned the art of cooking in his mothers’ kitchen. There he absorbed the simple, yet universal truth that feeding folks great food is an integral part of human fulfillment. Having traversed the globe, working in some of the finest kitchens the world over, Karkus set his sights on the US, where he would express a multitude of influences, conveyed it in his own voice. Karkus’ key culinary inspiration is none other than Escoffier, a Godfather of mother sauces and all things classic French cuisine. It’s little wonder that his reductions bring you to tears from pleasure.


Tisza Bistro and Bar settled in the brand-new Holiday Inn the heart of Sonoma wine country, a charming town of Windsor. It is named after a river in Central Europe, that crosses several international borders; symbolic of Kriztian cooking philosophy of fusing elements from different cultures to enhance the dish’s flavor profile and visual appeal. Old school classic techniques combined with fresh, modern approach won him accolades during his tenure in Napa.


After weeks of eager anticipation, it was time to sample the fare. His creativity was always apparent, where it would go in the context of his very own restaurant, only food could tell.


The story began with plump black mussels, flown in from British Columbia, ham hock and Swiss chard. Easily the best mussels I have had this year, which in my case includes several trips to the south of France, which is known for its seafood. The ham addition was genius, adding a satisfying savory note; the sauce—light and delicious.


Beet salad

It continued with a gorgeous roasted beet salad with whipped Redwood Hill farm chevre, tangerine slices, and beet yogurt, followed by charbroiled octopus, blood sausage, grey lentil and sauce gribiche. Although octopus had become a staple on most dining menus, it is not always well-executed. It’s a shame because its top renditions are quite captivating. Chef Karkus version is umami personified, without a hint of chewiness or pungency. Cooked low and slow, it is finished on the grill, giving it a sexy, scrumptious char, rounded with subtly spicy sausage and bright, with just the right amount of acid, creamy sauce.


Wiener Schnitzel

The savory courses were roasted chicken breast, wild mushroom Cognac sauce, sautéed spätzle and the restaurant’s single most lauded dish—wiener schnitzel, (thinly sliced breaded veal, pan-fried in pork lard,) served with a parsley potato and a refreshing cucumber salad with light creamy yogurt dressing and lingonberry jam. The silky, pillow-y, mouth-melting morsels of spätzle were soaking up a Cognac sauce that would have made Escoffier very proud. Schnitzel mightily lived up to the accolades, with delicate, consistent breading throughout, a generous portion and divine accouterments.


Dessert consisted of decadent, surprisingly savory rolled crepe with walnut cream, rum raisins, chocolate ganache and an airy, melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake with campari stewed berries and burnt orange.


Lest we forget the inspired cocktails and a smart wine list, emphasizing local Sonoma wines. I highly recommend the Boulevardier—Hirsch Rye, Campari, sweet vermouth and orange peel.


Oh, and Karkus also brews his own beer, so delicious, that it caused this non-beer drinker to order a second glass.


I ate my multi-multi-course meal savoring every morsel, every nuance. My body was shutting down from the volume, my brain and heart craved more, wanting to consume every bite, since each held a secret, a promise of pleasure. The flavors and sensations sang, revealing what good food can be and how in a casual inn, right of HWY 101, magic is a daily occurrence.


Tisza’s grand opening coincided with devastating wildfires. What could have spelled a complete business disaster turned into a blessing, as Karkus’s compassionate heart brightened dozens of lives. As merciless fires pounded Sonoma, displaced residents gathered around the proverbial hearth, and savored his cooking. He whipped up delectable sandwiches in a kitchen that had no heat sources, made with a waffle iron that he hastily acquired. Grateful folks washed dishes and cleaned his entire kitchen in return; experiencing a rare sense of normalcy in the world that stopped making sense in a matter of minutes. Once the situation began to gain control, they all returned, as eager customers, and brought friends. They initially poured in for shelter, company and a warm meal, they stayed and came back repeatedly for the extraordinary food.


I strongly advise anyone who loves great food to come and try Tisza for themselves. The place is quite packed most days, as the word of Karkus’s prowess has escaped. The value is unmistakable, modestly priced plates would put to shame many dishes served elsewhere for double the price. It’s not just that, however. It’s Krisztian’s love and passion for his craft that will leave you astounded. Come and be greeted by his broad, infectious smile and a warm hug in a form of a soulful dish. Bring people that you love. Inspiring experience guaranteed.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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