La Cour des Lys – Meximieux, France

IMG_7433After a wonderful afternoon spent in Pérouges, we stopped by the neighboring town of Meximieux for dinner at La Cour des Lys.  The ground floor restaurant inside the hotel, which used to be a coaching inn,  has a lot of old world charm.  Flowery wallpaper, antique wooden cabinets and tables, and large wooden embroidered chairs with hefty arm rests inside the dimly lit dining room seemed almost a bit too stuffy for the creative food that came out of the kitchen.

The kitchen is now run by Chef Frédéric Navez, who used to work at the famous patisserie Troisgros.  Although you can order à la carte, there are a variety of set menu options here.  We all ordered the 38 Euro menu called “La Promenade des Plaisirs” with 1 appetizer, 1 main course, and delicacies from the cheese and dessert carts.  Indeed, our new adventure of pleasures was about to commence with a wonderful warm escargot cassoulet.

The first appetizer choice was my favorite dish of the evening.  The foie gras pâté with fig compote was just divine.  It was one of the best foie gras dishes I’ve ever had, and although I didn’t order this dish for my ‘pleasure menu’, I kept stealing some from my friend.  The incredibly flavorful, rich and smooth foie gras fumigated my whole mouth with its deep essence.

I ordered the Mosaïque de legumes, de lapin et de ris de veau parfumé au liseron d’eau, jus froid moutardé, a terrine of vegetables, rabbit meat and veal sweetbreads wrapped in water spinach with mustard sauce.  Despite its colorful and light appearance, the sweetbreads imparted a very hearty and robust taste to this dish.  It was a beautiful feast for the eyes and palate.

One of the main course choices was a filet of dorade.  Interestingly, this fish dish came with a cute little accessory- a live goldfish!

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As you can imagine, this goldfish became the main conversation piece of the evening.  We passed it around the table and each of us played with the little fellow.  Although my friend Gregory terrorized it with his fork, most of us played nice and even gave it a pet name.  I wonder what it thought of the big dorade filet sitting on the plate in front of it.  Gulp….

Most of us ordered the Volaille de Bresse (Chapon Bresson) et Royale de lard, sous une cloche de fumée, pomme purée soufflée a l’huile de truffes blanche. One of my previous blog entries about my trip to Burgundy featured the famous poultry from Bresse.  This dish used castrated Bresse chicken, served with an assorted mushroom sauce and presented in a very dramatic way under a cloak of smoke.  See the slideshow below for this theatrical presentation.

The chicken dish was accompanied with a foie gras, smoked bacon and egg purée inside an egg shell.  We had to sip this warm savory pudding through a straw.  I really enjoyed this side dish.  I mean, it’s sippable foie gras and bacon!  Very cool indeed.  Greedy Gregory smashed the perfectly trimmed eggshell to finish off the pudding.

The potato purée with white truffle oil was amazing.  I actually enjoyed the 2 side dishes more than the chicken itself, which was quite gamey and robust.

Les délices de la Bergerie:  we enjoyed numerous ‘delights’ from the cheese cart.  There were many that I had never tasted before, let alone even seen before.  The assortment of cheeses included all types made from sheep, cow and goat milk.

La découverte des Plaisirs Sucrés: My jaw dropped and my pupils dilated when I saw this alluring dessert cart.  As the title indicates, I was ready to discover these sweet pleasures.  My friend timidly asked the server, ‘How many desserts can we choose from?’.  To our joy, the reply was ‘As many as you want’.  Greedy Gregory asked ‘So we can try all of them if we wanted to?’.  The answer was still yes.  Marvelous.

So many to choose from, and so little stomach space left…

We each made our own little dessert plate.  Mine featured a mini baba au rhum, pistachio mousse, marinated pinapple in syrup, a bottle of rosemary and rose essence water, and a side of kiwi purée playfully painted in a treble clef.

Others had chocolate mousse, chocolate mint mousse, marinated prunes, fruit and custard tart, praline tart, macaroons, and creme brulée.  Their plates were garnished with rasperry and passion fruit purées.

We enjoyed our playful and creative meal with a wonderful bottle of 2007 Le Caveau Bugiste Bugey Manicle, a local white wine.  I never imagined that we would encounter such an inventive meal at this small historic restaurant.  From the goldfish to the smoke presentation, the dainty egg shell custard to the decadent dessert cart, this dining experience is one that I still talk about often.

La Cour des Lys

17 Rue De Lyon
Meximieux, Rhône-Alpes 01800
France

Tel: 0474610678

http://www.la-cour-des-lys.com/

Random trivia: Did you know that a pregnant goldfish is called a ‘twit’?

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Michael Mina XIV

Have you driven by the Sunset strip recently and wondered what that huge neatly trimmed XIV plant is for?  It’s Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina‘s newest restaurant, aptly named for his 14th restaurant.  And yes, it’s another Philippe Starck design collaboration, beautifully done like an old french chateau.  Once you step inside, you are transported to a different world with dramatic chandeliers, regal wooden bookcases, perfectly upholstered leather seats, candelabras and fireplaces.

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A romantic fireplace, dining by candlelight, and low light, so low in fact that it was impossible to take photos of the meal.

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Juxtaposed against this old world style interior is the modern open kitchen behind sharp stainless steel racks.  The kitchen was buzzing with excitement under the leadership of executive chef Steven Fretz.

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XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

XIV’s menu is constructed around a small plates dining concept.  There are numerous choices under appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts, and one is free to order a la carte or from 3 types of tasting menus.  XIV offers the opportunity to sample many different flavors and aromas through the 8 plate ‘Light Meal’ menu, 11 plate ‘Something More’ menu, or the 14 plate ‘Fourteen from XIV’ menu which is ordered for the table.  In these tasting menus, you also have the choice to have the chef select the dishes, or to choose them yourself.  We of course ordered the 14 dish tasting menu and chose the following dishes which I unfortunately could not photograph:

1) Ice Cold Shellfish trio: kushi oysters with champagne foam and tarragon powder, horseradish panna cotta with sweet shrimp, king crab with dijon mustard sauce.  The fresh kushi oyster had a wonderful brine that was accentuated, not overpowered, by the tarragon and champagne flavors.

2) Spring Garlic Soup with preserved Meyer lemon, parsley and country bread.  The creamy spring garlic soup had a garlicky kick that was green, young and fresh.

3) Tataki of American Wagyu skirt steak with moroccan spiced vegetables.  The beef tataki was not a true seared rare tataki, but rather a slice of cold medium steak albeit very tender and flavorful.  The vegetables were seasoned with a very earthy strong moroccan spice that didn’t  go well with the tataki.  The meat and the vegetables were each doing their own thing, and it was not a successful pairing.

4) Heirloom beets with burrata, wild arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and new olive oil.  Golden yellow, orange and red beets perfectly cooked and simply executed with the simple good flavors of balsamic and olive oil.

5) Foie gras terrine with rhubarb mostarda, saba and flatbread.  My favorite dish of the evening, the most flavorful and rich foie gras with a delicious sweet rhubarb jelly on top.  Since these are all small plates, the foie gras terrine was very small, and it left me begging for more.  One of the best foie gras terrines I have ever had.

6) Jidori chicken with fava beans, La Ratte potatoes, pickled ramps and onion jus.  The chicken was very juicy and succulent, but the dish and the flavors seemed too plain and safe for me.  I expected more surprises and innovative creations from Michael Mina.

7) Liberty duck breast with seared foie gras, leg confit, pineapple, and star anise.  Duck and foie gras are always a fail-proof combination, and they usually go well with a sweet fruit pairing (fig, cherries).  But pineapple? I was excited to try it, but unfortunately they didn’t mesh well.

8 ) Berkshire pork loin with crispy pork belly, pea leaves and salted cashew.  Here’s the thing about using pork belly.  It has become increasingly popular among restaurants all over the world only recently, but the Japanese have been cooking and eating it for centuries.  I have been spoiled by perfectly cooked pork belly in Japanese cuisine, and have never been satisfied with its execution in other types of cuisine.  This dish also fell short, as it wasn’t cooked to melting fatty tenderness.

9) California lamb chop with merguez sausage skewer, chickpea and raita.  This was a delicious dish where all of the components of the dish blended well together.  The smokey spiced merguez sausage with the rich lamb skewers, the red pepper sauce and earthy chickpea puree, paired with the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt raita.  Beautiful.

lamb chop with merguez sausage
lamb chop with merguez sausage

10) Japanese A5 strip loin with potato shallot cake, pinot noir sauce and spinach.  The Japanese A5 is an extremely high grade beef cut, and this dish comes with an extra charge that is worth every dollar.  An incredibly tender, moist, juicy, flavorful and memorable cut of beef with beautiful marbling.  (see random trivia section below for explanation of A5)

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11)Abbaye de Belloc cheese with quince, candied mustard seed and sorrel.

12) Selles-sur-Cher cheese with jackfruit, pistachio and mimosa flower.  I ordered this dishing hoping for fresh jackfruit, one of my favorite tropical fruits, but unfortunately it was candied, sweetened, and artificial.

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13) Grapefruit sorbet with greek yogurt and kaffir lime meringue.  I was excited to try Pastry chef Jordan Kahn’s desserts, knowing that he has worked at the French Laundry and Per Se, but I was disappointed with both dessert plates.  The folded grapefruit sorbet was too sweet, and the lime meringue tasted artificially flavored.  The yogurt brought nothing better to the dish, and I was done after 2 bites.

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14) Vanilla custard with mandarin sorbet, cream soda and nutmeg beignet.  The vanilla custard had an overwhelming fleur d’orange flavor that tasted like household cleaning solution.  The nutmeg beignet, however was warm and delicious.

IMG_454015) We ordered an extra 15th dish: Michael’s caviar parfait on a potato cake with citrus creme fraiche and smoked salmon.  We added this order after our 14 course meal, and were thankful for the decision.  It would have been a shame to end our meal with the 2 disastrous desserts.  The caviar parfait was absolutely wonderful, with all of the flavors of the salty caviar, light and creamy creme fraiche, and rich smoked salmon dancing harmoniously together in my mouth.

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Another highlight of the evening was discovering my cousin’s wine in the extensive wine list.  Simon Bize et Fils, Les Fournaux, 1er cru, 2006 was fantastic.  It was a joyous moment to find this rare wine in the restaurant.

XIV had a few dishes that flopped, but the others dazzled and impressed.  Drinks at the beautiful swank marble bar, followed by dinner in the vine covered patio for a tasting menu that includes the A5 steak, foie gras terrine and caviar parfait paired with a bottle of Simon Bize will make for a special evening.

Michael Mina XIV

8117 Sunset Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Random trivia:

So what the hell is an A5 beef?  It’s based on a grading system that grades beef on marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, color luster, and quality of fat.  It is reviewed by slicing the animal in between the 6th and 7th rib bone.  

The Beef Marbling score (BMS) is determined by how much intramuscular fat there is. This score can range from 1-12, and a score of 8-12 would get a grade 5 rating ‘Excellent’.

The Beef Color score (BCS) is determined by the comparing the meat flesh to the ‘Color Standards’. There are seven different shades of red with No. 1 being the lightest shade, and No.7 being the darkest. The flesh would have to be comparable to No.3-No.5  to get the top grade 5 rating.

Firmness and Texture are two different measurements within the same category, and in order to get the grade 5 rating, the flesh must be very firm and also have a very fine texture.

Color Luster and Quality of Fat are also different measurements within the same category. The fat is compared to the ‘Color Standards’ fat chart. There are seven different shades of fat, No.1 being pure white, and No. 7 being somewhat pink. Luster and Quality are visually appraised by the reviewer.

So if the Fat resembles No.1-No.4 and has excellent Luster and Quality, it will receive the grade 5 rating. To determine the overall grade of the beef, all the ratings in the aforementioned categories are  plugged into a chart, and the beef can receive 1 of 15 different final scores: A5 being the absolute best and C1 being the worst. Who knew beef was so complicated?