The Power of Pairing: Le Chateaubriand in Paris

I have had the pleasure of experiencing meals where the food was fantastic, and I have also had my share of phenomenal wines – sometimes even at the same time. But never has the art of the pairing been so apparent to me as on my recent visit to Le Chateaubriand in Paris.

I’d heard a lot about the restaurant, as well as Basque chef Inaki Aizpitarte, and I’d seen this crazy video so I knew I was in for something special. But I was completely blown away by the incredible, unusual and innovative way the staff paired the prix-fixe tasting menu with a variety of beverages, ranging from hard cider to Champagne to fino sherry to tomato liqueur. On their own, the individual pieces would have been delicious, but the combination took things to a whole new level.

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Here’s a transcription of the menu, with my translation and embellishment from the French:


Menu for Tuesday, October 14

Gougeres with black sesame seeds
Easy Cider, 2012 Cyril Zang

Avocado Ceviche
Liqueur de Tomates, L. Cazzotte

Crispy shrimps dusted with tamarind powder
Sea bream with salsa verde, greens and crispy pork skin
BB2, 2013 (Macabeo) Terra Alta, Laureano Serres

Saint Jacques Scallops, celery root, seaweed, oysters, hazelnuts
Sapience, 2006 (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier), Champagne 1er Cru, Benoit Marguet

Bonito from Saint de Luz, figs, red cabbage, “juice from the wine merchant”
Les Damodes, 2011 Nuits-St-George, Frederic Cossard

Veal sweetbreads tandoori, nasturtium leaves tossed in lemon cream sauce, red currants
Fuori del Tempo, 2000 (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) Venezia Giulia, Radikon

Buttermilk ice cream with elderflower
Sake Kaze No Mori, Songe d’une nuit d’été (sparkling sake)

“Tocino de Cielo”
Fino (Palomino) La Bota Equipa Navazos (sherry)


Highlights

Tomato Liqueur & Avocado Ceviche: Some crazy Frenchman is making liqueurs and eaux de vie from all kinds of wacky ingredients, including tomatoes. 72 (!!!) different kinds of tomato went into this specific bottling. It smelled like essence of tomato – that smell of dead ripe ones in summer, including the vines – with a kind of earthy hay quality as well. The ceviche arrived in small round bowls each holding a few tablespoons of pink liquid with a small square of avocado floating on the top. The juice tasted of fresh fish and bright limey citrus. The combination was incredibly improbably, and incredibly delicious.

Sea Bream & Macabeo: My mother was deeply skeptical when this dish arrived, announcing that she “doesn’t like raw fish.” But she had been totally converted by the first bite. Sea bream is not so commonly seen in the US, but is fairly common in France. It was almost sweet, the crispy pork adding texture and saltiness. With the Macabeo from Tarragona in Spain, it really brought out the fruitiness in the wine. I have never been such a fan of Macabeo frankly, but this wine changed my mind. It was expressive and exciting.

Tocino de Cielo & Fino Sherry: Fino sherry is a dry sherry most often served as an aperitif, with a taste of almonds, apples and citrus. It tends towards the savory end of the spectrum rather than being overtly fruity. One of the “rules” of wine pairing is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food, otherwise the wine will taste “flat”, it will be robbed of its flavors. Therefore, pairing a dry sherry with dessert is a highly unusual choice. However, this was also a highly unusual dessert. Tocino de Cielo is a traditionally Spanish dessert made from egg yolks, water & sugar. It looks like flan. It literally means “Bacon of Heaven”, but there is no bacon involved. Chef Inaki made his with a raw egg yolk, nestled on top of a bed of dacquoise (a nutty meringue) and a dusting of what tasted like toasted  marshmallow dust. The egg yolk was room temperature and it may have been raw, but it seemed like it had been lightly heated in some way because it had none of the slimy, egg texture one might imagine. In fact, looking at it on the plate we didn’t even know it was egg yolk until we ate it. It was incredibly dense with sticky protein and had a decadent, thick mouthfeel. With the sherry, it was incredible.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 129 Avenue Parmentier, 75011 Paris
Metro: 11 to Goncourt
Website: www.lechateaubriand.net
Prices: 65€ for dinner, 130€ with wine pairings

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