Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Le Pot Au Feu, Christchurch

On this particular day we had just gotten off the plane from the North Island to the South Island when we took off to explore the city. It was cold there and we layered our clothes and set out for..... sushi.

For some reason B decided we needed to check out every sushi restaurant in the city center to compare menus and see if there was anything we could get there that we couldn't at home. As a side note- there is no selection of fresh fish as compared to California.

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As we were walking by I noticed this sign. I think what initially caught my eye was the use of I in the statement. It was written by the chef and that impressed me. She totally had me with "passion and enthusiasm". I told B we would come back tomorrow and he realized they wouldn't be open the next day.

To be honest I've never had classic French food. Now French technique has its hand in every chef's arsenal but with the push for fusion these days I was interested to see what classic was like.

I popped my head in to inquire about reservations. There was one other table sitting. It was just about 7 pm and the chef approached us. She invited us in and I asked if our dress was OK.

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I was dressed in layers of t-shirts and had on wet hiking boots. My hair was damp and windblown. We looked like 2 people backpacking around. And you know what? She didn't care a bit.

After we were seated (by the chef) we glanced at the menu. But we already knew we wanted the Chef's Tasting (aka Degustation) because I love nothing more than letting the Chef cook whatever he or she feels inspired to cook at that moment. I could tell by Chef Bono's smile that she was excited when we told her we would eat anything and everything.

This first course sounded beautiful in French (as all the courses did) but I don't speak French and it wasn't on the menu so you'll have to just hear my own descriptions.

Crusty bread topped with sauteed mushrooms in a creamy sauce with a bit of white wine. I didn't ask because I was too overwhelmed by the experience.

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Overwhelmed because Chef Bono herself was our server. She is a one woman show. She seats, opens champagne, takes orders, cooks your meal and serves it to you. She doesn't take more than a few tables a night.

When she served the first course she said "With much love" and she meant it. It was touching and I was reminded what a passion driven industry this can be.

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The second course was a chilled melon soup. I believe it was canteloupe with this creamy frothiness. Not frothy like full of air but light and totally refreshing without lacking substance. The cream was perfect in it. Am I making any sense?

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We bought a bottle of champagne and it was wonderful. You know how I like my bubbly.

Now usually during a chef's tasting menu I get excited between each course. Sometimes you know what you are going to get, sometimes you choose and sometimes you place your complete trust in the chef.

This was the best combination of all. We had no idea what we were going to get AND the restaurant was small enough we could hear her preparing the next dish.

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Its like hearing the rustling of a present being wrapped just around the corner. I was giddy.

B was guessing what would come next and I was trying not to get emotional about this little gem we found by chance on a windy evening in Christchurch.

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Duck breast with an orange sauce and bubbling cheesy polenta.

Oh but the orange sauce. We are not talking about the type of orange sauce you get at a chinese restaurant. It wasn't thick and sticky and sweet. It was rich, deep duck jus with a hint of orange.

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How did that happen?

Dining like this is all a give and take. The chef's really gives up a part of themselves to create something that you will really enjoy. We so obviously take. But when we give back to the Chef the evening is so much more for the both of you.

I'm not talking about paying your bill (but please do)... I'm talking about letting your chef, your server, your host, know how wonderful it is. If its making eye contact and smiling, or the gesture of touching your heart or having a full and happy belly or telling them in person something specific you loved or noticed, you are reminding those people why they are in the business in the first place.

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Boneless Rack of Lamb Loin. Is that what its called? Another classic and simple sauce. Deep, rich but not overly thick like gravy. Have you noticed the vegetables?

There is a name for that technique and I can't remember what it is.

Oh wait! Its called tournee or tourne and its a French technique done specifically for presentation. Thank you google.

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In New Zealand when you dine at places like this, expect to have a long leisurely meal. They don't believe in rushing and by American standards take a considerable time to enjoy.

In fact, do that in the states. Schedule a dinner that is the event, not prelude to something else. Do this out at a restaurant or at home, have fancy food or finger foods but take the time to enjoy it and the company you are keeping.

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After seeing our nearly empty plates Chef Bono asked us if we wanted bread to soak up the remaining sauce.

The bread she makes fresh. The crusty delicious bread I could eat loaves of.

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We sopped up every last drop of sauce. Our plates were completely white when she came back.

I really think we could've licked the plates and she would've laughed with pride.

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And then the dessert came. B was secretly hoping for this. All 3 of the featured desserts.

Ladies and gentlemen: The Chocolate Souffle, the Strawberries L'Escoffier and the Crepes Suzette!

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Oh but that dish is not complete. By this time we were the only ones in the restaurant.

Chef Bono is heating the brandy.

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I am totally mesmorized. She lights the brandy on fire and pours it over the crepes.

Every single bite of all three of those desserts were heaven. Heaven I tell you.

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Here I am actually shaking my head in the fashion that means "Really? Did we really stumble upon this amazing experience?"

Here is the kicker.

After dinner the chef came out and we ended up sitting in the restaurant and talking for another hour and a half. There was no rushing us out to close the restaurant and get things cleaned up. There was no hurry. We talked about our passion for food, about the similarities and differences between running and working in restaurants in the US and New Zealand and Switzerland (where she is from). We talked about the food we loved and new foods we'd discovered. We talked about working for passion and working for money. The three of us talked about taking time to enjoy life, enjoying each moment. I think all in all we were there for a little over 4 hours.

It was like dining in the home of a friend. I would go back to Christchurch just to experience it again.

What is it about a good meal with good company that soothes the soul?

21 comments:

  1. What an amazing meal and experience. Thank you for the reminder of what a meal should be.

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  2. What a wonderful place--and she couldn't have asked for two customers who would have enjoyed it more! I bet she'll remember you two!

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  3. Places like that are gems to be sure. I've only had a handful of experiences that may come close to yours. Wow. What a fantastic treat on your honeymoon too - you probably couldn't have planned it that well if you tried.

    Glad you're back!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I felt like I was watching a wonderful movie! Bon appetit'

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  5. What an awesome experience! I agree with the above commenter, I read it like a scene right out of a movie - your hiking boots and all! :) Great memories, guys!

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  6. seriously, you know I am a nerd right? I totally cried...for real, I dont even have words...

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  7. Unbelievable! So I'm curious how much weight did you gain?? Doesn't really matter, I would have licked those plates clean. It looked that good.

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  8. I can't quite believe it myself but I'm only up 4 lbs!! I think its because of all the hiking and activities we did!

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  9. Sounds absolutely divine --the whole experience! I have a feeling that you would love the 'private kitchens' here where most of the time, you go and you are served whatever the chef fancies cooking for that meal. :)

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  10. I love this post...thank you for sharing how amazing food can be. I love learning about your love for food, experiences and life!! I can't wait to get together soon. Big Hugs!! Summer

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  11. What an amazing experience! Food is meant to be savoured and enjoyed, and this I would say you did, in spades!

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  12. What an amazing meal, it all looks delicious!

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  13. Fantastic. How was the chocolate souffle? Don't leave me in suspense! :)

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  14. What an amzing experience! I would have been in heaven, what total bliss! Sorry I haven't been keeping up with blogging because your adventures look amazing... I can't wait to get caught up when my dust settles down here. I am now almost 6 months pregnant next week and let me tell you that unpacking has been slow! Hopefully I'll be done by May or the baby will just have to sleep in a box... muwahahaha! :)

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  15. It was surely worth getting married for that meal alone. I love it when you get to settle into an evening, knowing that it's all going to be good, and I'm so impressed that that was all a one-woman show.

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  16. Unexpected treasures are more cherished. What an absolutely wonderful place and what a lovely chef! You will remember that place forever.

    Once, in Ireland, we all (there were about 11 of us) were famished. It was mid-afternoon and we quickly found a little blue house which had been converted to a restaurant. The staff consisted of a waiter and the chef. After we placed our order, we glanced out the window behind us into the backyard, and there was the chef, pulling herbs and veggies and edible flowers for our food. Needless to say, the meal was extraordinary! We never expected such a memorable meal for that spur of the moment decision!
    Wonderful pics! What a place!

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  17. Thank you for sharing that with us. I have never been able to experence anything like that before. The food looks amazing. I am thinking that I would have loved the mushroom dish and the desserts. YUMMY!

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  18. What an amazing experience!! It's certainly something I've never experienced before. What memories you have made! I felt like I was there with you, enjoying all that delicious food and champagne, talking with the chef. Thanks for taking us along with you.

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  19. PS Did I ever tell you I made your salted butterscotch shortbread bars? Three times? HEAVEN!!

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  20. Oh, Dandy. You have me crying. Seriously. Crying.

    Crying because I am so happy you had this experience. Of course I am. But, more. I am so happy that you had the wisdom to create and savor this experience. So, so many people would just hurry out. Or, would be too shy to enter in. Your passion, your interest in others, your love of food, your pure joy - all of it fed the chef far more than she offered to you.

    Crying because every honeymoon deserves a moment that will last quite literally a lifetime.

    Crying because you've reminded me that there are so many experiences like that to be had, if only I'll remain open. And smile.

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  21. Oh, what a beautiful post, and so is the comment just above mine! She's right! It is so wonderful that you will have this memory forever.

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