Imagine that you’re in a country that you don’t know well, and in a city that you know even less, where they speak a language that you don’t understand any better than your dog understands your random musings. Imagine that someone invites you home to dinner. An eight course dinner. Imagine that you accept.
Last night, because they asked and we accepted, we dined chez Heinz and Christine. You met them for the first time here, which is when we also met them for the first time, and which is when I told you that next time it would be Heinz’s turn to cook. I didn’t really know then if there would be a next time, but I definitely knew he could cook. I knew he’d won big cooking contests, but that knowledge was abstract. No longer.
As we sat around a candle-filled coffee table and sorted out the fact that Christine doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak German, Heinz served us an excellent Champagne and a delightful little bite of foie gras. “Okay,” I thought, “that was very nice,” but at that moment I was more intent on trying to dredge up the remains of my single year of high school German than on the meal that might follow. Christine was similarly trying to resurrect her school girl English, but unlike me she knew what lay ahead. In her case, it was dishes, tons of dishes, a whole evening of doing dishes so that we might indeed have an eight course dinner in a state of stunned culinary nirvana.
So let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Heinz served this trio as an amuse bouche, although it could well have been the meal itself. Slices of rosy venison cooked sous vide, little meatballs called frikadellar served with tiny shrimp-like creatures and beets, and lamb in a coffee crust accompanied by potatoes and apples. The lamb was actually a little joke for me, since it was the first recipe Heinz shared with me many years ago, and when I tried it myself I used so much coffee that I couldn’t sleep for a day and a half afterwards. I had no trouble at all sleeping last night, and I think I was dreaming of that lamb at least part of the night.
The soft intimate lighting didn’t do justice to the beauty of the plates, but next came a delightful paté of guinea hen with a heart of foie gras, paired with figs stuffed with fig chutney. And you know what? I’m not going to enthuse about every dish as I present it, because there just aren’t enough food-related adjectives in the English language and there are only so many times that I can reasonably expect you to read “beautiful, fabulous, delicious” and so on. So, are we agreed? For the moment, it’ll be just the facts.
Next was one of the big surprises of the evening, a pea and peppermint soup with little crayfish swimming under the velvety green blanket. I’ll admit that it sounds rather peculiar as a combination, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the recipe and make it again myself.
Then came an adorable little cheese cannelloni, wrapped in a homemade dough and served on a bed of tiny vegetables with a sprinkle of toasted polenta,
followed by a sweet little bite of quail resting in its nest of salsify purée. By this point we were starting to doubt the wisdom of having eaten lunch before this dinner.
Then came dorade on a bed of fennel, with purées of celery root and purple carrot. And now we were definitely regretting lunch, and even heretically discussed whether we should just skip the next course. Reason, fortunately, prevailed, and we forged boldly ahead.
Venison with a little stuffed cabbage roll and beet purée were the reward for our perseverance. One bite and we knew we’d made the right choice.
And finally, a light yogurt mousse with berries and berry coulis managed to fit itself snugly into any tiny spaces left in our rounded bellies.
And of course there was a wine for each course, each one perfectly chosen to highlight Heinz’s remarkable cooking. I don’t often say things like this, but I have to be honest with you. Heinz is a WAY better cook than I am. Hands down, flat out, he can cook circles around most of us and barely break a sweat.
The warm hospitality, the unexpected pleasure of feeling at home in a strange country, the often hilarious conversation carried out in a cobbled together language, all of those were beyond wonderful. But what I can’t get over is the sheer unmitigated expertise of the cooking, done with love, in a small home kitchen, just for us.
And I’m definitely going to take you back to Strasbourg very soon, but this dinner was too good to let get cold.