first off, noticed there's another "fooddude" on here, so to ease the confusion the author formerly known as "fooddude37" is changing to "thedudeabides".
Went to La Cachette last night, and after a discussion on the General boards about a wine dilemma, went with a bottle of Sauternes expecting to pair it with foie and an apricot tart, and get a wine by the glass for the venison. (I'm one of those neurotic nerds who looks at online menus and plans out the entire evening a week in advance)
Elegant, classy dining room, tables spaced far apart, about 6-7 other tables filled up, only negative impression was the music piped in. Soft jazz jams for your entire work day. Kenny G on darvocet. Oh well. They immediately took my Sauternes to go chill it. Upon perusal of the menu (which has deviated slightly from the online rendition) we notice a tasting menu, 6 course, for 80 bucks, additional wine pairing for 40. Well, we opted for the tasting and a pairing for me only (my girlfriend is currently on a medication limiting her alcohol intake, boo!) Let me state before the menu breakdown that the service was more or less impeccable, warm, informative, and accommodating. I told my server that I was jonesing for some foie, and that we both preferred more seafood, and maybe a game course than beef. Also note the captain who was bringing me the wine was very warm and thorough in his explanations and descriptions, but had a very thick accent so I don't remember any of the estate names of the wines I had, I also didn't write any of this down...all from memory, keep this in mind. We had:
-Seared foie, phyllo triangle stuffed with dates, verjus, and a frisee salad tossed with some very tart dressing. '99 German Riesling (I saw the bottle, the label was very rustic and couldn't gather the name or appellation) and also a 2 ounce serving of Remy Martin XO. The ambassador from Remy Martin apparently had a dinner here and insisted to them that their cognac was perfect with foie.
Very very solid. Perfectly seared foie, impossibly crisp outside, creamy molten interior, perfectly crisp phyllo, a bite of each element eaten at the same time produced a very harmonious effect. Bite of the same elements individually revealed a simplicity and purity of ingredient. The Riesling had dark dried fruit notes like prunes that just added to the luxuriousness of this dish, had great acidity for balance. The cognac (and I'm no cognac drinker, more of a vodka kind of guy) was very, very, smooth. If the foie was a little more intense it would have worked better for me. There was still a little too much alcoholic heat to really work with the foie for me, but on its own was a great way to start the night.
-Dungeness crab and lobster bisque, garlic croutons with rouille. '02 Corbiere Rose
These sorts of dishes scare me on a menu. They inspire a Bourdain-esque attitude of "Ah crap, crab AND lobster? They're definitely just looking for an easy out to use up scraps" This wasn't the case. You could taste intense crab. You could taste intense lobster. This worked really well. There was no cream, but this bisque had the most rich, velvety texture. One of those pure or intense concentrated flavor dishes. The Rose was a nice dry, crisp counterbalance against the rich shellfish. Croutons were amazing. How stupid does that sound? But they really were. They reminded me of freshly made palmiers.
-Sauteed sardine, creme fraiche, warm potato salad, Russian oscetra. '01 Alsace pinot blanc
Sardines perfectly crispy and moist. Can I say perfect enough times? This is what I love about true French sensibilities and disciplines. The potato salad was perfect, soft but not mushy potatoes, little bits of bacon, tiny slivers of shallot, chives, perfectly seasoned with vinegar and salt. This kind of stuff gets taken for granted these days IMO. The oscetra was great, providing a very fresh ocean-y element to the extremely savory and meaty sardines. This plate was lightly garnished with pea shoots, capers, and tomato concasse, which all lent some lightness to the heavier elements, as did the crisp wine.
-Soft shell crab, asparagus, ratatouille, green peppercorn emulsion. '02 vouvray from somewhere in the west of France. Getting tipsy here. Crab was *slightly* tough as it's not the beginning of the season, asparagus was cooked, you guessed it, perfectly. From tip to base, all consistent. When they blanched it, they held the base in the water for a minute or two before they dropped the entire stalk in. THIS is how you cook asparagus. At so many places the tips are mushy by the time the base is done. The crab was a little salty in patches but on the whole had fantastic flavor which went well with all the elements. The green peppercorns with the fruity vouvray was particularly nice. The cup of ratatouille was very good, but for a tasting menu somewhat extraneous.
At this point we had our mains, mine was:
-pan roasted venison chop, yam tower with blueberries, chestnut flan, haricot verts, cabernet game sauce. They served a Syrah with this that I don't remember a thing about, but the floor manager informed me this dish is difficult to pair for, and the Syrah had enough weight (I assumed he meant tannins) to hold up to the venison and enough delicacy to pair well with the subtle flan and yams. This dish had a few things that didn't work. First off, the portion was huge. More on that later. Second, the flan and yam tower were both very good, but served the same purpose on the plate in my eyes. Like serving rice and potatoes on the same plate. Similarly, the haricot verts were excellent, with some gremolata-like garlic mixture on top. However the garlic didn't go well with the blueberries that were on the yams. The point is that there were a lot of elements on the dish that worked together, and several that did not. As this is a tasting menu, I feel each dish should have a definite theme or purpose. If this would have just been a venison chop with a yam tower, blueberries, and game sauce, I would have enjoyed it more (I felt the yams and blueberries went better with the venison than the other elements) On the positive notes, the venison was amazing. Cooked rare, sumptuous, very well seasoned, tender. The game sauce was another one of those French sensibility things...incredibly subtle. I can imagine the cook/chef finishing roasting the venison in the pan, throwing in some shallots, deglazing with the cab, adding a little venison stock and maybe some herbes de provence, and straining it. No saltiness, no acidity, no butter. Just pure venison essence that was like a trill note on a violin, a light embellishment. This is what more sauce should be. The Syrah was pretty good with the venison, it definitely clashed with the garlic on the haricot and the tannins still overpowered the starch items on the plate.
Squab with goat butter feuillete, goat cheese, ratatouille, and some sort of squab sauce. I would never order something based on that description. This was one of the highlights of the night. One of those dishes where I thought to myself "I NEVER would have thought of this". I've only had squab twice before and though, "What's the big friggin deal?" Now I see. This was heaven, really. Very crisp, fluffy goat puff pastry, sumptuous, sexy thinly sliced squab, served rare...everything just really worked here. I would order this again and again.
Desserts, I had:
Chocolate tart souffle style w/ creme fraiche, brandied cherries, some kind of light frothy anglaise sauce or other. This was HUGE. Way too big. I mean, it was great. Awesome. I'd love to have one right now. But after all this food it was just overkill. It bothers me to see a lack of restraint, and at this point I felt like I had too much food being thrown at me. Actually I felt that at an earlier point. This was served with a banyuls that went very well.
Fig tart with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. This was one of those humbling experiences...this is how a dessert should be. This is how one should use figs. This is what caramel sauce should be. I've been trying to play with figs for years and never came close to this. The caramel sauce wasn't the pasty, rich, burnt sugar tasting crud I've had so many times. It was...ethereal. It's the best vanilla ice cream I've had. These vanilla beans probably cost 15 bucks a piece. I have really good Madagascar 6 inch vanilla beans at home. They're amazing. The vanilla beans used in this ice cream were 10 times better. I fell in love with this dessert. Finished with an espresso, very strong, very good.
Everything was 280 after tax and tip, obviously never tapped into my Sauternes.
First thing: Way too much food. These were not tasting menu portions. It was almost embarrassing really. At about the 4th course in we started leaving food on our plate, which for us is a big deal. Are portions this big in Provence? I felt like Francois was gearing this towards American appetites, and I told the floor manager afterwards that while everything was excellent, amazing, and all that, it was just too much. He nodded in agreement like perhaps he had heard this before. I suppose that if the complaint is "too much food" then it's somewhat of a good complaint...we don't go out much after all. But all the same, on the whole experience it was a detraction. In the beginning it was the same with the alcohol. They started with what I saw to be about 4 oz pours, but with that shot of Remy I could quickly tell that it was going to be a challenge staying sober enough to drive. I asked that they tone down the pour sizes by an ounce and they happily obliged, in retrospect I should have done the same with the food. The dishes that really worked were the ones that had very basic, solid, elegent elements. Where the magic was lost was when there were extraneous elements that didn't contribute anything on the whole. It was also somewhat jarring to go straight from a huge venison chop to a huge chocolate souffle cake. It would have been nice to have a little something in between...a refreshing granita or citrus glace or the like.
That's about everything I can think of. This was a really great dinner, the last time I had an evening this enjoyable was at Water Grill some time ago. There were elements and dishes that superceded Water Grill IMO, and vice versa. Highly recommend.