Event: Lunch at Restaurant Ledoyen, Paris
When: March 24th 2011, 12:30
Michelin Star: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute French with a mix of classic and contemporary fares
Addr: 1 Avenue Dutuit,  Carré des Champs Elysees
Arrondissement: 8th
Phone:+33 01 53 05 10 01
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau

Food rating: 6/10 I would have rated this meal with a 5/10 based on the ordinary savouries that I have sampled on this lunch,  but the dessert and depth of refinement shown in  the work of the nibbles showed impressive skills worth of an extra point on the aspect of the  overall food rating. With that said,  there is a section called “what I think months later”. You will find it at the bottom of this review. It sums pretty much everything I needed to say regarding this meal.
Service: 10/10 (Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet offered a highly accomodating  service)
Overall dining experience: 7/10 Although everything was to my taste (the classic decor, the service),
I did not find the dining experience to feature anything really particular on this lunch
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

We all dine at  3 Michelin star ventures for different personal reasons. Mine has nothing to do with its prestige, nothing to do neither with whatsoever gigantic expectations placed upon such dining events. For me, especially in Paris, it is the opportunity  for enjoying ingredients I do not get to oftently enjoy like the “poulet de bresse”, the “canard de challans”,  some exclusive cheese aged by Bernard Antony,  the Poujauran’s bread and many more (France has a soil that is blessed: their produces  are usually simply amazing, and this comes from someone who was born and raised on  a land of stunning poultry, meats, seafood, greens and fruits).  In the hands of a true 3* Chef, this can be worthy of high consideration. At the haute dining level, I have a personal yearly  (or every 2 years if Paris is too far, depending on where I live)  Parisian routine that does not cost that much (well, nothing compared to what you would pay for the menu degustation at those restaurants) and makes sense since it focuses on widly known strenghts o f those  places I’ll mention next:  I go  to L’Arpège only for their ‘Canard de Challans à l’hibiscus’ (à la carte,  with no wine; perhaps a starter and a dessert).  I do the same at Plaza Athénée (Ducasse) for their ‘Poultry Albufera’ when it is available.   Gerard Besson’s (now close) “tourte de  gibiers et foie gras” used to attract me to Paris too, on my (bi)-yearly gourmand trip.

Picking a 3* in Paris is a nightmare for me: there is no doubt that I will eat well at most of them,  but for the price I am afraid that the usual hype, sumptuous decor and nod to history won’t suffice to  impress me. Keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground, I refuse to expect fireworks (it is food,  not a Disney show) but food that needs to be deliciously superior. Whatever the reasons justifying a 3* dining experience,  food at such level needs to come from a Chef who is capable of pushing the limits of deliciousness to heights that are not commonly experienced. This is not about delusional expectations: if you are lucky enough to get  Michel Bras in person cooking for you at his stronghold of Laguiole, you will understand what I mean.    It doesn’t need to be Michel Bras or a 3* Chef, it just need to come from a cook with that magical touch where somehow an exceptional talent, passion and love for savourish food are transferred into your plate:  my lifetime most memorable meal was a simple spiny lobster grilled by an anonymous cook. When I told people how talented he was, most replied that grilling a lobster was no big deal and could not fail to be tasty.  Years have passed, that cook became one of the most acclaimed Chefs of his country and many of World’s most  respected Chefs have tried, albeit in vain, to  attract him to the Western world. Years have passed and not one  claw of lobster have been as impressive as that one…and  I’ve tried them in all variations, at bistros or 3* tables, on the street or by the sea, in different geographical areas. The name of that Chef is irrelevant here.  His magic touch
is. Could that magical touch be purely subjective? Part of it is of personal appreciation naturally, but the exceptional  talent of one Chef never lies: some may like his food, others not, but if seeking for great food is a passion for you, you will  notice the talent that’s behind the meal. That’s my only expectation for a 3* meal: that exceptional talent, that exceptional  touch not aiming to impress but that pulls the most out of the least.

I grew up in Paris and have already visited almost all its  current 3 Michelin star holders (PG, APDA, Arpege, Pré Catalan, L’Astrance, Guy Savoy, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, etc) except Ledoyen and L’Ambroisie.  Ledoyen seemed to be a match with what I’ve always encouraged:  a Chef, Christian Le Squer, mostly praised for his exceptional talent and who is found where he needs to shine: behind his stoves. The same applies to L’Ambroisie, although, in the case of the latest, the fact that it is one of the few last classic strongholds at the 3* dining level weighs a lot in the balance.

My Parisian friends who know both places well recommended that I start with Ledoyen.
”Save the pricier one for the last”, Jean-Luc commended to me. Not that it would make any difference:  I already knew that Parisian 3* restaurants are no bargain.  Anyways, I just need my food to be very delicious regardless of its price or creativity level. VERY delicious, I stressed! VERY DELICIOUS, was I assured.

Preparation is always the name of my game whenever I decide to dine at a 3* Michelin table. It has been like that the very first time I stepped foot in a 3* Michelin restaurant (1990, Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV); the  pattern has not changed more than two decades later.  Mine consisted of  in depth intelligence about Christian Lesquer’s (my readers know how I value true artisans working for real behind their stoves over cooks who serve as name bearers for celebrity-entrepreneur-chefs. Christian is found where he should be: behind his stoves) strengths and weaknesses, type of cuisine, culinary philosophy. At such prices, at such level of dining, I may as well indulge in what he is best known for. Daniel  — a  close friend (of mine)  who has followed Christian Lesquer’s career  since Christian was working at Le Divellec — was my most prolific info provider on Ledoyen restaurant’s strong man. Daniel is an admirer of Lesquer but was very honest about the Brittany’s Chef. He ensured that I was not expecting some kind of techno-revolutionary cuisine but a highly skilled cuisine that is classic with enough modern inspiration in style and creativity to   be worth of the highest accolades.

I first wanted to pick his five course ”spécialités‘ (signature dishes), but his prix fixe dejeuner menu is affordable. I chose the latest and added two ‘spécialités’:  the lobster + Toasts brulés d’anguilles.  If I had a second stomach, the sweetbreads skewer would be part of the plan.
FOOD

Today, the  menu dejeuner at Ledoyen consisted  of  a mise en bouche of  “tartare de dorade à la tahitienne”, a first choice of veggies in an emulsion of radish/or some langoustines with its own jus, a second  choice of chicken (supreme de volaille des Landes en croute de pain rassie), cheese, a choice of two desserts: one made of bananas (Transparence banane, fruits de la passion), the other from strawberries (Fraises “Gariguette” parfumées coriandre/Hibiscus).

Tartare de dorade à la tahitienne: great ingredient as expected (the fish was of superb freshness, same could be said of the thin slices of scallops disposed atop the tartare ), perfect balance in taste and seasonings. A good tartare, but at this level, I need this tartare to shine a bit more in  creativity or at least with surprising  flavors. The apple-lemon  gelée underneath was nice, but kept the tartare in a ‘pedestrian’ registry. 7.5 /10

Jardins de légumes vert à l’émulsion de radis – peas (superb quality), green beans (good quality), onions, dried tomatoes in a radish emulsion.  Cute like a bug, that dish…enjoyable too…but not a dish that I am expecting at this level of cuisine neither. Do not get me wrong: I am not expecting fireworks here. Just a touch of next-level  daring-ness may it be in the taste or overall gustatory enjoyment of the course. Good 7/10

Sole de petite cotière étuvée de petit pois – The sole was superbly presented in the shape of a tube. Enjoyable taste, perfect moist consistency of the flesh. Indeed, some great cooking technical mastery in there. The green rolls were filled with a cream of peas and the truffle sauce, although not of memorable mention,  retained a   ‘smokey’ flavor that I enjoyed a lot.  Well done, perhaps, but it lacked  prime palatability . 7.5/10

As mentionned earlier on,  I also ordered two of their signature dishes:

Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes:
Everytime I try lobsters at a restaurant, it suffers from my instant comparison to my all-time favourite ones: the spiny tropical langoustes of the Indian Ocean. To me, the latest  stands predominate (with the carribbean’s being my second best) despite years of enjoying all sorts of them around the globe. Langoustines are smaller  with (to my palate), a more discrete marine robustness. Comparison aside, I love lobsters and always try them wherever I go. Those of Brittany are familiar enough to me. Not in my top 3, but good enough in taste whilst a tad less appealing (to me) in consistency. Chef Christian Lesquer added a middle eastern touch to the dish: kadaif (vermicelli-like pastry)  balls filled with  the crustacean meat, fried, then set atop the langoustine tail. The citrus fruit emulsion, emulsified with the usual olive oil,  which  basically turned out to be a citrus/olive oil based  mayonnaise was certainly well executed (it was somehow light enough to  not overwhelm the lobster meat and added a pleasant dimension to its enjoyment) …but  as far as in-mouth enjoyment goes, it was suprisingly discrete (where is the punch?).   The idea is good though: it is  no surprise that a citrus flavored emulsified concoction is meant to pair  naturally well with lobster (mayo pairs well with lobster meat, citrus flavors too, etc). I’ve tasted better variations (read more flavorful) of this dish before, but Lesquer’s version is still fine enough (the lobster’s meat was nicely cooked + the effort and idea he did put in the kadaif  deserve a bonus point) for me to rate it with a 7.5 over 10

Toast Brulé d’Anguille- This is how you set yourself apart, this is how the most will notice you, this is how you have chances to seduce the stars: think of a signature dish, one that will evoke souvenirs of you. Lesquer understands this well, as numerous 3* defining dining signature dishes were made by him.  Toasts brulés d’anguille is one of his; an attractive visual curiousity. At first, it reminded me of a miniature  replica coffin. Yep, coffins can be appealing to the eyes. The dark base is made of bread. The violet-colored topping is eel reduced by grape juice and wine. It’s  before such dish that I value the genius of a creative Chef, a really  smart one: why bother with tubes, liquid nitrogen,  when there are a lot left in the hands of all things natural (or “mother nature” as Marco Pierre-White loves to say) –> take the eel (the ingredient) , its lustrous skin (an inspiration for texture), and think of a flavor that hits (smoky… for  the smokiness flavor of that toast). Add talent, add inspiration (with dishes like his spaghetti/parmesan/ham/morels rectangular-shaped signature dish, take his “blanc de turbot”, take the “toasts d’anguille…it’s clear that you need to be inspired to create those ), and you have got a winner. A 10 over 10 for the creativity, the idea, the fun execution. A 7.5 over 10 for its gustatory amazement (It was more cuter than tastier, but tasty  enough to be considered as a good / to very good creation). fyi: What you see on the side is a cube of potato filled with “creme de raifort” (just ok)

Many frequent  star Michelin diners  have raved over those two signature dishes of Chef  Lesquer (Toast brulé d’Anguille + Grosses langoustines bretonnes), but to my surprise both dishes failed to leave any imprint on my memory even by keeping  my expectations as low as possible. The  Grosses langoustines bretonnes was unexpectedly disappointing: I had a similar dish prepared in Turkey (1993) and a Lebanese cook has prepared  a similar one on an Indian Ocean Island that I visited in 1997.   Chef Lesquer’s version never even came close to a quarter of the overall prime palatable  impact that both non Michelin-starred cooks provided through their langoustines dishes.

When I see written here and there than Chef Lesquer makes great desserts, all I can say is that this is an accurate statement:

Fraise “guariguette” parfumées coriandre/hibiscus -   Excellent dessert where sublime taste and lots of creativity were  on display. The parade of  the stawberry, coriander and hibiscus flavours in mouth was a true act of genius.  What I kept waiting for (in terms of superb complementing — or even contrasting — flavors, textures and delicious taste) in the savories … was finally unleashed in this successful dessert.  10 over 10

They offer lots of extras:

Several “mises en bouche”

Many  “mignardises” (excellent licorice macarons, hibiscus gelée, delicious chips of caramel butter, pina colada lollipops)

And they also brought chocolates, some Brittany’s pastries  too.

I know: the ratings of this specific meal  are not what we might expect at a 3 star Michelin level.  But still, at euros 88 (the menu dejeuner), and especially with the superb service I found on this lunch + all the extras that are offered to all patrons, I’d still highly recommend Ledoyen. It is a place where I truly felt good, and for once I’ll forgive the lack of gustatory amazement that was found — on this lunch — the exception being  the dessert (to some extent, the “toast brulé” was also appreciated).

SERVICE

Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet is a sociable gentleman, professional and yet extremely caring. This man knows what ‘accomodation’ means and his open mind (he travelled a lot around the world and worked for top restaurants like those of Boulud’s in Vancouver — now closed) is refreshing. The entire service was in line with what you do expect at such high level of dining: courteous, attentive.

DECOR
The exterior is marked by Ancient Greece inspired neoclassical facades of  blank walls, columns. The inside is in Second Empire style: ornamented, elegant surrounding moldings. As a non food related note, if – like me — you enjoy this style of architecture, pay a visit to Le Louvre and the Opera house.

LOCATION
Off Les Champs Élysées

PROS: The service on this lunch sets the bar for what hospitality should be about at this level of haute dining.  And this type of  classic decor appeals to me. Paris truly has an architectural  charm that others will spend their life mimicking,  just mimicking…

CONS:  The food I had on this lunch lacked interest, in my assessment. Not bad, not great neither. And a signature dish needs to shine!

CONCLUSION -  Their prix fixe Lunch menu is one ideal way to enjoy a  3 michelin star meal at  reasonable cost in Paris.

ADDENDUM – MY CURRENT FAVOURITE  3 STAR MICHELIN IN FRANCE (I am adding this section just for informative value only; added only to reviews of 2 and 3 star Michelin in France since it’s the country which restaurant scene I did familiarize myself with)  -> L’Ambroisie (this is a tricky one. Pacaud was on the verge of retiring when I lunched there, but he was cooking at lunch time when I was there. Based solely on that visit, it is clear in my mind that L’Ambroisie is simply the best Classic Haute French 3 star Michelin around the globe, let alone in France. Yep, with not one single hesitation regardless of the fact that such claim is always controversial. Now, is it the same when Pacaud is not there? I obviously can’t tell), Troisgros (I am normally not a big fan of the Troigros, primarily because I find it odd that a 3 star Michelin in France would opt for Intl influences as intensively as they do. Ironically, that does not bother me at all at the 2 star Michelin level, Rfaol! Go figure! Lol. But at the 3 star level, in France, Nah. Regardless, when this kitchen is in its prime, it is indeed one of France’s finest 3 star Michelin destinations and it is based on that observation that Troisgros somehow fits among my  favourite 3 stars in France), L’Arpège, Paris (Before I visited L’Ambroisie, this was my #1  three star Michelin in Paris. Many Chefs claim to treat ingredients with passion, which is a claim that I usually do not care about since they have to. But when such claim comes from the mouth of Alain Passard, it means something else. We are here among the exceptional few which love for the ingredient is genuine, not dicted. I am a huge fan of Passard, even when things did not go the way I wanted – for example on lesser impressive meals at L’Arpège —  because I come from a school of thought with  strong emphasis on how to treat and respect the produce from the second you remove it from the soil till it gets into your mouth. It would take an entire article to elaborate on that spectacular journey of the ingredient accompanied by its companion —because to me, that is what a real Chef is about…serving as the guide/companion  to his ingredient –   but Alain Passard was the one that better expressed it ), Les Pres d’Eugenie in Eugénie Les Bains (oh god, it has been a while I haven’t went back, but the souvenirs that I have are unlikely since not much has changed there, for example the kitchen still has the same staff as on my last visit there. One of France’s most solid 3 stars in my own experience, with French classic food delivered with panache /  Chef Michel Guérard)

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: 3 star Michelin restaurants have a pressure that few others have. They need to be consistent with at least the basic standard that their customers are used to at this level of dining. Ideally, they need to rise at the heights that their counterparts have already set. Again, on a  regular basis. On the other hand, people eat out a lot, so expectations are more and more meaningless, which is why I have stopped expecting anything from restaurants for years.  I just visit, appreciate what they are serving to me and just boldly give my opinion based on what is realistic: for example a piece of meat is cooked anywhere else with a minimum of X beefy mouthfeel. If you go below that common mark of X beefy mouthfeel, then your piece of beef is below average. If you go beyond, then I’ll tell you how far beyond — what I am used to   – you managed to go. No more, no less, no surreal expectations but playing the game with the cards that exist on the table. Now, when you pertain to such an exceptional level of dining, most people will never forgive one single off day. I won’t even go to that extent, being again very down to earth in my way of seeing things as I know that off days are normal, but  I need a minimum and it is called TASTY FOOD. I am not even asking you for divine food, just tasty. And this is where I was a bit frustrated by this lunch ( again, I can talk only for my meal. I never judge restaurants since food and dining experiences are variable by nature, anyways): for example, the lobster and its citrus emulsion. That has no other choice but to be delicious. I am not asking for the moon here, I am not even expecting the heights reached by  some of France’s finest 3 star Michelin lobster dishes (for eg, the finest of  Alain Passard, Olivier Roellinger’s lobster creations  when he was at the helm of his 3 star Michelin venture in Cancale or Michel Guerard’s )…no…BUT  a dish of lobster, even at a low key steakhouse, let alone a hole in a wall serving seafood is widely known as an expected delicious affair. On this reviewed lunch , it was subtle in flavor, rather unexciting. Same could be said of the toast of eel, the pea appetizer, the tartare, all items that can be easily pushed to realistic palatable excitement that this lunch never managed to approach. I was  generous in my score, trust me! But go, since I believe this was just an off day. Well, I hope or else, there’s something I am definitely not getting.

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