The icy looks left me wondering where this trip would take us. As we stepped through the passage way to a charming, tiered garden my fears were confirmed. It did indeed seem that the longer the road into the deep country one goes to a place called "Chateau de Something", the higher up the social ladder the clientele were likely to be. The customers ringing the tables seemed to ooze money out of their pores. In the moments that passed between my first and third steps on the terrace, I'd vaccilated between wishing my clothes to suddenly turn into Chanel and telling myself to act like I owned this place. It was a bit hard to pull off as we swept past the fluttering silks and linen in runners and travelling clothes. I think I was terrified in the first moments that we'd either be snubbed by the staff or have scandalized chateau guests walk off in a huff. My fears were never realized and I considered the pleasant way we were led to our table to be a successful leap over a huge hurdle. I relaxed. I even started being a bit amused at the occasional incautious glances of the others, assessing our status.
I didn't really want to reinforce the tourist-who-mistakenly-wandered-into-the-palace image we already presented so I never took pictures of the food. There was just no privacy. That room was designed to see and be seen. The food, however, left a big impression on me, enough to remember it in detail.
Let me first begin with the setting. Imagine a well-kept Caribbean estate terrace garden leading onto a covered lanai. The lanai itself is decorated in the fashion of a colonial club room in Southern Asia. Palms, multi-drawered apothocary chests, tiles, white linens--you know, the works.
We all started with the tuna carpaccio. Three long rectangular portions of paper thin belly tuna lay across the width of the plate, parted by light dressed fresh greens with a sprinkling of raw mung beans on top. The tuna itself was dressed sparingly in soy sauce, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and rice vinegar. A smattering of wasabi/chili oil dots lined the sides of the plate. It was served with an avocado soup/sorbet. The tuna was very moreish, the light bitterness of the mung sprouts a nice contrast to the lusciousness of the delicate tuna. But the avocado thing, my only disappointment of the meal, had a top note of cool richness. The bottom note that played out after, however, was bitter. Not "try not to spit it out" bitter, but certainly not appealing.
After, Papa Frog and I had salmon ravioli. If the tuna was very good, this dish was heaven in a celadon-green glass bowl. In a light salmon broth, awash in a confetti of lightly cooked carrot, turnip and zucchini dice, were a few pieces of luxuriantly-textured poached salmon. Most of the few salmon pieces were half-wrapped in perfectly cooked wonton wrappers. There was a seasoning of herbs in the soup that I think was chervil, parsley and basil. It was topped off with a little green cloud of leek sprouts. It seems too simple to be good but it was a marriage of flavours that defied explination. It took all my reserve to not lift the bowl to my lips to get every last drop of the lovely broth.
My Frog had ordered a cut of beef with a pepper sauce. We thought we knew what to expect. Oh how wrong we were. The rare-cooked piece was so rich and buttery under the knife that I expected Froggie's eyes to roll back in his head. The 'sauce' was actually a pale-green pepper oil served on the side. It only added to the unctuous nature of the little beast. Also on the side was served a collection of lightly poached white asparagus spears and poached radishes. Again unexpected but they worked so well with the rest of the dish. I can say this because it became too much of a curiosity for me not to beg a piece. It was every savoury bit of butteriness that he promised. Every bit.
As I'd ordered from a menu I still had a dessert to arrive. While we waited for the course to come we were given a small bowl of top notch dark chocolate cut into cubes and the most darling thumb-sized madeleines. Those little cakes were strawberry pink and rose-flavoured. Yum! I would have been happy if THIS had been my dessert but the best was yet to come.
I didn't know what to expect of a "passion tart" but I didn't expect what came. A tiny glass of canary yellow passionfruit smoothie with a tiny black straw hovered on the plate above a tart of simple splendour. A cookie-like crust was filled with the most breathtakingly rich, yolky custard, crowned with four perfect fat raspberries and dusted with silver leaf. Yeah... edible silver leaf. Honestly, the snobs could take a hike. I was going to relish this.
I'd entered this place feeling like I better pretend to own this joint. By the end I didn't need to pretend to act pampered. I was.