Gourmet take-out dinners seem to be increasingly popular, with good reason: there’s something enticing about the idea of enjoying a chef-prepared menu that involves minimal preparation efforts, in the comfort of your own home. For very special occasions, some hire chefs that come directly into their kitchens to prepare and serve a meal, but it’s an expensive option; I have seen many restaurants turning this concept around and offering refined multi-course menus that only need to be reheated and assembled at home. There are many perks to gourmet take-out dinners:
- You don’t have to dress up (and in fact, you can even dress very little… *wink*)
- You save lots on cocktails and wine
- You’ll impress your guest(s) even if you don’t usually cook a lot
- You won’t be stressed before your guest(s) arrive and you’ll be able to spend all night with them, instead of being trapped in the kitchen
I usually love to cook for special occasions, but I don’t mind a night off cooking duties. A few weeks ago, a renowned Quebec City hotel, Château Laurier, approached me to test out their new gourmet take-out dinner, created especially for Valentine’s Day. Château Laurier is one of the city’s best hotel and their catering service, George V, has an excellent reputation, but it can usually only be enjoyed by hotel residents or people attending meetings or events catered by the hotel. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to try out this trendy dining option, take a night off and enjoy an early Valentine’s dinner.
Here’s how it went: All of the dishes were packaged in a single kraft bag embellished by a large label bearing the menu’s theme and caterer’s name. I liked the looks of it right away, especially the cute little “Bon Appétit” tag – to me, good design always speaks volume about the care that is invested in making a product (which is why I usually select wine bottles by the looks of their label).
Inside, besides the packaged dishes, there was a sheet of paper describing step-by-step the prep that needed to be done, and two printed copies of the menu (nice touch!).
The menu was made up of five courses and each course was nicknamed to fit into the “Love” theme:
- Canapés: Preliminaries
- Appetizers: Seduction
- Soup: Passion
- Main Courses: Tenderness
- Dessert: Ecstasy
The first course featured three different canapés: Deer tataki with red currant jelly, smoked salmon and goat’s cheese mini-roulades, and lemon and pink pepper shrimps. We appreciated the diversity of flavors and three bites felt generous. I thought the bites were well presented, although in my humble opinion, curly parsley shouldn’t ever feature on any canapé – it instantly makes a dish look dated. I liked the square plastic plates in which the food was served, which looked good enough to act as serving plates (even less work for the host!).
There was a choice of two appetizers: a braised rabbit, foie gras and duck confit terrine, or a tian of grilled vegetables and fresh mozzarella. These were a little banged up from transportation, but I replated them and they looked beautiful. The fresh flowers made the plates look extra special.
The soup, a cream of wild mushrooms, was one of our favorite dishes: it was velvety and perfectly seasoned and the sauteed mushroom topping really made it restaurant worthy.
For the mains, there were two choices: beef or salmon. The beef fillet was topped with a tasty Quebec cheese and wrapped in grated potatoes and filo pastry; the salmon roulade was topped with hard-boiled eggs and sauteed leeks, and wrapped in a soy wrap. This is the step that required the most “work” and there was a little math involved to time the reheating of all the components so that everything was ready at once. The beef was baked in the oven, while the salmon, sauces and sides needed to go in a large pot of simmering water to be reheated.
Both dishes were very good (the sauce accompanying the beef was luscious), but here I should’ve trusted my instincts that told me the instructed cooking times were too long. Both dishes ended up overcooked, and the vegetables were too. Changes were made to the cooking instructions after the caterer got the testers’ comments, but I can tell you that everything was good, even if slightly overcooked, so I can imagine that the dishes must be great if reheated correctly.
The shared dessert looked stunning and was aptly named “Chocolate and Cherry Melting Hearts”. The hearts were made of a dark chocolate mousse and in the middle, there was a pearl of cherry juice that broke when we ran our forks through it. It was rich and luscious, the perfect ending to an intimate dinner en tête-à-tête.
All in all it was a fun and delicious experience, and it left me wanting to do this again. Feeling like a guest in my own kitchen? Yes, please!
Have you ever had a gourmet take-out dinner? What did you enjoy most about the experience?