Every Fall we say thanks to San Diego Zoo members by treating them to a gourmet three-course meal at Albert’s Restaurant for a very affordable price. And if you think affordable means lower quality—think again. After indulging in last Saturday night’s dinner, it’s apparent that, unlike profit margin, quality is one thing Executive Chef Chris Mirguet and Manager Mark Freisinger are not willing to compromise.
After being seated a few minutes before our reservation time, my brother Andrew and I were promptly presented with menus and given the option to select from a bevy of items to build our own three-course meal. There was also an optional wine pairing with each course for an additional fee, which we opted-in for to get the full experience.
For the appetizer, I went with the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese with White Truffle Oil paired with 2008 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, and my brother went with the classic French Onion Soup paired with 2008 St. Francis Chardonnay. I’m not one to go nuts over lobster, but after the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, I was preaching the gospel of lobster for days. It was tender but still retained its firmness without the undesirable “popping” sensation associated with low-quality shellfish. The slightly sweet, floral Riesling cut into the buttery, salty mac and cheese nicely with a “citrusy” finish. Andrew finished his soup in about 30 seconds flat before remarking that it was probably the best French Onion Soup he’s ever had. Enough said.
With our taste buds on high alert, it was time for the entrée. Of the four options, I chose the Trout en Papillote, which consisted of fresh river trout with braised spinach, Pernod (a French liqueur) and pine nuts served in a parchment paper pouch, paired with 2007 Toasted Head Viognier. The parchment paper pouch (hence, “en papillote”) allowed the trout to steam in the oven and soak up the butter, spices, Pernod, spinach juice, and its own juice. The server cut open the pouch to reveal one of the most beautiful cuts of fish I’ve ever seen. It was so tender I could have spread it on bread.
As much as I was raving about the trout, my borderline vegetarian brother couldn’t shut up about the Beef Bourguignon paired with 2007 Raymond Sommelier Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. He was hyping it so much that I had to steal a few bites, and I’m glad I did. It was absolutely the star of the show. The savory, “oniony” notes, root vegetables, and fresh pasta with red wine sauce harmonized beautifully to dilute the poignant bite of the braised beef. The result was pure gustatory bliss.
For dessert I ordered the Apple Cranberry Tart with Caramel Sauce paired with 2007 Bonterra Muscat, and Andrew ordered the White Chocolate Pumpkin Tart with Candy Corn Syrup paired with 2008 White Oak Dessert Wine, both solid endings to our already decadent meals. And for the record, candy corn syrup is one of the coolest ideas ever.
The meal was straight-up traditional French cuisine with no frills—but it was executed well. In a contemporary culinary scene rife with deconstructionism and hybridization, Chef Chris and team prove that simple is sometimes better. “Not a lot of people in San Diego can pull off French, but it’s just what we do.” With a satisfied belly full of simple, yet brilliantly executed traditional French cuisine, I had to agree with Chris. It’s just what they do.
Check out the rest of the food eye candy on flickr.
Matt Steele is the social media planner for the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Albert’s Brewmaster Dinner with Ballast Point Brewing Co.