My husband and I enjoyed another fine meal at Chapeau! last Saturday. We were greeted by Ellen, who gave us our selection of tables, but wisely steered us to the one closer to the door, as the night was unseasonably warm. We started off with Kir Royales and perused the menus. I chose the menu #1 (appetizer, entree, and dessert for) and he chose the menu #2 (appetizer, fish tasting, entree, and dessert). That was easy enough; choosing what we wanted for each course is where things got difficult.
The table next to us was enjoying the moules frites appetizer, and noting the delicious smell, the speed with which it disappeared, and the couple's declaration of its deliciousness, DH ordered that. I chose the porcini-encrusted sweetbreads as an appetizer (both those and the mussels are available in either appetizer or entree portions).
For mains he chose the cassoulet and I, given the warmth of the evening, opted for the vegetarian napoleon. After we had ordered we were brought an amuse bouche of a demitasse of cream of cauliflower soup that was exceptionally tasty and rich.
Then we asked Phillipe to suggest a single bottle of wine for under $50 for our rather difficult range of dishes. He suggested a 2003 Domaine D'Aeria Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages and said we would love it. It worked very well with the odd assortment of foods, but I don't think I would order it again unless we found ourselves in a similar food situation. It was a nice, light table wine, with enough structure to stand up to the cassoulet and sweetbreads.
The sweetbreads were an eye opener for me. I had never ordered sweetbreads before but witnessed my father enjoying the heck out of them at a dinner at Chapeau! last year. They were delicate, rich, tender, and delicious, with the flavor of the porcini crust highlighted by a generous addition what I think were sauteed portobello slices. DH (never a lover of anything more offal than chopped chicken liver) also enjoyed them immensely.
The moules frites were standard moules marnieres with pretty good fries and a very nice red-pepper aioli. I liked that they used the small, black mussels rather than the larger green-lipped New Zealand type. The aioli was definitely the stand-out item in this dish.
The fish tasting was a seared dayboat scallop on top of mashed potatoes. This was nice, but not as outstanding as the one we had last time, which involved pie crust, sweet potatoes, and what I think must have been peanut butter.
Much to my surprise, my vegetarian napoleon was one of the best things I have ever eaten in a restaurant. It started with a layer of polenta, topped with freshly sauteed spinach, topped with tomato concasse, topped with fava bean puree, garnished with tiny waxed beans in vinaigrette, accompanied by fresh english peas and favas. It might not sound like much but it was heavenly.
My husbands cassoulet was the same as it has always been at Chapeau!. The beans have a wonderfully creamy, unbroken texture that I have only been able to achieve by first soaking them overnight and then cooking them in a very slow oven for 6-8 hours. Phillipe would not divulge the secret, but did say that the dish takes a long time to cook. The meats in the cassoulet were delicious, but I was much too taken by my entrée to pay much attention to them.
Desserts were forgettable, if nicely presented. They gave us candles because it was our anniversary.
I know many people feel that Chapeau! is not the right place to go for an intimate evening, but one thing we enjoyed was the fact that by the end of the evening we were partaking in a nice animated conversation with the two couples seated next to us (three two-tops in a row). They asked me how I learned about the restaurant and I told them it was from Chowhound.