I had a fairly-good dinner at the J Beard House last night, with Bouley cooking and with the cuisine at The Danube on display. I like Bouley's cooking very much and this was a good showing for a J Beard event. Perhaps the pace of the meal could have been accelerated, though.
All of principal dishes were predicated on recipes from the chef's East of Paris book.
-- Assorted Hors dOeuvre, with Danube's Elderflower Champagne Cocktail. I arrived about half-way into the cocktail hour. The elderflower cocktail was similar to ones I've had at Danube. It was nice, and I had two glasses. Normally, I'm not a fan of adding items to champagne, but the elderflower was nice and delicate (much better than elderberry) and even the foam on top was to my liking.
Hors d'oeuvres were very good -- for me, the best part of the meal (ironically).
Oxtail "struedel" consisted of perfectly deep-fried, thin, flaky-exterior rectangular item that was "twisted" (like certain candies) on each end. Excellent exterior shell, and general presentation. Oxtail was in small strands inside, but tasted substantial, appropriately hot in temperature and was conveyed in general flavor very very well. I ate about four of these, but could have taken in a dozen. An excellent hors d'oeuvre.
House cured salmon cube with a bit of creme fraiche -- This was very flavorful and generally very good. The curing was done so as not to leave a residual aspect of saltiness (nor particular sweetness). In this item, the salmon was expressed very well. I've had this item at Danube before.
Cone with smoked mousse -- A delicate small cone, with an intense tasting mousse that I was told was salmon, but that seemed darker than that (and that did not taste necessarily like it contained only fish). I liked this item as well.
Portugese sardine integrated into a potato chip -- This was quite good, although I've had versions of this item in which the potato chip was more pristine. The Portugese sardine has a bit of saltiness that goes well with the potato chip, and the sardine was still very nice in this dish.
I was unable to sample oyster shotglasses with beet flavoring, but heard good things about it from dining companions.
Overall, very good hors d'oeuvres :)
-- After we were seated, another amuse followed. A curled piece of smoked salmon, with a bit of salmon roe on top. This was all on top of a potato-lattice cake. Appropriate, but nothing special. The garnish was a rectangle of manipulated beet (not gelee; more a solid form that had beet flavors, but that was not just beet cut up), interspersed with a "section" of quasi-solid (but non-gelee) horseradish-based item. There were a few pumpkin seeds (?), which tasted almost like pine nuts, on top of the horseradish component. Nice utilization of a bit of thin saucing with acidity.
(1) Tuna with Pickled Spring Onions and Sesame-Mustard Seed Dressing, with 2002 Gruner Veltliner "Lois", Fred Loimer, Kamptal, Austria.
This dish was good-minus. If you imagine a large rectangle the length of an outstretched palm. Then, divide it into three similarly-sized sections. On the left-most and right-most section were tuna sections (slightly thicker than carpaccio, but not by that much). In the middle section was hamachi/yellowtail. There was a thin cream-colored sauce, and some other components of balanced flavoring (including acidity and sweetness) surrounding the fish sections. Interestingly, there were also a few cubes of tuna included in the plate, for textural contrast. I liked the utilization of very tiny "cubes" of gelee of soy throughout the plate.
(2) Shrimp with Sweet and Sour Squash and Pumpkin Seed Sauce, with 2001 Riesling, Federspeil, Domaine Wachau, Wachau, Austria.
This dish was average, at best. There were two medium-sized shrimp, whose flesh appeared limp and mushy. No dish can be saved from shrimp like these. Pumpkin seeds were helpful, in delivering a pinenut-type of flavor, but the saucing and accompaniments were not particularly appealing to me.
Interesting that this dish and the preceding one appeared to have been drawn not only from certain Austrian inspirations, but more from Asian cuisine (tuna/yellowtail sashimi from Japanese cuisine and sweet and sour shrimp from Chinese cuisine), with French-type technique applied and with added refinement in flavor balance.
(3) Maine Lobster with Red Beet Fettuccine and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, with 2001 Weissburgunder "Kollmutz", Smaragd, Rudi Pichler, Wachau, Austria.
The lobster dish was quite good, but the same dish was much more appealing when I sampled it as part of the Christmas Eve prix fixe at Danube. Among other things, the beet-based saucing for the beet-intrinsic-flavored fettucine was a bit thinner than I had previously experienced. Also, the saucing seemed too copious in general quantity relative to the fettucine and the lobster. Black trumpets were very limited in quantity. Lobster remained well-prepared, with a nice "crisp" texture.
Paired wine has slightly too bitter an aftertaste than one might prefer for the lobster.
Traditional Boiled Beef with Spinach Purée, Apple-Horseradish Sauce, and Baby Vegetables, with 2002 St Laurent, Matthias Wendelin, Burgenland, Austria.
I'm not too familiar with the details of Tafelsptiz, but I have read about boiled beef in J Wechsberg's Blue Trout and Black Truffles (I also have Wechsberg's book dedicated to Austrian cuisine). This was the best boiled beef I have had, buttery in general notes and expressive of the beef. However, I have not actually sampled that many versions of boiled beef (boeuf a la ficelle included). Very nice rendition of the beef, moist, buttery, delicious.
The apple-horseradish sauce added a bit of acidity, and was appropriate. The spinach puree and potatoe puree (yummy and butter-ladden, as it always is at Bouley) were nice too. Being a minimalist, I could have eaten the boiled beef only with the potato puree, but I see the role of the apple-horseradish sauce (which was puree-like in texture). Baby carrots were unnecessary, in my assessment.
(5) Pear-Caramel Strudel -- Not sampled. The dinner was very slow, even by James Beard standards. For example, we had to wait at 30 minutes (and in many instances more), from the time we finished sampling a given dish, until the next one was presented. I left before dessert was served in part because I don't particularly care for desserts as a general category.