"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Monday, October 11, 2010

Le Bouchon, October 10, 2010

My quest for a good bistro - as pathetic as it is, I am not even asking for perfection anymore, but just a warm and cozy place for some solid, down-to-earth French cooking; the atmosphere New York can fake, but faking certainly does not extend to cooking - had taken me as far as Cold Spring.  In an ideal world, my quest should have taken me all the way over to Le Paul Bert in Paris; however, life is far from perfect, is it not? 
Now that I mention Le Paul Bert, how many of those reviewers who exclaim accolades such as "Just like in Paris" actually made it to Paris? In addition, I wonder how many of the few who have set foot in Paris indeed have dined in a real, classic bistro, as opposed to some output mass-produced by Christian Constant? Tell me, can one person be in two kitchens at the same time? And verging on the ridiculous, how about three or even half a dozen? Admirably aware of the limit in the current human technology, as opposed to some others who are possessed with fans keen on the prestige of exclusive dining instead of taste, Thomas Keller has connected his French Laundry with Per Se so he can monitor via screen the goings-on at both places.  But monitor? Screen? I have heard that we are moving beyond the two-dimensional into three these days; however, I have not heard that we have now moved into the four-dimensional so that being in two places at one time is possible.  Or have I been left out in the latest gadget that transfers flavor and smell over some new fiber-optic cables? 

Rest assured that Le Bouchon is not interested in empire-building.  As a matter of fact, despite ample seating capacity, the restaurant turns away hungry patrons because the kitchen gets overwhelmed by approximately the orders from six tables, and here, I am not talking about six family reunions.  While debating between a Steak Frites and the special, Coq Au Vin, I tested out their bread and butter, which needed to be requested but brought out promptly by a young apologetic waiter, who had also promptly forgot who actually asked for the bread and took it to the next table.  A small piece of the rustic bread smeared with a tiny sliver of butter, it literally turned sour in my mouth:  My health-conscientiousness saved me here from taking more of this rancid, cheap bovine milk fat.  The quality of bread and butter is a good gauge for the quality of the food.  Hence, sighing with resignation, I embraced myself for the potential disaster ahead.

Goat Cheese Tart
When was the last time that I actually had real puff pastry in the United States?  I cannot remember:  I cannot remember because I have never had it. The pastry alone was delectable: Buttery, feather-light and melt-in-your mouth.  This is a miracle, considering the poor butter that was served with the bread... The goat cheese with pretty browned spots swirled over the crust brought back down the airiness of the pastry to solid earthiness. The accompanying salad was not on the plate merely as accent for the eyes, but was refreshing on the palate with a surprisingly well-done balsamic vinaigrette.   

Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Candied Walnut in Champagne Dressing
Let's discuss where this simple, easy salad had failed:  (1) The fewness of the walnuts, which were not chopped up and (2) the strangely iridescent yellow dressing. 

(1) Walnuts should be chopped.  Cooking includes cutting the ingredients into the right sizes, not only for ease of cooking but more for ease of eating.  What can be more frustrating than an unbalanced heap of salad in your mouth, which lacks one of the key ingredients?  There were 3 walnut halves and 2 quarters and 2 eighths.  Had they been chopped and mixed well, I would have got some walnuts, if not a lot, endives and grapes in equal measures in one bite.  But no, I had to do the chopping on my plate and make those nasty clanking sounds as if I could not handle my own cutlery. 

(2) Forever paranoid of over-dressed salads for which there are more than plenty, I initially asked the dressing to be on the side.  However, our waiter recommended against it and promised that the salad would be lightly dressed.  Correct, he was about the lightness:  It was exactly the correct amount of dressing.  Having said that, whether it was the correct champagne dressing or not, I could not tell, unless champagne could turn into a color in the vinegarization process that should really come out of a yellow highlighter rather than being a part of my diet.

Coq Au Vin
Usually, I stay as far away from chicken as possible for two reasons:  (1) the quality of the chicken itself is despicable (Note:  Someone once told me that she liked chicken because it did not taste like anything.  My answer:  Why do you bother eating at all then?  Save some avian lives and go for the protein shakes.) and (2) the cooking method involving chicken in American kitchens should be more aptly described as "drying out" rather than roasting or whatnot.  Nonetheless, once in a while my caprice strikes, and today was one of such days.

And, I am happy that my whim turned out to be rewarding. Let me begin by laying out the worst:  The chicken was dry.  I am quite puzzled, really, by the dryness of the chicken as they must have been simmered in the red wine sauce for a very long time.  Perhaps, the chefs have decided to forgo the traditional way of cooking coq au vin and decided to put in the pan-seared chicken as the last minute.  In any case, why did I not throw down my napkin and walk out? Because the red wine sauce was absolutely brilliantly done.  Not overwhelming, it had all the heartiness of the mushrooms, wine, pearl onions and chicken stock.  The lost bread made its come back to soak up every drop of the sauce at the end.  And, the gnocchi...

Now, if I am being strict, then these gnocchi surely have failed because they were not pillowy or chewy (hard to describe good chewiness in English as it has such a negative connotation - imagine it is the opposite of being a mash).  In fact, the gnocchi were more like spaetzle in terms of cooking method and texture as they were browned to a varying crispness from seared to a leather sole (not good for spaetzle, either) then dumped into this rich sauce. Was it good? Grudgingly yes:  Leather sole or not, any carbohydrate browned and swimming in a delicious wine sauce cannot be truly bad as it is against nature, and neither could these gnocchi.  Although they have failed in so many ways, they still triumphantly made down my esophagus.

Now something tells me that I have to return for their steak frites; maybe it is the smell of the fries, which was constantly nagging at me throughout the meal from the next table.

Brasserie Le Bouchon Restaurants
Address:  76 Main St, Cold Spring, NY 10516
Phone:  (845) 265-7676 

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