Sunday, July 11, 2010

That kind of place

There are restaurants were you sit down and the prices are not printed next to the items, under the pretext that if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

The Chateau Neercanne, fortunately, was not that kind of place. It was, rather, the kind of place where you look at your €217 bill and think, "Wow, that was it?" We were expecting something a little higher, since I'd done my five-course meal a la carte and the sommelier cracked open two bottles of wine for us.

Apparently mousse is "in" these days. Our first amuse-bouche, had on the terrace during our pre-dinner drinks, was a gazpacho topped with a mousse and a cucumber sorbet. Then, when we were seated at our table, a little row of three amuses appeared--a tiny scoop of tuna and mango, a tiny little tomato topped with a tiny dot of mint mousse and a tiny speck of basil with two tiny croutons, and a tiny sliver of beet topped with a dollop of goat cheese mousse and a drop of aged balsamic vinegaar. Throughout the meal little blobs of the most spectacular and impossible mousses (onion mousse, orange mousse) kept appearing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself: We both enjoy good food, but alas, a resident's salary, a lab tech's salary, and a mortgage plus three cats' worth of vet bills aren't quite conducive to living it up that way. So last year, on 1 January, we started a "Fine Dinner in a Nice Restaurant" jar, into which we could collect all the loose change we had at the end of the week, or whenever our wallets felt a bit too fat for comfort. By the end of the year we'd amassed nearly €500 worth of spare change, but it took us a while to figure out which restaurant to spend it on. And oh, the agony of the decision! This one was too expensive, we'd have to reserve a hotel room to eat at that one, etc etc. Eventually I stumbled upon the Chateau Neercanne while on a run, and decided that nothing would be cooler than eating in a castle. That it happened to have one Michelin star didn't enter the equation until later.

We'd gotten there early, but they seated us on the terrace and gave us a menu to look over. We were quite charmed by the view, by the fact that the The maître'd (or the sommelier, I'm not sure what his exact function was) kept calling me "the lady" and the fact that their wine list is longer than some books I've read. My boyfriend, for all that he can discern fine and subtle notes in wine, is not a wine connoisseur, in the sense that he knows nothing about vintages and regions and all that. He was only too happy to take the maître'd's suggestion--"Let me pour for you."

The main issue that I had with their five-course menu is that everything had a dead animal in it. Plus anything having to do with liver is an automatic "no" for me--bad childhood memories; I could care less about the geese that went into the foie gras. So I ordered a la carte, ordering a fish-based voorgerecht and hoofdgerecht, and it was assumed that I would want a dessert as well (and I did). The maître'd supplemented my meal with a soup during my boyfriend's fish dish.

By far, though, the most spectacular part of the evening was the cheese board. You see "cheese board" on a menu and you think "OK, just a few cheeses served up on a wooden board with some grapes and bread." Hah. No:

First the cheese-man (apparently all of the men running around in their shirtsleeves were an expert in something) pushed an enormous cart into the dining room, covered with what seemed like a casket for a dead baby. He then whipped off the casket-like lid, exposing ten chunks of carefully rotted milk resting on a marble slab, explained which one was what, and asked us which one we would like. We got to pick four cheeses, and the plate was dressed up with some honey-fig jam and a few slivers of dates and some paper-thin wafers. It was delicious, mostly. I'm not a big fan of blue cheeses, but it was made with raw milk, so I was curious to see whether the taste was really as dramatic as all the raw-milk foodies swear it is (and it was). And as much as I like hard cheeses, the bright-orange cheese just didn't seem to fit anywhere, flavor-wise. I mean, it was good, but it just didn't go with anything on the plate and the cores that were drilled were too thick for me to really enjoy. But I am apparently very much a goat-cheese person, just as my boyfriend is a soft-cheese person. He LOVED the blue cheese and also the semi-liquid oozing thing from Britain. I wish I could remember the names of all the cheeses, but by that time we'd been eating for three hours, and I was stuffed to the gills with food and it was all I could do to stay awake through dessert.

Anyway. For dessert there was pannacotta for me, and raspberries and another improbable mousse for him. They came with sorbets--a gin and tonic sorbet, and one flavored with elderflowers. They mixed up the flavors--I was supposed to get the GNT, and he was supposed to get the elderflowers--but it was so delicious all the same that we didn't really care. The pannacotta was flavored strongly with what I want to believe is lavender, but the candied flowers on it were yellow, while the little globes of jelly were mint and the hard mousse sticks were basil, so I'm not really sure what it was flavored with...

The Ultimate Question: Was it worth the time (because the whole affair took us 4 hours) and money? HELL YES. It was even worth having missed the last bus back to Maastricht and having to walk back to my hot-and-cramped room to spend the night.

If you go: Expect to spend around €90/person if you're ordering a three-course meal a la carte (which makes spending the same amount for a five-course meal all the more enticing), assuming that you've ordered wine by the glass. Also remember that, when the server brings you your food, to wait for a minute or two in case there's a sauce that should be artistically dribbled on the food and platter while the person explains what you've received. And definitely don't be shy about asking for advice on the wine. Definitely don't skimp on the wine, either (unless you're enzymatically retarded lik me).

1 comment:

  1. I dont know what the fellas ahead of me were trying to say in a different script.

    Anyways....I dont think I have ever been to That kind of a place...not yet anyways.
    Nice read, although I didnt understand half of it - what with being a vegetarian and all !

    anyways...nice crib...later !