Champagne and caviar. These two words carry such gravitas, that when solicited to experience a special dinner at The Pacific Club, I pounced immediately. However, my anticipation got the best of me, so much that even selecting my attire became arduous. How would I honor an evening of sublime gastronomy while tempering my inclination to titivate, especially if other guests opted out of sequins and wing tips?
Stepping into the club’s Card Room, I was relieved with my modest selection of a Nehru shirt and slacks. Gazing around the room, I noticed most were fashioned in “crisp aloha” as they cheerfully toasted glasses of Veuve Clicquot. However, what especially caught my eye was that the room was arranged in a seminar setting, seats facing forward.
Executive chef Eric Leterc then revealed his designs. This was an educational dinner, where patrons would be able to engage in mild conversation but with the spotlight on the culinary expedition ahead, particularly the luxuries of caviar, seafood and Champagne. For someone on an ikura and Prosecco budget, sitting through speeches seemed a nominal price to pay for granted ingress among the echelons of the noblesse. The four panelists engaged us as they spruced up the discussion with colorful anecdotes sprinkled with interesting factoids. Guilaine and Paul Michelutti of Evidenza G&P guided us through the first half of the degustation, speaking on behalf of Sturia’s naturally bred sturgeon roe in Aquitaine, while Tod Clayton provided historical insights into the French tête de cuvée and other lavish bubbles that were seamlessly paired with the seafood-centric courses.
The dinner commenced with a trio of canapes featuring sturgeon rillettes slowly cooked in fat and spread over resoundingly crunchy toast points. The mild-tasting fish was given three different flavor treatments: one with briny bursts of caviar, followed by another scented with bright, palate-invigorating yuzu, preparing for the third possessing earthy aromatics of black Périgord truffle.
While still relishing the truffle’s lingering note, we were presented a simply-plated but aptly-named “oeuf parfait.” The perfectly boiled egg was crowned with a tiny spoonful of Sturia Caviar Classic and cradled in a bassinet of mashed purple potato. As my spoon glided into semi-firm albumin, the dark grey orbs slipped into the slightly congealed yolk allowing a pool of yellow to slowly decant onto the plate. The transcendent synthesis of the creamy, salinated custard and sweet velvety puree clearly demonstrated chef’s ability to integrate caviar into a dish without relegating it to a high-end salt.
The ensuing course featured strands of tender capellini bathed in a delicate cream sauce, which served as the perfect canvas for the Sturia Grand Chef Caviar to express their pleasantly creamy essence with the pop of each translucent bead. This dish only managed to heighten my insatiable craving for more caviar, which was immediately appeased by unadulterated servings of Oscietra Grand Cru Caviar and Oscietra Prestige Caviar served in porcelain soup spoons, as well as a segregated shave of Cinco Jotas pata negra exalted by a deposit of Vintage Caviar. Musing why “osetra” was possibly misspelled, I learned that “oscietra,” unlike its bona fide Russian cousin, was specifically French. Both classifications of oscietra paralleled their Petrossian counterparts with tinges of luminous gold and slightly nutty notes, though the bolder and saltier Prestige were larger—about 3 millimeters in diameter—and had a murkier, darker hue. The pelagic whisper of the supple, golden Vintage Caviar summed up the experience as it surprisingly balanced the intense aged flavors and sweet- ness of the 8-year-old Jamon Iberico. Complementing what seemed to be the most opulent display of the evening was the Krug Grand Cuvée NV with its toasty, nutty flavors embraced by notes of stone fruit and citrus delivered by fine bubbles and a refined mousse.
As we bid farewell to caviar, Dominique Jamain of the Seafood Connection elucidated us on the intricacies of the seafood, starting with a half dozen oysters. Three types of oysters were aligned on a plate, each expressing notably different nuances: the Capital Reserve with bold, clean flavors of ocean salinity; the sweeter Fanny Bay, that had a slightly metallurgic tendency and verdant cucumber-y finish; and the gemlike Kusshi, which demonstrated incredible finesse with its palate-pleasing fruitiness and brine. Whether or not those with an aversion found consolation
in the accompanying lemon wedge, the bivalves went down gracefully with a glass of 2006 Dom Pérignon as its salinity and minerality echoed the flavors of the creamy oysters, while imparting seductive notes of tangerine, tropical fruit and toast.
Soberingly generous courses then arrived to extract us from our intoxicated state. Three sashimi-style slices of Cambridge House Private Reserve Smoked Salmon came accompanied by blinis smeared with crème fraiche and pearls of finger lime, possibly to wean us off of our caviar addiction. The top-tier prime tenderloin expressed a subdued smokiness as each voluptuous slice draped over the tongue. The cream added another strata of unctuous bliss, tempered by the acidic crunch of the lime caviar. The paired 2008 La Grande Dame mirrored the smoke and citrus, adding layers of toasted brioche and berries.
The final savory course was a Tristan de Cunha lobster tail resting on a cushion of Mary’s Organic chicken breast and shimeji wading in a velvet Champagne sauce with asparagus spears. The tender sustainable rock lobster needed no sauce intervening in the expression of its delicate sweetness, and the chicken breast, which in many restaurants is often a tragically parched fragment of protein, was surprisingly tender and moist. The sauce made a subtle contribution but was invigorated by a few sips of the crisp 2006 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc with its toasty, honeyed lemon attributes.
Questioning if my pants fit properly anymore, I found the dessert, a refreshingly humble fruit cocktail of poached pear and strawberries, accented with gelatinous mint pearls and Champagne confetti, to be a welcomed reprieve from an evening of excess. The syrupy cubed fruit surrendered to the ambrosial off-dry pear and melon-flavored Moèt et Chandon Nectar Imperial, which was given a candied orange peel punch followed by a soothing mentholated make-up kiss.
I departed the club more bloated than a beluga whale but euphoric from an educationally delectable meal. In an era of chefs seeking celebrity status, it is refreshing to find someone who crafts a menu that prioritizes the showcase of an ingredient’s flavor and texture over creativity and personal recognition. Leterc’s simplistic menu reflected his confident aptitude to prudently exercise restraint so that the caviar did not become collateral damage in any quest for professional validation. Had I myself practiced any self-discipline, I would still have the tuxedo as an option should I be invited to another formal soiree. I guess it’s back to the tailor.