Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lounge Dining @ La Folie

As you know by now, we have been trying to fit in all of the foie gras eating that we can, before the ban goes into effect.  And while I'd love to have it all as huge multi-course formal meals, that isn't really practical ... those sorts of meals are lovely, but are a big time investment, are rather pricey, and are really too much to do every single night of the week.  Luckily for us, many restaurants have amazing lounge and bar spaces, where they serve their foie!  I'm a big fan of lounge dining, as it allows us to have a quicker meal, customize the size of it to our needs, go on a whim without reserations, and still get amazing quality food.

So when Friday night rolled around, and we hadn't had any foie for almost 24 hours, we headed to La Folie's lounge!  We arrived at seemingly the perfect time, seated easily at the bar.  This very quickly changed and the place was full and hopping within 15 minutes.  The atmosphere was lively, but not too loud.  I've been to their lounge once before, but only had one foie dish that time, as we'd just come from a multi-course foie dinner the night before.  I'll skip all of the basic review details here since you can read them in my last post, and focus instead on anything that was different, and review the individual dishes below.

The lounge provides a plethora of options for food; you can order off of the lounge menu, or pick anything from the main menus, including the tasting menu, a la carte, or mix and match as you choose.  I really appreciate this flexibility!  The lounge menu features upscale comfort foods (truffle and lobster mac and cheese, lobster croque monsieurs, truffle and caviar deviled eggs, etc).  However, this is clearly no standard bar fare and every dish is actually prepared to order, right in the bar area itself, by a single chef.  Since we were seated at the bar, we were able to watch the food preparation directly in front of us.  It was really impressive how quickly he churned out these dishes, and how much of them was prepared from scratch.  The gougeres were stuffed with emmentaler cheese at ordering time, popcorn freshly popped for each order, etc.  The quality of ingredients was also impressive, they were not skimping in any way.  The lobster croque monsieur had a very, very generous amount of lobster meat in it, and was large chunks of claw meat at that.  The truffle popcorn had real truffles shaved to order on top of it.  This is very high quality bar food!

The lounge food all sounded, and looked, great, but we were there with one goal: more foie!  So we ended up picking 4 dishes from the main menu to share, which they priced as just a standard 4 course meal, $90 (they also offer 3 course for $80 or 5 course for $90).  This was generous, as we were splitting the dishes, and they still included multiple amuse bouches for each of us.  Well priced for the quality of the food.

The lounge staff were crazy busy, yet service was great.  All we needed to do was look up and they would come see what we needed.  When I asked about the details of one of the dishes, the bartender asked the kitchen, since he didn't know the answer offhand (it was one of the amuses, which change every time).  I asked for a wine recommendation to pair with my foie, and the bartender brought me two different ones to try before I committed.  And at one point, I set my wine glass down, and must have hit it on the edge of my plate instead of the bar.  My very full glass didn't just spill, it somehow resulted in a very dramatic breaking of the glass, sending my wine and glass pieces into the mise en place of the lounge chef.  It somehow narrowly avoided the large, open container full of black truffles - phew!  The staff handled this better than I could imagine.  One bartender was pouring me a new glass of wine literally before the glass shards had even settled.  The chef barely even flinched, cleaned up the entire mess, sorted out his mise en place, and just kept going.  I was incredibly embarrassed, and still really don't understand what on earth I did to create such a disaster, but they were so professional and amazingly fast at cleaning up the whole thing, it was like it never happened.  (Perhaps that would have been different if I'd contaminated the truffles!)

Anyway, this was all very high quality food, executed well.  There are about a thousand things on the menu that sound amazing, and a number of my friends have recently dined in the main dining room to rave reviews (and seriously drool-worthy photos!), so I will certainly need to check out the formal dining experience soon.  And I'll definitely go back to the lounge, as it is one of my new favorites!
Truffled popcorn.
From the lounge menu.  You'd never know from looking at the menu that this was not just going to be pre-popped generic truffle oil popcorn!

Like all lounge snacks, this is prepared to order.  We watched the lounge chef prepare this dish directly in front of us, starting with corn kernels on the cooktop, freshly popping the popcorn, and then shaving truffles over the top.  He overheard my exclamations in amazement that it came with real shaved truffle rather than just truffle oil, and gave us a sample cup.  The real version of this is a much bigger serving, but is only $6, which is a little shocking given the truffles that were being shaved onto it.
Amuse bouche #1: braised shortrib aspic.
La Folie always starts with an amuse in a little spoon, even if you are lounge dining.  Tonight's treat was a braised shortrib aspic.

This was such a flavorful little bite!  It was like a beef stew, all wrapped up into one tiny gelee.  Inside the aspic was shortrib, mirepoix, and leeks.  It was topped with crispy potato bits.  The texture combination from the gelee and the crunchy bits made it fun to eat, and it was beautiful, somewhat translucent so you could see the goodies inside.  But the flavor really was the most amazing part, it was so incredibly meaty!  It reminded me of that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Violet has the gum with the beef stew and mashed potatoes and gravy in it ... just so surprising to have so many components and flavors in such a tiny bite!  It wasn't really a light start to the meal, but was really interesting.
Amuse bouche #2: Slow cooked egg yolk, fennel potato cream, crispy potato chip, chive, brioche toast. 
And La Folie always includes a second amuse bouche, a preparation of a slow cooked, barely poached, egg yolk.  The puree/cream inside changes frequently.  Served in an egg shell that has the top cut off, topped with a crispy potato chip, with a chive sticking through it.  And a brioche toast to dunk into it.

You might think that all eggs are sorta created equal, but that is just not true.  The flavor in this, the "yolkiness", was just very intense.  I think this was a quail egg, but it reminded me a lot of the jindori egg I had in tamago at Ichi Sushi, so much more rich, flavorful, and custard-like than standard chicken egg!  It mixed so well into the potato puree, adding even more richness to the already creamy puree.  It was almost a little much to eat just by the spoonful, but dunking the perfectly crispy brioche toast into it created such an amazing bite.  It was like brunch - toast, eggs, potatoes - but uh, soooo much better!  The potato chip on top was perfectly crisp, like the most delicious potato chip you'd ever have.

Both of these amuses were serious flavor punches!
Amuse bouche #2: inside!
Such precision goes into creating this.  The top of the egg shell is perfectly cut off, the potato chip has a tiny hole in it for the chive to stick through, the serving vessel is on top of a slice of lemon.  I love how much care went into this, as it was a strong signal of the quality level they strive for.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon with Smoked Apple Barbeque Glazed Squab, Caramelized Onion and Strawberry Compote.
And ... the main reason we were there!  La Folie is known for their foie gras, and the seared foie gras in particular, but I'd basically had it last time I was there (in a slightly different preparation paired with a foie gras soup), and we were going to have some seared on the scallop dish, so we opted for the torchon instead this time.

The torchon was creamy, and good enough, but like all the torchons I've had lately, just didn't have enough foie flavor for me.  It was very smooth, a wonderful consistency, and clearly a high quality product.

Accompanying the foie was a chunk of smoked apple bbq glazed squab.  Now, I wasn't really excited for squab.  Not something I order, as it is too gamey for my tastes, but I think I'm starting to come around.  To me, this was actually just like a more flavorful chicken.  The glaze on it was amazing.  Sweet, smokey, delicious!  I didn't really get the pairing with the foie however, I'm not really sure why I'd want squab with my foie, or vice versa.

We then had 3 different bread-like components to choose from on the plate to spread the foie on.  The first was a very thin crisp cracker, that was very wheaty-tasting.  I didn't particularly like nor dislike it.  Next was a little fluffy brioche roll.  It was cute, but just a fairly standard piece of bread, a classic pairing with the foie.  But the final one, which the foie was perched upon, was amazing.  I'm not quite sure what it was, some form of nut based bar.  It wasn't nearly as solid as it looked, instead really creamy and smooth, yet with crispy texture as well from the ground nuts.  I'm not really sure how they created this consistency.  It tasted like the most amazing peanut butter I'd ever had, but I'm pretty sure there was a mix of nuts in there (pistacchio perhaps?).

The final component on the plate was the strawberry compote.  It was sweet and was a good pairing with the foie.  But what it really paired well with was ... the nut bar thing!  As in, classic pb & j!

I couldn't get enough of a bite of the nut bar, foie, and strawberry compote together.  Sweet, salty, rich, amazing.  Peanut butter and jelly, elevated to a whole new level.  This made me really, really wish I'd been able to try the "Elvis Lives" at Lafitte before it closed - a peanut butter, muscato jam, foie gras, and bacon sandwich!

Even though the torchon itself didn't wow me, the pb&j pairing more than made up for it, and the glaze on that squab was sooo tasty.  I would order again.  My second favorite savory dish of the night.
Triple T Ranch Tempura Duck Egg, on Sweetbreads Pancake, Frangelico Almond Pesto, Wild Mushroom Salad, Truffle Vinaigrette.
This was the one non-foie dish we ordered.  Several of our friends recently had this dish, and highly recommended it.

I wish I had a photo of cutting open the egg.  The tempura gave it a crisp exterior, and it was just lightly battered, not too oily.  The white was fully cooked, but the yolk was just perfectly oozy!  Amazing execution.

It was perched atop a savory pancake, that had a rich earthyness to it, with little chunks of sweetbreads.

Also on the side of the plate was a little salad, made up of crisp frisee, well cooked wild mushrooms, and shaved asparagus.  It was simple, fresh, and topped with an amazing truffle vinaigrette.  I'm not usually a big salad person, but this was really good.  It was served warm.

And then of course there were some pretty decent sized shavings of black truffle.

Another well executed, flavorful dish.  My least favorite savory dish of the night, but I didn't dislike it, the others were all just better.  I'd skip it in the future to try some of the other amazing sounding dishes though!
Seared Day Boat Scallop and Foie Gras Rossini, on Seared Yukon Gold Potatoes with Truffles.
And the other main reason we were there.  I love a good seared scallop.  And one with seared foie gras on top?  Even better!  This is the dish I was most looking forward to.

The scallops were huge, perhaps the biggest I've ever seen.  They had a good sear on them, and were tender, but slightly over done, I prefer them more medium-rare.

The seared foie was also a really sizable portion, particularly for just being the topping.  Like the scallop, it had a good sear on it.  It was creamy, a nice piece of foie.

There were also two layers of seared potato, one under the scallop and one under the foie.  They were well cooked, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.  I could have done without them however, as the potato flavor seemed to detract from the scallop and foie.  They went nicely with the salty, rich sauce, sort of like gravy, but I didn't actually like the sauce much and particularly not with the scallop, as it was overpowering.

The potato/scallop/potato/foie tower was held together by a rosemary skewer.  I wasn't really sure if we were supposed to take off a little of it and eat it, or if it was just inedible garnish, serving function only, and perhaps having infused some flavor it in already?

The asparagus spears were perfectly cooked, with a good crunch.

I'm not quite sure where the truffle was in this dish, perhaps in the sauce?  I didn't taste it regardless.

This dish reminded me of the one that the chef at Fly Trap created just for us, where he added some small chunks of seared foie gras to the top of the seared scallop dish, also served with asparagus and potatoes.  That was a last minute creation for us, and didn't involve nearly as much foie as this dish however, so this was much better.

My favorite dish of the evening, and I'd order again.  My only real criticism, besides the doneness level of the scallops, is that everything on the plate was also just a little too oily.
Bittersweet Chocolate and Foie Gras Mousses On Crunchy Feuilletine,  Hazelnut Praline Sponge Cake, Cassis GelĂ©e, Bacon Ice Cream.
I hadn't read anything about this dessert going into the meal, so I had no idea what to expect.  For the most part, the foie gras based desserts I've had have been pretty disappointing.  And bacon ice cream sure sounded ... interesting.  Likely horrible, but I'd had such an amazing fried rhubarb pie and foie gras ice cream dessert the night before at the Fifth Floor, that I had a glimmer of hope.  This was a special dessert on the tasting menu, but it was available to order a la carte.  And since my dining companion doesn't like sweets, this was the only dessert I'd possibly be able to convince him to try ...

The hazelnut praline sponge cake was fluffy and had a strong hazelnut flavor.  But like the curry sponge cake we'd had the night before, this just didn't do it for me, as I find that style of cake pretty boring.

The main component was the four layer mousse cake.  The bottom layer was a chocolate and hazelnut feuilletine, that had a nice crunch to it from the nuts.  The next layer was the chocolate mousse, which was pretty unremarkable, not much chocolate flavor.  Next was the foie gras mousse, which had very, very little foie flavor.  It was incredibly disappointing.  I love foie gras mousses, and this just had very little to offer.  The top layer was a sweet cassis gelee.  It was adorned with some foie powder that wasn't very flavorful, nothing like the intense foie powders we have had various times at Alexander's.  There was also a dark chocolate ring, high quality, tasty chocolate, smooth, with a nice snap to it, probably the best part of the dish.

There were also some cassis "caviar", that were sweet and had a nice pop to them when you bit into them.

And finally, the bacon ice cream.  Well, unlike most everything else on the plate, it did indeed have flavor.  It tasted incredibly like bacon.  It was really quite gross.

This was just not a good dessert.  The foie flavor wasn't there, and even if it was, I'm not convinced it would have gone well with the chocolate.  Add in boring cake and nasty ice cream ... not successful.  I give them credit for originality however, but I'd never get this again.
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