Sunday, October 29, 2000
Khellil Abderezak & Michel Lama*
Deer Path Inn of Lake Forest
In the heart of Lake Forest, Illinois a picturesque, homely-looking hotel fashioned after The Manor House (c.1453) in Chiddingstone, Kent, England was the October venue for the Chicago Chapter’s sumptuous Sunday brunch. The Inn, designed by Chicago architect William C. Jones, was built in 1929 as a quiet weekend getaway for Chicagoans and their friends. Today it contains fifty-six guestrooms and prides itself in offering the finest in personalized attention. Past visitors have included British Royalty, celebrities and renowned politicians. Successfully directed by Maître Hôtelier Michel Lama, Deer Path Inn exudes an authentic atmosphere of an English home, with antiques and artifacts inviting a relaxed and comfortable state. Algerian-born Executive Chef Khellil Abderezak’s - formerly associated with the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago - worked hard to provide us with an out of the ordinary series of dishes. His mentors have been Chef Rotisseur George Bumbaris and Chef Sarah Stegner of The Dining Room as well as five years of European experience. Added to the excitement was the stir that, just several days earlier, Michel Lama and Deer Path Inn had been awarded the prestigious DiRoNA recognition of excellence and the subsequent listing in Wine Spectator.
A fire roared in the magnificent fireplace as hors d’oeuvres and Amontillado sherry were served. Our host then made a toast and we took our seats. A fresh oyster plate opened this six-course brunch and a traditional shallot and red wine vinegar dressing its traditional accompaniment. Displayed in the adjacent English Room was a long banquet table comprising myriad choices. Michel Lama’s intent was to stimulate the eye to give us the chance to make great discoveries. The colors were sunset-like - the hues of gold, orange and red roasted vegetables, the pinks in the form of the different salmons and juicy shellfish. Pâtés and terrines brought in an autumnal character. Bright salads and dressed vegetables, plus beautiful serving platters added electric, rich color. A whole, warm salmon became the pièce de résistance of the fish course. It had been wrapped in copious quantities of beaten egg whites with kosher salt folded into it and baked. There was also Gravlax that had been marinaded in vodka and coriander for the previous four days! The 1995 Hugel Pinot Noir matched the many ingredients and everything rounded out on the palate.
Greek and Middle Eastern dishes influenced the main course, and we were urged gently towards the original rather than the predictable. The selection ranged from tender, braised fresh rabbit in white wine, to a lamb Tagine with cous-cous. This North African dish comprised the traditional ingredients of seared lamb loin, fresh pear, dried prunes and apricots, cinnamon and spices. The seared squab with porcini mushrooms and démi-glace gave the dish depth, and to appease the traditionalists, roast leg of lamb and mint jelly had not been forgotten. Pert vegetables were of course also available. 1988 Newton Merlot paired well with a scope of tastes. This cosmopolitan approach to brunch ranked highly in its sequence and breadth. An additional buffet table had been set up in the Hearth Room for some amazingly fresh French cheeses ranging from sheep to goat to cow milks. The 1979 Ridge Fiddletown Zinfandel did them justice. For those hankering after les douceurs, an array of desserts was willing to oblige. Accolades were strong and Chef Abderezak took questions from an enthusiastic if not replete group. Even the Union Jack fluttered outside.