A Meal With A View

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris April 09, 2024 18:30 in Dining Diary

It was such a lovely weather weekend that we headed across the lake for Chemin à la Mer, a Four Seasons Hotel restaurant that checks all my boxes. The 5th floor balcony has about ten tables, and I love to watch the river traffic from that bird’s-eye view.

I’m not wild about the menu, but there is enough to get something. We’ve been there enough to have gotten almost everything that interests me. I was delighted Sunday to see some specials.

We got to the door for the balcony just as the actress Jennifer Coolidge was coming in from outside. She lives here and seems a regular there. She’s an Amazon but I say that in a complimentary way. You can’t take your eyes off of her. I didn’t even glance at her companions.

We sat at one of the many open tables. It mystifies me that no one seems to eat out there. I think it’s one of the most special dining spots in town for fans of alfresco dining.

Perusing the menu I settled on two things we haven’t had, and then we chose entrees from the specials card clipped to the menu. We started with something I’m seeing too much around town. Feta cheese is now offered whipped or baked as a featured entity, rather than as a crumble to add perkiness to something. This was interesting the first time I saw it, but I definitely don't need to keep getting it. 

This preparation was beautiful, arriving in a cast iron ramekin with thyme honey butter sizzling around the edges, dotted on top with pieces of espelette pepper. A generous amount of hearty bread crostini lay beside it. This was the best version of this now-ubiquitous menu item we’ve encountered.

I have a habit that annoys even me, and it’s bizarre. It’s probably a known syndrome I haven’t heard about. I can read something but my brain registers something else. This is problematic with airline tickets but is just annoying on menus. On this day I saw the word rabbit and my mind immediately went to pate, which I love. But the rest of the menu item was confit croquettes, which have nothing to do with pate. I just stopped reading at rabbit and imagined rilettes, though I’ve only seen that with pork. I even asked for cornichons in anticipation of pate.

The dish placed before me was nothing short of resplendent, with three Panko-encrusted perfectly fried tubes of rabbit confit artfully placed beside a substantial salad of eclectic lettuces like mustard greens tossed in walnut vinaigrette, and a pile of walnuts nestled in all this.

I wasn’t crazy about this but it was probably because I expected something else. Or it could be that my enthusiasm for croquettes stops at potatoes. I’m still scarred from my mother’s canned codfish croquettes, though that was too fancy a word. We called them balls. These were tasty enough, and the little salad was a nice touch, as were the walnuts.

A little card clipped to the regular menu had a few specials on it, and that’s where we stayed. There was a burger for $22 and a fried Gulf fish sandwich for $27. One came with housecut chips dusted with Creole seasoning, and the other with plain fries that were not housecut.

Burgers at this price had better be gourmet. I am seeing more and more of them around. The standard was set for me at Spago in 2015. It was $25 and came with housecut fries and a delicious vinaigrette salad. While waiting, we consumed more than our share of Wolfgang Puck’s eclectic housemade breads. 

I have since had burgers at Dori’s Metropolitan at this level, but none match the original Spago experience for stature and value. I had a $26 burger the other day at Dakota which came with housecut fries and that was very good. It had Dakota’s proprietary cheddar cheese and onion marmalade, along with foie gras aioli. All of these first-class ingredients make me feel better about a burger at this price. It was indeed a very good burger.

This one at Chemin was a delicious burger, and I am referring to the patty itself. The flavor of the beef was exceptional. It too came with caramelized onions which I got on the side, and Comté cheese, which had melted so completely as to be invisible, as I would have expected. Comté is a really delicious softish cheese. This was an unassuming-looking burger that belied the goodness within.

I sliced the cornichons lengthwise, and I did use the caramelized onions after savoring a bite or two of just the meat patty and bun. To me, a burger means a classic American cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and lots of pickles with maybe mayo and mustard and a slice of raw purple onion. These gourmet burgers are not that, and I need to stop trying to make them that.

Tom’s fried Gulf fish sandwich was Tempura-style fried flounder, also on a terrific brioche bun like the burger, with a delicious slaw of interesting bits of vegetables. The fish was a little thick, but the whole of it was very pleasing. His housecut chips were heavily dusted in Creole seasoning and were thick-cut chips. Crispy and good.

I can’t say that our server was especially attentive, but the place was practically empty mid-afternoon, so her fellow servers made sure we were okay. 

It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant setting for a leisurely mid-afternoon meal. Expensive, but worth every penny. Not many people have the privilege of watching the activities on one of the world’s most famous rivers. With great food, it’s a special two-fer.