Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Lumiere Tasting Bar

There was an announcement in the food section of my local paper that the Lumiere Tasting Bar was selling its bar bites cheap. As I'd already sampled the expensive stuff on my birthday two years ago, this seemed a good place to go for my birthday this year, and not be tied to a set menu. The glowing bar was certainly inviting.

The website spoke lovingly of its cocktails. This one is called the New French Martini, made with vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and Cordoniu Cava Rose. Amazing drink. I think I'm at West. I eventually have three.

The Ritz Royale, made with brandy, Maraschino liquer, Cointreau, lemon juice and sparkling wine. With all those bubbles going off on my mouth, I felt like Einstein discovering E=MC2. One reason may have been I couldn't taste the ingredients, kept wondering what was in the drink, even though I was reading the list of ingredients. A very intellectually stimulating beverage. One was enough, however.

The menu decouvertes: produits de la mer sounded like my kinda food. On the top left, tuna tartare with soy truffle vinaigrette. As always with uncooked fish, I ate only a few molecules. Below, thankfully is a delectable bit of arctic char, with pea shoots, trumpet mushrooms and a sauce vierge. Next to it, a vividly black spot prawn ravioli soaked in squid ink with linguine made of the squid tentacles, also in a sauce vierge. Never has a ravioli deserved so much ink. Above it, a seared scallop with salted potatoes and a sunny side quail's egg. I avoided the egg, however sunny it might have been, but loved the scallop. OK, not as good as the "appetisers" at Cioppino's I'd eaten 3 days before, but then neither is anything else.
While I was feasting on the sea food discovery plate, my friend X first had the chicken noodle soup, made with a whole free range chicken breast and garlic croutons. Next, she had the above beef dip, while guzzling Gewurz spritzers. She commented that it reminded her of her grandmother's cooking, only better. If chef Dale Mackay can't find a chef's job after this restaurant closes this summer, maybe he can get work as a French grandmother.
I was hungry enough to order Mackay's special butternut squash and mascarpone ravioli in black truffle beurre blanc after my fishy tidbits. It was astonishing. Every ravioli released a mouthful of cheesy squash soup as you bit into it. No, I don't think Mackay will ever lack for work as a chef. People would line up just to eat this ravioli.
I made the mistake of ordering a specialty coffee and having them invent something for me. I recall eating at the fancy part of Lumiere two years ago and having the same problem getting a drinkable coffee. After a few sips, I sent it back, washed out my mouth with some Coeur de Lion XO, and then went back to the spectacular New French Martini pictured above.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cioppino's: Chef in charge

Finally made it to Cioppino's Chef Pino recognized me and remembered that I'd promised to visit his restaurant, after his amazing soup at the Gold Plate Awards dinner. "I make more than just soup," he told me. Krista, Dino and I were prepared to be impressed. I asked if there were a cocktail menu, as we were seated right next to the bar. No, but there is a house martini, this one, made with orange juice, Alize passion fruit liquer, Absolute mandarin vodka, and mango puree. The chef came by and told me to be sure and eat the sweetened fruit in the bottom of the glass, which was exquisite. I ended up having a couple.

A very comfortable space.

The award winning Porcini mushroom soup wasn't on the online menu or the one at the table, but Pino made it anyway. Here's Krista discovering what I'd discovered 4 monthes before.

We shared 3 appetisers. This is spot prawns with arugula, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, squash and some kind of fruit. I wished my prawn-loving daughter were here to enjoy it.

We also ordered the grilled calamari "alla Ligure" with sage, mushroom and black olives, and for a salad course, the warm goat cheese, roasted portabella, Japanese eggplant, maple syrup caramel. There may be better appetisers on the planet but these are the best three I've ever tasted.
When the chef came by to find out how we were enjoying everything, my palate was so involved with the sheer enjoyment of the food, I was momentarily speechless. The three appetisers seemed to be having a conversation with each other in my mouth.
I noticed the pan seared RARE tuna in Pinot Noir citrus reduction. I told Chef Pino that I only ate fish that was well cooked. First, he said that the tuna had to be a certain consistancy for the flavours to work but he took that as a challenge and cooked this tuna specially for me. I don't recall a chef at a restauarant of this quality who had ever done that for me. I felt like a king or something. The red wine the chef chose to accompany the tuna was also a perfect pairing.
Krista ordered the lobster, scallop and prawn trio. I sampled each and found them true to their original taste, unlike my tuna which didn't taste anything like any tuna I'd ever tasted.

Dino had the duck, which I found ducky. Chef Pino said he used ancient recipes married to the most modern technology. Dino is planning to open a rental kitchen in the near future, for chefs who don't own their own restaurants to use when they do catering. I wonder if any of them will ever make any food as good as this.

Limoncello cheese cake, marscapone thing and lime sorbet. Fond as I am of all things lime, it was too cold to enjoy. Great food from first bite to last. Indeed, the whole day had been amazing. Serendipitously, I had turned on Air America in the morning when CBC had nothing I wanted to hear, and there was my Firesign friend David Ossman on the Lionel show, which I was trying to bring about on the cruise in the last blog posts.