The Art of Lunching

The luxury and languor of midday overdoing it.

WRITING IN THE NEW YORKER'S recent food issue, novelist and gustatory essayist Jim Harrison tells of an almost sadistic 37-course lunch taken last year in France. Some of Harrison's course descriptions induce a rapturous curiosity (oysters and cream of Camembert on toast), while others (testicles in tarragon butter) elicit in me a kind of relieved contentment. Even if I am occasionally unhappy with my own midday meals (as I write I'm in the middle of my one and only course, a bag of salted nuts purchased from a mini-mart housed inside a co-worker's cubicle), the chances are slim to none that I will ever have to face my noodle-colored partition walls after lunching on a tart of calf's brains or a sea urchin omelet. After a recent Friday lunch at Rover's, however, I did see fit to give myself the afternoon off. French cuisine, even when we're only talking about three courses of it, can be intoxicating in its painstaking presentation, let alone the weight of its rich parts. The champagne probably didn't help either, nor the one thin but palpable disappointment that I carried with me as I left. I WAS SURE that the muddy maroon curtains inside the dining room had been bought from an auction of a long-foreclosed Marriot in Enumclaw, and that troubled me. No, it isn't imperative that a five-star restaurant (so deemed by ZAGAT, 1993–2002) be fashionably appointed, but a girl can hope. Considering the painterly—if, again, somewhat dated-looking—plating of every single dish, however, there's certainly plenty of visual stimulation. My friend, who, incidentally, worked on a Bon Appetit photo shoot with Rover's Thierry Rautureau (or, as he is called, "The Chef in the Hat!!!"—all three exclamations marks included) when they were both "up and coming," had chosen the three-course prix-fixe lunch; I was eating à la carte. His house-cured salmon, served with a minimalist potato salad and an abstract expressionist's dash of lemon olive oil, was much brighter both in flavor and presence than my sorrel-sauced chanterelle, baby green bean—'scuse me, haricot verts—and onion confit. Thanks to the fastidious and hushed service, his Moulard duck breast and my Alaskan halibut appeared next as if by magic. Less magical, however, was the texture of my fish. Desiccated and rough, the halibut was partially redeemed by the ragout of corn, lobster, and mushroom that provided the seriously thirsty dish with some much-needed juice. But for $18—a decent-sized tag, especially at lunchtime—I want my fish to flake apart as soon as the fork approaches. I want it buttery, moist, yielding. I don't want to use a knife. My friend suggested that the sauce made up for dry fish but at a place like Rover's, one hopes that there will be no disappointments—"saved" by sauce or otherwise. Moulard duck, a hybrid of Pekin and Muscovy, is bred to produce a steaklike meat, and this is precisely what my friend was served. The artfully splayed slices of the hearty duck breast were accented by a wonderfully fragrant fennel and rosemary sauce, making the dish as rich in aroma as it was to the palate. A cheese plate, laid out in the French tradition of mild to strong in a clockwise direction, came afterward, the flavors bold, nutty, and distinct. Of the European and domestic varieties included, our favorite was called Humboldt Fog; the creamy paste of the goat cheese was sharpened by a layer of vegetable ash (and salt, perhaps?) that runs through the middle. The prix-fixe option concludes with Opera cake, and Rover's, with its dense mocha flavors and hazelnut and caramel sauce, was the deal-sealer on my decision to not return to the office. HAVING FINISHED MY salty nuts and seeing nothing in the way of opportunities for truancy, it looks like I'm headed back to my capitalist co-worker's cubicle. No artisanal cheeses over there, but I bet she'll have a bag of Cheez-Its at the ready.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow