June 8, 2012
First Bite: The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead Lands a French Chef with Finesse
Franck-o-philes Unite! Chef Franck Steigerwald brings French Flair & Sublime Sophistication to the Table
- Photos by BenRosePhotography.com
Will the Bordeaux-born chef usher in a new era of Gallic gourmet dining in Atlanta? We wouldn’t bet against this talented toque and his warm lobster salad and impeccable, seared sea bass
French food, once the acme of fine dining, may have been eclipsed in recent years by the rustic Italian trend, gastropub grub, farm-to-table fare, New Southern, and most recently, New Nordic food fads, but we’re banking that Gallic cuisine is headed for a comeback. And what better place to start than with a seasoned French chef in the executive seat at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead?
Don’t let Executive Chef Franck Steigerwald’s Germanic name fool you. This chef is very much a product of the French Bordeaux region, where he was born and raised (assumingly with a healthy appreciation for wine), while his culinary skills were polished off at several Michelin-star restaurants in Paris. His U.S. resume is just as pedigreed with The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Florida, property; the five-star Maestro in the D.C. area; and, most recently, The St. Regis New York on his C.V.
A recent, six-course private tasting of Chef Franck’s dishes at The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead more than underscored his culinary sophistication. If the preview dinner is any indication, Atlantans are in for a treat in a town that has a deficit of fine French cooking. Another revelation: though he was not born on the coast, this French chef has a real knack for treating seafood. I guess it shouldn’t surprise that French-trained chefs are as handy with fish as a côte de boeuf. To wit, the very French chef Eric Ripert, who made his reputation with seafood at one of US’s top-rated dining palaces Le Bernardin in New York City. So this may be our down-home version of that experience. Chef Franck’s roasted rack of lamb with celeriac mousseline, wild mushrooms, red wine, sauternes sauce was divine, to be sure, but what struck an even deeper chord was the impeccable, seared Mediterranean sea bass with a Provencal-inspired tomato compote, fresh basil, shaved fennel and lemon verbena sauce. The fish was perfection, with an impossibly crisped crust and such delicate flesh beneath.
But let’s back up a bit because Chef Franck had us with his salad course. He recounted how a famed chef had once told him that the true measure of a great chef is his ability to pull off a great salad. And so Steigwald pulled off the salad challenge with aplomb. Albeit, this was no ordinary salad, but a lush affair with warm, butter-poached lobster, organic petite lettuces, beurre blanc and fresh herbs, including a very defined taste of tarragon. So divine is this recipe, that if it does not become a regular menu item, I will weep in my glass of Domaine Des Merguets Bourgogne Blanc--the wine that was expertly paired with this course by the Ritz’s in-house sommelier/wine prodigy Linda Torres Alarcon.
Seafood was featured prominently in two other dishes: an amuse bouche of sea bass tartare and a potato gnocchi with saffron broth, mussels, clams and Georgia prawns--the latter dish redolent of the sea and that rich, prized yellow spice. The gnocchi also came with the most daring wine pairing of the night: a honeyed and bold (“to stand up to the saffron,” says Alarcon) 2004 Andre Scherer Gewurztraminer from Alsace. Another favorite pour: a rustic, raisiny 1999 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape that accompanied the lamb-on-the bone, cooked sous vide style for extra tenderness.
For dessert, bien sûr, a French chocolate and peppermint soufflé with mint sorbet on the side. This was paired with an aperitif of ruby port, lime, mint syrup and Pechaud’s Bitters. Did we mention that there was also an amuse bouche dessert? The petite sweet was a version of Chef Franck’s famous pineapple Baba au Rhum served with a spicy rum cocktail.
At the conclusion of the refined meal, Atlanta’s new Gallic chef received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Postscript: Atlantans will have even more to cheer this September when The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead unveils several refreshed public spaces, including a stunning new grand ballroom décor in a platinum silver and periwinkle palette with loads of glamorous crystal light fixtures. The space will have just the right sophisticated sheen to match Chef Franck’s exquisite French dishes.
SEE SLIDESHOW AT BOTTOM OF PAGE FOR MORE IMAGES OF THE EXCLUSIVE DINNER PARTY
Amuse Bouche: Sea Bass Tartare
Vranken, Champagne “La Demoiselle,” Brut Rosé, Grandee Cuvée
Warm lobster with organic petite lettuce, beurre blanc, fresh herbs
2008 Domaine Des Meurgets, Savigny-Les-Beaune, Bourgogne Blanc
Potato gnocchi with saffron broth, mussels, clams, Georgia prawns
2004 Andre Scherer, Gewurztraminer, Alsace
Seared Mediterranean sea bass with tomato compote, fresh basil, shaved fennel, lemon verbena sauce
2009 Jean-Paul Droin, Chablis “Le Clos,” Grand Cru
Roasted rack of lamb with celeriac mousseline, wild mushrooms, red wine, sauternes sauce
1999 Chateau Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Amuse Bouche Dessert: Pineappple Baba au Rhum
Chocolate and peppermint soufflé
Cocktail de Cuisine