A Return to Troisgros

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It has been 19 years since I visited and wrote about Claude Troisgros's restaurant CT when it was in New York City (the review and recipe is at the end of this posting). And it has been 44 years since I visited his family's renowned restaurant Les Frères Troisgros in Roanne, France. Claude and his Brazilian wife moved to Rio, where he is now owner of five restaurants. He is considered to be the top chef in Brazil and, of course, I was determined to visit at least one of his restaurants during our recent trip to Rio for the Paralympics. Claude was on vacation in Sicily, so sadly we were not able to see him, but he alerted the restaurant of our impending arrival at CT Boucherie in the Barra Design Center, which was the closest one of his restaurants to where we were staying near the olympic stadium. Chef/manager Didier Labbe and chef Jessica orchestrated a fantastic array of the restaurant's specialities. As there were eight of us family members (from both coasts of the US) enjoying the experience, and four preferred white wine, we were able to order one bottle of white and one of the house recommended Salentein Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza, Argentina 2012, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We began with two delectable appetizers.

MINI PORK, HAM AND ONION SAUSAGES, HONEY MUSTARD

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HEART OF PALM AND TENDERLOIN "PASTEL"

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RIB EYE STEAK WITH A SEEMINGLY ENDLESS STREAM OF ACCOMPANIMENTS AND SAUCES

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AN EXQUISITELY LIGHT AND CREAMY GUAVA CHEESECAKE

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MOLTEN DULCE DE LECHE

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SERVER WEARING THE TRADITIONAL BUTCHER'S APRON

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A MOUNTAIN OF FABULOUS CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate A food and wine lover never forgets her first pilgrimage to France. Mine was in 1972 and it served to crystallize in me the determination to devote my life to the pursuit of flavor. The expedition was shared by a friend, Elaine Kohut. We rented a typically powerless small car and tooled our way from Paris to Provence, enjoying many adventures, some of which included revelatory meals. But only one dining experience actually brought me to tears of joy at its conclusion and this was at Troisgros in Roanne. I had read in awe about the degustation menu starting with lark's liver paté with an intriguingly bitter edge from the larks' diet of juniper berries, the velvety texture of which resulted from the gentle technique of heating the terrines and then removing them from the oven and wrapping them in heavy blankets to cook overnight by indirect heat. I anticipated that food so lovingly prepared would be extraordinary beyond anything I had ever experienced. But nothing had prepared me for thrilling intensity of the signature dish Saumon à l'Oseille (Salmon with Sorrel). The moist, rich salmon, cloaked in a fish stock embued cream sauce was magically lightened and enhanced by the most exciting counter balance of acidity I had ever tasted--flecks of bright green sorrel (also known as sour grass). It made me more than gasp in astonishment, I was so overcome with pleasure I actually dropped my fork with a loud clang right into the sauce. Within moments, the waiter appeared with both a large plate containing a clean fork and an amused if somewhat supercilious smile, charmingly informing me that there was no need for concern because there were many more forks in the kitchen. He seemed decidedly less amused however when I proceeded to subject the second fork to the same fate experienced by the first. I managed to hold onto the third fork long enough to polish off every last morsel of the fish and used an ideally flat sauce spoon designed by Jean-Baptiste Troisgros, the founder of the restaurant, to consume every bit of the sauce. Over the years, I have occasionally reencountered salmon with sorrel in other restaurants and wondered if it had been the newness of the experience that had made it so memorable because no subsequent version ever caused me to come close to losing my grip on the fork. But when Jean-Baptiste's grandson Claude opened his restaurant, CT, in New York, I finally had the opportunity to rediscover and understand the dish, not only as it had been but side-by-side with Claude's up-dated lighter and even more brightly flavored version. When asked how this wondrous balance of flavors had been conceived originally, Claude explained that the Troisgros family has a particular passion for acidity. This was fascinating to me because I realized that often I find something missing from an otherwise well-conceived recipe and that it is most probably the enlivening acid component. I brought Claude my cherished signed menu from Troisgros and we both laughed with disbelief when we saw the price of the six course degustation menu from 23 years ago: 65 francs (about $13). Claude said: "It's gone up a bit since then."

Saumon à l'Oseille CT Serves: 4 Decor: 4 scallions 4 medium potatoes (preferably purple) boiled in lightly salted water with skins on, then peeled and sliced Sauce: 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup water 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped 1 medium onion, quartered 2 cloves garlic bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, sage, tied together or wrapped in cheesecloth) 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) softened butter, preferably unsalted 2 teaspoons tomato paste 2 cups fresh sorrel, washed, stemmed, center veins removed, then torn into 1-inch pieces 2 salmon steaks, about 2 pounds, cut 1-1/2 inches thick, bones removed sliced in halves olive oil fresh coarsely ground black pepper salt Trim the roots and most of the green from the scallions. Use a sharp knife to make several long cuts to within a half inch from the green end. Drop the scallions into ice water until shortly before serving. In a medium saucepan, combine the wine, water, carrot, onion, garlic, bouquet garni, celery and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Sieve, pressing well to release all the juices. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the saucepan. There should be about one-half cup. Over very low heat, gradually whisk in the softened butter until incorporated. Season to taste, remove from the heat and keep warm. Salt and pepper the salmon. Brush a little olive oil on skin sides. On medium heat, preferably using a Teflon pan, cook 5 to 6 minutes per side for rare, 6 to 8 minutes for medium. (Claude & I both prefer slightly translucent rare in the center to opaque as the texture of the salmon is more moist.) Place each piece of salmon on a plate. With the tip of a knife, make a small hole in the center of the skin side to insert the scallion. The curled white section will have the appearance of streamers. Arrange the potato slices alongside the salmon and spoon the sauce over the potatoes and around the plate.