September 25, 2014

The 'plus one'

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A good friend of mine who is certainly an A-lister in town was invited by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to dine at Pierre tonight, and was kind enough to invite me along as the "plus one" instead of my friend's spouse.  As I had been a longtime fan of the restaurant and of Pierre Gagnaire, I was only too happy to accept the invitation.

We were treated to a 6-course menu dégustation, which featured a few dishes from the upcoming "Magic 8" dinner celebrating the restaurant's 8th anniversary, amd Pierre himself will be in town for the festivities.

But first came the series of amuses bouches, some of which I had already tasted at my lunch last month.

Parmesan crumble (domes) and turmeric flavored crispy sandwich with Brillat-Savarin filling (flat ones) - had these before and once again it was the Brillat-Savarin that really kicked ass..

Oyster leaf with herring and lemon cream

Sea bream with persimmon wrapped in shiso leaf - the distinctive flavors of perilla leaf and flower worked well with the sweetness from persimmon.

Sesame crackers - flavored with cumin and dipped with lentil mash with lentils, paprika and cumin.  Very yum.

"Ringo Starr" duck foie gras (2008) - so we've got pumpkin, a slice of jamón ibérico, foie gras mousse, milk chocolate, and a slice of red pepper on top.  This was so interesting... you'd expect the creaminess coming from the foie and the milk chocolate, but then you've got the savory flavors and slight chewy texture of the jamón, all topped off with the smokiness from the pepper and enhanced with a couple of grains of salt and ground peppercorns.  I took it in two bites even though it was small enough to be inhaled in one, but the complexity of this dish and the amount of thought that went into this... I must make the 90-degree Japanese bow in Pierre Gagnaire's direction to show my respect...  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

Pan-sautéed langoustines "Terre de Sienne" (1989) - apparently inspired by the beauty of Sienna.  The langoustine was very, very tender.  In fact, if it were any softer I'd call it mushy.  On a bed of green lentils from Puy, with nori (のり) chiffonade and topped with enoki mushrooms (榎茸).  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

Thick sea bass steak grilled with capers, black garlic purée, anchovy, pig's ear, bone marrow; "Caillette ardéchoise", crunchy white cabbage (2014) - a very busy, two-part dish.  The sea bass "steak" was really thick, and I had to make a real effort to cut through it.  Sitting on a bed of Korean black garlic purée which imparted deep flavors and some cabbage, the fish was topped with a layer of chopped pig's ear and bone marrow - ingredients with rich, fatty flavors that I love... while using the acidity of capers as well as pickled fennel to cut through the fat.   Sprinkled with deep-fried crumbs and sorrel.

The caillette ardéchoise was something I absolutely loved last time, but tonight it was a little too tiny as it played sidekick to the sea bass, and there just wasn't enough fat in it.  Oh well... Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

We were first shown the whole piece of grilled turbot before it was properly plated...

Grilled turbot, laid on pan-sautéed razor clams / chorizo / fennel / lemon (2014) - another busy dish!  So in addition to the line-caught turbot from Brittany, we've got bouquet shrimps from Brittany, clams, razor clams, chorizo, and fennel all in a lemon citrusy, yellow wine sauce.    Yum.

Beef with sea urchin, braised daikon turnip, blackwheat pancake, seaweed butter (2013) - the beef sat on a galette blé noir.  The braised daikon (大根) tasted a little pickled, while I thought the sea urchin was a liiiittle strong in terms of flavor.  I thought the beef was just OK (probably because it was a filet?) but it was the seaweed butter (from Bordier, no doubt) that really made it shine.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

I was kinda full already, but someone twisted my arm to take the extra slice of Saint-Nectaire... which was served with a pear marmalade and a sprinkle of walnuts and pickled walnuts.

Pierre Gagnaire's Grand Dessert (which, naturally, counts as just ONE course...)
Caribean chocolate soufflé, smooth chocolate ganache cream with Burgundy brandy, Sicilian pistachio parfait (1981) - created in Saint Etienne during the year when Pierre opened his own restaurant.  Made with Ecuadorian biscuit, and a Venezuelan chocolate ganache poured over the pistachio parfait.  Very yum.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

9th Conduit Street (2006) - a really refreshing dessert named after the street address of Gagnaire's restaurant Sketch in London.  Aloe vera, green apple sorbet, green apple biscuit, arugula sponge cake and arugula, with a tiny green olive financier on the rim.  Very, very nice.  Part of the "Magic 8" menu.

Le Texturé (2009) - LOTS going on here... vanilla panna cotta, orange marshmallow, coconut biscuit, pear sorbet, banana, and a pineapple smoothie.  So tropical and fruity, and indeed a mishmash of textures.

...aaaand here's where I started to act like an ass and a fucking know-it-all.  There were some cubes I didn't recognize.  Texture-wise they were crunchy, almost a little starchy and grainy, with some acidity.  I didn't recognize it and asked our friendly waiter.  He said it was "frosted pineapple", but I didn't believe him.  Really?!  It couldn't have been!  Where were the fibers?!  Even pineapple cores didn't taste like this, and I just had some pineapple core a few nights ago.  It was more like a jicama or yamaimo (山芋).  I even ended up making a typically Arrogant Prick-like statement like "I'm from a pineapple-producing country, and THIS IS NOT PINEAPPLE!"

I demanded asked for an answer from the kitchen.  Our waiter brought out the 5 different textures on a plate, and the cube I inquired about was indeed frosted pineapple.  On its own, at room temperature and without any influence from other sauces, I finally acknowledged that it probably was a chunk of pineapple core... just frozen beyond recognition.  In my defense (albeit a feeble one at that), two other people at the table who tasted this cube that was delivered especially from the kitchen couldn't tell, either...

...which brings us to the point about Pierre Gagnaire and his creativity.  Who the hell would have thought to freeze pineapple core and turn it into something else?!  Only a master.

Our hosts were very generous tonight, and served us a series of delicious wines to go along with our food:

2004 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne - pretty ripe with a little minerality.

2009 Bouzereau Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes Dessus - a little flint, a little ripe and a little sweet.  Initially too muted as it was too cold.

2005 Talbot - a little minty, smoky and a little sweet.

2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Moelleux - a little ripe, almost smoky but not quite.  Acetone, marmalade, musty and bready?

On a night when I wasn't in my best condition and was already leaving wines in my glasses, our generous hosts offered up one final bottle.  I didn't need any more alcohol in my system, but it turned out to be an offer I just couldn't refuse...

Roses de Jeanne Inflorescence La Parcelle Blanc de Noirs Lieu-dit "Côte de Béchalin", dégorgée en Avril 2012 - I couldn't for the life of me figure out the vintage that was stamped on the table.  Oh well... Classic Cedric Bouchard... yeasty nose, very smooth on the palate, a little ripe and actually somewhat bitter on the finish.  Always happy to drink anything from this man.

Finally, a few chocolate nibbles to finish off... from left to right jasmine, rum and hazelnut praline.

Well, what can I say, other than I enjoyed a fantastic evening?  Food was superb, but that isn't surprising given I've always been a fan of Pierre Gagnaire, and I'm among the minority of my friends who "get" the cuisine here.  Service tonight was impeccable, but then that is to be expected when we have an army fawning over my A-lister friend as I sit next to the GM of the hotel.  But I must apologize for acting like an ass... (and I wish I could channel Michael Keaton in Much Ado About Nothing when calling myself an arse)

Many thanks to our hosts for their generosity and extremely fun company.  One must remember one's place, not get too accustomed to this, and take nothing for granted.  I was, after all, just the "plus one" - collateral damage.

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