August 3, 2023

Rooted in Pomerol

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With all the traveling everyone's been doing this year, it's been a few months since our gang last caught up over a few bottles. None of us have been to Racines so the suggestion was made to check the place out. I am well-aware of the background of the two chefs, having seen some of their work at their respective previous stints, so I was somewhat curious to see what their new vision would be. I did, however, hear some feedback which gave me some hesitation... so I had no illusions coming into this meal.

It's always good to see a friendly face, and soon after sitting down I was greeted by Pooja Rana, who had moved over from MONO. Very happy to see her here.

I was prepared to take it easy and take the shorter menu, but to my surprise Belo decided it was OK to try the full list of dishes. So... here we go!

We were presented with the bread baked for them by Levain Bakery.

This came with some smoked butter sprinkled with some piment d'espelette.

Next we have three amuses bouches:

Pigeon liver pâté - with mustard seeds on top.

Mussels with sobrassada - this was pretty nice with some citrus fragrance.

Croquetas with brandade and sea urchin - pretty decent.

Oyster: smoke pork, green peas, horseradish - the Tarbouriech oyster was "poached its own juice" (I assume this meant the sea water it came with). At the bottom of the shell there was a green pea "ragù" made with smoked pork knuckles and pork gelée. On top of the oyster there was a layer of horseradish cream, tarragon, lemon purée, pickled mustard seeds, and mustard leaves. Well... I liked the flavors of the peas and the tarragon, but I didn't really taste the pork knuckle in the ragù. I also didn't really taste the oyster itself very much, as the horseradish cream did a good job of covering up the briny flavors of the shellfish. If you're not a big fan of oysters - especially cooked oysters - then this dish is for you.

As someone who isn't a fan of oysters, Belo asked for a change and got a mackerel dish instead. Unfortunately for her, she found the mackerel too strong and fishy, and believes she would have been better off sticking with the original oyster dish...

One observation and a hint of things to come was that it took Pooja a whole 50 seconds to introduce Belo's mackerel dish... There were so many ingredients in it. She also took just shy of 30 seconds to describe the oyster dish. These dishes just seem very complicated...

Artichoke: caillette, girolles, pickles - this ain't no regular artichaut barigoule and we were presented with a whole caillette arranged with the artichoke petals spread around the sausage

The caillette was made with pork, artichoke, Swiss chard, lardo di Colonnata, and foie gras. On the side we were presented with pickled girolles and artichoke, truffle cream, truffle vinaigrette, hazelnut powder, and shavings of fresh black truffle. This was pretty nice and I liked the acidity.

Zucchini: broad bean, mussels, saffron - a zucchini "royale" was at the bottom of the bowl, from concassé of zucchini, Parmesan, and ricotta. Served with a "ragù" (again?!) of broad beans, mussels, clams, together with chunks as well as ribbons of zucchini, yellow zucchini purée, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin oil. Finally, saffron-infused zucchini velouté was spooned on top.

Good to have my vegetables.

Red mullet: bouillabaisse, ratte, fennel - rouget escabeche topped with a mousse made of cuttlefish, octopus, prawns, and root vegetables. There was also a vegetable "ravioli" where the wrapper was a basil leaf and filled with tomato, Ratte potato, orange... etc. FINALLY, bouillabaisse espuma was spooned on top of the pile, along with piment d'espelette, croûtons, diced orange, and THEN basil oil AND bouillabaisse consommé.

I did think that the flavors of the bouillabaisse was nice.

Brandt beef: rib eye, green zebra, anchovies - the rib eye was certainly tender. A pineapple tomato is served on the side and it has been caramelized with honey, marjoram, garlic, and onion. The tomato was then topped with some black olives, anchovies, and fermented Kampot pepper. We've also got tomato concassé with tomatoes, olives, and (dried beef?), as well as green tomato purée. TO FINISH we were spooned smoke sabayon made with tomatoes, shallots, tarragon... etc. on top of the beef jus.

Clacbitou: ice cream, arugula, peach - Clacbitou or Claquebitou is made with goat's milk, was presented as an ice cream served with an arugula espuma, yogurt, "French curry", peach cooked in honey, ginger, and coriander. Finally this was garnished with baby basil, baby arugula, and basil oil.

The ice cream was very smooth and not too gamey. Very refreshing for a cheese course.

Fennel: kumquat, meringue, sorbet - the Nice fennel came with kumquat syrup, espuma, marmalade of fennel and kumquat, kumquat sorbet, meringue, kumquat confit, kumquat vinaigrette, green anise seeds, and olive oil.

For those of us who eat dessert, this was unanimously voted as the best course of the evening from our 7-course menu. This delivered the most amount of surprise.

We finished with petits fours:

Almond chocolate

Almond tuille


The wine theme tonight was Pomerol, and I brought along a Champagne to start us off. But first, we were treated to a glass of bubbly on the house:

Marteaux Guillaume Cuvée Infusion - a rosê de saignée with nice nose of red fruits, and not too much flint here.

2004 B de Boërl et Kroff, dégorgé en Avril 2016 - first pour was a little warm, and obviously improved later. Love the minerals on the nose as well as the white flowers. Always happy to drink this.

1998 Trotanoy - decanted around 1½ hours after opening, and served after 1½ hours in decanter. Smoky, a little green on the nose, with forest notes. Initially there was a hint of sweetness on the palate, but this became sweeter with additional aeration. A little more tannic and concentrated than the 1990, but the tannins are already smooth by now.

1990 Trotanoy - served an hour after opening and decanting. This was clearly more open. Nose was smoky but also a little dusty and chalky unfortunately. Sweeter on the palate than the 1998. Very elegant and really fragrant, with some green capsicum and some exotic spices. After almost 3 hours this developed tertiary notes and showing some savory soy sauce.

2009 Clinet - served nearly 3 hours after double-decanting. Still sweet on the nose after all this time, and sweet on the palate. Such an elegant wine now.

We ran into Victor from Caprice who was also trying this place for the first time. He very kindly sent us glasses of a wine he was drinking:

2020 Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 - really sweet nose, notes of caramel, but unfortunately there was that unpleasant smell of dust and chalk. Given that the 1990 Trotanoy also showed this defect, I wondered if this was a problem with the restaurant's wine glasses and not the wine itself...

This was a decent meal, and nothing would be considered a "fail", but the two dishes that surprised on the upside were the last two - cheese and dessert. That's... let's just say we were hoping for a little better from 2 chefs with pedigrees like theirs.

For me, the problem was the whole approach to their cuisine. The dishes were just way, waaaay too complicated. When each dish requried a minimum of 30 seconds of recital, listing out all the different ingredients and seasonings that went into it... To be honest, as I played back the recording of my notes, it was exhausting just trying to type out the whole list. I love that they've decided to give out more than a 4-word description of the dish, but I think they went a little overboard with it.

It feels like these guys suffer from the same syndrome as another chef whose cuisine I find unnecessarily complicated... No, guys... MORE IS NOT ALWAYS MORE! Did the beef really need to come with a concassé, a sabayon, AND the jus?! Wasn't the caramelized tomato on the side of the beef already loaded up with stuff on top? If you took away half the seasoning and ingredients, would the dish be worse off? In many cases, I'm not so sure.

But I also know that many chefs these days wish to impress diners with dishes that look fancy and look great on social media, and it's undeniable that the majority of diners do buy this stuff. Some of these chefs are doing very well and making money hand over fist, so I'm definitely in the minority here, along with a chef friend who feels pretty much the same way. After all, I'm just an asshole who likes to shoot his mouth off... so what the fuck do I know?!

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