NOTE: Reservations are required. Menus are posted on LCB web site under “Bistro Cordon Bleu”.
We smile encouragingly at the young server as she pours water, somewhat shakily, into our well-polished goblets. We give a “thumb’s up” with our eyebrows to the chef-instructor patrolling the floor, on the prowl for things to correct. Drawn by our brows, he approaches our table to explain a few things.
“This is a student-run application restaurant. These are students of cuisine at the end of their nine-month curriculum. They have never worked a dining room. I am here only to, er, drive them.” He struggles a bit to find le mot juste for his job. Drive seems about right.
Lunch service is punctuated with muttered reminders: “On commence avec Les Mesdames, oui?” as two students approach a table of four, with the caviar d’aubergines. “Don’t stack plates,” hisses the wine server as one of them attempts to retrieve three dishes at once.
I find myself on the edge of my blue velvet armchair, fretting with motherly anxiety that the kids might screw up.
I wouldn’t say you come to Bistro Cordon Bleu for a jolly good time, but there is a certain pleasure in playing a part – through your appetite, the comments you are encouraged to make and your credit card – in the education of culinary students. The other benefit to lunch at this Bistro is that the food is mostly very good. And given this is a three-course meal taken in a lovely room (with yellow roses in blue vases on thick white linen and with such rare luxuries as fish forks and genteel stemware) the price seems quite reasonable. Besides, the amateur service is well supervised, well meaning, and there is no shortage of it. Lunch can be very fast – the menu is set and the food can fly out if you are in need of it to do that.
(You may not have the luck I had in having both lunches in the Signatures dining room. Ordinarily, the Bistro Cordon Bleu operates out of La Salle Cointreau, a decidedly more utilitarian room. At both my visits, over two weeks, it was being used for other things. Good for me. I wish you the same pleasure and I see no reason why it cannot always be thus, as Signatures is not open for lunch service.)
In any event, these are meals with an agenda beyond our enjoyment. The menu is set. After the requisite inquiry about allergies, the parade of dishes arrives. One week, lunch is an exploration of the regional dishes of Lyon. It begins with a stubbornly old fashioned dish, afternoon nap inducing, of two snowy white, soft-edged fish dumplings, made of the traditional pike, paddling in a peach-pink ‘Nantua’ (an ancient French sauce made by first extracting the essence of crayfish from simmered shells.) Two crayfish, claws on the ready (which seems about right) garnish the dish, prepped so an easy tug rewards you with the little nugget of flesh. The quenelles aren’t the lightest I’ve had (and they are absolutely the largest I’ve had) but they have a gentle flavour and a pleasing texture, and the sauce is nothing short of luscious.
With this dish, the students would be practicing a number of techniques. The quenelles would involve filleting fish, whipping egg whites, making a choux pastry, folding and shaping (quenelles traditionally have six sides) and poaching. The sauce would involve mining the greatest flavour from the shells, and then binding the juices. I’d say they were paying attention.
The main dish is a simple roast supreme of chicken (wing bone attached) in a cream sauce studded with pearl onion and wild mushrooms, including morels. The skin needed some crisping up – the dimpled fat was flabby and the colour a bit insipid – but the flesh was juicy and the sauce was fine. Dessert was a homemade ice cream cradled in chocolate and garnished with gold leaf. Very pretty.
A second lunch, entitled “MediterranÃ©e” was significantly less taxing to the gallbladder. Caviar d’aubergines (a roasted eggplant dip, with shallots and garlic, tomatoes and herbs) was a light, refreshing, full-flavoured starter. It was followed with pan seared blue cod served with a shot glass of garlic mayonnaise studded with chives. Vegetables were somewhat too-salty, but otherwise, it was a nice dish. Dessert was a lemon mousse with fresh strawberries in a simple syrup.
In the spirit of contributing to the education process, may I just suggest nine dollars for a double espresso is too whopping.
My thanks to the students for feeding me well, and I wish you success in the kitchens and dining rooms of wherever you land.