Monday, June 11, 2007

Mistral In June

This year for M.'s 30th birthday she decided she would like to go to Mistral here in Seattle. Earlier this year we had a pretty amazing meal in New York, and we've been trying figure out if we can come close to that experience here in Seattle ever since. Based on readings in various august forums (egullet) we decided that Mistral was a top contender for a really extraordinary meal.
So this is what we ate.

Amuse Bouche:

Amuse Bouche
The beginning to this meal was a sashimi of hamachi collar served with a little olive oil, fresh chives, and 'orange dust.' With it came a microgreen and radish salad with more olive oil and some celery foam.
The hamachi was really great. it was very soft in texture and the fruity olive oil and the citrus of the orange dust combined to make a pretty delicious little bite. The salad was was very nice, but as one might expect, celery foam doesn't seem to have a lot of flavor on its own, so it was kind of overpowered by the greens and maybe a little bit superfluous.
Orange dust is apparently made by cooking orange peel in a simple syrup for a while, roasting it in the oven, then letting it dry and grinding it up in a spice mill. It provides a fairly sweet citrus-y flavor and a nice little crunchiness occasionally.
I thought this dish was very good all around and was a fairly simple way to refresh one's mouth and clear one's tastebuds for all the flavors to come.

First Course:

The first full course was a pea soup with a fresh Maine bay scallop, carrot foam, and basil oil.
This is one of Mistral's signature dishes, and one I'd read about elsewhere on more than one occasion. Our server told us that the kitchen shells the peas when the dish is ordered and makes it to order.
This was delicious.
The scallop was very fresh and had a terrific crust on it, but was otherwise very lightly cooked. The flavor was very light and fresh and worked very well with the fresh brightness of the peas.
The soup itself was just a delightful slighly creamy fresh green pea flavor, not a lot of embellishment, and that was just fine with me. The carrot add a little bit of a sweet tang and the basil oil enhanced the bright green flavor of the soup very nicely.
I can see why this dish is so well-known. It really was a highlight.

Second Course:

Our next seafood course was halibut with a cauliflower puree, sugar beets, and a beet puree, topped with some fresh herbs that I can't recall.
This was the first fairly unremarkable course. I'm sure the halibut was very good, but in combination with the relatively mild cauliflower puree and the sweetness of the sugar beets it ended up being a little bit monochromatic in flavor, all together. We both agreed it was a fine dish, but neither of us were very excited by it.

Third Course:

Okay, this course was better aligned with my expectations! This is Lake Superior walleye with some sauted vegetables, dill, some sort of sweet sauce (the orange stuff. I think it was mango?), and olive puree.
This was quite interesting and really delicious. Walleye is pretty delicate and not too flaky and this was cooked quite nicely. The vegetables were all very fresh and simply prepared, providing a nice crisp counter-point to the walleye. The olive puree was sweet and olive-y without being particularly briny or even terribly salty! It really was delightful and added an interesting dimension to the whole dish that I liked a whole lot. This dish really stood out for both of us.

Fourth Course:

This was a bonus course sent out by the chef. Tournedos of rabbit served with a beet risotto and basil puree. This was very good! The rabbit was super tender and flavorful, the beet risotto was a little earthy and very rich and maybe a little bit sweet!
I don't eat rabbit much, for no particular reason, but this dish made me think maybe I should seek it out more often. I do wish the dish had some crispiness to it, but I'm not sure what. It sort of didn't feel completely finished, but we both liked it very much all the same.

Fifth Course:

Now it was time for the foie gras course! This may be the best foie I've ever had (that's not saying much though). It was very nicely seared, served with a slice of apple dipped in simple syrup then baked, and a rhubarb puree. This was very good; a simple, fairly classically sweet presentation that I really enjoyed.

Sixth Course:

Our 'main' course was a lamb rib chop served with cippoline onions, potato puree, sauted greens and some little mushrooms. It was sprinkled with garlic buds and black Cyprus salt.
This lamb was pretty much perfectly prepared. I almost wonder if it was prepared sou vide, then seared, but I don't think so. It was just delightfully pink all the way through.
The rest of the dish seemed a little less calculated than lots of the other courses, which made this a little bit of a let-down, considering it was the 'peak' of the meal. The potato puree was nice and creamy and rich, and the onions were sweet and quite good too. This was certainly delicious, but I guess I wanted something a little more exciting.
The natural light was fading by this point and I was sort of trying not to use the flash too much, so that picture unfortunately turned out a little bit grainy.

Seventh Course:

So things were winding down a bit now, and along came our cheese course. There were five cheeses, a mix of goat and cow, a little bit of everything, it seemed. I can't remember what they all were at this point. They were served with some walnut bread, apple, and a bit of fig preserves. I have to say that after being served a cheese course by Max McCalman at Picholine early this year, pretty much every other cheese course is going to pale in comparison. This was no exception. None of the cheese was bad. The ice wine served with it was good, but none of it was super exciting.

Eighth Course:

Now we came to the sorbet course. This was pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and papaya, not necessarily in that order. These were all quite nice, but I think I liked the pineapple best. It very much seemed to encapsulate the flavor of pineapple nicely. A couple of the other flavors were a little bit too creamy and not quite fruity enough for my tastes, but it was all very good.

Ninth Course:

Now we come to dessert. This was a couple more sorbets, some fresh fruit with a little pepper, a big chocolate crispy wafer thing with sesame seeds, and a bit of some sort of almond cake, almost like a tuile? I don't remember what this was called. In fact, earlier today I couldn't remember a thing about this dessert. I guess that tells you a little bit about what kind of impression it made on me. Then I asked M. about it and she couldn't remember either, so I wasn't alone. Also, this comes to 6 sorbets! What's up with that? I really would have liked a little more variety in that regard.

So that's the whole meal! Did this come close to our meal at Picholine? Maybe in terms of food preparation alone, but as you can tell it was actually slightly uneven in that respect.
The wine service certainly didn't come close. Since Mistral prepares dishes sort of on the fly, I understand that it's hard to perfectly match wines with every dish. However, I think an above average sommelier could certainly have made a very good go of it. As it is, the choices are certainly competent, but as you can see I don't remember what most of them were, and I don't think any of them really were perfect or overly exceptional matches for the courses with which they were matched. We did have a nice sauternes with the foie gras, and there was a pretty good California chardonnay in there with one of the two fish dishes, but that's about all I can recall very well.
The table service itself was very much Seattle casual, or maybe semi-formal. The server did her best to get us the right forks and spoons on the table in the right order at the right time, but at one point she actually came out and took away some silverware because the chefs had changed their mind about what they were going to server and in what order. Also, our wine glasses were empty for a course with no offer of a refill. Little things like that added up to make the experience a little less elevated.
I guess the real question is whether or not we enjoyed ourselves. Yes we did! It really was a delicious and enjoyable meal. The food was obviously quite creative and used really fresh and carefully chosen ingredients. The wines were good, they just didn't quite meet our very high expectations. The service was by no means unfriendly or bad, it was simply a little more casual, as such things tend to be here in the northwest.
Would we go back? Yes, probably. But not 'til after we've tried all the other high end places on our list.
Would we recommend Mistral to others? Sure! Just don't go in expecting a world class experience. It's not quite up to that level yet.
Oh, and I think it was a little over-priced, particularly in regard to the wine pairings.

So where do we go next? Right now there is a pretty short list of possibilities on this level (in no particular order):
  • Lampreia
  • Cascadia
  • Chez Shea
  • The Herb Farm
  • Le Gourmand
  • Rover's
I think that's it. I think we may try The Herb Farm later this summer. Other than that, I'm not sure when we'll manage to try any of the others. Will any of them meet our (admittedly pretty high) expectations? I have read arguments in various places that Seattle just can't do it. I used to disagree. Now I'm just not sure.