November 22, 2015

Turning Japanese

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A fellow foodie from Taiwan was in town, eating her way through restaurants gaining stars in the latest edition of the Guide Michelin.  She had been invited to dine at Serge et le Phoque and was told that she could bring a friend.  I was very grateful that I was chosen as the "plus one", and happily tagged along.

The menu had recently changed to an à la carte format, featuring a good number of choices.  We decided to let the kitchen work its magic and send us surprises, and waited with anticipation for the food to arrive.

Crosnes tempura - the French always seem to love crosnes (寶塔菜) during the fall and winter, and here they've lightly battered them and put them in a fryer, then provided some grated radish (大根おろし) and dashi (出汁) like the Japanese.

Fugu skin: with karashi miso - it's my second time having this dish here, and although I love this standard Japanese izakaya (居酒屋) fare, I'm still scratching my head a little as to why I would be eating this here...

Mussels: snacked mussels with tandoori massala - never had mussels served quite this way... like sticks of yakitori (焼き鳥).  Kinda interesting with the spicy masala along with the kick from the mustard.

Japanese cockles: with cauliflower and Manzanilla mariniere - served with wafer-thin slices of cauliflower, an acidic, creamy foam made with Manzanilla Sherry, and topped with flying fish roe (とびこ), puffed rice (ぶぶあられ), and diced spring onions.  Pretty good.

Frog legs: with tamarind paste and guindillas - the frog legs themselves weren't that interesting, but the acidic tamarind paste was not something you see everyday.  The pickled guindilla peppers were nice.

Scallops: pan fried with Cantabria anchovies and yuzu kosho - I recently had the same deep-fried garlic leeks at Ronin, and here they delivered the same deliciousness for the dish.  The overall combination was interesting, especially when you dab some yuzu kosho (柚子胡椒) that has been smeared on the edge of the plate.

Beetroot: baked in salt, balsamic and peas - no surprise that I wasn't a fan of this dish, given that beetroot ain't one of my favorite ingredients.

Mackerel: grilled with lardo di Colonnata, eringi and grapes - mackerel is a pretty tasty fish by itself, but when you drape a layer of lardo on top...  OOOOHH MAN!  The ribbons of radish once again show the Japanese influence.

Grilled rack of baby lamb - I looooooooved this!  I love lamb, and baby lamb most of all thanks to the abundance of fat.  These were simply beautiful... with a crispy layer on top protecting the yummy, lamby fat underneath.  In addition to salt and pepper, the dish was served with harissa.

Baby Ratte potatoes: with chimichurri - a little dry for my taste.  Curiously sprinkled with Japanese puffed rice.

Eringi and oyster mushroom: josper grilled with soy - these were OK.

Baba au rhum: with chantilly cream and orange - very nice, and plenty of rum here!

Dacquoise: almond biscuit, vanilla cream and nougatine - one of the signatures here.

Chocolate: tart with umeboshi salt - another signature dessert, and I do like the use of Japanese plum powder in lieu of the more common fleur de sel.

I offered to bring a few bottles and asked my friend for any suggestions.  When she replied and said anything is OK, I jokingly threatened to bring something that cost 5 Euros...

2005 Remirez de Ganuza Erre Punto Blanco - definitely mature and over the hill... no longer as enjoyable as when I first drank it at the winery in 2006.  A little flinty and kinda floral.  Palate was very soft and flat now.  Oh and this wine did cost me 5 Euros back in 2006... and I was forced to buy a 6-pack of it and carried a few bottles back from Spain...

1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - good amount of toast and grilled corn on the nose, with a bit of lemon.  Very round on the palate without much acidity at first, although the acidity balance got better as the wine opened up more.  A little disappointed here.

2002 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - nice and fruity nose, with a little leather.

A pretty good meal, and more than enough food for the three of us.  The Japanese bent on the menu that I first saw on my last visit about a year ago seems to have continued.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose...

But I do have some complaints about the service, especially since these guys have now gotten themselves a little macaron.  My friend and I are of the opinion that when you're a little casual bistro, you can have a casual attitude about service, but once you've been upgraded to star-status, people's expectations will naturally go up.  And tonight they fell a little short on two fronts.

First was the pacing of the dishes.  Maybe it was because we started relatively late - at their request - and the kitchen wanted to knock off a little early.  We were flooded with dishes from the kitchen which, normally, is something we would really appreciate.  But sending 4 dishes in quick succession to a table of 3 is not something I would appreciate, especially when two of us have to snap a pic or two.  The third or fourth dish would start to get cold before we even get to it, and that's not exactly how you want to showcase your food to people who are gonna write about it...

The other issue relates to the wine service, which was otherwise very accommodating and fine.  After pouring the first glass of the Coche, we discovered that one of the glasses had a chip on the rim.  So we asked for a new glass, and the old glass - with wine inside - was taken away.  We had all thought that they would simply pour the wine from the chipped glass into a new, undamaged glass... but the replacement glass was empty when it came back.

While I appreciate that I had used one of my "wine condoms" to cover up the bottle and mask the identity of the Coche, that was still no way to treat the customer's wine.  The fault lies with the glass, not the wine.  What if I had brought a bottle of Coche's Corton-Charlemagne or DRC Montrachet?  The amount of wine in that glass would have cost a pretty penny!

Thankfully we did get the old glass of wine back after a while, and stopped the manager from pouring the "old" wine into the new glass with the "new" wine.  The manager seemed a little flustered by our very particular demands (read: pain-in-the-ass), but this is a pet peeve with a lot of us winos...  When we drink wines that we like, many of us like to see how the wine evolves over time, so we never like to pour fresh wine into a glass containing "old" wine that has gone through aeration in glass.   When you're a small, casual bistro in Paris, maybe your clientele won't care.  When you start to attract more well-heeled customers - and I'm not trying to say that I am one - some of these people who bring nice wines may care about wine service a little more.

Anyway, enough ranting for now.  I still had a very enjoyable meal, and would like to thank the restaurant and their PR for the nice treat.

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