Growing up in New York City, one of the restaurants I always wanted to go to was Lutece. It was, in its heyday, considered by many to be New York’s–or even America’s–best French restaurant. As a child who liked going to restaurants, how could I not dream of dining there? Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective of child-rearing, my parents never took me. There were, to them, some restaurants that children–no matter how addicted they are to foie gras–just shouldn’t be allowed into. (Ironically, I have to admit that S and I will probably adopt the same perspective when we become parents.) This list included some of the city’s great gastronomic temples, many of which have sadly closed, places like Lutece, La Cote Basque, The Quilted Giraffe, Le Cirque and La Caravelle.
Of these, Lutece, for reasons I can’t quite explain, had a special appeal. Perhaps it was because, more than any other restaurant in the 1980s, it was THE place for special occasions. No matter the reason, it was the one restaurant throughout my early years in NYC that I most eagerly wanted to experience.
Regrettably, from the list of restaurants above, I’ve only been to one, and that one only once. It was, as you might already have guessed, Lutece. I went there in 1995–sadly, a year after André Soltner, the restaurant’s remarkable founding chef, had left. I took one of my closest friends there for dinner, to celebrate her 21st Birthday. I’d saved up a big chunk of money and allowed her, a fellow foodie, to choose where she wanted to go from a list of 5 restaurants that I proposed to her (I forget what the complete list was now, but I think 2 of the other 4 were Montrachet and Chanterelle). It was, looking back, an easy choice for her. M had grown up in upstate New York and like so many kids who grew up in both upstate New York and New Jersey–close to the city but not in it–moving to, living in and living large in Manhattan was a childhood ambition and dream. Eating at Lutece was, just as it was for me, something she’d had ambitions to do as a child but never really thought she’d ever get around to doing.
The meal was wonderful. Made especially so by the fact that the staff didn’t treat two kids in their early 20s any differently than they treated any other guest that night. If anything, we felt that they were being especially attentive to us. I honestly forget what we ate or drank, but I do remember leaving elated–despite having just spent more money there than in any other restaurant at that point in my life.
A few months ago, while S and I were in Taipei, I ran across The Lutece Cookbook in the “bargain bin” at a Page One bookstore. It was a book I knew I had to have. Since there was no way I’d be able to eat in Lutece ever again (it shut its doors in 2004), at least I could learn some of the recipes that had made it so famous and so well-reviewed.
Since buying the book, though, it, like so many others, has sat on our bookshelf unused. And while I have opened it and read it from time to time, I hadn’t made any of its dishes. On my most recent reading though, I was particularly taken by Soltner’s recipes for Soufflé Glacé aux Framboises–Lutece’s all-time best-selling dessert–and Soufflé Glacé au Citron (frozen soufflé with raspberries and frozen lemon soufflé respectively). I’m not, unlike S, a huge chocolate fan, so I’m always on the lookout for non-chocolately desserts. And while I don’t really enjoy eating fruits, I do love fruit flavors… odd, I know. I’m also a sucker for frozen desserts: ice cream, semifreddo, soufflé glacé, cassata, ice box pie, etc. These soufflés sounded great. Essentially, it’s a frozen dessert comprising layers of meringue cookie in between layers of a fruit-flavored mousse. I had originally intended to make the raspberry souffé, but because the recipe called for 3 cups of fresh raspberries–both hard to find and expensive here–I opted to to prepare the lemon version as the dessert for a Christmas lunch that S and I hosted for a few friends.
I have to admit, it’s not an easy recipe to do alone. Fortunately for me, S was an enthusiastic collaborator on this project. We made the soufflés a day ahead, allowing them to chill in the freezer overnight. And I’m relieved to say that the results were excellent. Our friends yummed enthusiastically when they dug in, especially when they discovered the crunchy layers of meringue cookie.
Soufflé Glacé au Citron
tweaked from André Soltner’s recipe to make 10 small frozen souffles in 2inch ramekins
oil for oiling the parchment paper
2 egg whites
2/3 cup blanched ground almonds
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 200ºF/95ºC. Line baking sheets with the parchment paper. Trace 20 2inch (diameter) circles on the paper. Lightly oil the paper. Use parchment paper to make high collars to fit around the ramekins, taping them shut as tightly as possible. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir together the almonds, flour and the sugar. Then gently fold them into the beaten egg whites. Put this mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a round 1/2-inch tip. From the pastry bag, squeeze the mixture into the circles. Bake these in the oven until crisp–about 90 minutes. Let them cool on a rack. (You may need to use a round 2inch metal ring to shave the finished cookies to fit the ramekins.)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
8 egg yolks
grated rind of 3 lemons
juice of 3 lemons
Whip the cream and set it aside in a cool place. Cook 2 cups of sugar in 5 ounces of water until the sugar is dissolved and the temperature reaches 275ºF on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks. When they are light and fluffy, slowly pour in the hot syrup. Continue beating until the mixture is cool to touch. Stir in the grated lemon and lemon juice. Fold in the whipped cream. Do not overwork.
To assemble, put a small layer of the mousse on the bottom of each ramekin, then a cookie, then another layer of mousse and another cookie. On top of the second cookie, spoon more mousse so that it extends above the ramekin top (it should be held in place by the paper collars) and looks like a soufllé that has risen. Freeze these for at least 3 hours. To serve, remove the paper collars, smooth the top of the soufflés with a metal spatula and dust with icing sugar.