Posts Tagged ‘Fine Dining’

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!

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

NEXT: El Bulli

Posted 03 May 2012 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends

Next week, I predict that NEXT restaurant in Chicago will win “Best New Restaurant” at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards and that Chef Dave Beran will win “Rising Star Chef of the Year”. My rationale for this prediction is based primarily on the incredible success Beran, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have had launching what I consider to be one of the most innovative and technically successful new restaurants in American history.

If you follow NEXT you already know that to dine there you have to buy tickets for the menu being offered, that only sixty four seats are available each night and that tickets for each three month run sell out in minutes. Pretty innovative huh (albeit old news now that Kokonas and Achatz have proven the model). The food community also knows that Beran and his team execute each menu flawlessly (there have been three menus to date: Paris 1906, Thailand, Childhood and now El Bulli (Sicily and Kyoto are soon to follow). Each time NEXT offers a new menu the creative team at the restaurant completely reinvents the experience, resetting the entire table top, service ware, menu, production and service. That these guys can shift themes every three months from Paris 1906 to Thailand (including a rave review by the N.Y. Times), turn the corner and take on Achatz’s and Beran’s memories from childhood in the 70’s and 80’s in menu form and then run a 29 course El Bulli menu three months after that (to extreme accuracy) is unheard of; a feat of super-culinary capacity and sheer determination. NEXT is the best new restaurant in the U.S. and, probably, one of if not the most innovative restaurant in the world today.

NEXT Restaurant Kitchen

Recently, I had an opportunity to enjoy the El Bulli menu and visit with sous chef Rene Deleon (Beran and Achatz were in Kyoto conducting research for that future menu). Deleon and the rest of his culinary crew are all fresh faced, young and of fighting weight. They hustle with kinetic energy in the kitchen while performing their roles with precision. They love what they do and covet the experience. Deleon in particular praises the opportunity to work at NEXT and the incredible leadership provided by Beran and Achatz. He relays his perspective while filling his purchase order for the following day’s comestibles, sitting at a table at 1:10 am in the morning as though it’s 4:00 pm in afternoon (his work day is nearly done). He lives the nocturnal life, the life of a cook where daylight is for sleeping (it off) and nighttime is for work and play; where you go home when the sun is rising not when it sets. A life the public rarely ever sees but one that serves as the basis for an underground culinary culture that we all love or have learned to love to be successful.

And that’s my point. NEXT thrives as a restaurant, a business, an art-form and aesthetic within the culinary realm. And it delivers. Beran, Achatz and Kokonas will receive the recognition they deserve at the 2012 James Beard Foundation awards. Kudos and congratulations in advance, I know of no other team that could pull off such a wonderful launch as these guys and the women and men who work for them. What an incredible American culinary and cultural asset. I can’t wait to see what’s NEXT.

Nitro Caipirinha with Tarragon Concentrate

Dry Snacks: Puffed Rice Black Pudding, Nori Cracker, Black Olive Butterflies, Puffed Coffee Polenta,

Puffed Saffron Tapioca, Parmesan Crackers, Lotus Flower Chips, Pork Rinds

Hot/Cold Trout Roe Tempura

Spherical Olives

Coca of Avocado Pear, Anchovies and Green Onion

Iberico Sandwich

Golden Quail Egg

Black Sesame Spongecake and Miso

Chicken Liquid Croquettes

Orange and Cardamom Bitters for Malaga Moscatel

Smoke Foam

Carrot Air with Coconut Milk

Cuttlefish and Coconut Ravioli with Soy, Ginger and Mint

Savory Tomato Ice with Oregano and Almond Milk Pudding

Hot Crab Aspic with Mini Corn Cous-Cous

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc

NEXT Diningroom

Cauliflower Cous-Cous with Solid Aromatic Herb Sauce

Suquet of Prawns

Potato Tortilla by Marc Singla

Trumpet Carpaccio with Rabbit Kidneys

Red Mullet Gaudi

Nasturtium with Eel, Bone Marrow and Cucumber

Civet of Rabbit with Hot Apple Jelly

Rabbit Civet up close

Gorgonzola Globe (Gorgonzola bechemel siphoned into a balloon, frozen via rotation in liquid nitrogen),

topped with fresh grated nutmeg tableside

Foie Gras Caramel Custard

Spice Plate (guests play a game of identifying each of the 12 flavors placed around the perimeter of the plate)

Mint Pond (Mint Powder, Muscovado Sugar, Macha Tea Powder)

Chocolate in Textures

Chocolate Donuts

Creme Flute and Puff Pastry Web

Morphings:

Jules Verne Lollipops, Chocolate and Puffed Rice, Yogurt Croquant and Raspberry Lolly, White Chocolate, Lemon and Coffee Lolly, Star Anise and Mandarin Lolly, Raspberry Kebab with Balsamic Caramel Cloud

Passionfruit Marshmallow – The Farewell

NEXT Restaurant

953 West Fulton Market

Chicago, Illinois 60607

(312) 226-0858

Menton Restaurant, Boston

Posted 01 Jun 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

I love the city of Boston for many reasons. It’s a large American city with a great skyline, tremendous history (by American standards), an active cultural scene, great architecture, the best academic institutions in the world, and fantastic people. The city also has the highest proportion of female celebrity chefs in the country and that in itself is worth celebrating.  Barbara Lynch is one of those chefs.

Lynch is incredibly smart. Just over a year ago she chose to locate Menton, her latest fine dining outpost, in the rising Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. Menton occupies the first and lower floors of the FP3 building, an old brick mill building that has undergone a thoughtful adaptive reuse under the watchful eye of Hacin + Associates architectural design and Berkeley Investments. Berkeley started the project during the dark depths of the recession and recruited Lynch as an anchor tenant. Talk about doubling down when times are tough! I love this kind of visionary thinking.

Menton is within walking distance to the Seaport district, Boston Convention center and surrounding hotels and other major new construction projects coming out of the ground in that part of the city. The location is easy to find although parking is tough and valet is a must. The restaurant entrance is completely understated with nothing but a small brass sign bolted to the side of the building marking its presence. I initially failed to notice the restaurant but spied the valet in front just as I was passing. Traffic on this side of the city is light so I spun around and handed over my keys. Just 15 minutes from Logan via the Ted Williams tunnel, I strategize timing for a quick multicourse menu prior to making a run to the airport.

The color palette inside the entrance and sitting area is awash with gray upholstered furniture, rich brown paneling, mustard colored throw pillows and tall table lamps. Entering the dining room, the mood and design shifts to a stark and contemporary yet softer feel.  Each place is set with a service plate, napkin, knife, fork, water and wine glass and candle. Tablecloths are seamless and pressed and servers are formal. The building and environment have a central European chic with a truly local feel as does the food.

And the food starts to arrive. Each dish is carefully prepared but not overly fussy. Flavors are bold and well executed and portion sizes are balance and precise. Foods are locally sourced and perfectly cooked. Seasonal flairs flourish on each plate and I find the culinary aesthetic balanced and well controlled. The food is delicious.

 

Amuse of Tarragon Puree, Porchetta, Crispy Mandarin Orange, Red Beets

Green and White Asparagus, Araucana Egg, Morel, Fines Herbes

Salmon with Spring Peas, Ramps, Caviar

Casco Bay Codfish with Stuffed Squash Blossom

Giannone Farm Poulet, Porcini, Fava Leaf, Spaetzle

 

MENTON

354 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1295
(617) 737-0099

Providence Restaurant Los Angeles, CA

Posted 30 Mar 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It’s freezing in Los Angeles tonight and I am hustling down Melrose to Providence to meet a professional chef friend for dinner.  Earlier today I scoped out a new culinary arts facility under construction in Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) over in East LA with this friend; a proud moment visiting what will be a great school for a community that deserves it.  She is one of the dedicated culinary instructors from the district who has put her heart and soul into this facility and we’re out to celebrate the progress being made. This isn’t our first time dining at Providence but it has been three years since the last visit. Back then planning was still underway and neither of us was sure that the center would be built. The lousy economy didn’t help things but she persevered along with others and funding was secured.  Today the building is more than halfway complete.

At the time Providence had been open for a year and things were feeling new and fresh in what was a tired looking Patina. The food was great and Providence was settling into its own getting great reviews. Chef Michael Cimarusti had worked the kinks out of his seafood niche and was banging out plates of the highest order. It was a great meal then and tonight my expectations are high particularly since the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 2009.

Upon entry I notice the bar area has been updated but the dining room looks very much the same with those strange white trumpet mushroom-looking decorations pasted along the walls. The bar to the right of the entry has been refreshed, looks great, and the vibe is positive and full of energy as I talk with the host prior to taking my table. The two of us take a two-top along the back wall and I take the outside seat facing the wall so my guest can have a view of the dining room.

We read through the menu, order some wine and place our orders. Anticipation is building as I consider what Cimarusti may have in store for us. He has an eccentric style and weaves modernist techniques into an otherwise well executed traditional approach to cooking. The balance in technique is often excellent although on occasion there are disconnects. Tonight we experience a great meal in general and enjoy celebrating the potential to make a difference in the lives of kids back in the MUSD.

 

Bacon Soft Roll, Wasabi Focaccia

The bacon roll is mild and could be stronger and crunchier but the Wasabi focaccia is spot on delicious 

 

Parsnip Parmesan Soup with Sweet Port Reduction, Gruyere Gougère

The parsnip soup is excellent and the port reduction sits on the bottom of the shot glass like a delightful explosion of flavor waiting to happen. The Gougère is well done too and I make a mental note that this is the third time I have encountered a Gougère in a fine dining restaurant since January. Maybe a trend is developing.

Mojito Ice, Screwdriver Sphere

These two items were good but not exceptional. The Mojito ice was better than the screwdriver sphere.

 Dungeness Crab, Winter Citrus Fruits, Pine Nuts, Flowering Cilantro

The first time I experienced a jelly sheet over a hot savory dish was at Alinea and Cimarusti’s take is a bit heavier but still excellent. I love the aromatic flowering cilantro.

Maine Lobster, Buckwheat Noodles, Japanese Turnips, Smoked Sesame

Other than the fact that the lobster endured more flying miles than the crab, this dish is excellent too. Cimarusti shines when it comes to seafood.

Foie Gras Ravioli, Black Winter Truffles, Aromatics

This is the highlight dish of the evening. Certain flavors are matched in heaven and this dish pushes the marriage between foie gras and truffles to new heights. The truffles are shaved onto the dish tableside adding a nice touch and the truffle portion is generous.

Wild Spanish Octopus, Blood Sausage, Sweet Peas, Potato, Paprika

This is the one dish that didn’t quite come together as it should. I love all the components but think additional refinement is required before this item will reach its full potential.

Dark Chocolate Rooibos Ice Cream, Brandied Cherries, Eggless Crème Brulee

Until this meal I had never had Rooibos before and loved the subtle flavor it imparted into the ice cream. Rooibos is grown in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Its needle like leaves are dried and used to make tea. The Rooibos marries well with the chocolate and cherries, the cherries being handled expertly.

Pumpkin Polenta with Candied Pecans

I am a sucker for rustic, home-style desserts and this one hits the mark. Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez uses just enough flair paired with restraint to make this dish special. Delicious.

Chocolate Marshmallow, Whiskey Macaroons, Ginger Gelee



Providence

5955 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90038

323-460-4170

Roy’s Restaurant at Spanish Bay Resort: Pebble Beach, CA

Posted 08 Dec 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service, Hotels

My exploration of Pebble Beach California had to include a trip to Roy’s restaurant over at the Inn at Spanish Bay Resort. More than one foodservice insider told me that this Roy’s outlet, one of 29 Roy’s restaurants located in seven states (Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada), operated by famed chef Roy Yamaguchi is the best of all and that Mexican born Chef de Cuisine Pablo Mellin is one of Yamaguchi’s more talented leaders.  After a wonderful long weekend in a rainy Pebble Beach volunteering for a local non-profit, the weather brightened up and I set out for Spanish Bay for dinner.  There is nothing like the drive south from Monterey along Forest Lake road to Seventeen Mile Drive. Once you pass the guard shack into Pebble Beach proper the world changes and a feeling of wealth and privilege pervades everything. The community is made up of homes belonging to the rich and, in many cases, the famous. The setting is absolutely amazing and fitting for The Inn at Spanish Bay, a resort that in early 2010 made the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List of the world’s best places to stay.

We pull up to the resort in our rental car, a nice Dodge Charger, and pass the keys on to the valet.  Sitting in front, parked for all to see is a spanking new Bentley GT convertible. Although some think it’s kitschy to display cars like this in front of a hotel or restaurant, I love it; it sets a tone for the clientele and suggests that the place is special.  After all, we are at Pebble Beach. Just the night before I was in this same hotel and passed Tom Brokaw walking down the hall and said hello. I recognized his nasally voice while walking past and then had to step aside for Leon Panetta (a resident of Pebble Beach from what I hear) and his Central Intelligence Agency entourage (black Chevy Suburban SUV’s at the front door and all) as they made their way to their vehicles parked at the entrance.  Spanish Bay is other-worldly and so are the clients that visit here.

As we exit our car and head toward the resort’s front entrance, I notice a gentle but comforting heat radiating down from the warmers located in the porte-cochere ceiling above us. By the time we arrived  the weather had cooled and this little bit of gentle warmth was a nice touch. Looking around the entrance, the building was well lit with large exterior windows and high quality architectural design.  All of the sidewalks and exterior grounds were spotless and perfectly kept down to each blade of grass.  The doorman held the door for the ladies, welcomed us warmly and, more important, genuinely as we entered. It was a wonderful first impression, just the kind of attention to detail that is becoming rare in this economy as we value engineer the finer details out of commercial life.

Roy’s Restaurant Dining Room

Once inside Spanish Bay, finding Roy’s is a straight forward task. You take a quick left, then a right and pass the main lobby and the large bar and sitting area and proceed toward the back of the room until you come to a maitre d’ station at the entrance to the restaurant. On the other side of the restaurant’s entrance the room opens up to a multi-level modern space with a huge open kitchen and a large dining room with well over 150 seats. Roy’s isn’t small and, when busy, the kitchen probably runs fast like a locomotive.  When we arrive its early (6:00PM) and the room is only half full.

Foie Gras Mochi $16.50

 

I am with a group of three other individuals and we quickly decide to share four or five items from the menu and place our order within minutes. Service is prompt if not a bit slow but this often is the case when a restaurant is running half full. Experience tells me that the best time to be in a restaurant, contrary to intuition, is when it is running full speed. Don’t misinterpret, full speed means running at capacity not running over capacity. Restaurants hit a tipping point when more than ten percent of dining room capacity is pushing to get a table. They also hit a point of declining return when service is running at half speed. Give me a full restaurant with well managed table turns and no line at the door any day of the week. Roy’s service was running slow but, luckily, the food didn’t reflect this at all. Roy’s is also just one culinary cog among many wheels that spin and make Spanish Bay the multi-million dollar resort that it is.

Spanish Bay Sunset Roll $19.75

While at Spanish Bay I had the chance to tour the back of the house including the main banquet kitchen, pastry kitchen, the conference rooms and banquet dining rooms; all of them wheels that spin to make Spanish Bay what it is. The restaurant outlets, including Roy’s, share a common purchasing, facilities,  operations, and human resource departments. I met Chef Mellin while taking my tour and talked with him for a minute or two. With jet black hair that’s tightly cropped on the side, neatly trimmed mustache and huge smile, he is an affable, friendly, and passionate culinary leader. I was inspired to see one of our Mexican colleagues, a key hardworking group in American foodservice that often gets overlooked, finding such success and it was clear as Mellin made his way through the property that he was highly respected by his peers.  We need more of this in foodservice!

Our food arrives and we dig in. The first dish I taste is the Foie Gras Mochi with a healthy slab of seared foie gras sitting on a seared pave’ of tuna. I have had this combination before and it is a match made in heaven.  My next taste is a sampling of sushi (maki and nigiri) with one piece each of Tuna, Salmon, and Yellow Tail and three pieces of spicy tuna roll with seaweed salad. My colleague orders the Spanish Bay Sunset Roll composed of spicy tuna and avocado and I taste a piece. Everything is at the peak of freshness, tastes great and is perfectly executed. Sushi is simple and varies little from place to place other than in the fine details like how the seafood is sliced and the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Mellin is using the best he can get his hands on and the quality we experience reflects this. We continue eating and try a couple other appetizer items and wrap up our dinner. The room is filling up now and the kitchen is starting to rock and roll as we head to the door.

Roy’s Kitchen

Spanish Bay is a beautiful property and may be the nicest of all the Pebble Beach resort properties. It’s well maintained public spaces, tremendous Spanish inspired design, and pristine golf course (some say the best at Pebble beach) creates a relaxing if not ultra high-end feel and Roy’s fits right into this setting serving  a super-fresh, light, Hawaiian Fusion cuisine. There are a few good restaurants in Monterey and some interesting places like Nepenthe further south in Big Sur but Roy’s could be the leading restaurant in this stretch of California coastline (I will let you be the judge).

Roy’s

Inn at Spanish Bay

2700 Seventeen Mile Drive

Pebble Beach, CA 93953

831-647-7500

No. 9 Park ~ Boston

Posted 24 Oct 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

Chef Barbara Lynch is setting Boston on fire. For the past thirteen years she’s been steadily opening restaurants while pushing the envelope on culinary creativity and service in a city with a history of embracing strong female chefs. Her restaurants (9 as of this writing) are bold, creative, and of clear intent. Although she’s generated tremendous press for her latest venture, Menton, and newer ventures like Drink (best creative cocktails in Boston),  B&G Oysters (best fresh oysters and martinis in Boston), and The Butcher Shop (best burger in the city, hands down), my favorite  Barbara Lynch outlet is good old No. 9 Park. No. 9 Park is a gem. It has old world charm with a contemporary twist and several long-standing menu items that draw me in each time I am in the neighborhood.

No. 9 Park steadily offers several signature menu items.  Lynch’s prune stuffed Gnocchi with foie gras is such a dish and it’s the main reason I love stop over as a “walk-in” and sit at the bar or one of the café tables for a snack. If you arrive right at 5:30 p.m., a table is usually available without reservation and within minutes hot Gnocchi and steaming foie gras can be yours.  With its deep stained wood floors, antique chandeliers, and cushioned seating by the bay window, the bar is incredibly relaxing and comfortable. Designed by Cheryl and Jeffry Katz of C&J Katz Design, the space draws on its colonial surroundings while remaining sleek and refined. In some ways, the interior of No. 9 Park reminds me of what the original Olives in Charlestown was like back in the day. Warm and inviting, refined, packed, loud, comfortable and mouthwatering.

Prune Stuffed Gnocchi with Foie Gras

In the culinary world, there are lineages, both regionally and nationally. Lynch can trace her pedigree back to Todd English when he was cooking at Michela Larson’s Michela’s in Cambridge.  I had a friend that worked at Michela’s at the time and she was a colleague of Lynch’s. Both were running fast and hard in the midst of an emerging Boston restaurant scene. Even then it was clear that Lynch was her own woman with a future ahead. It wasn’t long before Todd took off to open Olives and the rest is history as far as Todd is concerned. Barbara Lynch followed English to Olives and then over to Figs. When I eat the Gnocchi with foie gras I taste an echo of the tremendous, super rich, deeply flavorful, hearty and rustic foods that English used to serve and sense a bit of English’s genetic code in what Lynch is doing. The evolution of a chef and the lineage he or she draws from results in subtle similarities in menu items and techniques between the master and apprentice.  I see this as complimentary to both parties. Don’t get me wrong, Barbara Lynch owns the dining scene in Boston in a way that Todd English never has.  The apprentice is now the master cooking with some similarities.

Today, Barbara Lynch operates nine different restaurant concepts and employs over 200 people. She serves as CEO of Barbara Lynch Gruppo and has a fantastic track record adding new concepts to her portfolio. It was only 13 years ago that Lynch opened her first restaurant! She probably has another new concept in development at this very moment.  As far as I can tell, there is no other female chef in the country with such a high quality restaurant portfolio or the accolades that Lynch has earned over the years. These are the thoughts that fill my head as I take my first bite of Gnocchi, steaming slab of foie gras attached.  You have to try this dish. Go to No. 9 Park and take a seat at the bar. Order a glass of champagne and a plate of the Gnocchi to get you started, and soak in the room. This may be the very dish that launched an empire and it is one that will warm your soul.

Charcuterie Plate

Composed Salad

Black Olive Clafoutis

Chocolate Cremeaux

 

No. 9 Park

9 Park St.

Boston, MA 02108

617-742-9991