Seems like every year, Omni Hotels takes it chefs and food and beverage directors off on some pilgrimage in search of great ideas. This year they all went to France – wine lovers rejoice: they visited Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, plus the F&B folks went to the Loire Valley – and the result at our own Omni Galleria is called A Taste of France. Since the local property’s executive chef is Jacques Lolliot, everything feels pretty normal about that.
The menu isn’t Chef Jacques’ alone, of course, coming as it does each year from the Omni corporate office. But still, listening to the chef talk about his upbringing in the Champagne region, we couldn’t help think he squeezed in a few extra-bubbly twists. This butternut squash bisque, for instance, may be the best Cream of Anything Soup we’ve ever tasted. In France or anywhere else.
Few French words turn up to describe so many different things as ragout – no, not Ragu like the spaghetti sauce! In this appetizer, the things that really matter are wild mushrooms, cooked (but not too much) in a chervil butter and sandwiched between slices of puffed pastry. It’s a classic idea but here given a bit of a fresh French spin. And I can assure you: it’s good to the last champignon.
One of the things worth remembering often about true French cuisine is that it isn’t always complex, the way we tend to do it and see it done in this country with three sauces, four condiments and seven different cooking methods. Few things, honestly, are more French than a perfectly roasted chicken, which turns up on the Taste of France menu at the Omni with mashed potatoes colored (and delightfully flavored) with red bell pepper, plus crisp-tender green beans amandine.
Despite the smile-inducing resemblance to a darkly tanned man wearing a stiff collar and a funny hat, the “filet de boeuf” portion of the evening is a big success. The dish comes with a sauce Perigourdine, created in the Perigord region around its lustrous foie gras, as well as with a single “raviolo” stuffed with braised shortrib. The sauteed spinach underneath is terrific as well, so you can eat your vegetables.
The Taste of France dessert menu, served in the Omni’s restaurant called Noe through the end of the year, has one classic we love above all others – Tart Tatin. But the best sweet finale, especially if you love chocolate, might well to be petit pots de creme. One of the pair is Mocha (tasting, therefore, of the coffee long ago shipped via the port of that name in Yemen) and the other is Valrhona chocolate cream. Vive la France, for darn sure!