Posts Tagged ‘French’

A Rekindled Bouley Affair

When I read that Chef Bouley would be closing his flagship restaurant, I felt like I was hearing second-hand that my boyfriend was breaking up with me. Why did I have to read about this on the popular EaterNY, where everyone else would know at the same time? We had a bond, Bouley and I, even though we hadn’t yet met. I’m sure he doesn’t recall our rendezvous during my 11th wedding anniversary. I returned a year later Rosmarie & Evyfor him to meet my mother. Okay, really it was just to celebrate Mother’s Day with a five-course lunch tasting. So you see, the two most important people in my life had been introduced to him.

Still, he sold his longtime home but didn’t leave town. In fact, I found out quickly where he resided, and so he left himself open to being stalked by a nostalgic gourmand. Truthfully, the restaurant Bouley sealed its significance in my heart when I lost my husband unexpectedly in 2016. I vowed not to return there yet, and now it’s a forced issue. But somehow, I received digital notification of an educational dining event taking place at Chef David Bouley’s new venue Bouley Botanical, an urban farms event space with over 400 species of edible plants growing in the window gardens, which are directly used in cooking the dishes served. It was a chance to reunite with my love affair – the man who epicuriously turned me on without getting near. He delivered his love to me through his food creativity.

My income doesn’t quite allow me to fulfill being a bon vivant, but I make other sacrifices of luxury to live like one occasionally, and this occasion was suitable: Inside-Out Health: Eating for Optimal Athletic Performance” with Dr. Robert G. Silverman, Duke University Defensive Lineman AJ Wolf and Chef David Bouley at Bouley Botanical. How did they know I was an athlete? Would an educational dinner take the enjoyment out of the food experience? Would it turn eating for me from an art to a science? I took a chance and made a reservation for one. Daniel would have enjoyed this immensely.

The room had one long communal table with no assigned seating. It was bright green from the glow of chlorophyll.  I felt healthy already and selected the end seat closest to the kitchen. I wanted front row on the culinary action. I took handwritten notes on nutrigenomics and how to maximize fuel based on the type of sport you play. The mention of gut rot, however, didn’t seem conducive to pre-dining conversation. I was also uncomfortably cold with the air conditioning blowing upon us on a 50-degree evening. When someone asked the event coordinator to adjust the temperature, his response irked me: “The kitchen staff gets warm.” I mumbled to myself sarcastically, “We’re more concerned about the employees’ comfort than the patrons’.” I later asked another gentleman kindly, and he immediately obliged. The diners slowly uncrossed their tight arms, and we were now ready to ingest these healthy foods that we listened so much about.IMG_4762

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The first plate – Last of the season Chatham Wild Blue fin, matsutake mushrooms (which had a floral fragrance upon the tongue), and golden Osetra caviar.

The second plate came out not long after  – Organic Connecticut Farm Egg steamed in Artichoke Heart, Cesare Casella Prosciutto and Fava Beans.

Then I thought I heard a drumroll, but I imagined it because the culinary rock star slid discretely into the kitchen area and was standing off to the side until he was officially introduced. He came out to applause and spoke a bit about the ingredients used this evening and their benefits and was accompanied by a slide show. He was thrilled to share what he learned from his visits to Japan. While he spoke, a plate of Dayboat Chatham Skate sat in front of us (Eat it, wait, don’t eat it, wait?). My excuse was to not lose the temperature at which it was served. My skate skated off the plate and into my mouth before he finished speaking. Then I got up and had the honor of shaking

hands with the man who IMG_4772unknowingly participated in my culinary affair. I held his hand while we spoke, and he didn’t even know that he had helped me cheat on Eric Ripert. I didn’t want to let go of those masterful tools.

The next course piqued my interest because I have never been a fan of salmon except in sushi form. This was Wild Alaskan Salmon with buckwheat pasta, and an array of mushrooms (wild porcini, trumpet, shiitake). Blindfolded I would not have guessed salmon. The question is, however, how does the general consumer obtain that type of wild hooked salmon. Dr. Silverman commented that it would basically be too expensive.

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The first of two dessert courses was light and refreshing – Biodynamic Concord Grape

Sorbet, Coconut Butter, Chestnut Honey. Dessert two was more than satisfying as the  final chapter: Cocoa Sacher Cake, 70% Valhrona Chocolate, Almond Milk and 10 Exotic Fruit sorbet, and a hard sugar-coated almond, just to put a bow on the package. But the bow wasn’t tied. A mignardises plate of about 15 assorted minis (three of each kind) was placed at our end of the table. Five of us on the end were attempting to sample one of each until we realized it was the only plate on the long table and maybe we were supposed to pass it along. Oops, where does chocolate fit into my nutrigenomics? I didn’t really want to know that answer. I pretended to want to share, passing the plate down with three tiny bites remaining for the 15 or so other people. Fortunately they all looked too full to care.IMG_4782

I walked away with energy, not feeling overstuffed and lethargic – mission accomplished. I will likely implement half of what I was educated on, half of which I was already aware. The other half I will reserve for happiness. How could I ever eliminate fresh baked breads from my palette, particularly the types Bouley used to offer? The bigger question is why would I want to be miserable?

Chef Bouley, we will have another rendezvous when I stalk you at Test Kitchen one day.  You can’t hide those epicurean eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CIEL IT WITH A SEMI-SWEET KISS

If you even just know me by name, you probably know that all retail desserts are measured against the quality of my mother’s desserts. Most don’t come close: too sweet, too many artificial ingredients, not baked enough, etc.  As a result, I am extremely selective – some label it snobbish – as to if and where I eat dessert elsewhere.

Most of you who do know me, know I’ve found the perfect competitor in Rocco’s, New York City, but that’s across the big river. I’ve written about two worthy contenders in New Jersey:  one in Ramsey, L’Arte , where I even dared to bring my mother once, and the other in Teterboro, Palermo’s. So when I saw a nearly full-page newspaper article (yes, I look at an actual printed newspaper), on a four-month-old French pastry establishment in Westwood, NJ, my eyes and mouth perked up. A panic rush of self-addressed questions comes over me – why didn’t I know about this, could it be as good as the pictures look, how soon can I try it? The first answer I don’t know. I was four months behind on this intel. Shame on me. The third answer was …this evening! And that would provide the second answer: yes!

20170920_214927Open until 10 p.m., which excites me by fitting into my late night schedules, I dashed to Westwood at 9:30. The space is tucked sideways, perpendicular to a strip center with another Korean-owned eatery, focused on bbq, called Kimchi Smoke, which moved from Bergenfield. The bakery case in front appeared nearly wiped clean, but there were a few desserts left. The Korean man (owner/partner) explained that these rectangles were called pallets. They are like mini-pound cakes that are warmed up and sliced, but they’re elaborate. One was pistachio, draped in white chocolate and another was milk chocolate and coffee with almonds. I ordered one of each to sit down and enjoy.

 

The back room is the open kitchen with counter and stools, along with a handful of tables. I was given a menu for separate plated desserts, which were more elaborate. At this point of the night, I had not eaten dinner. Dessert was destined to be my dinner because that’s what Ciel serves, and it’s served very well! Chef (and co-owner with her spouse) Jane’s resume sparkles in the pastry arts. Eleven Park Madison, Le Cirque and Nobu piqued my level of impression.  They both explained that they don’t and won’t serve savory dishes because they are doing only what they do best…..dessert! After all, you wouldn’t expect the pitmaster at Kimchi Smoke to serve up crème brulee.

When asked for a recommendation off of the dessert lounge menu, the gentleman suggested the chocolate soufflé as a first timer (a familiar French word of course). It is

 

baked to order in seven minutes and served with fresh made creme chantilly. The airiness and the gooey inside combined in a light and not-so-sweet marriage. That choice paired with the two “pallets” should’ve been a good enough first-visit tasting. But no; I had to notice the apple tarte tatin. I couldn’t  pass it up. It was the most beautiful looking of the desserts I had, but also the smallest portion. Here, Chef Jane’s artistic prowess was exhibited best. The “tarte”  looked like a large, square caramel filled with pieces of fresh apple. It was decorated with thin, dried apple slices, dabs of meringue and radish micro greens.

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Remember, French pastries such as these are meant to be tasted meticulously and slowly with small bites because the portions are not large. The textures are meant to touch every side of your mouth. In fact, the tasting of such desserts, rather than shoveling, is celebrated with a distinctive offering….a dessert tasting menu experience. Ciel offers a 20170920_215724five-course dessert tasting that she serves at the counter. The unique experience with her personal explanations takes about 1.5 hours. There’s also a three-course version that would take about 45 minutes. Reservations for a tasting experience is required at least 48 hours in advance. The tasting menu option truly brings the quality and New York food experience across that river and into this Bergen County town that’s filling up as a foodie destination.

She is quoted in The Record: “I barely use sugar. Fruits — raspberries, mangoes, cherries — have plenty of sweet in them. I don’t use anything that isn’t good for your body.” Her partner told me he goes to the market every morning to select the freshest fruits.

Dessert you can feel good about consuming! She even offers some that are vegan and gluten free, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to try her creations.

UPDATE: This writeup tasted so good to my co-workers, we all decided to try the three-course tasting created by Chef Jane. The images will artfully and tastefully speak for themselves…

 

 

You Say Boulud; I say Bouley, Just a Matter of Taste

It was the evening of an annual surprise location dinner. We were walking on 65th Street, not quite sure how much further, until I noticed the number 210. We had to go to 60. “How much further?” he questions. “It is already 7:30.” I mumbled something about it being in the next block. I wasn’t confident. But then, looking up, I saw the name on the marquee. It is his name too, so I quickly called ahead, before he could notice, “Daniel, turn around.” I whipped out my camera and asked IMG_5862him to pose while I smirked at the label above his head. He irritatingly responded, “Like we have time for this. We’re already late.” I basked in the pleasure derived from the revelation of a surprise. “We’re here, Daniel!”

The revolving door that says ‘keep coming back’, the lounge, and at last the dining room, which appeared  to me as a Roman atrium – all were inviting and not too imperial. However, an aura of affluence surrounded me when the waiter handed me the menu and addressed me by name. That was the golden ring of ambiance. All the while, as exclusive as Daniel was making me feel, I reflected momentarily on David and Eric. I had already been unfaithful to my first love Le Bernardin with Bouley, and now I am cheating on the guy I cheated with. One always searches for the greener grass, but I can tell you from the second I was teased with the amuse bouches (yes, we got two plates), this Daniel guy was going to have to work real hard at winning my taste buds because slots one and two are already full. The chickpea theme was a clever beginning and got my attention.

Bread is just as sweetly satisfying as dessert for me, so I take it seriously. Four small roll varieties were presented: olive rosemary, garlic parmesan, five-seed whole green, and a butter roll – served with farm-fresh butter with and without sea salt. I thought back to the bread “cage” at Bouley as I was biting into the five-seed role, and the image evaporated. At that moment, I believed it was the best roll I had ever tasted, but sometimes that is biased because it is the most current memory. At this point, doesn’t someone always say, “Don’t fill up on bread.” To which my response would be: ‘Shut up! I am swallowing every crumb of both rolls that I selected and am sampling the other two he chose.’

Then came our first courses:

SHIMAAJI “AU VIN BLANC” – Poached with Riesling and Celery Mustard Salad; Tartare with Northern Lights Caviar

SICILIAN PISTACHIO AND LICORICE CRUSTED MAINE SEA SCALLOPS – Gourgane Panisse, Spinach, Sauce Diable

Then our second courses:

OVEN BAKED BLACK SEA BASS WITH SYRAH SAUCE – Aleppo Pepper, Caramelized Red Onions;  Roasted Parsnip, Yukon Gold Potato Confit

DUO OF SUCKLING PIG – need I say more? It went like this: crackle, crunch, soft fattiness, bursting flavor and juice, crispy crunch, oh wow, yum.578469_10200824087904726_1094870266_n

Our dessert course was a delightful end, and our stomachs squeezed the additional celebratory mini-dessert they brought us. The waiter announced: “We’re not done with you yet,” as he held a paper bag filled with warm, just-made madeleines. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to reach in with my fingers. I hesitated, and he continued to hold the bag and then placed it down for us to finish.

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The final ratings of Top 3 Food Loves so far are:

1. Le Bernardin – my true love

2. Bouley (maybe just because we had more courses to taste than at Daniel). Bouley is #1 in decor/atmosphere, which includes the bathroom (see my blog on Bouley)!

A very close 3. Daniel – If you treat me just as well next time, and I get to know you a little better, you could be my first choice to cheating on LB.

Le Bernardin: the Epicurean Apex

Let me just warn you that my initial blog begins at the summit, and it’s all downhill from here. My gastronomic love for everything Eric Ripert sprouted at Chef Central in Paramus, NJ. It wasn’t just his hypnotic French accent; it was his answer to my question on how he manages to remain at the top – in short, “train my staff well and treat them with respect.” (At 8:19 YouTube link

And so my tryst occurred less than a month after Le Bernardin was renovated. When dining out, I am generally lenient with my personal critique of a restaurant. I am forgiving and understanding of certain errors, so I let my taste buds and my standard of work ethic and respect decide whether I will return. This time, however, I went in wearing a Gael Greene hat. If Michelin is going to flash three stars and national publications are going to splash “best” (I dislike pretentiousness), then by-golly, it better be just that.

We decided on the 5-course prix fixe and made sure to each order a different selection. Once the amuse bouche came out, there was very little conversation. It was mostly hushed orgasmic-like “mmmm”s and “wow”s as each forkful of flavor danced along our palettes.

I then knew that I wouldn’t find any fault from the kitchen, so I looked toward the server – was he hovering? No. Was he rushing us? No. He had an inviting French accent (almost as charming as Eric’s) and offered us every bit of menu knowledge he had to help us in our decisions. The one thing that I thought was a bit over the top – and wasteful – was the changing of our silver butter dish every 10 minutes or so with merely a small dent in the surface. It was really unnecessary and didn’t contribute to the royal treatment for me. Alas, I found a flaw. There were a few pulls in the brand new carpet already. It’s ridiculous I had to resort to that to find any demerit. I glanced at my slightly worn boot heels to make sure I was not to blame.

Describing each dish would be an injustice, so the photos will have to speak for themselves. If you click on a specific photo, hit Permalink, and you’ll receive the full menu description.

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