August 09, 2002
Audrey Claire
posted by Nadia

We hadn't been to Audrey Claire in about a year, so we figured it was high time to visit again, in honor of the aforementioned last day of work. It being summer, they had set up tables outside, but the wait for an outside table was apparently excruciating. We settled for an indoor table near the window and (for the first few minutes, at least) sans neighbors. Ridiculousness #1 is how damn LOUD it is inside the restaurant. I wondered aloud whether there wasn't anything they could do about it ... for example, carpet the ceiling. But Carl noted that anything designed to dull the sound probably wouldn't jibe with the chic minimalist décor.

I forget which restaurant reviewer said that they'd never give a four-star review to a place with mediocre bread, but he was right. The bread at Audrey Claire was not only mediocre, but, as Carl noted, somewhat stale. I guess if I owned a restaurant I'd understand the temptation to recycle uneaten bread (heck, it's free! The guests can't complain about free food, can they?), but I think it just starts the meal off on a bad note. In addition to resembling stale hoagie rolls, the bread was served with a tiny glass bowl of olive-oil-plus that didn't really contribute much to the whole ensemble. The stuff seemed to include sesame seeds (which dropped to the bottom and didn't stick to the bread) and some kind of chopped herb (all of which stuck to the first piece dipped in it; the fact that I can't identify the herb should tell you something). Tasted like plain olive oil to me, and the tiny bowl ended up spilling somehow all over the side of the table and getting it all greasy.

For appetizers, we ordered a shrimp and avocado napoleon, and grilled lemon and herb octopus. As napoleons are wont to do, this one was impossible to eat without toppling. Two fine slices of avocado were topped with four tail-on shrimp (are we supposed to use our fingers? Take the tails off!), roasted tomatoes, and a few rings of barely-roasted red onion, all in a slightly sweet cool sauce that Carl thought had honey in it. Because the pieces were all so big, it was difficult to taste the components altogether ... but individually, everything was pretty good. I think the best part was the sweet and soft slow-roasted tomato, though frankly the ones Carl and I made a few weeks ago were better. I rather preferred the octopus appetizer, which had a nice grilled lemony flavor and was served with small squares of feta, olives, and greens. The octopus was tender (I would argue almost too tender, verging on spongy), and its charred flavor contrasted nicely with the sharp acid of olive and feta.

My main course was "Sea Bass with Scallion-Citrus Salsa." It was pretty lousy. The sea bass, if that's what it really was (toothfish, anyone?), was overcooked and consequently too dry and nearly chewy. I couldn't find a trace of scallion or salsa in the scallion-citrus salsa, which consisted of a bunch of green apple slices and two or three slices of orange and grapefruit heaped on top of the fish. The fruit didn't appear to be dressed with anything more flavorful than lemon juice, and did absolutely nothing for a fish that needed quite a bit of help. The piece de resistance was the bed of tepid Israeli couscous and vegetables underneath all this. I've noticed at more than one Philly restaurant the "trend" of serving every main course with the same vegetables and essentially a choice of two carbos. The problem here being that oversalted and underheated Israeli couscous flavored with what seems like dried rosemary may go well with a pork chop or a steak, but doesn't get along too well with fish and "citrus salsa."

Carl chose much more wisely and had lamb chops crusted with feta and garlic. While neither of us can say for sure if we could taste the feta, the crust itself was nicely salted and crispy in most of the right places. The lamb (oh, the lamb!) was pillowy and tender, really well flavored and not too lamby at all. It was served on garlic mashed potatoes that were creamy and flavorful and, unlike the aforementioned couscous, actually matched well with the accompanying lamb. Mmm..

Needless to say, we didn't order any dessert. Would you, with lemon cake waiting for you at home?

posted by Nadia

To celebrate our last day of work, Carl baked us a cake. I heard news of this via telephone from work, where I had already devoured three slices of a co-worker's nearly-flourless chocolate cake. The news of cake yet to come restrained me from eating another slice. I rushed home just in time to see Carl put the finishing touches on a lemon cake with lemon curd icing, with strawberries ringing the top.


The cake itself was gorgeous. Oohs and aahs and so forth, commentary on the placement of the strawberries and the evenness of the icing. Fingers were dipped in the leftover icing, which was fabulous - a whipped cream and lemon curd icing that has, surprisingly, held its shape without weeping for the past 24 hours. Tangy with lemon curd, little bits of zest (which Carl considered straining out but I think added a nice textural contrast), and perfectly fluffy. We decided to have a slice of cake each before dinner; "Otherwise," asked Carl, "how will we know if it's good?"

The Cake held together beautifully, even after being cut. Perfect layer of icing inside, one strawberry per slice. While Carl was underwhelmed by the actual cake part, I honestly thought it was an ideal specimen of cakedom. Thank you, Joy of Cooking! It was moist inside, not too sweet, with a perfect crumb and a mild lemony flavor. Nadia's future self reports that she had two slices of it for Saturday morning breakfast.

lemon curd:
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
6 tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

Mix everything but the butter together in a saucepan. Over low heat, add the butter a small chunk at a time and cook until the mixture starts to bubble, whisking frequently. Cook about a minute longer then remove from heat and chill for a least an hour (a wide bowl in the freezer works well).

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
lemon curd from above

Combine the cream and sugar and whip until it forms stiff peaks. Mix 1/3 of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten then fold the remaining whipped cream.

2 sifted cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sifted sugar
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
2 tsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375°. Resift the flour with the baking powder and the salt and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until light, then beat in the egg yolks. Add the flower mixture to the butter-sugar-eggs in three parts, alternating with some of the milk. Pour into two greased cake pans (8 or 9 inch rounds) and bake for about 25 minutes.