Planning a 5 course meal
Okay so my boyfriend loves going to nice restaurants to do tasting menus, but after a less-than-stellar meal last time he was kind of bummed. I want to cook him a really nice 5 course meal, and am just struggling to put together a menu that's going to taste great, but also wont drive me crazy trying to do it. I'm a reasonable cook--not world-class, but I have the patience to stick with more time consuming and complicated recipes.
I know I want to do a fun amuse bouche, a fish course, and a meat course (the boy likes meat), but beyond that I'm just not sure. I lean towards french and asian food, but I'm not sold on it. Any suggestions for progressions, or particular recipes you've tried that have worked great?
You might want to consider a soup course that isn't meat-based, like cream of mushroom or leek and potato. Your fish course could be one perfect scallop, but the fish course will depend on what you find at your shop that is the best they have that day. Add a salad course before dessert - I like to make it a salad and cheese course at the same time. He'll love that you made such a special meal, no matter what you choose to serve.
You will do great! I think what's tricky in these things is the timing so that there are not long waits between the courses. So something an amuse to start, then a soup (waiting on a warm stove), a short wait on that perfectly seared scallop, for meat you might try braised short ribs (waiting in a warm oven), cheese or salads can be done ahead, etc.
To me, what makes a restaurant style tasting menu is the sauces... These aren't necessarily hard, but when you need to have one for the starter, two for the fish, dressing for the salad, and two more for dessert... Make sure you look for recipes where you can make components ahead of time!
Sweet effort of you, here. I hope it goes duly appreciated.
Consider making at least 1-3 of the courses largely preppred ahead. Like the soup course that Terrie H wisely suggests.
For Euro-style: I suggest bruschetta topped with whatever's great, perhaps Ventresca tuna and oil, shallots and capers; then look into a great simple dressing for a green salad with shaved parmagiano and lemon drizzle; a risotto with a seared scallop atop (or a squid risotto); a (reheated from yesterday) braised lamb shank with roasted or mashed potatoes; and a cheese & fruit dessert (shaved parm; apple slices dredged in lemon juice; some cave-aged gruyere).
Immediately dump any guy who turns his nose up at that.
Five courses, leaning towards the French style the OP mentions:
Crudites (all easily prepped well in advance)
Fish course - something cooked at the last minute. Say, small fillet of whatever looks good wherever you buy it. Small garnish. Lemon butter sauce.
Meat course - maybe a daube or similar that can sit around
Cheese - easy peasy just buy it and serve with bread, maybe a little garnish of salad leaves in a mustardy dressing (one of my favourite restaurants in northern France serves this way)
Dessert - definitely something to buy from wherever you can get good patisserie
A great candidate for the salad+cheese dessert-y course after the meat is Ina Garten's roasted pears with blue cheese and walnuts. You can make the pears with their filling ahead the day of the dinner, using basting liquid to prepare the vinaigrette, so all you have to do at serving time is dress the baby arugula and top it with the pears.
If you want an additional 'real' dessert, you could go with an exotic sorbet served with a lacy cookie -- items that can be prepared a day or two ahead.
The day before you can make a soup and a braise for the meat course (which is always better made a day ahead -- flavors blend, and refrigeration allows you to easily de-fat the braising liquid). On the day of, but well ahead, you can also prepare a puree or mash that will be the base for the braised meat and sauce.
That leaves you free closer to meal time to fuss with the amuse-bouche and fish course.