I HEART BACON
Sunday, August 29th, 2004

In the kitchen with Bruce

Simple food is good when you have outstanding, fresh ingredients, but it’s even better when you take those ingredients and combine them to make something more complex with layers of flavor. This is why I love French sauces. And this is how I found myself taking cooking classes at Le Gourmand with Bruce Naftaly.

I really appreciate Bruce’s approach to cooking—everything should be made with the freshest local ingredients, using only what is in season. People know and love him for this, which is why his customers are always approaching him with extra produce from their gardens.

So the class works like this: We all squeeze into the kitchen in the back of the restaurant. Chairs are lined up in a row in front of the counter, so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Bruce talks about what’s in season and outlines the menu. Then he starts making the dishes, while everyone takes notes and tries to keep up. My technique involves having a large notebook and starting every recipe on a different page and then flipping back and forth through the pages as Bruce goes back and forth between the dishes.

About halfway through the class, the regulars hand out bread and open several bottles of wine. In this class, we drank an Argi d’Ansa i Rouleguy 2003, which Bruce said was a rose cabernet made with Tannat grapes. It was a beautiful color, like cranberry juice, and was light and refreshing.

Then as the courses finish cooking, they are served. This was the menu:

Garlic & Apple Soup – Good and very thick; slightly tart.

Halibut with Fennel & Chanterelle Sauce – This was my favorite. The sauce was HEAVENLY paired with a simple poached halibut.

Roast Pork Loin with Huckleberry & Lavender and Plum, Dill & Garlic Sauces – The pork loin was fantastic, but I wasn’t wild about the two sauces; they somehow tasted raw to me. Bruce said that when cooking sauces for the restaurant they have a longer chance to reduce and become more melded.

Peach, Basil and Mint Sorbet – Nice flavor combination, but I would have added way more sugar. It was more like a palate cleanser than a dessert sorbet.

I must say that Bruce loves his Cognac. It actually went into every single dish. By the end of the night I figured he went through about a bottle and a half. Every time he paused and said ‘I think this needs something’, the class would shout ‘More Cognac!’. It was a slightly raucous crowd and so much fun!

I think the food quality in the classes isn’t as good as if you ate in the restaurant, but it’s such an enjoyable experience being nestled in his kitchen, learning, laughing and eating great food.

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Saturday, August 14th, 2004

The Chef in the Hat

Ever since my mom and I saw Thierry Rautureau speak at the 2003 Cascadia Culinary Arts Conference, we’ve been wanting to eat at his restaurant. He was so personable, funny and well-spoken. I loved hearing about his childhood food memories and about the importance of supporting local, sustainable farmers. So when my employer gave me a gift certificate to Rover’s as a going away present, I knew who I had to take. I called my mom to pick a date and then booked the reservation.

We splurged and both chose the Eight Course Grand Menu Degustation ($125). I have never been, nor will ever be a vegetarian, but even the Five Course Vegetarian Menu Degustation sounded amazing. We asked for a white burgundy and our waiter presented us with a 2000 Meursault les Clous Bouchard Pere & Fils (mmmm).

Amuse-Bouche: A trio of Ginger Carrot Soup with Basil Oil, White Cheddar Puff Pastry Twist & Rabbit Mousse – A wonderful sip of soup with a crunchy puff pastry cracker. The mousse was delicious and came on what my mom dubbed ‘the communion wafer’. I could have eaten spoonfuls of the rabbit mousse, but since it was an amuse-bouche, it was about the size of my fingertip.

Scrambled Egg with a Lime Cr̬me Fraiche and White Sturgeon Caviar РHeavenly caviar mixed with just the right amount of perfectly scrambled egg, stuffed back into an egg shell and set in an egg cup. Beautiful.

Smoked Moulard Duck Breast with Frisee and a Plum and Apple Compote – Rich, smoky duck breast slices paired with a sweet compote and presented on a crisp frisee salad.

Soft Shell Bisque with Diver’s Sea Scallop Quenelle and Sea Beans – One of my favorite dishes. A rich tasting broth with beautiful and light quenelles. The standout ingredient in the dish was actually the sea beans—crunchy little morsels that burst with a sweet and briny flavor.

Maine Lobster with Braised Fennel and a Pastis Nage – Another favorite. Perfectly cooked lobster that was actually tender, served in a wonderful licorice broth.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Caramelized Peach and a Honey Vinegar Gastric – My absolute favorite. The plate came out and it looked like a painting, swathed in red and orange hued sauces with bright green accents. An amazing piece of foie gras that was made even more wonderful when paired with the rich sauces. The portion was so large that I almost couldn’t finish it, but of course I did finish it.

Troll King Salmon Tournedos with Romano Beans and a Soy-Ginger Glaze – This was good, but after all the fantastic things that preceded it, this ended up tasting somewhat plain—like a really good salmon teriyaki.

Sauvignon Blanc and Peach Sorbet / Black Tea with Silver Honey Sorbet – The peach sorbet was too sweet and cloying for my taste and the tea and honey sorbet had a very odd tangy flavor.

Roasted Lamb Loin with Zucchini, Onion Confit and a Moroccan Olive Sauce – This was good as well, but in my opinion, the most interesting dishes were all the seafood courses.

European and Local Cheese Assortment – All excellent cheeses and I can’t remember the name of a single one of them.

Symphony of Desserts – A trio of really beautifully presented mini-desserts, but they looked better than they tasted.

Jellies & Truffles – A nice assortment of chocolate truffles and jelly candies.

All in all, the dinner was amazing—beautiful presentation and interesting and delicious ingredient parings. However, I do think that the eight course menu may have been a tad bit too much food for me. Next time I go back I will order a five course menu and request mostly seafood.

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