When Reporters Had Access....
The first days of L.A.'s iconic Chinois on Main. Truly great dinnerware. And menus from a long-gone and much-loved restaurant.
A few years ago Andrew Friedman, author of Chefs, Drugs and Rock and Roll, told me that he envied me because I’d been there in the early days of the American food revolution, a time before chefs had public relations agents and reporters had real access to chefs. I thought about that while rereading this piece. I practically lived with Wolf and Barbara while writing it, getting to know them so well that I was able to produce a portrait of two fascinating people just as they were coming into their power.
These two menus from Rose et LeFavour are from that same period. The restaurant, in Napa Valley’s St. Helena, was tiny and exquisite and I went as often as I could. Bruce LeFavour was self-trained with an incredible imagination, and his partner Caroline Rose ran the front of the house with extraordinary grace.
You probably can’t read my scribbled notes, but they say that the scallops were served on red chard with a raspberry vinegar sauce and a julienne of snow peas. The rabbit, I thought was fabulous, the cheese tray offered a chevre, Morbier and an unspecified blue, and the dessert cart contained a persimmon tart, candied fruit and chocolate souffles. And we apparently drank a ’69 Meursault and a ’66 Cos d’Estournel.
Three months later I went back. Here’s that menu.
Alain Chapel’s pigeon jelly would come to be widely copied (not least by Heston Blumenthal), but this was the first time I’d encountered it outside of Chapel’s own kitchen. I spent an entire day with Chapel in the seventies, when he came to California to cook a dinner for the Great Chefs of France series at the Mondavi winery. I was covering the event (Edna Lewis cooked lunch, Chapel dinner), but when I turned out to be the only one who spoke passable French they hustled me into the kitchen to translate for the great chef. What I remember best is that we ended up hunting all over the Napa Valley for the coxcombs he required for his dinner — and Chapel swooning over “les foies blondes de la California.”
Bruce LeFavour’s interpretation of Chapel’s jelly was a loose translation, involving raw yellowtail and pigeon breast, a sauce of crème fraîche and orange juice, shards of daikon, leaves of arugula and bits of chervil. The salmon on the millefeuille, I noted, was slightly overcooked, but that sorrel sauce I scribbled was “like a beure blanc made with egg yolks.” Whatever that means. The quail breasts had a tender texture reminiscent of poached eggs, and were served with lemon-poached apple slices.
The lamb (brave to include the kidneys), was served with chard with red peppers and beautiful asparagus, the cheeses were chevre, Pont L’Eveque and a brebis, and the dessert cart included a strawberry tart, an unsweetened chocolate cake, and a macademia tart. But there was more to come: stuffed dates, cookies, fruit jellies and chocolate truffles.
Quite a meal for forty bucks!
When I’m in the market for a wedding present I know exactly where to go: to my neighbor, Mary Anne Davis’ Davistudio. She makes the most appealing porcelain dinnerware.
This is what I like about Mary Anne’s work: her hand-made dishes are feather-light, come in rich colors and quirky shapes and seem far too fragile to face a dishwasher. But I’ve had these plates for more than twenty years, and I throw them into the dishwasher on a daily basis. They can take it.
I love her incredible colors, but if you’re looking for a more muted palette, Mary Anne also does beautiful work in neutral tones.