Pot au Feu at Montsouris
Went to Montsouris last night for the first time. I ordered the short rib pot au feu, and the French manager/owner at first seemed to want to warn me off of it, saying "It's in a clear broth, you know." I think he wanted to clarify that it wasn't a stew, per se, for diners who were expecting hunks of beef in a thick gravy. When the dish arrived (in small Staub cast iron covered casserole), I could see what he was getting at: when the waiter removed the lid, I saw a hunk of gristly-seeming gray meat swimming in a puce colored broth amidst a pile of soggy cabbage, with a few hunks of bright orange carrots that made everything look dingier by contrast. The waiter offered me a dish of mustard, which I accepted.
I dug in. The dish was difficult to manage, since it was all crammed into that small casserole, so I decided to cut off chunks of meat and veggies and put them on my bread plate for further processing. (Inelegant, I know, but necessary.) It was also boiling hot, and stayed remarkably hot for the first 10-15 minutes, probably because of the insulating cast iron.
The first several bites, taken piping hot, were disappointing. Fatty meat without much flavor, limp veggies, strongly cabbagey broth. But then, something extraordinary happened: it cooled down.
I cut off another bit of meat, added a dab of mustard, and put it into my mouth. Utterly delicious! After cooling off, the meat had become meltingly soft and rich, marbled with fat and cartilage, perfectly salted, and complemented by the vinegary mustard. I took a spoonful of the earthy, vegetably broth, which now was a perfect match for the rich beef. Yum!
My date's braised veal was delicious too, meltingly tender and flavorful. The baguette was perfect, crusty and fresh. We had chocolate mouse for dessert, which had a somewhat understated chocolate flavor, not overwhelmingly concentrated, that I liked. My only complaint in the end was the coffee, which was not as fresh as it could be.
Interesting how your dish completed cooking at table. Perhaps they should hold it in the kitchen for a while longer before presenting it.
This is the exact same experience I had after making Luchow's Boiled Beef: just a big bowl of beef ribs, turnips, parsnips, carrots, in stock with a bouquet garni and some salt and pepper. Everything looks grey and limp and unappealing but then you slather on some horseradish mayonnaise and it's as if the sky opens on your battleship grey day and this simple bowl of boiled meat and vegetables becomes ambrosia.