Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Joyeux Noel

Contest Update...

Before I get started, I'd like to remind everyone that we will be announcing the newest winner in our Williams-Sonoma gift card contest very soon. Carol won the first week, and Rebecca won the second week. Who will be our lucky reader this week? Stay tuned to find out! ;-) And don't forget to leave a comment below (or via e-mail if the comment-leaving doesn't work) to be entered into this week's drawing for a $25 Williams-Sonoma Gift Card!

Best of luck!

In a bit of a departure from the norm here, rather than share a recipe with you, I'd like to share an experience and ask for your help.

The "headline" for this post is

Joyeux Noel

As you know, this is French for Merry Christmas. No, I'm not starting my cookie baking early ;-) But I am celebrating.

After being married for ::ahem:: years, gift-giving becomes difficult. What do you give your spouse during traditional celebrations that you haven't already given a hundred times? My husband put it succinctly when he told me: "You're so hard to buy for because you're not much of a flower or jewelry girl. You're a food girl." He's totally right. Take me out for a stellar dinner, and I'm in heaven. I love going out. And although the food is a major consideration, it's all about the experience.

So, for Christmas 2008 we decided to forgo the same-old, same-old, and decided that our gift to one another would be to try out a *new* restaurant every month. We have our favorites, of course (stories for another time), but we intended to stretch ourselves and seek out places we never knew existed. We alternate months and my husband picked his six choices right at the start. I decided to choose my six one at a time. This has been loads of fun! Every month we find ourselves at a brand new restaurant, clinking our glasses together and wishing each other a Merry Christmas.

This past Saturday, August 15th, was my month and after seeing Julie and Julia during the week, I was inspired to seek out French cuisine.

Marche restaurant is on Randolph Street in an area of Chicago known as the West Loop. Back when I was going to college in Chicago, I would have taken great pains to avoid this area but now I can't wait to get back there to try out some of the other nifty places I spotted. The neighborhood is vibrant, exciting, and up-and-coming, helped in no small part, I'm sure, by the presence of Oprah's Harpo studios, just a few steps away.

This is the view looking east on Randolph.

The restaurant is spacious and airy. Upside-down umbrellas (parapluie) dot the tall ceiling, while masks, mirrors, and Harlequin characters decorate the walls. The tables are on several different levels and the service is cheerful and attentive. But wow - the food. We split two appetizers: their "beautiful soup of the day," a tomato-gorgonzola-olive oil-basil-chive concoction which took my breath away; and a Voul-au-vent des Champignons - a puff pastry with mushrooms. "What is that flavor?" I kept asking my husband. We tried to decide which of the two we liked better, but could not. This was *exquisite* food.

Next came the entrees. Having just seen Julie and Julia, I'd intended to order Boeuf Borguignone, but alas it wasn't on the menu. I opted for Coq au Vin. The chicken was very good (maybe a tad dry), but my husband's Braised pork shoulder over cabbage was beyond description. I wish I would have ordered that. Maybe next time ;-)

For dessert we shared a chocolate trio (flourless chocolate cake, orange ice cream in a crispy chocolate shell, and chocolate-raspberry mousse) and decided that -- clearly -- of the 8 restaurants we've visited so far this year, Marche is our new favorite.

That's me after dinner, taking my leftover Coq au Vin home. There was nothing left of anything else ;-)

See that contented look on my face? It masks the determination I'm now experiencing in my desire to recreate the tomato bisque and the mushroom appetizers at home.

Here's where I need your help.

I'll bet many of you out there have made one or both of these appetizers. If you have, and if you know of similar recipes, please, please share! I can tell from all the great comments and e-mails we receive that we have an amazing group of foodies out there and I hope to draw on this vast collection of knowledge.

Sure I can call the restaurant and ask. But isn't this way more fun?

I plan to start experimenting soon -- any and all help will be appreciated. If you like, leave a comment below to direct me to a link (this will enter you in our contest, natch), or just e-mail me directly at JulieHyzy (at) AOL (dot) com or via my website www.juliehyzy.com

Thanks so much!!


Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mystery series features State of the Onion, Hail to the Chef, and Eggsecutive Orders (coming in January). All from Berkley Prime Crime.

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  1. Ok, Julie, I now know where we're eating next time we're in Chicago - we live a couple of hours out. Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe for either appetizer, but boy do they sound great!

  2. I'm going to be waiting eagerly to hear some reader recipes! I haven't prepared either one and would love to.

    Your Christmas present idea is genius! We may have to emulate that one...


  3. Hi Shel, You won't be disappointed! I can't wait to go back and sample other appetizers and entrees (I'm nuts about appetizers!).

    Elizabeth - This has been one of the best gifts we've ever come up with. We've already planned to start up again next year. I can't recommend it enough.


  4. Any chance the mushrooms were flavored with cognac? That's a fairly traditional flavor in a dish like that.... But your meal sounds totally divine!

  5. The mushroom appetizer sounds like something I had at a restaurant called La Serre, in Sherman Oaks, years ago. To die for. The restaurant has since closed, the French owners moved back to France. i agree with Jessica that cognac may have been used. Yum.

  6. Ooh, cognac. I'll have to try it! Thanks Jessica, thanks Avery, I'll bet you're both right!


  7. What a lovely dinner!!!!!
    And I agree - a nice meal out in a nice restaurant beats just about any other gift I can think of.
    dying to see a recipe for the mushroom appetizer, and I'm betting cognac is the "secret ingredient."

  8. Probably a little cream with the cognac, too, LOL!

  9. French food is always so delicious. I can't wait to hear about your experiments. And what a lovely idea for a gift!

  10. I love what your husband said - "You're a food girl-" That sounds just like Julia Child, all right! Marche looks like a really charming restaurant, J, thank you for taking us with you to your virtual French dinner.


  11. Thanks, everyone. I can't wait to try out all these new ideas (plus the one Avery/Daryl received via Facebook on my behalf. This is going to be fun!


  12. When we go to Chicago (some day) we will be sure to find Marche. It all sounded wonderful.
    I looked through my cookbooks, but the only thing I could find was a mention of combining mushrooms and grated parmesan cheese as a filling for puff pastry appetizers. No recipe though, except for the voul-au-vents pastry.
    The meal sounded great. I want that dessert.

  13. Love the dinner-a-month idea. We tend to avoid restaurants on dates as my husband travels a lot and eats out way to much. Plus he's pretty easy to please when it comes to a home-cooked meal.

    Planning to see Julie&Julia this weekend. And sorry, not much help with the recipes. I'm a dessert baking mostly. Just ask my roll-around-the-middle!