Meatless Monday at Bijoux: This Ain't Your Poor Hippie Yoga-Instructor Friend's Veggie Meal
A suited staffer circled the room, his tray laden with warm slices of olive, rosemary and raisin breads, crusty and fragrant. He bestowed each of our plates with a different variety, and placed between us a ramekin of butter so pristine and smooth it looked like you could ice skate on it.
We surveyed the scene from our small round table, perched on cushy chenille chairs. We were the youngest ones in the room by roughly 20 years; a couple seated next to us celebrated a milestone of some sort. The décor was the epitome of tastefully neutral -- a massive crystal chandelier hung overhead, illuminating white tablecloth-covered tables set with fine crystal glassware and more silverware than my household goes through in a week. Brocade curtains with tassels the size of my head draped the floor-to-ceiling windows.
We were there to satisfy our Meatless Monday requirements by indulging in the seven-course vegetarian tasting menu, but Bijoux is certainly not a vegetarian restaurant. The regular chef's tasting menu reads like a carnivorous gastronome's fantasized last meal: sweetbreads, escargot, veal, rabbit, skate. Having spent an average of ten bucks on my previous Meatless Monday meals, I was intrigued to see how vegetarian cuisine could be elevated at the hands of a four-star chef, but also wondered if it would be worth the price of admission. Would we leave satisfied or wishing we'd gone out for steak instead?
To start, the amuse: a tiny clamshell of a profiterole concealing its pearl, a tiny scoop of chamomile ice cream, and garnished with perfectly precious microgreens.
The first course arrived next: a salad of roasted golden beets, sweet and tender, assorted baby greens, creamy crumbles of local goat cheese and the sweetest, crunchiest "crystallized" pecans. A vivid magenta quenelle of hibiscus-beet sorbet occupied the upper right corner of the plate, garnished with a translucent beet chip so wafer-thin it disappeared on the tongue. So far so good. I'd had (simpler, less well-executed) versions of this salad before that never included animal proteins, and with the variety of complementary flavors and textures, this one certainly didn't need it either.
Our empty plates were whisked away, and like magic shallow soup bowls with tiny quenelles of black truffle sorbet were placed before us. Suddenly a sauciere (I couldn't bring myself to use the word "gravy boat" in this context) appeared, pouring a stream of creamy liquid around the sorbet -- parsnip and sunchoke soup, so light and airy it practically floated off our spoons. Its ethereal texture had us puzzling: Whipped egg whites? Immersion blender? (When asked, Chef Scott Gottlich revealed that it's simply passed through a chinois and whisked.) Light in texture but deep and rich in flavor, the earthy aroma of fresh truffles wafting up from the bowl would haunt me for days. I'd pick that soup over foie gras any day.
The third course of tarragon gnocchi with creamy carrot purée and a tiny mountain of microplaned Parm Reggiano was the best thing I've eaten all year. A deep, crispy sear in brown butter that gave way to pillowy insides, and the addition of shaved black truffles gave the dish a mega dose of umami, a meaty punch that almost had me searching for chunks of bacon or marrow.