Dinner at la Maison Boulud
Before I write about Singapore, I wanted to note down last night’s dinner before I forget.
We were invited to La Maison Boulud by Handel Lee, a lawyer and entrepeneur who has opened a number of art gallery and restaurants, especially the Courtyard here in Beijing. About La Maison Boulud– If you’re familiar with the restaurant Daniel in New York (who isn’t?!), it’s another one of his restaurants.
The food was wonderful, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything spectacular– none of the combinations challenged your tastebuds or mind. Of course, everything was prepared perfectly and it was still wonderful to eat there.
I APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE FOR THE PHOTOS. Usually I find that using flash makes everything look unnaturally white, but I think in this case it would have been wiser to use it.
The people sitting next to me had lived in Paris for 15 years, although they had already moved back to Beijing. They spoke French like natives, and were really nice to me, letting me practice my French with them. It was great, because since the restaurant was at one of the old embassies and the chef was actually French, some of the waiters were also french. The exchange when I asked for the bathroom was too cute:
me: les toilettes, s’il vous plait?
waiter: je peux vous les montrer?
me: oui, bien sur!
waiter: vous etes francaise?
me: non, americaine.
waiter: vous habitez ou?
me: a chicago, mais je viens de passer un mois a paris.
waiter: PAS VRAI.
Anyways, I want this post to be relatively short and sweet.
Before our appetizers came, we were served foie gras, which of course I didn’t eat.
When it came to ordering, I was extremely indecisive. I wanted to try the chilled tomato soup with babaganoush and get the scallops as my main course, but realized that wouldn’t be enough food. At the same time, I was tempted by the roasted beet salad with walnuts, goat cheese, and greens, but realized also that I have that same salad at home all the time. I decided on the soup, and my mom got the scallops.
The soup itself was exactly what it sounded like… good, worth eating– a classic gazpacho, but I could also puree some tomatoes and top them with a scoop of babaganoush. I’m being cynical again… it was served with an olive sesame cracker that was also fine.
As for the scallops, they were the juiciest, sweetest, most tender scallops I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. They were served in a stack atop a bed of roasted cauliflower with capers (were they? tasted more like raisins to me, and those two aren’t similar in the slightest), croutons, and an orange glaze. Because the scallops themselves had such a sweet flavor, the tastes of the other components didn’t quite come through. That was fine: this was more of an explosion of textures than taste– the scallops were chewy, the croutons crunchy, and the cauliflower somewhere in between. I would have gladly ordered this as my main if the portion had been bigger. I would not have gotten sick of it.
Other people ordered Alaskan king crab salad with mango, cucumber, lime, and a mint coriander dressing, and the tortellini of broccoli, fried artichokes, pancetta, and parmesan emulsion.
Our host, Handel Lee, let me have a bite of his tortellini (the pancetta was off to the side)– it was wonderful, and made me remember my frozen three-cheese tortellinidays, but in a good way. The crispy artichokes were also fantastic– like apple chips, but artichoke.
Everybody else ordered the scallops, except for my dad, who ordered foie gras.
With our appetizers, we drank a white burgundy and a rosé champagne, and the wine just kept coming! These glasses were the bowl-sized ones, and we were served what I think was a red bordeaux with the mains– but don’t quote me on that! I know nothing about wine. The French-Chinese guy across from me kept encouraging me to drink it, like I thought wine was a sin. I enjoy wine, but a few sips is just fine for me.
On to main courses: like most fancy restaurants, the appetizers were better, but my tuna was fabulous! I ordered it rare (it felt so strange being asked how I wanted something done), and it came in two beautiful blood-red rectangles topped with sweet peas, radish slices, soybeans, quail egg, and was drizzled with a touch of aioli. I was skeptical about the sauce, since anything with mayo in it makes me want to throw up, but it was so subtle that I didn’t even notice it. The tuna itself was the best part– it probably is the closest thing in the world to steak. It was crusted with spices: I tasted cumin, coriander, fennel, and maybe some hot pepper. The spices were great in contrast to the light elements of the dish. As for the quail egg, it was just a mini-hardboiled egg that probably added a few extra yuan.
Lots of other people ordered the seabass in a clam-saffron broth with shrimp, stirfried arugula, shrimp, and olives. I wasn’t sure what the appeal was, but I had some of my mom’s– a perfectly cooked piece of white fish with some fragrant Asian-style greens that I mainly ate just to get some veggies in. Personally, I didn’t think it was anything special.
Somebody also ordered the salmon, which was just a classic oven-baked salmon with carrots, leeks and a cream sauce. The awesome guy across from me ordered the cumin roasted loin of lamb with sweet pepper stew, persian dried figs and summer squash.
Our host ordered squab with a cherry compote, creamy spinach, glazed turnips, and “foie gras stuffed legs…” (I’m quoting the menu, in case you can’t tell).
My dad ordered crispy suckling pick with daikon sauerkraut, apple coleslaw, and dijon mustard jus. I suppose he has to take advantage of all these carnivorous oppportunities.
The kitchen also sent out braised short ribs with garlic potatoes.
The moment I found out where we were eating, I made up my mind that I was ordering dessert, and no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I think you guys have to understand that
1) I haven’t had McDonalds for four years, and haven’t had a french fry for three
2) It’s also been two years since I ordered my own dessert (not counting occasions where people order it for you)
I used to be so stringent about eating– wouldn’t eat any refined grains, butter, etc. etc. Now I realize that while I still eat really healthily on the whole, I don’t need to punish myself forever. So an occasional dessert is fine! That being said… I still felt obligated to push myself today in swimming, and because of it, I got a GREAT workout. Maybe I even got a swimmer’s high, the equivalent of a runner’s high, because after an hour of high intensity swimming without stopping for more than 5 seconds, I felt like I could still keep going. So I felt the dessert was justified.
The problem was, I couldn’t decide once again! The verbena parfait and some of the other fruity desserts appealed, since I’ve always been more of a fruit person, but I felt like I needed something sinful. No beating around the bush. I wanted chocolate and I wanted it BADLY, so I ordered the mocha with a chocolate-coffee ganache, caramel sauce, and whiskey ice cream.
The funny thing is that even when I ate steak and french fries every night and took McDonalds apple pies to school for lunch, I never even liked chocolate. Maybe abstaining for so long has just unleashed the chocolate monster in me.
Anyways, my mom ordered the verbena parfait, which came with peach compote and peach cassis sorbet.
My dad got the Napoleon with “raspberry chiboust” (come again?), puff pastry (duh…), and lychee sorbet.
Somebody also just got sorbet: peach cassis, lychee, and cherry.
I was glad I ordered what I did, but it turned out to be huge, just like a tart you could get at a bakery… not so much something you would order at a restaurant (wow, I’m being critical today, aren’t I…). Either way, it reminded me a lot of the chocolate tart at Fox and Obel, which is an insanely rich, fudgy chocolate ganache within a dark chocolate crust. I couldn’t detect an ounce of coffee flavor within the tart itself, but what I enjoyed immensely was the crumbles of what seemed like coffee brittle scattered underneath. There was just a drizzle of caramel, and while the ice cream just tasted like vanilla to me, it was delicious. My dad ate about a third of this tart, and my mom had some, so I think I probably only had about half.
The rest of the desserts were all deconstructed, meaning that the napoleon wasn’t actually stacked puff pastry, but rather the puff pastry, ice cream, and fruit were all separated. In some cases this makes the dessert original, while in others it just makes it seem disorganized. In the case of the parfait, instead of a trifle in a dainty glass, it was a thin wafer-like rectangle of almond cake with some kind of green cream in between. It came with sorbet and a long gingery cookie.
Still, maybe I’m being too mean. According to our host, the “black forest cake,” also deconstructed, is a deliciously summery take on the overbearing classic, complete with a chocolate sponge, cherry sorbet and diplomat cream.
The kitchen also sent out the most perfect, spongy miniature madeleines, as well as a plate of petits fours: macaroons (which I have definitely had enough of), chocolates, financiers, and candied fruit.
All in all, it was a delicious but not especially spectacular experience. Still, it was hard to believe this restaurant was in Beijing.