Not long ago, foie gras was out. Not out like carbs were out in the ‘90s or gluten is out right now, but way out. So far out that chefs stopped putting it on menus for fear of being bad guys by association. How times have changed — in large part due to more thoughtful practices of companies such as Hudson Valley Foie Gras, supplier to many high-end restaurants.
At Milk & Honey Bar-Kitchen, which I review this week, foie gras bonbons are a prime example of the ingredient’s rehabilitation. Chef-owner Michael Shiell turns foie gras mousseline into savory truffles, rolling it into balls that are then dusted with powdered cashew brittle and flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen, so they’re creamy on the inside with a crisp, candy-like shell. The bonbons exemplify what the restaurant stands for: They're something so indulgent, you’d never dream of eating them except in the best of times — i.e., the days of milk and honey.
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Mark Ferguson, chef-owner of Solitaire, has also watched the turnaround. While the occasional guest does complain, “Foie is making a huge comeback,” he says. “There would be a hundred times more uproar if we took it off the menu than if we kept it on.” Rather than simply putting foie gras in a terrine, he looks for whimsical ways to “ease somebody into it.” One such way is the menu’s current foie gras bread pudding. In a dish that straddles the line between sweet and savory, olive-oil cake is turned into spiced bread pudding that’s topped with grilled mission figs, seared foie gras, whipped cream and maple syrup. It could be over the top – okay, it is over the top — but in a good way, in part because Ferguson adds lemon thyme to the whipped cream and balsamic vinegar to the figs to temper the richness.
A sign of how far foie gras has come? In the three weeks that the bread pudding has been on the Solitaire menu — sometimes listed as a starter, sometimes as dessert — “some people have ordered it twice” in the same meal, says Ferguson.