Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bocuse d'Or USA Benefit Dinner - 11/16/2010

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

The Bocuse d'Or USA Benefit Dinner is the spiritual successor to the 5x5 dinners of previous years. The format was similar with 5 of LA's most prominent chefs coming together though instead of creating a new dish, they each produced a classic dish made famous by Chef Paul Bocuse. This was fitting considering that the proceeds from the dinner would go to sponsor the chefs chosen to represent the United States in the Bocuse d'Or, the culinary equivalent of the Olympics.

Despite being a charity event, there was a substantial group of animal rights activists gathered outside the restaurant. Perhaps they felt that the prominence of the event would give them a larger forum to share their views. The protesters were decrying the use of gavage used to create the delectable fatty duck liver, foie gras. Still the protesters are entitled to their views and remained relatively well behaved, though they did shout loudly at diners entering and exiting the restaurant. With the ban on foie gras set to take place in 2012 the protesters may very well get their way, though I suspect and hope restaurants will find a loophole that will allow them to keep serving fatty liver.

amuse bouche - gougere, pumpkin velouté, smoked salmon mousse by michael cimarusti
The amuse was made by the host chef just like they were during the 5x5 dinner series. First up was a simple gougere, slightly crisper and more flaky than most, the morsel also possessed a more potent cheesy flavor than the norm. Next up was a pumpkin velouté, completely different from what I was expecting the thick soup featured a pickled tang rather than the typical sweetness. Rounding out the trio was a salmon mousse that featured a slight citrus tinge and light salinity.

dodine de canard a l'ancienne - duck stuffed with foie gras, truffle and pistachio by Josiah Citrin
gewurztraminer, marcel deiss 2003
The meal began on a surprisingly heavy note with the first of two courses featuring foie gras. The core of the dish was a delectably savory duck augmented with by the richness of its liver. The dish also featured a jelly made from the bird's bone and seeded with celery root that cleansed the palate and a rich soft foie gras mousse. The accompanying gerurztraminer was perfectly suited to the foie, viscous, sweet, and redolent with the flavor of dried stone fruit.

homard a l'americaine - lobster fricassé with tomato and brandy by walter manzke
crémant de bourgogne, domaine perigot & richard, "blanc de blanc" m.v.
Though not strictly a classic Bocuse dish, the lobster was undoubtedly the best course of the night. The beautifully crisp sweet lobster is augmented by a concentrated sauce made from its own jus as well as a earthy flan of mushrooms. Against this buttery rich flavor, the tang of the tomato and brandy was reduced but not missed. The wine was a crisp ebullient Cremant from Burgundy.

soupe aux truffle noire v.g.e. (plat crée pour l'elysée en 1975) - double capon consommé, foie gras, black truffle puff pastry by alain giraud
corton charlemagne, domaine louis latour 2006
First served at a presidential dinner in 1975, this dish quickly became one of Bocuse's most well known dishes. The buttery bouquet of the puff pastry shell immediately reminded us of a pot pie though the soup itself proved to be substantially more subtle. Despite including a generous helping of truffle the complex musk of the prized fungi remained elusive, adding a subdued earthiness. Similarly the foie gras only features tangentially, and the resultant broth prominently features the rustic heft of the capon. The white Burgundy was absolutely fitting, featuring a svelte butteriness and elements of green fruit.

rouget en écailles - wild frenche rouget sautéed in potato scales, two sauces by michael cimarusti
maranges le croix moines 1er cru, camille giroud 2007
Cimarusti demonstrates his faculty for handling fish with this course. The Rouget is perfectly cooked dense, moist and flavorful. The natural sapor of the fish is hightened by the delightfully salty potato scales and the sweet herbal blend of orange rosemary sauce and veal jus. red Burgundy pairs with the fish, threaded with bright sour cherry the wine was a bit simplistic but enjoyable.

granité des vignerons du beaujolais
As an intermezzo, we were served this arresting sorbet, the initial flavor of the sweet ripe fruit is quickly followed up by a winey essence and the soft sweetness of the cooked cherries.

filet de chevreuil - loin of venison, roasted market vegetables and fall fruits by tony esnault
cornas, domaine lionnet, "terre brulée" 2004
The entire table agreed that this was one of the best preparation of venison that any of us had ever tasted. The meat was remarkably tender and offered a bold rustic flavor but wasn't overly gamy or irony. Northern Rhone Syrah features both juicy dark fruit and an herbaceous spice linking it seamlessly to the deer.

trio de dessert classique de maison bocuse - crêpe a l'orange, tarte tatin, crème brûlée by adrian vasquez
sainte croix du mont, chateau la rame "tradition" 2005
These classic desserts was a far cry from Adrian's normally avant garde desserts but his skilled hand is still evident in the refined flavor of the trio. The simple crêpe was a bit monolithic but the accompanying orange sauce truly spectacular is its vibrancy. The classic apple tart featured a prominent bitterness that balanced the caramelized sweetness of the cooked fruit. Last up was a simple crème brûlée with all the characteristics of the dessert that had once so enraptured me.

Adrian took a bit more liberty with the mignardises and his skill showed particularly in the ras el hanout pâte de fruits and the cinnamon caramels.

Though the food was a far cry from what one would normally expect from these culinary luminaries, tasting such classic French flavors was refreshing in its own right. As one of my companions noted, with so many prominent chefs cooking this might actually be better than the original.

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