Saturday, May 1, 2010
DINING JOURNAL: JEAN-ROBERT & "THE KIDS" AT MUSIC HALL
For my out-of-town readers, Jean-Robert de Cavel is a three-time James Beard nominee and 2009 semifinalist for Best Chef/Regional. In 1993, he arrived in the Queen City to helm the Maisonette, historically our city's claim to culinary fame. For 35+ years, the Maisonette was the restaurant with the longest-running Mobil 5-Star rating ever, until it closed suddenly. That was four years after J-R left to start Jean-Robert at Pigall's, which won a whole new following and many accolades, including a spot on Conde Nast Traveler's Best New Restaurants list. Last year J-R was ousted from his namesake restaurant by his former business partners, legal wranglings ensued, and much sturm und drang have occurred in the local foodie community over the whole mess.
For any local lurkers, Jean-Robert told us he anticipates opening his new restaurant, Jean-Robert's Table, in early June, about a month later than he had originally hoped, due to issues with the building, which he acknowledged he'd rather deal with now rather than later. (He's also tweeting the occasional update.)
Somehow this incredibly talented chef has chosen to remain in our Midwestern midst. While he's been restaurant-less during the past year he has continued to participate in benefits, including a recent event with Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard for the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (sadly, I was not able to attend) and Seven Days for SIDS, which he and his wife founded after the death of their daughter. He has also been named Chef--in-Rsidence and "culinary ambassador" for the Midwest Culinary Institute, whose students helped prepare and serve our pre-concert dinner while Jean-Robert greeted and mingled with diners.
We started with a layered salad of quinoa, egg mimosa, smoked salmon, and asparagus topped with a creamy citrus dressing and threads of candied lemon rind. This dish was so heavenly that we later split another portion.
We moved on to the crab cake, served over blended rice with shiitake mushrooms and a three-pepper melange and topped with microgreens and a delicate curry sauce.
Next up was beet barigould with apples, argula, and candied walnuts, served with a luscious scoop of goat cheese, a wafer of crisp bread, and balsamic dressing.
Short ribs in puff pastry were served with blue cheese and mushrooms on a bed of spinach and grapes grapes with peppery port wine sauce.
Dessert was a selection of berry tarts and chocolate and hazelnut confections (see photo at top of post).
We could happily have lingered over this sumptuous dinner longer, but the bells of Music Hall signaled it was time to take our seats for the concert. It was a lovely meal and a delightful opportunity to sample food expertly prepared by the MCI students Jean-Robert inspires. Although this was the last such pre-concert dinner for the current Cincinnati Symphony season, our attentive barkeep told us she had spoken with J-R earlier and he said he would like to continue these dinners next season. "The kids just love this," she said. And so did we.