Pilgrimage to Provence

Pilgrimage to Provence: Chef’s Menu is Revealed

Join us all this week, Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. each evening, for Pilgrimage to Provence, four courses with choices for $59.95 pp++.  Chef Alexander, who is trained in classical French cuisine (at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY) and has traveled in Provence, has created a menu that exploits the regional preparations and Placer County’s seasonal produce.  Reservations are highly recommend; get your table now by calling 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com.

Here’s the Chef’s interpretation of each of the ten dishes featured (click here to print a copy of the menu):

First Course (choice of one):

Seared Tuna “Pan Bagnat” (Brioche, Quail Egg, Radish, Olive Tapenade):  The first stop on our tour of Provence was Nice where we stayed at the Hotel Westminster, overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, a pedestrian walkway adjacent to a beach and the Mediterranean Sea.  “Pan Bagnat” is a sandwich sold on the streets that is a specialty of Nice, and Chef Alexander is deconstructing the concept, creating a dish that incorporates the components, flavors and textures.  The composition starts with Ahi tuna seared rare, sliced and placed on toasted brioche coated with a house-made tapenade: a purée of capers, anchovy, garlic, fresh herbs, citrus zest and olive oil. Layered on top are a quail egg and see-through sliced radish.  Voila!

Chickpea Socca (Braised Lamb, Swiss Chard, Currants, Pine Nuts):  Here’s another sampling of a treat sold on the streets of Nice:  Socca is a sort of thin, unleavened pancake or crêpe that chef makes from chickpea flour, water, olive oil combined and then cooked in a crêpe pan.  For a stuffing, Chef slow braises lamb shoulder (for six hours) then he combines with cooked Swiss chard and a sweet-savory hit of currants and pine nuts.  How do you say “yum” in French?

Steamed Clams Bouillabaisse (Pastis, Saffron-Tomato Broth, Rouille Toast):  Forget about your classical image of bouillabaisse. . .this is not a “fisherman’s catch.”  Instead, Chef Alexander is interpreting the flavors of bouillabaisse through a broth comprised of fresh fish bones, shrimp shells, fennel, white wine, onions, carrots, celery. . .and crushed tomatoes and saffron.  Next he steams the clams in the strained broth and deglazes the pan with Pastis, an anise-flavored spirit from France.  Served in a bowl with Rouille toast alongside. . . baguette spread with a “rust” made from garlic, mayo, saffron and red chiles.


Second Course (choice of one):

Fall Vegetable Soup Au Pistou (Root Vegetables, Coco Beans, Basil Purée):  Provence is noted for its wonderful soups made from garden vegetables, but seeing how this is November, Chef Alexander is substituting fall harvest items:  carrots, celery, turnips, celery root, rutabaga, parsnips and fall greens, augmented with canned chopped tomatoes and cooked in chicken stock (house-made, of course).  Chef adds white “coco beans,” popular in the south of France which is where he has sourced them.  This rustic, hearty peasant soup is finished with a dolop of “pistou,” a purée made from basil, garlic and olive oil (but no Parmesan or pine nuts!).

Warm Chèvre Flan (Mesclun Salad, Pickled Summer Peppers, Black Garlic):  The focus of this dish is a goat cheese custard–chèvre flan–slow poached in a ramekin in a water bath.  The flan is served on a plate with mixed baby lettuces combined with pickled red peppers (from Chef’s Four Tines Farm), lemon juice and olive oil.  For an amazing pop, “black garlic,” an intense purée made from slow-cooked for so long it turns black, is spread on a plate.  Salad lovers are gonna want more!


Main Course (choice of one):

Sautéed Pacific Sea Bass (Artichoke and Fennel Bariguole, Squid Bourride Emulsion):  Chef starts by pan roasting beautiful portions of Pacific sea bass, plated on top of a layer of “barigoule,” baby artichokes, carrots and fennel slow braised in olive oil, white wine, garlic herbs and onion; this is then combined with sautéed squid.  Then the dish is surrounded by a “bourride emulsion,” created from Provençal fish stew and shell fish stock that has been emulsified with aioli for creaminess.

Herbs de Provence Roasted Chicken (Riz Rouge, Turnip, Chestnut, Rosé Poached Figs):  Roasted chicken and guinea fowl were on menus all over Provence, so Chef has allocated an entrée staring role.  Chef covers chickens with herbs de Provence–marjoram, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, tarragon and parsley.  Portions are half chickens (breast and leg) and plated on top of “riz rouge,” red rice from Provence chef has imported from Camargue, a marshy region south of Arles.  This whole grain rice is prepared in the normal way, but mixed with chestnuts and turnips.  Served with figs that Chef has rehydrated and poached with rosé and seasonings.

Beef Short Rib Daube Provençal (Red Wine, Carrot, Olive, Crispy Panisse):  This is another classic Provençal stew that traditionally is prepared in a vessel called a “daube.”  Beef short ribs are slow-cooked in a braising mixture of red wine, vegetables, black olives, herbs and orange zest.  Garnished with glazed baby carrots and Nicoise olives imported from France.  What could be the most challenging element of the dish is preparing the “crispy panisse” served alongside.  Chef combines chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and garlic cooked like he would polenta. When this cools, he spreads on a sheet pan, chills and then cuts into squares.  These are then fried as served as garnish.


Dessert Course (choice of one):

Tarte Au Citro (Pine Nut, Créme Chantilly):  Provence is citrus country in France, and this simple tarte is prepared with Meyer lemon.  Chef Courtney McDonald makes tarte shells from butter and pastry dough baked golden brown and then filled with lemon curd made from butter, lemon juice, sugar and eggs.  Served with candied pine nuts and créme chantilly (whipped cream with vanilla).

Olive Oil Chiffon Cake (Lavender Ice Cream, Lavender Honey):  Chef McDonald prepares French chiffon cake with four, eggs, sugar, vanilla and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.  Whipped egg whites are responsible for making the cake rise (instead of baking powder).  For Mediterranean flair, Chef is serving the cake with house-made ice cream with locally sourced lavender.  Completing the dish is lavender honey that is, of course, imported from France.

Savor this prix-fixe, because you have to wait until mid-January 2016 for the next one.