Article published by http://www.mydesert.com
Written by Henry Fenwick Special to The Desert Sun
We know “season” is getting close when restaurants start opening up again. Last Friday night I realized that it was close to being under way when I tasted Jean Paul Lair’s beet and raspberry gazpacho.
It was Le Vallauris’ opening night; owner Paul Bruggemans has been doing some sprucing up of the restaurant during the summer and Jean Paul has been making some changes to the menu. The sprucing up is restrained and not completely finished: Bruggemans is still waiting for some new paintings to be delivered. The place looks lovely but then it always does — the work has been more of a discreet polish than a change.
Lair’s menu is of course always a work in progress, and for the fall he has added several dishes in addition to the gazpacho. I’m usually pretty good at making up my mind about what to eat, but on that evening I got stuck at the first jump. I knew I loved the cheese soufflé that he had introduced as a special before the restaurant closed for the summer, and indeed it was so popular that Lair has made it a permanent part of the menu. But where food is concerned, I’m a hopeless philanderer. Sure, I’d vowed love to that soufflé in the spring, but I was looking at a list that now included a Thai mussel dish with a cauliflower salad that drew me seductively, a wild boar pâté that demanded I order it — and that fascinating beet raspberry combination.
I gave in to the wild boar but confessed that I had struggled over that final choice. In honor of my struggle, Jean Paul sent me tasting sizes of both the gazpacho and his chilled butternut squash and morel cappuccino. They were equally delicious in totally different ways. And the pâté was wonderful. Knowing how they tasted wouldn’t have helped me make up my mind at all.
What startled my palate about the gazpacho was the way the raspberries seemed to assert their tartness rather than their sweetness. I hadn’t been able to imagine how two sweet things — the earthy sweet beets and the sharp sweet fruit — could come together without being altogether too sweet. But tasting is believing, and I wanted to know how it was done.
“It’s very simple,” Lair said, smiling with the infinite compassion of a really talented chef. The secret seems to be that he adds raspberry vinegar after he has blended the root and the fruit. That little extra fillip sends the soup into an extra dimension.
It wasn’t any easier to decide on a main course. Luckily my wife chose the roasted lobster with fennel and a Muscat sabayon, but I still had to choose between two other new items: a venison duo with sage and junipers, and a scallop dish with an orange vanilla mousseline sauce. I chose the scallops on the principle that it would mate better with the lobster, assuming that my partner would kindly give me some, (which she did). I was happy with my choice and with her choice, too. The slight liquorice taste of the fennel paired perfectly with the lobster. The understated nutty flavor of an artichoke puree matched just as well with the scallops. The whole meal was a marvelous way to start the season.
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