Nothing celebrates the coming of spring like the utilitarian, humble egg. For many civilizations, the egg symbolizes and celebrates power, life, fertility and renewal.
At the Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes both new life and sacrifice. The early Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year's celebration falling on the spring equinox. This tradition continues to this day.
Many traditions have formed around the Easter egg. In Europe, an egg was hung on a New Year's tree, the Maypole, and on St. John's trees in midsummer-- a symbol of the healing forces of nature. It was later believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, if kept for a 100 years, would have their yolks turn to diamonds. If Good Friday eggs were cooked on Easter they would promote the fertility of the trees and crops and protect against death. And, if you would find two yolks in an Easter egg, this was a sign you were going to be rich.
As an ingredient, you would be hard pressed to find a kitchen that doesn't have a few dozen eggs handy. And it certainly would be tough to create a soufflé without cracking a few eggs. As we enter the first days of spring, we pause to praise the egg in a Toque to Toque challenge: Scramble of the Soufflés.
The first recorded nod to the soufflé can be found in Vincent la Chapelle's Le Cuisinier Moderne, written in 1742.La Chapelle recounts a combination of egg whites beaten into submissive soft peaks with the addition of a sweet or savory base in the form of a puree or sauce. Slowly baked, the dish then rises and forms the proper soufflé.The soufflé remains decidedly French, which is why we looked at two excellent examples of French cuisine in Dallas for our Toque challenge.
Rise No. 1 bills itself as a salon de soufflé and a wine bistro. Scanning the menu, you will detect that chef Cherif Brahmi has an imaginative flair with the soufflé, separating them into savory and sweet categories. You can still order a simple steak, or one of a few choices of composed salads, but make no mistake Rise is all about soufflés.
"You would be surprised to hear how many soufflés we actually do make," beamed one of Rise's partners, Hedda Dowd, on my recent visit. "The soufflé's we offer are heart healthy, most under 300 calories without adding sauces."
On this visit I was in good company. Seems Rise has the presidential seal of approval. Sitting across from us were George and Laura, protected of course, by a Secret Service gentleman bearing arms and a small mic. Figured it was the wiser course to dispense with any photos and stay out of police custody.
As for the soufflés, I tried both a sweet and savory, concentrating on the chocolate soufflé, which needs to be ordered early because it takes time to prepare. Polishing off our mushroom soufflé first, my companions and I were then presented with a powdered sugar dusted chocolate treat that was accompanied by a very sweet sauce. I usually forego such intense sweetness, but what's the point of a chocolate soufflé without chocolate sauce--right Mr. President.
The soufflé itself had a light crust that, when encroached, presented a slight snap followed by wisps of steamy sweetness as the sides of the soufflé began to give way and erode across the ramekin. The words light and airy are often used to describe a perfect soufflé, and our example this particular evening was just that: light, airy and perfect.
Our next stop in the challenge was Lavendou Bistro Provencal. Lavendou has a reputation for being a local favorite. I was able to chat up owner Pascal Cayet at the recent Savor Dallas event, where he was on hand to administer his Lobster Bisque and an amiable Escargot en Croute.
"I love the soufflé, it is in the heart of French cooking and our guests rarely leave without sampling a chocolate soufflé," boasted Pascal.
Sounds like somebody had thrown down the gauntlet.
Lavendou is located in far North Dallas. Here they serve southern French cuisine dispensed like Chiclets to the hungry masses. I made way to the bar for a quick after-work snack and a few glasses of Cabernet to shake the dust off the day. I ordered the fantastic saffron laced mussels that later cried out for a sweet relief in the form of a delicious soufflé, and another glass of Cab.
The soufflé didn't take all that long to make and was presented with the customary chocolate sauce, and an incredible batch of fresh whipped cream. The cream was thick and inviting, the sauce was thinner than that of Rise, and a bit less cloying.
Spreading the soufflé, the obligatory steam and delicateness revealed itself. There was a less pronounced crust in this version, but some outer crispness due to what seemed a sprinkling of light sugar. The flavor was not as intense; in fact the dessert lacked much in the way of chocolate. Perhaps a lesser amount and quality of chocolate was used, or so it seemed.
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Texturally the Lavendou soufflé was perfect; I just feel that it needed a better base.
Sometimes I go into these challenges with a preconceived notion of the outcome, but each time I do, I'm mistaken. These were two wonderful examples of soufflés with incredible technique, but there can be only one winner. For the quality flavor, a whimsical atmosphere, and an all around perfection, this weeks Toque Soufflé Scramble winner is Rise.
And for those that might ask, Dubya enjoyed a steak.
Rise No. 1
5360 West Lovers Lane
19009 Preston Road Suite #200