The event was the Rare Wine Auction and Dinner. As is probably obvious, I didn't bid on anything, but I did enjoy the food, the wine, and the company. Katie, Papa S., and Mama S. were there, as long as their friends Mr. and Mrs. B. (not the ones who were at El Bulli, different B.), Mr. and Mrs. M., and another couple whose last name I didn't catch--we'll call them Mr. and Mrs. X. It was a raucous group (particularly Papa S. and Mr. B., and to a large extent Mr. X. as well), and I think we all had a grand time.
I met a lot of people, many of whose names escape me now, but a few of whom stick out for obvious reasons. As Katie and I walked in, we were introduced by Papa S. to Alain Passard. We met Tim Mondavi (son of Robert), Mme Boyer (wife of Gérard, who was cooking), and Jacques Pépin and his daughter Claudine; we also said hello to David Kinch and (from across the table) Thomas Keller.
There was much photography, even videotaping, and I'm sure there will be pictures posted somewhere. I might post some of them, we'll see. The event started off with a rather packed champagne reception, with various hors d'oeuvres. Katie and I did not partake of the champagne (1998 Veuve Cliquot), as we knew that there would be plenty of even better libations to come. And for reasons that will become clear shortly, it's probably a good thing we waited. We declined the fresh oyster and what looked like caviar with either pea paste or wasabi (I'm guessing pea paste, but one never knows) in favor of a small cup of mushroom soup and the famous Arpège egg. What is the Arpège egg? A sturdy egg shell with the top neatly removed, sitting in a small cup (in this case a tiny flower pot) and inside, a lightly poached (warm and runny) egg yolk with a drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of sherry vinegar whipped cream. This is one of the few egg dishes in the world that I'm willing to eat. I had something similar at Manresa about four years ago (my, how time flies!) but I think this one was a bit better. The cream in particular was delightful.
And then into the dining room we went! Lots of tables, each with silverware and glasses for several courses. The tables were a bit crowded, but beautifully decorated with bamboo, orchids, and candles. Each place had a copy of the menu for the evening. I'll write up the menu first (with the dish, the chef, and the accompanying wine), and then say a bit about the dishes below. After each course was finished, the corresponding chef went up to the podium (which was also being used periodically for the auction) to say a few words. Boyer apparently doesn't speak much--if any--English, so he gave his brief address in French, but I'm happy to say that despite his speaking rather quickly, by that time I'd had enough wine that I understood each word perfectly.
Before (finally) moving on to the menu, I should note that at our table at least, there was some (*ahem*) cheating with the wine. Mr. X. had smuggled in a few bottles of his own--decanted into Perrier bottles (you're familiar, perhaps, with the extremely rare "Red Perrier?" HA!). There were also a few other bottles that somehow showed up, and I'll mention those as well. I didn't take sufficiently good notes on them, but they were all very, very, very good. And I must say, in the middle of the meal (after they had given us extra glasses for our extra wine, and before they had started taking away the finished glasses) the table had more wine glasses on it than any I've ever seen. If I'd had my phone with me, I would have taken a picture.
But first, the menu:
Saint Jacques Louise Passard
Alain Passard - L'Arpège
2004 Josmeyer, Riesling, Le Dragon, Alsace, France
Monterey Spot Prawns Fricassé & Aged Parmesan Lasagna
Philippe Legendre - Le Cinq
2004 Leeuwin Estate, Chardonnay, Art Series, Margaret River, Australia
"Forest Floor Hunting for Mushrooms"
David Kinch - Manresa
2005 Kosta Browne, Pinot Noir, Four Barrel, California
Roasted Duck, Fennel, Fruit Chutney & Verjus Sauce
Gerard Boyer - Château Les Crayères
1988 Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Snake River Farms Calotte de Boeuf Grillée
King Richard Leeks, Dried French Plums,
Yukon Gold Potato Mille-Feuille & Black Truffle Jus
Thomas Keller - The French Laundry
2002 Penfolds, Grange-Bin 95, South Australia
Tropical Fruit Pavlova
Coconut-Pineapple Curd & Pâte de Goyave
Claire Clark - The French Laundry
2005 Dr. Loosen, Riesling TBA, Bernkasteler Lay, Mosel, Germany
The first course was a seared scallop in a curry sauce. A bit heavy on the turmeric for my taste, and the parsley didn't seem flavorful enough to enhance the dish... but I love scallops, so I was still pretty happy.
The prawns were great. They were swimming in some sort of rich, buttery emulsion that had wonderful flavor. It was light, but at the same time heavy enough that I didn't feel like I wanted to spoon it up after I'd eaten the prawns. The prawns, though, were soft and tender; and the Parmesan "lasagna" (a round of fresh pasta made, I assume, with Parmesan) was delicious.
With these first two courses we had the first of the "off-menu" wines. It was a Montrachet with a huge nose, heavy on the tobacco. I don't know what year it was (it was quite loud in the dining room, with so many people talking AND a band playing right next to our table), but it didn't taste very young.
David Kinch's mushroom course surprised a lot of us, not because we didn't know he was so good, but because there were just a lot of surprising elements in it. Redwood jelly, for one! Yes, redwood as in the state tree of California. And it really was constructed like a forest floor: a muddy-looking (but delicious) spread on the bottom, crunchy breadcrumbs over the "mud," and crisp mushroom (or taro?) wafers that looked like dried leaves. Very, very tasty and creative.
I have to say that Katie and I were both disappointed with Boyer's course, the duck. I love duck, and I love fennel, and they were both good--but not great. The presentation was simple, which can be lovely, but in this case was just lackluster. I've never been to Boyer's restaurant, so I have nothing with which to compare the dish, but according to Katie it is not representative of his work. I assume she's right, both because she knows of what she speaks and because Boyer wouldn't have been at this event if this were the best he could do.
Alongside the '05 Kosta Browne and '88 Mouton we also had a '59 Mouton. The '88 was pretty good (if a bit young, I think--still pretty fruity, or maybe it was just fruity compared with the '59), but the '59 put the Kosta Browne to shame. Katie and I took one or two sips and didn't touch it again. I'm sure it would have been great on its own (very spicy, interesting flavors), but next to the Moutons, it was like drinking something that wasn't even wine.
Keller's dish was quite good, though again, probably not representative of what he can really do. The beef was tender and well cooked (rare, though, not well-done), the leek was soft and delicate (and went surprisingly well with the dried plum), and my favorite part of the dish was the potato mille-feuille. It was closely packed layers of potato, cooked until perfectly tender, then sliced into squares 2 x 2 x 0.5", and seared in butter on all sides. Delicious.
Dessert was fabulous. There was a minced tropical fruit salad, a guava gelée (which was good, but not my favorite), a smear of the coconut-pineapple curd (amazing!!) and a perfect dollop of meringue that had been baked until just crisp on the outside, and cooked-but-still-soft on the inside. Paired with the coconut-pineapple curd, it was just heavenly.
The official dessert wine was far too sweet for my taste. I usually like Riesling, but this was just too sweet for me. The '49 Sauternes that we had, however, was divine. Really like liquid gold. It was a beautiful golden orange color, with orange blossom notes, a slightly syrupy consistency, and just the right amount of sweetness. The depth of flavor of the Sauternes was enormous compared with that of the Riesling (which tasted disappointingly flat).
There were mignardises at the end of the meal, but we were so satisfied with the meal (and rather eager to go back to our room) that we passed on all but one of them--I just couldn't resist the tiny carrot cake bite that I recognized from the dessert tables at the French Laundry open house we attended back in December. All in all, a delicious evening, and my stomach muscles are sore from all the laughing we did. Good times, and a real treat.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get ready for this morning's cooking class/demo with Todd English. This afternoon I have a class with Charlie Trotter, and tomorrow, chez Katie et al., a champagne reception with some of the chefs (Keller, Boyer, Passard, etc.). I'll be sure to write about all of it! Hope everyone is enjoying his/her weekend.
ETA: I forgot... we also had a 1982 Mouton. Good times were indeed had by all.