I had 2 rather unique experiences last week. One was being able to eat at 2 of Andrew Carmellini’s cuisine-contrasting restaurants, the urban Italian Locanda Verde (see separate blog) and his equally, furiously popular French bistro Lafayette where I attended my first soiree of Le Chaine des Rôtisseurs. Founded in the middle ages, Le Chaine hosts multiple events throughout its various global chapters as a means to celebrate and cultivate the enjoyment of and appreciation for great food and wine. Aside from the garlanded medal-wearing members, equally intriguing and beguiling are their 4 strict rules:
- No speeches! We are here to eat, drink and enjoy. Nothing else.
- No salt or pepper! Always considered an insult to the chef, here it’s a mandate.
- No water! Who needs water when you’re serving wine?
- Start eating as soon as you are served! The chef intended for you to taste his/her food at its optimal temperature regardless of what decorum demands.
And so clutching at our anticipation, we made our way down into the Cave du Vin just below Lafayette’s bright Bowery bistro & bakery for a festive journey into Carmellini’s modern menu starting with a seemingly endless collection of the most spotlight-stealing amuse-bouches that normally go unmentioned. Not tonight. If the bottom half of a vanilla Macarón supporting a delightfully fluffy black pepper Foie Gras crème with a single stewed blueberry didn’t bring me to my knees, then the postage-stamp sized, ultra-thin Beef Rossini with Truffle Aioli finished the job.
I’m always weary that a Prime Beef Tartare has the potential to be as heavy as a bucket of bricks, but this horseradish-spiked, quail egg-topped version was as light as foam. Even though the perfectly grilled Asparagus with sweet Citrus Mimosa really enjoyed the salty balance of the Bayonne ham, it appeared that whomever was on ham-crisping duty might have been somewhat distracted. The light and flowery Fleur de Soleil fresh pasta with crunchy spring peas was perfectly paired with a sublime 2005 Volnay from Domaine de La Pousse d’Or. The Lamb Chops with whole-wheat Couscous were served over a satiny and rich amber-colored Moroccan mustard sauce, the delicious kind that always ends too soon, but fortunately the extraordinary 2000 Chateau Calon-Segur lingered on.
Believe it or not, producing a classic Tarte Tatin is not as simple as apple-pie. I would have contemplated adding this one to my favorite-desserts-ever list – were it not completely upstaged by the Vanilla Cream Puffs. Even the strongest of wills had to surrender to these mandarin-sized, hard-crack Caramel-coated, soft-centered pastries from heaven.
Vive la Chaine!