I admit it. I treasure a few restaurants. I can never rate them--one against the other--because on any given day one of this select group will deliver a meal that will leave me convinced that it was the best meal of my life. So whatever thoughts I have to that effect I now supress. That notwithstanding I had those thoughts last week at Rochat located in Crissier, Switzerland.
Peter Chong, Michael Hickcox, Hans Zbinden and I shared a dazzling meal there together in April. Peter took photos and promises to write up a story recording that triumph. As good as that meal was--and those best meal of life thoughts echoed after that one--this one was even better. Alas, not carrying a camera I will have to describe this one with words.
I am beginning to understand Rochat's cooking now. There is a yin and yang to it. For every principal flavor in a dish, there will be a counterpoint that plays off it, frames it, highlights it and occasionally takes the stage itself. It is both a hedonistic cuisine and an intellectual one.
This meal began as they always do with a lovely tray with three amuse buches--cold lobster lacquered with a shellfish glaze, set off with walnut vinagrette; two small pieces of seared tuna set off with lime and a decadently rich vichysoise supporting a mound of oestra. Can I say that these three perfect little appetizers were the least interesting part of the meal. They were, because it only got better.
First course: Moules de bouchots tiedes pulpe de carottes parfumee a la liveche de menthe du Maroc. In a word, this was the finest mussels dish I have ever tasted. The mussels were out of the shell (really would a three star restaurant impose the burden to doing that????) and clustered in the center of the dish. The sauce was a spicy creamy carotte sauce that I would never have imagined paired with mussels. In a word I was awestruck.
The next dish illustrated the real yin and yang of Rochat's cooking. Fin veloute de champignons et chanterelles ravioli de celeri aux fevettes. A large ravioli was centered in a frothy sauce of wild mushrooms. Of course the sauce spoke of the woods and earth. The counterpoint was the ravioli as the tiny dice of celery and feves that it housed provided a freshness that amplified the earthyness of the sauce. The reverse was also true. Perfect point counter point.
The next dish brought along my favorite fish rougets: Supremes de rouget de roche croustillants faco moderne. The rouget fillet had been grilled on one side in the salmander so that its skin was crusty and yet flesh underneath barely cooked--perfect. It was set on top of citrusy olive oil based sauce with dollops here and there of intense tomato sauce. The olive oil was unbelievably fragrant--it really tasted like Nyons olives. The tomato sauce was pure and intense. Tiny specs of Nyons olives were tossed on the top of crusty rouget fillet. The balance of this dish was just wonderful. It was perfection.
Next was another dish that left me muttering about the genius of Rochat. Rouelles de grosse langoustine au poivre du Sichuan chutney d'abricot au jus de curry. Here was a barely cooked scottish langoustine, cut into thin pieces (still assembled in its langoustine form). The pieces were barely translucent and simply evaporated in the mouth. It was poised upon the apricot chutney and surrounded by a curried seafood sauce. The flavors danced in the mouth. I never would have imagined langoustine set upon apricot, yet here it was and not cloying in the least as the curry played off the chutney perfectly. This was a very fresh chutney that still left the apricots tart and fresh tasting. Against that was the chinese pepper. Each of these flavors propelled the others. Truly this was a dish that I wished would never end.
Then came another triumph: Vapeur de filet mignon de veau au citron vert artichaut barigoules aux olives. Imagine this one: A cylinder, poised vertically of the most tender veal imaginable, cooked perfectly medium rare. It was surrounded by baby fresh artichoke hearts set into a lime butter sauce flecked with olives and thyme. The veal simply required no chewing--again that experience of meat evaporating in the mouth. Artichokes can carry a bit of a mineral aftertaste--not these because the lime sauce and zest of lime cut it completely. Preventing the citrus flavor from being monochromatic were the olive and thyme accents. This one was so good, that jet lag and all, the first day home I raced to Berkeley Bowl (world's finest market) to buy baby artichokes to recreate this dish with chicken (trust me it works!).
This was followed by cheese.
Dessert was the usual Rochat parade. First came a Suprise de framboise. This was a dish topped with perfect raspberries, hidding beneath them a wonderous raspberry corse puree accented by raspberry eau de vie and a few very tiny flecks of mint.
This was followed by a sorbet course (strawberry, orange and bannana) then an ice cream course (vanilla, caramel praline, and lime yogurt). A word about the vanilla ice cream. Great versions of this have flecks of the vanilla bean showing. This one was almost dark with it. Wow!
Then came the dessert trolly. Here one may have as much as one wants of a selection of twenty or so of the most beautiful tarts, poached fruit and cakes imaginable. I chose a tarte vaudoise (a highly reduced cream cinanmon tart--a wonderful tart never to be missed here), a dense chocolate tart set on a very thin layer of raspberry puree--decadence itself, and a rhubarb tarte--which was in a word, perfectly tart. This was all surrounded by the usual perfect petit fours and chocolates.
When Philippe Rochat came out to say goodnight I found my French not up to the task of describing just how good everything was. I tried to explain how multiple times that night I was left stupified by the complexity yet purity of dish after dish.
One thing is for sure: Rochat's place on my private list of best in the world is secure.
The meal I described here was a different one than the fabulous dinner which Peter, Hans, Michael and I shared in April! Peter and I will work together to get that write-up posted shortly. The meal in this article took place last week. Jeff