As those of you who care may have noticed, Jenna is in town. For those of you who don't know, Jenna (my partner in the fluffy luv patty extravaganza) is my culinary accomplice, and although she doesn't channel her passion into writing, she's as much of a foodie as I am. The fact that we're in her last week of vacation before heading back to college called for commemoration, so we headed to Lilette with Dad, Caroline, and Raphe.
I faced my usual dilemma, which goes as follows: WHAT IN GOD'S NAME SHOULD I ORDER FROM THIS MOST LUMINOUS OF MENUS? Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is one of those restaurants so near and dear to my heart that I have developed some habits with the menu that are very hard to break. So I narrowed it down to four things: grilled beets with goat cheese and walnuts; shaved fresh hearts of palm with lemon juice, olive oil, and parmigiano reggiano; Alaskan king crab claws in passionfruit butter; and the special of Kobe New York strip with duck-fat roasted potatoes and gremolada. I decided to just indulge, since it doesn't happen everyday that someone takes me to a meal at Lilette. Prepare yourself for a veritable deluge of photographic wonder, lovelies!
My appetizer (note that this nectary butter was the muse for this blog):
Aren't the crabs just beautiful? The colors nearly make me tear up. The portions, the simplicity... this just does not look like food to me. It looks more like a pseudo-sculpture. What I like to do is toil away on extracting every last morsel from the insides of those really hard claws and to stir them around the butter so that the white meat becomes passionfruit yellow. It feels like soup to me, but of course it trumps chicken noodle. Since the meat extraction takes so long, everyone else is usually just finishing up, which is serendipitous since it provides me with an audience as I dig into this most wondrous of appetizers. Below is the result of my toil (just some dregs).
These are the grilled beets, which both Jenna and Caroline got. Just really, really good -- a testament to talent in its artful combination of dense-fruity-earthy beets, crunchy walnuts, and creamy, almost tangy goat cheese. The bright purple oiliness left at the end is good for bread-swirling (fortunate, since the bread at Lilette is SO. GOOD.).
These are the hearts of palm. They are tart, unexpected, and fresh to an extent words can't encapsulate.
Here's the gnocchi. See my previous post on Martinique to read my thoughts. Basically: thick Italian gnocchi, sage brown butter, lovely slices of reggiano, chives. Mmmm.
Moving on... main courses! This is a special that Dad got. It's called bracciolo -- Google the name and almost all the results will be Italian, so that should tell you something. Basically, this dish consists of pounded-thin beef and pork, rolled together with hard-boiled egg and garlic, and cooked for a bit, then covered in red sauce. The dish was good, but it perturbed me for a few reasons. Part of what makes Lilette so fantastic is that the dishes there are singular and stunning and utterly unique, in one way or another. This seemed like a classic dish that your hypothetical Sicilian grandmother would make you while you were home for the holidays, and for that reason, it was a bit contrived and awkward. The spices were aromatic, perhaps to a fault, but the meat and the red sauce were both done very well.
Raphe got grilled hanger steak in marrowed bordelaise and housemade French fries. The hanger steak and fries were indisputably good, but the bordelaise truly made the dish -- perhaps it's embarrassing that I'd drink a small shot glass of it? It was very wine-y and the marrow gave it a profound depth that was a nice complement to the meat.
This is the roasted poulet breast -- the only dish on the menu that employs French (presumably because "chicken" is too base?). Mom gets this nearly every time she's at Lilette (it means to her what the beets or the crab claws mean to me) and it's just stunning. The chicken is unfailingly moist, topped with/soaked in a mushroom vinaigrette, over a bed of superbly tender brussels sprout leaves and balsamic glazed onions that I'd buy in a candy shop if they were there. Everyone says to pass up chicken dishes at restaurants since they're almost always not worth it, but this is one of the few very qualified contenders.
This is my Kobe NY strip. I asked for it to be cooked however the chef would have it; as you can see, it was quite rare. Normally, I don't like this, but with a meat like Kobe, there are bound to be exceptions. I was ultimately quite pleased (particularly because I felt so European with my super-rare steak), although a smaller portion would've been ideal for my palate (which, in its heightening snobbiness, grew a bit bored by the end of the meal) and my stomach (which needed all the room it could save for dessert). The gremolada was a tasteful accent, like a perfect pair of shoes on an otherwise minimally accessorized, super-chic French girl. The potatoes may actually have been the highlight, especially when they were swirled around in the steak-y juice and the lingering bits of gremolada. Duck fat is heavenly, the potatoes were cubed in perfect proportions that saved them from being too fatty or too potato-y, and the outside was crisp in a way that really just melted my heart. How lovely it is to encounter a glorified meat-and-potatoes dish like this one. I could learn how to cook something similar and win the heart of any man I pleased.
Believe it or not, we actually had just a bit of room (and plenty of motivation) to tackle dessert... I got Nutella custard with fleur de sel, caramel cream, and chocolate-hazelnut brittle. I was SO, SO, SO jubilant with how it turned out. The custard had definite Nutella notes, but it refrained from being overwhelmingly sticky, dark, and nutty, as the spread itself is prone to do. Ultimately, it retained only its best assets, and the consistency of the custard was thick without sticking to my ribs. I couldn't see the fleur de sel but it was definitely present, and it surprised me up through the very last bite. The caramel cream was fluffy, not gooey or dense -- perfect for glorious harmony with the custard, since the two textures played off each other. The nuts you see were candied and salty-sweet. I only had room for one stick of brittle, and I took home the other stick but lost it. :[
Here's Jenna with her mascarpone panna cotta, which almost looked fake since it was so smooth and glossy. It came atop an anise shortbread cookie with Louisiana strawberry sorbet and a sauce that tasted like red wine and balsamic vinegar. I loved everything except the cookie, which gave a nice crunch to the panna cotta but which left far too strong of a licorice aftertaste for my taste (though, to be fair, I hate licorice, so any aftertaste is too strong for me). The sauce was a very nice foil to the sweet creamy strawberriness- LOVED the red wine.
Here's Caroline's satsuma sorbet. Pretty self-explanatory- very, very, very true to the satsuma from whence it came. I couldn't have eaten a whole bowl since it was very single-noted, but the bites that I had were exciting and zingy.
Raphe got this impressively plated assortment of, from left, chocolate cookies, ricotta ice cream, pistachio ice cream, and milk chocolate ice cream. I was let down by the ricotta ice cream, which didn't taste like I thought it would. The other two ice creams were more the consistency of gelato, which of course I went crazy over. I loved the pistachio the most.
Of course, after this ridiculous epic of a meal, I never thought I'd eat again. But I did manage to eat at both Sucre and Baru the next night... stay tuned.