Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birthday Celebration Au Lion d'Or

I turned twenty four last Saturday and my father surprised me with an invitation to the local one star restaurant in the town adjacent to La Touche. Romorantin is a commune in the Loir-et-Cher department of central France known for its rugby team, small but charming chateau, and elite luxury hotel. The principal draw of the town however is the Grand Hotel du Lion d’Or or hotel of the golden lion. It is on the list of Relais-Chateau’s finest hotels and its restaurant is truly top notch. I have been celebrating my birthday at the Lion d’Or off and on since I was ten years old and it is consistently one of the gastronomic highlights of the year. I had the fixed menu, a five course affair with little treats along the way and a “surprise dessert”. We sat outside in the 18th century courtyard that provided an ideal setting for dinner though unfortunately did not facilitate photography. As a result I could only capture the first half of the meal so a textual description of the latter will have to suffice. The chef offered us a few small plates to whet our appetites consisting of, clockwise from top-left, a foie gras emulsion, sardine rillettes, and mackerel mousse with tomato coulis.

The first course was actually split into three dishes making the five course dinner seem more like seven or eight. It was a trio of chanterelle mushrooms or girolles in French, a veritable feast for the eyes and palate. The first was an overly rich eggy concoction that blew me away; oeuf mousseux aux girolles et sauce poulette or egg mousse with chanterelles and Poulette sauce. The dish was simply a buttery egg sauce paired with lightly browned chanterelles but the pairing of egg and mushrooms worked extremely well. Thankfully it was served in a small portion because otherwise I would have filled up before the subsequent four courses arrived. This is one of those things that seems easy enough to make but actually requires a ton of technical skill, experience, quality ingredients, and timing that amounts to what I imagine to be a very difficult dish to pull off at home.

The second of the chanterelle trio was girolles en gelee a l’estragon et sorbet de petits pois or chanterelles with tarragon jelly and pea sorbet. The sorbet was a vibrant green with an amazingly fresh pea flavor that must have had a hell of a lot of cream in it to enrichen the vegetal flavor. The sautéed chanterelles came surrounded by a deeply flavorful jelly and a crisp slice of prosciutto that virtually melted in your mouth, bringing a much-needed saltiness to the dish.

The last of the opening course was a jalousie de girolles et de pommes de terre persillees or chanterelles with potatoes and parsley. This was the most classic dish of the trio and by extension the most boring but the flavors were there and it was a nice end to an amazing round of appetizers. It was a little crazy and not to mention excessive to have chanterelles, one of my very favorite mushrooms, served three ways but man was it good.

The second course was langoustine avec mousse d’agrumes et pickles au vinaigre de sureau or langoustines with citrus mousse and elderberry vinegar-pickled vegetables. Langoustines or Norway lobsters are a slim, orange-pink lobster fished in the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean and North Sea as far north as Iceland. They taste like a cross between lobster and shrimp with an incredibly sweet and hardly fishy taste that is absolutely amazing whether steamed, grilled, sautéed, boiled, or eaten raw. They are one of my very favorite foods and I am so pissed that they are not available in the States. The citrus mousse had a very bright flavor reminiscent of Meyer lemons with notes of tropical fruit that contrasted perfectly with the lightly steamed langoustine and elderberry pickles. The little dish to the side was a langoustine tartare with “curry sauce”, basically a cream sauce with lots of curry powder, kaffir lime, and ginger. This dish was pristine and damn good, far and away my favorite course of the night. By the end of it night had fallen which unfortunately marked the end of the photography.

The third course was foie gras chaud avec lait d’amandes et cerises or sautéed foie gras with almond milk mousse and cherries, a very heavy dish that I could have done without. The third was sole et tourteau au menthe et corinadre avec un rouleau de printemps or sole with crab, mint, cilantro, and a fresh spring roll. Sole is a rather boring fish that signals fine dining and traditional French haute cusine but the dish as a whole lacked inventiveness. The final dish before we moved on to dessert was carre d’agneau au cumin et citron avec travers confits or lamb chop and ribs with cumin and preserved lemon. This was the second highlight of the meal consisting of two perfectly cooked pieces of lamb on a bed of minced eggplant with a robust sauce of cumin and preserved lemon. The surprise dessert in fact was two small treats. The first was a fantastic white peach soufflé with gooseberry coulis and lemon verbena ice cream, the third highlight of the meal. The second dessert was much less interesting; strawberry “jam” with lemon cake and milk ice cream. The meal was good as a whole but not nearly as scrumptious as I remember from previous visits. There were three or four truly remarkable things that I will try to replicate at home but others like the sole were just not that memorable. All in all it was a great night as we ate the remainder of the meal by candlelight which made for an elegant atmosphere and very special birthday. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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