Thursday, April 26, 2012

Creamy Lunch at Le Crocodile - Appetizers

Le Crocodile on Urbanspoon I met Powderate (Lee Ann Foster) at the very first Food Bloggers Meetup at Griffins. She'd mentioned having worked at Le Crocodile, and I was intrigued at the idea of going with her and having her insights into her experiences, the restaurant, and the food. Somehow things got put off until April, but finally we did go, with a few other members of the Food Bloggers Meetup.

If you've ever been to the Le Crocodile website, you'll see pictures of their trademark crocodile shaped into milk chocolate and dark chocolate. In case you're wondering -- YES, there are chocolate crocodiles there. They come after your meal, are FREE, and you get TWO per person -- one milk chocolate, one dark chocolate. Yum!

Le Crocodile is one of the "old school" type restaurants, like Bishops. No impressively cleavaged hotties waiting on you here: It's male waiters and attentive service, and particularly impressive was a willingness on the part of the waiter and the kitchen to accommodate special requests (more on this later).

We dropped by for lunch on Wednesday, right at Noon, but the restaurant was probably never more than half full. Admittedly not the best situation for a restaurant, but for diners who have time to savour their food, this was excellent. Le Crocodile is already a notch up from some newer restaurants where you are squashed elbow-to-elbow with your fellows and there's barely enough table real estate to fit everyone's orders. Here you have comfortable seating, elbow room, and un-rushed service, especially on a  quieter lunch shift. It's a pleasant slower pace.

The menu tends to read quite plainly, but once you take a bite, you'll realize just how understated it is. We were six and there was quite an array of orders, so I'll just go through the appetizers here, and in a separate post go through the mains and dessert.
  • Amuse Bouche
    • We were started off with a sort of small tart. Duck, I think. I honestly can't remember what the waiter said.
    • This had a softer, delicate crust which couldn't stand picking up: If you tried to pick it up without supporting the base, it would just break apart because of the generous filling.
    • Here was my first experience of a small, delicious, tart that was just so soft and creamy-feeling on the inside. That would prove to be something of a theme at lunch.
  • ‘le Crocodile Classic’ Tomato & Gin Soup ($5.50); and Classic Alsatian Onion Tart ($8.50) with a Curly Endive Salad.
    • Special request #2 (were we just the most high-maintenance crew or what?) -- Lee Ann desperately wanted us to try these two Le Crocodile classic appetizers. She still remembered them fondly from her time in Le Crocodile, and 26 years on the menu clearly means they are something extra-special. She asked if we could have them both, but in smaller portions instead of full orders. The kitchen charged us two orders of each, divided by the five persons who opted in. Given the goodly portion that came, it made me curious about just what a single full order would have looked like.
    • The Tomato and Gin Soup sounds simple, but the execution was superb.
      • Often with tomato soups, there is a strong sourness to it from the tomato. This was very tempered here to an almost mild presence, allowing the sweetness of the soup to come out as well.
      • The gin was definitely present, but not so strong as to dominate. I thought this was a very nice balance, as an overly strong alcoholic presence might have been off-putting for a non-drinker like myself.
      • The shared portion of soup here turned out to be about two measuring cups worth. Which in turn was, I felt, a very nice small-appetizer portion. In any case, it was more than just a tasting sample, which I think we were half-expecting after asking for smaller portions so everyone could have a taste.
    • The Alsatian Onion Tart looked like a quiche and one might expect an eggy flavour to it. Nothing of the sort here.
      • For a tasting portion, we each got a narrow slice that was nevertheless maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of a regular pie slice. Makes me wonder what portion a full order would be.
      • The filling had a substantial amount of thinly sliced strips of onion. Not so much that it didn't hold together, but definitely enough that you could clearly see you weren't getting more filling that ingredients.
      • Some lardons here and there. It looks to be too little, but they were strong in flavour, so that little bit was definitely enough.
      • The filling was very soft -- creamy soft. In a strange way, this was almost dessert-like, except of course that it was savory. Altogether, there is an attention not just to taste but to feel/texture, and somewhat to appearance. And it was, of course, delicious.
      • Not eggy at all. If I remember correctly, Lee Ann mentioned bechamel used. She also remembered the perfectionism that went into the preparation of even just the onions: "One of my jobs at Le Crocodile was to prepare the onions for this tart and it was a tense part of my work - the onions had to be paper thin, evenly cut and then braised without coloring..."
      • If I have a very minor criticism about this item, it would be the crust. It's thin (so each slice of pie is really mostly the tasty filling), beautifully done and despite being a lovely brown, is not so baked as to be crispy. There's nothing oily about it. But it doesn't cut quickly enough, and if you just press down with even a sharp knife, you'll probably smush the filling out. This needs a lighter touch on your part to not turn it into an unsightly mess on your plate.
  • Demi-Douzaine d’Huitres Kusshi Servies sur Glace avec Mignonette ($18.50) - Half-dozen Fresh Kusshi Oysters served on the shell with shallots, Tobiko Roe and Aged Red Wine Vinegar
    • Special request #1 - Our group was hosted by Lee Ann Foster who arranged the reservation and also asked if Kusshi Oysters might be made available (normally only on the dinner menu). Naturally, Le Crocodile said yes.
    • It was pearls before swine at our table as most of us passed due to a lack of interest or proper appreciation of oysters. Although Lee Ann generously offered them to me as well, after my experience at Bishops (which may also have Kusshi Oysters, though possibly not on the regular menu), I really felt they'd be wasted on me.
  • Seared Foie Gras (not on the regular lunch menu)
    • This was one of the full appetizer orders, and you can see from this picture it is quite substantial in size for a mere appetizer.
    • I felt it was gauche to ask if gavage (force-feeding) were involved in the production of the foie gras, but Lee Ann did ask about their source. We were told they came from Quebec, and from that answer Lee Ann estimated that very likely the liver would be from a force fed goose. For the French, they think nothing of gavage, having come up with the whole concept of foie gras in the first place. Modern sensibilities might object, however. There is foie gras that does not involve gavage, but you would invariably need to ask and hope the server is knowledgeable.
    • The foie gras has a clear liver taste, which is tempered somewhat by the tasty sauce. Comes with a bit of fried potato in the form of potato shreds arranged into a curl; and a seared scallop.
    • The foie gras initially came quite rare and creamy-tender on the inside. I had read this on an Urbanspoon review as well, so this may just be the way the restaurant prepares it by default. When the person who ordered it asked for it to be cooked a bit more, they came back in short order with a new plate and new piece of foie gras! Seared a bit more and cooked through, but still very tender on the inside and without a significant change in taste.
  • Bread
    • The complimentary bread came before our mains. Here, although I recognized that economics plays a part, it was profoundly disappointing.
    • You get pretty plain slices of sourdough or whole wheat. Not warm. Possibly not fresh.
    • The bread is not made in-house, but comes from a bakery. So depending on when they get it and when you sit down for lunch, quality can vary.
    • Butter was plain butter (softened for easy spreading, of course).
Next post: Mains and desserts!

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