Wiener Schnitzel of Artichokes will be a classic dish in 10 years if Joachim Splichal has his way. This bearded, German-born, 29-year-old chef of Beverly Hills' Max au Triangle restaurant combines not only foods but languages in unexpected ways.
His menu, for instance, speaks of his Cuisine Frai cheur de Californie, which is probably the first time Fresh California Cuisine has been presented on its home ground in French. Even the English section of the menu calls it Cuisine Frai cheur de Californie. As for the foods, his pepper steak is made of duck, his sausage of avocado, his napoleon of either chicken and liver mousse or vegetables, and his sushi is made with wild rice. His fixed-price menus include one completely of lobster (except the dessert), a four-course 600-calorie dinner, a meal entirely of ancient dishes, and one that is vegetarian through all six courses.
"I treat vegetables like meat," says Splichal, who began the California phase of his career at the Regency Club in Los Angeles, then opened the Seventh Street Bistro before he went on to Max au Triangle. He wants to create vegetable dishes with all the stature of meat dishes, dishes that will get recognition in their own rights rather than as accompaniments.
"It is boring to do a dish with a piece of meat or fish," he contends. "No other material in the kitchen has more colors, more flavor" than vegetables.
His vegetarian menu, which costs $40, begins with sushi of fresh vegetables with Californian wild rice, the rice rolled with avocado mousse in a wrapper of spinach and another of thin carrot slices. All the stocks for this dinner are made of vegetables -- celery stock, leek stock and such.
Dinner goes on to a scallop of artichoke bottoms with brioche and lemon sauce, then a spectacular little biteful of tiny turnips stuffed with mousse of wild mushrooms, their tops repositioned, set on an herbed cream sauce.
Next, a sherbet to clear the palate, and before dessert, the main course: napoleon of vegetables with red bell pepper sauce. The vegetables are cut into fan shapes and, in their many colors, arranged as a large fan between thin layers of puff pastry, sauced with a red-pepper-flavored butter sauce. Even dessert never looked more beautiful than this vegetable main dish. At his restaurant Splichal uses 20 different vegetables for this recipe -- peppers in several colors, asparagus, zucchini flowers, a multitude of squashes, mushrooms, carrots, snow peas, carrots, turnips, broccoli, corn, spinach, the thinnest of green beans. And he has one cook who spends his workday doing nothing but making this dish.
Splichal's avocado sausage is avocado pure'ed with egg and folded with minced zucchini or some other vegetable. The sausage is wrapped in cellophane and poached, then unwrapped for serving. Its sauce starts with herbs steeping in water on the stove for six hours, finished by blending with yogurt and butter.
It has become a mission for Splichal to uplift the downtrodden vegetable; as he puts it, "I may be the only one in a higher class restaurant who uses chard and collard greens." He has good company in Los Angeles, though, where one can walk into so elegant a restaurant as Valentino, request a vegetarian dinner -- and be served something more than pasta primavera.
One impromptu vegetarian feast at Valentino consisted of buffalo mozzarella with sweet red pepper and mousse of sun-dried tomatoes and fontina cheese; corn crepe stuffed with fresh porcini mushrooms; timballo of baby eggplant filled with smoked ricotta and pure'e of basil and tomato; pasta roll with beets, peas and gorgonzola; walnut tortelli; and spinach gnocchetti. It is breathtaking to imagine what the restaurant might have done given a little notice.
And haute vegetarianism is not only a California phenomenon. In fact, Splichal's own interest began on the French Riviera, in Nice's Negresco Hotel where he worked under chef Jacques Maximin. On that menu, too, there is a vegetarian dinner, which includes the likes of extraordinarily light carrot souffle' wrapped in paper-thin bands of carrot.
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Tired of take-home pizza? In Detroit you can get carryout from the city's most reknowned restaurant, the London Chop House. Lobster bisque, dover sole, even wine to go. In fact, you could even get delivery service, if you didn't feel embarrassed to have a stretch limousine show up with your box lunch. JOACHIM SPLICHAL'S NAPOLEON OF VEGETABLES (4 servings)
1 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
1 bunch broccoli
2 red bell peppers
1 small head cauliflower
1 ear corn
1 bunch spinach, leaves only, washed
12 snow peas, ends cut off on diagonal
12 string beans (preferably thin French-style), cut into 2-inch pieces
12 asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
Salt and pepper to taste
12 thin squares (3 inches each) puff pastry, baked
Clean zucchini, squash, carrot, turnip and broccoli. Cut each into pieces about 1 inch long by 1/2 inch thick. Shape these into ovals by using a small sharp knife.
Blanch vegetables separately, in boiling salted water, until al dente. Then place in ice water; drain. Cut into fans by slicing thinly lengthwise only 3/4 way to end but not cutting all the way through. Place in large flat pan. Cut 1 red pepper into half, removing stem and seeds. Blanch; then place in ice water; drain. Remove skin and cut into strips 2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Blanch all remaining vegetables, separately, until al dente. Then place in ice water; drain well. Cut the corn from the cob. Place all vegetables in a pan.
To prepare sauce, char remaining red pepper by placing on pan under flame of broiler; turn until charred all over. Remove all charred skin, stem and seeds. Rinse in water. Pure'e pulp in blender; add butter and blend. Reserve 1 cup. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne.
To assemble napoleon, pour cup of sauce over vegetables; season with salt and pepper. Place in 325-degree oven to gently warm. Puff pastry should be very thin; if it is thick, slice it in two horizontally. Using 4 ovenproof plates, place 1 square of puff pastry in center of each. Layer vegetables, alternating colors and shapes. Extend vegetables out from center and create a circular fan of colors. Use about 3/4 of the vegetables on bottom layer. Place one more square on top and continue layering. Warm plates in oven. Place remaining squares of pastry on top. Spoon remaining sauce on top.