12 days: on the fourth day of christmas: gauthier… (2014)

5th Course: "Red Ravioli"

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As the entire left coast braced for the largest storm to hit in decades, Nathaniel Dorn, the Restaurant Manager at The Restaurant at Meadowood, and his staff kept calm and carried on. At line-up, he reminded: “We have a generator, headlamps for all of the kitchen staff, pre-burned candles, emergency crash kits, and pre-charged music stations… if the electricity goes out tonight, the party doesn’t stop.”  This is, after all, the Twelve Days of Christmas.

And so, from the far reaches of northern France came Alexandre Gauthier to stormy Napa Valley.  He is chef of Froggy’s Tavern in the medieval, walled city of Montreuil-sur-Mer and the Michelin-starred la Grenouillère in nearby La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil.

Gauthier is the fourth chef to cook at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  Together with hosting chef Christopher Kostow, he presented a nine-course dinner paired with wines by Williams-Selyum.

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In the garden.

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I haven’t had a chance to write about my visit to Gauthier’s restaurants earlier this year.  And this isn’t the right place to do so. But I’d like to give a brief sketch of his background to lend a little color and context to his cooking at the Twelve Days of Christmas.

La Grenouillère (“la grenouille” means “frog”) is a three hundred-some year-old tavern, that, as explained to me by the staff there, served as a convenient stop for travelers passing through the area.  The proprietors started serving food and drink to accommodate those who stopped in to wait for the nearby ferry.*

Gauthier’s father earned a Michelin star at la Grenouillère.  When he lost it, he called his son Alexandre to the kitchen. With Alexandre’s help, the restaurant regained its lost star, and Alexandre eventually took over the restaurant.

Since, Gauthier has turned la Grenouillère into a destination restaurant, adding about a dozen “huts” to the property, where visitors can spend the night.**

Although Gauthier was trained in classic, French cooking***, and much of what he cooks now is still very classically based, his presentation can be surprisingly avant-garde.  Dishes like his “Egg White” have an almost whimsical look that only a Frenchman could summon.  For this dish, Gauthier pipes egg white meringue into long cylinders, poaches the meringue, rolls it to slightly deflate the cooked meringue and to increase its density, and then cuts the meringue “cords” at varying lengths.  These meringue cylinders are stood up on end in a cluster, appearing like a mini skyscraper landscape. At la Grenouillère, the meringue was served with macerated mirabelle plums, vinegar, and black pepper.  At The Restaurant at Meadowood, Gauthier garnished the egg whites with cucumbers, purslane, and a light vinaigrette with spinach oil (inspiring one to remark that it resembled the Emerald City).

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2nd Course: Egg White

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The highlights at this Twelve Days of Christmas dinner with Gauthier were many.  Gauthier kicked off the dinner with an absolutely stunning course of liver lined with paper-thin curls of raw red curry squash, tiny segments of tangerine, tangerine zest, and the zest of red curry squash skin. The squash ribbons were slightly crunchy, which made a terrific contrast to the silky liver. And the color association of the orange of the squash and the tangerines seemed to almost blur the line between the earthy sweetness of the former and the tangy sweetness of the latter.

Gauthier also presented a stunning “red raviolo,” which appeared like a fat, ruby stegosaurus, garnished with a single leaf in mourning – dusted in vegetable ash, the lettuce seemed to be dressed in black velveteen.  As beautiful as it was, I found the beet pasta slightly too thick, and, as a result, slightly doughy and undercooked. But the filling, a rich smoked haddock butter in which was suspended a runny egg yolk, was terrific.

Christopher Kostow revived one of my favorite dishes from The Restaurant at Meadowood — the aji escabeche — and knocked it out of the park.  The texture of the fish was exquisite (I cut it with a spoon), and the balance of sweetness and acidity was pitched perfectly against a creamy dollop of pine cream.  So far, this is the dish to beat at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.  (I’m very predictable — checking my records, I realized that this was among my ten favorite dishes last year.  I guess this just means that both Kostow and I are consistent.)

Gauthier’s squab dish was also a showstopper. The breast was juicy, tender, and flavorful, served with the thigh and clawed foot on a bed of tender green wheat and a milky green sauce with basil.  Together with Kostow’s aji escabeche, this dish ranks among the best dishes I’ve had at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas so far.

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8th Course: Marsh Bubble

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One of the best dishes I had at la Grenouillère was a dessert that was listed on the menu as “le Bulle du Marais.” Inside a tissue-thin sugar glass “bubble” was a creamy and immensely fragrant, herbaceous mix of sorrel panna cotta, mint ice cream, chamomile, and fresh herbs — all from the marshlands of la Madelaine-sous-Montreuil (hence, it appeared on the menu at the Twelve Days of Christmas as “Marsh Bubble”).  Gauthier, with the help of his young assistant Felix Robert, who is responsible for the pastries at la Grenouillère, reproduced this dessert at The Restaurant at Meadowood.  The sugar glass “bubbles” were blown, set, and filled with panna cotta and ice cream made from herbs from The Restaurant at Meadowood’s garden.  It was just as wonderful as I remembered it.

For the guests at this dinner, this dessert offered a rather authentic taste of la Grenouillère.  For me, it was chance, second meeting with one of the best dishes I’ve had this year.

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Williams Selyem

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Below, you’ll find the menu from the fourth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas with Alexandre Gauthier of La Grenouillère and wines by Williams-Selyem.  Following the menu, you’ll find a slideshow of all of the photos that I took at this dinner.

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Canapés
Black Radish
Scallop, tarama.

Fried Oysters
Wrapped in shoestring potatoes.
(Gauthier)

Merguez
Stuffed in a bolted leek.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

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First Course 
Pumpkin, Clemintine
(Gauthier)

Second Course
Egg White, Cucumber.
(Gauthier)

Third Course 
Burnt Scallop, Cauliflower
(Gauthier)

Fourth Course 
Aji Escabeche
Pine cream.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Fifth Course 
Red Ravioli
Beet pasta, smoked haddock butter, egg yolk.
(Gauthier)

Sixth Course 
Pigeon
Green wheat, basil.
(Gauthier)

Seventh Course 
Aged Beef
Porcini, black albums, grits.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Eighth Course 
“Marsh Bubble”
Mint and sorrel.
(Gauthier)

Ninth Course 
Chestnuts
Chocolate.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

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Williams-Selyem
“Limestone Ridge at Vista Verde Vineyard”
Chenin Blanc, 2010

Williams-Selyem
“Hawk Hill Vineyard”
Chardonnay, 2011

Williams-Selyem
“Westside Road Neighbors”
Pinot Noir, 2005

Williams-Selyem
“Precious Mountain Vineyard”
Pinot Noir, 2010

Williams-Selyem
“Vista Verde Vineyard”
Port, 2009

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Below are links to my posts and photos from all of the Twelve Days of Christmas dinners I have attended over the past three years at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  Each chef is listed with the restaurant with which they were cooking at the time they participated in the event (some have moved on to other projects and restaurants).

2012

Scott Anderson (Elements; Princeton, New Jersey)
John & Karen Shields (Formerly of Townhouse; Chilhowie, Virginia)
Phillip Foss (EL Ideas; Chicago, Illinois)
Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions; San Francisco, California)
Jason Franey (Canlis Restaurant; Seattle, Washinton)
Matthias Merges (Yusho; Chicago, Illinois)
Mori Onodera (Formerly of Mori Sushi; Los Angeles, California)
James Syhabout (Commis; Oakland, California)
Nick Anderer (Maialino; New York, New York)
David Toutain (Agapé Substance; Paris, France)
Josh Habiger & Erik Anderson (The Catbird Seat; Nashville Tennessee)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

2013

Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon & New York, New York)
Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó; Santiago, Chile)
Carlo Mirarchi (Blanca and Roberta’s; Brooklyn, New York)
Tim Cushman (O Ya; Boston, Massachusetts)
Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner; Raleigh, North Carolina)
David Chang (Momofuku; New York, New York)
Matthew Accarrino (SPQR; San Francisco, California)
Mark Ladner & Brooks Headley (Del Posto; New York, New York)
Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Nicolaus Balla & Cortney Burns (Bar Tartine; San Francisco, California)
David Kinch (Manresa; Los Gatos, California)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

2014

Matthew Orlando (Amass; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Frank Castranovo & Frank Falcinelli (Frankies 457, Prime Meats; New York, New York)
Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf; Dranouter, Belgium)
Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère; La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)

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* From Paris’s Gare du Nord, it’s about a two hour train ride to Étaples le Touquet.  From there, it’s a 15-20 minute drive to the walled city of Montreuil-sur-Mer.  It’s another five minutes to drive from the city into the low-lying marshland of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, where la Grenouillère is located.

** Other than the lack of wireless internet, you will lack nothing in these cleverly designed “huts,” which include a hideaway bathtub, and a potbelly stove for colder weather.

*** The one dish that is always offered on the à la carte menu at la Grenouillère features the restaurant’s famous, namesake frog legs, presented in a couple of different ways, including the traditional preparation with garlic and parsley

~ by ulterior epicure on December 13, 2014.

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