I had a good-plus meal at J Beard House last night. Robert Donna from DC's Galileo/Il Laboratorio did a very good job, under J Beard conditions, and there were interesting samplings of Shafer wines. The meal was also a good deal at $125 with tax and tips included.
-- Quail egg toast with caviar: On a brioche-sweetness-type, blini-thickness, light little round bottom, with a perfect runny quail egg yolk and good amounts of caviar encircling the yolk in a half-moon shape. I ate about 4-5 of these.
-- Kumamoto oysters wrapped in basil and mint: Very nicely executed, with recently and very well-executed deep-frying highlighting the almost molten interior of oysters. Oysters were skewered with toothpick, and were wrapped prior to deep-frying in basil, bringing to mind of course one of Robuchon's signature dishes from his haute cuisine days that is still on offer at Atelier de JR, Paris: the langoustines wrapped in basil leaf that is deep-fried and then skewered with a wooden spear.
-- Crostino of duck and pear salad with extra old balsamic. This was alright. I found the crostino bread base only average, and the duck and pear were in juliennes.
-- Duck liver custard brulee with quince marmelta. This was served in a Chinese spoon, baked in. Custard was average.
Above was served with Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 01. This was young-tasting, but appropriate for a CA offering. From the Carneros region of Napa.
(1) Maine lobster sausage with celeryroot puree, Chardonnay sauce and pineapple-green apple salad. The lobster sausage was firmer than that at Taillevent, Paris, or Chanterelle, NYC, with certain small bits of lobster more discernible. "Skin" of sausage could have been slightly less noticeable, and, for me, the herbs in the sausage were a bit severe, but that would not have been my objective assessment. Less utilization of pike than version of lobster sausage at Le Cinq. Still, a dish I enjoyed. Nice sauce that was predicated on lobster stock. I thought the pineapple unnecessary, and generally do not believe that pineapple is helpful in savory dishes.
Accompanying wine was Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 99. Impressive for a 99 CA Chard. White truffle nose,` nice color, enjoyable. Likely not an expensive wine, and not comparable to white Burgundies I prefer, but still nice.
(2) Taglierini with Lamb Ragu and Roasted Porcini, with Shafer Firebreak Sangiovese '00 (6% Cab Sauvignon). A dish I liked. Thin nooddles in a mound were much softer than al dente (appropriately, in this context). I asked Donna why this was, when he visited the dining room at the end of the meal. Surprisingly, he noted that there was no particular philosophy to it, he did what tasted good. I liked the visual allusion to spaghetti bolognese, but the difference in the mouth because of the suppleness of the taglierini and the slight darkness in the aftertaste of the diced lamb bits, and the greater darkness in the roasted porcini (which tasted almost like matsutake). This darkness was intended to complement the Firebreak wine from Shafer, which was initially starker in the mouth than I would have liked, but improved as time progresed.
(3) Tenderloin of beef in Camicia of pork sausage with braised beef cheek sauce, autumn vegetable ragu,and parmesan polenta. An interesting dish, with rare beef (appropriately so) enveloped in a ring of spicy pork sausage. Interesting choice of pairing beef and pork, which I asked Chef Donna about. This is where the chef indicated that my questions seemed to suggest greater complexity to their composition than he intended. Paired with the premium Shafer wine from Stags Leap -- Hillside Select Cab Sauvignon 97. A bit more peppery in the mouth initially than I had expected.
Cheese and little Italian beignet-like items followed. John Shafer was gracious, and provided commentary on each wine. Chef Donna did well at J Beard.