||Jun 25, 2010 - 06:12 PM
||The Meal of My Life
Last night I celebrated my two-year anniversary with my boyfriend. A restaurant in the area offers a grand tasting menu designed specially for the diner after the diner fills out a questionnaire about price, likes, dislikes, restrictions, and wines. We opted for that menu.
The five-hour dinner was the best meal I've ever eaten. I recommend splurging on food in general, but this is probably my upper limit on not only how much I can eat in a sitting, but how much I'm willing to spend.
The first course: Crispy softshell crab, purslane, black garlic.
The crab was battered in corn starch, flour, and methylcellulose. The purslane and black garlic were both picked the day before.
I was little worried about starting off with crab. I don't generally like it but had never eaten softshell before. It was fantastic and I can see myself ordering it again. It tastes nothing like crab and the juicy gut bits inside are delicious. The black garlic added a nice almost vinegary taste while the purslane gave a nice final herbal note.
The second course: Foie gras - by land and sea
This was a duo plating. One the left side of the plate sat a round of monkfish liver pate, campari gelee, and daikon strings. On the right was a torchon of foie gras, balsamic jus, toasted brioche, watermelon radish, and pickled rhubarb.
This was another new experience for me. Monkfish liver is a delicacy I never wanted to try, but I'm glad to say I have. It was pleasant, slightly salty, and had the sort of deep earthiness you get from uni. Paired with the daikon and campari gelee it was the perfect bite--slightly rich, offset only by the sweetness of the gelee and accented by the slight spice of the daikon.
Foie gras, as cliche as it is, is one of my favorite foods. This preparation offered a nice contrast to the buttery foie. The rhubarb help cut through the creamy, rich bite without overpowering the flavor of the foie. The balsamic jus added a nice fruitiness but lacked the tartness of balsamic vinegar on its own.
The third course: Spot prawns in malt jus
Butter-poached spot prawn in malt jus, shaved asparagus, fried leeks.
This was the most surprising dish of the evening for me. It tasted like comfort food. The poach on the prawn was perfect. It was fork tender but not raw. The flavor of the asparagus and leek gave the dish a very nice roundness while the malt jus downplayed the brighter flavors in the vegetables. I could eat this dish every day of my life and not get sick of it. Shocking, given that I hated shrimp before this dish.
The fourth course:Meyer lemon granita
Not much to say. It's basically a snow cone served in a martini glass. It tastes like the most amazing lemonade ever. This course served as a transition between the appetizers and heavier courses. It cleared the palate nicely and was not too tart.
The fifth course: Sardine, boccalone ham, tomato
The sardine was pan seared and fileted, served atop seared boccalone ham (basically prosciutto but cubed), fresh tomatoes, and basil puree.
I'm not a fan of fishy fish. This reminded me of canned tuna mixed with chicken. It wasn't a bad flavor but it would take me some getting used to. The flavors all worked together nicely. The skin was delicious and crispy and charred, the ham salty, the tomatoes perfectly ripe, and the basil puree tasted more of basil than fresh whole leaves on their own. This was the only dish of the evening I didn't care for.
The sixth course: Maitake and lobster 'pain perdue', eucalyptus maple syrup
This was a play on breakfast food. Between two toasted slices of brioche were fresh, barely cooked maitake mushrooms. On top of the toast was a poached lobster tail and uni roe.
The dish was complex. Gathering everything into a single bite gave a layer of flavor for each ingredient, none more powerful than the next. The syrup with its infused eucalyptus was a unique flavor and helped tie everything together--the sweetness of the lobster and uni, the crunch of the brioche, the fruitiness of the uni, and the umami from the maitake were all very well put together.
The seventh: Fresh summer truffle 'risotto'
This was a bowl of lebanese couscous cooked in the style of a risotto with shaved summer truffles.
When this was brought out to us the scent immediately reminded me of semen. It's not something I'd really enjoy eating in a dinner like this (or anywhere because believe it or not I'm not a fan), but the scent went away quickly enough. This was the second most comforting dish of the evening. The couscous had a nice texture that can only be describe using one of my least favorite words--toothsome. It was a mildly flavored broth thickened by the starch of the couscous. Summer truffles lack the pungency of their more popular cousins and instead have a very delicate spice and subtle earthiness.
The eighth course: A trio of duck
This was a playful course tied together with a mustard-duck jus. The first preparation was a duck reuben. It featured house-cured pastrami made from the duck breast, a mustardy thousand island, a double-cream brie on rye toast, and crispy cabbage shavings. The second preparation was a pan-fried cube of duck confit and fava beans held together with just an egg yolk and duck fat. The third preparation was a roasted duck breast, crispy skin, and morels.
The reuben was fantastic. I would like to have a full sandwich made out of it. It was clever, new, and very boldly flavored. The cube of pressed confit with fava beans was like a dry cassoulet. The flavor was brilliant with notes of juniper, cloves, pepper, and the unmistakable mouthgasm of duck fat. The fava beans brightened the palate before the fat settled over it.
The breast was slightly disappointing. On its own, with the jus underneath, it was fine. It was a delicately spiced duck breast, perfectly cooked. With the morels the flavor became something I wasn't too sure of. Morels taste like sawdust and chocolate. I've never been a fan. Thankfully there weren't too many on the plate.
The ninth course: Jamaican spiced venison loin, porcini ragout
Sous vide venison loin medium rare with a simple ragout of porcini mushrooms and a spicy venison jus.
I'd never had venison before and requested a dish featuring it. This was probably the best dish of the night. The venison had been cooked six hours sous vide to a perfectly medium rare. Only the very edge of the loin showed any sign of being cooked (thanks to the magic of sous vide). It was spice-heavy but not overpowering of the meat. The porcinis and the sauce made a nice complement to the tender loin (see what I did there?). The flavors developed on the palate starting with the immediate depth of the sauce, gaminess of the venison, umami of the mushrooms, and finally the spiceness and brighter flavors of the seasonings. This dish was absolutely perfect.
The tenth course: Cheeses, garnishes
Epoisses de Bourgogne, double-cream brie, and two other cheeses I don't remember, served with dried apricots, figs, bing cherries, fresh honeycomb, and toasts.
This was unremarkable. The cheese, save for the overly pungent Epoisses, were are all fine but left no lasting impression. Eached paired differently and nicely with any of the garnishes.
The eleventh course: Exploration of chocolate and stone fruit
Chocolate ganache ribbons, flourless chocolate gateau terrine, poached pluot, spiced white peaches and plums, re-hydrated bing cherries, raspberry puree.
In my dining experiences I've learned to not expect anything of dessert. Usually it's some throw-away chocolate or cheese cake, maybe a decent creme brulee (I've only had one truly great creme brulee ever), or a mixture of chocolate and fruit and other overly sweet things that deadens the palate and ends the evening with a meh.
This dessert blew me away. The flavors were bold. The chocolate was appropriately rich and bitter, offset and complemented by the spice on the peaches and plums and helped along by the raspberry. The chocolate terrine paired with the poached pluot was a unique experience in a dessert. The terrine itself coated in ganache had a texture somewhere between chocolate frosting and sorbet. It was slightly chilled, flaked apart on the fork, but came together at first like frosting in the mouth before melting like butter over the tongue. The pluot was poached in some brightly flavored liquid, possibly yuzu or campari. It helped the chocolate along by cutting the bitterness and keeping the palate awake. I've never had a dessert this good.
It was a long evening but well worth the price. I'm sure I'll have better meals down the line, but this was a fabulous experience for someone only 23 years old.