Ranked  #29 on the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Oud Sluis is set in the small town of Sluis which is just over the Belgian border in Netherlands. Sluis is no country town. We had biked there from Bruges the day before our reservation (a beautiful 1hr bike ride along canals and through several other small towns- including Damme, where Liz is convinced Jean Claude Van Damme must be from) and found that the few small streets were lined with fairly pricey international brands. Seems like a vacation town for wealthy Germans and assorted Scandinavian travelers. Oud Sluis reflected this sensibility by being far more modern than we expected. We were prepared for a converted farmhouse with antique furnishing but were met with minimalist decor and trendy fixtures. The food also had this vibe, with the dishes being much more inventive and daring then Hof Van Cleve.  Not only did the kitchen seem like it was pushing the envelope a bit more, but they were having fun with the experience (as exemplified by the iFoie – the piece of foie gras layered with green apple in the shape of the Apple logo). Of course, that would all be worthless if the food didn’t taste good, but every flavor on the plate stood out. Even the iFoie, which could have easily been a kitschy flavorless catastrophe, was delicious.

That said, our experience here ended in tragedy: we were incapable of finishing our meal. We had a 7pm reservation and had to cut our dinner short at 12:45. Yes, that’s right, we threw in the towel and left after almost 6 hours. 2/3 of the way through the dessert courses and before any petits fours and assorted chocolates, coffee, or after dinner drinks. For the most part service was fantastic, but after the main courses finished and it was time for cheese and then dessert, we were more or less abandoned for two intervals of 30-45 minutes. Hard to know what happened but I’m guessing that at the time we were to have dessert there were several other tables that were approaching this stage in the meal and the kitchen may have decided that it made more sense to put us all on the same schedule.  Unfortunately for us the others had arrived far later than us and there was a significant lag between our paces, such that we had to wait a very long time for our cheese and then a very long time for our first dessert. Or maybe they just forgot about us. As much as Liz likes talking to me, if it’s 11:30 and she’s just eaten a 10 course meal and drank a lot of wine, sitting in a comfy chair for half hour will put her right to sleep. Once the desserts came I made an effort to push things along, but it was too late. We asked for the check and headed home.

Service foibles aside, we loved the food and the setting so we are willing to give their mistakes a pass. Below you will find pictures of the meal but, unfortunately, in our haste to leave the restaurant we left our menus behind. I’ll refrain from any descriptions so as not to butcher what they actually are. I will note the standouts, though:

amuse bouche #1

amuse bouche #2

The third amuse bouche was a beer macaroon with some kind of fish tartare. It dissolved almost immediately after touching your tongue but left a sweet and bitter flavor that absorbed into the fish. Very, very good.


clams with fried cous cous?

The crispy texture of the fried cous cous went perfectly with the big slimy, chewy clams.


The contrast in textures was taken to a new level with this dish with the pop rocks. They snap, crackled and popped alongside the chewy baby shrimp, the creamy mayo, and the icy sorbet.

too good to wait

You know a dish is good when I don’t remember to take the picture before eating it.

Same thing happened with this langoustine.

We were skeptical at first, but now this has become the desktop background for my macbook. It just tasted so damn good.

The Belgian and Dutch must love pigeon. It was on nearly every menu at the nice restaurants we went to.

then we waited...

then we waited...

....and waited...

....and waited...

...and waited.

...and waited.

Finally the cheese came. At around 11:30.

And the first dessert at around 12:15…

It’s a shame we missed the last dessert because the first two delivered in both form and flavor. Very attractive presentations and with strong but not heavy tastes. Overall the food here ranks close to the best we’ve had at any of the restaurants on the San Pellegrino list. Not quite as creative as Alinea, L’Astrance, or Fat Duck and not quite as tasty and fun as St John or Calandre.

If you go, be sure to stay in the restaurant’s hotel. They rent three rooms out of a beautiful home a mile outside of town, and provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the restuarant. Called Chico Y Luna, each room has a backyard overlooking  a cow pasture. Beware, if you are not up by 6:30 these cows will wake you up. Mooing at the tops of their lungs approximately 20 feet away from your back door. Screaming, really. That said, it was truly beautiful and the breakfast was as creative and tasty as the dinner.

If David Byrne were to eat at St. John I’m pretty sure he would change the lyrics of his song to “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens, except you eat unbelievable meat dishes at a Fergus Henderson restaurant”. There is no place I would rather eat, period. I have a serious interest in what goes into my stomach but too often that interest puts me in stuffy places with pretentious people. I resent the snobbery that surrounds food culture but recognize that I occasionally must be a part of it if I want to eat some of the best food in the world.Which I do. So I grit my teeth and throw on a suit.  I give my wine long, penetrating stares and I say things like “structured” and “layered”.  As a result, many great meals come with a side of shame and pride swallowing. Not at St John. This is world class food in an environment where licking the insides of a marrow bone for the last drips of oil would be welcomed  not pooh-poohed.

Though the meal was flawless, I do have two regrets. First, this is the second time I’ve been and I still have not managed to gather enough people to get a roast pig. I can’t endure this much longer. I will go with strangers, I don’t care. If you’re out there wondering who in this crazy world will take you to St John so you can gnaw the fat off a whole pig’s belly, it’s me. I won’t pay for your airfare, but room and board is negotiable. Second, they did not have the roast bone marrow with parsley salad on the menu the night we went. So many variations of this dish can be found across the states, several in Boston as well, but there’s nothing like the original. I had it on my first visit to St John but was seriously bummed as I scanned the menu and saw nary a bone. I managed to pull myself together once the first dish arrived, but a part of me will never forget.

potted pork
potted pork

Though we had this earlier at Bread and Wine we had to have some more.

cauliflower, leeks, and butterbeans
cauliflower, leeks, and butterbeans

One does want a hint of vegetable. There’s a recipe for this in the St John cookbook and it’s very easy to make. It goes great as a light compliment to a fatty piece of meat.

globe artichoke, vinaigrette
globe artichoke, vinaigrette

How do you make this taste good? With a kick ass vinaigrette

welsh rarebit
welsh rarebit

Melted cheese mixed with an assortment of other flavors (e.. mustard, worcestershire sauce, paprika) over toast. This is why you need the cauliflower and artichoke – it makes you feel relatively better about inhaling this mound of melted cheese. Then came the meat: lamb, snail and sausage, pigeon, and ox heart. The dishes have no more than 3 or 4 ingredients on the plate, but each one is intense and the combination is perfect. But “simple” is the wrong way to describe the dish since so much goes into the preparation. Cooking a dish from the St John cookbook requires days if not weeks forethought.

roast lamb, green bean, anchovy
roast lamb, green bean, anchovy
snail, sausage, chickpeas
snail, sausage, chickpeas

pigeon, peas and little gem

pigeon, peas and little gem

ox heart and chips

ox heart and chips

The ox heart was the best dish of the night. Heart is so tender and flavorful. It’s what you wish steak tasted like.

side of potatoes and greens
side of potatoes and greens
peach cobbler
peach cobbler

Though known for the meat, the desserts are out of this world good. It’s as if a team of grandmothers have been indentured in the kitchen to  churn out the fruits of their accrued pastry wisdom.

“There are only two animals in the world with bones in their ‘sex’ ” our waiter noted. Welcome to Hof Van Cleve, where the endless array of delicious food is eclipsed only by the fact that you will cut some of it up with a knife made from whale penis. Hof Van Cleve is currently ranked 26th in the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Liz and I made a special detour to the remote town of Kruishoutem on our trip to the Benelux this summer to cross it off our list. Through a misunderstanding on the part of my esteemed dining partner, we arrived half hour before the restaurant opened, and were faced with the prospect of either extending our cab ride through rural Belgium or walking around the deserted dirt roads and corn fields that surround the restaurant’s grounds. We chose the latter and in the process built up a healthy appetite which still proved no match for the amount of food we’d be served.  Both our stomachs would bend and break by the end of our 5+ hour meal. A couple more courses and my fat would have grown around and into the bottom of my seat cushion, requiring forcible removal by crane. That said, this was an unbelievably good restaurant. Heavy on the seafood, but still with a wide variety of flavors, textures, and preparations. Certainly up there with the best restaurants we’ve been to, though it didn’t have the playful element with the food that would really put it at the top.

It seems customary in nice Belgian restaurants to trot out a series of amuse bouches before the meal begins. Here they are:

braised oxtail spring roll, plum sauce, sardines on toast

braised oxtail spring roll, plum sauce, sardines on toast

herring, green apple

herring, green apple


(abalone) sashimi, beef sashimi, seaweed cracker, wasabi sorbet, fruit

(abalone) sashimi, beef sashimi, seaweed cracker, wasabi sorbet, fruit

frog leg, herb broth, cous cous

frog leg, herb broth, cous cous

The frog leg may have been the best bite of the night

crab, grapefuit sorbet, pea puree

crab, grapefuit sorbet, pea puree

The amuse bouches had already sated our appetites and it was hard to believe the main meal had not yet started. With some concern for our cholesterol and livers, we pressed on. The menu was in French and Flemish – I’ll include the French as it appeared and then explain what it is to the best of my ability (or to the best of babelfish’s ability)

langoustine, cucumber fettucine, avocado, watercress gelee

Langoustine "Guilvinec" cresson/concombre/avocat

Several langoustines covered with cucumber fettucine, avocado, and some kind of watercress gelee. I didn’t notice until now but it kind of looks like  a face. Several of the main dishes also came with a side dish. This came with a side of what seemed to be pork consomme (not pictured).

Maquereau "Lisette"

Maquereau "Lisette" coriand/tomate/ couteau de mer

Mackerel four ways with coriander, tomato, and razor clams. This came with a side of crab prepared two ways with an avocado mousse. See below.

side of crab

side of crab


Calamares yuzu/dashi/algues

This was the least successful dish of the night. Squid with yuzu, dashi, and seaweed. The complimentary flavors worked well but squid seems to be impermeable to flavor. So what you’re left with is an ordinary piece of squid with a nice sauce on top, as opposed to the rest of the fish on the menu which were fleshy and porous enough to absorb whatever they happened to be in. Although it did come with a tasty soup of cockels and mussels on the side.

Homard de L'Escaut De L'Est

Homard de L'Escaut De L'Est choux-fleurs de Malines/ cepes/ belotta

Lobster with cauliflower puree, egg, mushrooms and ham.

Cabillaud Danois

Cabillaud Danois jeunes poireaux/brandade/ crabe royal

Danish cod with leeks, brandade (a puree of salt cod, oil and milk), and crab. Came with a side of what seemed to be lightly battered and fried baby shrimp and a zuchini flower chip.

Veau Sous la Mere "Correze"

Veau Sous la Mere "Correze" estragon/petits-pois/girolles

Veal with tarragon, peas, chanterelles and roast potatoes. And of course, the whale penis knife we used to cut it up.

Whale dick cutlery

Whale dick cutlery

At this point we were already very full, but when the nice waiter came by to ask if we’d like cheese before dessert we just didn’t want to disappoint him. Lucky for us this was hands down the best cheese plate we’ve had anywhere.

cheese party

cheese party

There was another tier of cheese that you can’t see in the picture. We tried 12 of them.

cheese party

cheese party

Everything was delicious. Unfortunately, due to the fact that cheese plates come at the end of the meal, after a lot of eating and drinking, we can never remember a thing about any of the cheeses.



….and the food just did not stop coming

Fruit plate

Fruit plate

This was an assortment of interesting and refreshing  fruit preparations. Frozen little pearls of fruit on jellied fruit with some kind of fruit puree.


Fraises menthe/ chocolat "Ivoire"/ prosecco

Strawberries with mint, white chocolate and prosecco


Banane fruits de la passion/ citron vert/ mascarpone

This dessert was outstanding. It came with a chocolate madeline that was so good I just had to force it down my throat.

too drunk and full to remember

too drunk and full to remember

But I think it was some kind of play on fruit, yogurt and granola.

white chocolate truffle with pistachio

white chocolate truffle with pistachio

At this point we were getting scared. Would this meal ever end?



Then things just got ridiculously  out of hand with the dessert wagon. In case we hadn’t had enough out came our waiter with a cart of pastries, cakes, madelines, truffles, macaroons and who knows what else. Realizing this would probably be my only trip to Hof Van Cleve in my lifetime I endured some more gastrointestinal pain to choke down a delicious eclair, a madeline, and some kind of apple glazed donut.  I’m not proud of it, but it had to happen. Years of being raised by Italian women has instilled in me the principal of “never decline what you are offered”.

are you serious?

are you serious?

Hof Van Cleve is definitely worth the trip if you are within several hours driving distance of Waregem (Amsterdam, London, Brussels, Paris). We stayed at the St Janshof Hotel, a perectly serviceable hotel a short taxi ride away. It was the perfect way to kick off our vacation.

Alice Waters has long been well-known amongst epicureans, locavores, and Nothern Californians.  But lately she has garnered more widespread attention by calling for the Obamas to plant an organic White House garden and through her increasing appearances on national news and talk shows.  I have to admit that I find Waters’ views on food sort of impractical.  Her breathy, fanciful speeches about organic produce as a fundamental human right and her unwillingness to admit that it might be more important for school districts to spend limited resources on books rather than on fresh, locally-grown, organic white peaches are just annoying.  And not only that, her flagship restaurant, Chez Panisse, has dropped in our favorite international restaurant rankings.  Nonetheless, there are worse things she could advocate for and she still has one of the best restaurants in the world, so Carlo and I paid it a visit during our trip out west.

Chez Panisse includes a fine dining restaurant and a cafe.  The cafe is more casual and offers an a la carte menu and the restaurant offers a daily-changing fixed-price menu.  On the evening of our visit, the menu was as follows:

Warm asparagus with capers, pancetta, and Parmesan

Warm asparagus with capers, pancetta, and Parmesan

Pan-seared sea scallops with wild fennel, hot pepper, and oregano

Pan-seared sea scallops with wild fennel, hot pepper, and oregano

Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork with fava beans, cannellini beans, and rapini

Spit-roasted Becker Lane pork with fava beans, cannellini beans, and rapini

Twin Girls Farm cherry crostata with bitter almond ice cream

Twin Girls Farm cherry crostata with bitter almond ice cream

Supposedly, there is also an optional cheese supplement, but we were never offered it, the only flaw in service for the evening.  We would have ordered it had it been offered, but we were plenty full so we weren’t that upset to miss it.  This was a very nice meal.  Everything was cooked perfectly, the flavors were great, and the produce was in perfect form as promised.  If we lived in Berkeley, I am sure we would happily become regulars.  But it wasn’t a very exciting meal despite the great ingredients.  The kitchen is very competent but not very creative.  Given the same quality ingredients, competent home cooks could easily replicate and improve on these dishes.  Except for the last one.  The dessert was out of this world, fresh juicy perfect cherries on an almost marzipan-y crust with fresh ice cream. I wish I could go back and get that dessert, though there is no guarantee that it would be on the menu, since it changes everyday.  So, all in all, Chez Panisse was a pleasant experience and a good dinner, only marginally over-priced, and worth a visit for anyone in the Berkeley area.

Chez Panisse on Urbanspoon

Welcome to French Laundry. May we hang your soiled-from-anticipation pants up to dry in the garden?


Liz and I went out to Napa Valley with Liz’s brother and sister-in-law this past weekend to drink some wine and eat some food. We secured a reservation for 4 exactly 2 months ago from  Saturday, May 16th. If you google “french laundry reservation” you will be met with a slew of websites and blog posts devoted to the difficulties inherent in getting a reservation. First of all, you need to call at 10am pacific time (when the restaurant opens) exactly two months before the day that you would like to go. The websites will tell you that even doing this probably won’t be enough as the line will be busy. Some suggest you need to go there in person. There is even a service for which you can pay to have a particular individual get the reservation for you! Such is the desire and perceived difficulty of getting a seat at what is widely considered the best restaurant in the country. I say “perceived” because I am not so sure how much to buy into this.  Liz and I started calling with two phones the moment the clock struck 10am, got through after about a minute,  and had the option of several seatings. I feel like if you do that and you have a window of a couple of days that you are willing to go, you should have no problem. Especially now since it’s star is starting to fade a bit and other US restaurants are considered as good if not better.

To the meal. Everything was delicious, with the standouts being the Oysters and Pearls (Liz said it was her all time favorite bite of food), the Butter-Poached Lobster, the Black Bass, and the Yogurt Sherbet. The service was amazing – the courses were paced well, and our server was fun and informative. The environment in the restaurant was a little stuffy. No music playing so it was a little awkward at first with lots of tables whispering. But it loosened up after a while, presumably as a function of drunkenness. There were two menu options, the Chef’s Tasting or the vegetarian tasting. The waiter strongly urged us to go with the Chef’s Tasting absent any strict vegetarians, and I think that’s a wise move. For the same price ($240) you better have some strong philosophical aversion to meat to go with the vegetarian menu. The menu was 9 courses with four of those courses having two options to choose from. The Foie Gras and the Kuroge Beef courses carried supplemental charges.

salmon tartare

Amuse bouche of salmon tartare with some kind of whipped cheese hiding in the nether-regions of a chive cornet.

Oysters and Pearls“Oysters and Pearls”:  Sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and California Sturgeon Caviar

hearts of peach saladSalad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm: French Laundry Garden Radish, Cucumber, Perilla and Navel Orange

foie grasMoulard Duck Foie Gras in Terrine: Green Grapes, Cutting Celery, Compressed Endive and Black Truffle

black bassSauteed Fillet of Atlantic Black Bass: Garlic Scapes, Carrots, Artichokes and Barigoule Emulsion

tuna tartareTartare of Japanese Bluefin Tuna: Beech Mushrooms, Gengko Nuts, Broccollini and Bonito

lobster knuckleSweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts”: Potato “Mille Feuille”, Golden Corn, Fava Beans, and Pickled Ramps

pork bellyFricassee of Salmon Creek Farms Pork Belly: “Garnitures de Petit Pois a la Francaise”

kuroge beefSirloin of Kuroge Beef from Shiga: White Asparagus, Pine Nuts, Tulare Cherries, Mizuna and Ginger Sauce

cheeseManchester: Cauliflower, Pumpkin Seeds, Zante Currants and Parsley Shoots

yogurt sorbetAndante Dairy Yogurt Sherbet: Oatmeal “Sable” and Royal Blenheim Apricot

chocolate“Gateau au Chocolat Avec Bavarois Praline”: Caramelized Gros Michel Bananas and Hazelnut Sorbet

parfait“Parfait au Cintron”: Candied Lemon, Biscotti Tuile and Lemon Snow

So, what do I think? French Laundry is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to, probably top 5. Was it worth the price? No, I don’t think so. Not considering what you could get elsewhere for the same price or less. Eating there reminded me of what Ezra Klein wrote about Per Se over at the IFA. “It wasn’t going far enough. It wasn’t inventing anything, or surprising you.” There were no duds at French Laundry. Every dish was delicious and beautiful. But there were no jaw-dropping moments either, except of course when the bill showed up. There was nothing playful about the experience. No whimsy. And dammit, if I’m going to plan a trip around a restaurant and pay that much to eat there, I want some f’ing whimsy. The difference between an incredibly fresh ingredient prepared perfectly and a really incredibly fresh ingredient prepared super-duper perfectly does not merit tacking hundreds of dollars onto the bill. There are other places I could go. Eating the Tour at Alinea in Chicago is like French Laundry meets Cirque du Soleil. And cheaper.

That said, it was a great experience. Yountville and the surrounding wine country is a beautiful setting and must be taken into account if you like to travel for restaurants. While Alinea is a better restuarant, I’d rather take a trip to Napa than Chicago.

French Laundry on Urbanspoon

Everyone sets arbitrary goals for their life.  Some people want to visit all 50 states, others want to read the entire Babysitter’s Club series, while others aim to finish a 5K without crawling at the end.  For Carlo and me, we want to eat all of the world’s best restaurants.  And lucky for us, there are a lot of publications that try to establish which ones they are.  A couple years ago, we plucked one arbitrarily off the internet and we’ve been slowly but steadily picking off the restaurants.  A couple weeks ago, Restaurant Magazine, our ranker of choice, issued its 8th annual list of the world’s 50 best restaurants.    We pay little attention to how this list is compiled, and admittedly, many of these restaurants are on the list on account of their fanciness as much as on account of the quality of their food.  But whatever, it’s fun to have a goal and we’ve rarely had a bad meal when eating off this list.  Unsurprisingly, picking a list is the easier part of achieving this goal.  If you peruse this year’s collection, you’ll be shocked to notice that not all of the restaurants are in the greater Boston area.  This means that we have to plan and travel and reserve embarrassingly far in advance.  And since both of us work, this can be a tricky proposition.  Another impediment is that the list keeps changing without warning.  So I had Gordan Ramsey checked off (May 2004) and this year they took it off the list!  Carlo and I just this week made reservations at Chez Panisse, and they bumped it to the 51-100 list.  And most problematically, we don’t live in Spain, where most of these places are located.  So as in reaching any goal, there are a lot of struggles along the way, but the important thing is that we’re making progress.

A few months ago, I wrote that Carlo and I were desperate to get to Alinea. Well, we’ve done it and it did not disappoint. According to Food and Wine, Alinea is at the forefront of molecular gastronomy. I ate there in Spring 2006 with my parents and had an incredible experience. The food was delicious, creative, and satisfying; the wine was perfectly paired and unique; the service was professional and friendly without any obsequiousness; the decor was very simple yet elegant. It’s the perfect fine dining restaurant (except for the prices, which are high). I especially like that, despite the molecular gastronomy, it’s not all science and art, which can afflict some restaurants that become too high-minded (Fat Duck outside London suffered a bit from this when we ate there in February). It is real food remixed. Ingredients are combined in ways that one would never think of, but should have. It’s dangerous to go back to a restaurant for which you have such stellar memories, but Alinea has only gotten better in my mind after my second visit.

Alinea offers two menu choices, and visitors make that choice at the time of reservation. You can get the 12 course tasting menu or the 24 course tour. Shockingly, Carlo and I went with the tour. In this context, more is definitely better. And we also chose to have our wines paired. Don’t worry, you don’t get 24 wines, only 13 delicious tasting portions of wine. Still pretty hard not to get drunk since the tasting portions weren’t all that small and I’m not all that big. By the end of the meal, we were definitely ready to go (Carlo actually said he was going into shock). I think this owed more to how tired we were when we started the meal rather than the meal itself, which was actually very well-balanced and we didn’t feel that full, despite some bread pairings in addition to the wine pairings.

I will recite the menu here, but unfortunately, we do not have pictures. Carlo will tell you this is because we forgot our camera. I actually prefer not to take pictures in restaurants so perfect. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when taking pictures of every course: you’re always taking a bite before you remember to do it; the employees stare at you contemptuously; the pictures never look as good as you remember. Anyway, if you want to see pictures, there were plenty of people flashing away and I’m sure you can find them at blogs all over the web.

Here is what we ate and drank:

Steelhead roe: smoked salmon, grape, celery on top of a lemon cream (all of which were made into spheres) served with a cocktail of Jane Ventura Cava with aloe pulp juice, Sauternes and vermouth

Lemongrass: oyster, sesame, yuzu (the lemongrass was the spoon)

Tomato: basil, mozzarella, olive oil (the mozzarella was almost like meringue and the basil was a sorbet) served with Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko “Santorini”, Santorini, Greece 2007

Rouget: artichoke, garlic, bottarga (rouget is red snapper), which was served with Fruhwirth Scheurebe, Steiermark, Austria 2006

Cobia: tobacco, radish, cedarwood (the cedarwood was smoking in this dish and I almost started crying as I was immediately transported to childhood memories of sitting by a fire; this memory transportation thing is one of Grant Achatz’ (the chef) goals) served with Fonthill “Sea Air” Verdelho, McLaren Vale, S. Australia 2006

Chicken Liver: bacon, carmelized onion, vin santo (layered in a tube, which you suction out) served with Hans Riesetbauer “Apfel-Cuvee” Schaumwein Trocken, Austria

A couple one-bite dishes:

Watermelon: green coriander, tamari, bonita

Oxalis Pod: sweet, hot, sour, salty

Followed by:

Short rib: Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli served with Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina” Piemonte 2004

Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter (this is one of their signature dishes, which I had in 2006 as well; the hot potato and truffle are on a pin stuck through a small wax bowl, then you pull the pin out and they fall into the bowl, which holds a little pool of cold potato soup, then you shoot it)

Lamb: potato, sunflower, sweet spice served with Clos Dominic “Vinyes Altes”, Priorat, Spain 2004

Foie Gras: fig, coffee, tarragon served with Hans Nittnaus Zweigelt Beerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria 2005

Rhubarb: ginger basil

Transparency: of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt (this was a thin sheet of raspberry candy that melted on your mouth, it was placed in a round clip that could sit up right on the table which flew across the room when I let it shut too hard…I think the alcohol was getting to me at this point)

Nasturtium: abalone, ginger, eggplant

Lobster: popcorn, butter, curry served with Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc “Les Chanteaux” Loire 2007

Yuba: shrimp, miso, togarashi

Wagyu Beef: maitake, smoked date, Blis Elixir (the wagyu came to our table several courses earlier propped freeze dried and clipped into an upright choptick; we were supposed to guess what it was as it melted…we failed) served with Solena “Domaine Danielle Laurent” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2004

Black Truffle: explosion, romaine, parmesan

Duck: foie gras, mole flavors served with Bodegas Tradicion Oloroso “30 anos” Jerez, Spain (sherry, which I normally don’t like was delicious with this)

Bacon: butterscotch, apple, thyme

Strawberry: violet, nicoise olive

Dry Shot: pineapple, rum, cilantro

Sorrel: honey, fennel, poppy seeds served with Braida di Giacomo Bologna Moscato d’Asti “Vigna Senza Nome” Piemonte 2007

Whole Wheat: almond, apricot, chervil served with La Tunella Verduzzo Friulano, Colli Orientali del Friuli 2005

Malt: cherry, cashew, vanilla fragrence

If you’ve got the money and the time, I highly recommend Alinea. This food might sound a bit out there, but I promise you will feel like you’re eating actual food, just not in a way you’ve experienced before.

Another productive day of vacation. Woke up late, ate breakfast, shopped for lunch (cheese at Barthelemy’s and meat at Gilles Verot ), had a picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens (see below), and started to think about dinner.

The breaded, penile-shaped morsel is yet another andouillette de troyes. This one I had to eat cold and, I must say, it was a bit too pungent for my liking. If you’ve ever cooked tripe, imagine that sensation when it is first boiling and begins to release all its pent-up stinkiness into the air. Now, imagine someone has solidified that smell into a thick slab of sausage and you’ll have a sense of what I was tasting. Liz liked it though. On the top we have a fromage de tete. Yummy, but way too much for me to put down myself, and Liz wasn’t touching it. And then at the bottom a rillette d’oie. I still don’t know what that is, but it was my favorite of the three. Tasted like some sort of heavenly combo of pulled pork and chicken salad.
Today’s real treat was our dinner at Astrance. It is currently ranked #11 on the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 restaurants in the world ( a list that Liz and I almost exclusively plan our vacations around). They call it L’Astrance, but the sign on the door says Astrance so I am going with that. The menu is small. In fact, you only have two choices: dinner with wine pairings, dinner without wine pairings. We went with the latter. No information on the meal is given, you simply inform your waiter of any dietary restrictions and off you go. Here is what we had (no pictures, we thought it might be tacky):

shortbread cookie, apple, and candied almond
shot glass of layered melon, mango and sweet yogurt puree
(with some kind of 98/99 champagne blend that I just can’t remember any more about. it was good though)

raw mushroom and foie gras tart with lemon jelly and hazelnut oil
pan-seared langoustine, assorted vegetables and flowers, with spicy peanut butter
(with Anjou Chenin Blanc 2006)

john dory fish with thai salad, and papaya puree. on the side: mussels in cucumber soup with shredded crab
red snapper with sweet onion, bok choy, cumin seared green onion, tamarind reduction
(with Fancois Villard Viognier 2005)

pigeon three ways: pan-seared, broiled, liver pate. with white bean salad and coffee/licorice spread. on the side: lemon tea
saffron-poached zucchini flower stuffed with wild fruits over gorgonzola and honey
(with Roc D’Anglade 2004)

honey ice cream with fruit
sugar canoli (i actually have no idea what it was but this comes closest to describing it) with pistachio cream, creme fraiche, wild fruit sorbet and pistachio whipped cream
shot glass of lemon cream, lemon gelee, flowers
sweet pepper sorbet with lemon zest
fresh fruit with jasmine milk in egg shells, madeleines
(with chateau de sarospatak 1999 Tokaji)

Liz and I both agreed that this was close to if not the best meal/restaurant we had ever had/been to. Very creative and there are several dishes that I will remember for a long time. First, the langoustine with the spicy peanut butter. Most of the dishes were asian influenced but this was by far the most successful. So light but still had that pad-thai richness of flavor. The pigeon with the coffee/licorice. The coffee/licorice accompaniment worked very well despite our suspicion and did not overpower the meat at all – but it was so strong that Liz literally did not sleep a wink after the meal. We got home at midnight and had to catch a 7am train so she just trucked through. The stuffed zucchini flower – goddamnit. Goddamnit. I know the description sounds good, but its hard to describe how much better it tasted. I could eat this every night and be happy. Finally, the jasmine milk. Probably the single best tasting beverage I’ve ever had. There, I said it.
Every dish had a unique flavor combination and I was just sad that it couldn’t go on longer. Tomorrow we’re off to Chamonix to hike and eat like loggers.


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