Lucques Round Two

Lucques, round two.

Appetizer. Nectarine, medjool date arugula salad. Almonds, olives, fleur de sel.

Feast. Braised short rib.

This is the second time I’ve been to Lucques. Well, technically, it is the first time I’ve been to Lucques on a “non-special” night. (I’m not saying the night was non-special…but rather, the restaurant didn’t have an event). My first time was cassoulet night, which I have to say, was pretty stellar. (The cassoulet I had at Lucques was a notch or two above cassoulet I had in France). Second time around, Dine LA was in the house, but I decided to forgo that, and order from the regular menu.

Always better in real life.

A quick note on taking food pictures in a restaurant.

I don’t like it. I never have. Before I started taking food pictures, I was already not a big fan of pictures of any sort. Call it soul-sucking, “takes away the experience,” interrupting mah meal, killin’ the vibe, hate my smile, un-photogenic. Call it what you want. It still sort of feels that way. I’m going to be measured and careful in treading here, as I’m not inherently making any snide or inconsiderate comments about photography. Yes, great photography takes talent and hard-work. (Much of everything in life does). At the same time, I feel that picture-taking is an awkward method of inefficiency; food is meant to be eaten, not to be stuck in some glamorous paparazzi. To me, food pictures are a necessary evil. As much as I tote about enjoying the experience in the moment, and not worrying about trivial things during the course of a great meal with great people, there comes a time and place where things must be documented for clarity. A picture of what I ate is surprisingly useful (relatively). The reader is able to see the vibrant green, the sensible plating, and the physical, textural characteristics of the meal. Words don’t do food justice (at least not mine), so I find the need to augment my explanations and explorations with photography. That being said, I will audaciously stick a camera in front of my food, against all my primal instincts. Without pictures, I think the readership of this blog would dip into the negatives.

We move on!

One of the first thoughts when the braised dish arrived was primarily, “holy-mother-of-(PG-rating) this is good,” and the follow up, “I wonder if the sauce was purposely made runny like this.” (Yeah, I’m quick to criticize). As the dish progressed, I found that although the sauce was runny, the mashed potatoes that sat on top of the sauce eventually mixed with it, creating a brown, goopy sort of mess that allowed me to spoon-knife (using the knife as a spoon) the sauce onto a forkful of greens and short rib. It was a pretty awesome endeavor, as I’d never miss a chance to get all the goodies in one bite. The rest of the night, this was the preferred method of progressing through the meal. My enjoyment of the meal probably resulted from the combination of different textures. The disintegrated greens, soft but crispy short rib, and the smooth buttery starch sauce was everything a bite could ask for. If (in some other parallel world) there were roasted potatoes and the original, watery sauce, the night might have gone a tad differently. Reducing the only key elements of the meal down, it boiled down to great flavor development, with overall low elasticity textures, combined with a medium-hold frictional sauce and a tiny bit of crunch.

Beef, in its natural habitat.

In my last post, you/I gave me/myself two minutes to talk about how gelatin could thicken a liquid. At the end, I said that starch could do the same thing. This meal was a perfect example of the thickening power of starch on sauce. I don’t know if this was the intention of the chef (almost like a do-it-yourself kind of meal where things don’t work out until you mix it all together). Either way, two things happen when we thicken a sauce with starch. Explore with me?

Increased viscosity.

In the case of viscosity, water is usually referred to as “1.” A viscosity above 1 means its more viscous, and a viscosity below one usually means its less viscous. Viscosity can basically be classified as ease of movement of a given liquid. Sauce (or pomme puree mixed with sauce) is considered a non-newtonian fluid, where shear rate and shear stress is non-linear. This makes it difficult to predict the quantify the sauce’s properties. (Shear is the deformity of a moving component in relation to a stationary component. In more layman’s terms, starchy sauces don’t follow the normal calculations used to predict coefficients of viscosity. It’s complicated, and probably better if you just say, “hey, starched sauces stick to my chunks of protein. Awesome.”

Increased “asperities.” (Roughness).

The addition of amylopectin or amylose can be effective in thickening a sauce. At a temperatures beginning around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, starch granules lose their structure, absorb a large amount of water, and begin to intermingle. At some point, the starch granules will pop, and starch strands will leak out. A little more down the line, we’ve reached the gelation range, where the individual starch molecules have reached a network of long molecules. Heat and stir it beyond this temperature for extended periods of time, and the sauce will thin out again, as it destroys the large entangled networks. Instead you get exploded starch granules and a compromised network, with no overlying organization. The underlying bond formation is what gives structure, body, and friction to the sauce. I’m also tempted to say that amylopectin and amylose exhibit features of cell-to-cell adhesion, which may also contribute to frictional forces. More microscopic research is probably needed here.

From left to right, granules to water-absorbed granules to popped granules with long entanglements of starch to overheated, overworked, structurally compromised starch.

Friction can make great food.