Monday, March 11, 2002
Executive Chef Gerhard Doll
Much Ado About The Peninsula Hotel
The Peninsula Hotel - Chicago’s newest addition to the culinary scene, boasted its ‘Avenues’ restaurant for the Chicago Chapter’s March 11th dinner. A haven for fish lovers in its honorable devotion to Les Fruits de la Mer, this shrine to contemporary cuisine bodes well for the out of the ordinary. From the first moment of the evening it was clear there was serious intent afoot. Maître Hôtelier General Manager Maria Razumich-Zec welcomed us to this new spacious luxury hotel on Michigan Avenue - its muted tones and cosseted mélange of down lights and traditional chandeliers paved the way for quite an evening. Markus Engel, F & B Director together with Alain Bachmann, ‘Avenues’ Restaurant Manager made sure of impeccably polite, beautifully paced service. This, coupled with the well-honed culinary technique of Chef Rôtisseur, Executive Chef Gerhard Doll, proved they were all well up to the challenge.
The old house of Pommery had provided its “Brut” Royal N.V. with its unobtrusive biscuit nose. A broad spectrum of hors d’oeuvres spaciously arranged on trays and passed butler style assured a nice entry into the evening
Chevalier James Greenberger gave a toast and we remembered the six months that had lapsed since 9/11, its repercussions and our lives within it.
Chef Doll seemed very much at ease, managing his team, visible for all to see, in his cutting-edge kitchen contained in ‘Avenues’ itself. All was calm yet swift, knowing exactly what needed to be done.
As an ‘Amuse’ one chubby Northern California, farm-raised Kumamoto oyster was served on a fennel salsa bed along with a smoothly, unctuous cold artichoke soup in a miniature glass. It was a perfect combination and enhanced the clean crisp flavor of the shellfish.
Succulent cubes of sushi grade tuna made up a memorable carpaccio with the golden/greeny/yellow sheen of Oscietra caviar draped on top with crème fraîche. The Giuncheo Vermentino from eastern Piedmont showed intensity and nice acid.
We were served the third course from Wedgewood teapots! Piping hot Bouillabaisse poured from the spout down onto very hot soup bowls already holding deliciously sweet Alaskan king crab pieces. Its aroma was potent and its appearance dense and creamy. A discreet Pernod/anise/tarragon flavor was present and even miniature pieces of fennel poached in saffron broth bobbed around inviting us to catch them. A Bollinger Special Cuvée N.V. married extremely well and served as a palate cleanser.
Live scallops came next and the Coquilles St. Jacques had not lost any of its authentic flavor. It was firm, surrounded by a dark emerald green watercress mousseline, an emulsified crustacean sauce and generous slices of black truffles! The full-bodied Remoissenet Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Romanée 1994 with its buttery nose and long spicy mouth worked well.
This extraordinary dinner was now well underway and there was a subtle elevation of flavors between the series of harmonious courses, creating a perfect sense of balance. The variety of colors – rose tuna, the mustard soup, the white and green scallop dish as well as the pink/brown of the langoustine course about to be served, acknowledged that this was seriously good food. A resolutely rich character to the dinner began to tiptoe in now, indicating culinary genius at work. Pan-seared Scottish langoustines, and glistening foie gras - both on a bed of caramelized braised endives surrounded with morels - hushed the dinner-jacketed diners. A slim, langoustine claw dramatically emerged upward from the center of the whole as if to signal its presence. An incredible presentation of Mediterranean Sea Bass followed accompanied by a timbale of natural white asparagus – a precursor to Spring. The labor intense nature of this asparagus basket was impressive. A unique whipped Berkshire blue cheese course followed and two innovative desserts brought dinner to a close. Sixteen different countries had provided the ingredients and The Peninsula Hotel, Chicago provided a vibrant evening we shall never forget. Accolades were ebullient.