Saturday, April 15, 2006

Deliciously Dangerous Liaisons

This past Friday, a close friend of mine bought me surprise tickets to see Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, with performances by the Russian Troupe of the Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet and Orchestra. The performances (particularly that of Odette / Odile by Natalia Moiseeva) were breathtaking.

No offense to you ballet-junkies out there, but although the ballet was eyeball-poppingly spectacular (yes, there were gasps, oohs, and aahs throughout the entire affair), our pre-show dining festivities at Liaison Bistro stole the evening. At the show, we sat through three acts of absolute talent. At the bistro, we sat through four courses of "good god, I'm speechless" talent. See the difference?

Still reeling from my drunken stupor from my eating fest at the pricey Jardiniere (the restaurant of choice for ballet and symphony-goers), my friend and I decided to dine at a more economically reasonable, but still pre-show worthy restaurant. Our inquisitive Google-searching led us to Liaison Bistro or Bistro Liaison, whose owner and head chef is alumni of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

We started with classic French onion soup, or soupe à l’oignon as the fancy-pants français like to call it.

The individually-sized soup ramekin arrived, covered in a bubbling and blistered blanket of emmenthal cheese gratiné. As soon as my soup spoon penetrated the outer layer, a volcano of steam erupted out of the opening. Within, I found a spongy slice of baguette, that was fully saturated with the thickened and reduced soup. The soup itself had powerful overtones or rich red wine and was counterbalanced with a deep, husky beef flavor.

However, the cheese was a little creepy. It smelled of burnt and frizzled hair, and the cheese was far too chewy. I would have actually preferred more "sticky" and "gooey," than "chewy." The cheese lodged in my throat, almost like a thick wad of chewed Bubbalicious or Bubble Yum gum. The longer I chewed, the more it remained a resistant, immobile, and solid mass, not disintegrating at all with each vigorous crush of my jaws. Even when I tried to swallow that mo', I still couldn't get it down without gagging.

Although the French onion soup left more to be desired, I don't attribute any of its shortcomings to the chef, but to my own underdeveloped and immature tastebuds.

Next up, was the salade niçoise, which was fantabulous. The texture of every element was right on the money. The salad came with perfectly cooked light-skinned potatoes marinated in a herb-infused extra virgin olive oil; slices of creamy, ripened avocado; sweet flaps of sliced and roasted red peppers; and hard-boiled eggs with yolks that had reached the "perfect in-between"--the yolks weren't a runny, viscous fluid, nor were they an overcooked powdery mess. Rather, the yolks were creamy, sensual, and soft.

The star of the salad was the seared tuna, which was perfectly rare within. The outside was flaky, just like a good-quality, $2.50 can of albacore tuna. The inside was moist, cool, and tender, like the sashimi you've ever bitten into. The tuna was nestled in a dainty pile of salty and concentrated tapenade made with capers and niçoise olives.

Thinking that nothing could beat the salad, our next course was delivered to our table. I ordered my main dish "off the menu," and it was the daily special of lamb shanks braised in wine and served with couscous, dried cherries, and dried currants.

Braised lamb shanks had the tender (not tough or stringy), fall-off-the-bone texture, even though there was no bone. Also, the nutty grains of couscous were distinct and not cooked into a mushy, sloppy porridge akin to bad polenta. Dried cherries and currants highlighted the sensational sweetness of the wine and were a bright contrast to the well-seasoned and savory lamb shanks.

Although we had already unzipped our pants at this point, we "had to" get dessert. Because we were already busting at the seams and overloaded with food, we ordered the crème brûlée à l'orange.

For lack of a better description, the crème brûlée was unfriggin'-believable.

Light tapping on the surface of the crème brûlée cracked open the hard candy ceiling. I felt almost like an Alaskan fisherman, breaking open the solid surface to delight in the treasure underneath.

The hardened candy brûlée was delicate enough to instantly melt away on impact to my tongue, but resistant enough to provide a brittle bite. It wasn't like one of those bad crème brûlées with thick shards of caramelized rock candy that fill the crevices of your teeth with hard and sticky fillings as you try to crunch them down.

I was at first reluctant to order the crème brûlée à l'orange, because I was afraid that the orangy flavor would overpower the crème brûlée. But the orange flavor was subtle and refined, and almost undetectable. It wasn't at all like those desserts that are reminiscent of orange-scented car deodorizers, air fresheners, or a can of syrupy and highly carbonated orange soda. Neither was it the orange color of traffic cones.

Naturally, every crème portion of a crème brûlée has a creamy, gelatin-like resistance, so that if you lightly press your finger to the surface of the custard, it will spring back up and leave no depression. However, this stuff was infinitely better. It was sooooo soft. The delicate pudding caressed and danced upon my lips, and was so silky, and creamy, that even high-quality Whole Foods organic yogurt pales in comparison.

As I scraped the last of the remaining custard out from the crevices of the ramekin, I sat back and exhaled. Dee-licious! Given that I ate myself into a paralytic coma, I didn't even have the ability to give the chef a standing ovation, but he sure as heck deserved one.


  1. Happy easter PE! Looks like your "pre-show dining festivities" was an easter treat! My mouth waters as you describe each dish.

    I prefer mozarella cheese on my french onion soup rather than emental. Mozarella is more on the gooey side.

  2. I've only had creme brulee once...and it definitely was NOTHING like the stuff you had! My mouth is just watering.

  3. Hi PE - Wow, I'd never had made it to the ballet. And I don't ever recall eating a "sensual" egg yolk, so must really be missing out on something in life! Another great post!

    Happy Easter!

  4. This post was "Fantabulous!" Your decriptions are so evocative and precise. Just lovely...I'm salivating, especially at that creme brulee.

  5. hey PE! good to see you over the weekend. great post, but the cheese sounded awful.

  6. Thank you for your kind Easter wishes J Haw! This was actually the first time that I ever tried emmenthal cheese. I've only had swiss cheese on French onion soup in the past. I agree though, that mozzerella would have been more palatable than emmenthal!

    In that case Rachel, if you are ever in the Bay Area, I'd like to take you on a "crème brûlée" tour of San Francisco! We could try many different types and flavors, and I'd like to know what you think! But from the looks of your delicious desserts, you aren't missing much!

    Hee hee Kirk, I just really like eggs in general. I was just trying to think of a word that described "smooth" and "creamy" but with more "oompfh" than those words. I guess I need to consult the thesaurus more often!

    Thank you kindly Elmo Monster! At the risk of being verbose, I try to combine words where I can!! Thus "fantabulous" (fantastic + fabulous) and "wonderageous" (wonderful + outrageous)!

    I had such an amazing time with you and your family Chris! Thank you so much for inviting me over into your home and to eat delicious food. Your family was right, food always tastes better when you share it with someone you care about and enjoy. Take care Christina.

  7. Liason Bistro, it was so close to my old house, good restaurant of course but nothing to compare at your dinners!


  8. Thank you Erika for your lovely message! My sister and I miss you very much, and hope to see you again soon. We are dreaming of your bolognese and tiramisu!

  9. I think the chef of Jardiniere, Traci Des Jardins, beat Mario Batali in an Iron Chef America competition. A friend of mine and I were going to check out her other place (Mijita) sometime, but that place promises to have low bang-for-the-buck factor.

  10. I actually eat at Mijita often Jeff L! It is pretty pricey for the portions, especially when it is comparable to Mexican food from the Mission. However, there is something nice about ambiance of the Ferry Building. Would you like to go there together sometime? I work within a few blocks of the Ferry Building.

  11. Hi PE!
    How are you? Looks like you've been busy these days. I miss your posts.

  12. Thanks for checking up on me J Haw, I have been busy! I'll be back soon, snd hopefully, post some posts with detail!


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