Friday, June 08, 2012

Farewell to Foie @ The Village Pub

As you are likely well aware by now, we have been on a foie gras crawl for the past few months, getting in all of our last foie consumption before the ban goes into effect.  Restaurants are making this even easier on us, by organizing all sorts of special foie gras dinners.

On Monday night, we ventured all the way to Woodside to get our foie fix at the Michelin starred Village Pub.  They are running a special foie dinner all month long.  I hadn't ever been there before, but many people I know who have rave it about it, and I absolutely adored their asparagus panna cotta at Taste of the Nation.  And the menu sounded pretty great!  I was excited, particularly for a good Monday night meal, as Mondays are often such bad dining out nights!

The place is gorgeous.  Dark wood panels on the walls, velvet chairs, exposed beams on the ceiling.  So swanky.  Something about it made me instantly want a scotch (I settled for stealing a sip of a fellow diner's manhattan instead).  Matching the environment, diners and servers alike were far more dressed than their counterparts in San Francisco, with nearly every male in a suit.  It was clear that we were out of the city!

Our party of four decided to order three foie menus, plus a few other items.  The kitchen nicely split the first two courses for us, plating them beautifully.  They also allowed me to order only a half pairing of wine, so I could experience all of the wines, but not have as much wine overall (which, it turns out would not have been a problem given the pour sizes).

Which gets me to the portion sizes.  The four course menu was $115.  This seemed pretty in line with what I'd expect for a multi-course foie menu from a restaurant of this caliber.  However, the value was really off.  The amount of foie present was really quite small.  The first two dishes were the only ones with prominent amounts of foie in them, and they were really meager portions.  We were very disappointed by the cost of this meal given the dishes we received (I'm not sure what the breakdown would be, but it seems like ~$15 for the dessert, ~$50 for the main, and ~$25 each for the starters?  Which, given what they were, is just not really reasonable.  Nor does it match the rest of their offerings, where desserts are $10-12, starters $10-$20, and mains $25-$40.  Other meals we've had in this price range at other establishments have been substantially larger or higher quality ingredients.  I think it would have been more appropriately priced around $80.)

Slightly more surprising was the wine.  The pairing was $68 and included 3 fairly cheap white wines  and then an incredible red wine.  The pours were all really quite small.  They clearly choose to put the cost into the single red wine rather than splitting it throughout the pairing.  It also just wasn't a very good set of wines, with three of them being very, very sweet.

Additionally, there were a few issues with the wine service in general.  We watched the server open two of the bottles and pour them directly to us without tasting them, or even glancing at the corks.  Even more amusingly, one bottle ran out as she poured it for Emil, and she opened a new one and poured directly into his glass that was half filled from the first bottle.  The red wine was served rather cold.  I'm not enough of a wine connoisseur to notice these sorts of things myself, but other members of my party were quite bothered by this.

Service was generally decent, but not particularly friendly.  We were seated for quite a while before our order was taken, or before anyone seemed to acknowledge us (I wasn't paying close attention, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was at least 15 minutes).  And we were fairly insulted by a comment the waiter made several times regarding our dislike of the dessert (see dessert review for full details).  But overall, service was smooth.

Overall, the food was all good (with the exception of the horrific foie dessert), but nothing really stood out.  Very little creativity, no flavors that really popped, and just really not right for the price.  But everything was well prepared and nicely presented.  I would like to go back and get some of the regular dishes, in particular, I'd love to try the savory panna cotta since the one we had at Taste of the Nation was so incredible, and I'd like to try more of the desserts (since they all sound pretty much amazing and the one we did order was quite good).
The Farewell to Foie menu.
Pepper, salt.
Bread service was accompanied with a good quality butter, flavorful salt, and pepper.
Parker roll.
Bread service included 3 options: parker rolls, pain levain, or baguette.  All were disappointingly served cold.  I did not try the pain levain.

The Parker roll was better than average, soft and fluffy, with a slightly crisp crust, and a nice sweetness.  If it were warm, I would have loved it.  My and one other diner's 5th favorite dish of the night.

The baguette was a sweet, not sour style with a good crust, but otherwise forgettable.

Bread was offered many times throughout the meal, they certainly did not skimp in this area!  While I liked the Parker roll, these were fairly standard bread offerings, and not particularly notable.
Amuse Bouche: Crispy polenta with romesco sauce.
These were a cute amuse, served on little sticks!  They arrived piping hot.

The polenta had a great crust on the outside, yet was soft on the inside.  It reminded me of some polenta fries I've had in the past.  Good corn flavor to it and nicely salted.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough romesco sauce to taste it.  I love romesco and think it would pair wonderfully with the polenta, so I really wished there was more.

Definitely a tasty bite, and started things off on a high note.  My and Emil's 4th favorite dish of the night.
First Course: Foie Gras Torchon / Mache and Frisée Salad / Vanilla Poached Apricots.
The starter was a salad, topped with shaved foie gras torchon, with poached apricots on the side.

The mache and frisée were crisp and fresh tasting.  I liked the slight bitterness to them.

The shaved torchon had a really strong foie flavor, much more pronounced than many torchons I've had in recent memory.  It was lightly salted, and the seasoning level paired well with both the greens and the foie itself.  A very nice torchon for sure, and the shaved technique worked really well with the salad, complimenting it in both flavor and texture.

The vanilla poached apricots were very, very sweet.  We all found that they overpowered the foie.  They were nicely cooked, soft but not mushy.  But just far too sweet.  Had the sweetness been scaled back, I think they would have paired nicely with the slightly bitter salad greens and the rich foie, but as was, they were almost inedible in any large portion.

The waitress said there was 2 ounces of foie on here, but it seemed like less.

I really enjoyed this dish, and with a slightly different pairing (either less sweet apricots, or perhaps strawberries?) I think it could have been a home run.  My and Emil's second favorite of the night, and one other diner's third, but would have far and away been my first had it not been for the apricots.  The torchon was well flavored and I really liked the shaved execution with the crispy salad.

This dish was paired with a tokaji (Royal Tokaji, Mád Cuvée 2009) that was really very sweet.  Had it not been for the apricots, I probably would have liked the pairing, but as it was, I found it to just be too much sweet, particularly so early on in the meal.  I do love tokajis though, so I blame the apricots, not the wine.
Second Course: Seared Foie Gras / Muscat Grapes and Marcona Almonds / Toasted Brioche.
The seared foie was warm, but not hot.  It had an ok sear to it, but certainly could have been seared a little more.  It had good flavor, was creamy, and clearly a good quality piece of foie.  Nothing particularly notable about it, a fairly standard execution.

The toasted brioche was the perfect level of crispy, buttery, and a good pairing.

Also on the plate were some muscat grapes and sliced marcona almonds.  The almonds added a crunch, but not much else, and didn't really need to be there.  The grapes added a slight sweetness that went well with the foie, but weren't particularly flavorful.

The waitress said this was two ounces, which seems about right.  This was a fairly small portion, which I think was good for a four course menu, but not given the price of it.

Overall, this dish felt like a good, but standard execution of a seared foie, with fruit component, and toasted bread.  Nothing particularly creative about it, nor any flavors that really popped.  It was my and Emil's favorite dish of the evening however, and the second favorite of another diner, who commented "the portion was small and it doesn't stand out in my mind as being especially phenomenal, but seared foie is always delicious".  That about sums it up!

Paired with a Alsace Grand Cru Riesling, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Brand, Vendanges Tardives 2006.  This was less sweet than the Tokaji, and more enjoyable to drink with the food, but it seemed like perhaps this would have gone better with the first course, which didn't need the overpowering sweet Tojaki, and I think the seared preparation could have stood up to it better.
Third Course: Foie Gras Stuffed Quail / Golden Chanterelles and Pickled Ramps / Pommes Maxim.
The main course was foie gras stuffed quail.  Unlike the first two dishes, this was a very generous portion, two whole quails!

This was the course I was least excited about.  It pretty much matched my expectations.  I just can't seem to get into small birds ... quail, squab, etc, they just don't excite me.  Not that bigger birds are much better, I really dislike turkey and chicken is inoffensive, but uh, just chicken.  This was probably the best quail I've ever had though.  It was tender and nicely prepared, just really not my thing.  So much work to extract the meat from the bones and basically all dark meat (I know, I know, what kind of foodie I am, I only want white meat ...).

Also accompanying the squab was a plentiful number of golden chanterelles, which had a really nice earthy flavor, but were a little too oily for my liking.  I'm not sure if they were roasted and then pan finished, but they soaked up too much oil and were kinda glistening, which detracted from tasting their deliciousness.

There were only a few pickled ramps, I would have liked to see more of them, as they were fairly tasty as well.

The pommes maxim were just thin sliced fried potatoes, like a crispy potato chip.  Good enough, but didn't seem to fit in with the dish all that well, as they came in one big sheet that you needed to break up, and were then hard to scoop up with other bites.

Finally there were also some very thin slices of radish, that seemed totally out of place, along with a bunch of parsley.  Meh on the garnish.

I didn't find ANY foie in this dish.  I didn't see it, nor taste it.  And I dissected the squab, really looking for it!  One other diner however did find several chunks of foie inside of his, and incidentally, this was his favorite dish, whereas it was my 7th pick of the evening, and Emil's 3rd.

This was paired with a very nice red wine, a Vosne-Romanée, Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair, Clos du Château 2007.  A big wine with a subtle finish, and really quite fantastic.  The only issue is that it was served far too cold.  My dining companions were so upset by the temperature of the wine, that they held their glasses over the candle on our table to warm them up.  This was sad because it was such a fantastic wine!  They loved it, and each also each got a full second glass of it, and were slightly sticker shocked when the bill arrived.  It is clear that this is where the majority of the cost of the wine pairing was.  I forget exactly how much it was by the glass, as it is not normally offered that way, but the bottle is usually $380.  (I was only doing a half pairing, and the server accidentally poured me more than half of this one, and looked visibly upset when she realized her error ... I didn't quite understand why then, but I do now!).  Anyway, a fantastic wine, but not a fantastic dish.
Regular Main Dish: Slow Roasted Wild King Salmon /  Spring Peas and Sorrel / Salmon Caviar.  $35.
We had one diner who didn't order the foie gras dinner.  He opted for this amazing sounding salmon, and nicely shared with me (I tried to give him quail in exchange, but understandably, he didn't really want to take me up on that trade!).

I've been loving local salmon so far this season.  This however was a little disappointing compared to some of the salmon I've had recently, as it just didn't have much flavor.  It was really nicely cooked, medium-rare.  If the menu didn't describe it as slow roasted, I definitely would have thought it was poached, as it didn't have any sort of crust on it whatsoever, and was amazingly tender and consistently cooked throughout.

The peas were fresh and slightly crisp, a nice spring component.  There were some forgettable slices of potato and a somewhat flavorless ramp puree also on the plate.

And ... the "salmon caviar".  The menu listed it this way AND the server presenting it said it.  Emil was dying.  The ROE wasn't flavorful at all.

I liked this more than the quail, making it my 6th favorite dish of the night.  There was a lot of potential here, but it just came out pretty bland and flavorless, lacking flavor in the fish itself, but also no real saucing or spicing either.  Definitely not a $35 dish.
Fourth Course: Foie Gras Crème Brûlée / Bing Cherries / Black Pepper Tuile.
This is the dish I was most excited about from reading the menu in advance.  In fact, they had offered this dish a few months ago and promised to run it again in June, and I've been watching their web site for it to show up every since.  And it did!  You know I love foie gras.  You know I love desserts, and crème brûlée in particular.  This had my name all over it.

It looked great.

It. Was. Horrible.

The black pepper tuile was sort of like a peppery waffle cone.  It wasn't all that peppery, nor sweet.  Just kinda there.

The cherries on top were sweet, ripe, and quite delicious.

The brûlée layer on top was very thin and didn't impart any caramelized flavor into the dish.

These things were all just not very good, but the real issue was the custard itself.  It had a strange, gritty consistency.  Certainly not like any crème brûlée I've ever had before.  Even stepping back, and taking away the name of the dish to re-adjust my expectations, the consistency was unlike anything I've ever experienced before, in any sort of pudding or custard.  It had a horrible mouthfeel.  But worse, was the taste.  It was sour.  Really bad.  Really, really bad.

Every single one of us strongly disliked this dish.  We all gave it a few fighting chances, taking a few bites, trying to mix in the cherries and the tuile, but it was truly vile.

It was paired with yet another sweet wine, a sauternes (Château Guiraud 2005).  I actually really liked this, but I love sweet wines.  It wasn't quite as syrupy or cloyingly sweet as the tokaji we started with.
This is how I left the dessert.
This is monumental.  I am a dessert-o-holic.  I ALWAYS finish desserts, even when I don't like them.  I couldn't get through another bite of this.

Emil, who hates sweets, was chugging his sauternes in attempt to clear the flavor, claiming that anything was better than the taste of this.  He gave up on that technique and went running to the rest room to rinse out his mouth.

We told the waiter that we all really disliked it, and his response to us was "yes, well, foie gras crème brûlée isn't for everyone", and then he walked away, leaving it with us.  Um.  Ok, so I think the "customer is always right" line is total crap, and clearly, customers are not always right.  But his response was really a little insulting.  I think I tried another bite at that point trying again to see the goodness in the dish.  There just wasn't any.  It was really, truly, one of the most nasty things I have ever tasted.

Now, let me just say, I'm not a stranger to foie gras based desserts (or to foie gras crème brûlée even).  I've had a number of foie based desserts at the different Alexander's foie dinners, or Lafitte's dinners (like the amazing foie gras donuts with coffee cream, foie gras vaudovan caramel, and a brandied foie gras cereal milk shooter or the less good foie gras pain perdu with foie gras ice cream)  or even from regular dessert menu at Fifth Floor (a downright mind blowing fried rhubarb pie with foie ice cream).  And I've had all sorts of other savory custards, like the amazing uni crème brûlée at Quince.  And savory foie custards, like the parfait at Cyrus.  And more creamy foie mouses that I can even count.  I can safely say, that the blanket statement that "foie gras crème brûlée is not for me" does not apply to me.

When the waiter came back a while later, we tried to express how bad this dish was.  I honestly do not believe that it came out as intended.  Both the texture and flavor were so bad that it seems inconceivable that anyone could have possibly wanted it this way.  But he again sorta laughed at us and said the same line about it not being for everyone and asked if we wanted to see the regular dessert menu instead.  I'd actually read that they do fabulous desserts there, and they all sounded amazing, so we decided to order one.
While we waited, we ordered coffee.  Two people ordered espresso based drinks, and two of us ordered the decaf coffee.  As you know by now, I was a huge coffee drinker, but cannot have caffeine in the evenings, so if I want coffee, it has to be decaf.  And decaf is ... usually quite horrible.  I asked about how theirs was, and he told me that they have a house roaster, that it is swiss water decaf, and quite good.  And it was.  Fairly complex, a really decent decaf.  Served in a little carafe to keep the remainder warm.  The server who presented it to us even clarified that it was decaf as he sat it down (something I normally ask, as unfortunately, some very large number of times is wrong).  A good coffee service!
Regular Dessert: Strawberry and Rhubarb Crisp / Cinnamon Ice Cream.  $11.

The dessert I picked.  I'm a sucker for warm pie and ice cream.  One of my absolute favorite things on this planet.  And I just adore crisps/cobblers/crumbles/etc.  And it is strawberry season.  I don't care for rhubarb much, but I can deal with it.

This was quite good.  Served really nice and hot, clearly fresh out of the oven, in a hot vessel which helped retain the heat.  The fruit was a little too sweet for my liking and contained far more rhubarb than strawberry, but was pretty good overall.  The crisp on top was oat based and really perfectly crisped up.

The ice cream was creamy, rich, with a great cinnamon flavor.

The pairing was perfect.  Warm crisp. Cold ice cream that melted into it.  Ah, I love that sort of thing.  Flavor-wise, the cinnamon ice cream was also amazing, complimenting the flavor in the crisp perfectly.

My third favorite dish of the night.  I'd definitely order other fruit crisps of theirs in the future.
Regular Dessert: Buttermilk Parfait / Blueberry Compote / Brown Butter Financier. $10.

The waiter also brought us this bonus dessert, a deconstructed parfait.

The buttermilk component was not very sweet, with a nice buttermilk flavor to it.  It wasn't ice cream, but it was a firm consistency.  I didn't really like it.  I liked the idea of a less sweet dessert, but something more like mascarpone would have worked better.

The blueberries were flavorful and sweet, with the flavors enhanced by the syrup that made up the compote.  The slices of peach fairly good as well.  And of course, cute little edible flowers to decorate the whole thing.  And a couple pecans.

I did really like the brown butter financier chunks.  Really buttery yet light, with a great brown butter undertone.

A composed bite of the buttermilk, some fruit, and chunk of the cake came together pretty well, but this still wasn't that great to me.  Something just a little different with the buttermilk component and I think I would have really enjoyed it.

4th favorite dish for one diner, but second to last for me (but far, far above the foie gras crème brûlée).
These were very very soft.  Nice buttery flavor.  But not very memorable.
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