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The good, the very good, and the wonderful

Inspired by Kate—who was inspired by someone else I can’t remember—I present the good, the very good, and the wonderful of the past week, all lumped together and in no particular order, which sort of defeats the purpose:

1. Veteran’s Day afternoon with Kate: being unstylish, unshowered, and happy on a sunny day and walking arm in arm along the piers and down to Myrtle Edwards Park, after which we split a spectacularly buttery brioche (her very first!) from Le Panier, bought some deep green crinkly dinosaur kale from flirtatious vendors at the market, and talked chamois creme.

2. Meeting a real, live (ex-)break dancer. Bonus points for recent thumb injuries incurred while break dancing at parties. Yeow.

3. A twenty-dollar seven-course “Chef’s Experience” menu at Mistral, thank you very much. Armed with a fortuitous inside connection, four of us enjoyed a très haute-cuisine dinner free of charge—save for the tip, which, after all, is only civilized.

Tucked away next to an alley in Seattle’s Belltown district, Mistral is unassuming to the eye: a long, narrow, simply decorated space with pale walls and a tall ceiling. The restaurant was opened in January 2000 by chef William Belickis, who turns out decadent, largely French-influenced fare with an emphasis on local ingredients.

We began with a Champagne whose name I—falling down on the job—neglected to note, and then the feast proceeded as follows:

- Kusshi oyster with grapefruit slices and celery foam for the other three—and for oyster-fearing me, a square filet of Arctic char on shaved white asparagus with some sort of green-colored and green-tasting purée splattered around, crunchy salt and crispy skin on top

- An enormous diver sea scallop (beautifully seared to a burnished brown, again with crunchy nuggets of salt; very meaty and sweet) in a smooth brown-butter and parsnip soup with drizzle of basil oil and spoonful of carrot foam (minerally, earthy, but I’m indifferent to this foam thing)
2002 Mason Sauvignon Blanc

- Wild Atlantic skate (a bit too salty, unfortunately) on a bed of silky cubed eggplant, thinly sliced turnips, and pearl onions, with a translucent green lettuce-and-Madras-curry sauce, drizzle of basil oil
2003 Forman Napa Valley Chardonnay

- Seared Sonoma artisanal foie gras* (crowned with ubiquitous crunchy salt; the whole melting instantly on the tongue) on a comice pear purée with a passionfruit and Tahitian vanilla bean reduction, with Granny Smith apple chips.
1988 Tokaji (from Hungary, amber brown, sweet but clean, not cloying, raisin-y)

- Moulard duck or Oregon lamb chop (two of each for the table, both beautifully rare) on fingerling potato purée (too sweet; very odd) with Swiss chard, “Thumbelina” carrots, chive oil, red wine reduction, and zatar-infused olive oil
2000 Arcadian Monterey Pinot Noir

- Slivers of five cheeses: Pavé de Jadis (creamy, mild goat), semi-soft Pecorino, Agour (Spanish sheep’s milk), Persil de Beaujolais (cow’s milk blue), Brillat Savarin (triple-crème cow)
Red wine I neglected to write down, being in mid-story (Cabernet?)

- Two of each for the table: a round of genoise-ish cake topped with a quenelle of crème fraîche ice cream, with tapioca and pomegranate seeds scattered all around; and a small pot of ice cream (vanilla and something unidentifiable), a shot of hot chocolate, and two vanilla sugar cookies

Very inventive and absolutely exemplary all around, minus the few quibbles as noted. Thank you, L.L., for a very glamorous and delicious evening. I’m a more than willing partner anytime. Another scallop, please!

But I have to admit (and not without some shame) that I don't think I'm cut out for "fine dining." I put my elbows on the table; I feel silly swirling my wine glass; and I'm worthless if you're looking to suss out the herbs and spices in a dish. This does not bode well for a career in food writing. I need more educating, or maybe more audacity. Then again, while there is much to be said for the expert balancing of flavors that a four-star chef can achieve, satisfaction is a fine roasted chicken and a slab of ridiculously rich chocolate cake, honey.

*Although I hesitated when the head waiter asked if we were all willing to eat foie gras, I decided to nod my agreement, choosing on this occasion to overlook my ethical concerns for the sake of my palate’s education. Forgive me; it was delicious, so smooth and so warm.


Blogger Mark said...

Molly, you are better than most food writers I've encountered!

I love really odd food combinations in the same way I like art that succeeds at being experimental.

I know what you mean about simple dishes though. I am so looking forward to cooking the joint of lamb I have in the 'fridge and serving it with a simple accompaniment of veggies and lots of gravy!

btw, what is a 'foam'???

1:44 AM, November 16, 2004  
Blogger Molly said...

I know exactly what you mean, Mark--a meal like that is definitely best looked at as the product of an artistic process, not mere food! The melding of flavors in the scallop and foie gras dishes, for example, was so unusual, so masterful. Mmmm.

And re: foam--
A Spanish chef named Ferran Adria (most famous for his current venture, El Bulli) invented the foam concept, and it's now been widely copied. Essentially, you put a liquid (say, a thin but intense carrot reduction?) into a soda siphon, pump it full of air bubbles under high pressure, et voila! Foam! It's kind of like eating intensely flavored air. I'm not a huge fan, though--it's interesting and can interact in surprising ways with other flavors on the plate, but texturally, I find it odd. Not so into foam.

Enjoy that lamb!

9:19 AM, November 16, 2004  
Blogger Mark said...

"It's kind of like eating intensely flavoured air."

Ha, ha! Thats a great description!!

BTW, I have discovered THE PERFECT SOUP. It is butternut squash, apricot and ginger from the New Covent Garden Soup Co.

I literally can't resist trying things which are that weird and in this case it was worth it. The flavours are so well balanced that you can't taste the apricot or ginger, but you are aware that it is not just butternut squash. A work of art!

10:14 AM, November 16, 2004  
Anonymous Kellye said...

Molly - First I'd like to say that I absolutely adore Orangette like a fat kid loves cake and read it every day. Please never stop writing.

That being said, I'd like to hit a more serious note after reading the last bit of your post, and I hope sincerely that you won't be offended: I never would have been able to make the decision you did to eat foie gras, knowing in-depth the excessive cruelties involved with its production.

From NoFoieGras.org:

"In modern foie gras factory farms, geese and ducks are confined, usually in either small pens or in tiny cages that virtually lock the birds in place. Thus restrained, the birds cannot escape the "feeder" and the mechanized feeding machine. One by one, the feeder grabs each bird and plunges the metal pipe of the feeding machine down the birds' throat. The machine pumps a huge amount of a corn-and-oil mixture directly into their gullets in just a few seconds, equivalent to one-fourth to one-third of the birds' own body weight each day."

"Necropsies performed on foie gras birds have shown them to suffer from grossly enlarged livers, lacerated tracheas and esophagi, pneumonia, throats and gullets severely impacted with undigested corn, massive internal bacterial and fungal growth, and sore feet from bumblefoot - all consequences of the production method for which veterinary care is not profitable."

There is a slideshow here: http://www.nofoiegras.org/media/media_img/index.html

Again, I really love your blog, but it saddens me to see food bloggers and chefs advocate a form of food (however delicious) which causes such immense amounts of unnecessary suffering.

I don't think our sense of taste should dictate how we treat other living things.

I know this post is as old as dirt, so your position may have changed. Can you tell I'm lovingly going through your archives in my spare time? :)

7:21 AM, March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I had to comment, since no else has, on your allusion to the wonderful William Carlos Williams poem, "This is Just to Say" -- clever!

8:57 PM, March 20, 2010  
Blogger AnnaBird said...

I know this post was SO LONG AGO,

But I love it. You're not cut out for fine dining...neither am I. I am a huge fan and so happy about the gastro-pub movement. I am in search of slightly glorified comfort foods. Things that are delicious, well prepared, but not stuffy. Not stuffy at all.

Thanks for the blessings of your writing.

2:13 PM, March 21, 2012  

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