May 2004
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Day May 14, 2004

My brother in a World Series of Poker tournament

Fun link — my brother Scott recently played in a no-limit Hold ‘Em event in the World Series of Poker, and wrote about his experiences playing against the pros. He’s a good player, and hopefully on his way to semi-pro status. Growing up, when he regularly took all our money in family poker games, I always knew he was destined to be a card sharp…

Dinner at Petrus

Since I’m headed back to the U.S. tomorrow after a week of business, I had one last meal in London. The rest of my team was otherwise engaged (or on a plane), so I dined solo. Surprisingly, I was able to book an early table at Petrus in the Berkeley Hotel, Hyde’s Park Corner.

For about the first half-hour I was the only diner in the restaurant, which has about 20 tables. Service was exquisite, on the classical model with about 15 staff circulating constantly, handling every small detail. After a glass of Laurent-Perrier rose champagne, I was served canapes. These consisted of four small items — chicken liver mousse on puff pastry, crisps with anchovy and tomato puree baked inside, fried parmesan cheese balls with truffle oil, and a whipped fish mousse with chips of truffle.

The wine list was pretty amazing (thus far I hadn’t really been impressed with restaurant wine lists in London), although most of the wines I recognized, or regularly collect, were steeply priced. Since I was alone, I settled on a half bottle of AOC Gevrey-Chambertin, from the Humbert Freres. Good, but nothing special.

Around this time, the amuse bouche was served — a vodka glass of gazpacho blended with chunks of mango and pineapple. Incredible.

My first course was the nightly special — braised oxtail ravioli on a bed of caramelized onions and pickles (actual thinly sliced pickles), surrounded with oxtail reduction. This was a lovely dish, and went well with the Burgundy. It was large, however, so I was starting to feel a bit full. At this point, I was quite glad I’d rejected the six course tasting menu.

The main dish was “tournedos” of Poulet de Bresse stuffed with rosemary and thyme, served with a light cream reduction sauce (with a hint of vinegar, I think), and cubes of root vegetable and foie gras. This was truly superb. Essentially, the dish was a ballotine of the chicken mixed with the herbs, browned after being poached (I suspect), and sliced to resemble “tournedos.” Brilliant.

By the end of the main course I was hoping I could end things gracefully, being completely stuffed. Indeed, I walked around the Hotel Berkeley a bit before the next onslaught. Starting off the next round was the “pre-dessert” (I’m not kidding). A small glass dish held a rhubarb compote topped with a lemon creme and nuts. This was served with beignets, piping hot from the oven, and fresh lemon curd for dipping.

Naturally, I’d already ordered “dessert” before they tricked me into “pre-dessert”, after playing hard-to-get with the staffer who ran the cheese cart (four feet of different cheeses, several dozen in all). The “main” dessert was a light vacherin of strawberry sorbet laced with a light (vanilla?) ice, topped with strawberry slices and bolstered for structural integrity by bars of meringue. This was served with a glass of 1999 Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos. A lovely wine and good combination.

At this point I’m quite full and happy, and thinking of a way to get out of seeing the “Bon-Bon Cart.” This post-dessert menace has been lurking in the corner for the entire meal, taunting me in my peripheral vision. Ultimately, for “post-dessert” I was talked into a chocolate dipped sablet, and before she left the table, the staffer slipped a piece of fudge brittle onto the plate. Have I mentioned the staff is pure evil?

Over coffee, hoping to contemplate the bill in all of its exchange-rate glory, I was overwhelmed by the post-post-dessert, a dish of freshly baked madeleines. And as if this wasn’t enough, I had to fend off the “Bon-Bon Cart” staffer who drifted by to see if I was ready for “something else.” Something else? Perhaps a defibrillator? If you’re keeping count, that’s 4 dessert courses, not including the “something else” I managed to fend off, or the brave (or stout) souls who include a go at the cheese cart.

The meal was incredible. It ranks among the great restaurant experiences, in my view. I’m sure London has other, comparable experiences, but Marcus Wareing’s newly constituted Petrus in Knightsbridge is simply brilliant.

Amazing…

The “war on terror” keeps producing some amazing news. Like this item, from the current issue of U.S. News and World Report:

It was the lead item on the government’s daily threat matrix one day last April. Don Emilio Fulci described by an FBI tipster as a reclusive but evil millionaire, had formed a terrorist group that was planning chemical attacks against London and Washington, D.C. That day even FBI director Robert Mueller was briefed on the Fulci matter. But as the day went on without incident, a White House staffer had a brainstorm: He Googled Fulci. His findings: Fulci is the crime boss in the popular video game Headhunter. “Stand down,” came the order from embarrassed national security types.

Wow. I don’t even know what to say.