Since Maverick French chef Laurent Quenioux left his post at Bistro K, Michael G. and Manuel Mesta have repeatedly hosted him in their vermont Restaurant kitchen. This has allowed Chef Quenioux to test recipes for his long-awaited restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Since May 2007, he’s prepared tasting menus with wild creations like warm sea urchin tapioca pudding and oyster in yuzu martini with a scented green tea paper stirrer; squab with pistachio oil, red currants, wild mushroom mousse and tonka bean foam; and veal feet gelatine with a yuzu and green tea crab tower, grapefruit and hibiscus glaze. On this evening, Chef Quenioux prepared “Pot au Feu,” a classic French beef stew that translates as “Pot in the Fire.” He was able to coax four courses from one pot, charging what turned out to be a bargain $40 per person.
THE BROTH was aromatic, strewn with herbs and two-inch cuts of vermicelli. The flavorful brown broth was floating with a rectangle of polenta-like bone marrow that absorbed the beef broth beautifully. We were instructed to add a shot glass’ worth of “chabrot” (a customary infusion of red wine). We were also advised to judiciously incorporate the beaker of intense “viandox” (a concentrated paste made from reduced meat jus). The menu revealed that in rural France, people traditionally drink Pot au Feu directly from the bowl. Thus the twin handles.
COOKED LEEKS were seemingly simple but powerfully flavorful, cooked in the pot and sprinkled with hard-boiled egg, herbs and olive oil. We were able to cut our tender leeks with the lightest touch of a fork.
THE MEATS involved a bowl of oxtail, capon, beef shank, beef shin, beef chuck, short ribs, brisket and partridge served with potatoes, carrots and parsnips, poured with some more herb-flecked broth. Some of the meats were difficult to differentiate because our waiter didn’t bother to explain. The short ribs, on-the-bone beef shank and thin-sliced brisket were obvious. Since I’d never eaten either of the birds, they were tough to distinguish at the table. After some research, it turns out the breast meat that topped the pile was capon, also known as castrated rooster. The smaller half bird at the base of the bowl was partridge, white meat that disappointingly didn’t taste especially gamy. The broth kept the meats moist and flavored the winter vegetables.
Accompanying condiments were fresh salted butter, whole grain Dijon mustard, horseradish, cornichons and “pure, hand-collected” sea salt. The condiments were clearly good quality, but more or less an afterthought once we started devouring juicy animal carcasses.
We were given a choice of DESSERT. Two of us opted for the warm apple tart topped with a scoop of vanilla. The corners of the plate were dotted with caramel and crème anglaise. Since our waiter was rarely on the scene, we couldn’t find out whether Chef Quenioux or the vermont staff made the desserts. With sweet, thin-shaved apple and delicate pastry, it didn’t matter.
Based on this meal and my experience at Bistro K, and given the dishes Chef Quenioux has been preparing at vermont, there are plenty of reasons to think that once he does open his new restaurant, it will become destination dining.