August 13, 2011

Pop-up in Houston. Les Sauvage

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to get reservations at Houston's newest Pop-Up restaurant, Les Sauvage. It was dinner #6, with the guest chef being Grant Gordon of Tony's restaurant here in town. We didn't really know what to expect, except that the other dinners seemed to have been well received.

Even hours before the meal was to be served, we didn't know what the menu would be. I had e-mail the head Sauvage, and he said they don't know what they will serve until minutes before. My only problem with that was that I didn't know what wine to take! So we took a Champagne (Laherte Frères Champagne Brut) and a nice white Burgundy (Moret-Nominé Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru - one of my favorite whites of all times. I bought it at Wine Library and had it delivered via the internet. Thanks to our anti-Free Market governor here in Texas - Rick Perry - we can no longer buy wine from a retailer on the 'net from out of town. Thank you, you socialist!). We also took a delightful Pinot Noir we picked up in Oregon - Archery Summit - just in case we did not have enough with the Champagne and Burgundy.

The location of the dinner was just blocks from our house. It was nice to be so close to home. 

We  arrived just at 7:00 PM, and most of the crowd was already there. They had complimentary cocktails, so we got in line to watch a very competent bartender swinging cocktail shakers with both hands non-stop. She was offering a bourbon, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, tarragon, and prosecco drink. I cannot remember the name. But it was quite refreshing, and a nice touch. 

We sat down at our table - there were only 40 people at the dinner, so they had 5 tables of 8 people each, and introduced ourselves to our table-mates.

In one of those very small world stories, we knew one of the other couples at our table! She was the real-estate agent who represented the seller when we bought our house! How do you like that! She is a lot of fun. Her husband is a brain surgeon, who looks just like Patrick Duffy from Grey's Anatomy. There was another couple who had very close connections to me via the industry. She was a petroleum engineer (drilling engineer) with ExxonMobil, he was a geologist with Shell, who now has his own consulting company. The last couple run a hip clothing store on Washington Avenue. They were young enough to be hip, and had young twins. Nice to have some Gen-Xers at a table full of Boomers.

So with that prep work, how was the food? 

It was delicious! 

We started with a nice Amuse that was a Tongue Pastrami with homemade mustard. Just a bit, but it was great. The champagne was good with it. Of course, I think that champagne is good with everything.

Next we had a small piece of fluke on an edamame puree (yes, it tasted just like edamame. I am not sure why I was surprised at that, but I was) and a burnt scallion puree.

Then a vegetable course - eggplant, peppers, and "gribiche" - an emulsified sauce.

The next two dishes were probably my favorites - the gnocchi with pork cheeks and saba, followed by sweetbreads with swiss chard and a monkfish liver veloute. I could live on sweetbreads, and having them piqued by that fish liver veloute was something else.

In a continuation of the protein combo, the next course was halibut braised in olive oil (it was not at all oily, nice a firm) with brandy scented chicken jus, and faro. If I remember correctly, there was a bit of crispy chicken skin laid on top of the fish. I think we change to the Chardonnay at this point. As above, the fish and the chicken complimented each other is a way I never would have guessed. Faro is like big barley, and was great. A bowl of that, with the chicken jus would be a nice treat.

By this time we were getting full, and not just a tiny bit tight. We seldom drink more than one bottle of wine between us, and here we had already had a cocktail and a bottle of champagne. And there was a little more to come.

The last main course was a lamb filet with a tiny nan (about the size of a nickle) some hummus, and a lamb jus made with syrah. Flavor explosions in your mouth.

The dessert was a ricotta with kefir and olive oil cake, and muscadine grapes. Nice way to end the meal. There was also a nice glass of iced coffee at this point.

And finally, everyone got a piece of berry coffee cake to take home for breakfast.

The pacing was good, and they really had the food distribution down well. IT was a long meal (we didn't get home until about 11:00) but that was to be expected with so many dishes.

We have been to other set dinners so we know it can be done otherwise (too much time between some courses, slow pickup of dishes, strange timing of the course, etc). It was impressive to see what these Wild Ones have put together. 

Go if you get a chance. Your meal will not be like mine, but you can only put your foot in a river once.

August 9, 2011

A little step back in time: The Thistle in McMinnville

I have been meaning to write about The Thistle in McMinnville since we left. We ate there our last night in town, and it was really quite an adventure.

It didn't really start that well, as Doreen had tried to get a reservation while we were still in Houston. She never spoke to a real person, but left our information. We called once we got to town, but were told that they had no reservation in our name. Oh well. We said that was fine (We had been eating quite a bit anyway) and we would try to come by (late) to see if a table had opened up.

The did let us know that we could probably sit in the Kitchen, and eat at the Chef's Table (though I don't really remember what they called it). We thought that might be interesting, but little did we know.

We showed up about 8:00 PM, and indeed they had a couple of seats at the kitchen. Now, you have to understand that in this restaurant, the kitchen was in the window facing the street. The seats were facing the kitchen, so you could see everything that was going on. IT was only about 3' deep and 9' long. It was a tiny kitchen.

The other thing about sitting in the Kitchen is that you don't get to pick your own dinner. You get to pick your wine, and as is the world these days, they asked you if you had any food allergies, but other than that, you were at the mercy of Chef Eric (shown above).

We love places like this. First of all, you don't have to make any decisions, so you don't end up with Food Envy. Second, you know that the Chef is giving you his best shot (unless he is just trying to get rid of the losers of the evening) so it should be good.

And it was delicious.

They recommended that instead of getting one bottle of wine, we get two splits, one white and one red. That made sense, so we started with a Riesling. (I can't recall exactly which one, but I think it was a Joseph Cristoffel. In any case, it was dry and fruity, the way you like 'em)

As a starter, we had Oregon Oysters. Much different than our Gulf Coast Oysters (which the chef called an "acquired taste". Me? I love 'em), they were served with pickled shallots and a champagne vinaigrette. The only problem was that there were not enough of them.

Following the oysters, we had two salads. One was Baby Gem Lettuce (surprisingly common in the Northwest) with Green Goddess dressing, and Beets with sauce. Both outstanding.

After that, we had two fish courses: Raw Tuna with Radishes, and Crawfish (!) with a dipping sauce. the crawfish were local, and HUGH by Texas standards. The chef called them a traditional Scandinavian  Solstice meal. They were good (but surprising) no matter where he got the idea.

We had one more course before switching to a red wine, and that was gnocchi with wild foraged mushrooms, potatoes, and caramelized onions. Gnocchi are in right now, and when done right can be delicious. These were delicious.

For our red wine, we chose a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (no surprise there), the Domaine Drohin 2008. We had been to that vineyard earlier in the day.

The first thing we had with the Pinot was Soft Egg with Mushroom. It was a very gently scrambled egg with more delicious mushrooms. Sometimes you don't remember how good eggs can be.

To keep up the egg theme, we then had Steak Tartar, so of do it yourself. The egg yolk was piled in the middle of the meat. You mushed it all together and ate it. Greedily.

Then we got to some dishes that I doubt either of us would have ever ordered. Duck hearts with kale in a cherry reduction, and lamb kidneys with coral mushrooms. The duck hearts were tasty little nubbins, and the kidneys had none of that ammonia taste you sometimes get from older kidneys. (OK, I am being kind. Sometimes they taste of urine. These were wonderful)

By now we could barely move. But there was one more dish - Cherry Tartuffe. We ate it with an Aged Vermouth as a digestive.

A truly delightful meal.