Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!
~ Dom Perignon, at the moment he discovered champagne
One hot dusty evening, I round the corner away from the busy bustling restaurant strip where fancy cars are being valet parked in throngs. I walk further and further away from the hustle and bustle of fashionable people jockeying for the best table at one of the hot eateries. There are times when I am in that crowd, looking to taste flavors du jour but not tonight. It’s been a long day and I am in search of serenity, cool air and refreshing beverage. In a quiet alley, just beyond the strip, a lovely lady beams at me. “Are you visiting us tonight?” Yes, I am. I am by myself (see my previous article FOOD FRIDAY: Plus None). I don’t have a reservation, is there a spot at the bar? “Of course! You can have any seat you like! Bar or table, inside or outside. Welcome to RM Champagne Salon.”
I am ushered into what I can only imagine heavenly bliss is like. The patio is lovely but on this hot sticky day, I opt for the coolness of the dimly lit bar. Passing me off to one another, like an Olympic torch, the dazzling hostess crew makes sure I am comfortably settled on a bar stool and firmly in bartender’s care. The menus are handed to me but I can’t quite focus on them. In front of me, an oversized silver ice bucket is overflowing with champagne bottles of various origins and sizes. The sight renders me speechless for a moment. This, I think to myself, is what heaven must be like. My version of heaven at least. Champagne for everyone!
I finally look at the menus in front of me. One is a book filled with grower champagnes, the primary focus here, as well as sparkling wines from all over the world. Spanish txakolina shares the spotlight with Italian prosecco and South African bubbly. I am told, Illinois Sparkling Co. is slated to be on the list soon (see my previous article FOOD FRIDAY: The Hill That Sparkles). As I make my way through the menu of bubbly and still wines and savory bites, something catches my eye. Behind the bar bartender produces a magnum of one of my favorite Provencal roses, Chateau Peyrassol. In fact, it looks so refreshingly inviting that I order a glass on the spot. My first sip at a champagne bar isn’t champagne at all! It turns out the place sold out of the regular rose by the glass and thus the rose lovers have automatically been upgraded to a much more expensive pour but for the same price. Classy move, RM, I like you already. Impressed, I finish my deliciously crisp glass of rose, order a flute of sparkling and settle in with the food menu.
A single tiny popcorn cream puff arrives with compliments. In fact, the food menu here is composed of single bites, sort of an amuse bouche parade, which for me, is delightful. I love tasting a variety of things, so being able to order several different noshes is very appealing. The savory bites are curated by the talented Chef Jared Van Camp of neighboring Nellcote. I loved the lobster deviled egg and quail egg ravioli with chanterelles. The cool hamachi sashimi doesn’t disappoint either but my favorite bite is crispy champagne-battered oysters with bernaise sauce. Flavors and textures dance in my mouth: the crispy against the creamy, the briny against the sweet. It’s exquisite.
Dessert bites require their own menu. Chef Nate Meads mignardises list is outstanding. Not being a dessert lover, I still feel compelled to try a generous sampling. The delicately fragile macarons are as good as I have ever had, lemon being my favorite. I try nougat and yuzu St. Tropez (a tiny brioche filled with Japanese citrus scented pastry cream). The hazelnut truffle is dense and intense with earthy hazelnut flavor. But for me, a pillowy Grand Marnier marshmallow steals the show. As I close my mouth around it, it lingers for a second and simply disappears, leaving behind a faint whisper of itself. I imagine that is what tasting a cloud would feel like.
As I emerge from my bliss, I become aware of my surroundings. Jason Wagner, the sommelier of RM, mills about the room and patio looking for a bottle to saber, a feat I would love to witness. Next to me, a stylish lady is laying waste to a platter of beautiful oysters. She passes one to me for a taste, I share a glass of my txakolina with her. The ensuing camaraderie results in the perfect stranger picking up my check without my knowledge. It is indeed an evening of surprises! Having stopped in for a glass and a quick look, I spent five hours at RM on a Tuesday night, lingering over dessert. How did that happen? Pure magic. Amazing things take place when I am drinking champagne. It’s like tasting the stars.