"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Monday, September 3, 2012

Romantic Bordeaux Style Dinner Without a "French" Budget

Last weekend, Patrick and I had a "date night".  We wanted to enjoy a romantic dinner and listen to some jazz music after.  We did not have any particular type of food in mind.  But, we wanted to go to a restaurant that (1) had great food; (2) had an inviting and welcoming decor and ambiance (preferably with outdoor seating); (3) had impeccable service; and (4) one where we could have a wonderfully satisfying meal without breaking the bank.  One restaurant that came to mind was Chevalier in downtown Lafayette (http://www.chevalierrestaurant.com/home.html).  Chevalier is a little gem in the East Bay.  It is one of my top 5 favorite restaurants.

Chevalier has excellent French food.  The Chef and Owner, Philippe Chevalier, takes great pride in using the freshest local natural ingredients.  Chevalier also has an extensive wine list, comprising of French as well as California wines.  Chevalier has won several awards, including Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, Open Table Diner's Choice Award, and Zagat ratings.  http://www.chevalierrestaurant.com/awards-reviews.html
At our dinner table in the Restaurant garden.
The ambiance is exceptional.  In addition to a warm and inviting indoor seating arrangement, they have a large outdoor/garden seating area.  The outdoor setting is very romantic and feels like you are eating in the French wine country.  The tables are surrounded by beautiful flowers (like roses) and herbs (like rosemary).  The lamp posts have grape vines around them.  The atmosphere is elegant, but not stuffy. 

The service is impeccable.  From the moment you walk in through the courtyard and enter the restaurant, the staff makes you feel like you are walking into your family's country home for a Sunday evening supper.

Although this highly rated restaurant is incredible, I think you can still have an affordable, enjoyable, and satisfying meal at Chevalier.  Our dinner last night was amazing, but budget friendly.  How did we do it you may ask?

First, we took advantage of the Prix Fixe menu (http://0801.nccdn.net/1_5/206/262/151/2012-Summer-Dinner-Menu-Legal-7-5-12.pdf). One of the things I love about Chevalier is that they have a 3-course Prix Fixe menu for $39.00 - you can't beat that!  Last night's menu included a starter (choice of cream of cauliflower soup; mixed green salad with warm crispy goat cheese, herbs de Provence, and lemon thyme vinaigrette; or Escargots).  For the entree, you had the choice of roasted chicken St. Tropez style; skirt steak pan seared, with a burgundy wine and shallot sauce; or house-made gnocchi with pesto.  [St. Tropez style chicken is chicken marinated with dried herbs, lemon, garlic, and honey and then roasted to perfection.  Check out this recipe (http://www.food.com/recipe/saint-tropez-chicken-105766).]  For dessert, you had the choice of a Crème Anglaise (Meringue) topped with roasted almonds and caramel sauce; Crème Brulée made with fresh vanilla bean from Bourbon; or a selection of sorbet.

Skirt steak pan seared,  with burgundy wine & shallot sauce
Patrick ordered the Prix Fixe menu and chose the salad, skirt steak, and Crème Brulée.  Each of the courses was spectacular.  The crispy goat cheese in the salad is truly addictive. The skirt steak was cooked perfectly (medium-rare) and the sauce was amazing.

Crème brulée, with fresh vanilla bean from Bourbon

We shared the Crème Brulée, which was unbelievable.  We could see and taste the vanilla bean, which differentiates "great" Crème Brulée from "mediocre" Crème Brulée.

Ahi tuna tartar, goat cheese, fresh quail egg, & mâche salad
I ordered the Ahi Tuna Tartar, which has goat cheese mixed in with the tuna and a beautifully prepared fresh quail egg on top, and served with crispy croutons.  This was one of my favorite tuna tartars.  The tuna was fresh. The goat cheese gave it a little more creaminess. And, the quail egg just elevated the appetizer to a whole new level of elegance and sophistication.  

Herb roasted rack of lamb with tarragon sauce, ratatouille
For my entree, I had the rack of lamb special, which was a fresh herb roasted rack of lamb served with an herb-tarragon sauce, ratatouille, and potato au gratin.  That dish was superb!  The fresh herbs were wonderfully fragrant. The lamb was cook perfectly (medium).  The sauce - wow! And, the au gratin potatoes were delicious.

Another way we were able to keep the meal within our budget was that we brought our own bottle of wine and paid a $20 corkage fee.  We had recently received a bottle of the 2007 Clos du Bois Marlstone (Alexander Valley, Sonoma, CA) from our wine club (http://www.closduboiswinestore.com/2007_Marlstone_Alexander_Valley).  This wine is a Meritage (Bordeaux style blend), which has 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec.  It is a full-bodied red wine, with a deep ruby red color.  On the nose, the Marlstone gives a wonderful scent of complex aromas of ripe blackberries, plums, licorice, and a hint of baking spices.  On the palate, the Marlstone delivers concentrated blackberry and plum flavors.  The tannins are rich, but well balanced, leading to a strong lingering finish with notes of mocha and spice.  This wine retails for about $50.  If we were to buy it in a restaurant, we would have to pay at least $100.  But, by bringing our own, we only paid the corkage fee and were able to enjoy a Bordeaux blend with spectacular French cuisine.

With Philippe Chevalier, Chef - Owner, Chevalier Restaurant
Although the food and reasonably priced menu options make Chevalier one of my favorite restaurants, what makes the dining experience memorable for us is the service.  Our waitress was Renee, who was wonderful.  Renee was friendly, attentive, and did a great job explaining the menu and making recommendations.  But, by far, my most memorable moment was when Chef Chevalier visited our table to see how we were enjoying the food.  He is very friendly, personable, passionate about food, and makes sure that his guests enjoy their dining experiences at his restaurant.  [http://www.chevalierrestaurant.com/about.html]. Chef Chevalier was sweet to take a picture with us to remember the evening.  He gave me a true "French" kiss - left cheek/right cheek - (I am blushing now!) and said "bon appetit." Of course, that made the evening extra special!

The next time you are in the mood for some excellent French food and a romantic dinner out with your special someone, do some research and see if there is a restaurant that has a Prix Fixe menu; call ahead to find out how much the corkage fee is; if it's reasonable (generally $15-$20), bring your own wine; and enjoy!

Until next time . . . À votre santé! (Cheers!)


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