Paul Bocuse – Auberge du Pont de Collonges

Posted 27 Jan 2017 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel, Warms My Heart

When I first met Paul Bocuse back in 1990 he was visiting the United States and made a stop in Rhode Island. I was assigned to be his assistant and spent a glorious stretch of time working side by side with his team preparing some of his classic dishes for a series of demonstrations and lectures including his iconic Truffle Soup and Rouget barbet en écailles de pommes de terre croustillantes (his famous Rouget with potato scales). The food was extremely simple, it wasn’t intimidating at all. Yet each dish had a certain level of complexity at the same time. His team worked with camaraderie and precision using strong classical technique. As an eager yet inexperienced 24 year old – his they treated me with incredible patience and grace, sharing advice and technique generously while remaining poised as I worked hard to do things correctly. My nerves and nervousness gradually transitioned to focus because of how well they managed me.

Painted Panel depicting Auguste Escoffier, Alexandre Dumaine, and Fernand & Mado Point

I was unaware of the importance of my experience that day though one of my mentors, Chef Jean Michel Vienne, did try to help me understand the depth and gravity of time spent in the kitchen cooking with Bocuse. Vienne explained in his heavy accent (he’s from Marseilles) how slicing black truffles with Bocuse himself is a once in a lifetime event. His comments went in one ear and out the other as I focused on the slicing with Bocuse looking over my shoulder steadily providing instructions translated by Vienne.  Like so many things in life – it wasn’t until years later that I realized what a gift it was to work with Bocuse even if just for a short period of time. At one point Bocuse touched my shoulder, smiled and gestured for me to keep working.  Today my eyes well up just thinking about it. As our time together ended Bocuse took pictures with me and Chef Vienne and signed our books and menus. He departed in a flash for New York offering to host us at Auberge du Pont de Collonges – leaving me with several ounces of fresh black winter truffles to enjoy (a treat I had never worked with until then).

Jean Michel Vienne, Chef Paul Bocuse, James Griffin – 1990

For multiple reasons it wasn’t until 26 years later that I finally found my way to Lyon.  Every time I worked to adjust a trip to Europe to visit Lyon the timing didn’t work. Then in the summer of 2016 things worked out and I was able to bring my daughter to Bocuse for dinner with a group of friends. To say that visiting Auberge du Pont de Collonges with my nearly grown daughter was a surreal experience is an understatement. Life has a way of taking twists and turns. She’s eaten at some of the best restaurants the world but to visit Bocuse with her (and her best friend) was overwhelming and beautiful. We were seated in the main salon, treated like royalty, and afforded the best restaurant experience ever. That Bocuse and his team have been doing this at a “Three Star” level for more than 50 years leaves me speechless. He and his team are culinary athletes of the first order.

As chefs we all stand on Bocuse’s shoulders. There are few if any who have done more to elevate our profession with such dignity, respect, grace, and consistency than Bocuse. When you consider the duration of his status as one of the best restaurants in the there is no comparison. Chef Bocuse, you make us better and elevate our profession. As a chef, I am forever grateful.

Salade de homard à la française

Escalope de foie gras de canard poêlée sauce passion

Rougets barbets en écailles de pomme de terre croustillantes

Granité des vignerons du Beaujolais

Pigeon en feuilleté au chou nouveau

Sélection de fromages frais et affinés “Mère Richard”

(Counter Clockwise : Comte, Fourme d’ambert, St. Marcellin, Tomme de Savoie)

Crème Chocolate et griotte

Baba ah Rhum “Tradition”

Gâteau président Maurice Bernachon

Délices et gourmandizes, Petits fours et chocolats

Dining Room

Kitchen

Place Setting

Menu: Auberge du Pont de Collonges MENU BOURGEOIS

Paul Bocuse – Auberge du pont de Collonges

40 Quai de la Plage

69660 Collonges au Mont d’Or

Tél. : 04 72 42 90 90

 

Eleven Madison Park Revisited

Posted 10 Jan 2017 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It’s always nice to start the year with a benchmark visit to an excellent restaurant. I never take for granted how blessed and fortunate we are to have the opportunity to explore the food, beverage, and service at the best restaurants in the world. The creativity is amazing and every visit results in deep learning and reflection that I take back to my classroom and to life in general. This year we begin with a visit to Eleven Madison Park. It’s a Saturday evening at 7:00 pm and we have a prime table reserved for six (a wonderful group of chef-friends I have known for 25+ years). When we arrive we are treated like royalty – everyone is. We waltz over to our six-top round and take our seats. It isn’t long before we settle in for an awesome ride. Being here feels like flying first class on a great airline or taking a ride in my neighbors Mercedes S63 AMG – its so well engineered and thought-out, the experience and environment are luxurious and exciting while also comfortable, and relaxing. Lighting is great, acoustics are refined, spacing is excellent (there’s plenty of room to move) and the company I am sharing is world-class. It’s so darn easy to settle in here.

It isn’t long before the food starts to arrive. First there’s the mystery box with a savory cookie. You have to interact with this item and open it to enjoy it. Next a sampling of delicate hors d’ oeuvres presented in a set of artisan wooden boxes – the boxes themselves are striking. When the caviar Benedict comes the simplicity and contrasting flavor and texture is pure culinary craftsmanship at its highest level (this dish was mind-blowing) not to mention the custom embossed tin the dish is served in. Every item we experience is exceptional – in many cases producing pure awe and joy. Then we visit the kitchen for a standing course while observing service in action.

The kitchen at Eleven Madison Park is the epitome of professionalism. It is so nice to see a spotless back-of-house running like a Swiss watch. Every member of the culinary brigade in production has a pristine chef coat and hat, the kitchen is immaculate, every station is organized; you can hear a pin drop it’s running so smoothly. Though Eleven Madison Park is inspired by the tenets and philosophy of Jazz, executive sous chef Brian Lockwood’s kitchen is more like a well conducted symphony its so smooth. I don’t overlook how hard this is to achieve and have a new benchmark for my own practice. Humbled is an understatement.

And so it goes throughout the evening – incredible food paired with a refined and precise eye for all the tiny details in service, service-ware, guest interaction, timing, temperature, and aroma. This is hospitality, luxury, and craftsmanship at its highest level and it brings me such joy to see how far our profession has evolved over the past 30 years. I send warmest gratitude to Chef Daniel Humm and his partner Will Guidara, Manager Billy Peelle, Chef de Cuisine Dmitri Magi, Executive Sous Chef Brian Lockwood and our Maitre d’ Todd Holtry. Thank you Eleven Madison Park for teaching us what the finest hospitality is supposed to be like.

Black and White – Savory Cookie with Apple and Cheddar

Celery Root with Black Truffle, Salsify with Garlic and Thyme, Parsnip Pie, Rutabaga with Celery and Walnuts

Caviar Benedict with Smoked Sturgeon, Ham, and Pickled Egg Yolk

Crab with Sea Urchin, Kohlrabi, and Apple

Foie Gras Seared with Brussels Sprouts and Lemon

Lobster, Butter Poached with Rutabaga and Pear

Striped Bass Poached with Fennel and Clams

In the Kitchen – It Takes Many Years to Grow Old Friends!

Kitchen  Course:

Foie Gras Bon Bon – Pear Ginger Syrup Center, Candied Hazelnut Crust

Hermann J. Weimer “Noble Select” Riesling

Celery Root Braised with Black Truffle

Beets Roasted with Onions and Almonds

Duck, Honey and Lavender Glazed with Turnip and Huckleberry

Cheddar Tart with Apple and Mixed Greens

Pear Sorbet with Caramelized White Chocolate and Riesling

Chocolate “Name that Flavor”

Pretzel with Sea Salt

St. George Eleven Madison Park Apple Brandy Eau De Vie

Morning After! The Best Granola Ever – Thank you EMP

Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Avenue,

New York, NY 10010

212.889.0905

info@elevenmadisonpark.com

Top Ten Dishes of 2016

Posted 30 Dec 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

To say 2016 was busy is an understatement. Projects and associated travel spanned my roles as an educator, board member, executive advisor, consultant and volunteer. The year included major trips to Chicago, Seattle, Paris, Washington DC, Athens and Thessaloniki Greece, Lyon France, and Vevey Switzerland. There were multiple side trips all over New England and visits to just over 50 full service restaurants – it was a great year and I am blessed to have the opportunity to constantly explore and benchmark across all sectors and segments of the food industry. There were so many great meals and dishes I am still vacillating over numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 with two dozen other dishes that could be included. However, my top five are locked in. As of now – here’s my top ten list for the year. It’s only natural that many of these are seafood!

#10 – L’Olivier, Vevey, Suisse – Lac Leman Perch, Summer Vegetables, Olives, Pine Nuts

Restaurant L’Olivier at Hostellerie Bon Rivage is special – Vegetables come from extensive gardens facing the lake and seafood is sourced from Christophe & Christine Liechti of Pecherie du Leman. My early evening trip to the terrace to sip Rosé and enjoy the local fresh perch proved incredible.

#9 – Matsuhisa, Aspen – Coconut Mochi Cake, Miso Caramel, Blackberry Lavender Ice Cream

Our visits to Aspen always include a trip to Matsuhisa for sushi and other treats – we love the place. The Coconut Mochi Cake with Ice Cream during this visit was over the top. It’s a staple on the menu now – absolutely delicious and simple.

#8 – Roister, Chicago – Foie Gras, Black Walnuts, Pretzel, Marshmallow Bar

It isn’t unusual for me to visit Chicago at least one or twice during the year. This year included three trips and on the second visit we dined at the recently opened Roister. Black Sabbath was blaring on the sound system when we sat down and the huge garage doors onto the sidewalk were open – the restaurant was absolutely electric and the food spectacular culminating with a deceptively delicious Foie Gras dessert bar that had me wanting to eat the plate it was served on.

#7 – Cosme, New York – Crispy Octopus, Hazelnut Mole Pickled Potatoes, Watercress

Chef Enrique Olvera was banging around in the kitchen the night I visited Cosme. While on property he controls the sound system from his iPhone and every time he came out of the kitchen the music got louder. The room was pulsing with energy when I took a seat at the bar and had the bartender order for me. Of the many samples I tried, the octopus was spectacular. Not the prettiest dish of the year but one of the best tasting…and taste always wins!

#6 – The Lost Kitchen, Freedom Maine – Tomatoes with Many Basils

I didn’t expect chef Erin French to be so damn charming and talented. Her restaurant has more soul than 90% of those I visited this past year. It doesn’t have the striking gravitas of Bocuse or the virtuosity of Alinea – it has something else though: a magnetic energy and the soul of an entire villiage. French’s tomatoes with many basils isn’t just delicious – it is a metaphor for the hope and future of the community surrounding the restaurant. Fabulous is an understatement.

#5 – Pineapple and Pearls – Sturgeon and White Beets, Matsutake

It is unprecedented when a newly minted chef-owner realizes his operation is all about the people involved including employees, guests, suppliers, vendors and the surrounding community. Chef Aaron Silverman knew this right from the beginning. I am a huge fan and his Sturgeon with Beets was so delicious that the thought of it still lingers.

#4 – Oberlin, Providence – Marinated Mussels, Garlic Chive, Sweet Potato

When Ben and Heidi Sukle’s Oberlin was awarded #7 best new restaurant in America by Bon Appetit magazine in 2016 it gave me great joy. I have known Ben for years and always loved his food but felt he went unrecognized – until now. My wife and I enjoyed dinner with Ben in the fall and his Marinated Mussels instantly became a top five dish of the year. They’re perfect. My heart fills with happiness as I see Ben and Heidi prosper!

#3 – Pierre Herme, Paris – Macarons

Our trip to Paris included an obligatory visit to Pierre Herme (the Rue Bonaparte location) for patisseries, macarons and cocolats. Herme and I met at the StarChefs conference back in 2011 and he’s an absolute gentleman. We expected excellence – our expectations were exceeded. There’s a reason Herme was named best pastry chef in the world in 2016.

#2 – Alinea, Chicago – Scallop with Corn Consommé, Shio Kombu, Nori

When dining in the gallery at Alinea one has to expect the unexpected. However, there was no way I could come close to anticipating how over-the-top delicious this scallop and corn consommé would be. The technique, precision, and absolute restraint used to produce this dish is evidence of passion, brilliance, and mastery – the purest form of elegant simplicity and deliciousness. The consommé crystal clear – the scallops dried into crispy sheets that melt into pasta like “noodles” when hydrated! This is the best thing I put in my mouth all year – period!

#1 – Paul Bocuse L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes, Lyon, France – Lobster salad ‘à la Française’

Choosing the best dish of the year is never easy but my mind was made up after eating at L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes though it was only June. My rationale is fairly simple: in an industry that chews and spits out restaurants and chefs as often as the changing tide, Bocuse has maintained three Michelin starts for 50 consecutive years. He’s the greatest chef of all time – period. My meal at Bocuse was old-school French in every way – and it was gorgeous. Service was perfect and the ambiance exceptional. I was washed over with the best hospitality I have received in years. Dining at Bocuse was one of the happiest meals of my life! Thank you chef!

Pineapple and Pearls: “In the People Business”

Posted 18 Dec 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

Chef Aaron Silverman’s team centered philosophy is primary cause for why I rearranged my schedule to include a dinner at his restaurant Pineapple and Pearls in the Barracks Row neighborhood just north of the Navy Yard in Washington DC. Though I did notice the two-star nod the Guide Michelin gave Pineapple and Pearls back in October, Silverman’s December 2015 TedEx talk 2015 is what really caught my attention. His heartfelt presentation centered on the connection between building and maintaining an outstanding team and achieving overall greatness. I couldn’t agree more with his perspective and I had to see for myself.

His first restaurant Rose’s Luxury won best new restaurant recognition by both Bon Appetit and GQ magazines in 2014. The restaurant was a game changer for the local restaurant scene and for the Silverman himself. Its customer centered casual feel paired with incredible – approachable food drew rave reviews and a steady stream of guests willing to cue up on the sidewalk in order to score a table upon opening. But behind the scenes Silverman focused on creating an environment and culture that would draw in the best talent. An environment where people want to work and that employees look forward to being part of.

My experience at Pineapple and Pearls provided deep evidence Silverman’s approach is working. It was illuminated by steady warmth and hospitality on a freezing December night. His team exceeded my expectation from start to finish and though the food was outstanding (the sturgeon rose was sublime) the service and beverage program was even better. Beverage director Jeff Faile has crafted an incredible program and one of the finest pairings I have had. We spent 20 minutes chatting in the kitchen after my experience (I sat at the bar for service). His approach is straight forward; he seeks great products that align perfectly with each dish on the tasting menu and he doesn’t leave non-alcoholic options as an afterthought. The non-alcoholic offerings were compelling, complex, and perfectly paired. Not an easy task. The Paliokerisio wine from Greece (grape varietals white Debina and red Vlahiko) was a favorite as was the alcohol free Jörg Geiger PriSecco sparkling cider made just east of Stuttgart in Germany. This is the kind of talent Silverman is attracting. What a great role model and example.

When a leader builds an authentic and engaging culture of excellence the impact of all involved is significantly amplified and Silverman has clearly figured this out. 2016 has been good to him – his recognition by Michelin was preceded by a Best Chef Mid Atlantic award by the James Beard Foundation. This is tangible evidence that leadership matters. Silverman ends his TedEx talk stating: “I’m in the people industry – it just so happens that I work at a restaurant.”  If people are his product – he should have three stars instead of two!

Fennel Absinthe Bonbon

Crispy Yuba, Cured Trout Roe, Garden Herbs

Beef Tar Tar, Caviar (retired dairy cow loin)

Sweet Shrimp, Ajo Blanco (almond gazpacho), Mixed Grapes, Cilantro

Sturgeon Rose, White Beets, Matsutake

Mustard Green Agnolotti, Parmesan, Greyson and Ricotta Cheese, Huitaloche, Mustard, Mushroom Kombocha Squash Gastrique

Atlantic Cod, Fall Vegetables, Pigs Head Terrine, Crispy Garlic, Garlic Fumet

Beef Loin Presentation –

Homage to DC Steakhouse – Dry Aged Rib Eye, Béarnaise, Truffle Pepper Cream, Popovers with Wild Mushrooms, Potato Onion Tart

Cheese Presentation

Warm Greyson Cheese, Purple Sweet Potato Brioche, Pawpaw Butter

Satsuma, Labneh Sorbet, Hibiscus & Whey Soda

Granny Smith Apple Crostata, Sundae Bar of Dark Chocolate, Tarragon, Olive Oil Sorbets, Lemon Glaze, Toasted Coconut

Cookies – Sesame Fortune Cookie, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Red Walnut, Snickerdoodle

Coffee and Pistachio Shortbread Afterwards

Pineapple and Pearls

715 8th Street SE, Washington, DC

pineappleandpearls.com

David Kinch – Manresa – Identity & Place

Posted 19 Nov 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel, Warms My Heart

manresa-dining-room

Reflection is such a powerful process and I constantly grind away comparing what I learn each day with what I assume to already know. It isn’t unusual to find major gaps and sometimes when a gap is filled it leaves me feeling encouraged and moved. Hearing David Kinch describe his philosophy in such simple and elegant terms was such a profound learning moment.  A student had posed a question to Kinch leaning toward what drives him – what inspires him. His answer took us back to an early meal with Alain Chapel that reset his outlook and philosophy. A seminal eating experience that resulted in clarity and purpose – the kind every one of us seeks. Kinch looked me in the eye and articulated that everything they do at Manresa is reflective of who they are and where they are – lessons learned, in part, at Alain Chapel. A powerful lesson about identity and place that Kinch explains so easily – the complexity of his message honed by years of hard work and experience.

The definitions are simple. Identity: the qualities and beliefs, that make a particular person or group different from others[i]. Place: a specific area or region of the world, a particular country, city, town[ii]. Chapel provided Kinch with a gift at a very early stage in his development and, in turn, Kinch offers a road map for how to truly engage our craft. Our hospitality identity is who we are. Discover it early and with integrity and you are halfway there.  Place is where we are in all its beautiful and natural forms – discover this early and you will find your way home. We must know who we are in the hospitality profession – and build on (strengthen) this identity, and we must honor where we are in the world. What a wonderful and insightful message.

Three years earlier I dined at Manresa and visited with David. The meal was one of the top three in my life up to that point. After hearing Kinch’s philosophy in greater detail, the nuances of identity and place presented in that menu are even more profound. It was woven with ingredients from Los Gatos, and the Pacific coast region the restaurant inhabits. Identity was manifest in the classical and modern techniques employed along with hints at Kinch’s Louisiana heritage. Twenty courses of gorgeous cuisine of the highest standard. Such incredible hospitality and service so reflective of the pacific coast aesthetic – of Kinch’s identity and place.

1-black-olive-madeline-with-pate-fuille

Black Olive Madeline with Pate Feuille

2-garden-vegetable-with-yarrow

Garden Vegetable with Yarrow

3-chestnut-truffle

Chestnut Truffle

4-cassava-oyster

Cassava Oyster

5-albacore-puttanesca-lightly-smoked

Albacore Puttanesca Lightly Smoked

6-abalone-with-local-milk-panna-cotta

Abalone with Local Milk Panna Cotta

7-sunchoke-with-caviar-and-brillat-savarin-cheese

Sunchoke with Caviar and Brillat Savarin Cheese

8-belon-oyster-meyer-lemon-seaweed-ice

Belon Oyster, Meyer Lemon, Seaweed Ice

9-autumn-tidal-pool-with-pine-mushroom-and-scallops

Autumn Tidal Pool with Pine Mushroom and Scallops

10-into-the-vegetable-garden

Into the Vegetable Garden

manresa-bread

Manresa Bread

11-mussels-with-gooseberry-emulsion

Mussels with Gooseberry Emulsion

12-spicy-fried-catfish-with-rice-and-egg

Spicy Fried catfish with Rice and Egg

13-boudin-noir-apples-toasted-buckwheat

Boudin Noir, Apples, Toasted Buckwheat

14-vennison-quince-saffron

Venison, Quince, Saffron

15-cheese-course

Cheese

manresa-crackers

Manresa Crackers

16-red-kuri-aged-gouda-casis

Red Kuri, Aged Gouda, Cassis

17-black-sesame-chocolate-lime

Black Sesame, Chocolate, Lime

18-vanilla-ice-cream-goats-milk-caramel

Vanilla Ice Cream, Goats Milk Caramel

19-friandise-of-strawberry

Friandise of Strawberry

20-chocolate-and-chocolate-mint-liquid-center-bon-bonsChocolate and Chocolate Mint Liquid Center Bon Bons

Manresa Restaurant

320 Village Ln,

Los Gatos, CA 95030

http://www.manresarestaurant.com

(408) 354-4330

[i] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/identity

[ii] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/place

The Lost Kitchen – Freedom, Maine

Posted 21 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Travel, Uncategorized, Warms My Heart

IMG_1339Tonight I was surprised – blown away actually – by my experience dining with Chef Erin French at her restaurant The Lost Kitchen way up in Freedom, Maine. This is a restaurant run by a team of women so dedicated to the cause that you can feel the restaurant’s heart the minute you enter. This is more than a dinner, it’s time spent in a family members home where the food and wine is incredible and the hospitality hangs on you like a warm blanket on a cold night. It’s a vibe so comforting and laden with hospitality that it’s hard to leave after dessert is served. Erin and her team of farmers, mothers, sisters, and friends has achieved the nearly impossible – an emotional connection with guests that strikes at your heart and palate. This place is incredible.IMG_1380

The restaurant is 200 miles north of Boston and just a half hour north west of Belfast in the rolling Maine hills some miles adjacent to the ocean. This is mid-coast Maine which remains a place suspended in time economically and one where people have learned to survive the hard way. Many spend the year working fingers to the bone while enduring summers that are all too short and winters that last too long. Freedom is typical – its small (very small) and has seen better days. We find our way down Pleasant Street and over the culvert to the parking lot on the other side of Sandy Stream. After parking the car and a quick walk back across a foot-bridge over the stream we enter the Mill at Freedom Falls.

Inside the warmly renovated post-and-beam dining room the welcome is deep and authentic – each barn-board table perfectly set. The menu is served banquet style and consists of four courses along with additional courses and amuse bouche.  The food is not precious or contrived – instead it dwells in the realm of elegant simplicity. French maintains a light touch and her dishes aren’t overly seasoned or salted. It almost feels like a certain level of restraint flows under each item – and I love her delicate touch. SheIMG_1407 serves 50+ guests a prix fixe menu with just one seating per night. During service she and two assistants prepare every item in a wide open kitchen – cooking on a 60 inch LaCanche range from France. There is no hiding in this kitchen – the kitchen and dining room are one. And French isn’t the type to hide. During the meal, often while foods are searing on the range, she personally visits each table in the restaurant offering warm greetings. She hauls ass – dressed in high heeled clogs, tailored jeans, a black blouse, and white kitchen apron. Her team exhibits care and great joy while floating through the restaurant during service. It’s easy to tell these folks truly appreciate those of us who make the trip deep into the woods for such a great meal. These women (the moms, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and farmers) are reviving the town of Freedom through sheer willpower and hard work and we are, in part, the beneficiaries. This is more than a restaurant, it’s a community movement of the best kind. Pure hospitality flows freely here and this is rare indeed. It’s now one of my favorite restaurants. Heartfelt congratulations Erin.

~~~~~~~~~

IMG_1344

Local Cucumbers, Radish, Butter, Cheese, Gougères, Olives, Cornichon, Marcona Almond

IMG_1400

Pemaquid Oysters with Blueberry Vinaigrette

IMG_1362

Mussels, Rosemary, Lime

IMG_1368

Cold Wild Blueberry Soup, Buttered Croutons, Cucumber & Dill

IMG_1375

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Many Basils, Smoked Ricotta

IMG_1421

Local Lamb Chop, Whipped Feta & Lemon Butter, Fingerlings, Fennel, Tarragon & Peach, Baby Arugula

IMG_1384

Sweet Corn & Vanilla Pot de Cream, Really Ripe Blackberries, Husk Cherries

IMG_1360

LaCanche Range in Full Force

IMG_1445

Plating Heirloom Tomato Salad with Many Basils

The Lost Kitchen

22 Mill St, Freedom, ME 04941

(207) 382-3333

 

Alinea 2.0

Posted 17 Aug 2016 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Warms My Heart

Every so often I enjoy an evening of dining that stays with me and this was one of those nights. The recipe for this is always the same: an incredible restaurant, great guests, incredible service, and fantastic food. Our plan was hatched while visiting Vevey, Switzerland earlier this summer. My friend Rochelle Schaetzl of Nestle Professional told me she dreamed of dining at Alinea and that she would be back in the U.S.A. in August – this is all I needed to know! I quickly organized a table for four in The Gallery at Alinea for August and we invited her colleague Alec and Chef Charles Carroll to join us – a well curated group of expert food lovers.

Simon Davies, CDC, Alinea demonstrating The Imperial Shaker (second course)

Though I have dined at Alinea in the past this is the first visit since the restaurant was completely renovated and the first visit for Charles, Alec, and Rochelle. Part of the joy was watching members of my group work their way through the incredible and unpredictable dining experience at Alinea with pure joy and anticipation. From the moment we entered the restaurant to our final crossing of the threshold to the curb the experience was absolutely incredible. When you enter The Gallery at Alinea all the hype and commentary about the restaurant fades and full immersion takes over. To be sure, this is more than a dinner – it’s a multi-sensory event of incredible thought, hard work, craftsmanship, and care. No question the food is mind blowing but it’s equally important to note how stellar the FOH team is. Every member of the service staff knows every course (both wine and food) in intricate detail along with the choreography that goes along with each course. Precision is an understatement. Kudos!

There’s nothing like it in the world and words can’t express how incredible an experience in this space is. I hesitate even attempting to describe it out of pure respect for the restaurant and for Chef Grant Achatz and his team – my narrative will only fall short. Instead – I share images and clips of the experience below with the deepest of respect and awe for Chef Grant Achatz, CDC Simon Davies, and the entire Alinea team.

Truffle - King Crab - Osetra Caviar - Herbs with Pickled Shallot - Egg

Communal: Truffle – King Crab – Osetra Caviar – Herbs with Pickled Shallot – Egg

Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse - Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Shaker/Roll: Gin Cocktail, Green Tomato, Chartreuse – Cucumber, Feta, Caper Leaf

Scallop with Corn Consommé - Shio Kombu, Nori

Crunch/Paper: Scallop with Corn Consommé – Shio Kombu, Nori

Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, - White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb - Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Contrast/Sparrow-Grass, Swirl: Tomato, Watermelon, Parmesan, – White Asparagus, Lychee, Lily Bulb – Apple, Apple, Yuzu, Lemon Verbena

Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Fry: Icefish, Daisy Mandarin, Radish

Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Yellow: Pork Belly, Curry, Banana

Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Glass: Morel, blueberry, Lapsang Souchong

Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Petal: Onion, Purple Allium, Black Pepper

Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Toast: Gruyere, Black Truffle, Pumpernickel

Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Smoke/Bon Bon: Chicken, Palo Santo, Pineapple, Mezcal – Mango, Almond, Cinnamon

Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Bone: Wagyu, Rice, Myoga

Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Cloche: Veal Cheek, Chamomile, Melon

Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Nostalgia: Fennel, Dark Chocolate, Lemon, Strawberry

Edible Baloon (taffy)

Edible Balloon – Taffy

Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Paint: Cherry, White Chocolate, Bourbon

Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine

Gold: Sesame, Brown Butter, Feuilletine

Incredible!

Alinea Restaurant

1723 N Halsted St,

Chicago, IL 60614

Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier

Posted 26 Aug 2015 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Travel

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Lake Geneva is spectacular in the summer and Lausanne is one of our favorite places to settle in for a few days to walk the quay, cruise on a boat, and withdraw to the cooler Alps for a hike. The Canton of Vaud, where Lausanne is located, spans nearly the entire north shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) with a break above Vevey that leads up the E27 directly into the Canton of Fribourg, and the towns of Bulle, Broc (home of chocolatier Callier) and the touristy but delightful fortress at Gruyere. A perfect home base to explore, relax, eat and enjoy. We stop in Lausanne to get into the Swiss vibe, soak in the culture, and sample the local cuisine. Though I won’t provide too much about our other incredible dining experiences (yet), I do want to share a summary of our evening at Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier with Chef Beniot Violier and his wonderful wife Brigitte – theirs is a family business. When you walk in the entrance Brigitte blankets you in authentic hospitality and her perfectly groomed team warmly offers greetings with precision, professionalism, and the level of eye contact and delight that the best restaurants always radiate. There are four of us and we are here for Chef Beniot’s Grand Tasting menu of 10 courses with wine and cheese (2015, Menu No 18).

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My interpretation of Beniot and Brigitte’s aesthetic is one of balance – menu items highlight local and regional ingredients from in and around Vaud at peak freshness. Sources are sustainable and grounded in ecological consciousness (something the Swiss have been doing for decades compared to the US). Techniques are modernist with moderation (no fancy gadgets or additives) yet grounded in tradition. His Bubble” of Paudex Tomatoes is a perfect example – a gorgeous vine-ripe peeled and cored tomato filled with a light tomato mousse, oil made from tomato seed, and glazed in a “melt-on-your-tongue” traditional aspic of perfect bloom (I hate aspect that fails to liquefy at or above 36.6c). Chefs’ cuisine also leans geometric including the use of vegetable ribbons as borders (see Rounds of Loctudy Scampi below). His style is uniquely his own. My pictures fail do to the meal justice (with apologies Chef Beniot). The meal was fantastic and Chef Beniot was a generous host whose kitchen was surgically clean and operating like a local precision timepiece. Enjoy the photos and add a visit to Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier to your itinerary the next time you visit Fribourg or Vaud.

Multi-colored light crab Veloute from Cap FrehelMulti-colored light crab Veloute from Cap Frehel

DSC_8994“Bubble” of Paudex Tomatoes in a selection of Ocientra Imperial Caviar

“Mariniere” of Bouchot mussels from Mont Saint-Michel Bay with Mountain safran“Mariniere” of Bouchot mussels from Mont Saint-Michel Bay with Mountain Saffron

Fresh summer porcini mushrooms “aestivalis” and field mushroom with subtle Vintage Porto emulsionFresh summer porcini mushrooms “Aestivalis” and field mushroom with subtle

Vintage Porto emulsion

Golden brown Wild Turbot from les Sables-d’Olonne with citrus fruits and crushed start aniseGolden brown Wild Turbot from les Sables-d’Olonne with citrus fruits and crushed start anise

Rounds of Loctudy Scampi, served in a delicate Colombard Rose jusRounds of Loctudy Scampi, served in a delicate Colombard Rose jus

Prepared Roast rack of lamb from the hills of the Haut Var with Marjoram, Brive Violet mustard jus and potato “spirals”Prepared Roast rack of lamb from the hills of the Haut Var with Marjoram, Brive Violet mustard jus and potato “spirals”

Selection of Fine CheesesSelection of fine cheeses

A Frozen duo of Luizet Apricots and Caramel almonds served with a hazelnut streusel-001A Frozen duo of Luizet Apricots and Caramel almonds served with a hazelnut streusel

Fingers of Mara des Bois strawberries in Tahiti vanillaFingers of Mara des Bois strawberries in Tahiti vanilla

Seasonal MignardisesSeasonal Mignardises

Post Script: Passing of Chef Viollier

I reflect back on my time with Chef Benoit Viollier with such joy though sadness at his tragic passing remains. The herculean commitment required to reach the level of perfection and acclaim achieved by Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier and others like it must never be taken for granted. Chef’s give their heart and soul in pursuit of perfection each and every night. Ours is one of the hardest professions in the world but also one of the most rewarding. Chef Violier was such a gracious host inviting us into his kitchen, assuring we had a translator, spending twice the amount of time with us than he had to. It was a blessing to spend time with him.  I will never forget him nor will I ever forget his commitment and sacrifice.

Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville Crissier

Rue d’Yverdon 1, 1023 Crissier, Switzerland

+41 21 634 05 05

reservations directly on website

MIKLA Istanbul

Posted 21 Sep 2013 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Travel

Dusk View of Istanbul from MKLA

ISTANBUL AT DUSK – MIKLA Restaurant Roof Deck

Mehmet Gurs is a cool cat in Istanbul. Born in Finland to a Turkish father and Scandinavian mother, Gurs himself personifies the fusion of Asia and Europe. When I catch up with him he is cruising in his Range Rover in downtown Istanbul, we chat a bit and agree to meet later at MIKLA his restaurant perched atop a high rise building near the Beyoğlu distric of Istanbul. I promise to meet him around 8:00 PM and arrive a bit late but in time to see the incredible sky above the Asian side of Istanbul at dusk. MIKLA has a large deck outside the main dining room so we step out into the cool air while Maghrib prayers gently ring from each Mosque across the Bosporus flowing from south to north in sequence.

MKLA Kitchen Window

After a few minutes we are guided to our table just across from Gurs’ glassed in production kitchen. Our server provides us with a ten course tasting menu to review and we sit back ready for a great night. Gurs has a deft way of weaving classic Turkish dishes like Manti with items more than gently pulled toward Scandinavia. He exercises Turkish farm-to-table and can explain in detail the origins of the raw ingredients used in his cuisine and, quite often, the history.

Bread

The meal leaves me in awe not in the same way as my first meal at Jean Louis at Watergate or Alinea two decades later – it’s a different sort of awe, one rooted in the history cemented into the streets and countryside below us and the metaphor Gurs’ cuisine presents on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera hotel so many floors above.  I feel bathed in the ancient and modern at the same time.

 

 1 Lakerda, cured Bonito, Cucumber, Red Onion, Buffalo Yogurt

Lakerda – Cured Bonito, cucumber, red onion buffalo yoghurt

 2. Zetinyagli ~ Vegetables Cooked in Olive Oil

Vegetables Zeytinyağlı

 3. Balik Ekmek Crispy Sardines, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon Mousse

Balik Ekmek – Crispy Sardines, Olive Oil Bread, Lemon Mousse

 4. Dried Beef Tenderloin & Hummus, Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep Paste

Dried Tenderloin & Hummus –Salted and Dried Beef Tenderloin, Humus, Antep Paste

 5. Whole Wheat Vegetable Manti (dumpling), Yogurt, Tomato, Roasted Garlic, Sumac

Whole Wheat Vegetable Manti – Vegetable Manti, Yoghurt, Tomato, Roasted Garlic, Sumac

 6. Dentex (local Turkish Fish), Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Capers, Halhal Olives, Samphire, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette

Dentex – Cooked Dentex, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Capers, Halhal Olives Samphire, Chive-Fig Vinaigrette

 7. Lamb Shank, Trakya Kivircik Lamb, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk, Peas and Chard

Lamb Shank – Trakya Kivircik Lamb Shank, Smoked Eggplant, Stew of Kayseri Sucuk, Peas and Chard

 8. Cheese & Honey, Anatolian Raw Milk Cheese & Honey

Cheese & Honey – Anatolian raw Milk Cheese & Honey

 9. Sutlac, Rice Pudding wiht Mastic, Sour Apple Sorbet, Crunchy Mulberry

Sütlaç – Rice Pudding with Mastic, Sour Apple Sorbet, Crunchy Mulberry

 10. Apricot & Bulghur, Ihsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots

Apricot & Bulghur – Ihsangazi Siyez Bulghur Ice Cream, Confit Malatya Apricots

 MKLA Istanbul

MIKLA
The Marmara Pera
Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15
34430, Beyoğlu, İstanbu

http://www.miklarestaurant.com/en

Osteria Francescana, Modena, IT

Posted 09 Oct 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Uncategorized

It has taken almost a year but finally we are on our way to Osteria Francescana after several days of floating with the crows in Florence. The mid-day drive up the A1 is gorgeous, lots of sun flowers and clear roads cruising at 130kmh. We make it to Modena in record time, park along the Viale Vittorio Veneto and walk to Via Stella just a few minutes away. Culinary curiosity sends waves of thought through my mind as we feel our way toward the restaurant with high anticipation after being invited for a visit nearly a year earlier. Massimo Bottura and I met in New York at the 2011 Starchefs conference at Park Avenue Armory. I had been tracking him since Osteria Francescana broke the top ten of Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World. In 2012 the restaurant is ranked 5th (behind Noma, Roca, Mugaritz, and D.O.M. in Brazil).

When Bottura spoke at the Armory he waxed poetic about the food of his youth, of Cotechino sausage and chicken embryos. His deep rooted connection to the culture and foods of his native Emilia Romagna radiated authentically while he spoke. Behind him his assistants used syringes to drain chicken embryos while keeping the exterior membrane intact and refilled them with warm ham broth forming gorgeous little yellow ham juice bombs, a new take on an old favorite. My first impression then was that of a mad scientist evoking culinary emotion; the core theme of Starchefs in 2011. And now we are walking toward the restaurant.

The entry is tucked down a narrow side street and is subdued enough that you could walk right past it if it not for the polished brass signage. Inside the dining room is divided into two rooms with wide spacing between tables and lots of natural light. The first room is small with six tables and seating for twelve. Further back is the main dining room with seating for approximately forty.

Tables are double draped with pressed white linen and napkins and silver tubular single stemmed bud vases. A fair amount of thought must have gone into the design of the dining room particularly the scale and lighting. Light from south facing windows is diffused through frosted glass in some places and white muslin draping in others softening the glow in the room to a bright but muted glow. Chairs are upholstered in black leather and the walls decorated with framed black and white photos.  It feels more like an art gallery than a restaurant interior.

From the moment we enter the front of the house team enrobes us with comfort. They know we are visiting for the first time, that we are American, that we met Massimo in New York, and that we have come to eat. Menus are presented as a formality so we can explore and discuss each item. Curiosities are explored, philosophy discussed and preferences defined. The quality of the food at Osteria Francescana would exceed my word limit but Bottura does a masterful job applying modernist techniques and interpretations to the traditional foods of the region. However the real surprise was the quality of service and the staff’s ability to draw us in and put us at ease. A defining moment came when we were asking questions about the menu and our options and our server stated “we are three Michelin stars but we are not a museum. We can make anything you like in our kitchen and would be glad to make what you want. It would make me very happy if you truly enjoy yourself.” We truly did enjoy ourselves and it was worth every ounce of effort it took to get to Modena. My favorite dish: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano…put this dish on your bucket list.

Here’s a photo record of the 15 course menu we enjoyed!

1.      Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich with Garlic Cream

 2.      Sardine with Eggplant, Olive, Crispy Cracker

 3.      Razor Clam Reconstructed, Essence of Razor Clam Broth, Rice Cracker Shell

 4.      Plate of Salt Cod with Bread Crumbs, Green Tomato, Olive Broth

 

5.      Spaghetti with Brown Squid Broth and Caviar

 6.      Saba Lacquered Adriatic Eel with Mother of Balsamic, Polenta, Green Apple, Burnt Onion

 

7.      Tortellini with Veal and Pork, Parmesan Sauce

 

8.      Tagliatelle with Ragu

 

9.      Pork Ribs with Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Puree

 

10.   Vegetable, Porcini, Black Truffle

 

11.   Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures

 

12.   Compression of Pasta and Beans

 

13.   Wood Pigeon, Red Turnip Sauce, Fresh Radish

 

14.   Foie Gras Crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

 

15.   Oops! Broken Fruit Pie

 

16.   Friandise

 

 

 

 

Osteria Francescana

Via Stella, 22

41121 Modena, Italy

059-210118

Osteriafrancescana.it