Monday, February 05, 2007

Lunch at Cafe Boulud

Most of this blog's readers have either heard my report of lunch at Cafe Boulud in New York City or were there in attendance. To celebrate the end of my qualifying exams (recall that dinner at Jean Georges was to celebrate our birthdays), I scheduled a lunch for Saturday at 1. Marty and Andi agreed to join me, and my great friend Charlie offered to take the train into the city to meet us. Charlie is a devoted gastronome and a new father, so it was especially nice to be able to celebrate his good fortune as well.

Like Jean Georges the night before, the decor at Cafe Boulud was rather modern and sparse. The days of elaborate French designs appear to be a thing of the past (Le Bec Fin certainly stands as a hold out). The waiters, however, were as classically French as ever. That is to say, they were snooty, really snooty.

Nonetheless, lunch began delightfully with cocktails of Lillet blanc. These were important, because the menu offered dozens of different choices for appetizers and main courses, all of which promised to be tasty. Despite the myriad options, however, we all ordered fairly similarly. The meal proper began with an appetizer of grilled sardine fillets for the table. They were served with crunchy greens and tasted great. Marty and I chose the cornish hen pate with foie gras, which was delicious but the latter ingredient was no where to be found. Charlie selected and enjoyed a frisee salad with duck egg, lardons, and sauteed chicken livers. Andi had a pasta dish with, I believe, truffles. All of the appetizers were excellent and paired well with glasses of Mas Amiel Le Plaisir Cote de Roussillon Rosé 2001. It had a deep pink color, the color of rose petals, but it was not as full-bodied as the color might suggest. The light red fruit flavors were balanced by moderate acidity, all of which helped with the fairly rich dishes.

I cannot now recall what Andi ordered for her main course. Perhaps someone will remind me in the comments. Recalling what the gentlemen ate, however, is quite easy - we all had the lamb served three ways. I would like to rank the different lamb preparations according to flavor, but each was so delicious and so different from its companions that the task is impossible. Instead, I will list them in the order I tasted them. First was belly of lamb minced and breaded as large piece (I have forgotten the name of this technique). The crunchy, caramelly outside was perfect with the moist, tender inside. Next was grilled lamb loin which, if simple, was perfectly done and divine with a drizzle of lamb jus. Finally, we had red wine braised leg of lamb. It was satisfying and comforting and superb with rosemary polenta.

The wine we selected with the lamb course really made everything special. Perhaps the best value on the list (with the exception of a bottle of chinon that was out of stock) was the Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l'Herault 1997. It is rare to find wines with substantial bottle age on the lists of most restaurants. The older wines that are available tend to be the stratospherically priced great growths. Here, instead, was a wonderful wine, great with food, and with almost a decade of age. Viewers of the movie Mondovino may recall its winemaker as the grumpy Frenchman who got pissed off when Mondavi tried to buy the vineyard next to his biodynamic land. His wine at first seemed equally grumpy to be disturbed from its nine year slumber, but it soon came to life when paired with the different lamb preparations. It was fully mature at this point, but from the excellent balance of tannin and acidity, it promised to last another decade or so. Some red fruit and spice were apparent on the palate, but these were slowly giving way to the signs of wine maturity - earthiness, leather, complexity. Perhaps not a profound wine like some of the great growths, it was a perfect example of a winemaker allowing the wine to express the terroir.

A quick word about cheeses and dessert wines before I have to put a chicken in the oven and pick up Stephanie. Charlie and I chose to have the cheese course for our finale and selected what appeared to be a promising 13 year old Coteaux du Layon from the menu. Upon hearing our request, the waiter barely managed to stifle his displeasure with our choice - well, frankly, he didn't stifle his displeasure. It was open and obvious to everyone. Fearful that the man was going to be ill, I asked if there was anything wrong. He not so politely indicated that our wine choice was foolish and that we would be much better off with the Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls 2003. We actually had glasses of each, and I am willing to admit that his suggestion was indeed the proper one. Nonetheless, he could have learned some manners from Sommelier Scott Tyree at Tru who, as faithful readers will recall, steered me to a superb wine in a delightful and non-condescending fashion.

1 comment:

Matthew J. Harris said...

Chris wrote, "Most of this blog's readers have either heard my report of lunch at Cafe Boulud in New York City."

Yeah, like this blog has any readers. Ha Ha.

P.S. - Congrats on your qualifying exams - you've cleared the biggest hurdle in the quest for those three awesome initials.