Monday, March 19, 2012

Another foie gras dinner @ Lafitte

Thursday night, we went to our second multi-course foie gras dinner at Lafitte.  The format was exactly the same as the last one: 2 passed appetizers and a welcome cocktail, 5 main courses, and 1 dessert, all involving foie gras.  $89, plus $45 if you wanted the wine pairing.

Since I've already talked about the restaurant before, I'll focus just on the dishes we had, and comparisons to the last event here and the last Alexander's foie gras dinner.

Overall, I felt that the first Lafitte foie gras dinner was more successful, but this one really raised the ante creativity-wise.  In particular, the first one felt very rustic and comfortable, both in terms of the dishes and the plating, and this one had a more fine dining feel to it.  For example, at this one, the presentation was stepped up a level, more elaborate, more elements on the plate, more refined.  The portions were smaller.  The proteins used were more sophisticated: arctic char, albacore, beef cheeks rather than sweetbreads, hen, duck.  The foie was also more of a star this time.  At the last one I felt that it was being used more as a garnish, in most dishes this time it was front and center.  More foie-forward if you will.  And the treatment of the foie was much more interesting, in addition to the standard seared and torchon, we had it made into mustard, mousse, bruléed, and as ice cream.  Creativity and plating-wise, it fell right in-between the first one and Alexander's.
Protesters ...
Like last time, there were some protesters outside.
Lafitte Quacker: Bloom gin, orchard apricot liquor, meyer lemon,  orange, chamomile liquor, sparkling rose.
The event started with a welcome cocktail and passed appetizers in the covered outside area, before moving to the tables for the formal sit down dinner.  I really liked having this time for everyone to gather, to wind down a little, before moving straight to the table.  The Alexander's dinner started right at the table, and you could order cocktails to start, but it didn't have the same feeling of easing into the evening.

The cocktail was very sweet and had a strong orange flavor.  I didn't love it, but it was somewhat refreshing.
Passed appetizer #1, press interviews.
The first passed appetizer was toasted rye cracker, topped with carrot puree, duck tongue, and shaved foie gras.  I enjoyed the strong rye flavor in the cracker, and I was surprised by how carroty the carrot puree was.  But, I really didn't care for the duck tongue at all, as it was really chewy, a texture I'm not generally a fan of.  I'm glad I have now tried duck tongue I guess, but I didn't like this!

The Canadian broadcast company was on hand interviewing people.  I'm not sure what sorts of questions they asked, as they never approached us.
Passed appetizer #2, menu for what was in store for us!
Like last time, we had a little Strassburg pie.  Toasted brioche, topped with a bacon and onion marmalade, and a tiny chunk of foie.  And like last time, I loved this.  The bacon and onion marmalade was delicious, really strong flavors that were nicely balanced.  Who doesn't love bacon and onions?  It reminded me a little of the duck liver, foie gras, and bacon pate from Prospect's bar.  However, the amount of foie on here was pretty small and the strong flavors of the onion and bacon completely dominated, I didn't really taste the foie gras at all.  I can't say I minded this, as I really loved the flavors, but it was a little unfortunate.  The one we had last time had a less flavorful jam on it, and a bigger chunk of foie, so it was better balanced in that way.
Seated at communal tables.
Seating was interesting.  Once they open the doors from the cocktail reception, everyone basically just rushes in to find a place at one of the several big tables.  We had a group of 5, but were able to secure spots together.  The communal tables, and perhaps the acoustics of the place, made this a really loud meal, and we often had trouble hearing each other.  More casual and rustic than Alexander's, where parties were assigned seating at smaller tables and the atmosphere was much quieter.
Chef CRJ educating us on the new law.
Once we moved inside to be seated, the chef got up and explained some of the ridiculousness of the new law going into effect.  The protesters outside were most riled up at this point, but they put some window coverings up so they wouldn't be too invasive.
Sourdough bread, foie gras butter.
Waiting for us on the tables was some sourdough bread and a foie gras butter spread.  I preferred the bread last time, as it was a light, sweet bread, and I don't really care for sourdough.  That said, the foie gras butter spread was far more interesting than the regular butter and salt served last time.  Foie-forward, already!  It was creamy and very, very rich.  The bread on the table is another example of how this event was more laid back than the Alexander's one, where bread was done as a bread service.
Asparagus & Artichoke Salad, mizuna, porcini cured foie gras torchon, toasted oats.
The first of three small appetizer courses.

This was the perfect seasonal salad and a light start to the meal.  The asparagus was tender, fresh, and delicious.  I'm so glad it is asparagus season!  I don't care for artichoke, so I didn't appreciate that aspect of the dish, but others at the table did.  The mizuna was spicy and fresh.  The foie torchon was smooth and had a really lovely flavor to it from the porcini.  There was a nice portion of it on here.  The toasted oats added a nice playful crunch.  I'm not sure there was any dressing on here, if so, it was simple and light.  This really was a salad where the ingredients were just allowed to do the talking.  Not overly exciting, but refreshing.
Drink pairings, close up of the salad.
Foie Gravlax: arctic char, dill-foie gras mustard, buckwheat crepe chips, cardamom gelee.
One of my dining companions loved, loved this dish, as he loves smoked fish.  This dish also shows the change in the style of the dinner from the last one that I was talking about - small portions, delicate components, more artistic plating, fancier ingredients, more innovative techniques used.

The arctic char was a decent quality smoked fish, but the portion was too tiny to really appreciate.  The crepe chips added a nice crunch.  The cardamom gelee cubes were incredibly flavorful.

The mustard however was downright amazing.  Mustard.  Dill.  Foie gras.  All strong flavors, all combined together fabulously.  I went through a phase a month or so ago where I was eating pretzels, topped with mustard, topped with pickles, topped with cheese, and this mustard sort of reminded me of that with the dill, mustard, and rich fat components.  I loved this stuff and could imagine it being fantastic in a number of other applications.  Including, uh, by the spoonful.  Which I may or may not have tried :)

Overall though, this dish didn't really work for me.  The mustard was amazing, but spreading it on the char totally drowned out the char. And the cardamom flavor didn't really mix with the other flavors on the plate very well.  But the mustard, ZOMG, the mustard.
Foie with Citrus Gelee: grapefruit, blood orange, lemon gelee, bran soil, pistachio praline.
This was sort of a foie gras based palette cleanser, if you can imagine that.  The foie here was a creamy, sweetened mousse.  It was served with several different citrus gelees, that were very flavorful, but certainly on the sweet side.  I was expecting more tartness since these are generally fairly tart citrus fruits, and thought that would pair better with the foie gras flavor, but this was pretty tasty and I enjoyed it once I got over expecting it to be more savory.  The bran and pistachio both gave a needed crunchy texture to the soft mousse and gelees, and somewhat balanced out the sweetness.  Probably my favorite dish of the evening.  Our dining companion who dislikes sweets was very, very unhappy with this dish, took one or two bites, and gave the rest to me.  Score for me, sadness for him.
Close up of the mousse and gelees.
Chefs plating the mousse dish.
Another example of the style change from the last meal to this one.  Small portion, but beautifully plated with little dots of the gelees, the praline and soil, etc.  The focus and intensity of the chefs as they plated this up was impressive!  I loved the open kitchen, it was fun to watch the cooks and see how much work and precision went into the plating of these dishes.
Getting the first hot main dish ready!
Up until this point, all of the dishes had been small and served cold.  It was time to start cooking and move on to the entrees!  This was also a big change from the last event, where all of the dishes besides the passed appetizers were hot and were all about the same size portions (somewhere in between an appetizer and a main).  The cooks at this point really upped the intensity level, scrambling around quite a bit.  Really, really impressive as they were several hours into the event at this point, and working very hard and fast!
Seared Foie Gras & Potato Encrusted Albacore, cardoon puree, potato rosti, & sticky mushroom sauce.
Of course, this is the dish I was most excited about.  If you've been reading my posts, you know how much I love seared foie gras.  And I eat a lot of fish, and what better than potato crusted fish?

The foie gras was not particularly noteworthy, just a decently seared chunk.  It did pair very nicely with the fish, which I was really curious to see how that would work.  I was worried that the foie would totally overpower the fish.  I was also surprised to see it paired with a red wine.  It turns out, the albacore felt fairly meaty for a fish and can stand up to foie gras, but is also light enough to really let you taste the foie gras too. The firmness of the fish and the softness of the foie gras were also nice contrasts.  The fish was fairly cooked, although perhaps a little overdone, and I did like the potato crust.

The cardoon puree and the mushroom sauce didn't do a whole lot for me, I was looking for more flavor in both of those components, but it wasn't there.  Perhaps there just wasn't enough of either of them to really taste.

I didn't like the potato rosti.  It was too greasy and didn't really have any flavor other than the greasiness.  It also didn't seem to go with the rest of the things on the plate very well.  I get the "meat and potatoes" aspect, but it seemed more fitting as a breakfast item.
Other dining companion's dish.
Execution fell down a little here.  As you can see, the two friends I had taking photos received pretty radically different dishes.  One had a much thicker piece of albacore.  One had a much more nicely seared piece of foie gras.  And totally different saucing.

My fish was not very warm.  The foie gras was also barely lukewarm and had lost the fun outside sear and inside creaminess that it has when fresh out of the pan.  And the potato rosti was completely cold.  This was particularly shocking to me because last time I was sooo impressed with how they managed to put out all of these hot dishes and have them be hot at the time they arrived, even though serving the entire restaurant at once.  I'm not sure if this was just due to where we were seated this time, perhaps we were better in the serving order last time.  Or if the dishes just retained their heat better last time due to having more broths and whatnot.  Or if the plating this time was more elaborate and caused things to cool while more time was spent plating.  Or if they just did that better last time.  Regardless of the reason, I didn't enjoy this as much due to the temperature at which it was served.
Beef Cheek Pave, gigante beans, broccoli rabe, foie brulee, juniper & red wine gastrique.
Foie brulée.  Repeat after me, foie brulée!  Does it get any more exciting than that?  The moment I saw that on the menu is the moment I decided I wanted to go to this dinner for sure.

The gigante beans were cooked perfectly, not too mushy, not too firm.  The broccoli rabe added a veggie component that we hadn't seen since the starter salad, but the one small piece wasn't really enough to lighten the dish up.  The beef cheeks were very tender, but the cooking execution was a little off here again.  One chunk on my plate had a very thick seared crust, while the other didn't, and looking around the table, this seemed to vary quite a bit.  Anyway, I don't tend to like cheek (or stew meat, which it reminded me of), so I didn't care for it much.  It was also a HUGE portion.  Everyone at the table was remarking on how much beef was included here, not just in contrast to the smaller starters.  It was just too much.  It really needed a glass of red wine to go with it.

But back to the brulée.  It was amazing.  Sweet, caramelized, delicious.  But way, way too small of a piece, both in proportion to the massive amount of beef, and because it was soo damn good I wanted more anyway.
Foie Gras Pain Perdue, pain de mie, foie gras ice cream, roasted pineapple, candied sage.
The dessert lover in me was of course looking forward to this.  I mistakenly was expecting bread pudding (whoops, gotta brush up on my french!), foie gras ice cream sounded pretty interesting, and roasted pineapple is delicious!  But ... this looked and sounded much better than it tasted.

The pain de mie was fairly sweet and nicely toasted, but it was just a piece of toast.  The ice cream didn't have much foie gras flavor to it and was mostly just a sweet ice cream.  The pineapple was flavorful and had a nice roasted exterior.  The candied sage however was DELICIOUS.  I know it is crazy to rave about the tiny little garnish, but that thing was flavorful and really really good.

Again, our poor friend who doesn't like sweets did not want anything to do with this dish, so passed along his to me.  This was disappointing, as we thought there was a chance that he'd finally find a dessert he liked, but instead he just found another preparation of foie gras he didn't like.  (Although, I am fully planning on dragging him to Txoko, another restaurant serving foie gras ice cream, to try it out).
A different serving of the dessert.
The biggest problem with this dessert was again, how it arrived.  The first photo here was one of my dining companion's plates.  Hers had a nice, fairly solid scoop of ice cream.  The second as you see here was fairly melted with it arrived.  But mine, which isn't pictured, was pretty much completely melted, just a puddle.  The toast was cold.  The pineapple was cold.  This would have been soooo much better with warm toast, hot pineapple, and actual ice cream.  I can only imagine how hard it is to cook, plate, and serve 50 people at once, but I would have preferred to have staggered serving, a less elaborate dessert, or something.
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