Photograph by Pete Shea
Toute Sweet: Michel and Muriel Loubiere, owners of Au Midi, show off chef Muriel's millefeuille with caramelized apple and gingerbread ice cream.
From Behind the Curtain
Au Midi's hidden kitchen delivers one French gem after another.
By Denise Vivar
For a time some years ago, when my cat was but a wee ball of fur, he could not bear to be on one side of a closed door. Any door-front door, bedroom door, closets, cupboards-he would wail and whine until I would give in and tear down the barrier between him and whatever he couldn't get to. Curiosity hasn't killed this cat but it certainly made him unpopular for a while. I reflected on this recently as I sat on one side of the curtained-off kitchen at the recently opened Au Midi in Aptos. The dining room is simple and sophisticated; a warm wash of yellow covers the walls and white linens dress the small tables. A collection of paintings portrays idyllic seaside spots and the mood is comfortable and inviting (except for the panels separating me from the kitchen scene). This instantly piqued my curiosity, and I was all the more intrigued. My friend Nabil did not share in my inquisitiveness and had no problem concentrating his attention on the menu.
Our waiter appeared from behind the magic panel and delivered two glasses of the crisp and fruity J.D. Macon Village ($7). The wine menu is small but well chosen, with a very diplomatic sampling of California, Italian, Spanish and Argentine as well as French vintages. All wines are available by the glass for $7 or by the bottle for $22-an unusual and generous gesture. From the appetizer menu we chose the beets carpaccio ($13.95), shutting down the possibility of foie gras, blue crab cakes, crispy goat cheese, mussels or Napoleon of tomato confit. "Perhaps they didn't finish decorating the kitchen," Nabil offered, but my rebuttal only engaged him more. "Maybe they like their privacy" was the match that lit the fuse, but I could tell his interest was flagging and so I let it go.
Our carpaccio arrived, mere slivers of jewel-toned beets blanketing the platter and accompanied by frills of whipped wasabi cream on warm sea scallops. The beets folded like precious Turkish carpets.
As much as I love classic French cooking, the evolution to the contemporary fresh approach catapults the French sensibility into a new orbit of orgiastic gastronomy. The Au Midi menu is a refreshing invitation to this new adventure.
For the entree I considered the duck magret with carrot confit and gingerbread sauce, served rare, but chose the pork tenderloin ($21.75) instead. In the final moments the wild salmon ($24.95) won out over the chicken lemon tajine for Nabil. Tender flakes of salmon fell from the fillet, and the emulsion of leeks, shallots, fennel and cilantro added a sweet note to the salmon and the surrounding roast fingerling potatoes. The medallions of pork tenderloin were incredibly tender and flavorful. They fanned out in an arc, hugging a compote of spiced caramel rhubarb, which was divine on the tenderloin. Two delicious fingers of creamy polenta balanced the array. Hints of nutmeg gave the compote and surrounding sauce an exotic spiciness.
Since the portions were actually quite reasonable, we actually had room for dessert. I chose what I believe to be the grande dame of the dessert menu, the bergamot ($8.25), and was warned, with gravity and a smile, that it is for chocolate lovers. Only say the word.
The bergamot was presented to the table, and oh, what a sight. A perfect dome glazed with smooth chocolate ganache and topped with gold leaf held court on a plate of chocolate sauce. Each bite gave way to a different chocolate sensation-a dense and decadent flourless chocolate cake with a delicate crisp on the bottom sat under an utterly rich chocolate mousse. We persevered and in the center found a hidden gem of crème brûlée. This is a chocolate lover's dream, but you don't have to be a hard-core chocaholic to appreciate this dish.
My desire to share in the kitchen excitement notwithstanding, it was a lovely evening. I'll return to continue in the discovery.
AU Midi bistroT
Address: 7960 Soquel Dr., Suite E, Aptos
Hours: Open 11am-2pm and 6-9pm Tuesday-Saturday
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