Tuesday 10 July
July tenth is Barbara's birthday, so Attention Must be Paid and a Special Dinner Must be Had (Birthday of a Salesman). Holt chose Jean-Robert at Pigall's, which is one of the city's top tables. It's an elegant and understated place, nicely quiet, with beautiful appointments and meticulous yet friendly service. The staff makes you feel special and welcome, and the food is special (and welcome) too, using local ingredients in interesting and delicious ways. Here's what Jean-Robert (himself - see below) presented.
First, some house sparkly and amuse-bouches (because Americans can't pronounce "gueules"): a crisp little packet of duck confit, and salmon rillette on an egg mimosa.
For appetizers, lamb shank raviolis (made with gyoza wrappers) in a sauce of more of the savory meat, mushrooms, and sugar snap peas; and a plate of luscious sweetbreads (you can't say "luscious calf's thymus glands" with a straight face) on a bed of white grits adorned with Serrano ham and various roasted vegetables. The same treatment would be good for seared scallops, and in fact the flavors and textures of the two are not so different.
As main courses, we had halibut with a watercress "crust" - really a topping - accompanied by purple potatoes, sunchokes, and fiddlehead ferns (very woodsy) in a nice Thai-style carrot and lemongrass sauce; and half a guinea hen on a (soggy) potato galette; but the herb-and-riesling reduction was nice, as were the asparagus, mushrooms, and brined radishes alongside.
The wine was a nice but rather characterless Provençal rosé; it's tough to match a dinner that's so light but substantive. The gent at the next table was ecstatic about his Lake Chalice Pinot Noir from Marlborough NZ, and perhaps next time we'll have something meatier to go with that.
For dessert, Holt ordered bittersweet chocolate tart with cherry ice cream and coulis; and Barbara had rhubarb mousse formed into a rocket and set in a launch-pad of pistachio frangipane, with goat cheese-honey ice cream. The odd shape of her choice made it difficult for the staff to insert the necessary birthday candle, but they managed to stick it in the side of the frangipane. They are too well-bred to sing, which was appreciated, but they slipped in a wrapped pound cake for later, and of course some chocolate truffles to go with the coffee. As we were sipping, Jean-Robert himself ambled by, and we discussed his burgeoning Cincinnati restaurant empire. Frankly, we'd be happy if he got even more restaurants than the four or five he has; despite the odd slip, his cooking is elegant, creative, and damn tasty.