Well, I’m 22. Just like that. I guess The Adverts (late English ’77 band) said it best…”no time to be 21.”
I didn’t know what to expect from being 21 actually. I didn’t get as drunk as I thought I would this last year, I didn’t really go to clubs at all neither. So much went for that stereotype. No, this year…I learned to accept myself, my food-obsessed ways, my hedonistic lifestyle that was different than all my friend’s, everything that would stir so much angst and self-conflict in the past…was okay all of a sudden. No longer did I compare myself with others, no longer did I question myself. I also finally met someone that understood me for who I was, someone that broadened my perspective on food, the restaurant industry, life.
You Never Forget Your First (& Moule Frites)
Through her, my appreciation for fine food and drinks grew to new heights. To personally realize and bear with the amount of labor, dedication that those same people that make our restaurant experiences even remotely possible …was simply mind boggling. And it was through her that I had my first official full experience with classical French food finally. I eat how I blog. And I will admit that it has been hard to leave my vegan-born ways with food, after all that is how the whole food phenomena started with me during my “early years.”
But birthdays come only once a year and it was time for a change. It was time to celebrate with the fundamental cuisine of Western food culture as a whole. The birth cuisine of epicurean poetic rambling. The cuisine responsible for facilitating organized food to the masses. The cuisine responsible that made running a restaurant even possible.
The L.A outpost of Bouchon was received with mixed reviews when it opened in ’09 but it was my 22nd Birthday dinner and a formal, mature change of restaurant environments never seemed more fitting. After all, it was Thomas Keller nonetheless. An indispensable chef figure I only read about through the writing of my early food writing heroes of Michael Ruhlman or Ruth Reichl.
It was to be a night of straight out splurging and there was to be no quibbling from me in the least.
The entrance was already a memorable experience. A colonial staircase led you into a long hallway draped with framed portraits and elegant tile floors. I squinted hard into the darkness outside through the overhead windows hoping to miraculously see a lit up Eiffel Tower or something. The dining room was of grand proportions. We waited less than 5 minutes for a table and were seated along the strip of two-top tables. Next to us sat an older man courting a young Asian girl over a bottle of wine and a cheeseboard. To the left of us were two middle aged woman sharing a salad.
To pair with the celebration, the night was to be accompanied with a lovely bottle of some Cotes du Rhone. Although, I decided to not worry about getting its name for this post. All I can say is that it was a nice and intense, like a petit syrah or something. Ideal for a night of rich ass french food.
French Onion Soup: First, The Fundamentals
First up was a crusty, caramelized French Onion soup. My first ever. It was actually a a freebie since they were lagging it with the charcuterie plate. The cheese layer must had been at least 1/4 inch thick and that bread could had might as well been one of those magical growing sponge toys, but one that grew with luscious beef broth enlivened with a pleasant addition of thyme instead of water. The onions were sweet and soft. We were glad we hadn’t cut our nails as we gleefully picked off the thin, toasted, crispy cheese scabs off the side.
Rillettes aux Deux Saumons: Smoked Wild Salmon Rillete ($16.75)
Yes, Foie Gras would had been awesome but the price didn’t look as inviting as the Wild Salmon version. And ’tis was a good compromise. Velvety, smooth with firm-fatty pieces of translucent smoked wild salmon. The rest of the fluffy stuff consisted of a whipped creme fraiche with shallots and white wine aka. amazingness.
Assiette de Charcuterie w/ pickled vegetables, Dijon mustard & petite baguette ($15.50)
This was more of a lesson in the wonders of cured pork than just a good appetizer. Again, I just enjoyed it man. It had been so long since I gave in to the pleasures of cured swine. In particular, the ham hock pate (long rectangle) and that fresh baked, soft baguette. The crisp-brined veggies were nice, but wish a little more was given.
Special of the Day: Broccoli Rabe Salad Anchovies, Lemon and Croutons, Poached Egg
Only when dining at a bistro with me would you get a salad as mid course. What can I say? I was starting to go through veggie withdrawals! I’m glad we did. The broccoli was cooked tender. Loved the lemony fish dressing when emulsified with the runny egg yolk. And buttery croutons for the win!
Osso Bucco: braised veal shank, sweet carrots, pearl onions, Tokyo turnips, crispy polenta & natural veal jus
For our mains or “Plats principaux” we decided to get back on track on the fundamentals train.
My partner went with the classic Moules au Safran (mussels n’ fries; pictured at beginning of post) while I went for the Osso Bucco. The first time I ever had both dishes. I fell in love with the Mussel dish. They were served in a medieval-looking cast-iron thick cauldron. Inside, a shiny mound of slightly opened black bivalves laid in a pool of buttery yellow broth muddled with the famed red stimens of the flower and the leftover acidity of cooked down white wine. The cauldron proved to be excellent to permeate the flavor of the luscious broth. The mussels were tender with it. The fries weren’t as awesome but it was something on the table that could be used to soak up that luscious broth, therefore awesome.
The Osso Bucco was not as successful. Not as tender as I hoped it to be and under seasoned. I’ll just say that my favorite part of the dish was the little half moon of fried Polenta.
Ile Flottante: Meringue, vanilla creme anglaise, almond & caramel ($9.00)
In the last ten months I have also learned to appreciate a fine plated dessert and treat it with the same dignity, stature and respect as the rest of the meal. I was super excited when I saw they had a “floating Island” for dessert. I remember reading Ruth Reichl’s account with the classic french dessert in her book Garlic and Saphire’s.
And there it was. A firm meringue cloud floating in an ocean of vanilla topped a crispy sugar touille reef and rained with a storm warm caramel. I admired it like it was a glamorous celebrity that I had finally gotten a chance to meet. And the texture was indeed cloud like as well. Although a bit too sweet for my personal likes. Especially when eaten along side our other choice of dessert.
Marquise au Chocolat: dark chocolate mousse, burnt orange cream ($9.50)
For the decadence K.O of the night. We decided on their chocolate mousse. Although along side the flottante, I didn’t get was so mousse about it. “This is straight up ganache” said my seasoned dessert decadence mate. Well, it might had been but I wasn’t going to sue for false advertising. Creamy as all hell but still light and very palatable, the chocolate was bitter. The burnt orange cream did no t taste much of char and smoke that wasn’t the point.
By the end of the night, we were both jolly with lipids running through our blood. It was a milestone in my life on so many levels..best birthday meal ever.
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