On Tuesday we decided to visit the new Tchefuncte’s in Madisonville. This one rose to our favorites list after one visit, and after two I would say it’s the very favorite. First, it’s stunning. On a bend in the Tchefuncte with a sweeping panoramic view, the floor-to-ceiling windows thrill.
Inside is no less dramatic, with a massive open kitchen filled with consummate professionals executing plates of Instagrammable food, picked up by a chain of servers. Such ceremony is also fun to watch. It’s food porn.
So even though I’d love to sit in the dining room softly illuminated by the lights that dance on the Tchefuncte at night, we’re at the bar watching the show with rapt attention.
The star is Chef Michael Gottlieb, who runs this kitchen of professionals clearly loving what they do. Together they work in perfect harmony to present plates of food as beautiful to behold as they are delicious to eat. The attention to the tiniest detail is everywhere, from the eclectic mix of dishes, (as in food vessels), to silverware that is worthy of a double-take. All of this is thrilling to a person as design-obsessed as I am, but what of the food?
Well, at the food bar you are invested. You can talk to the salad preparer, who makes plates of lettuce that are actually mouth-watering. He alternates between slicing gorgeous planks of raw tuna and assembling Chef Michael’s tiny food thrillers of the day, known in regular restaurants as the amuse bouche. On this night it was blue crab salad profiteroles, tiny puffs of pate choux baked in house, of course. This was followed by a piece of house made praline bacon.
Since we always love talking to the salad maker as he crafts his leafy masterpieces, I was ready to order one. He recommended the evening’s special of avocado and ginger, but before I could decide the French onion soup called to me from the menu. I had to resist Michael’s excitement about tonight’s soup special, which was squash with lump crabmeat. I watched the curls of smoke escape as they poured it into bowls, dropping in the crabmeat. Perfect to offset the cool of a fall evening.
A pile of fried onions looked great, but I had to stay strong and focus on my choices, all of which are questioned with each plate of someone's food going by. Would my crab cake be better than the crunchy veal chop with protruding bone covered with extra-large plump ravioli? Or the sliced steak served on a grill? The five seared scallops? The thick slabs of fish?
I was jarred from my reverie by the arrival of my crock of onion soup and Tom’s chargrilled oysters. This soup was not as good as the untouchable leader at Jacmel Inn, but it satisfied. A thick blanket of melted cheese covered a dark broth with just the right amount of onion. I wished it was thicker but it was definitely a pleaser. Tom’s oysters were unusual, with a tarragon flavor and breadcrumbs that were moistened with butter. Tiny chips of bacon sprinkled throughout made for a great combination of complex flavors. Good stuff!
My crab cake was beautifully presented in the center of a lovely plate, surrounded by a lemon cream sauce and topped with a single sprig of curly parsley and lemon gelatin? This crab cake was bound a bit tightly but crusted just right, hitting the spot. Tom’s strip steak was not chewy, for something new. It had a nice sauce rather than au jus and was happily consumed by Tom. Michael Gottlieb clearly sources the best of everything, then knows what to do with it.
I pre-ordered a chocolate souffle which came with a tiny cream sauce, but we also got a slice of the extra-creamy homemade vanilla ice cream. I watched the baking station to see my dessert made and baked by a lovely woman whose husband is also on the line. She also crafted the evening’s bread, which was delectable with the little ramekin of Plugras butter with sea salt on top. And the tiny profiteroles for the blue crab sandwiches.
The happiness grew when the check came and it was the same price as a comparable restaurant of its kind. Except there are no comparable places. This is one of a kind. People look at a place like this as a “ special occasion” restaurant, but with prices like these we can come here once a week. And we will.