Saturday, May 1, 2010

DINING JOURNAL: JEAN-ROBERT & "THE KIDS" AT MUSIC HALL

Back in the wintry cabin-fever days of January, Cindie and I thought it would be a great idea to take advantage of the Cincinnati Symphony's 3-for-$99 offer for tickets to any three concerts on the remaining 2009-2010 schedule. We were especially interested in booking one that would be preceded by dinner prepared by Jean-Robert and the students of the Midwest Culinary Institute. Alas, due to bad weather in February, then far-too-nice-weather-to-leave-the-river in April, we've rescheduled a couple of concerts. Our Goldilocks moment came last night; we weren't about to miss the food.

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.

7 comments:

Making Space said...

Good gracious!!! You ate all that and then sat through a concert? Haha Love it! That guy looks like a maniac. The food looks amazing.

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh. MY. GOD. Looks really really good. Pastry encased short ribs? WITH BLUE CHEESE! la Diva has died and gone to heaven.

Shame about Chef Jean-Robert losing his child, no parent should ever go through that. You are lucky to have him!

PS: What is an egg mimosa I wonder?

intuitive eggplant said...

Yes, MS, although I confess we ducked out at intermission. Full stomach after full week, ya know. And I hate it when I snore at concerts :)

Diva, while I liked the idea of the short rib in puff pastry, alas, it probably wasn't the best choice to be held in a chafer over steaming water. The pastry had gone limp, and I could have gone with more blue cheese. But then, I could pretty much always go for more blue cheese.

Re: the egg mimosa, this recipe from chow says the white and yellow of the hard-boiled egg are thought to resemble a mimosa flower (http://www.chow.com/recipes/28273-asparagus-mimosa). This Epicurious recipe for potatoes and snap peas with mint mimosa sounds pretty tempting too (http://www.chow.com/recipes/28273-asparagus-mimosa).

Courtney said...

Haha, he does look crazy in that pic. But that's just because he's a genius! :)

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh, mimosa flower. Naturally, I was thinking of the drink! heheh....

intuitive eggplant said...

Courtney, so glad to have a local reader who appreciates what a treasure Jean-Robert is! Not only is his food transportingly outstanding, he's such an inspiration in our community. Have you had a chance to interact with him at MCI? I think it's also way cool that he's always checking out the new food ventures in town. I recall a tweet from one of the new food truck vendors - although they misspelled his name, the excitement that he had come to sample their wares was palpable.

This pre-CSO dinner was also my first experience seeing Jean-Robert work front-of-house. Here's a little story I didn't include in my post. I had gotten my second glass of wine (amply poured, but in a plastic wineglass) before we went to the third-course station. When I returned to my seat, I caught the tablecloth and spilled the wine everywhere (of course, it would have to be red) - on the table, on me, on the carpet. (My friend had similarly caught the tablecloth earlier, but she only spilled two empty plastic plates onto the floor.) A wet and cringe-worthy moment. Within seconds, J-R was at our side, beckoning us to we move to another table. "Ladies, ladies, do not worry about this, everything is fine." When someone can turn around such an embarrassing experience and make you feel well cared for, that's truly exemplary service.

La Diva, not surprised you were thinking mimosa the drink, not the flower - lol. And truly, I was only on my second glass of wine when I spilled:) Can't wait to see what you come up with for the Caribbean smackdown. Caribbean is not something I cook much of, but I'm excited to explore and stretch myself. And I'm hoping that by 5/21, I'll actually be able to find time to fit it in!

LaDivaCucina said...

Haha, you klutz! Maybe we should start calling you Grace?!

ok your table partner did the same...does this excuse you or are both of you klutzes? Either way, JR was very gracious about not embarrassing you further, a very good host indeed!