Monday, May 06, 2002

Chefs Gabino Sotelino* & Anselmo Ruiz


"Dîner Sotelino" at Ambria Restaurant Showcases Artistry of Its Founding Chef

By Ethel Gofen, Dame de la Châine

As the Chicago Bailliage took over the entire Ambria restaurant on May 6, 2002, expectations ran high. One of Chicago’s most beloved and elegant classic French restaurants since 1980, tucked away in Lincoln Park’s Belden-Stratford Hotel, Ambria has nourished Chaîne members with memories of exquisite taste sensations and beautiful presentations for almost a full generation. Our hunger for excellence was richly rewarded as Executive Chef Anselmo Ruiz dazzled us with a glorious six-course dinner conceived by our own member, Ambria’s brilliant founding chef Maître Rôtisseur Gabino Sotelino, whose whirlwind of culinary activities has included the recent opening of a series of Mon Ami Gabi restaurants in nearby Oakbrook, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

The hors d’oeuvres passed with the non-vintage Laurent Perrier Brut champagne, poured from double magnums, spelled out the themes of luxury and refinement that were to characterize this dinner. As we enjoyed smoked salmon, tuna sashimi with wasabi caviar, saffron aioli crab cakes, seared foie gras on crostini, and American sturgeon caviar on potato quenelles, the transition from the outer world to the rarefied atmosphere of a formal Chaîne dinner was swiftly, happily completed.

Dame de la Chaîne Beverly Blettner toasted the guests with an apt quotation attributed to Ernest Hemingway on the joys of wine, and a magnificent trio of rosy langoustine, crayfish and lobster appeared, nested on a hemisphere of tomato mousse and garnished with sliced black truffle and a luscious sabayon glaze. As we finished the last of the 1998 Trinity Hill “Gimblett Road” chardonnay from New Zealand and turned next to the 1993 Albert Morot Beaune Toussaints , a dish appeared that complemented this wine

so perfectly that sighs of pleasure were heard all around. Here was roasted squab served on risotto that had been shaped into a cake, laced with morels, and bathed in an intense sherry-scented sauce.

Vice-Chancelier/Argentier Jeanne Cahill gave a spirited commentary on the cuisine, while Chevalier Steven D. Lustig gave meaty commentary on the spirits, urging us to note the difference in the taste of a wine when drunk alone and then when paired with its complementary dish. The matchmaking at this dinner truly met our highest expectations.

Next came a beautiful double consommé of pheasant, described as “lips-stick-together rich”, garnished with tiny cubes of celery, carrot, and onion and a quail egg perfectly poached with its yolk still runny. Then a procession of silver bell jars opened to reveal glazed confit of Muscovy duck on a bed of endives, with tamarind sauce, the marvelously tender, slowly cooked breast contrasting with the crisp caramelized skin. We toasted this dish with a powerful, complex 1996 Corton Musigny Grand Cru Domaine Jacques Prieur.

Bailli de Chicago Roger H. Tracy now introduced special guests June Chomsky and a group from the Las Vegas Chaîne chapter and thanked the talented printer who produced our new menus, Rocco Bruno. This gracious pause led next to an assortment of four French and Spanish cheeses surrounded by figs, grapes, walnuts and dried cranberries served with crackers and a delicious raisin-walnut bread and accompanied by a robust 1997 Lonetree Syrah Mendocino. The grand climax was a chocolate dessert layering hazelnut meringue, chocolate mousse, and milk chocolate, topped with a coconut tuile and fresh berries. Its wonderful melding of textures and flavors will linger as one of our precious Chaîne memories. The matching red dessert wine, served at room temperature, was a 1999 Massavecchia Tuscany, of which only a small quantity is produced each year. Maître Rôtisseur Charles Haskell, vice chairman of the Lettuce Entertain You Company to which Ambria belongs, took a bow along with the talented staff of this sublime restaurant.