How Foie Gras Is Done and Not Done, Courtesy of French Laundry and Le Bistro

Torchon refers to the cooking method in which the French delicacy foie gras is deveined, wrapped in a light towel, and poached. When it's done, the foie gras is lightly spreadable and deliciously rich. Serving it from there can be very creative. The idea is to pair the torchon with complimentary flavors such as sweet, salty, fruity, starchy. Here's how the French Laundry, Thomas Keller's world-renowned Napa Valley restaurant, serves its version.

 

Local restaurant Le Bistro, which was profiled last week on Fox's reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares, also serves a torchon of foie gras. Unfortunately, Le Bistro's foie gras -- which I had on Friday as part of a very subpar meal -- does not elicit the same oohs and ahhs as the French Laundry's. Not that I expected the two to be close; but the version at Le Bistro is so bad that it requires assurance that someone, somewhere is doing better things with the dish.

It costs $16, and the menu describes it thusly: "foie gras torchon, sweet grapes, honey pecans, aged balsamic, white truffle oil crostini." Although the description at least sounded interesting, the plating was not. The foie gras, rather funky and off-colored, was dumped into the center next to a stack of pecans haphazardly drizzled with honey. A small bundle of red globe grapes sat to the left side near two hard croutons meant for smearing.

Perhaps if the foie gras itself were exceptionally flavored, the simple (read: dull) delivery would be an appropriate showcase. But the foie gras tasted as if it had been in the fridge for a week or more. The pungent, buttery, fatty flavor that foie gras is known for was not evident. It was so hard it was impossible to spread, even on the overly brusque crostini. Worse, it had a funky smell that nauseated my table mate.
 
I ate some other miserable dishes at Le Bistro that night -- particularly a fillet of grouper en papillote that was as mushy as cat food. But the foie gras was by far the worst. I love foie gras, but this dish made me want to join the anti-gavage movement. I would never go as far as what animal rights activists did to Napa chef Laurent Manrique a few years back, but at least Manrique was showing the ducks some respect. Le Bistro's chef Andy Trousdale, on the other hand, is pissing on their graves at almost $20 a pop. 

Based on the commentary of tables around us, more than half the people in the restaurant came to get a glimpse of the transformation they saw on television. I saw quite a few people get up from their meals unimpressed. One table commented on the shoddy job the television show did of redecorated the dining room. "They could've done something about those nasty acoustic tiles," one gentleman said as he looked up toward the ceiling at some sagging tiles. "It looks like pieces are going to fall off in your salad." I also noticed that the aqua paint job Ramsay's crew gave the restaurant was so poor that the red walls underneath showed through all over.

Décor aside, before its Kitchen Nightmare overhaul, New Times had some very middling things to say about the 10-year-old Lighthouse Point restaurant. Afterward, I'm not sure much of anything has changed. The food is still poor on the whole and very behind the times. At least it's no longer that expensive -- most starters are below $10, with entrées falling around the $20 mark (save the specials, which edge close to $40 or more).

Still, unless you're trying to satisfy some curiosity, let Le Bistro's foie gras torchon serve as an example: This is one nightmare you won't wake up from.


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