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Friday, November 22, 2013

Ember Grille and Winebar at L'Auberge Lake Charles

Gator Bite with Spiced Bayou Rum
Gator Bite with Spiced Bayou Rum
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the southwestern Louisiana city of Lake Charles. I've driven through the city countless times before on my to Houston and back from Baton Rouge, but other than a few stops at Darrell's for a Darrell's Special poboy (one of the greatest sandwiches in the world, by the way) and a handful of says at the L'Auberge property, I had never truly experienced the culture of Lake Charles. On the night I arrived with other food and travel writers we were greeted and treated to dinner at the Ember Grille and Winebar at our host hotel of the aforementioned L'Auberge Casino and Resort. The casino-driven destination is a one-stop-shop for a weekend getaway with a gaming floor, golf course, lazy river, spa, and plenty of culinary options. The Ember Steakhouse is the finest of them all and, having eaten there once before, I knew I'd be in for a treat! Upon arrival I met Trey Litel from Louisiana Spirits in nearby Lacassine and got a taste of his Bayou Rum in a refreshing cocktail. The Gator Bite had similar qualities to rum punch but utilized the spiced Bayou Rum to give it an extra Louisiana flair. After getting the night started with the cocktail, I readied myself for the onslaught of food that was about to come.

Foie Gras with Goat Cheese Stuffed French Toast
Foie Gras with Goat Cheese Stuffed French Toast
The barrage began with a round of appetizers that highlight the menu of Ember. We started with an amuse of lobster salad on endive. To the right is seared foie gras with goat cheese stuffed French toast and bourbon maple syrup. The dish seemed like an odd pairing but it worked incredibly well as savory richness met sweet richness to form an uncommon combination of succulence that needs to be experienced. Also present in the small plates round were the lamb lollipops that have been on Ember's menu since it opened as well as butternut squash ravioli stuffed with more foie gras and shaved white truffle on top. Quail and waffles were also presented as a play on the chicken dish but with a rosemary and roasted garlic waffle, micro cilantro, and vanilla syrup. To round out the appetizers we had the dish below, a pecan smoked bacon wrapped shrimp tossed in barbecue sauce with stone ground grits and white cheddar! All of the appetizers were incredible, and most of the table started to feel full after that course, but we had to power through three more courses of gastronomic delight like the pros we are!

Pecan Smoked Bacon Wrapped Shrimp over White Cheddar Stone Ground Grits
Pecan Smoked Bacon Wrapped Shrimp over White Cheddar Stone Ground Grits

A Trio of the House's Most Popular Salads
A Trio of the House's Most Popular Salads
To lighten things up our next course had a trio of the house's most popular salads. Starting on the left we enjoyed the mixed greens with Granny Smith apples and balsamic vinaigrette. Next up came a tuna tartare with avocado and cucumber carpaccio. Finally the Maytag blue cheese wedge with bacon crumbles filled the last spot. All three tasting portions were spot on with flavor profiles and pairings. I'd love to eat more salad courses like this!

After the salad my phone died and I had to put it on a charger for the next couple of courses. Needless to say, I didn't get many more pictures of the meal, but such is life! We had several main courses come out of the kitchen and on to our table. A piece of halibut accompanied by a porcini mushroom, port, and sherry reduction produced a lovely seafood option. I've loved halibut ever since I went fishing in Alaska in 2010! We also had a smoked rabbit loin
stuffed with panchetta over mashed potatoes. It packed a punch of flavor with the smokiness and tenderness of the rabbit. A couple side items came out as well like truffle mac and cheese and grilled asparagus. But the real highlight of the meal was a 40oz prime tomahawk ribeye, partially seen in the picture of me gnawing at the bone below. The gorgeous steak had a succulent flavor with superb marbling as it was cooked to a beautiful medium rare temperature. Thanks to Kerry Anderson at L'Auberge for snapping the photo!

Jay Gnaws on the Tomahawk Ribeye
Jay Gnaws on the Tomahawk Ribeye

Desserts by Chef Bill Foltz
As we moved to dessert I got my phone off the charger and was able to get a few more pictures. "Screw a trio," must have been the thoughts of pastry chef Bill Foltz as he came out with four tastings of signature desserts at L'Auberge. This guy has won serious pastry contests before, so I was pretty excited to eat his desserts which most definitely did not disappoint. On the left is the Key West, a key lime custard whipped cream with pound cake and mango. A little taste of the tropics, I could have eaten much more of that, but alas I just had to move on to the chocolate skillet cake with cream and caramel that sat to the right. Following that dish of gluttony came my favorite of the dessert options because of its originality, a citrus cheese cake mousse with pistachio twill and cherry sauce. The temperatures and textures all played off each other for a tremendous burst of flavor. Finally we had a creme brulee torched on the table.

The entire meal may have put me in a food coma, but all I had to do afterwards was sleep then wake up and eat again all day. I'll have more of that to come because the following day included dining around Lake Charles complete with a horse and carriage ride, a Mardi Gras museum, and much more!

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