I don’t remember the first time I had foie gras, but I definitely know when and where I fell in love with it: it was at Water Grill in Downtown LA, right before the turn of the New Millenium. Michael Cimarusti had taken over the kitchen from Allyson Thurber a year or two before.
On this particular night’s five-course tasting menu, the chef offered up an appetizer of “foie gras au torchon” that was poached or somehow otherwise infused with cognac.
It was insanely good. “Decadent,” was the actual word that immediately came to mind after I put that first bite of foie gras yumminess smeared onto a brioche toast point into my mouth. I was hooked, and fortunately for me, the portion size was extremely generous — almost too much of a good thing. Almost.
So it is poetic and more than a tad melancholy that the last time I’m likely to have foie gras in California (for the foreseeable future, at least) was at the hand of Michael Cimarusti, now chef and owner of Providence on Melrose Avenue. A few days ago, Mrs. CKDH and I sat down for a 15-course chef’s tasting menu*, where his joint seafood and foie gras brilliance was manifest in two of the dishes:
- Japanese pen shell (tairagai), shiso leaf, soy salt, and foie gras
- Foie gras, grilled aprium, aprium sauce, foie gras emulsion
In the decade or so between those two experiences, I’ve had foie gras in restaurants throughout California and the rest of the country, prepared various ways — pan seared, in a napoleon in between pistachio tuile crisps, even shabu-shabu — and served with any number of accoutrements. Some were magnificent, some were disappointing. The most memorable for me:
- Cotton Candy Foie Gras Lollipops (The Bazaar by José Andrés): Each lollipop is a cube of foie on a stick, dipped in a little crunch, then put into a good ol’ fashion cotton candy machine (click HERE to see step-by-step pictures of the process). In one magical $5 bite, Chef Andrés whimsically distilled everything wonderful about foie gras in a way everyone could enjoy. I’d often go to The Bazaar just to sit at the counter and order 3 or 4 lollipops and nothing else. Over the past year or so, it is been listed on the menu as “cotton candy duck liver” (not “foie gras”) so I’m hoping the creation survives the foie gras ban.
- Foie Gras and Thinly Sliced Yellowtail (Le Bernardin, New York — Chef Eric Ripert): More precisely, it is thin slices yellowfin tuna layered over foie gras and toasted baguette, with shaved chives and extra virgin olive oil. Impeccable ingredients, prepared simply to allow the flavors to shine through. I would have thought the foie gras pâté would have over-powered the yellowtail, but it didn’t. Not sure why I doubted Chef Ripert — like Chefs Cimarusti and Andrés, Mr. Ripert is an absolute genius. Fortunately for the world, foie gras is still perfectly legal in New York. Unfortunately for me, I’m not planning on being in Manhattan any time soon.
- Chef’s Burger (Buffalo Fire Department — Chef Michael Shafer): First of all, BFD (as it’s known) is NOT located in upstate New York but rather in Torrance, CA. It is the casual, burger-filled foil to Depot, Chef Shafer’s more formal restaurant across the street. All of the burgers start with a half-pound of Angus Beef ground chuck (medium-rare, please), lettuce, tomatoes, onions, all served on freshly baked “Firehouse Buns” with a side of fries. The “Chef’s Burger” added seared foie gras, caramelized onions, secret sauce, and a fried egg with a beautifully runny yolk. The only thing it’s missing was a side of Lipitor. Not sure how the chef will modify this burger going forward or if he’ll take it off the menu entirely.
As much I’d like to rant in detail about why I think the new California law banning the sale and production of foie gras is wrong and many of its supporters are hypocritical, I’ll refrain. Suffice it to say that I’ll miss the experience. In the meantime, I have something new to look forward to whenever I travel out of state.
Random other thoughts:
- *The 15-course meal we had at Providence rivals some of the other best meals Mrs. CKDH and I have ever had, and that includes some pretty spectacular dining experiences at the hands of Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Joachim Splichal, among many others. In addition to the aforementioned foie gras dishes, three truly sublime dishes that I will never forget were:
- Uni, lardo de bellotta, and black truffle on nori focaccia
- Fluke sashimi & geoduck, yuzu kosho, oro blanco, mung beans, nori crisp
- Santa Barbara spot prawns, smoked butter, caviar, fava beans, white asparagus, and green almonds
- I decided to bring along a bottle of 2007 Rochioli Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. It was wonderful: bright, fruity, a bit of earthiness, that lingered long on the palate. Everything you’d hope for in a Russian River pinot noir. It would be wonderful for years to come, so it’s good that I’ve got one more bottle stashed away.