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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Night Out: Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, France

My husband and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary in January, and although we were in Spain on vacation, we didn't really get to celebrate the day of because 1) we had our two-year-old daughter with us and didn't have a babysitter and 2) my husband came down with the flu that day. We decided to wait until the new group of college students arrived to go out so that we'd have a babysitter, and we finally made it out two months later!

I mentioned to my parents in December that we really wanted to try Au Crocodile here in Strasbourg (a Michelin two-star restaurant), but that I wasn't sure we would go because it was just a little out of our price range. Right before they left, my parents gave us our anniversary gift--a stack of crisp Euros to only be used at Au Crocodile. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) I made the reservation, set up a babysitter, and off we went to celebrate our January anniversary on St. Patrick's Day!

We started off the evening with a little Alsatian crémant. Crémant is basically champagne or sparkling wine, but since the EU has restrictions on what can be called "champagne" (it has to come from the Champagne region), the Alsatians call theirs "crémant." Because Alsatian crémant is made from the sweeter Alsatian grapes, it tends to be a little sweeter than a typical champagne, and is a traditional way to start out a meal here.

Our meal began with two amuse bouches. The first was a shrimp served with an avocado cream and a lemony whipped cream. Now, I do not eat seafood or fish because I just don't like it. (And, yes, I've tried my fair share of very fresh, very diverse types of fish and seafood.) I'm happy to try new things, and since this was just a little bite, I tried it. I think that for a seafood lover, this would have been great. Me? The shrimp was fine (which is a big step up from spitting it out into my napkin, which is what I normally do with seafood), but the creams were wonderful! The avocado cream was so smooth and had a hint of red pepper in there. And I could have eaten a whole bowlful of the lemon whipped cream!

The second amuse bouche was a little cup of "forgotten" vegetable soup. I could definitely taste the potato in there, and there were little tiny bits of smoked ham, but we couldn't figure out the other "forgotten" vegetables. Either way, it was tasty! And my husband commented, "I could eat a whole plateful of the ham just by itself!"

We started out with the "Foie de Canard landais grillé, Compotée de Coing et Pommes, Jus aux Agrumes," roughly translated as "Landes grilled duck foie with a quince and apple compote and citrus jus." (Served with an Alsatian Pinot Gris.) This is only the second time I've had duck foie, and both times I've really enjoyed it. But again, the standout in this dish were the accompaniments. I had to stop myself from licking the juices off the place after I had finished the foie.

For the main dish, my husband ordered the "Bar de Ligne rôti, Purée de Potimarron, Sauce au Pinot noir, Soyeux de Moelle," or "Roasted line-caught bass with a potimarron (Hokkaido squash) purée and pinot noir sauce." (I'm not exactly sure what the translation for "soyeux de moelle" is...sorry!) (Served with an Alsatian Riesling.) I tasted all but the fish. The potimarron purée was buttery and smooth, and although the sauce was too fishy for my taste, seemed like it would work well with the fish itself. My husband is still talking about this fish today: "That fish last night was tasty."

I ordered the "Filet de Bœuf (origine France), Béarnaise à la Ceccina, Frites maison et Chou de Bruxelles," or "Filet mignon with a Ceccina béarnaise, homemade fries and brussel sprouts." (Served with an Alsatian Pinot Noir.) The plating on this dish was a little whimsical with the tiny brussel sprouts made to look like peas in a pod. The filet was cooked to perfection, and although a little heavy, the peppery béarnaise was divine (another lick the plate moment!). The "fries" were lightly crusted in salt, which gave them a little extra crunch.

When we had savored every last bite of our main dishes, we moved on to the cheese course, which consisted of "Tomme de Savoie et Gelée au Piment d'Espelette (Espelette pepper gelée) and Fourme d'Ambert et Confiture épicée de Poires (spiced pear chutney)." Now, again I tried something that I don't normally eat--a moldy cheese. Blue cheese tend to be a little too strong for me, and I've never liked any that I've tried. But this one broke the mold (pun intended!). I could have eaten an entire round of the Fourme d'Ambert, especially with the perfectly spiced pear chutney. The Tomme de Savoie was nutty and buttery and paired well with the pepper gelée.

Finally, on to the desserts, which were probably our least favorite parts of the meal, although still good. We received a pre-dessert amuse bouche of raspberry panna cotta. I really enjoyed the raspberry layer at the top (and there was a nice little surprise of a liquor-soaked cherry at the bottom), but the panna cotta itself was a little grainy and tasted a little to me like European-style yogurt. Again, it tasted good, but wasn't spectacular. (As a side note, this was the only dish served on a plate that was not white or clear. I'm not really sure why, but I definitely noticed this as it was being served.)

Along with the panna cotta, we received a plate of mignardises, which were fun, light and tasty.

My husband ordered the "Surprise chocolatée de Profiteroles à la Glace Vanille" (Vanilla Ice Cream Profiterole Chocolate Surprise). When it first arrived, it looked nothing like this--the profiteroles were actually contained in a beautiful gold-brushed chocolate sphere. Before we could take a picture, or even comment on it, for that matter, the waitress spooned a hot chocolate sauce over the top, melting the top half of the sphere, and creating this. It was a great effect, but my husband wasn't totally impressed by the overall flavor. He said it was good, but not great.

My dessert was better than his, I think. I ordered the "Gratin de Poire Williams et Croustillant au Praliné" (Williams Pear gratin and crispy praline). The praline wasn't really crispy and didn't really taste like praline, but was still good. It tasted more like a very thin layer of sweet pancake baked on top. The pears were good, but there could have been a stronger pear flavor to it.

Mine was also served with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was delicious. It was only slightly sweetened, so the cream was really the star of this dish.

We ended our meal with tea (for me), coffee (for my husband) and truffles. The truffles were tasty, but after such a large meal, we couldn't eat too many.

We weren't told what these were, but the dark ones were definitely a dark chocolate. The white ones tasted, for lack of a better comparison, vaguely like the middle of a Cadsbury egg (but better in flavor and in truffle form). This actually makes it sound disgusting, but it was really quite tasty. The jelly-like ones were some sort of apple gelée.

Overall it was a great experience, and as my husband put it, not necessarily the best meal of our lives, but all put together, a wonderful experience and a well-cooked, balanced menu. The service was great (except for a short lapse in drink service right around dessert time), the food was excellent, and the atmosphere, although strangely decorated for a special EU-themed menu, subdued and intimate. A perfect dinner for a late anniversary celebration.


Sue March 18, 2009 at 11:25 AM  

Thank you for sharing that. It sounds great. I'm glad you ordered the cheese course too. It's amazing how even with a great meal, the cheese course can still stand out when it accompanied by just the right embellishments. YUM!

Chef E March 18, 2009 at 1:23 PM  

Yes thanks for sharing that food looked...well I wish I was eating it right now...I love those kinds of meals out!

Unknown March 19, 2009 at 10:10 AM  

Happy anniversary!

I always wanted to try Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, but never did. (Though Joe and I certainly spent enough money on restaurants during our return to France last year.) Fourme d'Ambert is one of my very favorite blue cheeses.

The best translation I could come up with for "soyeux de moelle" is "silky marrow," though I'm not sure how appetizing that sounds.

Joie de vivre March 19, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

What lovely platings. Can't beat getting to go out at all, but this sounds like an amazing place to go out to!

Sarah March 19, 2009 at 3:35 PM  

What a beautifully plated dinner! I agree there was alot of white!

Anonymous,  March 27, 2009 at 4:36 AM  

I am so jealous! But your review confirms our basic belief that Michelin stars don't always mean perfection! But I would still love to go Au Crocodile!

You live in Strasbourg? I live in Nantes!

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