Culinary alchemy at its best

Just as I think I've mastered some of the art of cooking, a new type of cuisine appears.

fat duck 88 (photo credit: )
fat duck 88
(photo credit: )
Just as I think I've mastered some of the art of cooking, a new type of cuisine appears. Chef Roni Gilmore of the recently opened Lutece restaurant has brought molecular gastronomy to Israel. What is molecular gastronomy, you may ask. I did. As far as I understand it, it is chemistry and physics applied to the kitchen. It is getting to the essence of food, understanding the science behind cooking, deconstructing ingredients in order to reconstruct them. It's a matter of creating taste associations - sometimes unusual - blending colors and balancing ingredients to achieve sublime tastes. It is also sometimes referred to as "culinary alchemy." Whatever it is, it works. Englishman Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in Berkshire is considered the founder of molecular cuisine and is the youngest chef to have three Michelin stars. Belgian chef Pierre Garnier is also world renowned. I've heard of the El Bulli restaurant in Spain, which is famous for molecular cuisine. There you need to book at least a year in advance, and the set price is $400 per person. Lutece, on the ground floor of a beautiful old villa at 64 Sderot Rothschild in Tel Aviv, is tastefully decorated in minimalist style. It is so nice to dine at a table with a white linen tablecloth and serviettes. The first thing that struck my daughter who accompanied me was that there were no condiments. We discovered why by the end of our meal; they were simply not necessary. Shortly after being seated and handed menus (which for the time being are only in Hebrew), an amuse-geule was placed in front of us. Served in a glass slightly larger than a vodka-shot glass, it consisted of a cold burghul salad with tomatoes, barbounia fish and mint topped by a tomato and sage sauce. Absolutely delicious and refreshing, it left us in wondrous anticipation of the dishes to come. Next, a basket of warm rolls accompanied by a plate with a vibrant green piquant cilantro mixture and aeoli sauce was served - tasty and different from the olive pastes that have become the norm nowadays. Every dish after that was a surprise and a delight. Only fresh, top-quality ingredients are used. The zucchini flowers, for example, are flown in specially from Italy. We didn't want to finish the shrimps with Jerusalem artichokes in a cream sauce with walnuts - they were just too good, with neither the shrimps nor the artichokes overpowering the other. I have also never tasted such a good strong beef bourguignon served with portobello cappucino, and the tiniest perfect croissants imaginable. We just looked in wonder at the coquille St. Jacques with tomato confit, brioche and arugula coulis. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but we forced ourselves. The scallops were seared to perfection, and nice and tender inside. We were served a digestif between the first and main courses - a house creation consisting of rum, mint, crushed ice and sugared water. It was just perfect: refreshing but not too sweet. Main courses we tasted were the sea bass with herbed gnocchi, bacon, olives and lemon - another marvel, as was the baby chicken served on puree accompanied by caramelized onions. For dessert we had the variation on the apple and the choco and biscuits. There was nothing I can fault at Lutece. On the contrary, each dish was a vividly colored visual surprise and tasted how food should taste, with the added bonus of no fat. I have, however, waited for two weeks to write this review, as I kept thinking that maybe I had been swayed by Chef Roni Gilmore's enthusiasm and knowledge about the food, the pleasant surroundings, the charming young waiter with his perpetual smile, the good bottle of La Petite Ferme - the place just couldn't be that good. Over the weekend, some friends asked for a recommendation and I told them to try Lutece and give me their opinion. Their responses echoed mine, and one of the diners kept me on the phone for ages just waxing poetic about the puree. Chef Roni told me that in New York (where he studied for a while), food critics visit a restaurant six times before writing a review. My daughter so enjoyed the meal, she wants to know if we could apply the tradition to Lutece. Prices are most reasonable for the quality of food and all the free extras. Hors d'ouevres range from NIS 37 to NIS 54 for the coquille St. Jacques. Main courses are NIS 85 to NIS 95. Desserts cost from NIS 30 to NIS 38. There is a business lunch Sunday to Thursday from noon until 4 p.m. for NIS 70. There is no smoking on the premises. There is no doubt that when Lutece - which only opened on January 1 - gets discovered, prices will soar. Lutece, Sderot Rothschild 64, Tel Aviv. Tel: (03) 560-2697. Not kosher.