Saturday, June 09, 2012

Foie Gras Dinner @ Txoko

Continuing our epic month of last foie-consumption, Wednesday night we headed to Txoko, for yet another special foie dinner!

Txoko has been running these dinners every Wednesday night for a few months now, but I've somehow never been able to make it, always having other commitments, or the one time we actually had reservations and plans to go, one diner wound up in the hospital with apendicitis!  It is like we were doomed to never make it!  I'd read some amazing things about their seared foie gras preparation (seared a la plancha of course), so I really, really wanted to fit this dinner in.  Literally months worth of attempts later, we finally made it!

The vary the menu each week, but it seems to usually include a cold preparation to start, the signature seared foie in some form, and always finishes with a foie gras ice cream.  They do not announce the menu details until a few hours before, but recently it has included some things I'm less than excited by (lentils, hen, squab, etc).  I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the menu we'd be trying, as it featured seared scallops as the main dish - the non-foie dish from their regular menu that I'd read great things about (and a favorite ingredient of mine), and it included their seared foie as well!  It sounded like a dream menu.

This was, hands down, the best value I've had for any foie dinner, or foie in general.  And an amazing value for the drink pairing as well.  But it wasn't just a good value, I would give it a raving review even if it were priced higher.  Quality ingredients, prepared well, generous portions, creative pairings ... such a gem!  I had an incredibly hard time ranking the dishes this evening.  They were all very good.  In the end, it came down to subtleties.

Since we'd just had another foie dinner two days before at The Village Pub, I can't help but draw comparisons.  They were both four courses, starting with a salad that involved a foie torchon, a second course of seared foie, a main course with foie as an accent, and then a foie based dessert.  But the portions of foie were much, much larger at Txoko.  This is particularly notable given the price.  Txoko's entire four course meal was $65.  The Village Pub's was $115.  I was absolutely shocked at how generous the foie servings were at Txoko, just as I'd been a little shocked at how small they were at The Village Pub.  And, it isn't like they are sourcing their foie from somewhere shady, it was all quality product from Sonoma Foie Gras (although they'll be switching to Hudson, since Sonoma has shut down production due to the ban).  All of the other components to the dishes were fresh and seemed very high quality as well.

The drink pairings were another incredible surprise.  For only $35, you received four generous pours, basically full glasses, and an additional sparkling wine to start.  Again, a fantastic value compared to The Village Pub's $68 wine pairing of not even half glasses with each course.  Granted, these were less high end wines, but they are each normally ~$9 per glass on their regular menu.  Furthermore, the pairing included a sparkling, a white, a sherry, a red, and a madiera!  Such diversity, not only sweet wines, and no tokaji or sauternes in sight!

Now of course, they are totally different restaurants.  The Village Pub is a fancy, Michelin starred, formal atmosphere, whereas Txoko is a casual neighborhood, rustic feeling restaurant (although, hmm, both interiors prominently feature wood finishes, just totally, completely different!).  It was a departure for us to be somewhere more casual, and it was really refreshing (of course, it meant no amuse bouches, mignardises, or take home treats).

We were a large party of 8, and were seated at a huge wooden table in front.  All other parties in the restaurant were smaller than ours.  We were really surprised that they didn't automatically add gratuity on to our bill.  They handled our group size fine, and I'm definitely filing this away as a go to place for a group this size.  We all ordered the foie dinner, except for one diner, a pescatarian who joined us (I'd told him about the famed scallops!).  Two of us opted to split both a dinner and a wine pairing.  They nicely split the wines for us before serving, but left us to our own devices to split the food.  Not a big deal, as they always brought out a share plate.

Service was good, on the casual side.  Unlike the fancier places we've been lately, serving wasn't synchronized, but dishes were served pretty quickly to everyone.  They cleared plates away as each diner finished, rather than waiting for us all to finish.  I don't think I used to notice this sort of thing, but it was a change from what I've gotten accustomed to, and it struck me mostly when I wanted to try some of another diner's dish, and I no longer had silverware with which to do so.  Our waitress was friendly and fairly attentive.  There was a slightly longer than usual delay between courses two and three, but we were enjoying ourselves and the plentiful wine, so this didn't bother us.  We also got the opportunity to meet the chef at the end, who, like our waitress, was friendly and enthusiastic about the food.

I highly, highly recommend Txoko, and their foie dinner in particular.  And luckily for you, they just announced that they'll be holding the dinners on Tuesday - Thursday nights for the rest of the month, so you don't need to go on just Wednesday!  Go.  Now.  I know I'll be going back as soon as I possibly can!
"Clover Club": Gin, lemon juice, egg white, house made raspberry puree.  $10.
Txoko is also known for their cocktails, and the space includes a decent size bar, with bar snacks.  A bunch of my fellow diners started with cocktails, including this one.  I tried it out, but it wasn't really my thing.  Very ginny, not sweet even though it had raspberry puree, with a nice froth from the egg whites.

To start our meal, we were served a glass of Mont Marcal Cava Brut Reserva '08 before the real drink pairings began.  It had a nice sweetness and was a fun way to begin the evening.  Everyone needs something to toast with!
Foie gras torchon pintxo.  $6.
We were ordering the 4-course foie menu, but the bar menu had one more foie preparation on it that we wouldn't be receiving, so one member of our party suggested that we all start with this and create ourselves a 5-course menu.  Genius on his part!

Unfortunately, my photo does not do this any justice.  What we have here is a crostini, topped with foie gras torchon, prunes, and arugula.

This was an awesome few bites!  The crostini was nicely oiled, with the oil enhancing all of the flavors and not being overkill.  It worked particularly well with the arugula.  I loved how crisp the bread was, and how that crunch paired with the incredibly creamy torchon.  Speaking of which, there was a very, very generous slather of the foie gras torchon, which had a really good foie flavor.  The richness and minerality of the foie were cut perfectly by the prune, which included a drizzle of housemade syrup reduction, adding the prefect amount of sweetness and making for an amazing pairing.  The arugula on top was crisp, slightly bitter, and added a freshness to the whole dish.

I still can't get over how much foie was included on this and the fact that it was only $6.  Hands down the best value for foie I've ever had, easily beating out the old winner, the duck liver, foie, and bacon pate from Prospect.  This set the tone for the evening, ridiculous value for delicious, quality ingredients!

My favorite dish of the evening, the second favorite of another dinner, and the third favorite for three others.  I'd order again anytime.
Baguette, peppered olive oil.
Soon after we ordered, bread arrived.  It was a cold baguette, not notable in any way.  I always prefer warm bread.  The olive oil served alongside seemed pretty high quality, with good flavor.  We all ranked this the least interesting thing we ate all night.
Course #1: "Duck Confit Salad" with Foie Gras Torchon Crouton, Egg Yolk, Frisee, Asparagus, Herbs.
Given the menu description, I really had no idea what to expect from the first course.  "Foie gras torchon crouton" sounded to me like a crouton with foie baked in, so I kinda expected a salad topped with some little foie croutons.  And "egg yolk" seemed like it must be referring to a yolk-based dressing.  What a surprise this dish was!

On the plate was a salad made of fresh crisp frisee, small chunks asparagus spears, and herbs.  It was very lightly dressed with a perfect salt level.  On top of the salad were a few pieces of duck confit.  I've never cared for duck confit before, but this was tender and amazingly flavorful.

The egg yolk really, truly was just an egg yolk, served in a shell, topped with some pepper.  Cute presentation, but not nearly at the level of the last egg yolk in a shell I had, at La Folie.  We were supposed to dress the salad ourselves with it, pouring it on.  I didn't really like it, as it masked all of the other flavors.  I'm glad I tasted some of the salad without it first.  I also felt it added too much richness to the dish, which already had the plenty rich foie in it.

The foie gras torchon crouton turned out to be a similar preparation to the extra pintxo that we started with, a crostini topped with a large amount of foie, which you can see better in this photo since it isn't covered up by the arugula.  Again, the foie was really creamy, had a good foie flavor, and was a generous portion.  The crostini wasn't as toasted in this version.

Being the perfect bite seeker that I am, I tried the salad on its own first, and loved it.  Fresh, crisp, delicious.  I liked it less once I added the yolk, as it overpowered everything else.  Then I spread the foie out onto the bread more evenly, and enjoyed bites of just the bread and foie, but it was lacking a contrasting component.  So I experimented by adding a little of the salad on top, which worked out fantastically, as the salt level enhanced the foie.

Quite a good dish, but it falls down to 4th place due to the yolk for me (the difference between places 1-4 on my list came down to tiny details like this!)  It was also the 4th favorite for 3 others and the 2nd favorite of one diner.  I'd still order this again, I'd just skip the yolk, or perhaps use less of it.  I don't think it was necessary.

This dish came paired with a white wine, Can Feixes Blanc Seleccio, Penedes '09.  It was slightly dry, not too sweet, but just sweet enough to cut the richness of the foie.  A nice pairing with the salad as well.

Our pescatarian friend enjoyed one of Txoko's most raved about dishes as his starter, the Mushroom Arroz with Caramelized Fennel, Chevre, Shitakes, and Hen of the Woods.  $12 for a starter, $24 for entree.  Being an awesome person, he let me sample it so I could include a review here, but I don't have a photo of it.  The rice was nicely cooked, still slightly crunchy.  It had a fantastic earthiness from the mushrooms.  The sauce was very rich.  I didn't have any of the chevre since I don't care for goat cheese, but it seems like it was probably needed to contrast with the rich sauce.  I didn't really care for this dish, but I'm not really a rice person.
Course #2: "Liver and Onions": Foie Gras a la Plancha, Braised Cipollini, Soubise, Chive Oil, Crispy Shallots. 
Given all the foie gras dining I've been doing lately, it perhaps is not surprising that this was the not first preparation called "liver and onions" I've had recently.  The last was at Alexander's, where it was also a seared foie gras accompanied by caramelized onions and crispy shallots, although that dish also included a slew of other components.  I was very excited for this dish, as I've read amazing things about Txoko's seared foie in general and because I absolutely love cipollini onions.  And how do you go wrong with crispy shallots?

This dish lived up to expectations!  And it was beautifully plated.

The base of the plate contained the creamy soubise sauce, surrounded by chive oil.  I didn't find either of these sauces all that necessary, but I think the bread on top likely soaked up a lot of flavor from them.    The bread was lightly toasted and oiled, and definitely soaked up some of the foie oils that dripped on it.  It was a nice component to the dish.

The braised cipollini onions were intensely flavored and just as awesome as I'd hoped they would be.  They added the right sweetness to the dish to compliment the foie.

The foie was again a generous portion!  It was creamy, smooth, clearly a quality piece of foie, with a great sear on it.  I see why people find Txoko's searing notable, this was great execution.  Mine was served a little less hot than I would have liked however.

And on top of that were the crispy shallot rings, tasty, crunchy, a great touch.  And some fresh chives.

This all came together well, making it the top choice of three members of our group, Emil's second favorite, but only my third favorite (but again, the difference in places 1-4 on my list is subtle, subtle, I just happened to like the other ones slightly more, but this could have inched out the others had it been hotter.  I'd still order it again).

The pairing with this was not a standard tokaji or sauternes, but instead a cream sherry from the dessert menu!  It was really fun to have something different for a change.  Emil and one other diner asked to have something else with theirs as they didn't want a sweet drink, and were served a different, far less sweet, sherry with theirs, that they seemed to really enjoy.  They really appreciated the sommelier making that change for them.
Course #3: Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops with Foie Gras Sauce, Wild Mushrooms, Fava Beans, Potato Coulis.
When the menu for the night was published a few hours before, I just about lost it when I saw this dish listed.  I love scallops.  And obviously I love foie.  And wild mushrooms.  ZOMG.  And I love them even more when together!  But I'm so, so often disappointed by scallops.  I want them to have a slight sweetness.  I don't want them to be fishy.  I want them tender, medium rare on the inside.  With an awesome sear on the outside.  It is so hard to find scallops perfectly cooked, so I was quite anxious to see what would arrive!

I've actually had a number of foie gras and scallop pairings recently, like the scallops and foie rossini at La Folie, the impromptu seared scallop topped with seared foie at Fly Trap, or the seared foie gras and seared scallop dish as Micheal Mina, but those all included pieces of seared foie gras.  Since our previous course was a large seared piece however, I didn't mind the absence of a large chunk of foie here, and I've had a number of pretty amazing foie sauces recently as well, so this sounded quite promising!

And ... it was!  Another dish that lived up to expectations!

The scallops were tender, sweet, flavorful.  Clearly very fresh.  They had a nice sear on them, although, I would have preferred even a little more sear (this photo is actually of a fellow diner's scallops, which were less seared than mine).  Served nice and hot.

Accompanying them on the plate was a potato coulis, basically just a few spoonfuls of the creamiest mashed potatoes ever.  I would have loved to have more of this!  There were also a few nicely cooked fava beans, some earthy, flavorful wild mushrooms, and crispy fried things (potato strings perhaps?).  These components were all good, adding extra flavors and textures to the dish.

The sauce was the only disappointment for me.  While it had a richness that could only really be explained by foie gras, the foie flavor didn't really come through all that strongly.  It certainly wasn't at the calibre of the foie gras bourdelaise that topped a recent filet at Alexander's or the insanely amazing foie gras, truffle, and madiera sauce with pasta at Acquerello.

I know I was at a foie gras dinner, and if I really wanted more foie at this point, I might have been upset by this dish, but they were well executed scallops, a dish I really enjoy anytime, so I was quite happy.  Plus, the previous three courses had such generous amounts of prominent foie, it was nice to see it not as the star ingredient in one course.  Our group ranked this one the least consistently, I think based entirely on how much people tend to like scallops.  It was Emil's favorite dish, my and one other's second, anther's third, and another's fourth.

This came paired with a red wine, Gran Familia Cosecha, Rioja '10.  Again, another interesting pairing, and it was nice to get a red wine included in the meal, even though the main course was delicate seafood.  The wine was light enough not to overpower the scallop, but complex enough to be interesting.

Not pictured is our pescatarian's main dish, the seared scallops from the regular menu (minus the pancetta of course).  This was a sizable portion of 6 scallops, for $30.  Like ours, they were really nicely executed.  He declared them the best scallops he'd ever eaten.  They were accompanied by some seasonal asparagus and served atop an absolutely delicious puree.  I'm not entirely sure what it was, some kind of root vegetable, but it was creamy, incredibly rich, almost cheesy even, and just awesome. When I go back to Txoko post-foie days, I will be ordering this dish.
Course #4: Foie Gras Ice Cream with Prunes in Syrup.
And ... foie dessert time!  After the downright horrible foie crème brûlée two days earlier at The Village Pub, I was a little less excited for this course than I normally am for desserts.  But, I also had the most amazing, mind blowing, fried rhubarb pie with foie gras ice cream at the Fifth Floor a week prior, so I had hope.

There was a scoop of the foie ice cream, with sable cookie crumbles, and prunes in a syrup sauce.

I believe the prunes were the same ones with the house made reduction that we saw on the starter pintxo.  They were very sweet, almost too much for me in this quantity, but, this was a dessert.

The cookie crumble was a nice buttery cookie, and I liked having the crunchy bits to mix into the ice cream.

The ice cream however was a letdown.  It didn't have much foie flavor at all and was kinda icy, not all that creamy.  It reminded me a lot of the foie ice cream we had with pain perdue at one of Lafitte's foie dinners.

This wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good either.  We all ranked this as our least favorite dish (well, besides the bread).

It came with yet another interesting pairing, Blandy's 5 Year Malmsey Madeira.  I thought this was delicious and really, really enjoyed getting another totally unexpected drink pairing.

Our pescatarian friend was too full to order dessert, although the dessert menu had some amazing sounding options on it.  When he mentioned wanting something sweet, but not being able to have a full dessert, the waitress mentioned that they have the perfect dessert for people in his situation, an off the menu item, adorable little bite size ice cream sandwiches.  $2 for two of them.  I didn't try these, but he said they weren't particularly interesting, but that it was nice to have an option to get a tiny bite of something sweet.
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