Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chez Dominique - 09/10/2009

Rikhardinkatu 4
00130 Helsinki, Finland
+358 9 612 73 93

Though Finland is by no means a culinary destination, there were a couple of spots that piqued my fancy. Chief among them, Chez Dominique with its two Michelin stars and number 21 in the list of Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 restaurants. At the helm of Chez Dominique, is Chef/Owner Hans Välimäki who seeks to create innovative dishes based on classic Nordic and French flavors.

I had originally my visit to coincide with my trip to Helsinki on business; however our hosts arranged a traditional Finnish celebration, complete with a trip to the sauna and it seemed poor manners to refuse. Given that I might never return to Finland, I was determined to visit the restaurant despite the extra cost and lost time traveling between Tampere and Helsinki.

The restaurant offers 4 (99€), 6 (118€), and 9-course (136€) menus as well as a Menu Dominique (136€) which was also 9 courses when I went but has since expanded to 17-courses. I couldn't decide between the 9-course and the Menu Dominique so I followed the waiter's suggestion and went with the Menu Dominique. I would have liked to go with a friend to see the differences between the two menus.

Amuse 01:
The first amuse consisted of three crisps: squid ink, olive duck skin, and truffle pizza. The briny squid ink was composed with puffed rice giving it a texture similar to a rice cake. The duck skin was so thin and brittle it was difficult to pick up without breaking. The skin dissolved on the tongue, suffusing the palate with a smoky herbaceous flavor. The truffle pizza sounded the most promising but tasted mostly of cheese, enjoyable but not as distinctive as the other two.

Amuse 02: Baby lamb and beetroot
The second course was a baby lamb confit with beetroot sorbet, served over cheese and glass noodles. My initial impression was a bit one dimensional, the abundant sweetness of the sorbet overwhelming the subtler savory elements. My second taste showed some game on the attack as well as some tang from the cheese before the sweetness came to the fore.

Amuse 03: Salmon with potato and dill
The third amuse was an elegant take on the Scandanavian classic, Gravlax. The raw salmon is cured with salt, sugar, and dill then served with potatoes. Though the kitchen took some liberties with the textures, I found this the most common of the three amuses, still quite tasty but not very memorable.

01: Pickled oyster and horseradish
Deutz Champagne Brut 2002
The cooked oyster had a slightly softer smoother texture while retaining some of the natural brine and sweetness. The horseradish is served in Dippin' Dots form and is surprisingly sweet with none of the sinus clearing power I was expecting. The sommelier offered a classic pairing for this course, Deutz Champagne, vibrant citrus notes with clean acidity, a hint of spice and toast on the finish.

02: Duck foie gras and celery
Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spätlese 1993
An interesting preparation of foie gras terrine, still quite rich but a bit gamier than normal. The foie was accompanied by various preparations of celery, including freeze dried and sorbet preparations. Fantastic interplay between the bitter notes of the fresh celery and the richness of the foie. I also enjoyed the chilling element from the sorbet. Toasted brioche and truffle butter were served as well but I devoured the foie gras before I remembered them. One of my first experiences with older riesling, the wine displayed strong petrol notes with hints of fruit around the edges, some apple and lemon zest. Similar characteristics on the palate but with more fruit and a slightly sweet slate finish.

03: Carrot and tarragon
Forstmeister Geltz, Mosel
A simple dish carrots, though any impression that this is a healthy dish is immediately dispelled by the aromatic bath of butter. The sweetness of the carrots is drawn out by the cooking and the sweet butter. The onions provide a mild savory char, though a stronger contrasting flavor would have been welcome to balance the intense sweetness. Another riesling, exhibiting waxy fruit esthers on the nose and a blue-cheese like funk on the palate, not very enjoyable on its own but a nice counter to the sweetness of the carrot.

04: Scallop and soy
A wonderfully cooked scallop, meaty and tender with lovely golden-brown caramelization. The light savory-sweetness of the scallop is heightened by the soy and tangy ceps. Contrasting the nicely balanced scallop is the calamari which offers a rough crunch and salty burst.

05: Grilled turbot and artichoke
Calligramme 2006, Domaine de Bellivière, Jasnières
Perhaps the best preparation of turbot I have ever had. A meaty fish with both dense and tender, the scoring adds complexity to the flavor profile whilst complimenting the natural flavor of the fish; superb when paired with the more aggressive Sevruga caviar or king crab puff. The wine was 100% chennin blanc, lively on the attack with a rich balanced midpalate and a minerally finish.

Whipped Lingonberry Porridge or Vispipuuro is a traditional Finnish dessert though at the time I didn't appreciate the cultural significance of the course and likened it to a very elaborate yogurt parfait. Lingonberries are common throughout Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe, though the fruit is quite tart and typically sweetened and served as a preserve or compote. The fruits are also served mashed with sugar and in that form, are a popular compliment to game meats; in fact I had two preparations of reindeer with lingonberries while in Finland. The chilled tart porridge was served just prior to the last savory course as a palate cleanser.

06: Baby lamb and cep mushroom
Puligny-Montrachet 2006, Olivier Leflaive
The final savory was a duo of baby lamb, tenderloin and belly. The tenderloin is a prime example of lamb, tender and flavorful with just a hint of game. The belly on the other hand, has a much more aggressive profile; arguably the most gamy lamb I have ever tasted. The earthiness of the ceps provide a complimentary flavor to the lamb while the potatoes adds a weighty substance and makes the dish feel more substantial.

07: Assortment of cheese Chez Dominique
Barbera d’Asti Stradivario 1997, Bava, Piemonte
A fairly small, consisting of two french cow's milk cheeses, Abbaye du Mont and Comté, paired with fig, quince, pine nuts, and nut and dried fruit bread. The cheeses were both enjoyable though fairly tame, frankly I expected something more adventurous to be served with the tasting menu.

Pumpkin and liquorice
A very Autumnal dish, the sweet pumpkin and herbal liquorice are complimented by a concentrated note of vanilla from the ice cream. A touch on the heavy side for an intermezzo but enjoyable nonetheless.

08: "Green apple"
Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Eiswein 2007, Langenlois
My favorite of the sweet courses was a combination of green apple, meringue, and a rosemary creme brulée. The green apple elements had a tartness that bordered on bitter while the the meringue possessed a simple sugary crunch both immensely enjoyable on their own but the interplay between the two is what makes the dish shine. The strong flavors of green apple serve to link the dessert with the wine, a delicious gruner veltliner eiswein.

09: Chocolate and anise
Noé Sherry 30 Y.O., Gonzáles Byass
The final dessert was a chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache infused with anise giving it a savory herbaceous complexion, served with coffee ice cream, hazelnut praline, and bits of espresso beans. The initial flavor is of course the chocolate ganache though that is followed by the lingering bitterness of the espresso.

Chez Dominique was certainly the most refined and elegant restaurant I dined at during my trip to Finland, but there was something missing, a certain excitement or buzz that should accompany dining at one of the world's best restaurants. The food was superbly executed, if a bit less innovative than I was led to believe and the service was exceptional if a bit overly formal. All of the critical elements are there to make Chez Dominique an exceptional restaurant but for some reason it just didn't resonate with me.

No comments: