Yesterday I welcomed twenty-two Stanford alumni for a spring dinner. I knew the group had two hours to eat, and was prepared down to the final grain of fleur de sel. Rather than offer the aperitif in the kitchen, as I usually do, I arranged everything on the dining room table, thinking it would save us some time.
But, of course, a visit to On Rue Tatin isn’t complete without seeing the kitchen, so I welcomed everyone there with flutes of champagne. Cameras flashed, conversation and laughter eddied around the island, glasses clinked, the mood was high. “We have landed where we are supposed to be,” said one of the guests as she settled on a kitchen stool. “This is it, absolutely.”
Conscious of time, I kept my introductory remarks short so that we could get into the dining room, where the aperitif and the first course, which I’d combined, were waiting in colorful splendor. There were platters of Baptiste’s asparagus and new potatoes, along with the very first batch of green peas and small, new carrots, all blanched then dressed with olive oil and minced tarragon, golden oregano, and a flourish of fleur de sel. I’d rolled strips of smoked Irish salmon around crème fraîche whipped with garden chives and lemon juice, made a luxurious, Calvados-spiked liver pâté, and carefully washed and trimmed radishes, for dipping in salt and eating with buttered baguette.
Conversation didn’t falter as everyone set to, sipping L’Antidote, one of my favorite white wines from Domaine Peyres Roses in Gaillac. I, meanwhile, was watching the clock, and soon was serving the main course of rabbit that had braised with onions, lard fumé (bacon), and sorrel. With that we sipped Impeccable, a delicate red from Domaine Peyres Roses.
(I’d cleared the rabbit with the group organizers before the event, knowing that Americans have a sensibility to furry creatures with big eyes. They were delighted with the choice because it was so French).
Cheeses were fragrant Norman specialties – Camembert, Livarot, Neufchatel – and dessert was rhubarb tourte with cinnamon ice cream.
The clock was ticking, and once the dessert plates were clean my guests were out the door, each with a freshly baked, still warm madeleine. They’d had a whirlwind taste of French cuisine, flavored by all the best the country has to offer.
SMOKED SALMON, FRESH CREAM, GARDEN HERBS
ROULEAUX DE SAUMON FUME A LA CREME
These little smoked salmon bites are just the thing before dinner in the shadow of Nôtre Dame de Louviers.
Generous ½ cup (125ml) crème fraîche, chilled
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small bunch fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces (250g) lox-style smoked salmon, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) wide strips
Fresh herbs, for garnish
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the crème fraîche with the lemon juice until soft peaks form. Mince all but ten chive tips, and fold the minced chives into the cream, along with black pepper to taste. Place a teaspoon of the cream mixture on the end of a strip of smoked salmon and quickly roll the salmon around the cream. Set the roll, cream showing, on a serving plate and refrigerate. Repeat with the remaining salmon and cream. Garnish the plate with the chive tips and other fresh herbs, such as fennel fronds, and serve.
Appetizers for 6 to 8