Friday, April 9, 2010

Night at Maison Boulud

Other than Peking ducks, it's actually an evening at a French restaurant that made it the highlight of our brief Beijing getaway during Easter long weekend.

Maison Boulud - owned by the famous NY restauranteur Daniel Boulud (of the newly-crowned Michelin 3-star Daniel, Cafe Boulud and a handful other fine and casual restaurants), has been in operation since 2008, and since then received nothing but great reviews and won every best restaurant awards you can find in Beijing. One can't possibly argue this is the perfect setting for a fine-dining establishment - located in the storied former legation quarter of Beijing just southeast of Tiananman Square, the restaurant occupies the main mansion of what used to be the US Embassy built during the late Qing Dynasty period.

Now the Embassy building has been converted into a vast "luxurious lifestyle complex" (named Chi'enmen 23) featuring a contemporary art gallery, a Patek Philippe flagship store and two other restaurants (one managed by Claudio Sadler from Milan and the other by Hong Kong-based ZEN restaurant group) and quickly became a new Beijing landmark. As we walked up the mansion and through the door just after sunset, we were greeted by the maitre d' and the troupe of eagerly waiting staff inside, as if they were just expecting us. We felt like we were stepping into history as we walked by the reception area with long staircases and chandeliers, and then wowed by the vast and minimalistically-designed dining room. We were seated in the middle of the room and almost immediately we discovered a wide range of clientele in there - at one corner there are a couple of what looks like a young Chinese entrepreneurs sharing a bottle of nice Chateau Margaux, then there's a Western couple having a birthday celebration, and behind us, a casually-dressed Cantonese-speaking tourist family enjoying an evening out.

We were offered the menu with a la carte choices and also a 6-course prix fixe menu, and for this month, the prix fixe menu is a selection of Burgundy dishes along with matching wines (from the same region). The wine list consists of two "books" of red and white/rose choices, with a wide range of selections, some usual and some rather not so. I was already having so much fun flipping through the pages, appreciating its selections. At the end, three of us opted for the prix fixed menu while mrs m went a la carte.

After the delightful amuse bouche of beets with tuna mousse and beef tartare, We set off with the typical dish of Potée Bourguignonne, essentially a vegetable soup with pork. I can't say it's the best I've ever had, but it's nonetheless hearty and flavorful and we certainly appreciated the lightness of the dish as later on we have more filling courses to come. Next up is the rustic Jambon Persille served with country toast, another classic Burgundy fare which we didn't have a chance to enjoy more often prior to this evening. The third course, a ragout of escargot and pigeon, was my favorite dish of the night. The strong flavors and unique textures of escargot, pigeon and crayfish came together for a wonderful symphony of tastes, and nicely presented on a bed of potato mash along with soft-boiled egg and garlic emulsion on top.

Mr Boulud has been known for his different ways to prepare foie gras dishes - including the mouth-watering DB Burger which he created at his NYC bistro that started off the whole gourmet burger frenzy some years ago. This evening, our foie gras was served with roasted young hen with garlic confit as the fourth course. Boeuf Bourguignon is perhaps the most famous Burgundy dish and the one we had almost countless times, but tonight I think we had the best of it all. Beef - looked like it's from the shoulder cut - was cooked just right and in generous portion, and simply couldn't go wrong with onion confit, mushrooms, and lots of bacon lardon - in my opinion the key ingredient for the best boeuf bourguignon. That's a classic. We concluded our evening with the cheese course.

Each course came with its own matching wine, and they were as impressive as the dishes. Not only that, you can really tell they put the effort in designing the menu as both the dish and the wine brought the best of one another. And in no time did we find our wine glasses empty throughout the evening - the wait staff quickly refilled as soon as we put down our glasses. I particularly enjoyed a sip of the big and rich Meursault that came with my ragout dish and the rounded, lingering Vosne Romanee at the end with my cheeses. And service was as best as we have experienced in all of China - attentive, well-trained and well-mannered. We also liked the comfortable settings of the dining room with big couches, easy-listening music, simplistic decor - never felt as uptight as many other fine-dining French restaurants.

We certainly enjoyed our night away from roast ducks, dumplings and buns and indulged ourselves in such beautiful and historical setting with wonderful food, top-notch service and intriguing dining experience. How satisfying.

when? april 4 2010
where? maison boulud, chi'en men 23, beijing
occasion? Easter holiday
menu highlights? Fricassee D' Escargot au Pigeon
(Menu with matching wine selections)
Domaine Michel Gros Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits Blanc 2005
Domaine Stephane Aladame Montagny 1er Cru Cuvee Selection 2006
Domaine Yves Boyer Martenot Meurseult "Les Narvaux" 2007
Domaine Jean Chartron, Bourgogne Aligote Clos de la Combe 2006
Domaine Pierre Amiot, Morey St Denis 2005
Domaine Christian Clerget Vosne Romanee "Les Violettes" 2006

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