Perfect Christian Bau?

After a couple of meals last year at Christian Bau’s Schloss Berg I followed Trine’s example of taking a break to see how the cuisine develops over some time. But, sooner that I thought the idea came up to show very good friends of mine real three star cooking and somehow Schloss Berg appeared as the perfect venue (honi soit qui mal y pense…)

The interior of the restaurant has been completely refurbished in January while they were closed and now really fits to the more contemporary and modern cuisine of Christian Bau. I particularly liked the new chairs which had been exclusively made for the restaurant. You can exit without having to move the chair by just turning the upper part… Very comfortable…

restaurant001

A Reflection of Bau's Cuisine

Our meal started with this:

A Potential Menu

A Potential Menu

Hmmm, this doesn’t look like Christian Bau at all I thought… All the new new dishes I had previously seen on the website were not in so I wondered whether there was a new culinary trail to be headed or some candied camera effect going on. In retrospect Christian Bau told me that my gestures at this very moment were somehow uncontrolled (raised eyebrows, slightly shaking the head and a helpless look around). I just didn’t know what to say to my friends and how to explain the menu… They surely had a good laugh in the kitchen…

To my relief Yildiz Bau took the menu cards away and gave us the real ones:

The Real Menu

The Real Menu

I can only say that I did not know a single dish (last meal was in December with Steve Plotnicki) besides a former version of the St. Jacques (then with loup de mer) and the lamb… Ah yes, the apero snacks stayed the same except for a wonderful tartar with beet root jelly and smoked eel which completed a delicate and perfect overture to be eaten along with the champagne.

Small tartelette with Tomato, Olive & Pesto / Beef Tartar / Flammekueche

Small tartelette with Tomato, Olive & Pesto / Beef Tartar / Flammekueche

Then the parade of amuse started with a nice homemade kroepoek (bread made of shrimps) with swordfish, apple and fennel which was a salty, fresh, sour and smoked combination which just starts your palate engine. Excellent.

Next up was a two way interpretation of king crab – a salpicon served with lemon fruits and a medallion with cream of peas, king crab jelly and mint. What a quality of the crab – clearly one of the central pillars of Bau’s cuisine is benchmark quality with respect to ingredients. Personally I preferred the medallion a bit more as it had an enormous density and depth in flavours due to the créme of peas whereas the king crab jelly provided some lightness – it was like a declination of flavours: from a solid deep fundament over a perfectly tender and just yummy king crab to the nice jelly as a crowning finale. Bravo!

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King Crab

The next amuse consisted of three distinct servings of blue fin tuna which just fitted so harmoniously together – first a cornet with tuna tartar, yuzu sorbet and coriander air which was really refreshing with the right intensity – you can taste the Asian influence but it doesn’t seem just borrowed but it seems natural for Bau’s cuisine. I got this feeling more and more in the course of the meal that the Asian flavours now seem to be a more natural part of the cuisine than before and became somehow a distinct element of it.

Second serving of tuna: ‘sashimi’ of hamachi and tuna – finger lime / avocado / curry. Curry ice cream, the baked crab and the avocado were elements used on a version of an earlier wonderful crab & scallop dish. Here especially these were more on the forefront as the sashimi turned out to be more subtle – at first, that was before the finger lime kicked in and created a nice peta zeta effect but with taste. One could use the curry ice like a spread and experiment with the thickness of the ‘coating’. Excellent.

Sashimi of Hamachi & Tuna

Sashimi of Hamachi & Tuna

The last part of the amuse was a soy marshmallow with a Japanese roll of tuna – what a mouth-feel sensation: the marshmallow simply rocked – surely one of the dishes I would order in face of death…

Soy Marshmellow

Soy Marshmellow

Then the real menu started with an abalone with japanese vegetables / herbs / kimizu. Abalone belongs to the family of snails (no mussel) and one of the most precious products in Japanese cuisine. You either serve them rare as sashimi or use them dried and thinly sliced as noshi (part of a traditional present card)…

It is a very difficult ingredient because it takes time to get it tender (otherwise it is just chewing gum). Bau cooked it at low temperature and served it as tempura, as a whole and marinated in thin slices. The contrast with the sour and fresh vegetables and herbs worked amazingly well – one can imagine eating this dish in a kaiseki restaurant in Japan. Together with kimizu mayonnaise (made of egg and rice vinegar) it formed an excellent to outstanding dish with lots of flavour and texture nuances.

The 2004 Guitian is made of 100% Godello, a regional grape, and presents itself almost shy and reluctant but the acidity worked very well and the sublime fruit introduced some freshness. Excellent pairing.

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Abalone

2004 Guitian Joven, Bodegas La Tapada, Valdeorras

Next up was my favorite of the night: crab and melon with dashi jelly. I have no words to describe this but I try nevertheless… Crab tartar (or effilochée), baked crab wrapped in kataifi (a special dough in twines), a melon sorbet, dashi jelly. What an flavour explosion – the crab tartar is strong enough to stand all the other protagonists which I found amazing and the freshness and superb quality made it stand out. Then the kataifi one – hard to balance the right amount of dough as I very often encounter dominating croustillants where you don’t taste the main product any more. Different here, the warm crab continues to shine and the kataifi provides just enough texture to make it even more interesting and create a nice suspense with the tartar. The pairing with the melon pieces adding both another textural dimension and a slight acidity and the amazing melon sorbet was simply brilliant. And the dashi? Provided depth, strength and a really intense sea flavour. A masterpiece in equilibrium, texture, temperatures and flavours – easily in my personal hall of fame – outstanding, perfect.

The only difficult thing was to actually eat it as it was served in a nice bowl – visually stunning but hard to get by. As a result they now serve it traditionally on a plate:-)

Crab & Melon

Crab & Melon

2007 Piesporter Domherr Riesling Spätlese trocken, Weingut Kurt Hain, Mosel

As I have written on my last review foie gras variations have always been a key strength of Bau – here we got a foie gras from the Landes with madras pepper / jelly and crunch of green tea / mango. I had a similar dish in 2006 but this time the crunch of green tea made this dish extraordinary as it provided a depth in flavours never before experienced from a crunchy element. The mango linked the ice cream and the terrine and bridged the gap of temperatures. Another highlight was the Maldon sea salt on top of the ice which formed a stunning contrast with its richness and creaminess. Outstanding – and the pairing with the Josmeyer Riesling was ingenious.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

1995 Riesling Grand Cru Hengst Vendages Tardives, Domaine Josmeyer, Alsace

Sockeye salmon slightly smoked / ricotta / char roe / cucumber soup with rice vinegar. This was excellent but due its strong acidity a dish hard to integrate in a menu. In itself somehow self-contained. Needless to say that this Sockeye was quite stunning in product quality. Maybe the best I had so far.

Sockeye Salmon

Sockeye Salmon

2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Weingut Kirsten, Mosel

Next up was a dish which is becoming a signature of Bau – scallops, sea water tapioka / chutney of carrots / air & aroma of Raz el Hanout. Another example that the use of oriental and Asian (as in the crap dish) flavours became a natural part of Bau’s cuisine. It feels like it just have to be this way.

The further development of this dish which I had in November and December last year was the chutney adding fruitiness and the replacement of loup de mer with a scallop sliced in half. The scallop had just the right amount of roast flavours to be a good counterpart to the fresh tapioka seasoned with oyster water, crunchy roasted quinoa and the rich hollandaise with rice vinegar, mint, coriander and chervil. Overall delicious, yummy – couldn’t be any better!

Normally wines of Rebholz should not be drunk early as they have a enormous complexity and minerality which became much more enjoyable over the years. I was a bit surprised when Miss Jäger suggested a 2007 Grand Cru (Erstes Gewächs) but it worked astonishingly well. The small carrot element simply clicked with the wine and its minerality supported the sea flavour of the tapioka. Wow.

Scallops

Scallops

2007 Ganshorn – Im Sonnenschein G.G. Riesling Trocken, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebholz, Pfalz

Very often I get the notion that after such an armada of highlights Christian Bau takes the opportunity to re-ground the diner and let him breathe a bit. So, the following course bar de ligne, tournedos / seafood / passe-peirre / mussels sugo with coriander, ginger, lemon did exactly that with one little exception: the separate crispy fish skin introduced a new way of thinking about texture in fish courses. So far, Berasatgui and Wissler have found new ways to treat the scales on the fish with high temperature and add textural depth in a distinct way (the normal way would see the fish pressed and roasted on the skin which rarely gives a satisfactory result). In contrast Bau serves the skin on the side, a bit dried, hot and crispy without any fatty dimension. Clever indeed.

The tournedo was another stunner – prepared like a maki but then steamed and served hot. Overall there were too many elements on the plate which made it unnecessarily complex – I would rather serve it in two courses with the maki up-front and then play around with textures in the second part (like a declination of textures). All products did clearly shine but in style this was a backdrop into the “old” complex times. Nevertheless an excellent dish. The Puligny-Montrachet was rich and strong to really undermine the intense flavours.

Bar de Ligne

Bar de Ligne

2003 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières, Domaine Philippe Chavy, Bourgogne

Snails – I am fond of good memories as one of the first non-traditional dishes I ate in my youth were Alsatian snails with garlic and herb butter. But the snails ‘Petit Gris’, Jabuga Bellota / parsley / potato /roasted pork crunch was quite different. I truly love Bau’s Bellota sugo which he continuously serves (last time with a nice sole). Rustic at first this dish turns out to have many facets – first, the snails are prepared in two ways (glazed in herb butter and baked in very light beer dough) – second, the crunch worked amazingly well without being too fatty – third, the combination of Bellota sugo and pork formed an excellent complementary duo (you can almost hear the crescendo of the flavours and textures…). Parsley was the fruity and intense counterpart whereas the mashed potatoes acted like the earthy soul. Back on the block – outstanding. We continued with the Bourgogne which this time was more of backbone of the dish and made it more succulent and fleshy…

Snails

Snails

Reduce to the max and then just add one surprising element – that’s the theme of Mieral pigeon, ravioli of leg confit / 2*celery with orange / tamrind-coffee. The orange made this so special – combined with the light sweetness of the tamarind-flavour jus and the rustic coffee it created a really amazing taste sensation. Outstanding again, what can I say? Excellent Pinot Noir from Wehrheim with enough fruit to elevate this course even higher…

Mieral Pidgeon

Mieral Pigeon

2005 Birkweiler Kastanienbusch G.G. Spätburgunder Trocken, Weingut Dr. Wehrheim, Pfalz

Our main was actually a ‘replacement’ as the supplier had not delivered his best quality beef and Bau decided to replace it with Müritz lamb / char-coal grilled / sugo with garam marsala / green lentils / smoked egg fruit. On the side he served a nice ragout of lamb. Not a bad “replacement” I have to admit – I truly like the ragout which was rich and succulent whereas the lamb was tender and juicy just how it should be. Previously this was served with couscous but I tend to favour the lentils as they bring both freshness and earthiness and a more able to counterbalance the garam marsala. An excellent dish yet a bit less surprising / out-of-the-box than the previous ones.

Müritz Lamb

Müritz Lamb

2003 Pazzo, Bazio Divino Cellars, California

What a voyage so far! Rhubarb was next – and literally danced on the table. A wonderful compote with crumble, mascarpone cream and a fantastic ginger ice cream. Cooking seems to be simple but it is not and definitely not on this level. Take the ginger ice cream: surely Bau is not the first to serve this but he shows his brilliance in the dimensioning of flavours as the ginger was used in the exactly right dosage. It turned out to be slightly spicy and built up a harmonious string of tension between the rhubarb and the rich mascarpone. Outstanding.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

1998 Ockfener Bockstein Rielsing Auslese, Weingut St. Urbans-Hof, Mosel

Finale: three variations of Valrhona chocolate in increasing intensity: Manjari ganache with mint / exotic fruits / mojito sorbet (outstanding), Araguani créme with peanuts / mango / ice cream of cacao beans (good but I am not a big fan of peanuts), Guanaja ‘soil’ / crunch / salty crumble / maracuja (excellent but I was rather full at this point;-))

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Banyuls Reserva, Domaine La Tour Vielle, Roussillon

Overall

Bau’s first steps of gradually modernizing his cuisine were not tipsy at all, my meals in 2008 had been really outstanding in every respect, but in 2009 Asian flavours and new techniques seem to be more seamlessly integrated and an unique handwriting becomes more and more pronounced. Compared with my August 2008 and my November/December meals there has been an immense further development and every time it is slightly better. Is it perfect? Every time a bit nearer to perfection – the journey continues… There is still some potential to be unlocked!

It’s just fantastic – go and experience it.

Comments

comments

15 thoughts on “Perfect Christian Bau?

  1. Dear Ingo, what a meal,

    Honestly, I could eat 25 courses there, so I can’t really understand you being full when desserts come ;))

    The first menu would have been interesting though. Have those dishes made by someone like Bau… I guess they would be fantastic.

    THe crispy fish skin isn’t that new though. If you look into the first “Grand livre de cuisine d’Alain Ducasse”, there are plenty of recipes using the same procedure. But unfortunately you see it too rarely used.

    I’m only waiting to write my exams and go back to Luxembourg before I’ll treat myself to another meal there.

    • Will check with the book – I have nevertheless never encountered this version of fish crisp so far…

      Next time we go together – you also promised me some home cooking if I remember correctly;-)

      • Felix, you are right – I don’t know how this could escape me;-) Maybe because I am not as big a Ducasse fan as you…

  2. well that might be true.

    As far as the cooking at my place is concerned. With pleasure. but we do that the day before Bau, otherwise I look pretty pale and bad!

  3. I can only echo your comments. The cooking was dazzling last year and has actually improved from that high level, based on my meal there a couple of weeks ago. Christian Bau is a tremendously gifted chef.

  4. Great review and pictures Ingo!

    There are many wonderful food everywhere. Noma, Can Roca and Schloss Berg, which one should be visited first? Thanks

    • Andy, hard to say – they are all good in their very respect. noma is authentic and ingredient-driven with modern techniques in the back. Can Roca is technique-driven with very surprising and unique results. Schloss Berg has a more Asian take on classic dishes with a more and more pronounced handwriting…

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  7. Journey to the Stars…….

    Dear Sir, Madam,
    November last we presented our book ‘Reis naar de Sterren ‘(Journey to the Stars’) to the Dutch press. The book, in which our visits to all 54 European restaurants with three Michelin-stars are described,
    was well received and got excellent critics.

    Pieter J. Bogaers, chief editor and publisher of Bijzondere Restaurants (Outstanding Restaurants) wrote:
    Such a jewel. I am deeply impressed, one of the most agreeable and unique books since long. Very special.”

    In ‘Reis naar de Sterren’ we describe the journey we made in order to visit all 54 3-star chefs in Europe. They allowed us to peep into their pans, we tasted their specialties and spoke to the chefs.
    After returning home we wrote the stories about these often surprising visits and added our photographs. Our favorites addresses got a special remark. Each of our visits inspired me to the making of my own recipe, which got its place in the book, together with an easy guidance as for the preparation. ‘Reis naar de Sterren’ was a challenge, never shown before. It gives the reader a unique view in the kitchen
    of the best chefs of Europe. As we presume that also elsewhere in Europe there will be an interest in our book, we are presently looking
    for publishers abroad. It is very likely that more people would like to read the book in English, French
    and German than Dutch.

    For more information about publishing this book in one or more other languages, please contact our publisher “Stichting Kunstboek” attn Hilde Deweer or Karel Puype, Legeweg 165 B-8020 Oostkamp Belgium,
    telephone 0032- 50 46 19 10. Email address: karel.puype@stichtingkunstboek.com. Website: http://www.stichtingkunstboek.com

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Yours faithfully,

    Paul van de Bunt, patron-cuisinier.
    Restaurant De Leuf (**) ,
    Dalstraat 2, Ubachsberg, The Netherlands

    http://www.reisnaardesterren.nl
    http://www.deleuf.nl

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