Category Archives: Palate Titillations

Three Generations of Exquisite Taste

Each of the Zagat Vintage Dinners have allowed superb, world class chefs to locate a theme, and then execute it…with all their imagination and passion.

We dined last night at the penultimate Vintage Dinner held at Jean Georges, with lovebirds and wonderful artists in their own right, Maxine and Andrew. The evening was a paen by Jean Georges, himself a three Michelin Star marvel (whose earlier restaurant Lafayette at the now defunct Drake Hotel in New York competes with Per Se for the most memorable meal I’ve ever had in the United States, and virtually anywhere else), to his mentor Louis Outhier. Chef Outhier was one of the entrees into the flavors of Thailand and the Far East for Jean Georges, arguably the greatest modern innovator and master of fusion (as opposed to ‘CONfusion’ cooking which sadly abounds) cuisine. They together piloted Lafayette.

Chef Outhier in turn had studied with Chef Fernand Point, who jousts in culinary history books with Paul Bocuse (who apprenticed under Fernand Point for some time) for the honor of being the ‘father’ of  nouvelle cuisine. Years ago at what was once the finest wine and food event in the world, The Masters of Food and Wine at The Highland Inn in Big Sur, I heard Paul Bocuse explain that nouvelle cuisine was supposed to exemplify elegance and aesthetics, not tiny morsels glittering with everything but taste.

The evening last night was a tribute to Fernand Point who famously intoned, “Butter, butter, give me butter!” Happily for us, though perhaps not in time for his arteries, the cuisine he helped inspire, is no longer bounded by any one ingredient, even one as venerable as truly luscious, creamy butter.

His father and mother were cordon bleu chefs whose restaurant was in a railway station. When their restaurant was snubbed by the authorities, Fernand who had learned cooking at this parents’ aprons, came to Lyon. He adored the classical ruins in the city, particularly the majestic pyramid that stood down the street from his restaurant. His famous restaurant came to be called thus, “La Pyramide”.

For Chef Point, dining was a complete experience, and he was vigilant as to every detail. Every aspect of preparation, Baccarat crystal and Limoges China, service and presentation, had to be superb and immaculate. He broke with tradition and came out of the kitchen and met with guests as well, beginning to transform the role of the Chef into a conduit of an overall experience, not just a grumpy genius hidden away in the kitchen.

He lived life large and with gusto, no less in his craft as elsewhere. He famously said, “I’m not hard to please, I am content with the very best.” No outside disturbances were allowed to interfere with the pleasures and stimulus of what on most evenings was an extraordinary elegy to cuisine and elegance. No more than 50 tables were accommodated. Once full, the President of the Republic himself would have been shooed away.

Art needs masters and apprentices, the latter both being culture carriers and savvy innovators. But their innovation has to come from a depth of understanding as to what they are building on and what they are innovating from. Based on the exquisite meal last night, I believe Fernand Point and Louis Outhier, and for that matter Paul Bocuse, would all have been utterly delighted at the luster of the evening…it was as Fernand Point envisaged great dining to be, an exeptional total experience with Jean Georges as an exquisite conductor.

Business literature argues today that we are in an experience economy and that what people want and will pay for and stay loyal to, are complete experiences that are both relevant and unique, which at once meet key expectations and in other ways take our breath away with pleasant surprise. We need both newness and consistency, both finesse in execution and the ability to enchant in terms of the design and delivery of the key experiences we offer. In that, last night was a master class!

Menu

Gelee de Citron au Caviar et Creme Fraiche

Lemon Gelee with Caviar and Creme Fraiche with Brut NV, Taittinger La Francaise en Magnum

Truffe Surprise

Black Truffle Surprise (the ‘surprise’ being a decadently silky foie gras center!) with Pinot Gris 2000, F.E. Trimbach Hommage a Jeanne

Asperges Vertes Aux Morilles et Vin Jaune

Green Asparagus and Morels with Vin Jaune with Sancerre 2006, Lucien Crochet Le Chene

Loup De Mer en Croute “Fernand Point”, Sauce Choron

Black Sea Bass En Croute, Sauce Choron with Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Domaine Monpertuis 2006

Homard a la Nage au Champagne, Julienne de Legumes et Cerfeuil

Lobster a la Nage, Julienne Vegetables and Chervil with Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Gain 2006 Etienne Sauzet

Sorbet au The,  Arrose a la Poire William

Tea Sorbet with Pear Brandy

Rotie de Volaille aux Truffes Noires, Epinard a la Creme

Chicken Roasted with Black Truffles, Creamed Spinach with Pessac-Leognan 2004, Chateau Bahans Haut Brion

Caravanes de Dessert

Caravan of Desserts with Sauternes 1998 Chateau Guiraud and Banyuls 2006 M. Chapoutier

Be Sociable, Share!

In Itself Of Itself

When my co-author Alan Weiss and I dined together at Per Se we were tickled by Thomas Keller’s choice of names for his restaurant. One of the definitions of the term ‘Per Se’ I love most, is ‘in itself of itself’. It is something quintessential. The restaurant manages elegance without stuffiness, cuisine as a high art form without a patina of pretension, genuine and highly responsive human warmth without the jarring and almost intrusive fawning familiarity that grates at so many restaurants.

My wife Leslie and I were back at Per Se last night. I had come in possession of a Petrus ’89, a truly stunning vintage from this glittering wine-maker. Per Se adapted their evening tasting menu to locate some dishes that truly flattered the wine, and which were in turn flattered by it.

Sadly our camera chose last night to malfunction, so there aren’t photos capturing some of the marvelous presentations, but I’ve highlighted some of the most memorable dishes below. Robert de Niro was seated two tables away, and looked at us twice as he passed by, made eye contact, and we were in that curious position of not wanting to intrude, but also not wanting to offend (by seeming not to recognize him).

Would it not be wonderful if we in our businesses and lives also took aim at some key things we offer that are in themselves, of themselves, and utterly wonderful in both?

There was a personal welcome note from Thomas Keller waiting on the table, and a complimentary glass of champagne. We poured a lovely crisp Chassagne-Montrachet that kept us very good company with the resplendent “Oysters and Pearls” (Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar), an evocative Grilled Mediterranean Sardine with toasted pine nuts and a saffron coulis, a gorgeously silky Terrine of Hudson Valley Duck Foie Gras with a Duck Consomme Jelly (which therefore went well with a richer white wine and didn’t necessitate a sweet pairing), decadent hand cut Tagliatelle with Shaved Winter Truffles, and then a segue to the at once exceptionally complex and yet marvelous elegant subtlety of the Petrus ’89 paired with gorgeous Squab (with Rhubarb, Squab Jus, Turnips and Roquette Leaves) and then Wagyu “Calotte De Boeuf Grille” (with Crispy Bone Marrow and Morels). We polished off the remnants of the Petrus with a lovely cheese tasting, pride of place going to the Blues — from Italy, Vermont (creamy and wonderfully rich) and Bavaria. The “Bombe au Pamplemousse” (Chocolate Bombe with Grapefruit) was luscious with a 1969 Madeira.
Be Sociable, Share!

Lionizing A World Class Experience!

RAFFLES WINE FOOD AND ARTS EXPERIENCE

About 10 years ago, while consulting for The Ritz-Carlton Millennia Singapore as it was being launched as the new flagship for that company, we were induced to attend a wine and food event at Raffles Singapore.

This iconic 120 + year old hotel hosted a superb set of events featuring then the cuisine of Alain Ducasse paired with the wines of Chateau Latour. It was exquisite!

Fast-forward to 2009 and The Raffles Wine, Food and Arts Experience is a beloved fixture in the Lion City of Singapore (a visiting Sumatran Prince in the 14th century spied a fearsome lion and so changed the name from “Temasek” to “Singapore” literally “lion city” – today the symbol is a Merlion, a mythical creature with features of both a lion and a fish, showing the historical linkage to both the ancient tale and the sea).

This year the event has been particularly wonderful – a revitalized culinary leadership team at Raffles has coaxed and evoked great performances and finesse from remarkable talent. A quick smattering of our dinners and I’ll post the menu of the Gala with wine pairings.

The first night we enjoyed the cuisine of Maria Luisa Valazza, Italian Three Star Michelin Chef from Al Sorriso, a self-taught genius. A real highlight was the Le Triglie, Red Mullet with a Hazelnut Broccoli Flan, Buffalo Mozzarella and Anchovy Foam with a Morey-Saint Denis 1er Cru Blanc 1998 . Another winner, the Fagottini Di Pasta (Pasta Pillow) filled with Duck, Apple and Black Truffle (being reprised for the gala finale) with La Grola 2004 Allegrini.

The next night we feasted on an exquisite menu from Bruno Menard, Three Star Michelin Chef from L’Osier in Tokyo. The decorative aesthetic impact of life in Tokyo showed in the stunning presentations. A highlight was “Mount Fuji Trout” with Sudachi Essence and Macadamia Nut “Hummus” with a quite lovely Chateau La Tour Haut Brion 2001. The Le Pigeon Gremillon (French Squab) with a Wasabi Crust was a visual feast as much as a gustatory one. Some complained the meat was too red. I wanted to suggest to them that this would be akin to complaining that Picasso shouldn’t paint so abstractly…sometimes you go to artists to recognize what you enjoy, at other times to expand paradigms and to be educated. Those Three Michelin Stars are hard won. This was paired with Mission Haut Brion 1998. But it was the Mission Haut Brion 1990 paired with Fourme d’Ambert Mild Blue Cheese on a Banana (!) that was the show-stopper. While we had a surprise pouring of the Haut Brion 1982, alas it was somewhat past its prime.

The third night we exulted in the genius of Didier Elena, whose cuisine I’ve loved from the time he opened the Essex House restaurant for Alain Ducasse in New York. Chef Elena’s Two Michelin Stars are justly earned, and if he didn’t keep moving between kitchens (opening Il Cortile in Paris and Beige in Tokyo), that third star would definitely be his. The Mont D’or – Truffes Noires (Cheese with Black Truffles, Egg, Melting Potatoes and Jabugo Ham) was a revelation, paired beautifully with an unusually astringent (and therefore fitting) Krug Millesime 1998. An utterly extraordinary experience was Slowly Braised (32 hours) Beef, with Blood Stew Sauce to be scooped with a spoon with the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1996.

Despite the recessionary downturn, the dining rooms have been packed by enthusiasts and connoisseurs. But there has been an impact. Usually the Chefs not cooking at the Raffles Grill that evening do private events for corporates. That’s what’s not happening this year.

But even so, such festive celebration of life and art at surprisingly affordable prices (great quality and great value is not a bad anthem for these times for any of us) is a way to stem (at least for a time) any incipient despair or angst. Build a brand and they will come – as long as the brand isn’t just hype, but is truly a world class experience, shared with pride and joy (and a suitable immunity to requests to ruin the pigeon with overcooking – you compromise your craft at your peril!). Instead of eroding our standards, let’s remember always though to educate our customers with compassion and a measure of grace, never with condescension.

One gripe: the wine pairings strangely left out dessert wines. The reds don’t work with the desserts. A glass of champagne, a Demi-Sec perhaps, a Tokai, a Madeira…we experimented with several and filled the vacuum. Last night, a ’59 Armagnac and an Opus X from Fuente capped a glorious evening on my terrace.

For this event, for its vision, its execution, and the abundant generosity of spirit of the Raffles team in particular in delivering it: Bravo!

GALA DINNER

Chef Denis Groison (Chef de Cuisine, Raffles Grill, Raffles Hotel Singapore)

Amuse Bouche

Clams Mariniere with Butter Squash Puree, Vanilla and Saffron Foam with Krug NV

Chef Bruno Menard (Three Michelin Stars, L’Osier Tokyo)

Langoustine et Caviar

Langoustine with Caviar, with Leek Cream and Nori Pistachio Pesto with Morey-Saint Denis 1er Cru “Les Monts-Luisants” Blanc 1999

Chef Didier Elena (Two Michelin Stars, Chateau Les Crayeres, Reims, France)

Coquilles Saint-Jacques

Sea Scallops in a Bouillon with Leek Vinaigrette and Black Truffles with Pinot Noir “Recher Herrenberg” Lange Goldkapsel 2006

Chef Maria-Luisa Valazza (Three Michelin Stars, Al Sorriso, Sorriso, Italy)

Fagottini Di Pasta

Pasta Pillows stuffed with Poppy Seed, filled with Duck, Apple and Black Truffle with Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1975 and Chateau Figeac 1990

Chef Philippe Labbe (Two Michelin Stars, Chateau de la Chevre d’Or, Eze, France)

L’Agneau De Lait Des Pyrenees

Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Aromatic Herbs, Eggplant and Orange Marmalade with Chateau Haut Brion 1982

Chef Gerard Poulard (Cheese Master)

Fromage

Selection of Farm Cheeses by Master Poulard with Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997 – Allegrini

Chef Gael Etrillard (Raffles Hotel Executive Pastry Chef)

Chocolate Variation

Dark Chocolate Stick, Darjeeling Sorbet

Mignardises

Be Sociable, Share!

Living Well Indeed!

This week we attended another of the Zagat Vintage Dinners, this time at Del Posto. As before, menu and wine pairings are pasted below for fellow enthusiasts. The pictures you’ll see dotted through the post are of the stunning dining room, a modern day stand-in for the eccentric 19th century food connoissuer Artusi (see below), some of the luscious dishes, and Tim Zagat and Mario Batali waxing lyrical about matters gastronomically historical.

The Del Posto team (this two star Michelin gem is a collaboration between Mario Batali of BABBO fame and Joe and Lidia Bastianich of FELIDIA fame) decided to dive into a wonderful well of 19th century inspiration, the famous (and infamous) cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi.

Artusi at 71 was a retired silk merchant, who finally gave up trying to find a publisher for his cookbook THE ART OF EATING WELL. He self-published it (in 1891), and it took over four years for a mere 1,000 copies to be sold. However, in time, late 19th century varietals of ‘buzz’ caught hold of the book (in short the burgeoning middle class discovered it), and sales skyrocketed. It became a classic, Artusi became a house-hold name in Italy, and the book’s popularity is undiminished to this day.

Artusi wasn’t a chef, but someone dedicated to good food, a bon vivant. And he gathered recipes far and wide. He parlayed his passion, even late in life, into an enduring monument — as studied today for the verve and wit and quite eccentric commentary in the book as for the recipes. Many of the recipes are so sparse in details, that significant interpretation had to be done by the chefs last week. Most of it — delectably successful.

Some of the dishes require some explanation to appreciate. The “Two-Coloured Soup” was a flavour-packed Capon consomme, with greens and Reggiano cheese. The Hare Pate kept being referred to by some illustrious people present as ‘the sandwich’…it was both pate and tartare to some extent, captured between thin slices of bread…the past meeting the present in a plate of insouciant whimsy. We all petitioned for its inclusion on the Del Posto menu…keep an eye out for it as apparently Lidia was similarly moved by it. The simple gamy succulence of the Quails (the ‘birds’ of the evening) with a medley of red and white radichio was delightful. You will note as you look at the wines, that two beers are included…one from Germany, one from Belgium…an interesting segue that worked very refreshingly with those particular dishes.

Artusi’s fame owes essentially to his book being in Italian at a time when virtually all recipes and instructions for Chefs were almost militantly in French. Secondarily, he presents dishes that are inviting (rather than daunting) to prepare, which laid the cornerstone for what we today recognize as Italian cooking. Having gathered recipes from all over Italy, he often suggests menus and combinations that are pleasantly suggestive. But arguably, as we found that evening, with our capable master of ceremonies from Del Posto reading vignettes from Artusi’s book, what is most diverting is his own point of view, his eccentric observations (for example about fish being unhealthy for you, or game being at it’s most nutritious just before it is about to spoil). As further examples, as you search for recipes you are likely to discover how Artusi escaped cholera, the personal character of troops occupying Northern Italy in the 1840’s, and all manner of allusions and references — discussing a pigeon dish he mentions that in Macchiavelli’s CLIZIA, the elderly Nicomacco eats a large pigeon, roasted rare so it still bleeds a little, to prepare himself for an amorous tryst. Something to keep in mind perhaps?

At any rate, so much suggests itself from this evening. For one, Tim Zagat said the idea for these Vintage Dinners came when an illustrious friend compiled a list of foods that were common in the 19th century and which we don’t eat now, simply because they’ve fallen out of fashion, despite being delicious, often nutritious, and in these recessionary times, fairly light on the pocket book. Random inspirations are everywhere. It’s our job to be attentive to them and create ideas, experiences, products, services, solutions and innovations from them. And relationships matter critically. The Zagats  enrolled 16 of the top Chefs in New York, who pounced on the opportunity to partner with them to create the ambience and cuisine of a 19th century classic menu, gleefully and with alacrity. The Zagats and I share a friend in common, Anthony Lee, GM extraordinaire of The Connaught in London. I mentioned him and asked why London shouldn’t have it’s own version of this. Their eyes twinkled…might yet another ‘line extension’ of this idea have been born?

Artusi has much to teach. He lived through some traumas in youth, prospered thereafter in life, hung on to his passions, at 71 had the chutzpah to self-publish and promote his book until a ‘tipping point’ was reached. But it wasn’t just salesmanship. He lavished the book with great recipes peppered also with his own quixotic observations and personality. It was the ultimate ‘non-commodity’ and became a culture-carrier.

The inspiration of these evenings is to remember our heritage, and not to be slaves of fashion(which Oscar Wilde described as a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to frequently revise it). Let’s live well — by doing our work well, by making room in our work and lives for our passions, and by having the openness to receive other people’s enthusiasms like Artusi’s and Tim and Nina Zagat’s, and equally by also having the courage and energy to share our own with those we care about, and perhaps even the world at large.

Bon Appetito! Or as our Italian friends also so often say, ‘Allegria (Joy!)

Menu

Minestra di Due Colori

Two-Coloured Soup with Sercial Madeira, Rare Wine Company NV

Crostini Diversi

Various Crostini with Brut Champagne Imperial, Moet et Chandon NV

Bollito Misto

Chicken Accompanied with Meat Sauce with Brau Weiss, Ayinger Brewery Bavaria, Germany

Pane di Lepre

Hare Pate with Dubbel Bach, Maredsous Abbey, Belgium

Arselle in Salsa d’Uovo

Fresh Cockles in Egg Sauce with Brut Rose Champagne Imperial, Moet et Chandon NV

Bracioline Ripiene

Stuffed Veal Cutlets (with veal marrow) with Chianti Classico Riserva, Felsina 2005

Uccelli Arrosto

Birds with Salad with Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata, Rocche Costamagna 2004

Savarin con Crema alla Francese

Savarin French Custard with Marsala La Miccia, de Bartoli NV

Formaggi e Frutta

Pears, Apples & Sundry Fruits with Brut Demi-Sec, Billecart-Salmon NV

Be Sociable, Share!

The Sharing of Pleasures

Last night my wife Leslie and I, along with two friends, attended one in a series of ‘Vintage Dinners’ organized by the Zagat guides — this one held at New York’s legendary French restaurant, Daniel. Daniel Boulud was the chef at Le Cirque in its glory days, and now parlays his brand of culinary wizardry under his own aegis.

As with all the Vintage Dinners New York’s top  Chefs have reproduced a menu representing classic cuisine from the 19th century. I paste the menu at the end for those interested in the extraordinary culinary adventure in which we participated.

We were seated communally at a large banquet table, because that was the fashion of the time. Strangers became convivial, mirth was abundant, groans of gastronomic contentment punctuated the air at regular intervals. Dishes we just don’t experience today were presented with ingenuity and yet with the chef’s personal interpretation and panache. It was a visual feast in terms of presentation and table settings as much as a culinary and gastronomic one.

Between the frog’s legs and the Trou Creole ‘Sazerac’ we heard a few words from Michael Batterberry, co-author of ON THE TOWN IN NEW YORK which details the history of  food and wine in New York from the American Revolution to the Food Revolution of late. He reminded us of some things that are fascinating.

For one, popular mythology has it that Le Pavilion in the late 1930’s was New York’s first foray into French-style restaurants (the word ‘restaurant’ comes etymologically from the French word meaning  “to restore”). This myth is off by almost a century. When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States for the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution to overwhelming adulation, anchored in the harbor was a three-masted schooner whose captain was John Delmonico. Observing what he considered to be the unimpressive catering facilities available in New York (assessed against the general hullabaloo surrounding Lafayette’s visit), he recruited his elder brother (from their native Swiss canton of Ticino, ironically the Italian part of Switzerland) to join with him to launch the world of continental grande cuisine in New York circa 1828. Delmonico’s became the standard setter for superb French cuisine in New York for that century, and resonances of its fame still linger. Close to its original site, a Delmonico’s has been resurrected in New York once more.  It’s enduring success, fame and impact shows once more how differentiation works. Not only did they establish a new form of cuisine in the United States, but they were ‘racy’ enough and brash enough to have a woman cashier as a way of ‘ringing up’ attention (something then akin to having a Playboy Bunny in her Bunny regalia in Church today)

If you look at menus from that period it seems to be an overwhelming superabundance of dishes. But back then dishes were laid out on the banquet table and you had what was essentially a sitting buffet. So you just sampled tidbits, often combatively, with those with the longest arms often scoring the most choice morsels.

It was the Russians in fact who introduced the serving of courses, where waiters served from one side and cleared from the other around 1810. Allegedly, the Russian Ambassador to France introduced this style to Paris around 1850 and it then became the rage. As the French adapted Italian cuisine, refined it and made it their own, so too they co-opted this style of service which is now associated with French epicurean classicism. Again, ‘imitate then innovate’, ‘adapt then improve’, ‘understand the box before stepping out of it’ are all good maxims, whether applied by the Japanese in electronics or the French in table service.

Finally, the procession of courses were symbolically to match the course of evolution. Soups came early, as life came from the water. Then came the fish and other creatures of the sea. Then fowl, birds, moving on to game and meat. And dessert, which was human whimsy, delicious human improvisation and celebration, capped the meal.

Pleasures that deploy artistry, that bring people together, that create piquant memories, that help us linger and share laughter and bonhomie…there is much to be said of them. They don’t require the brilliance of Daniel’s however. The real lesson is learned if we take that spirit, that capacity and that openness to joy with us and drizzle our own lives with wonderful, if more modest experiences. A good loaf of bread, wonderful music, garden fresh vegetables, a succulent and lovingly prepared main course, a bottle of wine if you’re so inclined, people to share laughter and delight with. As poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “It is in the dew of little things that the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” Little or big, savor it all.

We need to participate in creating our own enchantment…and sharing it.

MENU

MISE-EN-BOUCHE

Bacon Wrapped Oysters with Cayenne on Toast with Champagne Soutiran “Cuvee Daniel” Brut NV

POTAGE

Winter Root and Cabbage Soup with Foie Gras Royale, Ham and Chestnuts with Emilio Lustau “Jose Luis Gonzalez Obregon” Amontillado Sherry


HORS D’OEUVRE

Chaud-Froid: Chilled Squab Breast Glazed with Sauternes Veloute, Warm Tort with Squab Legs, Liver and Foie Gras

RELEVE LEGER

Lobster Tail, Sauce Americaine, Spinach and Black Truffle with Puligny Montrachet, Domaine Jacques Bavard, Burgundy 2006

RELEVE DE POISSON

Pike Dumpling Stuffed with Frog’s Legs, White Wine and Watercress Sauce

TROU CREOLE “Sazerac”

“Peychaud’s” Bitter and Rye Whiskey with Absinth Granite


ENTREE CHAUD

Whole Poached Calf’s Head with Green Olive, Veal Quenelles, Tongue, Sweetbreads, Cockscombs, Fried Quail Egg, Black Truffle, Sauce Espagnol with Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, Burgundy 2006


PIECE DE RESISTANCE
Whole Roasted and Pressed Duck with a Port Wine Red Currant Sauce, Turnip Charlotte, Spinach Subric, Pommes Dauphine with Vin de Pays des Bouches-du-Rhone, Domaine Trevallon, Provence 2001


DESSERT FROID
Coconut-Passion Fruit Ice Cream Bombe with The Rare Wine Company Boston Bual Madeira

PIECE MONTEE

Vanilla Cream Puffs with Crisp Angel Hair Caramel

DESSERT CHAUD

Warm Pistachio and Chocolate Souffle with Vanilla Sauce

MIGNARDISES

Lyon’s Fried Beignet

Be Sociable, Share!