You’d think that with the plethora of restaurants in our valley that I’d be wanting for nothing as a foodie. Not so. My restaurant wish list is really very simple, however.
Wouldn’t it be nice if just one of our local dining establishments had a section of “classics” on their menu? I’m convinced that with just a short list of classics they’d find themselves with even more faithful followers. Or maybe just one night a week offer a classics menu. Call it “retro” if you want to be trendy. Isn’t it worth a try?
I can’t remember the last time I saw traditional Beef Wellington on a menu, or a classic Coquilles Saint Jacques.
Let me take your taste buds down memory lane or perhaps intrigue you with a dish you’ve never even heard of.
There’s a generations of folks who fondly remember these dishes and at the mere mention of the possibility of enjoying them again, get very excited. There’s also a generation of diners who’ve never experienced these dishes. The saying “what’s old is new” comes into play here.
The last time I found Wellington was in France last fall. “Boeuf en Croute” was an option on the menu. Every one of us, all from various parts of the U.S., ordered this as our entree and devoured every morsel. My taste buds went into fond memory mode, and I was inspired to make individual Wellingtons for my family during the holidays. Again, every plate was left bare. The younger members of the family had never even heard of the dish and are now huge fans.
Who remembers Coquilles Saint Jacques? Scallops sauteed in butter, topped with Guyere cheese and bread crumbs and then broiled. Back in the day this dish was popular enough that even Julie Child published recipes for it.
Classic Scampi is another missing menu item. Yes, there are versions of the dish, usually called Shrimp Scampi, with a California or Napa Valley twist. Not everything has to be reimagined. Scampi are actually tiny, lobster-like crustaceans, called langoustine. If it’s made with shrimp, it’s not a classic Scampi.
I can’t be the only one who recollects Veal Cordon Bleu and Veal Oscar. Both popular in the 1950s and still around in the 90s and then, poof, gone.
In 1917, Louis Diat, a French chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, recreated a creamy chilled potato and leek soup to serve the diners at the Ritz. Fond memories of a similar soup served to him as a child inspired him. Vichyssoise was a staple in fine dining rooms for decades. Often credited as a French recipe, it’s actually an American dish created in New York City by a French Chef. Julie Child said so, so must be true.
In the seafood category, I’ve yearned for Trout Almondine (aka Amandine) and Sole Véronique.
George Escoffier, one of the most legendary chefs in the culinary world, imagined Sole Veronique to honor the opening of French opera in London.
Let’s not forget the dessert missing menu, which would include Baked Alaska, first served at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City in 1876 to celebrate the acquisition of the Alaskan Territory and Banana’s Foster. Created in the early ‘50s, Bananas Foster is the rare classic dessert that continues to be served at the restaurant where it was originally created, Brennan’s in New Orleans.
Yes, tastes change over time, but what’s not to like about this list of forgotten fabulous foods?
I would have included Coque Au Vin and Crepe Suzette on my “missing” list, but luckily we can find these memorable dishes at Bistro Jeanty, in Yountville. Merci, Jeanty.
I do have to admit that I wasn’t able to check every single menu of every single restaurant in Napa Valley, but I researched over 20 locations and asked innumerable friends in the local food world and nobody could point me to any of the dishes I’ve been searching for.
If you, dear readers, know of a restaurant that is serving any of the above you’d have my overwhelming gratitude if you could point me in their direction.
To you, my dear local restaurateurs and chefs, if you ever decide to go a little vintage I hope you’ll let me know so that I can make reservations and bring all my friends. All I ask is to please keep the classics “classic.”
4—4 oz. beef filets
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. brandy
1/3 cup fresh mushrooms, finely minced
1/3 cup yellow onion, finely minced
4 oz. pate
6 Pepperidge Farm pastry shells
1 egg, beaten
Rub the filets with garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Melt 1/4 cup butter in skillet and saute filets for 4 minutes on each side. Pour brandy over filets and light carefully. Flame until alcohol is burned off.
Remove filets, plate, cover and chill for 12-24 hours. Don’t rush it. This step is important.
Using the same skillet and drippings, saute mushrooms and onions until soft.
I used a pre-made pate made with pork, chicken livers and Armagnac to create the stuffing. Mash the pate, onions and mushrooms with a fork until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.
To finish the Wellingtons, you will need to prepare the pastry crust and assemble.
Although you can make your own puff pastry, I had great results using Pepperidge Farms frozen puff pastry shells. This saves lots of time, and the results were perfect.
Roll out the pastry shells and create 4 6-inch squares. Brush the squares with egg wash.
Divide stuffing evenly over the tops of each filet. Place filets, stuffing side down, on each pastry square. Fold dough completely around filets. Seal the edges with softened butter.
Place seam sides down on a rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment. Brush outside with egg wash. Refrigerate 1 hour. Another important step.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes for medium rare, or 25 minutes for medium. Crust should be golden brown.
Allow to set 5 minutes and serve with your choice of sauce. Red wine reduction or Bernaise (my favorite) are recommended. Creamy mushroom sauce is also used quite often, but I find this to be too heavy. Sauce should be drizzled. Be careful not to over-sauce.