Aug 15, 2013

La Serre, Not Just a Modern French Bistro..... a Lifestyle!

I am at a loss for words on where to begin this post.  The experience I had at *La Serre located in downtown Dubai at the new and improved Vida (formerly Qamardeen) hotel last week went way beyond my culinary expectations. Izu Ani, the executive chef and owner of this restaurant concept is one of the most hard working and creative individuals I have ever met. He has brought forward a new standard for food and beverage in this city, and plans to keep out doing himself every opportunity he gets. 

 *The meaning of the word La Serre is taken from the 12th century Medieval Latin word communia: a large gathering of people sharing a common life.
 Izu has been trained in classic French cuisine but does so with a touch of modern elegance.  It's apparent when you step foot into this 2 story Bistro//Bar/Boulangerie/Cafe concept. He puts his stamp on everything he can get his hands on, and really takes pride with his current endeavor, a partnership he has ventured on with Dubai real estate giants Emaar.  Although I see many parallels between La Serre and his former employer, La Petite Maison, Izu says that after 25 years of experience in the industry, Mediterranean/French Niciose cuisine is his passion and signature trademark.

To begin the evening we were presented with these farm fresh carrots, a wedge of lemon and sea salt.  A simple and refreshing way to start a meal.  As we nibbled and perused the menu, there were far too many dishes to choose from.  Each menu item was better than the next, with ingredients that had been imported from the best resources across the globe.  Although it's  not necessarily environmentally friendly or sustainable, the commitment to providing a top notch meal was all that mattered here. 

On this particular evening, my guests and I ate to our hearts content.  Each menu item delivered on its promise, but I have only highlighted the best of the best here (and only what I could capture on camera before everyone started digging in)
The tuna carpaccio was just at should be, lightly seared in the outside with an almost smokey essence and beautifully rare all throughout the inside.  Seasoned to perfection with gorgeous citrus notes,  the light crunch of the pine nuts, and touch of micro greens, how could you not like this dish!
The octopus with a shaved fennel, roasted red pepper and mixed greens salad was a wonderful display of textures and freshness.  The octopus itself was tender with just the right amount of flame grilled char that complimented the sweet natural undertones of this delicious seafood item.  The pairing with the shaved fennel topped with the gremolata, allowed all the ingredients to pop, no doubt this was a popular item at the table that evening.  
Served in glass bowl submerged in ice, the elegantly presented steak tartare was topped with a lovely little crispy quail egg.  Typically I enjoy the runny raw egg yolk with my raw meat in the classic version of tartare to enhance the flavor of the ingredients and add a velvety texture.  I have to say the quality of the hand cut tenderloin (showing plenty of marbling) with capers and onions that really packed a punch was enough to prove this dish was worthy of standing against the original. 
Served on a crispy flat bread, this simple onion tart with creme fraiche and sliced cherry tomatoes was really the easiest dish to enjoy.  Cut into pizza like triangles, nobody shied away from using their hands and tucking into this treat at this upscale restaurant, even if it was a fine dining faux pas.  The dollops of rich creme fraiche  sweet cherry tomatoes evenly space around the round tart on top of the caramelized onions was a balance of sweet and savory fit for any palette to enjoy.
This next dish really stole the show for me and several of my guests. The octopus Provencal was beautifully presented in a cast iron skillet on top of a savory Romesco sauce.  This was our second octopus dish for the evening, which was a display of a different cooking technique as well as flavor profiles.  The octopus in both dishes was cooked perfectly,  it really depends on personal preferences of course. The Provencal style Octopus was slow poached (perhaps in olive oil) and garnished with a garden of fresh herbs and oven dried tomatoes.  The gorgeous roasted pepper sauce was so unbelievably full of flavor, I could have licked that skillet clean! Instead I ended up sopping up whatever was left over with a thick slice of bread, I guess it was the civilized thing to do:) 
Pictured below is a medley of  cauliflower,  mandarin, and almond delicately placed on top of one another with a light drizzle of olive oil and dash of salt and pepper.  This is the epitome of beauty in simplicity, with just a few ingredients this salad was able to create memories that will last a lifetime! The little mandarin segments added a touch of bright citrussy flavor against the shaved wholesome pieces of colorful cauliflower which created something very unique, and is why I fell in love with La Serre.
If there is one thing I have changed my opinion about ever since living in Dubai, it's lamb.  Often reluctantly ordered for the sake of variety has now become one of the items on my standing order at select restaurants including this one.  Whether I am making it at home or enjoying it at my favorite restaurants, it really comes down to the execution of this dish that can make or break your relationship with this particular protein.  The mini lamb cutlets at La Serre are cooked to an exact medium temperature (or whatever you prefer) and seasoned to perfection.  In fact there was nothing more it needed, just the lamb on it's own was enough to keep you coming back for more.
Under the pasta offerings was the infamous truffled rigatoni.  Althoughh we are not in peak truffle season at the moment, one of my guests insisted on ordering this delectable dish.  The cream sauce was smooth and the pasta was cooked al dente, with the thinly shaved summer truffle on top, you couldn't imagine anything tasting better than this.  I can safely put this in the Mediterranean comfort food category. It's one of those dishes that brought a smile to everyone's face upon first bite
My only complaint about these beautifully grilled tiger prawns was that there weren't enough! Two pieces per order is all you will get, so plan your meal accordingly.  The buttery herbed crumbs on top of the succulent seafood was just divine. As fresh as you can get in this city the prawn twins didn't need anything else to help them shine.
Dessert is a whole different story at La Serre, and it begin with is this Black Forest Cake.  I have not come across this classic dessert menu item too often here in the UAE, or at least anyone that does it right.  I would expect nothing less from the technically proficient team at this modern French bistro who did the Germans proud with the execution of this confectionery treat. The flaky chocolate nestled on top of the whipped cream followed by a layer of chocolate cake with sour cherry filling added just the right texture when you bit into this cake. 
The Rum Baba was next to arrive at the table along with the Tiramisu (pictured in the back).  Both were equally tasty but it's difficult to compare the two.  The Baba is a yeast cake saturated with rum and sugar topped with cream and served with a passion fruit coulis. The Tiramisu is a classic Italian dessert made with egg yolks and Masacarpone cheese, espresso, lady fingers,and cocoa.  They both stood out in their own right, so it comes down to personal preference on which you prefer.  I went with both!
It was love at first bite......that is the only way to describe the apple tarte tatin at La Serre.  The tender caramelized apples with toasted cinnamon and sugar all encased by a delicious pastry shell was heavenly and worth going back for!  In fact I did go back a couple days later just for this dessert and to my disappointment, they had run out.  I was informed by the staff to pre-order this dessert next time I come in for dinner.  I guess it's a sign that everyone appreciates the simple things in life and understands how much TLC goes into creating a culinary masterpiece. 
The entire evening we spent at La Serre was an experience we will not soon forget.  We dined like kings and queens for almost 4 hours that night and were spoiled rotten by the well trained and knowledgeable staff.  As you can see by the image below we are smiling from cheek to cheek and continued to the following day.  Izu and his team have mastered the art and execution of these French/Mediterranean classics to the tee and I look forward to my return.

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