I have been looking forward to my dinner tonight at L’abattoir. The restaurant looked and sounded promising on paper (LCD). It was an informal restaurant set in the city’s first jail and had a short and focused menu consisting of classical ingredients and classical sauces with a modern, haute twist.
I’ve been to these types of restaurant countless times before in many a North American city. More often than not, the food served at these restaurants is imaginative, passionate, and tended to appeal more to the emotions of the diner than equally popular restaurants serving modernist cuisine. Modernist cuisine can be thought-provoking and out-of-this-world, but they can also be cold, weird, and too technically detached from reality to create a soulful dining experience.
Seeing as to how the latter half of the day turned out to yet be another wet and miserable afternoon today, I really wanted to be warmed and taken away to a happy and comforting place by the meal my family and I were to be eating at L’abattoir.
I really liked the atmosphere of the restaurant when I walked into it. It was filled with people, and they all seemed to be enjoying the food they were eating as well as the company they were keeping. I was especially encouraged by the fact that most of the people sitting at the bar had a plate in front of them and utensils on their hands, instead of only having glasses of alcohol.
I also found the servers to be immediately friendly and extremely helpful. They even borrowed a high chair from a neighboring restaurant for my son! They also did not look the least bit irritated at us for not ordering any alcohol (or any other kind of beverages), and they accommodated with our request of having our items rushed out as soon as possible.
We ordered two appetizers to share. The first appetizer we had was the poached egg with wild mushrooms.
This dish was very flavourful. It was topped with a custard-like pecorino sabayon that was rich without being too cheesy (both literally and figuratively). The richness of the sabayon went surprisingly well with the richness of the perfectly poached egg. The egg white was thick and silky smooth. The yolk was runny, but it did not flow all over the dish. It mostly stayed wherever it was directed by my fork, which was very convenient because I wanted to be able to have it with every forkful of the wild mushrooms.
The wild mushrooms also tasted rich and flavourful. Again, I was surprised at how well this richness worked with the rich egg york and the richly flavoured pecorino sabayon. The three elements combined to form three layers of enjoyable richness that was never overbearing on my taste buds. I was totally able to detect the flavours of all three elements at once.
The element that I thought needed improvement in this dish was the textures. The mushrooms were so finely chopped-up that they slipped right through my teeth when I had them in my mouth. Therefore, I was not able to enjoy their usually chewy textures. The only texture that I got in the dish was basically that of the egg white. And being silky smooth, the egg whites almost felt like they were going to disappear in the enjoyably rich flavours of the dish.
The second appetizer we had was the veal sweetbreads on toast.
Like a lot of people, I happened to be a lover of sweetbreads. There was a period of time when I did not go a week without ordering (any permutation of) the dish at least once. But it has been quite a while since I’ve had the dish, so I was really looking forward to it.
First of all, they paired the sweetbreads and toast with gribche sauce, which seemed to be the second most popular sauce to be paired with sweetbreads, with the most popular being various types of wine reductions. I myself am not particularly fond of being reminded of the flavours of egg when having sweetbreads, because I usually associate the texture of egg whites with eggy flavours. Since the texture of sweetbreads can mimic the texture of egg whites when cooked to a certain temperature, having gribche sauce with sweetbreads can sometimes give me the illusion that I am eating nothing but an egg.
Fortunately, they included pieces of veal tongue in the gribche to allow me to differentiate between the sauce with the suspended tongue and the sweetbreads. The sweetbreads I was served today also did not have a consistency that was similar to egg whites. I felt that they were undercooked. They were quite hard to break down because there were strands of fiber within the pieces of sweetbreads that stubbornly held the pieces together for longer than they should in my mouth.
The piece of “toast” that the sweetbreads and the gribche sauce sat on did not feel like toast at all. Its presence was actually barely felt. It was so soaked up in sauces that it almost melted away along with the sauces. It was more similar in texture to a rum baba than a piece of toast.
But sweetbreads being sweetbreads, and gribche being gribche, I was still able to enjoy the dish. I did not enjoy it as much as I would have liked to because of its deficiencies, but I still enjoyed it enough to finish every single morsel on the plate.
My daughter ordered the roasted scallops as her main dish.
She liked the scallops. She liked their crispy skin; she also liked the fresh, snappy texture of their meat. Another thing she liked was how the extremely crunchy and smoky pieces of bacon worked with the milder-flavoured scallops. She also liked the kidney beans in the dish.
What she didn’t like about her dish was the kale. She thought that the kale was too bitter and she gave me a disgusting look when I asked her to finish it. Kids and kale don’t mix well, I guess. I also had kale on my dish, and I can confirm that they were not disgusting-tasting to the adult palate.
My son had the Steak Diane.
I aksed them to cook the steak medium instead of medium-well, and for them to serve us the sauce separately because I knew my son liked to have his steak without any sauce. My son liked the plain steak a lot. The 2 pieces of meat were both very tender, and my son finished 5 of the 7 ounces within around fifteen minutes.
He left two ounces on the plate, and I used those two ounces as my opportunity to sample the textures and flavours of the dish. The steak was well cooked. It looked like it was a tenderloin. Tenderloins tend lost their tenderness if cooked to a proper medium. I think the kitchen was very aware of this. They cooked the steak to a temperature between medium and medium rare so that there was very little to no redness in the meat, while there was still tenderness.
I did not feel that the suaces were as well done as the meat. The white sauce on the plate was sweet and felt like watered-infused light mayonnaise. The steak diane sauce was very ordinary. It tasted like pretty much like every other generic reduction. The peppercorn sauce was also kind of odd. It was very oily with the peppercorns tasting a little herby. It felt very much like Chinese flower peppers fried in oil, which was something I enjoy very much. But I was not a fan of tenderloin steak when combined with the flower-pepper-oil-like peppercorn sauce. I just didn’t think the flavours work well together.
Potato fondant was another component of the dish. They had a triangular shape instead of their normal cylindrical shape. I thought that the cheesy flavours of the fondant were a little too mild and that the texture of the potato was not creamy enough.
My wife had the halibut with oil and saffron crust.
My wife did not like the dish at all. She though that the texture of the fish felt dry. It was not as moist and tender as she expected it to be. She also thought that the oilve and saffron crust did not taste much like olives or saffron. She felt that the crust felt like bland bread crumbs more than anything else.
She was also not a fan of the pepper vinegrette. She felt that the pepper vinegrette tasted like one of those prepackaged cioppino-wannabe tomato-based seafood broths. It had flavours that were very ordinary, which she thought went hand-in-hand with the dry and overcooked cafeteria-fish like halibut.
I had the pork shoulders cooked in milk.
At first I thought that “cooked in milk” meant that the pork shoulders would have rich, milky flavours that would somehow work with the rich and fatty pork shoulders just like how the rich sabayon sauce worked with the rich egg yolk. After having my first bite of the pork, I understood that their emphasis with the phrase “cooked in milk” was in the word “cooked” rather than “milk”. I didn’t taste any milk flavours, but I totally got the texture of a cooked pork shoulder. The cooked porked shoulder was not as fall apart tender as the normally braised pork shoulders. I thought that cooking the pork shoulders instead of braising them was brilliant. Fall-apart pork shoulder meat has a tendency to become indistinguishable from the large amount of fat also contained in the pork shoulder. By cooking the meat instead of braising it, the meat is given a firmer texture. This firmer texture makes it more distinguishable from the fat.
It’s too bad that the texture of the pork shoulder was the only component of the dish that I thought was brilliant. Everything else was merely average or below-average.
The turnips and shallots were average tasting and did not provide any above-average flavours or textures when eaten with the cooked pork shoulders. The kale, although not disgusting-tasting, also tasted average. It’s bitter flavours went only ok with the average flavours of the pork shoulders.
The pork shoulders were marinated or infused with a very average Chinese-soy-sauce-based-marinade-like sauce. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before in another post, but I think that all Western (read: Non East Asian) pork belly, short ribs, or pork shoulders tend to taste similar to a generic version of the Chinese braised pork belly after the western versions have been braised (or cooked). This is exactly the case with the pork shoulders I had today. I tasted zero milk flavours. Most of the flavours I got were that of the Chinese braised pork belly.
There was also some salsa verde on top of the pork, but its flavours were not prominent enough to cover-up the Chinese-pork-belly-like flavours. The salsa verde only announced its presence once every few bites by releasing a mild herbaciousness that really did not do anything to enhance the flavours of the dish.
We also got complimentary bread, which was so forgettable that I totally forgot about them until I saw the picture that I took of them.
The bread was made with so much butter/shortening that they tasted like one of two different types of bread: very bad croissant that was made with dough not layered enough and with too few air bubbles, or ready-to-bake bread dough that usually comes in tubes and can be found in the freezer section of any supermarket.
My meal today at L’abattoir was a real letdown. The only things that I enjoyed were the two appetizers, and one of them was not even that well-executed. The main dishes were mostly disappointments. The only thing positive about the four main dishes we ordered was the well cooked textures of the steak, the pork shoulder, and the scallops. All four main dishes failed to impress in the flavour department. It felt like this restaurant was opened with chefs that had mastered how to properly cook food, but not how to properly create dishes…this restaurant actually reminds me of another similar restaurant that I have visited in another city that I have lived in recently. The restaurant was opened by a chef who achieved the status of the chef-de-meat (or whatever position the cook responsible for cooking all the meat is called) at a 3-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Every single piece of protein at the restaurant was cooked perfectly, but every single sauce felt like it came out of TGI Friday’s. At L’abattoir, 4 out of the 6 dishes we had contained proteins that were well-cooked, and 6 out of the 6 dishes we had contained sauces that tasted like they came out of generic, bargain-priced French, Italian, and even Chinese cookbooks.