For a year before our wedding, Sky and I took Argentine tango lessons. After many group classes and a few private sessions to choreograph our moves we had a pretty sexy dance to do.There we are.
Tango was Thursday night. It was down the street from what was already in our top 3 but thanks to those tango lessons became our favorite restaurant in LA: the inimitable Lucques. Named after a delectable olive. I am not alone in my devotion---2 years or so ago it was named the best restaurant in LA; Suzanne Goin is the winner of pretty much every culinary accolade out there; and unlike many restaurants that are packed for a couple seasons and then peter out this one is bustling with gorgeous people whether you're there on Monday or Saturday, in January or June, at 6:00 or 11. Sky and I would leave tango, sometimes in blissful pride of how good we were getting, sometimes in a bit of a snit because he didn't think I let him lead, and I thought he wasn't holding my back right, and we would head to Lucques. Since tango got out fairly late, when we arrived they were serving their late night menu. Remember, though, that this is LA. So during the week late night means 9:00 and on the weekends it means 10. Don't laugh New Yorkers, please. We know.
Many years ago Nancy Silverton of Campanile and Mozza fame (not to mention the La Brea Bakery empire) created Grilled Cheese night at Campanile. I think it's still going on Thursday nights. I used to hostess at Campanile, and people would pack in for unheard of combinations on La Brea bakery bread with usually gruyere but sometimes not and red wine by the bucket. That was the first time I'd ever heard of grilled cheese being anything other than something I'd make in a pan at home in 5 minutes that's more kid food than anything. I have no idea if Nancy pioneered this idea, or if someone fabulous in Italy was doing it first, but it definitely changed the way I saw the potential of bread, cheese, a hot pan, and a lot of butter. So when I see grilled cheese on menus now I take a closer look. Enter the Lucques contribution to this category of gastronomy.
It's perfect. Cantal cheese, chewy buttery bread, shallots (key). Sky asks for it extra-grilled so it's dark dark dark on the outside, served with an arugula salad with the most delicious lemon dressing ever, and a glass of red wine that usually costs more than the grilled cheese. If we were feeling like getting a little saucy we'd start with one of the cocktails that make me want to build up more of a tolerance. (It's pretty much a guarantee with me that if I drink a cocktail before dinner then have even a glass and a half of wine that I'll be asleep on the car ride home.) I would be ladylike and order a salad or soup (I was a bride-to-be after all) and then proceed to eat half of Sky's sandwich. And usually finish his wine.
Suzanne Goin, the chef and co-owner (with Caroline Styne, who I just discovered has a fabulous wine blog!) is like Wonder Woman. Meaning that I want to be her but since I don't think that's happening I want to meet her and hang out in her environs as much as possible with the hopes of certain superpowers related to the kitchen maybe rubbing off on me just a little bit. She published a cookbook recently which is on display above the bar at Lucques. So like a talisman, if I were in possession of said cookbook it could up my chances of vibrationally connecting to said superpowers. Every night at the bar I would gaze longingly. Once I even opened one and dreamily looked through it. But I didn't buy it. I wasn't working a lot last summer so I could prep the wedding and Sky and I were getting to that point in wedding planning when it feels like money is leaking out of your pores. So extra purchases like cookbooks weren't happening. Fast forward to last week.
6 months after our wedding we don't go to Lucques every week. Though we are planning on going back to tango, so perhaps the ritual will be revived. But we do go 1 out of 2 times we want to go out to dinner. We went last week. And last night. Last week was to celebrate our 6-month anniversary. So we're cozied up at the bar, romance is in full bloom, and my gaze strays from my beautiful husband to the cookbook high on the shelf above the wine bottles. Like it was George Clooney suddenly walking into the room. With generosity I probably didn't deserve since I had, after all, suddenly turned away from our cooing and was staring unreservedly in another direction, Sky says he'd like to get it for me as a present. I said no! NO. I want to wait. I am holding out til I can get Suzanne to sign it. I can be so stubborn for no reason sometimes. Then, in a movie moment, I heard music and the bartender (who knows us well by this point) turned in slow motion, and said "Suzanne's cooking in the back. Want me to see if she'll come out and sign it?" The music swells, my heart leaps, and there comes Wonder Woman up to the bar. This tale has a happy ending. After telling her more than I'm sure she needed to know about our history at Lucques, I am the proud owner of a signed copy complete with a note to me and Sky of Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
So this week I started cooking my way through it. I give you
Curried English Pea Soup with Creme Fraiche
from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Wonder Woman. I mean Suzanne Goin.
6T unsalted butter
1 1/2 c diced white onion (I used yellow and shallot since that's what I had on hand)
a heaping 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 c thinly sliced butter lettuce (who would have thought??? but this is why she has Lucques and I go there)
3 c shucked English peas (about 3lbs in the pod) or frozen peas (which is what I used---Whole Foods organic brand. No fresh peas to be found on a random Thurs afternoon in Santa Monica)
1 teaspoon sugar
6 whole mint leaves, plus 2 tablespoons sliced mint
5c vegetable stock or water (use homemade stock or water---I have yet to find a boxed or canned version I like)
1/2 lemon for juicing
1/4 c plus 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a large saucepan over high heat for about a minute. Add 4T butter and when it foams stir in the onion, curry powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Turn heat down to medium and cook for several minutes til the onion is translucent and just starting to turn color. (This smelled so good I had to eat about a dozen olives--of the lucques variety of course--not to mow my way through the onions in the pan.)
Add lettuce, peas, 1 1/4 t salt, sugar, and the rest of the butter. (This is just further proof that when dining and there's that mystery flavor that is so silky and rich and seems to tie everything together it's most likely the better part of a stick of butter. Just play dumb with yourself if you're trying to order something light.) Stir to coat, cook another few minutes til the lettuce wilts. Add the whole mint leaves, the stock/water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to a simmer and cook til peas are tender which can happen in about a minute so don't go far.
Strain the soup over a bowl. Put half the pea mixture in a blender with 1/2 c of the liquid. Blend on low til the mixture is pureed. With blender running at medium, pour in more liquid until the soup is the consistency of heavy cream. Turn blender to high and blend for at least a minute until soup is completely smooth. Set aside and repeat with the other half. Add 1/2 t lemon juice and taste for salt, pepper or more lemon.
Pour soup into bowls, spoon some creme fraiche in the center of each, and top with scattered sliced fresh mint.
Look how green it is. If that doesn't say spring I honestly don't know what does.
I really need to use something other than my iphone to take pictures.
If I have a boy someday and name him Lucques do you think he'll be mad at me?