Posts Tagged ‘Foie Gras’

Fun with Foie Gras – Part 2

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 by virginia

As you may remember, Josh got me an entire lobe of foie gras for our anniversary/Valentine’s Day. We portioned it out into slices and froze it for future use. These days, it’s still pretty rare for us to have an obligation-free Saturday to ourselves, especially with a baby that demands every little bit of our attention. So when the opportunity came up for us to spend our day in leisure, we jumped at the chance to cook up some more foie gras. I was particularly inspired by our foie gras-filled trip to Quebec City/Montreal, so I was excited to taste the preparation that Josh whipped up.

The first time he cooked foie gras for me, Josh just simply seared the slices with oil, salt, and pepper, and then deglazed the pan with aged balsamic vinegar. It was tasty, but he wanted to try making a different kind of sauce for this occasion. Basing the ingredients on this recipe, after searing the foie gras and reserving the excess fat, he added minced garlic and shallots, and then deglazed the pan with balsamic vinegar and port wine. Learning from our previous experience, he did not add oil to the pan before searing the foie gras, which made the slices less greasy, but no less rich than before.

The end result was fantastic – a luscious slice of foie gras with a delicately crispy exterior and a creamy interior that just melted in my mouth. The port wine and balsamic added both sweetness and acidity to cut through the fat, while the garlic and shallots helped round out the umami flavor and provided a little texture to the sauce.

Seared foie gras with port wine/balsamic/garlic/shallot sauce

Seared foie gras with port wine, balsamic, garlic, and shallot reduction

Since we were unable to use the reserved fat that came off the foie gras the first time we made it, we decided to use this batch immediately. We tossed the fat with diced potatoes and roasted them in the oven. However, this meant that we had to wait a while for the potatoes to cook through to serve with our main course. In the interim, we snacked on some prosciutto and crenshaw melon topped with balsamic syrup. We saw the crenshaw melon while we were shopping at Fairway, and Josh couldn’t resist trying it out. The flesh looks like canteloupe but the flavor is actually closer to honeydew. It was sweet but I thought that the aftertaste was slightly too acidic for my preference.

Slices of crenshaw melon with prosciutto and balsamic syrup

Slices of crenshaw melon with prosciutto and balsamic syrup

For our main course, Josh cooked up a gorgeous steak au poivre with lots of crushed peppercorns forming a nice crust on the meat. The sauce was made with cognac and cream – always a great combination. The foie gras fat-flavored roasted potatoes weren’t actually as flavorful as I had hoped, but you can’t go too wrong with crispy roasted potatoes. To cut through all the fatty and rich foods, we had an arugula salad on the side dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Steak au poivre with foie gras fat roasted potatoes and arugula salad

Steak au poivre with foie gras fat roasted potatoes and arugula salad

For dessert, Josh made a Grand Marnier souffle. His specialty is actually chocolate souffle, but he felt like experimenting with Grand Marnier for a change. Unfortunately we got a bit distracted with changing/feeding the baby while the souffles were in the oven, and the top ended up browning a little more than we would have liked. Nothing a little creme anglaise couldn’t cover up though. Once we got past the burnt top, the inside of the souffle was soft and fluffy. We could really taste the Grand Marnier, which gave it a little boozy kick at the end.

Grand Marnier souffle with creme anglaise

Grand Marnier souffle with creme anglaise

All in all, another great meal, mostly prepared by Josh. I was on baby duty while he handled the majority of the prep and cooking. In all fairness, I was responsible for a lot of the clean-up afterward (and he does make quite a mess when he cooks), but it was well worth it!

Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by virginia

aupieddecochon

When Josh and I first discussed going to Montreal and Quebec City, I immediately said that we would have to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant famous for its decadent stuffed pig’s foot and foie gras poutine. Fortunately, we were able to get a somewhat last minute reservation on Saturday night, our only night in Montreal. The downside was that the only reservation we could get was at 5 pm, when the restaurant first opens. Nevertheless, we prepared for our meal by eating a lighter lunch and taking a long walk from our hotel near Crescent Street to the Old City, and then up through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood where the restaurant is located.

We weren’t quite sure how long the walk would take in total, as we wanted to take a few pics around the Old City first, plus we knew we would have to push J’s stroller up quite a long hill to get to restaurant. We actually timed it pretty well and arrived at about 4:45. By this point, however, J was hungry, slightly chilly (it was a windy day), and just wanted to be out of her stroller. We attempted to enter the restaurant but were immediately rebuffed. The hostess told us they didn’t open until 5, and then shut and locked the door. I guess they are sticklers for punctuality, but we were¬† hoping they would take pity on a 6 month old baby and let us wait in the narrow entry way so that we wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold for 15 minutes. No such luck.

Instead, we walked to the street corner where there was a little patch of sun and a place where Josh could sort of sit on a giant planter while he held J on his lap. She was definitely happy to be out of her stroller, and I fed her some banana while we waited, which appeased her even more. Finally the 15 minutes were up, the door was unlocked, and we headed back inside. Our initial irritation at the hostess’ seemingly lack of sympathy for our situation soon dissipated, as she was very accommodating in helping us store J’s stroller behind her stand (there really isn’t much room to maneuver in the restaurant, as the tables are packed tightly together), and then helping us carry J’s car seat to our table (Josh was still holding J while I was laden down with the diaper bag and other assorted baby-related items that I pulled from the stroller). They had given us a four top near the bar, so we had plenty of room for J’s car seat and to spread out our stuff.

I had studied the menu extensively and read lots of reviews prior to our trip, so I knew which entrees I wanted us to try – the namesake stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras, and the duck in a can. Based on my research, I knew this would already be way more food than either of us could eat, so I was wary of ordering any appetizers or sides (so no foie gras poutine, sadly), but we ended up getting an order of bison temaki to share. Josh ordered a bottle of red wine, and we sipped on that while snacking on the fabulous baguette they brought us, which had a crispy, crackly crust and a chewy interior. It was the best baguette we had on our trip.

Bread and wine

Bread and wine

The bison temaki is a pretty ingenious dish – it’s bison tartare served in a sushi hand roll style. The raw bison meat is chopped up and rolled in nori (seaweed) with some rice, lettuce, and fried root vegetable strips. The roll is topped with a quail egg sauce that you pour over the meat. It was fresh, well seasoned, and a great mix of interesting flavors and textures. The bison was not super gamey, and quail egg added a lovely richness to the meat. Two hand rolls came in our order, and while one was beautifully presented, the other was falling apart. The nori had snapped in that one, and it was a bit sloppily assembled. I was kind of surprised by the haphazard presentation but nevertheless, the bison temaki was a great dish, and definitely whetted our appetites for the rest of the meal.

Bison temaki

Bison temaki

Of the dishes I read about, the duck in a can definitely was one of the more debated entrees. Some loved it, others hated it. I couldn’t help but want to find out for myself. It’s basically half a duck breast, foie gras, balsamic sauce, cabbage, roasted garlic, and thyme, all cooked together inside an actual sealed can. The waiter brings the can to the table, opens it with a can opener, and pours out the contents onto a plate for you.

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The duck itself was perfectly pink on the inside, but I found the meat to be tough. The skin also doesn’t have an opportunity to render, so it’s thick with fat, which some people love. I’m not averse to eating fat, especially when it melts in my mouth, but I thought this fat was unpleasantly tough and congealed. The foie gras was a bit lost in the dish, which was also disappointing. The cabbage and sauce were ok, but nothing spectacular, in my opinion. Overall I was on the side that thinks this dish is more of a gimmick, while Josh said it wasn’t that bad.

Duck in a can out of the can

Duck in a can out of the can

The stuffed pied de cochon was a HUGE platter of food. I knew the portion would be large, but I was surprised by just how big it was. As we’re still New Yorkers at heart, we had to compare it to the size of a Metrocard.

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

I mistakenly thought the pig’s foot was stuffed with foie gras, but that wasn’t the case. There was a big piece of seared foie gras on top though, which I was happy to see. The pig’s foot was really more of a pig’s leg, as there was more shank meat than gelatinous cartilage under the fried outer layer. Those of you who are averse to eating foot would be happy to know that! ¬†However, I absolutely adore pig’s foot, so I was pretty sad to only find bits of cartilage here and there. The pied de cochon was served on top of a mountain of mashed potatoes and tons of mushrooms and veggies. I barely made a dent in the dish, though I did manage to finish off all the foie gras (of course). It was a hearty, homey dish, but not refined or composed. Still, it was pretty delicious, especially if I got a piece of foie gras, some crispy skin, and both shank and foot meat all in one bite.

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

After we were finished eating, I asked for the rest of my dish to be packed up. The waiter seemed a bit surprised but he still complied with my request. The round foil container was packed to the brim and must have weighed about three pounds! Since we were eating so early, I knew I would want a snack later that evening, especially after we had a few drinks. I was definitely happy with my decision to take the rest back to our hotel, and it tasted even better later after all of the ingredients had time to meld together (even though it was cold, as there was no microwave in our room).

When Josh made the reservation, they told him that each seating is for two hours. At this point, it was almost 7 pm, meaning our time was up. The hostess had already walked by our table several times to check up on our status. I was sort of interested in ordering sugar pie for dessert, having never tasted it before, but I was pretty full and also didn’t want to go over our allotted time as I knew people would be waiting. The restaurant was packed (it filled up almost immediately after they opened), and there were lots of people standing in the entryway. Plus J had already taken a nap during our meal and was starting to get fussy. So we quickly got our check, gathered our belongings, and headed out. One of the people waiting for our table actually helped us carry our stuff out, as there really wasn’t much room to walk. J’s hat got lost in the shuffle, and the hostess helped us track it down under our table while we waited.

Overall I thought Au Pied de Cochon was an interesting experience. There is a lot of hype surrounding the restaurant, and maybe I expected more from it because of that. The food wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. The bison temaki was definitely a high point – it was a well composed, interesting dish, despite the sloppy plating. The stuffed pied de cochon was tasty, but in a rustic way. I was not impressed with the duck in a can, but Josh thinks I’m overreacting. The restaurant is also pretty expensive, though dishes are big enough to share. However, we weren’t able to take advantage of that with just the two of us. I would have liked to try more items, but the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t want to waste food by ordering more than we could conceivably eat. Dinner for the two of us, with just one appetizer, two entrees, and a bottle of wine, was about $265. To be fair, our entrees were some of the most expensive items ($40+) on the menu, and there are plenty of things in the $25 range. Josh also picked an expensive bottle of wine, but beer and cheaper wines are available.

In terms of service, we were pretty annoyed initially when they wouldn’t let us into the restaurant 15 minutes early to wait with the baby. However, the hostess did seem much nicer after the doors opened at 5 pm, and she was very helpful when it came to managing all of our belongings. Our waiter took a pretty casual approach when dealing with us, but he wasn’t rude or unfriendly. Our water and wine glasses were always filled, and someone promptly brought us hot water to heat up J’s bottle when we asked. The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty bustling. It’s loud and chaotic, but everyone seems to be having a great time while eating and drinking. I was worried that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to bring a baby, but most people didn’t notice when J cried due to the inherent noisiness of the restaurant.

So what’s my final verdict? I’m not sure. I was a bit disappointed when we left, especially since we had some great food the previous night at Le Moine Echanson in Quebec City (and the seared foie gras there was much better), but I also wished that we had been able to taste more of the menu. I’d like to go back with a big group so that we could share lots of dishes, and maybe I’ll have a different impression of the restaurant. I’ll have to hold off on whether or not I’d recommend the restaurant until then.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montreal, Canada

Le Moine Echanson – Quebec City

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 by virginia

lemoineechanson

After having a few pre-dinner beers at Bar Le Sacrilege on Rue Saint-Jean (yes, we brought the baby to a bar), we walked down the street to our dinner destination, Le Moine Echanson. The restaurant looks small from the outside, and it being a Friday night, we were worried about not being able to get in. Fortunately, there was a table available right by the door with a nook on one side that allowed us to keep J’s stroller pulled up next to us. The restaurant itself is broken up into smaller rooms, so there are actually more seats/tables than we originally thought.

There is no physical menu at Le Moine Echanson – what’s available is written on a board posted in the restaurant, and it changes seasonally. The menu was entirely in French, however, which posed a bit of a problem for us. Luckily we had a really great waiter who explained every dish to us and answered any questions we had about the preparation.

The wine list is also written on a huge board on the wall. Josh and I were planning to split a bottle but our waiter recommended that we order by the glass, and that he could pair a wine with each of our dishes. All the wines were reasonably priced by the glass, ranging mostly from $9-$12 each, so that seemed like a great option. All of the wines at the restaurant are “natural”, something that we don’t have a lot of experience with. I’m not sure I could distinguish the difference between a natural or unnatural wine, but nevertheless, the wines our waiter paired for us were mostly pretty good.

Our meal got off to a good start with half a loaf of some rustic bread that had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior. The butter on the side was rich and creamy, a perfect complement.

Good bread and butter

Good bread and butter

This was a rare meal where Josh and I did not go halfsies, although we did taste each other’s dishes. I started off with creme brulee de foie gras, something right up my alley, if my Valentine’s Day present is any indication. The base of the dish was a smooth foie gras custard that was thick and creamy. It had a subtle liver flavor and was very rich and savory. The brulee aspect of the dish was actually a maple caramel on top of the custard that had crunchy sugar crystals in it. There was a whipped cream on top, though I wasn’t sure what it was flavored with; it mostly tasted like whipped butter and was a bit much on its own, but digging my spoon through all three layers yielded a fantastic mix of salty and sweet. I also liked all the different textures, and I found the dish to be incredibly creative, turning a dessert into a savory appetizer but still keeping some of the sweet elements. Our waiter paired the creme brulee with a sweet pinot gris that was like a dessert wine – very rich and sweet. I thought the pairing was great, as the sweetness of the wine was a good counterpart to the savoriness of the foie gras.

Foie gras creme brulee

Foie gras creme brulee

Josh ordered sausage on toasted bread, which was served with arugula, citrus marmalade, nuts, and a soft cheese. It was an interesting dish with lots of different textures, flavors, and hidden layers, although there wasn’t a lot of sausage on the board. Each bite yielded something different. This dish was paired with a chardonnay that was pretty traditional in taste, buttery, but still light.

Sausage on toasted bread

Sausage on toasted bread

For my main course, I had even more foie gras. The dish was goose three ways – breast, confit, and foie gras. It was awesome, probably the best dish we had all weekend. The foie gras was out of this world. Perfectly seared, lightly seasoned, it was crispy on the outside and literally melted in my mouth. I don’t know if goose foie gras is superior to duck foie gras, but whatever the case, this was some of the best foie gras I’ve ever eaten. The breast was also seared nicely with browned skin, a melty layer of fat, and juicy, tender meat. It was still slightly pink, which I prefer. The dark meat confit was mixed around underneath with the scalloped potatoes in a pool of glorious goose fat. There was an arugula salad on top that provided a shot of acidity to cut through all the fat. It was definitely a rich dish, but not greasy or too heavy, and I had no trouble finishing most of the dish. It was paired with a syrah that was full bodied enough to stand up to the richness of the goose, and had an interesting “funky” flavor to it. By funky, I don’t mean bad. It was earthy, tasting almost unfiltered. Maybe that’s what natural wines are supposed to be like?

Goose three ways -

Goose three ways – breast, confit, foie gras

Josh had pork shank for his entree. It was crusted with lots of different seasonings, and the meat was tender and juicy on the inside, falling apart easily with just the pull of his fork. The shank was served with a potato tart and some arugula on the side. It was paired with a gamay wine that was very different from the syrah, much lighter and fruitier in flavor.

Crusted pork shank

Crusted pork shank

We were pretty full after our appetizers and entrees so we passed on dessert. Josh got a glass of dessert wine that was actually chardonnay. It was really interesting, as neither of us ever knew chardonnay could be a dessert wine. It was sweet but not cloying, and had an intense raisin flavor to it. Josh liked it a lot and took a picture of the bottle with his phone; hopefully we can find it here in the US, or something similar.

Overall we really, really enjoyed our meal at Le Moine Echanson. In retrospect, it was the best meal of our trip, and we would go back there in a heartbeat. The food was fabulous, the vibe was casual and intimate, and service was great. Our waiter was extremely friendly and helpful, as was the rest of the staff. The waitress who took over at the end of the waiter’s shift let Josh taste several dessert wines before he settled on the chardonnay. It’s the type of place that lets you feel at home, letting you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the good food and wine. Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food that we received. It wasn’t cheap, but not overly expensive either. Our meals plus five glasses of wine came out to about $155 after tax and tip, and it was definitely worth it. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Quebec City.

Le Moine Echanson
585 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada

Fun with Foie Gras

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by virginia

This past Valentine’s Day, Josh and I celebrated the 15th anniversary of our first date. Unfortunately, with a four and a half month old baby and both of us working full time, we really didn’t have much time to celebrate properly on the actual day, since it was a Thursday.

The night before Valentine’s Day, however, we were watching the latest episode of Top Chef, where one of the cheftestants, Josh, made foie gras three ways. As we watched him break down a lobe of foie gras on tv, I commented to my Josh that I would love to have my own lobe of foie gras to play with. The next day, he promptly ordered an entire lobe of foie gras from D’Artagnan for me. Definitely a unique anniversary present, but so fitting for us!

The following Saturday was the first weekend in months that we had no plans so we hit up the local Fairway for some ingredients and sequestered ourselves in our house, devoting the full afternoon to preparing our feast. On the menu: seared foie gras with balsamic glaze served with crostini, rack of lamb with shaved brussels sprout salad and mushroom spaeztle on the side, and creme brulee for dessert.

Josh had prepped the foie gras when it was delivered to our house in the previous week. Since it was a grade ‘A’ lobe, there wasn’t much cleaning involved. He sliced it into half inch thick slabs and we vacuum sealed them in two-person portions, then popped them into the freezer. I was sad that we weren’t able to eat any fresh out of the package, but we figured this was the best way to preserve the integrity of the foie gras. We were able to get six good-sized slices and a few end pieces out of the lobe. In anticipation of our meal, I defrosted one of the sealed bags overnight in our refrigerator.

To cook the foie gras, Josh added a bit of vegetable oil in the pan and scored one side of each slice with a cross hatch pattern, like you would do with the skin of a duck before cooking. It doesn’t really do anything to the foie gras, but makes for a pretty pattern after cooking, and more seared bits on the outside. He also liberally sprinkled both sides of each slice with kosher salt. Once the pan was super hot, almost to the point of smoking, he laid the slices in the oil, counted 45 seconds out loud, and then immediately flipped them over. He cooked the second side for another 45 seconds, and voila, they were done. We put them on paper towels for a minute to rest and soak up some of the grease.

It was a mistake for Josh to put oil in the pan prior to searing, as the foie gras produced enough fat on its own. He ended up having to pour off a lot of the oil/fat (we tried to save it to use later on in the week, but we got busy again and didn’t have a chance to cook with it. Next time.), and then he deglazed the pan with some aged balsamic vinegar to make a syrupy sauce that we ended up pouring over the foie gras. He served the seared slices on top of some crostini that we toasted with olive oil, and the result was pretty fantastic.

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

Seared foie gras on top of crostini

We paired the foie gras with sauternes, which is pretty classic. We bought a half bottle of the 2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes, which was sweet but not cloying, fruity, and slightly floral. On it’s own, it was a delicious dessert wine. However, I hated the pairing with the foie gras. After drinking the wine and eating some of the foie gras, I thought that it brought out the irony, sour notes of the liver. After eating the foie gras and drinking some of the wine, I thought it made the sauternes taste a bit harsh and acidic. While each was wonderful on its own, together, I thought it was a pretty horrible pairing. I’m not sure if it was just me, as Josh didn’t seem to mind that much, or if we picked the wrong bottle of wine, or what. It wasn’t a cheap bottle – about $40 for 375 ml, and it had received a 94 from Wine Spectator. I was disappointed, and wound up saving the rest of my glass for our dessert course, which turned out to be a better option.

2009

2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes

For our main course, Josh prepared the rack of lamb by marinating it in olive oil with garlic and rosemary. Then he cooked it sous vide in our Sous Vide Supreme at 55 degrees celsius for about two hours. Afterward, he seared it quickly to develop a crust on the outside, and made a pan sauce with cognac, mustard, and chicken stock.

I was in charge of the side dishes. I took about a pound of beautiful bright green brussels sprouts and sliced them as thinly as possible. I could have shaved them using a mandolin, but I was too lazy to bust out and have to clean extra equipment. We tossed the brussels sprouts with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard.

I was inspired to make spaetzle based on a dish we had in Bratislava a year and a half ago – roasted pork tenderloin with spaetzle covered in a porcini cream sauce. I’ve never made spaetzle before and used the easiest recipe I could find, which was from allrecipes. I cut back on the nutmeg though, which is a personal preference (I really don’t enjoy nutmeg). We don’t have a spaetzle maker so I used the biggest holes on a box grater, pushing the dough through with a silicon spatula. It worked surprisingly well, and the result was chewy nubs of jaggedy spaetzle. For the sauce, I sliced cremini mushrooms and browned them in olive oil until they were soft and cooked down. Then I used the food processor to chop them into tiny pieces, put them back into the pan, and added heavy cream, salt, and truffle oil and cooked it through until the sauce was rich and creamy, but that the mushrooms were still distinguishable. I was incredibly pleased with how the dish turned out. The combination of the meaty lamb, the rich spaetzle, and the bright, slightly bitter brussels sprout salad, was just perfect.

Sous vide rack of lamb, shaved brussels sprouts salad, spaetzle with mushroom cream sauce

Sous vide rack of lamb, shaved brussels sprouts salad, spaetzle with mushroom cream sauce

Josh was in charge of dessert and made creme brulee upon my request. He uses the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated The New Best Recipe cookbook, and uses real vanilla beans. The custard is velvety and smooth, not too sweet, and the sugar crust on top is hard to beat. I have to admit that I usually lick out the ramekins to get every last bit and all the little vanilla bean seeds that stick behind.

Creme

We still have several portions of foie gras left in the freezer, and I’m not sure what I want to do with them. Searing is quick, easy, and delicious though, so we really can’t go wrong doing that again. Maybe we’ll play around with the toppings – port wine, stone fruits, there are tons of recipes online. I’ll also have to see what we can do with the end pieces; maybe we could make something more creative with those. I just don’t want to experiment on the nice slices that we have, in case something goes awry.

All in all, even though we didn’t go anywhere exciting or try any new restaurants for our anniversary, we ended up doing what we love most – cooking, savoring the fruits of our labors, drinking nice wines, and simply enjoying being together.

Cafe Boulud

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by virginia

Josh recently celebrated a milestone birthday, hitting the big 3-0. In honor of the occasion, I made reservations for dinner at Cafe Boulud. I booked the reservation on Open Table, noting that we were celebrating my husband’s 30th birthday. When I got a call from the restaurant the day before our dinner to confirm our reservation, the person on the phone also asked what my husband’s name was, so I was happy they got note I wrote.

Josh and I met up at Central Park before dinner and took a little walk around the lake to kill some time before our reservation. We still showed up about 15 minutes early but they seated us right away without any issues. We had a cozy spot in the far corner, sitting next to each other on a comfortable booth. I liked the decor of the restaurant, with neutral tones mixed in with dark wood, accented by small, bright and colorful paintings on the wall. The first and only time we had eaten at Cafe Boulud, a few years ago during Restaurant Week for lunch, I found the decor to be a bit bland, kind of like a nondescript hotel restaurant room. This was a big improvement, though a lot of the changes were pretty subtle.

While we were perusing the menu, they brought us an amuse bouche of deep fried risotto balls filled with smoked mozzarella. These were served piping hot and perfectly fried – crispy on the outside, creamy and gooey on the inside. It was a nice little bite to start off our meal.

Deep fried risotto balls with smoked mozzarella

It took us a while to decide on what to order because there were so many options that looked tempting. It was such a difficult decision that we ended up ordering two appetizers, two pasta courses, and two entrees, sort of making our own tasting menu. I liked that everything was a la carte because we could pick whichever dishes we wanted. As is our custom, we each started with a dish and then swapped plates halfway through.

After making our selections, we settled in to enjoy our meal. First was a visit from the bread man, who happily gave us a piece of each bread to try. In addition to the usual baguette, there was an olive rosemary roll and slices of sourdough, pumpkin seed, and raisin bread. While the sourdough was a bit bland, the pumpkin seed bread was interesting. It really was chock full of pumpkin seeds, giving it a salty, nutty taste. The raisin bread was good but I liked the baguette (of course) and the olive rosemary roll best. Both had hearty crusts and flavorful, chewy insides. I only wish that the bread was served warm, but at least the bread guy came by often to check if we wanted more bread.

Baguette and olive rosemary roll

Sourdough, pumpkin seed, and raisin bread

For our appetizers, we ordered the capon terrine and a special of the evening, the lobster bisque. The capon terrine was hard for us to resist because it featured black truffles and foie gras, as well as puy lentils and an espelette (a type of pepper) jam. The presentation was visually stunning, with the different layers of the terrine clearly defined. The foie gras took center stage and I enjoyed the livery richness, although I prefer foie gras when it’s sauteed and creamy, rather than cold. Also, while we could see the black truffle layer, it actually didn’t impart too much truffle flavor, much to my disappointment. Still, the capon was very tender, and all the components on the plate worked well when eaten together. I liked cutting off slices of the terrine and eating it with some crunchy toasts that accompanied the dish, providing some textural contrast. It was an interesting dish, though probably not something Josh or I would order again.

Capon terrine with foie gras and black truffles

The lobster bisque was topped with a tarragon foam and had a few english pea gnocchis at the bottom. The foam really didn’t do much for us, but the gnocchis were fabulous, with a light and creamy texture. The bisque itself was full of lobster flavor, however, it was much thinner and lighter than most bisques we’ve had. It didn’t seem like they used much cream in it, if at all. Some people might prefer that, but for us, we like our bisques to be a little bit thicker and more creamy. I think the cream helps the flavor coat your mouth and gives the soup a certain velvety richness. With this particular bisque, the flavor was intense at first sip but didn’t linger. We also couldn’t really use the bread to sop up what was left at the bottom of the bowl because the soup was so thin, which was a bit disappointing since that’s usually one of our favorite parts. Nevertheless, the bisque wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t to our personal preference.

Lobster bisque

For our pasta course, we got appetizer portions of the sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi and the celery root agnolotti. The gnocchi were enrobed in a broccoli rabe puree that was light and fresh, not bitter at all, and topped with dollops of ricotta, chopped toasted hazelnut, and a drizzle of olive oil. The gnocchi themselves were creamy and not the least bit dense. I liked that there were still bigger pieces of broccoli rabe mixed into the puree, adding texture to the dish, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the chopped hazelnut. While it gave a nice little crunch, I found the flavor of the hazelnut to be overpowering, ruining the delicate tang of the sheep’s milk ricotta. I would have preferred toasted breadcrumbs instead, which I thought worked well with the ravioli we had at the Union Square Cafe. Josh liked the hazelnut though, so I guess it’s a personal preference. Nevertheless, it was a very delicious dish.

Sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi

As good as the gnocchi were, our other pasta dish was even better. It featured agnolotti, which were little raviolis filled with pureed celery root. The filling was creamy and savory, and the agnolotti were topped with soft chestnuts, celery leaves, and black truffles. Again, the black truffles weren’t as flavorful as I had hoped, but the dish was absolutely fabulous. It was rich and flavorful, with lots of butter in the sauce, but we couldn’t get enough of it. The celery leaves lightened the dish just a tad, and we were scraping the sauce from the bowl with pieces of bread. This was our favorite dish of the evening.

Celery root agnolotti with chestnuts, celery leaves, and black truffle

For our entrees, we split the venison loin and the pan seared striped bass. The venison was cooked sous vide and then seared on the outside, so that it was ruby red throughout, but with a nice crust. The meat was tender and just slightly gamey. It was served with smoked sweet potato flan, shallot confit, and a juniper berry sauce. The sweet potato flan was really interesting, with an intense smokey flavor that reminded us of barbecue flavored potato chips. The thin, crispy sweet potato slices on top only added to that impression. The juniper berry sauce was slightly sweet, and paired well with the venison.

Venison loin with smoked sweet potato flan

The pan seared striped bass was perfectly cooked – the skin was crispy while the flesh was flaky yet meaty. The bass was served on a white bean cassoulet with mushrooms. The menu also said there was pork belly, but we didn’t see any visible pieces. I think perhaps it was mixed in with the sauce and cassoulet, because it tasted very rich and hearty. I loved the subtle sweetness of the beans and the earthiness of the mushrooms. It was a very well composed dish.

Pan seared striped bass with pork belly, white bean cassoulet, and mushrooms

For dessert, we ordered the special of the evening, the Grand Marnier souffle. When they came with our dessert, however, they also brought Josh an additional molten chocolate cake with a candle in honor of his birthday. They even wrote “Happy Birthday Josh” on the plate, which is I guess why the woman on the phone asked for his name when she confirmed our reservation. It was a very nice gesture, and though we were both pretty full at this point, we gobbled up the cake. It was dark and rich with a warm, gooey center, just as you would expect, and the accompanying coffee ice cream was a good match.

Molten chocolate birthday cake

The Grand Marnier souffle was served with a small pitcher of creme anglaise and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was light and fluffy, just like a good souffle should be, and the flavor was spot on. We’ve had Grand Marnier souffles before and they usually just taste like a vanilla souffle with maybe a hint of orange. This particular souffle actually tasted like Grand Marnier, right down to the slight bite from the alcohol. It wasn’t too sweet, and we liberally poured the creme anglaise into the center, which gave it an extra boost. The ice cream in this case was unnecessary, as the souffle and sauce were more than enough to satisfy us.

Grand Marnier souffle with creme anglaise and vanilla ice cream

Lots of creme anglaise poured in the middle

They also brought us a small basket of madeleines, which were similar to the ones we received at Daniel. They were delicately crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, slightly sweet and citrusy. I couldn’t stop popping them into my mouth, even though I was about ready to burst at this point.

Madeleines

During our meal, while we were eating the venison, Josh asked our waiter a lot of questions about the temperature at which the meat was cooked, the reason being that he had just received a Sous Vide Supreme for his birthday. We were also discussing the Executive Chef of Cafe Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, during our meal, and were debating whether or not he really cooks at the restaurant anymore given that he is a famous chef in his own right. Josh asked if I wanted to meet him, and our waiter overheard, telling us that Chef Kaysen was indeed cooking in the kitchen, and offered to take us on a tour. We were thrilled, of course, so after we paid our bill we followed our waiter into the kitchen.

The space was smaller than other restaurant kitchens we’ve seen (Alinea, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Eleven Madison Park) but most likely because the restaurant itself is smaller. There was some activity going on but it wasn’t chaotic, probably because service was winding down. Chef Kaysen took the time to greet us and speak with us for a little while. When Josh asked him about the sous vide venison, Chef Kaysen took us into a back room to show us the restaurant’s huge immersion circulator.

I knew Chef Kaysen was a young guy, in his early 30s, and I’ve seen him on TV before, but I was really struck by how young he looked. It’s pretty incredible what he has accomplished in his career already. I mean, this is the guy that represented the U.S. at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or four years ago! But I was drawn in by the fact that he was also totally down to earth and incredibly friendly, even ribbing our waiter good naturedly while we chatted.

Josh and I both found Cafe Boulud to be a wonderful experience all around. The food was delicious and the service was top notch. Our waiter was knowledgeable and engaging, knowing when to check up on us and when to leave us alone. Even the runners were superb, taking the time to speak with us when they served our courses or cleared our plates, always making sure that everything was ok. With regard to the meal itself, we thought that all the dishes were well prepared and beautifully presented. The pasta course stood out for us, as did the entrees. Even dessert was a hit, though I always like to say that we’re not dessert people. It was a nice way to finish off our meal, and our faux tasting menu would have been incomplete with out it. Cafe Boulud is definitely somewhere on our top 10 list, and I would love to go back there again. It was a bit pricey, though to be fair, we did order four courses each and split a nice bottle of wine. Josh also had a scotch at the beginning of the meal. If we had shown some restraint, the bill would have been much more reasonable, but hey, it was a special occasion. As long as the birthday boy was happy, so was I!

Cafe Boulud
20 East 76th St. between Madison and 5th Ave.
New York, NY

Cafe Panache

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by virginia

This meal took place in September so I apologize if my details are a bit fuzzy. We had heard that Cafe Panache was one of the best restaurants in Bergen County, NJ and I had read several positive reviews about the food so we decided to try it out one weekend with Josh’s parents. We called for a reservation earlier in the day and were happy to find out that they would be able to seat us that night. The restaurant is located in Ramsey and is on Main St. so it was pretty easy to find.

When we walked into the restaurant, we were seated pretty much immediately. Unfortunately, I think we had the worst table in the house. We were in an alcove away from the main dining room, and we were seated at the very last table, right in front of the kitchen. There were servers and busboys constantly coming in and out of the kitchen, and it was sort of disruptive. We probably should have asked for a new table but we didn’t realize we would be in the middle of the hustle and bustle until after we had already settled in and had started drinking our wine (the restaurant is BYO).

We figured that we got the bad table because we had made a same day reservation so we tried to brush it off. After all, we were here for the food. We made our dinner selections and snacked on the olives and bread they brought us. The olives were covered in some oil and chili flakes, which gave them a nice little kick. The bread was white dinner rolls that had a decent crust but were pretty standard.

Assorted olives

Dinner roll

Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, per usual. For our appetizers, Josh selected the filet mignon ravioli with truffle butter while I chose the crostini of foie gras mousse. We were drawn in by the truffle butter advertised with the raviolis, but also because we had never seen filet mignon as a filling before. The filling had an intensely beefy flavor, though it was sort of mushy. As for the truffle butter, we couldn’t detect much truffle flavor at all, which was kind of disappointing since we’re both huge truffle fans. Nevertheless, it was a decent dish, and rich enough that the three ravioli portion was still satisfying.

Filet mignon ravioli

The crostini of foie gras mousse was also a pretty rich appetizer. The mousse was spread on top of three fairly large pieces of toasted bread and served with a small salad and apple slices. The mousse was creamy and thick but it didn’t have the subtle foie gras flavor that I was expecting. It had a pretty strong liver taste and if I didn’t know it was supposed to be foie gras mousse, I would have thought it was chicken liver pate. The salad helped cut through the richness of the mousse, and I liked the crispy apple slices that balanced out the creaminess of the liver.

Crostini of foie gras mousse

For the main course, Josh chose a duck dish while I opted for a steak dish. To be honest, I don’t remember how the duck was prepared. All I remember was that the duck was really, really rare. We like rare meat, even for duck, but this was beyond rare. The duck had a gelatinous texture and was pretty chewy. We probably should have sent it back but just didn’t think it was worth waiting for. That would have thrown off the flow of the meal, and we weren’t so thrilled with the overall dish to begin with.

Super rare duck breast

I was intrigued by the steak dish because the menu called it a sirloin steak confit. I’ve never had a steak that was confited before, and I was curious as to how it would turn out. From my understanding, confit is usually duck cooked in its own fat. So I thought the steak would be poached in beef fat and have a soft, falling apart kind of texture to it. Maybe the steak was just pan fried in beef fat, because to me, it just had the texture of regular steak. There was nothing really different about it, and while it was a fine piece of meat, the accompanying garlic soy reduction just completely overpowered the beef. The steak was absolutely covered in the sauce, which made the meat extremely salty. My mouth was puckering after a few bites, and I ended up trying to cut the meat so that I avoided the sauce completely. It was really too bad because the steak was cooked nicely to a beautiful rare, as ordered, but the sauce pretty much ruined the meat.

Sirloin steak confit with garlic and soy reduction

Steak autopsy shot

For dessert, we all decided to share a creme brulee. It was perfectly fine, with a crackly sugar crust on top and good vanilla flavor.

Creme brulee

Our waiter brought us an additional dessert on the house, which was very nice of him. I think it was some sort of peach cake with whipped cream on the side. The cake was very moist and not too sweet. It had great peach flavor, and I actually liked the cake more than the creme brulee, though both were very well prepared.

Peach cake dessert

Overall I think we were all pretty disappointed with our food at Cafe Panache. We had high expectations for it because we had heard/read some very nice things about the restaurant but it didn’t measure up for us in the end. There were definite missteps with our meal, like the undercooked duck and the overly salty steak. While our appetizers were passable, they just don’t wow us. Desserts were the highlight of the meal, and since neither Josh nor I have much a sweet tooth, that’s not really a good thing. It wasn’t only just me and Josh who were displeased. Alice ordered a homemade pasta with lobster for her entree, a special of the evening, and while the pasta was beautifully cooked and there was massive amounts of lobster mixed in, the dish was completely flavorless. Even the lobster was bland. We were pretty flabbergasted by that. Service was fine, and we appreciated the extra dessert our waiter brought. Maybe he noticed that none of us seemed thrilled with our food but whatever the reason, it was a nice gesture. Still, I don’t think that we’ll be coming back anytime soon. I did like the fact that the restaurant is BYO but it’s still pretty expensive, and I’m not sure that it was really worth it.

Cafe Panache
130 East Main St.
Ramsey, NJ