August 26, 2004
[Continued from Part I]
The menu we had chosen offered a choice of two main courses among which I chose, quite uncharacteristically, the "chicken dish" : I usually stay away from chicken in restaurants as it is, more often than not, a bland and disappointing experience, but I thought, if there's one good place to eat chicken, it's at a gastronomic restaurant. Besides, how could I have resisted what was thus announced on the menu :
"La Poularde de Bresse
Le Blanc Roti, Jus Corsé,
Le consommé aux jeunes légumes,
Les Gésiers Confits aux Echalotes,
Le Chou Farci au Foie"
"Bresse Fatted Chicken (Bresse is a region famous for its poultry)
Roasted Breast, Full-Flavored Juice,
Broth with Young Vegetables,
Slow-Cooked Gizzards with Shallots,
This turned out to be an excellent choice and one of the most sophisticated and fascinating dish I have ever been served at a restaurant. The head waitress brought it and took a few seconds to arrange it in front of me : the course was composed of four sub-dishes, each in its own serving plate, and she deployed the different sub-dishes out of the larger serving plate that held them, laying them out with precision before me.
At the forefront, she placed a narrow rectangular plate which held a moist chicken breast, roasted, sliced, and lavishly covered in juice. To the left of the breast on the same plate, was a thin vegetable purée, and to the right, a fabulous potato waffle (mashed potatoes baked into a teeny waffle mold), balanced on a little carpet of granny-smith apple matchsticks. Behind that front plate and in the center of the arrangement, the waitress placed a small bowl of chicken broth I've ever tasted, clear and intensely flavorful, made from the hen's thigh with finely diced young carrots and leeks. On the left side of the bowl and further to the back, was a cabbage leaf on a small square plate, folded into a small dumpling and filled with a vegetable and chicken liver stuffing. To the right, a similar plate with chicken gizzards, tender and fragrant, thinly sliced and spread out fan-like next to a sweet, caramelized shallot.
Each of these elements was its own burst of subtle flavors and textures, and the ensemble, extremely pleasing to the eye, was really a harmonious ode to the Poularde de Bresse, bringing out the talents of each of its parts in the most interesting and surprising ways. It was one of these dishes that are a tasting menu in and of themselves, giving you the sensory pleasures of a voluptuous feast -- only in tiny, manageable portions.
One of the waiter then wheeled over to us an impressive cheese platter on a two-tiered trolley. I was about to be my good, reasonable self and forgo the Fromage Affinés course, but H. wouldn't hear of it, so you know, it would have been impolite for me not to comply. I chose a slice of Langres, a soft and strong cow cheese from the region of Champagne which is a bit like Epoisses or Munster ; a slice of Pérail de Brebis, a sheep's milk cheese from Aveyron ; and some Soumaintrain, a local cheese made with cow's milk, which I discovered and fell in love with at Peggy and Julien's wedding last June. With these generous servings of delicious cheeses, we were served small slices of a bread flavored with blackcurrant, the regional emblematic berry, slightly sweet with beautiful purple shades.
The pré-dessert followed : on a little serving plate (yes, rectangular) were four small, high and narrow glasses. Two held a deeply green mint iced tea, each with a tiny ball-shaped mint ice-cube floating at the surface. The two others held grapefruit juice, on which a crimson juice had been carefully poured (possibly pomegrenate?), preserving the layers and color contrast. This was the perfect palate cleanser, refreshing and acidulated, to prepare our tastebuds for dessert.
Ahhh, dessert. I had chosen :
"La Glace au Lait d'Amandes,
Le Blanc en Neige au Pain d'Epices,
Crème de Vanille Gousse et Caramel"
"Almond Milk Ice-Cream,
Whipped Egg Whites with Pain d'Epices,
Vanilla Pod Cream and Caramel"
Served in a wide soup plate in a shallow pool of vanilla cream, were two oval scoops of almond ice-cream and a little cylinder of oven-baked, whipped egg whites. On the top and bottom ends of the oeufs en neige cylinder were two thin circles of crispy pain d'épice, and planted in the scoops of ice-cream was a lace of caramel, shaped like a butterfly. In a way, this could be seen as the floating island concept, sublimated into this strikingly pretty presentation, a clever arrangement of flavors and spices, with very satisfying textural contrasts -- crispy, moussy, velvety and creamy.
Time was running out fast, as we had to catch a train back to Paris, but one cannot skip coffee after such a meal, so we ordered espressos from the coffee menu (I chose Guatemalan), and I have to admit we were finally done in by the mignardises platter that came with it. We did savor the mini glasses of creamy fruit jellies (three layers of orange, raspberry and passionfruit jellies, with a tiny spoon planted in) but I asked if it was possible to have the rest of the mignardises packed up in a -- gasp! -- doggy bag. They kindly obliged, and brought them back in a golden little ballotin, those thin cardboard boxes that are used to pack chocolates and other sweet delicacies.
We then rushed out and into the taxi (oh, we did pay the bill before that), and caught our train by a hair's width. H. immediately collapsed into a digestive nap, while I jotted down some notes on this truly delightful meal. In addition to being a fantastic adventure in taste, I was also very happy for the occasion to have enjoyed my coworker's company in an unusual setting -- it is amazing the kind of intimate conversation and closeness unleashed by good food and wine.
At home that night I skipped dinner, feeling like I had eaten enough to carry me through the next two months, but I did share the rest of my mignardises with Maxence and our dear friend Godefroy, who happened to be visiting us : each of us got a teeny portion of the mini chocolate cake flavored with cinnamon, the pink, brick-shaped little guimauve (the French equivalent of marshmallow), and the mini violet macaron.
I relished every last crumb, letting it melt on my tongue as a fading echo of my stellar lunch in Dijon.
Restaurant Stéphane Derbord
10, place Wilson
03 80 67 74 64
Paris Restaurant Picks: Bones, Walaku, Jeanne B., Septime @ Wanderlust