October 4, 2021

Five guinea pigs

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I have been wanting to do a comparative tasting of a few bottles of wine, and figured that DaRC and Fergie would appreciate trying them. Finding a date that worked for all of us turned out to be surprisingly difficult, and it took about a month and a half of advance planning before we could all meet up tonight. Thankfully we settled on a restaurant we all like, and I asked Maxime to reserve a table for us at Écriture.

Two nights ago I happened to come across Maxime's posts on Instagram, and I began a discussion with him on some of the "weird" dishes he was doing. He does like to experiment, and he promised to use us tonight as guinea pigs for some of these dishes. We are, of course, adventurous enough and always up for a challenge...


Pomme dauphine, horseradish cream and caviar - always tasty, with a pretty sticky and thick consistency for the potato tater. The caviar was, naturally, salty, and there was barely a hint of horseradish.

Yakitori of Mont Saint Michel mussels, glaze with peach syrup, served like a Charentaise eclade - smoky like last time, with a little bit of fruity notes.

Lamb sweetbread nuggets, chamomille egg white mayonnaise - this was OK but not that interesting.

Pumpkin tart - nice and seasonal.

Bone marrow brioche French toast pigeon ham and pressed caviar - sweet brioche with a very crispy exterior, with a very salty topping of pigeon ham and caviar. There seemed to be also some finger lime caviar to provide a little acidity.

The selection of bread made in-house is pretty good... especially that brioche feuilletée. And, yes, I spread some butter on that, too.

Iwashi: super ripe persimmon, bergamot with kabocha and tagette bouillon - the Japanese sardine was nice and fatty, with a dab of yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) to add some kick before topping with some bergamot zest. Served with some persimmon at the bottom that has been hung in the kitchen and air-dried/aged for a week to achieve this jammy sweetness, balanced with some lemon juice and bergamot for its bitterness. Bouillon made with Japanese kabocha (南瓜), bergamot, and marigold oil.

When all the ingredients are taken together in the same mouthful, the combination could be pretty decent. You've got sweet, spicy, bitter going on all the time. But when you get a direct hit of that bergamot zest, O-M-G... That felt like a piece of soap had just exploded in my mouth, with some serious bitterness. Gotta be careful here and get the proportions right in the mouth... unless you enjoy eating soap. I think the bergamot needs to be dialled down significantly.

Next came one of the experimental dishes Maxime discussed with me. We were, apparently, the second group of people to be served this dish - the first being Hairy Legs during lunch service earlier today. And let's be honest... this looks like something that came out of Dr. Frankenstein's lab...

So this is a pâté encased not in pastry crust but in a big cuttlefish - with a farce of wild duck and foie gras. This piece was cooked Saturday night and allowed to rest over the weekend before being served tonight.

"Pate en seiche": wild duck, foie gras, chili pepper confiture - The layer of yellow and purple chili pepper confiture between the cuttlefish and the pâté comes from a small farm in France, and it was so sweet and fragrant... and came with some kick. Just amazing. Finished with a layer of gelée made with the jus of the pâté. Quelle surprise! One of my favorite dishes tonight.

Oh, hello there! Haven't seen you in a few weeks...

Zucchini tart: like a tatin cooked on socca, saffron dressing - this signature item from the vegetarian menu has been all over social media, so I finally got a chance to taste it. Made with very thin slices of trombetta. Quelle jolie, n'est-ce pas?

The surprise here was that the base was not made with some crispy pastry but with chickpea in the style of socca niçoise. This meant that the base was a little soggy and literally crumbled, which I didn't like. The dressing on the side was made with saffron, zucchini purée, and citrus.

Tempura of the zucchini flowers - with egg white mayonnaise. This was not fried à la minute so it was a little greasy. Still enjoyed it, though.

Next up was an Indigo tomato which was wrapped in kelp and roasted.

Ratatouille: whole indigo tomato "entratatouillé", wrapped in kombu, oven roasted - the tomato has been stuffed with eggplant caviar, bell pepper confit, zucchini, and onion. The sauce was made with the jus of bell pepper, along with the jus of the tomato seeds and placenta (the insides), and a caramel of rooibos tea... Then we have the oil from thyme, tarragon, and chives drizzled onto the plate. This mixture of sauce and oil was so, soooo good and so fragrant. A stunning dish, and my other favorite of the meal.

This was the other weird dish that Maxime was telling me about... as he brought out two whole grilled kinki (喜知次).

The fish have been stuffed with venison (hence "Bambi"... or was it Bambi's mom?). Sankala thought it kinda reminded her of the classic Shunde (順德) dish of pan-fried stuffed mud carp (煎釀鯪魚), where the entire inside of the fish beneath the skin is removed, then stuffed with a paste made of the fish (and sometimes with pork added). This was, of course, somewhat different.

Kinki / Bambi: whole fish grilled stuffed with bambi filet, beurre blanc white chocolate sauce, smoked caviar - this came with a sauce made with a mixture of beurre blanc, white chocolate, and mint. We've also got some shaved bottarga, and finally a quenelle of smoked caviar to add a punch of saltiness, and a little bit of the fish cheek.

A pretty interesting dish. Of course the broadbanded thornyhead was succulent, and I loved the smoky flavors. It worked fine with the venison, which is a lean red meat. I am not sure that the caviar was entirely necessary, although I know that it was meant to be the "seasoning" without having to use salt, and the white chocolate would help to balance out the salt.

We also got to have the head of the fish, although now the cheeks are gone. The four of us still devoured every little morsel like the greedy monsters that we are.

Grouse: cooked like a ragout with honey and red wine, fermented red plum, Paimpol Coco bean custard - the grouse confit was shredded and cooked with honey. Sankala was initially worried that the little ruby brunoise on top was beetroot, but in fact they were bits of fresh plum, and contrasted with some compote made with plum that had fermented in salt for 1½ months.

At the bottom of the dish there was a custard made with bouillon of smoked eel as well as a cream of Coco de Paimpol.

This was, as expected, a very rich, heavy, and salty dish. Thankfully the tarragon oil and tarragon leaves added a little refreshing touch, and the acidity from the plum also lightened it up somewhat.

Wild duck: a la royale, sea urchin, Gorgonzola agnolotti - just look at that beautiful reflection in the sauce made by reducing red wine with internal organs of the duck (but without the blood)!  Just like a demi-glace.  The agnolotti were nice, but nobody cared for the sea urchin as none of us thought it paired well with the sauce. Completely superfluous.

The farce consisted of sweetbreads and foie gras, and the duck was wrapped in caul fat, then tissue (en papillote?), and cooked in cocotte.

Pear: pouched in honey, tonka crisps, pear sorbet - loved the variations of pear, with poached pieces, sorbet, and jelly. But I can't believe how stingy Maxime was... I could barely see the gold foil on the crisps! Shouldn't he have given me a whole freaking sheet?!

Hazelnut: Bailey's ice cream, milk chocolate foam and praline - this was really, really good. Inhaled in no time, despite being so full.


Kouign amann - with crème fraîche.

Besides the delicious food, tonight's focus for the 3 guys was squarely on the wines. I brought along 4 bottles of Côte-Rôtie from Jean-Michel Stephan, probably the only natural wine maker in the appellation. The interesting aspect is that many of the wines are made with serine, which I didn't even know was a grape permitted in Côte-Rôtie. I fell in love with one of the wines when I first tasted a bottle a few years ago, and this was the first time I could put together 4 different bottlings with similar age to do a comparison.

But first, Maxime was kind enough to start us off with a bottle of bubbly:

Francis Boulard Les Murgiers, dégorgée le 7 decembre 2020 - good acidity, a bit metallic on palate like Anjou pear, honey and marmalade on the nose.

2008 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie - 90% syrah and 10% viognier. Served starting 45 minutes after decanting. Nose was so beautiful, fragrant and floral, with sweet strawberries, like a Rayas and maybe a Prieure-Roch. Palate showing leather and gamey notes. 1½ hours in, there was more forest pine but maybe this was a result of the smoked rosemary from a dish. Tannins more evident now. About 3 hours after decanting, the wine was kinda dying on the palate.

2007 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Bassenon - 40% syrah, 40% serine, and 20% viognier. Served starting 1 hour after decanting. Nose was more farmy, leather, more pungent, almost a little manure. More concentrated and savory on the palate. More than 3 hours after decanting this was lean and savory.

2006 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Tupin - 100% serine. Served starting 1 hour and 15 minutes after decanting. Really fragrant, almost eucalyptus with leather notes. Lighter-bodied, more elegant, with lavender and floral nose. Very clean and beautiful. Almost 3 hours after decanting this showed some coffee notes and was still beautiful. My favorite wine tonight.

2006 Jean-Michel Stephan Côte-Rôtie Vieille Vigne en Coteaux - 80% old-vine serine planted in 1896 and 1902, 20% viognier. Served starting 2 hours after decanting. Very sharp and alcoholic on the nose, more intense, smoky, leather, savory with black olive notes.

We were so, so full... but so happy. I didn't mind being a guinea pig one bit, even if some of the dishes could do with a little adjustment. Most importantly, though, I was so happy that the wines drank so well. Now I need to stock up on some more older vintages...

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