My friend Margy told me that the last time she ate at Maude the woman the counter next to her confessed she ate there once a month. Margy looked at her in surprise; she didn't seem like the kind of woman who'd routinely spend a hundred bucks on dinner.
"The rest of the month I eat mostly at Souplantation," her neighbor admitted. "But I like to treat myself every once in a while, and I really look forward to my dinners at Maude."
I like that story, because it pretty much says everything you need to know about this restaurant. It's a special occasion. It's unpretentious. It treats people well. It's something to look forward to. And on top of that, it's a bargain. You will never spend a better hundred dollars on a meal.
When Curtis Stone decided to open a restaurant, he followed his passion. He's one of the few chefs I know who really enjoys cooking. For him this is not a business; it's a labor of love. Feeding people makes him happy. So he opened this little place with just 25 seats and an ever-changing seasonal menu.
Please forgive the photographs; the restaurant is candle-lit. Excellent for romance. Terrible for picture-taking. But here's a course by course depiction of this month's theme, parsnips.
A single delicious little bite, parsnips on homemade shrimp chips.
Curtis's idea of a bagel: a filling of smoked salmon and cream cheese is hiding inside that little puff of pastry (which in no way resembles the tough chewiness of the classic). In the front, a kind of "everything salt," a jumble of flavors.
Parsnip gazpacho - an irresistible puree hiding little guanciale cracklings that served to beautifully underline the delicacy of parsnip's flavor.
Curtis, as you can see, makes very pretty food. This is a single bite of lobster in a garden of grapefruit and herbs, sitting beneath a little cap of watermelon radish.
Bay scallops adorned with an entire flower shop's worth of foraged petals and herbs in a little puddle of whey. The sneaky flavor here was smoked anchovy, which should have been too strong.... but wasn't.
For me, the most memorable moment of the evening. What you can see are little curls of parsnip gnocchi, a few leaves of spigarello, a heap of beet and some foam. What's harder to see is the marrow, which has been cut into little squares, breaded and deep-fried so that it turns into a version of cromesquis. When you pop that into your mouth you get a deep, loud crunch, and then your mouth is flooded with liquid richness. It's a bit like xiao lung bao; liquid encased in crunch.
I love the simplicity of this version of shrimp and grits, and I love the fact that it was served with cured duck egg, a subtle nod to Chinese New Year. (See previous post.)
Foie gras is legal again. And it has rarely been so happily served as in this presentation of pear, endive and the surprise of burnt brioche crumbs. Which reminds me: I suspect that burnt offerings are going to be a new trend. I'm starting to see burnt toast cropping up as a new flavor.
Rabbit in two forms. One is a bit of boudin. The other is a few bites of tender, moist loin. That striated little leaf in the front? A very peppery nasturtium.
The cheese course: curls of Tomme in a kind of deconstructed salad. And parsnip.
The meal ended with a succession of desserts that started with that airy cupful of bubbles at the top and ended with this adorable plate of cookies.
If I lived in LA I'd try to stop in every month too. I wish there were more restaurants like it.
The wines we drank:
A rich and wonderful Portuguese Espumante
Domaine du Pelican Arbois, 2013
Verdelho Madeira from the Rare Wine Company
Domaine du Viking Vouvray 2011
Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur, 2012
Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria 2006