Thursday, October 25, 2012
We did, however, manage to make our way to a lovely auberge out in Great Falls -- L'Auberge Chez Francois. It is a well-reputed restaurant, having both food critics and amateurs alike raving over the culinary prowess of its chef, but also the waitstaff and atmosphere in general. Its location is picturesquely situated in the woods in the midst of winding and quaint Virginia roads, and the building itself is a feast for the eyes, reflecting in its own way the Tudor-style of the French/German region of Alsace.
There is a slight sense, indeed it's more than slight, that you have trekked up through the Alsatian countryside and have seemingly come across this gem of culture and exquisiteness wrapped-up in the most inviting of structures. Getting to the locale is, to be clichéd, half the fun. Though, I am of course telling a lie by saying that... merely because I would have a difficult time reducing a miraculously wonderful meal to half of the aggregate fun of a particular adventure, but I digress.
By this point, I've probably made it unapparent that the focus of this essay is food. And by extension, wine.
However, the meal that we shared was something beyond compare. A flight for taste and an expression of the beauty of this world. It accomplished for the senses what daydreaming does for the mind: sets it free. For a brief period of time, our senses were free to roam a new palette of colour, thanks to the art of the kitchen and its deftly baroque performance. Without going into the specifics of the fare that we enjoyed, I will, however, touch on a few notes from that unforgettable luncheon.
A glass of delectably delicate French champagne presented itself as the first obstacle to enjoy. It's flavour was moist and sweet, and the effervescence bubbled the fruity notes through our noses, lingering for a time. Like soft and supple smoke rising from a pipe, the champagne climbed into our heads, percolating poignantly and with a type a seduction that one readily associates with French custom.
Then the food...
A velvety quiche, light and buttery. Freshly baked bread, barely warm to the touch, and soft, sweet butter to spread. My wife ordered the French onion soup -- which smelled strong and rich, everything it should be -- and I a croquette of veal kidneys in a sherry mushroom sauce. Needless to say, both hors d'œuvre were sublime in their own right. The latter had a deep silky texture, composed proportionately with the earthy bites of mushroom and the incomparable yet slightly gamey kidney. It was a more than manageable course.
The wine to go with the main course was a Pouilly-Fuissé -- an appellation for white wine located within Burgundy. It was a light and highly embraceable wine, pale in colour, similar to a Grüner Veltliner in acidity, while being slightly more subtle in its sweetness. When combined with our choices for the entrée, it complemented them splendidly. My wife had a filet of salmon with a refined and full-bodied Bernaise sauce. I decided ultimately -- after much toil and deliberation -- on a platter of sausages, braised fruits, duck confit, over a bed of perfectly cooked and seasoned sauerkraut. It seemed fitting to honour the occasion of our first anniversary with what on the menu is denoted as a "feast," and indeed it was. The duck was more than succulent and nearly buttery, the sausages, full of spice and meaty sweetness, were hot without being over-done, and the fruits lovely in texture as I paired them with different sausages and a spot of sauerkraut.
I nearly felt the inclination to storm off to the kitchen and thank the chef for deigning to give me such a wonderful present, but I resigned myself to finish what was left of the wine -- about which I'm sure one such as Hilaire Belloc would have written a line of verse or two.
Our table was cleared and I asked my wife how she had liked everything thus far. We were in the staunchest of agreements... and so sat, taking the beauty of it all in, waiting contemplatively for our dessert.
As the Baked Alaska was placed before my wife, I excitedly looked upon one of the most treasured dishes in the culinary world: a Gran Marnier soufflé.
There's no real sense in writing something detailed and precise about that dessert. It was, as all well-crafted and prepared soufflés are, a physical instantiation of the beatific tasting. I have no doubt that Heaven itself is not only constituted by the eternal vision of God in His glory, but also accompanied by a delightfully everlasting cup of Burgundy pinot noir and a generously divine portion of Gran Marnier soufflé. Ok ... and plenty of those fabulous and God-given Austrian dishes that make up the good part of all civilized food.
The sweet course, as it were, was a tremendous success both on the palate and for the spirit, particularly since it was accompanied by another delicate glass of what was undoubtedly a very well-picked champagne. It had a slight oaky edge to it that lent it something of a rustic quality without being overbearing. Concomitantly, it was sweet and also hinted in a not so subtle way at notes of pear and perhaps cider, but after celebrating in such an atmosphere, it's hard to keep all the delicious hymns straight.
Confident in the knowledge that we had celebrated and libate-d in a fashion fit for Bacchus, we took our leave of L'Auberge Chez Francois. And, stumbling happily and contentedly back to our car, I remarked to my beautiful bride: It is always good to share the best food and drink with one's best friend.
And, indeed it is. To a certain extent, I think people in our culture have lost a true sense of what it means to feast, and feast properly. Too often, when I say to my friends and family that we need to "feast heartily with food and drink," they seemingly take it as if I'm seeking to get drunk, but this is not true. For centuries, milennia even, Western man has "partied" so to speak, with a fervor and zealousness that is fitting for kings and paupers -- with gusto, more appropriately. But with a zealousness and fervor that seeks and fits into the wholeness of life, it aims oddly at moderation and virtue, and ultimately joy. As manuals built on the theology and philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, rightly point out: Hinc bibere usque ad hilaritatem. Thus, drink unto the point of hilarity.
For those of you who live in the Washington, D.C. area -- or if you are visiting -- please make a point to visit L'Auberge Chez Francois, and please, don't skip the soufflé.