It’s a beautiful sunny day in Laguna and we’re going to have lunch with the youngest chef in France to receive two stars from the Michelin guide "” no, not at the Montage but at the Beachcomber in Crystal Cove.
At first this may seem unlikely, but restaurateur (chief executive and founder of Ruby’s and the Beachcomber) Doug Cavannaugh is a Francophile and during his travels in France met Edouard Loubet at his restaurant in Provence. Cavannaugh was totally charmed by this young chef’s infectious hospitality and amazing food. Returning, a few years later, a friendship developed and now Loubet and his lovely wife, Isabelle, have come here for a taste of Southern California.
Sitting on the patio, overlooking the sparkling surf on the first warm day in several weeks, we found ourselves in the company of the other invited guests and we all enjoyed a series of courses prepared by Loubet and Chef Jon Gibson of the Beachcomber.
Fortunately, you will be able to taste two of these, one from each chef, when they appear on the Beachcomber’s menu.
What you won’t be able to taste is the giant 4-inch round black truffle that came from France with the Loubets in their luggage. The region where their restaurants and inns are (the Luberon) is the most famous area for the hunting of this “black diamond."
The truffle was passed around the table to be sniffed, and the heady aroma was redolent of dark forests and rich earth. It was then shaved into razor-thin slices, which were used to garnish some superb slow-cooked scrambled eggs that had been stuffed into crispy mini-tortillas made from fried wonton skins, which the chef discovered in the Beachcomber’s kitchen. Voila, fusion cuisine!
It is hard to describe how wonderful a marriage this was, both of flavor and texture. Another incarnation of this dish, with truffle oil instead of the divine truffle, will be offered on the menu during the month of June.
The Loubets are from the French Alps and learned to cook with the herbs and plants that grow on the mountains. When they moved, they chose the Luberon because it had both Alpine and Provencal climates.
Edouard’s personal style is formed by this heritage, based on the use of seasonal plants and especially herbs. He cooks with about 100 different varieties of local seasonal herbs.
The personable Isabelle served us a unique and delightful aperitif made from an infusion of fresh thyme and as she said in her charming French accent, “just a small slice of gin." It was served in a martini glass with a stalk of thyme for garnish.
“We call it Provencal iced tea and serve it only when the weather is very hot."
They had just come from snow up to their knees and Edouard said, “We are very happy to be here in the summer."
It was difficult to say who was the most charming of this effusive, affable and handsome twosome.
Herbs starred again in a green soup. Served in a small juice glass, with chopped thyme, mint, sage and rosemary, the herbs permeated a concoction of milk, vinegar and white wine. It was not like anything we had ever tasted before but would definitely like to taste again. The soup had a creamy tartness with a subtle background from the herbal mÃ©lange.
Once again employing the nouvelle taco shells, Edouard Loubet filled them with slow cooked beef that had been long simmered in a red wine reduction with cilantro, topped the tacos with fresh cilantro and tiny pearl white mushrooms and drizzled with jalapeÃ±o mayonnaise for a finishing kick.
Gibson prepared the next two dishes. He hails from Mobile, Ala., and he has created a dish called Nana’s Crab Cakes from his grandmother’s original recipe. These nicely spiced cakes will appear on the Beachcomber menu starting in early May.
Gibson "” not having the opportunity to go truffle hunting around Laguna and finding the $1,000-a-kilo price a bit steep "” served up his signature mac ‘n’ cheese with truffle oil and mushrooms in a very rich cheese sauce. Don’t order this dish for your kids; it’s just too good, unless you are raising little foodies.
Dessert was light, just a bite really, compliments of Edouard Loubet who was pleased with our raspberries and put two of them on a little skewer with a piece of very sweet melon and fresh mint and rosemary. The idea was to pop the whole thing into your mouth at once. Even you can cook like a French chef by making this simple palate cleanser.
The Loubets were here for a week, and Cavannaugh planned a number of culinary adventures for them. That evening, for example, they were going Mexican, beginning with a drink at Javiers for the view and the architecture, then on to Taco Loco and La Sirena Grill for the quintessential Southern California taco.
Their plans for L.A. include meeting and eating with Wolfgang Puck and dining at the Water Grill. That Saturday night Edouard Loubet was to prepare a wine dinner at the Beachcomber on the Malibu pier, with pairings from Malibu’s Rosenthal winery.
If you are fortunate enough to be going to Provence this summer and will be near Bonnieux, you can stop for a meal at the two-star Restaurant Edouard Loubet, which is in La Bastide de Capelongue, his small hotel.
Even better "” spend a few nights in this old, refurbished country house and take a cooking lesson taught by the chef himself, using vegetables and herbs from his organic garden. For more information check out capelongue.com.
If this is not your year for traveling, take a trip down to the Beachcomber and enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in one of the prettiest spots this side of the Luberon.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.