I have often viewed inventiveness in culinary worlds as a skill, not a gift. For akin to the enlightening Chef Gusto of Ratatouille de Paris, anyone can cook, but only very few can invent.
French cuisine could not be more disparate than any other. Widespread to the point of being street style to Michelin almost instantly, I found it ironic and immediately explicable that one of my favorite French restaurants stars was actually in the culinary jewel of the Midwest: Chicago. Brindille offered refined Parisian cuisinse from a James Beard Award winning team, with classic French sensibilities in a dining room complete with classic art and French linens. From the bottle of bubbly to the simplistic decor and the eternally friendly hospitality, this was French cuisine at its finest, as I dove into yet another 9 course tasting menu.
Sunchokes were introduced to me in a rustic Princeton New Jersey restaurant, and have been a favorite for their texture ever since. This time, they were paired with asparagus, ramps, roquette and an asparagus emulsion that brought this crown-like salad together. The greens and asparagus rendered it soaked in my favorite flavor profile: bitter. Cut slightly by the fibrous vegetables and prettified to a new level by lavender florets.
Squash blossoms are very familiar to my eyes and tastebuds, owing to their chameleon tastes of pairing with almost anything. This time, their graceful blossoms and the vegetable itself was cooked with a tomato red pepper sauce which brought a subtle sweet and spicy tang to a gorgeous dual compartment plate. On one end, there were zucchini wrapping the cooked squash, while the other end was a flirtatious nod to an open faced floret. Both tasted equally decadent, what with freshly baked and grilled vegetables in their truest form.
I have come to enjoy the spicy notes of fennel in a variety of savory and dessert items. This time, it was the prominent flavor in a soup with green garlic and shaved truffle. And while I am not a fan of soups, this one was possibly one of the most flavorful liquids I had ever consumed, with the strong fennel flavor juxtaposed with the depth of the truffle, jolting the senses and mandating a finish down to the last slurp.
Hand cut noodles are a true testament to craftsmanship. These were with morel mushrooms, tarragon cream, fine herbs. The herbaceous creaminess was what dreams were made of, silkily coating every noodle without cloying them together in a dump, with the bitter notes of the morels cutting the fat both in terms of taste and texture.
5. Garden Vegetables
Always wary of a simplistic title, I found this homage to vegetables in their steaming cooked format to be most satisfying. There were lentils, goat yoghurt mozzarella, parmesan fritters, squash and eggplant, constructed like a skyline and with a scent that mingled the smokiness of the vegetables and the freshness of the cheeses. The flavors were a party in my mouth, with dense squash and creamy eggplant marrying perfectly with the sweetness of the mozzarella and salty crispiness of the parmesan.
6. Grilled Porcini
The grill seemed to be a favorite tool of the restaurant, and one utilized with utmost quality, The grilled porcini mushrooms came accompanied by a sunshine of ingredients including a lavender mustard sauce, turnips and chickpea pennies. The latter were akin to an Indian bhajia of sorts, which was a great idea to blend with the smoky char of the mushrooms. The combination of spicy mustard with cooling lavender was another juxtaposition that worked well as a hot-cool effect. Overall, a star considering that its ingredients were usually cast as supporting characters in main plates!
And while sipping my prosecco and admiring the walls, I was thrilled to continue my legacy of triple desserts as part of a hefty tasting!
Chocolate sculptors beware, I had just found the most artistic of sugar works on a chocolate plate that I had ever seen. Tucked beneath the whimsical vertical shape of the caramel sugar was a dark chocolate cake with orange caramel candied orange slivers, chocolate ice cream and a dark chocolate citrus swoop. The presentation itself left me stuttering for words, and once we unfolded the sugar (and nibbled on it too), the scent of citrus chocolate was intoxicatingly alluring. The cake was gooey, the caramel oozed out of every bite, and the orgasmic warmth of the dish was cooled just by the touch of the ice cream. Truly a testament to art and craft in the culinary dessert world.
8. L’Oeuf a la Neige
Translated into snow eggs, this was a classic French dessert of small poached meringues floating in a custard sauce. Only this time it was elevated with strawberry, rhubarb, and chardonnay! Thankfully this meant that it was not saccharine sweet, for the wine had toned down its sweetness, and the tartness of the fruits made for a charming taste that was definitely a refined version of childhood custard dreams.
To think this was actually a pie! Pithivier is an enclosed pie made by baking two disks of puff pastry, with filling stuffed in between. As a deconstructed rendition, we only got a morsel of this, alongside Frangipane almond paste, blueberry filling, and frozen yogurt. Essentially a deconstructed pie, the components married together well to take me to French countrysides, with a nutty almond undertone to a classic pie, a burst of tangy filling and the cooling of homemade yogurt.
Not just to pinch myself out of the dream, but to ensure I didn’t board a flight to Paris, I was self assured that life was in fact an artist’s palette, and a palette begs for the artist in all fields of culinary.