When I heard that Chef Jonathon Benno from per se was coming this time, I just had to get reservations. Since I won't going to French Laundry anytime soon (earliest would be summer), nor will I be able to secure a reservation at per se over spring break, this would be a good opportunity to have the food and meet the chef too. My meal at French Laundry over winter break lived up to all its hype, and this meal lived up to Thomas Keller standard.
A one hour reception featured *unlimited* FL and ps canapes:
"Cornet" of Marinated Atlantic Salmon "Tartare" with Sweet Red Onion "Crème Fraîche"
I never did quite forget these delicious cones, and they were just as good as I remember them. I think I must have had 3 or 4, which was great since I experimented with new ways of eating it (eating from side is nearly impossible).
Gruyère Cheese "Gougères"
Another FL classic and just as delicious as I remember. J mentioned it tasted like a cheese-it. Maybe TK can incorporate that somewhere in the name, in quotes of course.
Roasted Sweet Pepper on Herb-Scented "Panisse"
The panisse is the fried chick-pea cake, which had a slightly crunchy exterior and a very smooth and starchy filling. The texture definitely won over the flavor in this one.
“BLT”: House Cured Bacon, Arugula Purée and Black Truffle on Toasted "Pain de Campagne"
This was probably my least favorite canape. It was good, but there just really wasn't anything really special about it. I opened one and saw a generous shaving of black truffle, but somehow I really could not taste it. They should remove the bacon and arugula and just make it all truffle.
Hudson Valley "Foie Gras Mousse" with Quince "Marmalade" on "Croûton"
This was simply amazing and tops the salmon cornet as my favorite TK canape. I must have had at least 7 or 8 of these. It was a wonderful array of textures-the crunchy "crouton", the creamy and smooth foie gras, and the juicy marmalade. The foie gras was some of the best I've had, and all the flavors worked extremely well. Apparently, it took 4 hours to allumette the chives and place it on the foie gras with tweezers. I suppose it only makes sense that Benno is just as anal as TK.
I could have had an entire meal composed of only the foie gras. In fact, I wish I had jars of it for future eatage.
After all the canapes we proceed into the dining room. J commented on the superfluous quotations on the menu; but really, why is "tartlet" in quotes? Since when is a "tartlet" not a tartlet? If not what in the world is it?
Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar
This is the first course often juxtaposed with the Oysters and Pearls. I really feel that there is no comparison, however. At some points it tasted kind of bitter, perhaps from alkalides in the cauliflower? Anyway, it didn't have the contrast of textures in O&P, and I felt the salty caviar worked a lot better with the sabayon rather than the "panna cotta."
I was excited to see the wonderful Bouchon epidiblets again. They also brought out good ol' Straus family unsalted butter.
Salad of Caramelized Belgian Endive, Winter Citrus “Supremes”, Citrus “Coulis”, Cilantro Shoots and Cilantro Oil
If only all salads could taste like this! The endive was delicious, and the blood orange, orange, and grapefruit slices went well with the savory endive. The zesty sauce on the plate was great too.
“Macaroni and Cheese” - Nova Scotia Lobster “Cuit Sous Vide” Parmesan “Crisp”, Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo
Recall that I was not too excited about the "Caesar Salad" lobster course at French Laundry, but I loved this one. The lobster was creamy and smooth, evident of being cooked in a vacuum pouch. I wish everything I ate could be sous vide!
Again, I really didn't like the parmesan crisp, since it was way too salty and overbearing. The orzo, however, was delicious. So buttery and rich, both texture and flavor complimented the lobster. This was just excellent.
Herb Roasted Rib-Eye and Grilled "Calotte" of Prime Beef "Rissolée" of Fingerling Potatoes, Young Watercress Leaves, Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms and "Béarnaise" Reduction
This was probably my favorite of the night. The beef, of Snake River Farms, was the perfect doneness--not a bit overcooked. The rib eye was great, but the star was the prime beef--so fatty and marbled. All the sides were great too. The mushrooms were crispy and tasted almost like a potato chip. The bernaise reduction was excellent. This entree parallels the FL duck breast in my mind. I think J and I were the only ones still savoring the beef when everyone was done for a good 10 minutes.
Shelburne Farm’s Two Year-Aged Cheddar, Apple “Tartlet”, Garden Mache And Cider “Mignonnette”
“Pina Colada” Pineapple Sorbet, Tahitian Vanilla Braised Pineapple, Coconut “nougatine” and Coconut Cream
This was a good dessert, though not as refreshing as the satsuma mandarin sorbet. The pineapple sorbet and braised pineapple were great, but most of all I enjoyed the paper thin pineapple slice. After a while, I got kind of sick of this dessert; it was just more of the same thing.
per se "Tarte au Chocolat" Candied Pecans, Caramelized Bananas and Spiced Caramel Ice Cream
I really liked this one. The caramel ice cream was excellent, and the tart was crunchy and nutty. It was a lot better than the chocolate hazelnut I had at Campton Place. The only thing I wasn't too fond of was the caramelized bananas--they were just mushy and had nothing special to offer.
Then this brought out an assortment of chocolates, shortbread, candies, and tarts. All of them were really good. The shortbread was the same as the ones at FL; the chocolates were great too. The lemony crumble cake was one of my favorites.
As if I hadn't eaten enough for the night, they brought out mini madelines. I love madelines, and these were great; fluffy, not too sweet, and still hot. They went well with my espresso.
Chef Benno and the team
I hear he is quite godlike in the kitchen; everyone is quiet, "like performing surgery." I remember the FL kitchen stood out to me because it was so hushed and everything revolved around the hovering TK. I guess it's the same with Benno.
They gave us some macaroons to take home: vanilla, chocolate, and almond. I had them the day after and they were great.
Overall, it was an excellent meal. I ate a great quantity, but it did not feel heavy at all; sated but not overloaded. When I went out to shake Benno's hand and to get his autograph, he repeated once more, "he is not a dictator." *Nervous laugh*