I Love Lamb

Once considered the lowly stuff of schwarma joints, lamb has been popping up in haute cuisine recently. The quality has improved: the gamey taste once in lamb dishes at second-tier French bistros has morphed into a lighter, more delicate flavor. After superstar francophiles like Thomas Keller, who has served lamb at French Laundry for a while now, started sourcing out grass-fed lamb, farms have been raising more and better lamb and getting it to market faster, and gradually diners have responded. Many who used to say they didn't like the taste of lamb have changed their tune in the past couple of years, and now only a few people other than non-meat-eaters complain if it appears on the plate.

Such was the case at Per Se the other night, where a fixed dinner menu for a private party included Herb-Roasted Elysian Fields Farm's "Selle D'Agneau," or shoulder of lamb. The waiters did not ask whether or not we cared for lamb, which was featured amid uncontroversial items like halibut, squash, and peach melba. The only asked if we had any food allergies.

The lamb turned out to be the highlight of the dinner. It was perfectly roasted, as was to be expected at Per Se, where Thomas Keller's deft touch is still very much in evidence. But it had a complexity that couldn't be credited to the delicious demi-glace or the kitchen's techniques alone. It was also a fabulous cut of meat.

Roast lamb appeared again at Craftbar later that week, where it was similar to Per Se's but not quite as dazzling, and according to other New York diners, it is on the menu at the new L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon, though I haven't been there yet.

Next up: in what may turn out to be a futile battle, I am going to attempt to recreate the lamb perfection of Per Se in my own kitchen. So far, in one semi-botched cooking spree last night, I have discovered that it is much more difficult to make roast lamb taste delicious than say, roast chicken. It's also difficult to find a good butcher with excellent cuts of lamb. This may explain why lamb is everywhere now: New York chefs love a challenge, especially one that involves having the right connections.