Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Polishing the Big Apple: If you're a Muslim, you're required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. If you're Catholic, the height of devotion is attending a Papal mass at St. Peter's. If you're a foodie, you'll try to have dinner at the James Beard House.

Beard was one of America's first chef celebrities, the man who almost single-handedly lifted America out of the postwar macaroni-and-cheese, cream-of-mushroom tuna-casserole doldrums.

After his death, Julia Child and her friends began a successful effort to save Beard's Greenwich Village townhouse from the auction block. Then, they established the James Beard Foundation, which promotes culinary excellence.

One way the foundation promotes it is by staging elaborate dinners at the Beard House about 20 times a month. The world's best chefs are invited to prepare a multicourse meal, and when the invitation comes, they usually don't say no.

During a recent New York visit, I got to attend one of these dinners. It was every bit as good as the Broadway show, opera and concert I also took in, and a heckuva lot more filling.

The man under the toque that evening was Steven Beyrouty. He's the chef/proprietor of the Auberge Georgeville, a Canadian country inn just across the Vermont border, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec.

The cocktail hour began at 7 p.m., 60 minutes of canapes and endless pours of high-end champagne.

At 8 o'clock, the mingling ceased and we were shepherded to the second floor. It's a cramped space--imagine eating in a rush-hour subway car. But once the five-course, five-wine dinner got under way, no one seemed to care.

First, a heavenly soup fashioned with smoked caribou (a Quebec specialty), crisped leek flowers and corn blinis. The wine: a ravishing Burgundy, a premier cru Savigny Les Feuillets.

Next up, the fish course: almond-crusted char with a dilled couscous galette, teamed with white Burgundy.

Then, the highlight: Canadian lamb scented with wild garlic (it's less pungent than the cultivated variety) and fresh thyme, in a head-turning port sauce, served with a nifty sweet potato and parsnip Napoleon. We washed that down with another premier cru Burgundy.

The cheese course featured cheese from a Quebec monastery, coated with pistachios and moistened with maple syrup and (too much) balsamic vinegar. More Burgundy, too. Dessert brought mint-poached pear with lemon custard mascarpone, along with a sweet Quebec dessert wine.

The cost of this extravaganza? Seventy bucks for members, $90 for nonmembers. (Membership is $125 a year.) Why is dinner so cheap? It's subsidized--food and beverage companies line up to donate their products, glad to reach such a prime group. (Most James Beard members have connections to the restaurant industry.)

The James Beard House is at 167 West 12th Street, in Manhattan. For membership info, call 212-675-4984.

--Howard Seftel

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