Ok, this is something non-techie and more "off-topic" than usual, but hey, I think it is still "in-character" when it comes to me... I'm in a wacky, experimental mood at the moment (well, more than usual), so I'll give this a try. If it doesn't work out... well, you tell me. 🙂
On a recent evening in Canada with my sister and friends, we visited the restaurant "Lumiere" by Rob Feenie. Yes, the very chef who defeated Iron Chef Morimoto in Iron Chef America, and he heads an establishment in Vancouver. My sister was visiting and made reservations... so I kinda had to be there. Now, I admit that I have never eaten French Food; Feenie is considered modern French Cuisine and up there at that; but I am game to try new things. I mean, worst I can do is make a fool of myself, right? 😉
Our reservation was at 5:30pm, which I originally thought was way too early, but in retrospect, it ended up being a good choice time-wise... because we did not finish our meal until past 9:30pm. Yup... 4+ hours for a single meal. This was a definite first-time for me since I am used to meals in the 1 hour timeframe.
Well, I guess that is what happens when you push for and got the 12-course chef's choice menu... but you know, to me there was no other choice - regardless of time-taken or price, I was not about to go for some pre-set 9-course menu nor the 3-course "choose your combination" menu. I mean, in the spirit of the establishment, I wanted to see what the Chef and the Kitchen had to offer on its own merit, not merely how well it can reproduce some dish of my determination. As the Hostess puts it, in her cute French Canadian accent (hey, I admit I could not understand what she was saying regardless if she was saying English or French... but I just love the accent)... "it's something eXciting because it's a complete Surprise." So, I tossed away my expectations and got prepared to be surprised...
...and pleasantly surprised I was. Both the host and hostess ran the meal professionally like clockwork. The courses were all perfectly paced and timed so I never felt rushed to finish nor anxiously waiting for the next course... and every course was at the right temperature and presentation still intact. Even though it quickly became evident that we were the youngest aged group at Lumiere that evening, the host and hostess treated us like we belonged.
I mean, we ended up spliting just two settings amongst ourselves (there was a late lunch at Shanghai River and gelato run involved here, but that's another story...), but they improvised with extra plate settings to have things balance and match. The Hostess jokingly declared after the sixth course that she was swapping which of us got the first plating just to be "fair" (we were swapping plates ourselves anyways... but she observed), and for the tenth course dessert she brought out four settings complimentary, which I thought was a really friendly gesture.
Then, there was our subtle but obvious note-taking of the style/ingredients of each course where we asked both the Host and Hostess lots of questions about the ingredients and cooking method of each dish as they presented it. While no other table was taking visible notes, I think that they appreciated our attention to details since everytime we asked for more information, they were more than happy to provide even more description and background. I think it made the Host[ess] proud to talk about the food, and we were more than happy to oblige.
The ambience at Lumiere was simply sublime. For the most part, a single candlelight lit each table and soft reflected ceiling lights provided all remaining necessary illumination. The background music melody was unknown to me, but it had a simple, smooth melody with vibrant yet subdued tempo... just enough to motivate, yet not so much as to over-excite and detract from the meal as the center piece. It was just... THERE in the background, a motivating force. I really enjoy connecting with music and reveling in its properties, so I tune in to such details.
Since this was a 12-course dinner, the portions were basically bite-sized for maybe three distinct tastings... so your palate better be ready! I had no complaints of any of the dishes taste-wise, though I really liked how the first three courses start out:
- Crab on Shitake mushroom salad with mild wasabi and lemon foam on top, alfalfa garnish
- Lobster Carpaccio with caviar and both balsamic sorbetto and beet reductions
- Scallop Cerviche centered with a Pacific Point Oyster garnished with microgreens and shreded Parmigiana Reggiano cheese and encircled with ground pepper
Very interesting usage of fresh, raw seafood, mildly adorned and flavored against sharp counterpoint, to wake up the appetite. The menu then progressed into more "hearty" dishes which included:
- Roasted sablefish supporting a ravioli filled with butternut squash+marscapone, garnished with tomatoes+capers and extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over basil/cilantro chiffonade
- Foie gras and duck breast meat with caramelized onion paste and sherry reduction
- Veal tenderloin au jus with spinach and garlic puree
- Venison encrusted with quince and pine nuts, accompanied by cipolini onions, candy cane beets, celeriac puree/cauliflower reduction, and thinly sliced trumpet mushrooms
- Foie gras and squab wrapped in cooked spinach and golden brown potato strings, accompanied by roasted chestnut on cauliflower puree, celeriac "fries" topped with shaved black truffles, and garlic foam
And after a transition of Terra bread with selection of cheeses (strong bleu cheese, mild goat cheese, and soft goat cheese), the meal moved onto desserts... which were really pieces of edible art. The first two really were not particularly interesting taste-wise to me:
- Quince gelatin cube garnished with tiny diced pear and celeriac in pear+celeriac juice
- Pink elephant plum sorbet arranged with grapefruit slices, tiny kiwi cubes, and orange-citrus juice poured as presentation
The last one, though, I really liked - bosc pear and marscapone torte topped with something caramelized like creme brulee contrasting against chocolate amerinac sorbetto with a dash of some alcohol (sigh, never caught its ingredient nor name), chocolate garnish flare, and gooseberry slices. Mmm... tasty. I never had pears in a torte, but this one was good.
In addition to the dishes themselves, I was really happy with finally experiencing:
- The texture and flavor of foie gras with the classic pairing of duck and an unusual pairing of squab
- The texture and flavor of well-prepared sablefish against the creamy "chewiness" of ravioli
- The flavor of black truffles
- How a distinct sauce serves to harmonize one or more items of the dish together
Yeah... not your everyday ingredients nor treatment... but hey, they show up on Iron Chef a lot, and I finally have some baseline context for comparative imagination. In particular, it is interesting how foie gras literally melts away against a contrasting flavored meat, yet it is still present when you chew the combination. Ah, the dimensions to enjoy... and really, I'm not a food snob; I just enjoy understanding food composition and taste down to its core... much like how I enjoy dissecting technology down to its basics. See, there is a connection. 🙂
All in all, I really enjoyed everything about the meal at Lumiere. Definitely planning a return visit...