Blurry pictures swathed in darkness notwithstanding, Cloudy and I were all akimbo with the mystery menu offered last November at the monthly Cookies Unite event. On the first monday of every month, the refurbished and newly hipsta-fied Nouveau Palais hosts one or two talented line cooks from the best restaurants in the city and offers them a professional kitchen, creative carte blanche, and a house that’s full of the rafters for one night and one night only. “Serious” foodies (hehe) sit elbow to elbow your neighbour, her grand-mom, the kid, and a healthy dose of thickly spectactled mile-end twenty-sumthinsumthin, that night waiting for the imagination of Brian Verstraten of Bar & Boeuf and Cynthia Sitaras of Le Club Chasse et Pêche… and did we mention that the two of them are dating? Hence the name of this event – “One Love.” [insert “awwwwwwwww”]
A rare martini for yours truly was ordered before the eating started, perhaps in celebration of the event’s recent dropping of it’s BYOB status. Not a bad one either, and the pin-drop clarity of it set a good stage for the first bit of solid food – a trio of amuse bouches in flavours I may not be able to recount to you exactly owing to the vegetarian nature of the set menu that we received at the table (they gave us the veggie version on paper, and the carnal version in life).
So I had to go by what our server was telling us, and it was loud, and I wasn’t taking good notes, but here’s what I remember: No. 1 was an arancini (battered fried risotto ball) made with mushrooms of some kind and cheese of some kind. Oh, aren’t I just the most specific? (NOTE TO SELF: NEVER WAIT 2 MONTHS TO WRITE THESE THINGS… d’oh). It was one of the better that I’ve had, actually – still hot from the kitchen, thin crisp shell and warm earthy flavour, herbs evident. No. 2 was a pâté that suffered from a bit of dryness and that cat-food thing that pâté can sometimes do, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of spreadable meat so… you know, to each their own. No. 3 involved salmon and caviar of some kind and tasted … rather like salmon. It was also good, and what I DO remember is the texture playing all dramatic with alternating creamy, flaky, buttery-crisp and the welcome oceanic pop of fish roe. ANYway….
The most luscious savoury was yet to come. Who cares that we had pizza in our belly already at this point? (pre-dinner snacking is what cool kids do, right?) When someone sets an aroma-bomb of smoky-sweet pork belly in front of you, all covered with buttery brussels sprouts, sitting in liquid polenta and a madness good jus, well…. I make room in my stomach for these things. This was late fall in a nutshell – nomzers, and walking in leaves, and swiping flaky bites from your neighbour’s plate, all at once – and my hat’s off to Brian for the gift of it. (One of those rare times I was specifically grateful not to be vegan anymore. ^_^;;;;;;;;; ).
Dinner is good, but I’m a sugar girl, and the desserts landed with a vengeance. I was floored, really, at Cynthia’s tangy adventurous playground that centered on a lightly salted and eminently spoonable milk chocolate tart slice. Surrounding it were elements that lifted milk chocolate’s usual cloy to more bright places – very peachy gelato, fruit gelee (apricot, I think), salty crispy peanut crumb, and slices of ripe pear. A dollop of soft lemon vanilla marshmallow fluff reminded one just enough of grade-school Fluffernutter sandwiches and made the overall reference to PB & J sandwiches just a bit less subtle. In a good way.
We were fortunate that night to get the full (mini) monty and a spread of mignardises came shortly after to appease the rampaging sweet tooth that the previous dish had ignited. Full as I was, I could have had more, and at least this trio I remember vividly:
1. a lemon vanilla marshmallow, solid this time. Almost heady with both scents and melted away into a lightly acidic-sweet soft cream, just a bit of bubble.
2. Apricot and almond financier: still warm, rich and crisp at the edges and chewy all the way through. Fruity and not too sweet, and felt almost like eating a big soft almond.
3. Chocolate covered caramel, topped with a shattered brittle-type candy, and bitterly awesome through and through.
Pastry like that fires my engine to be better, knowing that I’m not able to make things that perfectly, yet. I’ve already scheduled a stage at Le Club Chasse et Pêche, with all likelihood resulting in at least some improved skills and dexterity at fun menial tasks like piping cookies and straining cream. Hey, I go for what I like, and here’s to a new year of obsessive desserting. Also – sorry about the long absence over Christmas, everyone! I will be posting lots more now (lots of pictures backed up!) … and I really hope this new year is full of relentless optimism, high quality chocolate, playful kisses, and many more steps closer to whatever it is that you want most. ^_^
And I guess that’s what Cookie’s Unite is really all about, you know? Dreams, I mean. It gives those who aren’t at the echelon of their career yet a chance to shine and be an artist for just one night, and I’m a huge fan of the concept. It’s also affordable – 30$ a head – and the next one is scheduled for February 6th, featuring Vanessa Laberge from Olive & Gourmando and appears to be another tasteparty! Soup au boudin noir? Yes, please!