DINNER 266: Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tonight, Wendy & I continued the celebration of her birthday with an absolutely wonderful meal at Jean-Robert at Pigall’s in downtown Cincinnati. I had made reservations with Richard for 8:00, and we arrived a few minutes early, thinking we would have a drink at the bar to relax after our hectic day, but Richard greeted us warmly, wished Wendy a happy birthday, and showed us directly to our table, saying, “You’ve got quite a meal ahead of you; you should get started.”

We were shown to our favorite banquette (#6) in the rear of the restaurant (Wendy seated where Jaques Pepin sat when he visited the restaurant a few years ago) and settled in. After a few moments, we saw Tammy, our favorite server, walking back to us with two glasses of bubbling Andre’ et Mireille Tissot “Pigall’s Label” Cremant du Jura, N/V.Returning to our table, I found Tammy & Wendy still chatting. As I sat down, Tammy said, “I’m not even going to show you menus. Chef is going to do what he wants with you tonight.” We did not object! Jason, the sommielier, came over with glasses and a bottle. I asked if he would help us keep track of our wines, and he said that he would.

And the meal began…

  • Blue Point Oysters, Fresh Horseradish, Local Heirloom Tomatoes, Tomato Skin, and Tomato Water served with Mikael Bouges, Pente de Chevigny Suvignon, Touraine, 2004. Wendy & I thought it odd to begin a multi-course meal with a red wine, but this wine was so gentle and retiring that it was perfect. Wendy characterized it more like a Chenin Blanc. The oysters were served in a tiny soup cup and the tomato water was poured over tableside. The plump oysters were briny, cold, & fresh, and the fresh horseradish was very strong and cleansing (it cleared our sinuses!), and the heirloom tomatoes (hi Sally!) were sweet and flavorful, a nice foil to the strong horseradish. Paired with the wine, it was a very nice combination.
  • Indiana Goat Cheese in a Crepe with Local Tomato and Frisee Salad, Banyuls Vinegar Dressing, Fried Onions, Orange Mustarda, and Grape Compote served with Mikael Bouges, Pente de Chevigny Suvignon, Touraine, 2004. The Mikael Bouges was great with this course as well. Creamy, warm herbed goat cheese wrapped in a warm, fresh crepe, topped with a delicately dressed frisee salad with more of those wonderful tomatoes. The orange mustarda underneath was sweet and flavorful. What could be better!? This was among our favorite courses of the evening. I liked the presentation so well I drew the plate on my notes.
  • Squab Breast with Local Blueberries & Forest Mushrooms served with Domaine Charles Audoin Bourgogne, 2002. The squab had tiny planks of puff pastry with it — it was almost like a deconstructed pot pie, finished with a most amazing truffled mushroom sauce. We seriously considered licking the plates on this course! The light red wine worked well with this course, not overpowering the squab and pointing up the blueberry flavors of the dish.Richard B stopped by our table many times this evening to visit and chat, and during this visit we encouraged him to taste the sauce. I believe he seriously considered it, but decided not to.
  • Tuna Tartare with Cous Cous, Endive, and Avocado served with Trimbach Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2002. Hearts of endive stuffed with cool tuna tartar and cous cous was the center of this dish, with avocado, avocado puree, and a wonderful balsamic reduction.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Farms Shrimp, Flan of White & Green Asparagus served with Trimbach Pinot Gris, Alsace, 2002. Earlier today, Chef had gone to the Bluegrass Shrimp Farm (I had hoped to go with him, but was confused on the day) and brought back many pounds of shrimp. We were served the shrimp tails (with a shrimp face, complete with long antenna, on each plate) on top of a white & green asparagus flan and very thin slices of white & green asparagus, topped with microgreens and an amazing shrimp sauce pour atop tableside. There was truffle dust around the rim of the plate, and Wendy & I both brushed the dust into the shrimp sauce for even more flavor.Jason poured Marc Tempe “Priegel” Pinot Blanc, Alsace 2002 and very quickly returned with two empty glasses and a different wine, explaining that he was ‘pairing as fast as he could’, but Chef was throwing curveballs with our menu, changing it up at the last moment. Apparently, the next course was one of those curveballs. Jason asked us to let the Marc Tempe sit while we enjoyed the new wine with the next course.
  • Foie Gras with Black Cherries, Brioche, Duck Confit, and Corn served with Styring Vineyards “Six Cluster” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2003. The seared foie gras over brioche (a preparation that is one of my favorites) with corn and duck leg confit, corn puree, and topped with a piece of duck proscuitto. A cherry & duck reduction was poured tableside. Absolutely fabulous. Another favorite course. We were discussing this website with Emily (a server), explaining that the camera she’d seen in the kitchen was in fact ours and that the pictures would eventually find their way to the website. The gentleman at the table next to ours chimed in, saying that he reads this website! How interesting that a reader happened to be seated next to us! Hello to Eric & Jessie — happy first anniversary!A bit later, Emily came back with my camera and said, “You cannot look at the pictures yet. I just need to know how to review them”. I showed her and she went back to the kitchen and I saw another flurry of flashes. It was at this point that I started to really worry about what was going on with the camera!

    A bit later, Emily came back with my camera and said, “You cannot look at the pictures yet. I just need to know how to review them”. I showed her and she went back to the kitchen and I saw another flurry of flashes. It was at this point that I started to really worry about what was going on with the camera!

  • Scallop over Eggplant Caviar, Basil Oil, Lemon Oil, and Tomato Vierge served with Marc Tempe “Priegel” Pinot Blanc, Alsace 2002. Sauteed scallop, sliced very thin and fanned out was served roasted eggplant, organic tomatoes, fresh basil, heirloom tomato & olive oil, and a pesto ‘goo’ around the rim of the plate. Wendy said, “Only Jean-Robert would pair scallops and eggplant, but it works — it really works!”. A revelation.
  • Halibut with Fresh English Peas, Yellow Bean & Pioppini Mushrooms served with Francois Raquillet Mercurey 1er Crus “Les Veleys” 2004. I love fresh peas, and the halibut was perfectly prepared, flavorful and moist sitting atop pea puree, velvet & pioppini mushrooms, with mushroom dust, and a truffle beurre rouge sauce. This was a very well-balanced dish, the flavors fully complimenting each other without being overpowering or confusing.
  • Veal with Sweetbreads, Bibb Lettuce, Fingerling Potatoes, Chanterelle Mushrooms, and Sherry Wine Veal Demi Sauce served with Chateau les Valentines, Cotes de Provence, 2002. It was at this point in the meal that I no longer felt capable to accurately record the dishes, so my notes are in someone else’s handwriting (Michael (I love your hair and hope you win!)? Emily? Angie? I’m just not sure!). The rare veal with a generous slice of sweetbreads (I love them so), with the sauce and other vegetables around was at once homey and elegant. I tried, unsuccessfully, to talk Wendy out of her sweetbreads.I double-checked with Jason that he was keeping track of our wines, and he said, “As far as you know I am”, inspiring a lot of confidence!
  • Assortment of Imported and Domestic Cheeses served with Domaine de Rancy Rivesaltes Ambre, 1990. We enjoyed tastes of Petit Bassqe, Humbolt Fog, Normandie Camembert, Fromage des Clarines, and Fourme Cambert (all this written in two different handwritings (one of which is Chef’s) that were neither my own nor the writer of the previous item!). Wendy adores the cheese course (especially the “squishy cheese on a spoon”), so we plowed through this course easily.
  • Variation of Sweets served with coffee. Karen, the awesome pastry chef, sent out a plate of tiny sweet treats (plum tart, pecan ice cream, apricot bavarian, apricot frangipan, almond orange cake, and caramel ice cream) to finish off an amazing meal. Wendy’s plate came out with a single candle to recognize her birthday.

After the meal, Wendy & I stumbled back to the kitchen to give our thanks for the amazing experience. We found the kitchen mostly cleaned up and I looked at the clock — it was after 12:30am and we’d closed the restaurant!

Jason had kept track of our wines, after all. In fact, a new service the restaurant is providing for regulars is that they’ll print a complete menu of everything you had on a particular visit. This is a really nice touch and helped me to keep track of what wines went with each course, and is a nice momento of the evening.

We talked with Richard (grill man), Raymond, Luke, Jeremy, and Rob for a while before heading back to the dining room, where we caught up with Jean-Robert and Richard B. We had a glass of champaigne with Jean-Robert and talked about scuba diving (he was a diver some 20 years ago) before we headed home.

When I finally looked at the pictures on my camera, I first noticed that they’d taken over 60 photos. I then noticed that only ONE of the photos was of our food, and that MOST of the rest of the photos a> wouldn’t make sense to anyone that doesn’t work there and b> probably cannot be posted due to content. I’ll post those that I feel are …well… least inappropriate and link to them in this article!

Thanks to the gang at Pigall’s for making Wendy’s birthday celebration very, very special.

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