Saturday, February 22, 2014

Babette's Feast Recreation by Brasserie CiÇou.

It was sometime in law school that I watched Babette's Feast (circa late '80s-'91). Over 20 years later, I watched it again in early December 2013, and, thereafter, on my Facebook page, wondered if I should try having this recreated in Manila (I'm not aware of this having ever been done here). Within a few minutes, Cyrille Soenen responded with a 3-word comment: "Let's do it!". Richard promptly seconded the motion, and so it was decided.

Planning, sourcing of the ingredients (some of which had to be brought in from France), making arrangements for the pairing wines (emulating those in the movie, but not the same vintages for obvious reasons), etc., followed, and, approximately 2½ months later, it came to fruition - the first (as far as anyone knows) Philippine recreation of the Babette's Feast dinner took place last night, Thursday, the 20th February 2014, at Brasserie CiÇou.

~ The Menu ~
Anna Soenen had prepared a fine, long table on the dais, complete with crisp, white tablecloth, and personalized menus for each of the 14 lucky diners: Anna, Jean-Claude Robert Soenen (Cyrille's father, who kindly brought in the necessary ingredients from France), Pierre Paul Soenen (Cyrille's uncle), Christine Szamweber (Cyrille's cousin), JC & Mari de Terry, Clem Nieto (in town from California on his annual Philippine vacation), J-Lab, Alex, Richard, Sanju & Cutie, Catha & I.

Cocktails started at 6:30pm with chilled bottles of Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs & Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée (from me), and canapés of Cheese Gougères, Arlettes of Assorted Mushrooms, Cold Cuts, and Warm Crab Salad on Cauliflower Royale which paired particularly well with the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs. I've written both recently and repeatedly about these two fine non-vintage bubblies, so no need to discuss them at this point.

More bottles of champagne patiently await their respective turns.
Just a few of the reds on deck for the night.
At table.

We began with Smoked Prawn Ravioli with Double Prawn Consommé with Green Pea Foam. This was not from Babette's menu, but something Cyrille added for a more substantial meal - surely because he is well-familiar with our group's prodigious appetites. Lovely dish, the flavors well-defined, and well-balanced. "Precision" came to mind. Lovely.

With this was paired 2005 Champagne Mailly L'Air Grand Cru - 2 bottles, from JC. Pure, well-defined flavors of white mineral laced apple, bit of pear, with added, intriguing nuances of brioche, honey, and nuts. Notable freshness, liveliness, with a nicely rounded, pronounced middle. Very nice indeed, and I liked this clean, fresh pairing.

Babette's menu proper began with...

...Soupe à la Tortue (Mock Turtle Soup) - Veal Consommé, Tête de Veau, Quenelle of Chicken, Baby Carrot, Turnips, Leeks. Superb. So clean, mildly earthy, subtly complex, and I loved the textures of the tête de veau. We had this instead of the original menu's real turtle soup for 2 main reasons: (1) the 2 times I've had real turtle soup, I didn't like it at all; and, (2) the turtle needed for the recipe is protected by law. Well, and, I happen to think of turtles as pets, and even had a large pawikan as a pet when I was very young (it wasn't endangered yet; it was a gift from a late godfather who used to hunt).

This dish was paired, as in the movie, with an amontillado sherry - in this case, a delicious Amontillado Emilio Lustau Almacenista Jose Luis González Obregón - 2 bottles from J-Lab. Dry, discreetly nutty, fair depth, nice weight, with precise oxidation; this glides smoothly on the palate with definitive presence. JC, who, more than anyone in this country, knows sherry, opined that it was "like a palo cortado approaching oloroso". Ok, I won't pretend that I know exactly what he meant, but my wife, who loves sherry, really liked it a lot (as did I). J-Lab, knowing Catha's fondness for sherry gave her the rest of the second bottle at evening's end. Thanks, bud! Much appreciated for sure!

Silence falls as everyone gets busy...
...only the clicking of JC's camera and appreciative murmurs audible.
Christine, Catha, & Mari.

All ready and eager for the next course, I jokingly warned Richard (he works on Europe time) that anyone caught working on the phone that night would have to pay for everyone's dinner.

Caviar Demidoff: Sturia (i.e., Siberian Sturgeon farm-raised in Bordeaux) Vintage Caviar & Avruga on Blini; Salmon & Oyster Tartares; & Crispy, Soft-Boiled Quail Egg with Trout Roe. A heaven of clean, fresh seafood goodness. This wonderful dish was paired with 1985 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Gold Label Vintage Reserve Brut (Magnum)* - from Clem. Remarkable freshness and vibrancy for a bubbly this age. Richly fruited and with fine, healthy effervescence; this is a nicely creamy, slightly biscuity champagne with notable ripeness of pear, apple, hint of yellow apricot, bit of lemon curd, further complexed with touches of honey, vanilla, and brioche. Hefty, ripe, confident, stylish.

* The reason behind the choice of vintage 1985 was that it is 100 years after that of the cinematic dinner (nb., Babette started living with Martine & Philippa in 1871, and said dinner took place 14 years after), which dinner was to celebrate what would have been the sisters' late father's 100th birthday.

...and sipping between courses.
Green Apple Sorbet in Calvados... preparation for the main course.
Some sauce applied..., voila! Roasted Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras & Truffle Farce en Sarcophage, Creamy Chestnut Purée, Mushrooms à la Bordelaise, Glazed Baby Carrots and Edamame, Cabbage Chips, with Truffled Quail Jus. This was a true masterpiece, the enveloping pastry flaky and with just the right amount of structure, no sogginess at all, the quail perfectly seasoned, juicy & tender, the jus complex, deep, and harmonious.

One of the several pairing reds was 1985 Mongeard-Mugneret Clos de Vougeot - from me; decanted for around 20 minutes before serving, which allowed it to gain heft and open up, release its earthy, bottle-age sweetened bouquet. Medium-bodied cherry, raspberry, mild dark plum underneath, slightly minerally, with just the faintest whisper of leather and cocoa. Not much Burgundy decay surprisingly, and, rightly or wrongly, I expected more earthiness and middle heft due to its alluring bouquet. Medium finish. Not as complex as I'd like it. Nice enough as a whole, but nicer in the nose than on the palate.

Others, not in photo, were 2 bottles of 1995 Robert Arnoux Clos de Vougeot (from Alex & Sanju); a magnum of 1996 Alberic Simounin Savigny les Beaune (from Cyrille), and 1996 Château Giscours (from Cyrille). He also generously opened and offered a bottle of 1991 Château Margaux, but I thought that it would be best he enjoy that with his family.
 The 1995 Arnoux Clos de Vougeot was more masculine and concentrated, with more pronounced, deeper/darker fruit and a heftier middle than the older '85 Mongeard Mugneret Clos de Vougeot at this point. The former's structure also seemed a lot sturdier, and the finish was definitely longer. All that, with touches of dark spice called Vosne-Romanée to mind for some reason.
Cyrille discussed the main course...
...explaining his own twists to Babette's Caille en Sarcophage... everyone listened intently.

Salad of Endives, Arugula, & Frisée (para healthy!) with Toasted Walnuts, & Assorted French Cheeses. For this was paired a 1989 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Baronnie Madeleine (Magnum) - from me. I loved the crisp, fresh endives (I rarely get them here) and greatly enjoyed my salad; and, though cheese courses are not the highlights of my meals, I did particularly enjoy this one for some reason. Unfortunately, because I was so engrossed with the salad, cheese, as well as with taking photos and chatting with my friends, I don't recall much of the pairing wine. I guess that just means I have to open another one soon.

Dessert was an excellent Baba au Rhum in Orange-Scented Rhum Syrup with Assorted Fresh Fruits & Crème Légère. Obviously, a very high quality rhum was used in this. Very graceful, flavor-packed, but lightly dancing on the palate. Loved it! Undoubtedly the best baba au rhum I've ever had. Enough said.

Naturally, as in the movie, the baba au rhum was paired with Marc de Champagne, in this case, Billecart-Salmon Marc de Champagne Réserve des Caves (from J-Lab)... a bonus 1997 Château d'Yquem (from Clem).
The marc de Champagne was robust and powerful, but its finish played nicely with the baba au rhum's flavors. The 1997 Yquem I've had many times in the past, but not in the last 4 years (not that I can recall, anyway). This was in fine form, though not as intense or sweet as I recall (Cutie remarked that she liked that it was not too sweet). Forgive me, but, by that point, I was just too "happy" (as my wife put it), and enjoying myself too much to make specific mental notes of the wines.

Surely, the excellent dishes, wines, and company brought about such warm conviviality, so much laughter and joy of life, that all geeky wine thoughts were left behind - which is absolutely fine. That is what it is all about, after all.

Excellent job, Team CiÇou!

Cyrille then shared with us a very special bottle of vintage 1968 Bas Armagnac (his, and as it turned out, also Sanju's birthyear)...

...the bottle. as I understood, given as a going-away present from Cyrille's friends when Cyrille moved to the Philippines...signed by his friends...

..., and, much later on, by Anna and their daughter Cassandra. Many thanks again, Cyrille, for sharing such a special bottle with us.

Anna with father-in-law, Jean-Claude Robert Soenen. Many, many thanks again to Monsieur Soenen for sourcing and flying in the dinner's ingredients all the way from France!

JC took the floor, and, in fluent French, made some closing remarks.

The evening's delights, however, were far from over, as we lingered long over some fantastic Mignardises of Macarons Glacés au Chocolat, Cannelés, Mini-Madeleines, and, of course, Mini-Kouign Amanns.

It was a magnificent night - one I shall always cherish and remember. Many thanks again to Cyrille, Anna, Team CiÇou, and everyone else who generously shared their efforts, wines, and precious company. Surely this will not be the first and last recreation of Babette's Feast in Manila.

Until the next!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monday Night Dinner & Wine @ Champêtre.

Started working early yesterday, Monday the 10th February 2014, and put in a lot of hours to be able to fully enjoy dinner at Champêtre with The Usual Suspects, called for by longtime wine buddy, Jojo Madrid. There seems to be a lull this morning, so I take the opportunity to quickly write up some notes.

Most of the guys were already there when I arrived (we were 7 in all), already making headway into a bottle of 2006 Deux Montille Meursault 1er Cru Charmes - from J-Lab; no photo, unfortunately. Initially showing off more of Chablis-reminiscent white minerality and fresh, well-focused, crisp apple & citrus; it later on fleshed and rounded out showing moderate butter and hints of nuttiness in a comparatively fleshier, riper, creamier mid-palate. A readily pleasing Meursault.

We then belatedly moved to the Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV - one of the several I picked up from Jojo's Premium Wine Exchange. I've been going through a lot of this notably balanced, fresh, clean, lively, and pure non-vintage blanc de blancs over the past few months (as well as the vintage 2002 blanc de blancs and the basic brut NV). White flowers, precisely ripe fruit, and subtle white minerality make for a solid performance from attack to finish make this my go-to non-vintage blanc de blancs these days.  At P4500/bottle full retail, I don't know of a better deal for a locally available non-vintage blanc de blancs.

With the bubbly and white I had a nice Salad of Greens, Lardons, Chèvre & Hard-Boiled Eggs (para healthy).

Alex, raring to go (as usual), quickly called for the reds to start pouring, so, upon Jojo's suggestion, we started with a couple of aged Burgundies, the first being the 1983 Domaine Robert Arnoux Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Chaumes - My bottle (decanted for approximately 45 minutes before serving). 1983 vintage Côte de Nuits generally takes prudent selection because of less than ideal weather then (Volnay and Pommard in the Côte de Beaune are generally more even), so it is better to stick to tried, tested, reliable makers - and Domaine Robert Arnoux is one of such producers in my book.

Deep, dark, medium-bodied, a slight over-ripeness/pruniness to the fruit, interwoven with loam, Burgundy decay, slight mushroom and sanguine notes. Slightly rustic texture. Freshness could have been better, in my opinion, but that is the vintage speaking I believe. J-Lab and Aaron both expressed admiration of its bouquet, the former noting that it smelled sweeter as it sat in glass. Drink up if you have any of this. I had also brought along a 1995 Château Grand Puy Lacoste as a back-up, but, happily, there was no need for it.

The next aged Burg was a 1993 Domaine Jean Gros Grand Cru Clos Vougeot "Grand Maupertuis" - Jojo's bottle. Bigger-bodied and heftier than the preceding red, this was more cleanly ripe, showing better definition and focus as well. Notable typicity too. Its Burgundy decay just on the onset, no sanguine notes detected, this was fruitier/showed more red berries above darkly ripe plum. No rush with this, but it is already quite enjoyable.

Aaron and I had a soup course - an order each of Marc's signature French Onion Soup. Deeply flavored, lots of caramelization in the onion base as always, no trace of burning at all. Aaron and I agree that Champêtre serves the best French onion soup in the country. I've not had one better here, in any event.

My main course: Roast Magret de Canard w/ Pan-Seared Foie Gras.
Several more reds were opened:
1975 Château Palmer - Alex's bottle (a birth-year wine for him). In good form for a wine over 38 years from harvest. Slightly over medium-bodied, the bouquet on the shy side (unlike the bottle's owner), smooth, good typicity, slightly dusty, the middle could be more pronounced, but, that said, it was in good form, its red fruit (cherry and raspberry) showing nice bottle-age-sweetness over a serene, self-possessed asphalt/gravel, whisper of licorice, cedar and pipe tobacco touched blackcurrant base. Medium finish.

1995 Château Angelus - Aaron's bottle. Big, decidedly full-bodied, stylish, strappingly youthful, broad, rich, luxuriously textured, with slight milk chocolate/mocha/vanilla in its ripe plum, cherry, raspberry, and crème de cassis underbelly. Easily and readily pleasing, this may gain in complexity after, I'd guess, 10 more years.

1998 Château Pavie - Gani's bottle. Another modern, stylish crowd-pleaser of a St-Emilion, but even more modern, bigger, riper, with markedly more pronounced oak-related chocolate and vanilla notes in its indulgently rich fruit. Big, broad, long, yet comes off as more advanced than the older 1995 Angelus.

1999 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou - Greg's bottle. Good, clean lines, with a slight minty topnote in its nose of cedar-touched gravelly cassis, slight licorice, and violet flowers. Its scents mirrored in the mouth, on a slightly over medium-bodied frame. I heard some, Aaron in particular, note its St-Julien typicity. Notable focus, definition, and balance. A classy performance from a fine specimen of vintage 1999. I'd say this will age gracefully for many, many more years, and would likely gain more complexity. In any event, I certainly wouldn't mind having more of this as-is.

Three platters of assorted French cheese followed...

...with which I enjoyed some 1996 Domaine Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St-Jacques - Jojo's bottle. Slightly rustic, decidedly masculine, this is a ruggedly handsome wine. Firm structure, vintage acidity there but not obtrusive. Discreet leather and warm asphalt line the black cherry, dark raspberry and plum, with of whispers of anise and black olive. Good freshness and balance; its balancing acidity appreciated with the cheese.

Only 4 of us ordered dessert, one each of the excellent Grand Marnier Soufflé, with which we enjoyed pours of 2003 Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu Moelleux - J-Lab's bottle. Bright, vivid, lively, palate-refreshing honeyed-and-spiced quince, peach, lemon. Squarely a wine for desserts, Huet's hallmark thrilling acidity a bit toned down compared to less hot vintages, true, but, for what it is, it is a very enoyable wine indeed.

Excellent evening, guys! Until the next!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Saturday Lunch @ The Black Pig.

It's been almost 5 months since my last post, I know. No reason other than my getting too busy - I've still been out and about, but lack the time to write for leisure. I anticipate I'll be having more time to do so by mid-year; but, in the meantime, my posts will likely remain sporadic.

Yesterday's lunch, Saturday the 1st February 2014, was at The Black Pig, a relatively new restaurant in Alabang. I had been there once before but just had drinks there (they have Holgate Road Trip IPA & Hopinator Double IPA on tap) with friends and family. So, yesterday, Catha & I tried out some of their dishes.

Complimentary Bread Basket & Crudités.
The place itself has a modern industrial-chic feel to it, the interior design done by my sister-in-law of Design Hirayama+Quesada (a.k.a., "Design HQ"). It also turns out that one of the owners, Anton Garriz, is an old friend of my brother. I opted for a table at their outdoor balcony area to take advantage of the current cool weather (and also to be able to smoke).

To start off, we ordered the Charcuterie Board (a chef's selection of their choice Spanish cold cuts) and a platter of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (per 60 gms of silky jamón from the pata negra, a black-hoofed Iberian breed of pig which, during the montañera, fattens up almost exclusively on acorns it gathers in dehesas). Both items are priced at P850 each, which is very reasonable considering the quality of the products.

With the appetizers, we ordered from the wine list a glass each of the house cava Enric Morató Cava Reserva - which turned out to be a rosado cava (well, "rosat" in Catalan). Lively and appetizingly dry strawberry and cherry, we quickly drained our flutes, and immediately ordered a whole bottle thereafter.

Catha's chosen main course was the Oven-Baked Local Pork Belly & Bone Marrow. I had a couple of bites of this and it was pretty damn good - melts in your mouth. At a mere P480, it's a steal. I'll most likely have this for my main course next I'm there as I've always been a sucker for liempo.

The 45-Day Aged, Grass-Fed Rib-Eye Steak was my main (rare). This was also quite pleasing; and, at P1200, offers a lot of bang-for-the-buck; plus both mains went nicely with...

...the bottle of 1994 Bodegas R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva that I brought along (corkage charged is P500/bottle) - now mellower than 3-4 years ago, it presents notes of cedar, violets, leather and balsamico with light touches of walnut skin and anise in its dark strawberry, raspberry and red cherry fruit. There is the whisper of oxidation that is the house's style. Medium-bodied, notable focus, clean lines, good length.

¡Salud! from Anton & Catha.
We were very happy with our lunch, and fully intend to return soon to try the many other items on the menu. Best to call several days in advance for weekend dinner reservations, as the place gets packed then. Very happy to finally have a place to hang out in the neighborhood. ¡Hasta la próxima!