Friday, October 3, 2008

Petrus. First Course.

The next entry in my continuing saga that is "the best dinner of my life". As described in previous posts, hubby and I dined at Petrus in June before it moved/closed/changed, whatever you want to call it. But the important thing to note is that Marcus Wareing was still at the helm (and still is actually). A very important note because I firmly believe he was the reason why this meal was so special - and why I'm spending several blog entries describing it!

I've been reading some reviews of his new place on the Internet, something now I think I shouldn't do lest it color my own. My experience was in early summer after all (months ago) and I'm not a professional restaurant critic. I'm glad I'm not - maybe I'll bring a perspective the professionals can't. I don't know every detail, I don't take pictures. Mine are impressions, snapshots. What I clearly remember with a very few notes. What stood out to me. A layman's perspective from someone who just enjoys good food, who sees eating as an experience, not just a way to stuff your craw.

As we entered, who should be standing there but Jean-Phillipe Susilovic, Gordon Ramsay's maitre d' waiter from Hell's Kitchen. Working at 10:30 on a Monday night? You would think his celebrity might have bought him some time off, but no. Here he was smiling broadly and welcoming us to Petrus, napkin draped over his arm, looking all the world like a cartoon caricature of a French maitre d'. Not that this is a bad thing. Where he appears miniature and birdlike on the show, here he is tall and very handsome. He uses broad sweeping gestures, one eyebrow seemingly always raised. His graciousness comes across as purely genuine, not just something dreamed up for the tourists. Very professional. I am swept off my feet.

He seats us, placing the menus in our hands. Would we like some champagne? Why of course, we're about to spend over a month's food allowance on one meal. Why not? The champagne tastes delicious, particularly in this atmosphere. Petrus is dark and purple. Very purple and plush. Tables draped in white encircle the space and the walls are very eggplant. But oddly, it's not too dark because of wee halogens directed to each person's spot. So while I am VERY farsighted and often need my reading glasses to look over a menu, here I don't. It's perfectly bright, just bright enough to read what I can order. Wow. Love that. It's a little detail many restaurants today too easily forget. As my old interior decorator friend David used to say, "Lighting is everything."

Our first amuse bouche was a foie gras biscuit - one teeny tiny triangle of foie gras with a thin crust of wafer. It dissolved in my mouth like butter. A sip of the champagne just heightened the experience to the sublime. Little bubbly explosions with a background of earthy, buttery goodness.

While we waited for our wine to arrive, we enjoyed some pre-appetizer munchies, arranged just on our large, round table. At last a restaurant that doesn't try to cram two people and 8 courses into a 2-foot by 2-foot square little space. Here we had ROOM. The hummus was yummy, especially when you dipped a parmesan cheese straw into it. the honey potato campagne bread was delicious with butter - thick chewy crust, with lots of meaty sweet bread inside.

And then our wine arrived. A 2003 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Au Vellé’, domaine Denis Mortet. I simply ADORED this wine, and relished every sip of it with the meal. Again, the sip after the bite heightened the taste, and made what was "more" - MORE. The sommolier did a terrific job of selecting the champagne and wine. We told him what we liked, what we would be ordering, and he went to work seamlessly. This wine was delicious - it tasted like silk, smooth, velvety on the tongue. Just yummy.

Second amuse bouche - a shot glass full of cucumber and green tomato gazpacho. I will be making my gazpacho with green tomatoes from now on. It tasted like the best gazpacho you've ever had, but with the tartness of green tomatoes and the added garden pasture herbiness of the cucumbers. I have never tasted anything as light and summery and palate-cleansing as this in an amuse bouche. Just lovely.

After looking at the menu, my husband and I agreed we wouldn't order the Chef's Tasting menu. Not because of cost, mind you, we were ready to fly to the moon after all. Simply because there were so many other things we wanted to try. I've since learned (from Bill Buford's "Heat") that ordering a Chef's Tasting at or near closing time in a restaurant is an amateur move, a CARDINAL sin. The staff is ready to close up shop and nothing pisses them off more. I'm so glad we didn't. Even with a reservation I would've felt pretty stupid. It's not that I want to come off as a know it all when it comes to restaurants, but I have worked in them, and really appreciate how hard the staff works. I want to respect them and honor them by having the meal the way they would themselves. So no tasting menu for us.

First course - I ordered the sweetbreads having never had them before, I figured, hey, if you're going to eat offal for the first time, might as well have them by someone who knows damn well how to cook them. Honey got the foie gras - he's a foie gras fanatic from way back - one of the reasons I married him.

My sweetbreads were a taste of heaven. A huge slab of them rested on parsnip puree with a Sauterne sauce. The sweetbreads were equal parts earthy, nutty, redolent of the earth with a pleasant, not overpowering gaminess. I've had liver and kidney and heart - not prepared great or anything, and have often found the flavor just too strong. This was anything but. The organ meat taste was soft like a pillow and the sauce provided a sweet wine background to the flavor. The parsnip puree was a perfect foil. Mashed potatoes but a step up.

I got exactly one bite of husband's foie gras - he wouldn't let me have more. Served alongside a bing cherry sauce and hazlenut puree. Pure genius. The two "sides" added a sweet dimension to the foie gras, making it almost like a dessert from the earth. And the foie gras portion was huge, as it should be. Too often you order it, pay through the teeth, only to get a skimpy poorly-prepared version of this misunderstood item. This was a slab, perfectly perfectly cooked. It didn't just dissolve in my mouth, it almost didn't exist there. So buttery and flavorful of the earth with that tart aftertaste of cherries followed by the sweet nuttiness of hazlenuts. Follow that up with a sip of the Geveray Chambertin and you've got the most perfect sublime mouthful possible. My husband agreed it was the best preparation of foie gras he had EVER tasted in his life. We still talk about it.


where i've escaped...

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