Perfect Meal for 2007

Rather than compile a simple list, I’ll post a hypothetical perfect meal where the confines of time, distance, and narrative play no part in compiling the list of 2007′s best dishes. This is an attempted menu, not a preferential ordering; if pressed, I’d have a very hard time ranking them. The long list is also a testament to a great year in dining.

The pastiche of chefs and dishes represented here would render an actual meal schizophrenic – from high concept to base ingredients, a jerky back and forth – but try to imagine eating this wonderful meal on its own terms – a collection of wonderful dishes.

The restaurant names are linked to the original reviews of the meals. I’ve left the original descriptions intact.

If you have a blog, post your “perfect meal” for 2007, link to this blog, and I will link to them below:
1 – CountryEpicure has posted a great looking meal
2 – very good food has posted her favorite meals of the year
3 – Ulterior Epicure has an impressively long list of favorites.

Jaminisimo (Barcelona, Spain) Salamanca Jamon Iberico
The toro of ham, nearly melts in your mouth, intense flavor, the sweetest of the three. From their literature (paraphrased):
“.. receives invigorating & constant flow of fresh, cool winds from the surrounding mountains… its altitude of 1000 feet and cold winds, fragrances of fallen branches and leaves can penetrate the aging hams. This, together with less trimming of the fat (of which there is more of) and less time in salt, produces a sweetier & juicer ham.”

Ledoyen (Paris, France) – Amuse of Cuttlefish Sashimi in Almond Milk with Lavender Foam
Amuses are often loud and boisterous statements that have little connection to the meal to come. While impact is necessary, a near-contemplative silence can last forever. This amuse pierced through the outside world and softly cooed about the meal to come. It talked of complementing flavors, textures, and harmony. The luscious almond milk’s slight sweetness perfectly complemented the (very fresh) and naturally sweet cuttlefish. The lavender foam, nearly ephemeral in texture, added a subtle but noticeable sweet and floral quality that lingered for a few extra seconds. It was soft-spoken but all-commanding, a rare work of harmony.

L’Arpege (Paris, France) – Fines ravioles potageres consomme de lopinambour
This was a beet ravioli w/ beet/artichoke consomme. I had a red pepper version of this dish on my last trip and it was easily a top 5 dish of all-time. This version is no different – to call it sublime would be cheating it. The consomme was delicate yet powerful, a salty essence of the artichoke perfectly balanced by the beet’s sweetness, all their earthy flavors providing a backbone. A slight lemon flavor radiated and permeated the consomme, taking it from perfect to heavenly. The ravioli was ephemeral with a radiant burst of beet. Next to Gagnaire’s sea-bass/codfish-intestine and Bras’s Gargouillo, I can’t think of a better dish. If you see a consomme/ravioli dish on a L’Arpege menu, order it.

Les Ambassadeurs (Paris, France) – Herves et Salades D’Hiver/Truffle Noire Surprise
A salad, dressed in truffle vinaigrette, wrapped completely in truffles. After the truffle teases of L’Arpege and L’Aubergade, we finally chanced upon the truffle quality we expected from more restaurants. Despite the truffle’s intense poignancy, the acidity from the vinaigrette balanced the dish beautifully. Louisa of Movable Feast, who oversaw the development of truffle & caviar dishes during her time with Les Ambassadeurs, likens the dish to a “house of cards” – much skill certainly went into composing the dish as you can see how the truffles are folded around the salad in the 2nd picture.

Ideas in Food – Sourdough Ice Cream – wild arctic char roe, blueberries, red mustard
Very creamy ice cream – slight sour note followed by a creamy saltiness thanks to the roe. Meanwhile, the blueberry’s acid and the sharp mustard leaves cut it. Wonderful texture as it turns from creamy to the popping roe.

Ledoyen (Paris, France) – Truffe en Croque au Sel, Quenelle Onctueuse de Foie Gras
Truffles, jerusalem artichokes, some sea salt on the side, and a beautiful foie gras mousse. The first bite left much to be desired – the ephemeral quality of the amuse gave way to a seemingly different experience of contact and crunch. The truffles,despite their high quality, competed with the artichokes for attention in both taste and texture. Thinking I could outsmart the chef, I tried just the foie & truffles – addition by subtraction. It certainly was – this combination failed to excite and made me reconcile the differing “earthy” tastes of the artichoke and truffle.

I played w/ proportions and discovered a magic formula – 1/2 artichoke, 1 truffle, and 1 foie. The texture dramtically improved – very crunchy, neither ingredient overpowering the other, with the lightest of mousse finishes. The “green” earthiness of the jerusalem artichoke fed nicely into the darker earth of the truffle. The foie’s richness, at the end, obviously crossed the line into decadence but only by suggestion; the mousse was so light its taste bordered on the suggestive.

Ideas in Food – King Salmon – foie gras consomme, morel mushrooms, red wine
My favorite dish of the night – this was a Manresa quality dish. The morels were perfectly preserved from the spring – they were as good as the morels I had in May in France. The earthy richness of the morels sublimely paired w/ the fish’s richness. The foie consomme, very subtle, gave the dish some body and a very calm mellow finish.

French Laundry (Yountville, CA) – MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE” – Jacobsen’s Farm Crab Apple, Shaved Summer Truffles, Mâche and Crab Apple “Gelée”
There is nothing as sublime as TFL’s foie gras terrine. It is worth every penny of the $30 supplement. Its near whipped-cream texture is as ephemeral as a meat-based dish can get. It is akin to eating the essence of foie. It is generally served with a variety of sea salts, ranging from different continents and millennia.

Pierre Gagnaire (Paris, France) – Pate de chataigne aux celeris dores – toast noir a la moelle
A textural marvel where the marrow gave way to the truffle and toast, with the marmalade sitting in the background the entire time. The flavor began with the marrow and ended with the aromatic truffles, the whole thing slightly sweet from the marmalade. At this point, I was thinking “repeat” of my first Gagnaire meal last May.

Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – Into the Vegetable Garden
Into the vegetable garden continues to evolve, subtly but assuredly. It changes slightly to adjust for seasonality but the taste profiles are getting stronger. Kinch is really honing in on this dish – it is approaching the masterful levels of the Michel Bras gargouillou – the reference dish that Kinch acknowledges in his blog post about the dish. There is no arguing that it has achieved its purpose – to capture the ephemeral nature and experience of the garden.

El Poblet (Denia, Spain) – The Living Forest 2007
The Opinionated About review caused some ripples in the foodosphere by proclaiming experience and abstraction as new culinary frontiers. An argument against this notion is the traditional symbolism, and ritual, found in many cultures around their food. However, symbolism and abstraction are entirely different; and the arguments seemed to get caught up in semantics.

This dish was experiential and, with my limited dining experience in mind, I think it’s a bold new frontier. Other restaurants crossed over into the intellectual realm long ago – French Laundry with its plays on classic dishes; El Bulli and WD-50 with their new takes on ingredients and traditional flavor pairings; Fat Duck with memory and influence; and countless others. El Poblet seems different with these Abstraction dishes (this one, Abstraction of the Sea, Hoarfrost, and The Other Moon of Valencia below.) The ingredients were nonrepresentational in a culinary context; they did not point back to themselves in meaning or intent. The experience was the dish – not the mind trying to link symbol to food item. Whether this becomes important or not is for history to tell.

Mushrooms mixed with a brown sugar sand, it had the crunch and taste of walking through a forest. Each bite yielded different aspects of the earth. The entire dish had the crisp smell of forest air. The brown sugar was just a touch too sweet but its portions could be easily controlled to maintain the delicate ecosystem. Excellent.

Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) – Grilled Sea Cucumber
A perfect, and I don’t use that word lightly, char that was subtle enough to impart a taste but not dominate it. This dish fulfilled every expectation I had for Etxebarri and his prowess with a grill. Easily, the dish of the night.

Rias de Galicia (Barcelona, Spain) – Octopus Galician Style
Stupendous – I’ve never had octopus this fresh. It was barely cooked, still oozing with slime, the pepper possibly a little heavy-handed but satisfyingly spicy. This will forever remain a reference item and, combined with Jaminisimo’s ham, a reason in itself to book a ticket to Barcelona.

El Poblet (Denia, Spain) – Abstraction of the Sea 2007
The best realization of the four experiential experiments. The mushrooms compose a majority of the dish yet they clearly mimicked the look, feel, and taste of seaweed. The smells and tastes of the ocean breeze were so vivid that one might question why it’s labeled an abstraction. This is an evocative cuisine.

Urasawa (Los Angeles, CA) – Kobe Beef “A10″
There are 12 grades of kobe beef, A12 being the highest, but the chef said A12 is too fatty for more than one bite. The A10 was a good compromise for serving across several dishes. I’ve never seen more marbled meat. For those that say “you haven’t had Kobe til you’ve had the real thing” – they are absolutely correct. This would put any “wagyu” you find in top-tier American restaurants like The French Laundry to shame.

The meat was served in a variety of ways – cubed and grilled, sliced for shabu shabu, and thinly sliced and grilled for sushi. The grilling was done for a few seconds – enough for a char. The piece of sushi was the best preparation where the intensity of fat may have been a bit too much in the cubed and grilled piece.

L’Arpege (Paris, France) – Comte millesime Automne 2002 truffe noire
The meal ended on a much lower note than its magnificent beginnings but, being somewhat-experienced L’Arpege eaters, we knew the Comte was next. You could smell this as it was being walked across the room – very crystallized texture, where the truffles emerged immediately with the comte’s saltiness. Near divine but my other dining companions got more truffles. This was the 2002 vintage of the Antony comte.

Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) – Milk Ice Cream
Perfect ice cream. Unsure of which sort of milk, sheep’s being my guess, the texture and richness was unparalleled. Others have reported that the ice creams are smoked, but I don’t recall any smokiness in the flavor.

Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain) – Violet Ice Cream
Dessert time at Mugaritz is unlike any other restaurant – the desserts can be as memorable, if not more so, than the main courses. This year’s violet ice cream was astounding. An intense violet flavor, creamy as can be.

And some misc fun facts for 2007:

Favorite Meal: El Poblet (Denia, Spain)
Favorite Trip: The Spanish trip really opened my eyes to the quality of some amazing ingredients
Favorite Dish: Les Ambassadeurs Herves et Salades D’Hiver/Truffle Noire Surprise
Favorite New (for me) Food: Jaminisimo Salamanca, followed closely by A10 Kobe beef
Most Visited Restaurant: Manresa (Los Gatos, CA), approximately 8-10 times
Favorite New Restaurant: Ubuntu (Napa, CA)
Most Expensive French Meal: 425 euros – Pierre Gagnaire truffle tasting menu (L’Arpege truffle tasting menu @ 415 euros was a very close second)
Most Expensive Spanish Meal: 225 euros – Etxebarri
Most Expensive US Meal: $350, French Laundry with wagyu and foie gras supplements (Urasawa was second at $300)
Most Disappointing High-End Restaurant: Cordeillan Bages
Most Disappointing Mid-Tier Restuarnat: Colborne Lane – it barely beat Au Pied du Cochon
Best Comments in a Post : it’s a tie between Colborne Lane and Au Pied du Cochon – both got quite rowdy

The 2008 Food Itinerary will be published next week – stay tuned!

- chuck

  • H.Alexander Talbot

    sorry we missed you last evening.

    happy 2008.

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  • Robert-Gilles Martineau (ロベル)

    If I were allowed to choose my pick among these marvels it would be:
    French Laundry (Yountville, CA) – MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE” – Jacobsen’s Farm Crab Apple, Shaved Summer Truffles, Mâche and Crab Apple “Gelée!

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  • Aaron

    Wow, I don’t know how I missed this post before, Chuck. Great stuff. Looks like we’re right on the same page with the Most Visited Restaurant and Favorite New Restaurant.

  • Doxis Bekris

    Dear Chuck what more can I say then Wow!!!
    You are opening for us the doors of food/culinary heaven

    Keep visiting and writing so we get more and more from your expiriences and knowlege.
    Thank you

  • Mikko

    Hi Chuck!
    My loved girlfriend just came home from barcelona with two packages of Salamanca ham from Jamonissimo :) Now im wondering what kind of wine would go well with it, im planing to eat it without anything else. I´ve been thinking about Mas La Plana from Torres, but not sure… Any advice?