Our weekly Eat Club dinners involve a predictable truth. Almost nobody ever makes a reservation unless the menu and the price are set in stone. This creates our biggest problem: chefs and restaurateurs are laggard about composing their menus. That’s the reason for more dinner cancellations than all other causes combined. We need at least two weeks to penetrate the minds and appetites of readers and listeners.
The restaurant met all expectations and then some. I already think this is the best new restaurant of the past year. Now it’s a strong candidate for best Eat Club dinner of 2011. One marvelous dish after another came out of that teeny kitchen. None involved foolishness.
We started with an amuse-bouche of a single lump of crabmeat set in a savory panna cotta. One nice bite to go with the Louis Roederer brut. Then as fine a slice of foie gras as I have had. All extraneous abetments kept to one side. The foie gras was all, as it should be.
The next dish was the kind of thing we used to see during the peak years of modern, French-influenced grand dining in the mid to late 1980s, but very rarely now. A feuillete is a stack of puff pastry enclosing something with enough flavor to push the pastry into the background. In this case it was frog legs (removed from the bones), lobster, and veal sweetbreads, all touched by a buttery sauce with some capers strewn about. This is a ten-out-of-ten dish. Fabulous food. The time that chef-owner Ray Gruezke spent at Le Foret may have influenced this. A fine Rhone-style white from Tablas Creek was alongside.
Now we were allowed to calm down with a fried soft-shell crab, more or less disassembled (although not deconstructed) on top of a little salad. Odd mushrooms, tomatoes, more crabmeat lumps. Interesting wine idea: Fleurie, one of the Grand Cru Beaujolais, a wine too rarely served these days.
The meatiest course was a saddle of rabbit wrapped around a post of chorizo. A saddle is both loins pushed together to form one piece of tender white meat. This was good but a little overworked, I thought–for the one and only time tonight. The addition of cane syrup added a little sweetness that I was less than nuts about. Couldn’t find anything to complain about in the wine: Delas Crozes-Hermitage, nice big red.
Now we had a block of compressed watermelon. The chef squeezes it down in a vacuum-packer. Third time in the last two weeks I’ve encountered this idea. I’d never heard of it before then. Do all chefs read the same magazines, or do they get together like a cartel to decide which new dishes will be rolled out this week?
The dessert was a shiny orb of chocolate cake with a mousse of peanut butter and chocolate on the inside. It tasted like Halloween, which I guess is just right. We had a new cream liqueur called Drumgray, described by the representative from Martin Wine Cellar (which supplied the wines) as a “Scottish version of Bailey’s Irish Cream.” I couldn’t remember the last time I had that.
The first person to sign up for this dinner was veterinarian and wine connoisseur Tom David. I got to know him and his wine during the decade when we all went to the tastings at Martin Wine Cellar every week. He brought a bottle of Kistler Pinot Nois with a bit of age on it. It was fabulous, as Kistler has been every time in my experience except once.
If every Eat Club dinner we held were like this one, you’d never be able to get a reservation.