Wednesday 01 August, 2012

Throwing His Hat In The Ring: Top Chef Masters’ Thierry Rautureau



If you’ve just started watching the fourth season of Top Chef Masters, one cheftestant may have stood out already, if only for his personal style: the so-called “Chef In The Hat.”

But if Thierry Rautureau is not well known on the national stage, in Seattle he has been a presence so long that in the current climate, he’s almost considered passé. Both seem a bit unfair, based on a recent tasting of signature and seasonal dishes I enjoyed at Rover’s, his longtime destination restaurant in suburban Seattle.

Granted, there are some elements of his restaurant that evoke another era: it’s set in a converted mid-century ranch house, and the dining room expresses a sort of quaint formality–white tablecloths, fresh flowers, impressionist art on the walls–but once the well-trained service brings the first amuse, all aesthetics focus solely on the plates. And what plates they are.

Here’s what my dinner companion, local critic Chris Nishiwaki, and I enjoyed:

An amuse bouche of cured salmon with snow pea, creamy country paté with fried basil and rich smoky-sweet duck consommé

A quail egg with herb cream and panko crusted razor clam; Cone of Dungeness crab and harissa, cauliflower mousse, lambs lettuce, pickled apple and tobiko; Rover’s signature organic egg scrambled in shell with lime crème fraiche and white sturgeon caviar--paired with Domaine Huet, Le Monte Vouvray 2010

Rich, salty-smoky velvety, grainy braised pork belly with fried sage, harissa, shaved cured foie gras, quinoa—paired with Cristom, Jessie Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir 2007

Halibut with almond lentil puree bresaola and wild mushrooms; Local Neah Bay salmon with oyster gelee, parsley, nage broth poured at table–paired with Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet 2009

Three palate cleansers: a strawberry sphere in ginger ale, fennel sorbet, and a mulled green apple granite

Wagyu culotte with seared foie gras, bone marrow custard, lentils dupuy, smoked paprika oil and local garlic jam. A festival of flavor and texture –paired with Domaine Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape 2004

“Symphony” of desserts with chocolate terrine, cocoa nibs and caramel sauce; olive ice cream; vanilla crème coconut with blood orange gelee--paired with Pineau des Charentes

Having dined with some of the most talented chefs in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, I have to say that Rautureau is absolutely on par, with dishes that are au courant, creative, balanced, reflecting both ingredient and technique. Was every single dish a home run? Not completely, but there were no sour notes, nor anything overwrought or under-executed. This was certainly among the top 20 meals I’ve had in the last 5 years.

I should note that these Mina-like trios are not necessarily typical here (yes, we got special attention), but were presented as a way for me to get familiar with Thierry’s work quickly. However, the other diners certainly didn’t seem to want for attention or indulgence.

Viewers, I think, may be surprised to see how far Thierry goes in the competition.

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