Cavaillon - Black Truffle Tasting Menu

>> Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Date of Dining: 3/8/2011
Price: $72 for 5 course black truffle menu (normal 5 course menu is $58)
Location: 14703 Via Bettona, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92127

The Quick Bit:
+ Good value in money to taste ratio
+ Good creativity in some dishes while remaining grounded in Classic French tradition
+ Nice restaurant ambiance
Δ Service could be more consistent to the restaurant's standards
Δ Menu for truffle tasting was inaccurate
Δ Progression of dishes could be improved
Δ Could have had an amuse

Note: I tried taking these photos with a DSLR, but it seems like the lens or body was defective. I've since exchanged the camera for a new one which seems to be functioning much better.

In the people that I interact with daily, I've found that many do not know about truffles. Many people think of truffle as the chocolate confection that they buy from Godiva, so when there is mention of a truffle risotto, they think of it as some sort of chocolate rice mixture that doesn't make sense.

Interrupt: Truffles are in fact fungii that grow at the roots of trees. In order to find truffles, pigs are trained to smell them through the dirt so that they can be carefully harvested.

Return: Along with foie gras, truffles are one of those "staple" fine dining ingredients that many people stereotype with a fine dining meal. While I acknowledge that there is some pretentiousness with these ingredients, they are like that X designation you get on your Intel CPU (Extreme Edition); you may pay more for these components, but they do enhance the overall experience at the end of the day. One simply needs to try the product at least once before they can make an informed decision.

With that said, a proper introduction to truffle as an ingredient completely changes the culinary perspective. While dining is always a savory sensation and often a visual sensation, truffle often ups the ante by introducing the aromatic sensation. Similar to when consuming too much wasabi creates a tearing and spicy sensation in the sinus, a properly prepared truffle dish can provide the sinus with a soothing and comforting sensation. Getting a tip from a fellow blogger, I eagerly anticipated Cavaillon's truffle tasting menu.

Cavaillon is run by Phillippe Verpiand who named the restaurant after the town where he grew up as a child. Verpiand worked in numerous Michelin starred restaurants before being asked to serve as Chef de Cuisine at Tapenade Restaruant in La Jolla. After working there for 7 years, Verpiand opened Cavaillon where he has been for the past 5 years. Verpiand's cuisine emphasizes fresh and local ingredients prepared with classic French and modern food preparation techniques.

The black truffle tasting menu is a seasonal menu at Cavaillon. I believe that I caught the tail end of the winter truffle season and that the menu as of this writing is either no longer available or going to shortly be unavailable. With that said, there's nothing stopping Verpiand from having another seasonal truffle menu during the summer truffle season.

1999 Chateau Lamothe-Cissac Haut-Medoc
To accompany the meal, we brought a bottle of 1999 Chateau Lamothe-Cissac Haut-Medoc. We vinturi and decanted this wine twice, and it still had not fully opened by the end of the 2 hour meal. The complexion of the wine constantly changed as time progressed. In the initial taste, there was the taste of raspberries. About 45 minutes later, the taste was mainly a moldy wood taste that lacked fruit completely. About an hour and fifteen minutes in, the wood taste finished with blackberries and the tartness of blueberry. Finally, about two hours in, the initial black raspberry flavor returned to the start and the tart dryness of the finish had left.

To some extent, I wish that the service was not so rushed so this wine could have been enjoyed more or that it could have somehow been properly decanted, but it was definitely a good bottle. If someone has this in their cellar, now is definitely the time to drink it (after letting it decant for 2-3 hours).

1st course: Truffle Torchon foie gras with dried prune mousseline
This course arrived about thirty seconds after the bread arrived and without an amuse. While an amuse is not required, the meal would have been paced better with some sort of amuse. In addition to the mini-french dinner rolls that arrived as the "bread course," this course was served with brioche.

As I tasted this course, I tried it many different ways. I tried the two apart, together, each on the brioche, each together on the brioche. I really liked each component by itself, but in the end I don't understand how the date goes with or contrasts the foie gras. Furthermore, the brioche almost completely ruined the dish. The slices of brioche were too thick and covered up the flavors on the plate. Luckily the french rolls served as the bread course worked perfectly with both the foie gras and the mousseline. Another slight negative to this dish was the offensive salt crystals sprinkled on the torchon. If you look carefully on the right side of the torchon, you can actually see how large the salt crystals were.

Despite these downsides, the torchon was of excellent quality and flavor. I don't think the truffle added much to the torchon as the flavor of the torchon itself was very enjoyable.

2nd course: Black Truffle Risotto
As I mentioned before, part of the experience to truffle should be enjoying the aroma of the truffle as it develops a gracefully smooth harmony with your nose. By putting the risotto in a jar, the lid is supposed to capture the aromas and let out the great smell as the jar is popped open. The level of disappointment I had when the jar popped open and was the same as the devastating and earth-shattering doomsday of the Y2K problem.

No smell.

No huge overpowering aroma, and not even a small hint of the truffle aroma, there was simply nothing. Now, it's definitely possible that I may have had too many expectations going in, but when you see "Black Truffle Risotto" on the menu, you are conditioned to expect something  and I definitely didn't get that.

With that said, it was still a pretty good truffle oil risotto with black truffle shavings on top; it just wasn't a good black truffle risotto. The rice was cooked well and there was a good amount of cheese mixed in to give a nice consistency to the risotto.

If I had to give some opinion as to why this dish suffered, I'd say it's because the truffle shavings were too thin. In general, I will have this same criticism in most of the dishes. I would have rather had fewer truffle and thicker cuts than the paper thing shavings that I got that had no flavor (or else the truffle used was just bad and lacked flavor).

3rd course: Scallop Carpaccio, Chestnut and Celery Root Veloute
This dish was the best dish of the night. The chestnut and celery root veloute mixed with the truffle oil was divine. I was essentially licking the bowl for the veloute - the veloute provided the perfect vessel for the comforting taste and aroma of the truffle to be delivered that I didn't get from the opening of the risotto. This dish brought be back into a positive mood for the evening, and contained the "wow" factor I expect in truffle dishes.

As for criticism, I felt that the scallop carpaccio was unnecessary. The truffle covered the delicate sweetness of the truffle, and the texture of the raw scallop was the slimy gelatinous texture that many people struggle with. If a protein were to substituted, I would suggest crevettes as there is a stronger flavor and more of a textural contrast.

Additionally, when consuming the veloute, I got a feeling of sand in my teeth. I feel this was from the way the chestnuts were ground down and some remnant of the chestnuts were creating the texture of sand in my mouth.
4th course: Duck Breast Rossini, Port wine demi-glace
This dish came with white and shitake mushrooms under the duck, a puree of kabocha, and an al dente cylinder of daikon (under the duck and mushrooms). The slice-shaped object in the foreground was pan roasted duck fat.

I want to say that the duck fat grossed me out, but I'd be totally lying. I ate that along with the rest of the dish. The flavors in this dish were really well composed, but the duck breast was way overcooked. The meat was actually tough and hard to chew, which took away from the enjoyment of the dish. Additionally the kabocha puree was a little too sweet and threw off the balance of the dish. However, the roasted duck fast saved the dish for me. It provided extra fat to compensate for the overcooked duck, and the great rich flavor of the duck fat was enough to drown out the over-sweet kabocha puree. By no means a perfect dish, but it was palatable.
5th course: Truffle Cheesecake with "truffle honey"
This cheesecake was a non-bake cheesecake. This dish would have been the best dish of the night except the veloute had more of the wow factor. The honey tied this dish together and was the perfect compliment to the cheesecake. The dish was not overly sweet and one could definitely taste the truffle in the dish.

As a minor point of criticism the cheesecake used to prop the left wafer up was not the same cheesecake as the main dish. It was of a warmer temperature and didn't have the truffle infused flavor, so it brought an element of unbalance to the dish.

Despite the criticism I've given, I did enjoy the meal at Cavaillon. The veloute dish is the first dish I've had in San Diego that has given me the "wow" factor that is expected from Michelin starred restaurants. I also enjoyed the foie gras torchon (which I mentioned in the previous post is hard for me to like) and technical execution of the risotto (with truffle shavings).

However, since I came to Cavaillon for the truffle tasting menu, the star of the show needs to be the truffle. I got a lot of taste of truffle, but I didn't feel like it was the start in any of the dishes. The torchon was the star of the 1st dish, the risotto the 2nd dish, the veloute the 3rd dish, the fat the 4th dish, and the honey in the 5th dish. I want to award Cavaillon the megabyte award for the wow factor of the veloute, but I'm unable to do so at this time. I definitely plan to return to Cavaillon in the future and hopefully I will be able to give it the proper recognition at that time.


Relate at Bistro St Germains - Closing Night

>> Saturday, March 5, 2011

Date of Dining: 2/26/2011
Price: $55 for 5 course tasting + a la carte
Location: Bistro St. Germain's, 1010 S. Coast Highway 101 #103, Encinitas, CA

The Quick Bit:
+ Service was improved from the first visit
+ All diners were seated indoors
+ Good variety of dishes
+ Dishes tended to have a "surprise" element
Δ Closing night could have felt more exciting
Δ Some proteins and vegetables could have been cooked better
Δ Could be more variance in the "surprise" dish elements

Note: This review will be slightly shorter than usual since it's revisiting a restaurant quickly.

Closing night in a popup restaurant is a time of many emotions. On one hand, it's the last night and it can be a glorious finish to a successful run. On the other hand, those that were employed for the run of the popup could find themselves without jobs. Diners are generally excited to be in attendance on closing night so they can potentially hear the Chef give some clue as to when the restaurant will pop up again. On the closing night of Relate, all of these things were prevalent.

During his closing speech, Chef Moody ensured the diners that Relate would return to San Diego, probably in the early summer. He also expressed that the next concept would not likely be as high end.
Relate Menu for Closing Night
Throughout the first incarnation of Relate, Chef Moody changed his menu weekly, only keeping the French Onion amuse and the spiced beef throughout. My party decided to order all the a la carte items, splitting one terrine for the table of 7, and ordering four of the escargots to share as well.
"French Onion Soup" Amuse
The French Onion Soup didn't work the second time. The breading was too heavy and it overwhelmed some of the other flavors. There also seemed to be fewer onions that could be chewed.
Crispy Burgundy Escargots Cauliflower puree, Ancho Chili, Garlic
The escargots were cooked perfectly and there was enough garlic to go with the escargot this time. Despite the description it seemed to be a cauliflower foam with the ancho chili puree. The ancho puree was good, but the foam was tasteless and seemed to take away from the dish. I really liked that there wasn't toast to interfere with the flavor of the escargot this time.
Mussel Chowder, Bacon Corn Custard, Potato Foam
I really wanted to like this dish and I still do in some strange way, but there were many problems with it. The back corn custard was very cold (while the mussel chowder was hot) but mixing the components cooled off the dish to where the entire thing was somewhat lukewarm. Additionally, the mussel chowder alone seemed to have over-reduced and was very salty. Finally, the color of the soup was somewhat unappetizing.
63 Degree Egg, Star Anise Potato Mousseline, Hedgehog Mushrooms, Duck Confit, Vadouvan Foam, Crispy Spinach
This dish had a lot to live up to and perhaps it would have except there were a few problems again. The key component of the dish (the egg) looked like this to most of the table:
Overcooked 63 Degree Egg
Had the yolk been more runny, this dish would have been more enjoyed by the table. Additionally, the Mousseline had cooled to the point where it was grainy in texture and that took away from the rest of the dish. I will say that while I was worried about the [deep fried] crispy spinach, I actually enjoyed it thoroughly and it almost saved the dish.
Sesame-Glazed Sauteed Barramundi, Baby Bok Choy, Vanilla Sushi Rice Creme Anglaise, Seaweed
Barramundi is always a tricky fish because there's about a 10 second window from cooked right to overcooked, and the fish tastes horrible when overcooked. The "thin" end of this fish was overcooked, but luckily the thick end was still okay. However, the bok choy was overcooked, which took away from the dish. The sushi rice would have been better as some actual rice on the plate.
Spiced Beef, Spinach Avocado Puree, Porcini Spaetzle, Guiness Gastrique
I preferred the Green Flash Gastrique over the Guiness since it wasn't as sweet, but the rest of the dish was cooked much better than the previous visit.
Banana Bread Pudding, Bourbon Pecan Pie, Vanilla Cognac Cream
This was the best dish of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. As a minor point of the criticism the bananas "tasted green" and the dish would have been better if the bananas were a bit more ripe.

Overall, I was still happy with the overall experience despite some of the technical issues. The only problem with technical issues are that they prevented the night from being an outstanding experience. I will still look forward to the next Relate, but I will have to temper my expectations.

Additionally, I was going to award Relate a megabyte award, but the technical issues this time made me  take that back.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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