Monday, September 11, 2006

Behind the Curtain: A Restaurant Opening

My fabulous mom recently had the opportunity to dine at a soon-to-open restaurant for a test-run. I thought it was an intriguing look into the obsessive attention that goes into every detail of the dining experience. Here's her report on Lola, in La Crosse, WI:

mushroom tart on bed of sauteed leeks

The menu trial Wednesday night in La Crosse at the soon-to- open "Lola" was a real treat. I was invited by Janet, sister of the owner, ostensibly to try a couple of wines they were considering for the house, and maybe have an appetizer or two.

We did try one wine they are considering for the house red (Fourteen Hands Cab) and had truly melt- in your -mouth scallops w/ a very nice soy-based sauce as we chatted at the bar. Soon, however, we were invited into the newly decorated dining room and began with the first of five courses, each more wonderful than the last. We started with a salad of greens, beets and pears. My favorite course was a mushroom tart, flavored with red wine and served on a bed of sautéed leeks. The entree consisted of extra-large shrimp, golden battered and lightly fried, served with a caramelized orange sauce. Roasted vegetables on pesto, and a tomato bisque were also perfectly prepared. Each course was accompanied by a different white wine; none I recognized, all I enjoyed. A light Riesling (not at all sweet) several Sav Blancs (compared head to head) and one white Burgundy.

The service was also on trial. For seven of us dining, there were four wait staff. They were designing a service plan, and it was a lot like watching a dance develop. Silver was placed with the course. Plates were all placed in unison; delivered from the left, removed from the right (or was it the other way 'round?) Should the sommelier kneel (so as to be eye- to-eye and talk more directly with the head of the table) or should he stand, to show his confidence, wisdom, etc. I thought the service was great, because I didn't notice it much.

creamy tomato bisque

We all tried a much as possible to mimic a real table on a real night, tho' there was spontaneous evaluation. "The crust on the tart is a bit too thick." "Yes, but it is really flaky and light." "There really needs to be some bread (What kind?) with the bisque."

We talked a lot about the wines. Will La Crosse support a fixed-price menu with accompanying wine courses? Should wines be paired with food on the menu (the thought at this point is "no"). Which Sav Blanc did we like the best and why? How much should a glass cost? No other restaurant in this area has a strong wine program (except Olive Garden and we all agreed we refused to count that), but several wine shops and one very nice wine bar have popped up in the last year and that was seen as a lead-in.

All in all a very pleasant evening. I look forward to the opening, and want to try to make several of the dishes myself.

1 comment:

KT said...

Very interesting story ... thanks to your mom for that. It makes want to get invited to a restaurant pre-opening.

In fact, it makes me want to have that for my job! I have many years of restaurant-going experience to draw upon. ;)