I really don't want to grumble. I like being positive. However, spending good money for fancy food that misses its mark is irritating. This weekend we attended a symposium for Neiman Fellows at Harvard, of which my husband is one. After a cocktail party that had some lovely food -- including a mushroom duxelles bite size pastry -- we went out to get a starter and, you guessed it, a dessert.
We went to a well-known, respected restaurant. (Name withheld because I don't want to be sued.) There, I ordered something on the menu I'd heard about, but never tasted. The dish, an egg poached in truffle oil, surrounded with a ragout of wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and black truffles, seemed very reasonable at $15.00 or so. An egg would hit the spot, and after all, I'd be tasting something new.
There is some debate about storing eggs in with truffles, which this egg alledgedly was, and along with the detractors, I'm not sure it works in permeating the porus shell to the egg. But I was eager to taste something poached in truffle oil. I'm not a fan of truffle oil. The only time I've loved it is at Charleston's Charleston Grill, atop pop corn. To me, truffle oil is an affectation that dominates without bringing the essense of truffles. But maybe cooking "poaching" something in it would work.
What came to the table was a peeled egg, standing upright, surrounded by wild mushrooms, with a puree type mixture of truffles and wild mushrooms underneath, and a few scattered slices of one fingerling potato. I had imagined the yellow of the egg,flowing along with the flavor of truffles, mixing with the chopped truffles alluded to, and some delicate wild mushrooms. What I got was a hard cooked egg (logical if one is standing it up for presentation), with no delicious runny yellow, and mushrooms that dominated the entire dish. The truffles were pureed with the mushrooms, which were overwhelmed, if there at all. And the fingerling slices were soggy little discs.
My gripe is, why would a big, busy restaurant attempt such a dish at all? Is it part of some food fad that demands, no, insists that it include something that mimics excellence but is not, but will fool their clientele into thinking it is?
It made me wish for escargot with parsley and garlic, and french bread to dunk in it, or the lovely celeric and apple soup my husband ate. Granted, I should have known better than to order such an extravagant item in a non-three star restaurant. But the chef should have known better, too.
The dessert didn't fare much better in my mind. It was billed as a caramelized fig tart, with fig ice cream, and granite. My mouth watered thinking about it. Out came a tiny flat tart of puff pastry, with two (two!) slivers of a fig, atop the ice cream,, which caused the pastry to be soggy. In the "three variations and three textures on one plate fad" there was a whole, cold fig standing alone on the plate, and a granite. Of course the tart, which was what I longed for, had no flavor and no texture. Two slivers of figs cannot enhance puff pastry. The ice cream neither tasted like fig nor slid down the throat. It was too cold to taste or slide. The granite was also tasteless, although its color appeared figgy. And, alas, a cold fig (who would serve a refrigerated fig, anyway. And why not cut it in flowers or something pretty if one is going to all that work?) is tasteless as well.
I longed for a whole piece of pastry topped abundantly with figs that had been caramelized in the oven. In fact, I longed for the good old days, when dessert was dessert, one thing, that made you remember it just before your eyes closed at night.