Welcoming this new  year with an overwiew of the highs and lows of my 2016/2017 foodie adventures:

The best  meals of 2016/2017:
Le Coucou (NYC), Sushi Azabu (NYC), Dons Bogam (NYC) , Hvor (Montreal) — but Chef S’Arto Chartier-Otis does not work there anymore, Ichimura (NYC) but Chef Ichimura does not work there anymore,
Nozy (Montreal), Cocoro (Montreal), Argo (Fira), TO Ouzeri (Fira), Old Tavern of Psaras (Athens), Mere Michel (Montreal), Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (Atlantic City), Junior’s (Brooklyn), Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn), The River Café (Brooklyn), La Caye (Brooklyn),  The steak at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (NYC)

The most memorable food items of 2016/2017:
1.Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe (Pres d’Eugenie)
Wall of fame material.
2.Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese (Hvor, Montreal) – Lifetime achievement award!!!
3.Roasted pineapple (Le Coucou) –
They all say they can make it. In reality, few, very few can pull out some roasted pineapple of this quality.

My GO-TO places:

La Frite à Brigitte (Vaudreuil-Dorion). When I discovered Quebecois classic food, I was filled with awe. Simple French-based food but full of dazzling flavors. Quebecois people have an awesome palate. They have glorious food items like the Poutine. French fries, gravy, cheese curds. Sounds straightforward, right? Perhaps, but Poutine is one of the best inventions of all times. It is so tasty, so well thought, so great. La Frite à Brigitte is currently my GO-TO place for their superb poutine . I keep going there for more. La Frite à Brigitte Addr: 347 Boulevard Harwood, Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC Phone: (450) 510-5151. My other GO-TO place in Montreal is Reuben’s Deli & Steakhouse. I never tried any steak there, but their delis are some of the most refined and better executed of this globe. They seem to pull off great things after great things at Reuben’s: some of the best strawberry cheesecakes in town, the best sliders I ever had in Montreal, etc. I am not implying that it is the restaurant of the century, but at whatever it does, it consistently  outshines its competitors.  Reuben’s Addr: 1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc Phone: 514-866-1029. My other go-to places in  Montreal: Gyu-Kaku, the current best local table top bbq grill restaurant, Escondite (the best local tacos and tequila bar),  Panama, my preferred Greek eatery in town, as well Loukouman Addr: 522 Jarry Ouest Montréal, Québec, H3N-1E9 Phone: 514-272-5272  (indeed, some of the best loukoumades in town eventhough they do not use the pricey honey that I am usually fond of, but regardless, they are as fine as you will get them in town, better than the ones of Mr Puffs, most Greeks will tell you, and that is what I think,  too).  I also tried   Souvlaki Bar (the one in Laval) as well as the Marathon that is at 3313 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux (the Marathon in Laval is disappointing) and both were good by Montreal Souvlaki Chain eateries (food cooked to order, the pork souvlaki as tender and meaty as it should, the ingredients are fine). Talking about Greek eateries  in Montreal, I had some of the best pork souvlaki in Montreal around 25  years ago at a place called Marvens in Parc Extension. Marvens used to also serve one of the very best homemade sauce, their special sauce boasting a light orange hue. Remembering how great it used to be, I went back this past summer and I am saddened  to submit that Marvens’s star  has faded: the special sauce is so sour, nowadays, that it made the food almost inedible. Inedible is also how I would describe the once stellar pork souvlaki which consistency is nowadays dry and tough. People who knew Marvens 25 years ago will be in serious shock.   An all-time GO-TO restaurant in Montreal is Lucca. Lucca used to dazzle a bit more in  the past, but it remains, years later, my preferred trattoria in Montreal. It is Cozy, so Italian, and those in the know will concede…Lucca is still the ‘Special One’!. I am also a big fan of Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn) that I never fail to visit every time I find myself in New York. Their seafood is so popular that it is even exported to Canada. This is the best seafood shack of  New York city. Jordan’s lobster dock 3165 Harkness Ave, Sheepshead Bay – Brooklyn, NY 11235 United States; Phone number (718) 934-6300; URL: http://www.jordanslobster.com .

The best food items of 2016/2017:
1.Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes (Hvor, Montreal) – WOW!
2.Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto (Hvor, Montreal) – You die  and are resurrected just for that!
3.Braised oxtail / potatoes (Le Coucou, NYC) – Even a 3 star Classic French Michelin restaurant in France would be J*E*A*L*O*U*S!!
4. Sea eel (anago) nigiri (Ichimura,NYC) – I thought this nigiri was  flown in straight from one of the best sushiyas of Tokyo!!
5.Langue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre (Marconi, Montreal) – Ok, my life did not feel shattered, but damn ..that was GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6. The ramen at Cocoro (Montreal) – SLURP! …because, in the ramenya world,  that is the way to show how enchanted you were, about your ramen!
7. Grilled goat at Petite Ya quartier (Mtl) – With flavors like these….Oh you, Mother Africa, you make it impossible …. to stop loving you!

-The LOWS:
-The oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city)
-All the food at Vizantino taverna (Athens)
-My meal at Miss Favela (Brooklyn)

The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017: The review on Montreal steakhouses is the one that you keep favoring the most year after year.  It is an old review, dating back to  2013. Definitely not the review that I was expecting  to captivate any attention  on this blog, but somehow you like it.  At some point I did consider removing all posts of more than a year on this blog, as they become irrelevant,  but it would be a  nonsense to do so (I never saw a food blogger proceeding that way). The second most popular review was the one on Sushi Sawada (Tokyo). I am glad to see that you were interested by that review as it proves one thing: people are, sometimes, more interested by the content of a review, the technical aspect of the food that  lies before them (is it well conceived, does it respect the fundamentals of good cooking, you know…the right texture, the right temperature, etc) , rather than food porn (sexy instagram-esque pictures —  I was ready to shoot the pictures, actually, but we have got to respect the rules of a house, which, in the case of Sawada, forbids photo taking to normal diners). The 3rd most popular posts are  the ones on Dons de la Nature(Tokyo) and this post I wrote on Gault Millau Montreal/Yakitori Otto/Bombay Mahal Tali/Chez Jano.

4th most popular post, among you – The review on Argo (Fira) as well as the one on Kam Fung (Montreal)
5th  – L’Arpege (Paris)
6th – Ishikawa (Tokyo)
7th – Nice  (Cote d’Azur)
8th – Sushi Oono (Tokyo)
9th – Kanbai (Montreal)

This  web blog’s main intent is to cater to some close foodies with whom I share information about places where to dine at.  In the process, it benefits to the rest of the web as well – obviously. It is also an opportunity to have a firm  idea of how the information on the web is manipulated by many  individuals of the restaurant world (expecting otherwise would be utterly naive … ): although I was pleasantly surprised by the considerable amount of hits on the 9 posts I have just mentioned above (numbers that could almost rival those web sites that have a PR machine behind them — certainly a surprise for a web site that is anonymous like mine), it is clear that some  restaurants around the globe are paying the search engines to filter what can be found on them. That makes sense as it is all about business, protecting business, masquerading their failures as success, etc, and it takes a non restaurant-friendly source like the current  blog to remind you of that. Apparently, based on the wordpress stats of this blog,   you do  not care  for some of the very best restaurants of this globe …  Trattoria Vecchia Roma offers some of the best Traditional Cucina Romana in the world.  Sushi Azabu, Ichimura (New York) are some of the best sushiyas outside of Japan. Le Coucou (New York), one of the best French restaurants outside of France. Dons Bogam  (New York), one of the best Korean BBQ outside of South Korea.  Le Casse Noix (Paris),  has some of the best  riz au lait and Ile flottante in the world. Readers of this blog could not care less. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I believe that    truely exists.  Lol…a nonsense as those restaurants are some of the most popular of this planet…

Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) –  Moissonier , which  had  the best French pike quenelles as well as rice cake  of Paris, did close this summer. Paris will never be the same without  this restaurant which served classic French food from Lyon and Franche-Comté as remarkable as the impressive resume of its Chef (an Ex sous Chef of culinary legends such as Alain Senderens, The Troisgros family). Certainly  the sign that people, nowadays, are more interested by hype rather than substance: the closure of this restaurant did not make the headlines…  Moissonnier Addr: 28, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, Paris, Phone: 01 43 29 87 65

My special journey in Fontjoncouse – According to the Michelin guide, their 3 star restaurants “worth a special journey”.  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is considered as one of the very best French restaurants in the world by those in the know. I had lunch and dinner there. You will find more, about my meals at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, here.

A stopover in Northern Catalonia’s Perpinyà  – At approximately 60 kms away from Fontjoncouse, you will find   Perpignan. Northern Catalonia was Spanish, then became French in 1659. It is an area that the French call Pyrénées-Orientales.  In Perpignan, I tried Le Divil which was recently credited with the title of the best restaurant for meats in France by Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘  (click here for that review) .

I was born to the sound of the sea waves hitting the rocks – It is magical. It really is, because all your life you remember the smell of that sea, the noise of the waves hitting those rocks and the treasure you sometimes found on those rocks. On those rocks, there were ..oftently..oysters! One of the ‘gemstones’ of the sea.  Decades later, oysters do not stop to fascinate me. While in Southern France, I had another opportunity to flirt with them, once again. This time, they were in one of France’s most important destinations of oysters, Leucate. Leucate is a commune in the department of Aude, a department with some of France’s most picturesque communes (Peyriac-de-Mer, one of its communes, has the potential to leave the most in awe). Most part of Leucate is composed of swathes of  beautiful landscapes (beaches, blue waters, the sea, the mountains).  Unexpectedly, the oysters ..those jewels of the sea…well, it is in the less pretty part of Leucate that you will find them. An area called Le Grau de Leucate where less than 30 oyster stands are offering the local Cap Leucate oyster. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

 

Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York – New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where? Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo. I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, my next major ‘foodie’ project is to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc. I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .  In the meantime, Sorbillo NYC, here I come !  Zia Esterina Sorbillo  334 Bowery Street at Bond Street, NYC Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

The GREATEST CHEFS of the globe – My generation was gifted with some of the most talented Chefs of all time. One of them was Jacques Maximin. Chef Maximin  has inspired legends such as Ferran Adria as well as highly regarded Chefs like  Franck Cerutti, Christophe Moret or Bruno Cirino. Nowadays, he is not an active Chef anymore. He stood out for his impressive creativity. Oftently, he was able to create, with limited time, what many of the  other legendary  Chefs would, sometimes,  take ages to achieve. Perhaps the culinary Genius who had the more wit, the best natural instinct when it came to Classic French cuisine:

 

New York City’s Michelin Stars for 2018  –  I do not understand the Michelin guide (yeah, I know, it is trendy to say so, in the anti-Michelin circles, but it is NOT better in the anti-Michelin world, neither! ) on one hand, you have plenty of Japanese restaurants in NYC  that are awarded stars, and deservedly so… because, yep, truth be told,  we are talking about hard working people, proud of their craft rather than a bunch of money hungry bums disguised as restaurateurs as widely seen elsewhere in some other supposedly food cities. But then, why demoting Jean-Georges? I do  oftently visit  NYC and do know Jean-Georges well  and there is no difference between  Jean-Georges  in its current form Vs the one of the other years. Same for Daniel, btw! Is it, because Michelin, came to the conclusion that they should  not have been awarded  3 stars in the first place? Well, if that is the reason, then dear Michelin, you should have thought about that…in the first place! Is it because both Jean-Georges and Daniel do not have the “grandiose’ looks and feel of   3 star Michelin restaurants  like Per Se and  Eleven Madison Park? The special ‘cachet’ of Masa? I am sure NOT,   as Michelin does not have a  limited vision  of what the restaurant world should be about: to the contrary of what the anti-Michelin lobby is trying to sell to us, you do not have 1 type of restaurant that Michelin favors. Michelin stars were awarded to plenty of restaurants that do, actually, fit the mold of its competitors and detractors  — for example, L’Arpège and L’Astrance in Paris, which are restaurants that Michelin competitors  such as Le Fooding and  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants do regard as ‘non-Michelin enough’, ‘non-Palace enough’. Well, in reality, both L’Arpège and L’Astrance have … 3 Michelin stars! Examples like those abound: MirazurOsteria FrancescanaAsador Etxebarri are  all  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants ‘bestsellers’. Well, they ALL have  Michelin stars, too!  Business is business…you can “bark”  as loud as you want, but at the end of the day, they are all competing for the same thing! At least, Michelin has managed, up to now, to avoid  laughable  decisions such as marketing  an ordinary restaurant  which best meal is  spaghetti and lobster …. as one of the top 100 best restaurants of the globe! A recent  “exploit” in the world  of  one of  Michelin’s  competitors (if, at least, that was the best spaghetti or the best obster out there, but no..not at all, not even close….Rfaol!).  Back to Michelin NYC 2018… I am not done with it: Torishin, the 1 star Michelin yakitori…can someone tell me how no Michelin inspector ever ran into the mixed bag of a service that did put me off when I was there (as reviewed here). What…??..the bad waiters I met at Torishin are nowhere to be found when the Michelin inspectors do visit Torishin? That mixed service would be BAU at a hole in a wall eatery managed by bums, nothing to do with a Michelin star restaurant!

My next ‘immediate’ foodie project  – It is about time, for me, to take   my passion for food to another level. Cooking since my tender childhood and submitting my palate to all sorts of taste sensations  from all around the globe as well as trying to see what the girls and boys of the restaurant industry were  up to  (the sole reason I enjoyed visiting  restaurants) was useful, for sure. But now, I have seen what I had to and I am more than ready for the next steps: as mentioned earlier on, learning how to perfect the art of the Neapolitan Pizza, in Naples, is one of the next projects that is of interest. That can’t be done right away, though. Therefore, my next immediate foodie project is to focus on pushing taste sensations to dimensions that we are not used to, this side of our sphere. Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with the moringa (pictured above). It is ‘trendy’ , in the western world,  to introduce exotic ingredients in  our vocabulary, therefore the moringa is on everyone’s mind, but what matters to me is how complex, in terms of taste sensations, the moringa is. It is rare, in one single ingredient, to get to experience with a collection of clashing taste sensations like the ones delivered by the moringa. The moringa, on a culinary perspective, …it is a real ‘pain in the butt’, but as with everything that is not ‘easy to deal with’, it leads to interesting opportunities..

May 2018 be joyous, fruitful  for the epicurious in us and above all….DELICIOUS!

 

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Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse
Type of Cuisine:  French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Addr: 5 Avenue Saint-Victor, 11360 Fontjoncouse, France
Phone: +33 4 68 44 07 37
Email: reception@aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr
URL:  http://www.aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr/en/
Service: 10/10 World class service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Goujon talk to their customers (Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone), Chef Goujon (a salt of the earth kind of man, from what  I gathered)  is present in his kitchen at a time when your neighborhood bistrot cook thinks that he is too good to be found in a kitchen.
Overall food rating: 8/10 Very good performance.

“Puits” is French for a water well. There is an old (Vieux)  water well on the premises. The restaurant  is located in the village of Fontjoncouse (commune of Corbières, deparment of Aude) in the south of France.

To get to L’Auberge du vieux puits, you can either take a train to Narbonne (30 kms away) or fly to Perpignan  (66 kms from Fontjoncouse). Narbonne is a town that I have always liked for personal reasons that I do not need to explain on this blog,  but Perpignan is a big city. This time, I stayed in Perpignan because  I had another meal to attend at France’s 2017 best restaurant for steaks (according to Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘ ), Le Divil (reviewed here). During this short stay in Southern France, the long time ostreaphile that I am  wandered outside Perpignan and dropped by Leucate, one of the  destinations   of the French Mediterranean oyster. There, you have a  tiny area called Le centre ostréicole du  Grau de Leucate featuring a line-up of oyster stands selling the celebrated local oyster  Cap Leucate. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

In 2016, L’Auberge du vieux puits was in the top 10 of the best restaurants of this globe, according to La Liste ( La Liste is the sole restaurant ranking system that takes into account  all major  press reviews,  dining  guides,  and crowd-sourced sites  around the world ).

Chef Gilles Goujon is some sort of   “Messiah” for the tiny village of Fontjoncouse (as youtube’d here) , a village of  less than  200 inhabitants,  as his restaurant is their main attraction, their local “economy” relies heavily on him (most jobs, in the village, are related to Gilles’s restaurant).  A  Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious award in the culinary world),   he  was the assistant of a true culinary luminary —NOT  the kind of self proclaimed ones and/or marketed as such,  that we keep hearing about, these days —,  Chef Roger Vergé (at Moulin de Mougins when that restaurant had 3 Michelin stars).  He also worked at Gérard Clor’s L’ Escale (Carry le rouet) when the restaurant had  2 Michelin stars as well as at  Michelin starred Le Petit Nice (in Marseille). In 2010, Gilles was France’s Chef of the year.  The professional magazine Le Chef  ranked Gilles Goujon  in the top 50 best Chefs in the world. Gilles has 5 Toques at Gault & Millau.

 

The village of Fontjoncouse itself is quiet, but if you stay there (the restaurant is attached to a mini hotel), then consider visiting the pretty village of Lagrasse , the ruined fortress of Peyrepertuse, and the abbey of Fontfroide. All well worth going out of your way for.

L’Auberge du Vieux Puits has  3 tasting menus (the names of the tasting menus refer  to the surrounding Pays Cathare, therefore you have names such as  “Bienvenue au pays“, “Quelques pas dans la Garrigue”  or  “Air de fêtes en Corbières” ) as well as the A la Carte items (3 starters, 3 seafood items, 3 items for the meats, 3 desserts.  I ate there twice:  lunch as well as dinner.

The lunch  did start with some amuse-bouches with fillings such as cream of truffle, gazpacho, calamari, bottarga, sauce gribiche ), some  bread called fougasse (their take on it — different, in looks, from  most traditional variations  of the  fougasse — would make us, in North America, think of a “cousin” of the english muffin) that you dip in olive oil (fleur d’huile d’Olive of  Moulin a huile du Partegal ). Then a Mediterranean oyster, oyster Tarbouriech,  lightly poached, with a reasonable briny taste and plenty of body, served with seawater jelly and some oyster tartare. All pleasant.

Cressonette are Cuckoo flower leaves (a terrestrial  “cousin” of the watercress) and they are a dream for any fan of the watercress (I am one of them), their vibrant fresh wildcress flavor (without the agressive bitterness that watercress can sometimes be accused of)  expressed excitingly well in the cold “coulis” that it was transformed into, the piece of frog leg (with, inside of it, a “coulant” of the spectacular cuckoo flower leaves, a match made in heaven) as well as some first-rate baby vegetables  (with a particularly outstanding piece of celery root) that it was paired with, were all examples of what you are blessed with, when superb sourcing flirts with fabulous cooking. The kick of saltiness of the “coulis” was not a mistake, in this specific case, but a necessary flavor enhancer.  A world class dish. 10/10

Tourte d’anguille (a pie of eel), saoule de vin en matelotte fumée girolles et champignons en fine croûte de pain cramat. The eel is marinated in wine for several hours, seasoned, coated in flour , pan-seared then “encased” in squid ink flavored cylindrical-shaped sliced bread. That sliced bread is actually the  “croûte (crust) de  pain (bread) cramat (comes from the French word ‘ cramé’ which means ‘burnt’ because that is the effect the kitchen was  looking for when crafting the  squid ink flavored sliced bread).   The marinade is then used to make the sauce that will be thickened with butter and enhanced by the taste of cognac/thyme/bay leaf/espelette pepper/mushrooms/carrots/onions/smoked bacon. Very good 8/10

The lunch did end with one of their most popular  desserts:

Vrai faux citron de Menton délicatement cassant, sorbet citrus bergamote et kumquat du Japon (citrus bergamot / kumquat sorbet ), crème thym citron (thyme and lemon cream), meringue croustillante (crispy meringue).  A blown sugar “lemon” filled with a sorbet of citrus bergamot and   kumquat,  meringue, thyme and lemon cream.  The kumquat‘s natural bitterness was  toned down (the kumquat that was used is of the Meiwa varietal, a kumquat that is sweeter than most kumquats – L’Auberge du Vieux puits gets theirs from Mas Bachès) , which allowed for a fine balance of taste sensation. Only the leaf was real, all the rest was a reproduction of the shape of a lemon.  I am not a fan of the trompe-l’œil technique (the illusion of  a lemon , in this case) , but truth be told, it was really well done ( it looked like a real lemon), especially the “rind” of the “fruit”, which…I swear…I thought was the real thing. Above all, it tasted great. 8/10

At dinner, I had:

Razor clam / Mussel – A gentleman fisherman named Charly (from Vandre, near the Mediterranean sea which is not far) brings them his jewels of the sea. All utterly fresh. The beautiful thing about seafood..obviously…it that its freshness cannot be mimicked. It is utterly fresh or it will be a disaster. Nothing in between. You would tell me that Charly snatches his razor clams  from the floor of the sea and ships them right away to the restaurant, I would believe you –  It was that fresh!  Those who love the trompe-l’œil technique will be pleased by an edible  shell (for both the razor clam and the mussel) mimicking perfectly the real thing. Amusing to the eye, and pleasant on the palate.

The next food item was  one of their signature dishes:

-Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe melanosporum (truffled egg) , sur une purée de champignons (on a mushroom purée), et briochine tiède (with a small lukewarm brioche) et cappuccino  à boire (and “cappuccino” to drink) – Getting the Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe  is what people keep advocating. The egg is  from a farm called la ferme de Carrus (Mayronnes), its yolk is replaced by a coulis of black truffle (Chef Goujon got that idea after sampling a century egg), the egg served lukewarm, as it should be,  or else it will change to a solid state (obviously), it is covered by a black truffle sabayon,  served with a mushroom mash (butter was whisked into the mash at the end of the cooking process), and grated black truffle. The season for black winter tuber melanosporum truffles  goes from November to March, and this is the right time to enjoy them (eventhough, they are even better towards the end of December). You break the egg with a georgette. The main challenge comes from the truffles as they depend on the seasons, obviously, therefore the kitchen has to work harder in finding the right place for the right truffle.  On paper, eggs and truffle, that is a safe match, but, in reality, there was nothing “safe” about this food item as it takes  lots of thoughts  to create this dish. Be humourous  and crack a joke like “J’apprécie l’effort déployé par le Chef, mais je désire vous confier que d’ordinaire, je ne mange pas d’oeuf pourri” ;p   I am usually not a fan of altering the nature of an exceptionally good fresh egg, but what Chef Goujon  did was a demonstration of creativity that I do expect at this level of dining.  Excellent  9/10

With the oeuf poule carrus came a pleasant ‘cappuccino’ of truffle (indeed, you truely had the feeling of drinking a real cappuccino, only, here,  truffle was used instead of coffee) as well as an equally satisfying truffled brioche (7/10 for both).

Filet de rouget barbet (fillet of red mullet), pomme bonne bouche fourrée d’une brandade à la cébette en “bullinada” (potato  filled with a brandade of   the flesh of red mullet/spring onion as well the liver of the red mullet), écume de rouille au safran (foam of saffron rouille that the kitchen made by using  egg yolk/mustard/garlic/tomato confit/saffron/olive oil/vegetable stock ). Bullinada is a Catalan fish stew. They pour the stew  over the foam of saffron rouille, and both ‘fall’ over the fish and its accompaniments of mussels and thinly cut pieces of vegetables. The rouille’s depth of flavor and superb texture as perfected as it gets, the  level  of  the spice of the stew not  as vivid  as what you  came to expect from this sort of Southern French stew, but that is a positive thing in this particular case: the balance of the flavors was remarkably harmonious.  A creative contemporary take on a classic stew. 8/10

Lièvre à la royale is a classic of French cuisine that I have enjoyed for many years. Click here for a  recipe of the Lièvre à la Royale. There is more than one recipe of  Lièvre à la Royale, but I am not going to elaborate on them  as this is not the right post  for that. The hare (lièvre) is deboned, marinated,  stuffed with a mix of foie gras / the heart and lungs of the hare/ beacon/carrots/garlic/a bit of the blood of the hare/shallots and truffle, rolled into a ballotine, braised for hours, then served with a red-wine based sauce that is mixed with the blood of the hare and the cooking  jus (to which, a bit more of the foie gras, or some butter as well as cocoa can be combined to thicken the sauce).  This  dish  featured a  flawless full-bodied sauce with an equally technically well made ballotine.  8/10

Sorbet de clémentine en peau semi-confite, suprêmes en tartare, feuillantine de chocolat et crème pralinée pistache – A clementine sorbet made its way under a clementine peel that was candied to great effect: the peel timely simmered to an ideal tender consistency, you had a bit of the fresh  taste of the clementine in evidence, the level of sugar well judged. The segments of the clementine transformed into a “tartare”, the chocolate feuillantine made — as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing — of first rate chocolate. The praline cream expressing enticing almond and caramelized sugar flavors, and I will extend the compliment to the pistachio. The sorbet served at a temperature that does not  clash with the temperature of the candied peel, which most people  would  argue that it is a  ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ feature, but in reality, many pastry teams, even at this level of fine dining, would not get this right. The relevant classic French pastry techniques well mastered.    8/10

Pros: The world class frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis. You die and are resurrected just for that one!

Cons: N/A

Bottom line  –   I started cooking seriously in my tender childhood (Pan-African cuisines), then in my 20s I developed a strong interest for Classic French cuisine. I started learning Classic French cuisine by following and perfecting the recipes of REAL culinary luminaries Roger Vergé, Jacques Maximin, Bernard Loiseau, Georges Blanc, Gerard Besson, Olivier Roellinger, Alain Senderens, Frédy Girardet , etc. I was lucky enough to have tasted the food of some of them. This had an impact on what I am looking for when I eat at a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is cooking French food. I am always curious about what the other Chefs did learn from those REAL culinary luminaries. I paid a visit to L’Auberge du Vieux Puits because their Chef, Gilles Goujon, did work with one of those TRUE culinary giants, Chef Roger Vergé. And,  I was not disappointed. That frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis  dish blew me away. I could litterally “feel” the “soul” of those culinary giants  in every single spoonful of the Cuckoo flower leaves coulis. The Filet de rouget barbet, Vrai/Faux citron, and Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe were very good. Nothing was intensely flavored, during the two meals. Flavors were generally harmonious.

My thoughts several weeks  later: A lovely restaurant, for sure, deserving of its accolades and superb reputation. Nothing that I could fault, indeed, but the  amuse-bouches could have been a bit more exciting.

Le Divil (Addr: 9 rue des Fabriques D en Nabot, 66000, Perpignan, France Phone: +33 4 68 34 57 73)

According to  the international experts of the steak, the best restaurant of France, for meat, in 2017 is le Divil –  Franck Ribière and  Vérane Frédiani, authors of Steak in France as well as internationally acclaimed  experts of the steak have awarded le Divil with the title of France’s best restaurant, for meats, in 2017. Franck has also a movie  about steaks called Steak Revolution in which he documents his trips  around the world in search of the finest steaks possible.

Aging beef : an art or a just a trend? –  Beef aging is nowadays a trend in the restaurant world, but as it is the case with everything that is lucrative, many are aging their meat but rare are those who are delivering an aged beef that lives up to the hype. That is because it is not …lucrative enough to go through what it takes to get the job done properly: months of trial and error, matching the right technique….to the right cut of meat… at the right storing temperature, etc. It is a complex combination of know-how (that few can have because the most are busy running without taking the time to learn walking…) and genuine passion (the attitude of a true artisan, but that is too old school/too time consuming by the standards of the most, nowadays).

Aging beef is  also another strategy of the restaurant industry to ‘milk the cow’. But when done properly, I will admit that it’s a luxury (because …. obviously … properly aged quality meat will not come cheap) that is worth the hype.  Earlier on, I argued that it is rare to find people, in the food industry, that have the right know-how of aging meat, and that could not have been more accurate: just look at how, most of them, do store their aged meats and the lack of proper know-how is an evidence for those in the know. Another proof of the total lack of proper know-how: have you noticed that most restaurateurs do recommended the same doneness no matter the cut, no matter the marbling…that’s absurd as anyone with proper understanding of the science of meats should know that the doneness needs to be adjusted to, as an example, how marbled or not the meat is. Absurd is actually an understatement: many do mix wet and dry aging to…inevitably…an ordinary effect. Why? Well, again….the basic principles of ‘ science ‘ is misunderstood by most of those people aging meat: when you put something wet on something dry… guess what…the dry effect is cancelled. Aging beef is sublime when it is an art. Sadly, it is oftently  no more than  just a trend in the hands of the most.

What  I ate at Le Divil – I ordered a bone-in ribeye of Baltic Beef (tasting a bit of  nuts, saline), dry aged for 100 days days, from Poland as well as a 70 days dry-aged Montbéliard (France) bone-in ribeye (to the smell, before they cooked it, it had the smell of  dry cured ham) . Both were examples of world class dry-aged pieces of quality red meat.  Just remember that they do not serve them to you as  whole steak the  way that a steakhouse would serve it to you in North America, but as meat that is sliced  in pieces (a bit like how they serve your red meat at a Japanese teppanyaki). With meat of this quality, always opt for the default suggested doneness of the house as they know what they are doing (indeed, the doneness ‘bleu’, which the Chef did strongly suggest, was the best doneness for both dry-aged meats as the texture of the meat as well as its flavour were at their best).

Bottom line: Oftently, in the industry, many mix dry and wet ageing, and you are punished with a meat with no real beefy character. Both the Montbelliard and Baltic beef were dry aged meats (as well as all their aged meats at Le Divil), and it was obvious that the meat was aged in perfect conditions (finding the right temperature, and not just using the defacto recommended ones is key to a beautifully dry aged piece of meat, which is what was achieved here). And I am traditionally fond of red meat grilled on open fire, which is the cooking method they use at Le Divil. But next time I will go there, I will insist to get my 20oz bone in rib eye steak…The Chef finds it (a whole piece of 20oz of bone-in ribeye) too much, for 1 pers, but in North America, we are used to it. When meat is superbly dry aged like these, a chunky 20oz bone-in rib eye is what I am looking for. I will go back.

Tacos Frida (Addr:  4350 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, QC Phone: 514-316-3255). At Frida I ordered their pozole soup as well as two different tacos (el pastor and grilled beef/pico de gallo). The soup of pozole was one legit version of that soup. Mexican cuisine is about layers and layers of joyous flavors and the pozole soup is a reminder of that, with Taco Frida’s made of ingredients such as  corn/broth of guajillo and pulled pork and  served with a side of radish/lettuce/tostadas/white onions. This soup was obviously tasty, but it was limited by the average ingredients that we have in Mtl (you do realize it quickly as soon as you start dressing your soup with the lettuce and the radish, though, at such low prices, it is also what you need to expect).  As for the two different tacos, they would have fared better had the meats been cooked to serve. The tacos were ordinary, but   not pricey. Service is nice and the spot is clean. Loved the homey  feel  of the cooking, but they need to cook the  meat (of the tacos)  to order. Drinks: no alcohol but you have the usual soda-alike drinks of tamarind and misc tropical fruits.  5/10 for the tacos 6/10 for the pozole soup.

La Matraca (Addr: 4607 St Denis St, Montreal, QC Phone: 514-285-0777). At la Matraca, I ordered  two tacos (el  pastor +Chuleta) and  the beef Alambre bisteck.  The meats  were cooked to order during my visit. However, the meats were short of the  exciting  seasoning you came to expect from the better examples of what I have ordered. I gather that the available cheese and spicy sauces will add taste to your meat, but Mexican have long added flavor to that meat too. Still, the meats were fine enough, and I preferred my tacos here (to the ones at Frida tacos). Drinks: Beers (tecate, dos equis) , sangria, soft drinks (Sindral Mundet, Jarritos of pineapple and mandarine, etc). 6/10.

-Last but  not least, I went back to  a longtime local popular and highly successful taqueria, El Rey del Taco (Addr: 232 Jean Talon St E, Montreal Phone: 514-274-3336). The Pozole soup (picked the pork version as that is the most Mexican of the Pozole – they have a chicken pozole too) here was way too salty. Mexican love their pozole soup salty and my palate also likes it that way, but this was way way too salty by the standards of the palate of a Mexican. I preferred the Pozole soup at Tacos Frida. The tacos ( El pastor, I tried) came with freshly cooked meat that was exquisitely seasoned. Every single ingredient tasting of what it has to (It  may sounds odd, to say so,  but it is important to mention it for the simple reason that many kitchen brigades…especially here  in Montreal… cook food that has the ‘ taste of everything and nothing’). El Rey was, as expected in the world class supremely dazzling and unbelievably out of this world food destination  of Montreal, not present (in Montreal, the star Chefs  are always present when a food journalist, a celebrity  or a celebrity food blogger is visiting…because, as you know, the  restaurant scene in Montreal is too good ;p ….A Chef present at all times in his kitchen??..pfff….that is the business of those second rate food cities like Tokyo and Paris and New York and London..Rfaol!!! …), but it did not matter in this instance.  Some of the very best tacos in Montreal (7 /10 by the best tacos standards in Mtl). Yes, tacos are not rocket science, and you can do great tacos at home, but if you have to enjoy them at a restaurant, then El Rey and Escondite are among the best in Montreal. One is contemporary and hip (Escondite), the other one classic but not in a ‘tired’ way (El Rey). Of course, no one will tell you that our  best  tacos are better than  in LA or Toronto, Lol. The world already knows that. But in Montreal, the two do rule.

Bottom line: You are reminded, while eating food from all around the world, that  this globe  is incredibly small. I am familiar with Mexican food items since a long time (and I am talking about the real mom and pop traditional Mexican cuisine) and I can appreciate  how close it is  to other cuisines from other parts of the world . That is explained by the major common influences in cooking: for example, African cooking is of course found not just in Africa, but also in all the islands around Africa, the Indian ocean, in Latin America, in the Caribbean  and in Mexican cuisine as well. The pico de gallo?  I have it in my country (an African island) but it just have a different name and its seasoning is slightly different. The pozole soup? We have many soups of that sort in Africa too. But again, with slight differences. Mexican do definitely have a great cuisine and beautiful flavors and both Tacos Frida and La Matraca need to step up their game in order to corroborate that. Both can easily iron out the little issues  I have mentioned above by cooking their meat to order (in the case of Tacos Frida, during my visit there..that was not the case) and adding lots of gusto to that meat (La Matraca cooks its meat to order, but they have to ensure that it tastes great on  the palate as we came to expect from Mexican cooked meats). It is safe to suggest that La Matraca and Tacos Frida are not going to seriously challenge  Escondite anytime soon ( regardless of what you think about   Tex-Mex Vs  genuine Mexican  food  …anyways Montreal is not the city you are looking for if you need to talk about that). It is certainly not their intent neither, I am sure. That said both places have friendly staff, clean premises, the Chefs and staff are Mexican, the food is not  expensive (by Montreal standards) and I have no doubt that they can do better than what I have sampled when I dropped by. As for El Rey del taco, well…. by Montreal standards, as far as the  tacos are concerned, they are doing a fine job. I still prefer Escondite, though.

I finally paid a visit to a 3 star Michelin restaurant that the best foodie experts of the globe do consider as one of the very best classic French restaurants currently in operation. The experts were right, and Les Prés d’Eugénie fed me with a dessert that pertains to the wall of fame of the best desserts of all times. When you look at the dessert, you do not want to like it. Then, you say…well, it is at my table already, so I may  as well give it a try, and what ensues  is an incredible festive sensation in your mouth. A truely exceptional dessert. Les Prés d’Eugénie was not just about that dessert. It is a true world class restaurant,  a destination. My review here.

The closest airport to Eugénie les Bains (where Les Prés d’Eugénie is situated) is Pau (approx 1hr from Eugénie Les Bains) therefore I stayed there for 1  day. Pau will not do much for you in a way that bigger cities like Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille, Paris or Montpellier will. But if you happen to be in Pau,  the  ‘fun’ part of Pau is the downtown area, a tiny area that you would have visited in less than  3 hrs of walking.  In downtown Pau, the Boulevard des Pyrénées  is famous for its scenic view of the Pyrénées mountains (when it is not cloudy, obviously). Also noteworthy is  a very pretty castle, Le Château de Pau,  and some few  terrace bars nearby. Pau also has some of the best  chocolate, foie gras   and pain baguette of France. In Pau, two  Chefs with  past experience at  Michelin star restaurants did open their casual restaurants: Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin  at Detours and Chef Nicolas Lormeau at Lou Esberit. Detours was fine, Lou Esberit did not meet my expectations.

Celebrity Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Sorbillo now in New York – As originally announced by Napoli.Repubblica.it  right here. He fought the Camorra in Naples and went on building world’s most popular Neapolitan pizzeria. In Naples, his pizzeria  attracts crowds as impressive as what only rock stars can command. His name is Gino Sorbillo. And as virtually all the greatest artisans  of the foodie world, the first thing he had in mind was to land in the real world-class foodie destination that NYC is. He did it. Just did. Hey NYC, you are a magnet to the best of the best: Ferran Adria, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, and now Gino Sorbillo. Listen, they say you do not sleep. With all that love, the truth is that you just cannot sleep! Sorbillo NYC, addr: 334 Bowery Street at Bond Street  https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

Paul Pairet, the new Prince of Shanghai (China) – There is a saying in French that goes like this “”nul n’est prophète en son pays“”. Paul did not impress in France. Then, he travelled, travelled a lot. When Paul introduced his concept of “psycho-taste”, I recall saying “Pardi… il fume du bon celui-là !”. I mean, a kid would take 1 second to figure that taste and the … “psyche” (psychology and emotions associated with food)…are related. It does not take a genius to figure that out. Furthemore, what Paul is doing nowadays, with all the visual effects during a meal…that is something we saw, time and again, over a decade ago. For sure, Asia seemed to have missed that, when it was trendy, but it remains an old chapter of our contemporary culinary history. Regardless, Paul persevered, and succeeded. He managed to convince the world that ..hey…taste is related to the “psyche” and it is trendy to look at videos and pictures while you are eating. Rfaol. It worked and Paul is now the Prince of Shanghai (3 Michelin stars). Paul, I will never eat at your 3 star Michelin (your concept is just not my cup of tea — when food is amazing, I want to be entertained by its very own amazement, NOT by the superfluous … ), but the world will. And that is what matters most. Ultraviolet,  Address: Waitan, Huangpu, Shanghai, China, 200000 URL: https://uvbypp.cc

3 star Michelin Michel Bras rejects his Michelin stars (as reported here)- This will please those who hate Michelin. Not too sure why you would hate a system based on  something that is purely subjective (assessment of restaurants), unless you have a hidden agenda (fights between competitors, etc). It is one thing to disagree  with a system (I did it in my review of Le Coucou where I suggested that Michelin should stay away from this gem of a destination restaurant, I did it when Gault & Millau launched their guide for Montreal), it is purely and simpy “fishy” when you are obsessed about its termination. Anyways, The Bras are complaining  that the Michelin stars are too much pressure for them. Typical baby crying: when they needed Michelin in their rise to the top, they were everywhere in the medias, very happy to enjoy their fame. The very same fame that helped them expand to Japan. But now that the kid is the king in town, he does not need “Daddy” Michelin anymore. It is so trendy to turn your back to “Daddy” as it will draw more attention on you, hein Michel (actually his son, Sebastien, as the son took over) ?? Michel will always be remembered as the one who did put this restaurant on the map of the culinary world. Sebastien, the one who could not stand the heat. So, Sebastien,  tell us … since you seem to crumble under the incredible hulking pressure of all those stars, will you also ask Michelin Japan to remove the stars of  your restaurant in Japan, too? Be consequent  in your “crumbling” logic, Sebast!

Cocoro is a new Japanese restaurant in Montreal. I ate there twice and could appreciate that their Chef has the Japanese cooking skills we so rarely get — we foodies of Montreal — to appreciate this side of the St laurent river. Also “unusual” is that I suspect that the Chef is a “Jack of all trades” in a way that he seems to cook isakaya, fine dining, ramenya food with the same aplomb.   A rare occurence at restaurants in Montreal. My review here.

 Gyu-Kaku is a  Japanese BBQ (Yakiniku) chain with over 600 locations in Japan as well as abroad. It has now a restaurant  in Montreal on Crescent street, in between Ste Catherine and Rene Levesque (closer to the corner of Ste Catherine). I tried a Gya-Kaku the last time I was in Tokyo, as well as one of  their branches located in NYC. Gyu-Kaku Montreal has a tasteful dark wood / grey walls  interior decor, almost chic for a table top grilling restaurant, but that is standard for a Gyu-Kaku, and superb friendly service. I will go straight to what you need to know:  Gya-Kaku is, in Montreal, the best table top grilling restaurant in town right now. How come? They use the best meat  and the best marinades you will find at a table top grilling restaurant in Montreal. I ordered the Harami miso skirt steak as well as the Bistro hanger steak. Both are  miso-marinated and  will be crowd pleasers. I also ordered the Kalbi short rib, which, for my taste, has always been   less ‘festive’ than the Harami miso skirt steak/Bistro hanger steak, but that is a matter of personal taste (lots of people love it) and again, Gyu-Kaku is offering one of  great quality. Was everything perfect? The chicken karaage was not in the league of Nozy‘s (as explained here, I always keep the comparison “local”, meaning that I compare Japanese food items in Montreal to other Japanese food items in..Montreal) but it was  fine, and  I  am not a fan of  the spicy kalbi ramen.  That said,  a Yakiniku IS a Japanese Bbq restaurant, so if you are going there for ramen, then you may as well start the trend of going to the  hospital to shop for clothes, attend a wedding expecting a birthday party, etc. A nonsense what I just wrote? You are right: it would be a NONSENSE to head to a Yakiniku for your fix of ramen. I hope Gyu-Kaku keeps its Yakiniku in Montreal to the serious Yakiniku level I found on the evening of my visit. This has the potential to work really well as we have an important local community of young Asians in Montreal and Yakiniku is one thing they love. In facts, the Yakiniku was not empty when I was there. Just ensure you know the difference between Japanese Vs Korean BBQ as to avoid inaccurate expectations and , consequently, inaccurate judgement, as well as grossly ignorant statements such as “why should I go to a restaurant to cook my own food”. Gyu-Kaku, Addr: 1255 Crescent St, Montreal. Phone (514) 866-8808

Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard,
Type of Cuisine: Classic French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on September 3rd, 2017 12:00
Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France
Phone: +33 5 58 05 06 07
Email: reservation@michelguerard.com
URL: http://www.michelguerard.com/en/table/3-michelin-star-cuisine/
Service: 8 /10 Well trained young staff, unstuffy, professional as you would expect at a restaurant of this reputation.
Overall food rating: 9/10 All in all, this was some excellent  cooking  by existing 3 star classic French Michelin star standards. Of course, Les Prés d’Eugénie is capable of an overall food rating of 10/10. There is NO doubt about that. But I have got to assess this specific meal, during which the Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ was THE big “test” they had to pass as it requires lots of technique, precision, know-how, a great palate. Regardless, Les Prés d’Eugénie did pass plenty of other BIG tests,  as evidenced by the superlative pommes soufflées/gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel/amuse-bouches/pastries.
Overall dining experience :  See the section “My thoughts, days later” at the bottom of the current post.

Restaurant Les Prés d’Eugénie, located in a countryside’s spa resort in the  Landes, has 3 Michelin stars since the late 70s, one of the longest-running Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. It is the sole 3 star Michelin restaurant in  southwestern France, a historical gourmet destination where many great  Chefs of France have honed their skills (Gerald Passedat, Alain Ducasse, Michel Troisgros, to name a few).  Outside of France,  Chef Quique Da Costa of world famed 3 star Michelin Quique Da Costa in Denia (Spain) counts Les Prés d’Eugénie’s Mastermind Michel Guérard among the Chefs he drew his  inspiration  from (as he stated in this interview), and Chef Massimiliano Alajmo, the youngest Chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars, of 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano, Padua, Italy (which I did visit, my review here) worked at Les Prés d’Eugénie at some point  in his career.

Michel Guérard, now 84 years old,  is one of the iconic Chefs of France, for his many achievements such as promoting Nouvelle cuisine in the 70s, with culinary heavyweights Roger Verge/Paul Bocuse/Alain Chapel/ Pierre Troisgros, which signified a break from Escoffier‘s classicism (the heavy sauces, etc), then, later on, his cuisine minceur.

The ‘Nouvelle cuisine’ (a lighter way of cooking, for i.e, refraining from using heavy sauces/marinades, reducing cooking time to preserve the natural flavors of the ingredients, etc), that we are talking about is, of course, not ‘nouvelle’ (new) anymore, but it is THE movement that led to the type of classic French cuisine that we know today. Way before the concept of ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ became trendy in the 1970s, one Chef began his own revolution of French cooking: Chef Jean Delaveyne. Chef Delaveyne started to cook a lighter version of French food as early as in the late 50s. What Chef Delaveyne did not have, it is the sense of marketing that Chef Michel Guérard was gifted with. Chef Delaveyne’s revolutionary approach to cooking did inspire Michel Guérard, who, in his turn, did help popularizing the concept of ‘Nouvelle cuisine’.

Chef Guérard had another personal motivation in Nouvelle cuisine: according to him, Pastry Chefs were underestimated in those days, therefore he wanted to prove to the world of cooking that as a Pastry  Chef, he could play an important role in the evolution of cooking.

On the premises, they   have a very pretty old barn converted into a bistrot, La Ferme aux Grives,  that  I also tried (reviewed here). Chef Guérard’s mini-empire of restaurants includes La Bastide and Mère Poule & Cie

On the day of my visit, there were  several tasting menus, the A la carte menu, as well as some “special 40 years of Michelin stars” food items.

I did start the journey at their lounge bar, the Loulou‘s Lounge Bar, where I was served couple of amuse-bouches, which, on this lunch, were composed of:
-Caesar salad served with anchovies from Palamos (Spain), on toasted bread
-Shrimp “beignet” with verbena sauce
-a delicate pastry cone filled with a citrus flower mousse.

The Caesar salad was, as expected, not going to be your standard caesar salad but a creative take on it, delivered in the form of a mini “tartare” made of elements of a caesar salad mixed with first-rate anchovies (The anchovies from Palamos, which were served here, deserve their reputation as one of world’s best), atop a delicious piece of toasted bread. The kind of nibble that sounds simple, but which, once in mouth, do serve as a reminder that it is not …by chance…that some kitchen brigades managed to perform for decades at the highest level of classic French cooking (obviously, their case). 10/10

Shrimp “beignet” featured  shrimp of top quality, not one single sign of oil to be found, the batter delicately light, the fresh maritime flavour of the shrimp fragrant, the beignet was  served with a superlative verbena sauce. 8/10 for the shrimp beignet, 10/10 for that verbena sauce which brought incredible joy in mouth.

Then the pastry cone, filled with a citrus flower mousse of divine flavour, its impressive smooth texture stealing the show as well. 10/10

The amuse-bouches did really … amuse!

3 small breads are offered: olive, lemon and brioche. All, superb. The olives bread being the most popular during my visit. How do I know? Well, I asked.  Ferme Ponclet butter from the Finistere deserves praises, too. Perhaps one of the very best butters of this globe, boldly flavored but balanced,  with a fresh creamy finish that lingers gloriously on the palate.

Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ / Vichyssoise is composed of an unsweetened  floating island infused with black truffle coulis disposed on a bed of white truffle cream and Vichyssoise, garnished with black truffles and a parmesan crisp. The dish came with a beautiful poetic description, the textural contrast between the slices of black truffle and the snowy white appearance of the floating island /white truffle cream/Vichyssoise so pretty to espy. One can imagine the incredible potential of such creation: imagine a dazzling airy floating island, the stunning fresh flavour of whipped egg whites. Imagine the fragrance of truffles. Imagine the taste sensation of a superlative Vichyssoise. A dish like this one is designed to blow you away. Done, as it should, it will. Alas, the flattering potential of my Zephyr experience was expressed only on paper. The Vichyssoise had way too much milk in it, more milk than vegetables, actually, which made it taste more of a cream of milk than of a proper Vichyssoise. I had better Vichyssoise at casual eateries, and was surprised that this one I was sampling at Les Prés d’Eugénie was underwhelming. The floating island? It paled in comparison to the world class example I had at Bistrot Casse-Noix in Paris: not as airy, not as tasty. Some say that there is just air in a floating island…well, there is more than that in a benchmark floating island, whether it is sweetened or not. There is the precise skills that allow for addictive fresh whipped egg whites flavour (which was missing in action, during this lunch at Les Prés d’Eugénie), there is timing. Vichyssoise, floating island, some important — as well as   exciting —  food items of classic French cuisine… this is where a kitchen of this caliber should  nail it! Even the white truffle cream was not satisfying enough to lift up the overall dish. The black truffle, you ask? Its fragrance was muted! Quoi d’autre? This was “unidimensional ” (essentially tasting of milk, and milk, and milk) flavor-wise, I am afraid. The parmesan crisp, the saving grace, but by then, I could not care anymore. 5/10

L’Oreiller moelleux de mousserons et de morilles au fumet de truffe – A  ravioli (the “oreiller” is for the ravioli- “oreiller” is French for “pillow”) wrapped around a filling of morels and fairly-ring mushrooms, bathed in a sauce made of mushrooms, truffle, with some asparagus atop. The sauce was packed with the enticing earthy aromas of the top quality mushrooms, the pasta cooked carefully to aldente doneness, the filling of morels timely cooked too (not mushy), tasting as delicious as a filling of meat. Even a fan of meat, like me, would opt for mushrooms in place of meat if fillings of mushroom could always taste this great. After the disappointing “Zéphyr de truffe”, the ‘Oreiller moelleux de mousserons’ came to the rescue and made this lunch great again. 8/10

Le demi-homard rôti, légèrement fumé à la cheminée, oignon confit au four – A half lobster (clawed blue lobster from Brittany) roasted in an open fire, some sweet onions (filled with a purée of peach and onions, gratinéed with parmesan cheese) accompanying the crustacean and its saffron butter sauce dressing . The saffron-flavoured butter sauce  is a nice idea, the saffron flavour not overwhelming as you would expect from top flight saffron. But having eaten my share of fully flavoured beautifully-meaty freshly caught spiny lobsters (I know, not of the same family of lobsters as the one of Brittany), during my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean, I wonder if it is fair to expect a fine dining restaurant to do better with its lobster? Can it better the dazzling freshly caught clawed lobster of the Maine (Trying to be fair here, and not being partial to spiny lobsters) or of Brittany, that we can enjoy at a lobster shack? Well, it cannot because fresh lobster is just great …away from any fine dining intervention. I had no choice but to take the lobster as it was part of my tasting menu.  They did put a lot of thoughts in this dish and this was certainly not a bad food item at all, but it was hard for me to fully enjoy such tiny  pieces of lobster flesh (they do not look tiny on that picture, but in real life, they were).  The peach/onion purée with gratinéed parmesan cheese  was as pleasant as you can imagine a purée of sweet onions and peach to be, and it would certainly compliment the sweet flesh of the  lobster but I would need a sizeable piece of lobster  to corroborate that …

Filet de Boeuf sur le bois et sous les feuilles, jus de viande et de raisin, pommes crémeuses à la truffe et pommes soufflées- Filet of beef (blonde d’Aquitaine breed), covered with leaves of plane trees then cooked (the meat cooked rare as /per my request) on wood fire. Those leaves do enhance the barbequey flavor of that meat. Wood fire cooking (which is the cooking method they did use to cook this filet of beef) is my preferred cooking method for red meats as its resulting delicate and enjoyable smoky flavor appeals to me. On the palate and to the smell, the smoky flavor was actually subtle, but as a result of using wood fire and cooking the meat under the leaves, I could appreciate the depth of the flavor of the meat. I was afraid that the addition of grapes would not work with the jus de viande, but the taste of the grapes  was barely noticeable, and fulfilled its mission of adding depth to the jus de viande. Flawless jus de viande, timely simmered, precisely reduced. This was not a dull piece of filet. 7/10

With the filet de boeuf, they served some pommes soufflées cooked to order, executed in a way that exemplary pommes soufflées do look, feel and taste like (spectacularly light, with an exquisite crisp and superlative fresh potato flavour. Bring back the poetic description, Chef! Roll the drums! I love when French classics are mastered this well. 10/10), as well as a very good purée of pommes de terres agria/truffles (8/10).

Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe – The dessert I wanted to try at Les Prés d’Eugénie was the labor intensive and technically difficult (to compose) soufflé «Roulé-Boulé», but it was not available. I went with my second choice, the Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel. This is a hybrid dessert (part soufflé, part crème renversée — the crème renversée barely cooked, essentially made with a hot water bath sweet bechamel) created by Pastry Chef Jérôme Chaucesse (when he used to work at Les Prés d’Eugénie as he does not work there anymore), served with a rhubarb ice cream and a raspberry coulis. The raspberry coulis responding really well to all the components of that cake, especially to the caramel sauce flavor. The soufflé part looks like a “soufflé failure”, but that was intentional. Consequently, you will not eat this cake with “your eyes”, but a palate that has long been familiar with classic French desserts will appreciate that every single component of Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel was of the extraordinary sort: for sure, it is not rocket science to make a sweetened bechamel, a caramel sauce, a soufflé, etc, but what IS rocket science is to deliver benchmark versions of those, which is what the pastry team at Les Pres d’Eugenie did with their Gateau mollet. There was wit, a very high level of classic French pastry technique and, on the palate, an intensity of flavor to never forget. 10/10

Canelés surprises à l’armagnac/ tartelettes aux fraises (mini strawberry tarts) /madeleines, all freshly baked, as expected from a restaurant of this standing. I have heard about the superb work of the pastry team at Les Prés d’Eugénie, and I can tell you that it lived up to the hype, with exceptional sourcing and skills. A benchmark tartelette aux fraises (10/10), an equally perfected mini madeleine 10/10). The canelés (rum was replaced by armagnac)   were also great (8/10).

Pros: One great Classic French 3 star Michelin.
Cons: The Zephyr de truffe, on this lunch,  so close … yet so far

Bottom line: Chef Guerard, 84 years old, is, naturally, not cooking anymore. But what I like, in France, it is how serious those legends (Guerard, Bocuse) are about their legacy. They have the best MOFs working for them (Chef Olivier Brulard, in the case of Les Prés d’Eugénie – Chef  Brulard  spent some time at La Réserve de Beaulieu where he earned 2 michelin stars, after years alongside real culinary illuminaries and legendary Chefs such as Alain Chapel, Jacques Maximin, Gaston Lenotre)  and it shows in the very high level of classic French cooking technique on display.

My thoughts, days later: A high level dining experience, where you are interacting with friendly people. The ambience is relaxing. Food is great. Not too far, the cattle of blonde d’Aquitaine is grazing on emerald green grass. Stay in this village, Eugenie les Bains, for a day, walk in the countryside, rediscover the civilized manner of saying “hi” with a genuine smile to people you do not know (an aggression in most big cities,lol), smell corn (there are vast fields of corn to feed the cattle of Blonde d’Aquitaine) the way it used to smell and feel before the big industries have decided that chemical elements are necessary for their growth. And If you are a foodie, there are couple of eateries in the village. They have small hotels of far superior quality than most of the so-called budget hotels of our big cities,  and I did spot a farm in the village, with some serious foie gras. A destination, indeed.

 La Ferme aux Grives (Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France. Phone: +33 5 58 05 05 06) – A casual / countryside take on Chef  Michel Guerard‘s classic French cooking is available in a pretty farmhouse located next to the Chef’s 3 Michelin star restaurant, which I did also visit . I did hesitate between going back to Pau and eat at one of the rare touristy restaurants that are opened on sunday or to pursue my journey at Eugenie les Bains. The decision was not too hard to take, given the   favorable online reviews on la Ferme aux Grives.

What I ate:

Saucisson sec: The traditional dry-cured sausage (saucisson sec), air dried for a minimum of 6 weeks, came from the nearby commune of Les Aldudes in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Saucisson sec is one of the things that the French rarely fail to do well, and this was no exception. Nice distinctive nutty aroma, beautifully marbled filling, balanced intensity of its spicy taste. Sourcing great dry-cured sausage from artisans is one thing, knowing how to store it is another story. They excelled at both. 9/10

Gougère soufflé: The technique of the savoury choux pastry was on point (good puffy structure, with a nice golden exterior and carefully rendered soft interior). You can serve your gougère cold , hot or lukewarm. Lukewarm (my preferred temperature for this  choux pastry) is what they were looking for, at La Ferme aux Grives , but theirs was not enoughly mildly warm to lift up the gougère flavor. Consequently, the cheesy flavor of the the gougère was not expressive. This was still a well made gougère, with enough enticing gougère flavour brought to the fore. 7/10

 

Salade de boudin grillé, jardinière de coco, vinaigrette de simples (mangue/fruit de la passion). Blood sausage, white beans, a vinaigrette made of mango and passion fruit. Great technique in the execution of the blood sausage (soft filling, judicious seasoning), a blood sausage that had a taste that is more refined than your usual traditional French blood sausage, cabbage, white beans as well as the vinaigrette were all seasoned adequatly. Perhaps not enoughly ‘bold’ on the palate as I would have preferred when I am ordering grilled blood sausage, but again, as it has been the case all along this meal, the execution and work of flavors could hardly be faulted. 7/10

Spit-roasted suckling pig (over an open fire). As tasty as your suckling pig will taste at most good restaurants in France and North America. A bit like with the lobster, I have hard time finding suckling pig, in France and North America, that can match the dazzling suckling pig I was eating in my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean (I think it happened just once in North America
and twice in France, within the last 20 years). Anyways, this was good: carefully seasoned, quality suckling pig, and you cannot go wrong with meat cooked slowly for so long. 7/10

Gratin de pâtes, fromage parmesan, cèpes- Gratineed pasta, cooked in a parmesan/penny-bun bolete mushroom cream. The pasta cooked a bit longer than aldente. I find it less “fun” to eat pasta cooked too long in a cream because you have less textural contrast,  less ‘counterpoint’ to the cream, but hey…we are in France, not Italy. That said, this featured precisely balanced rich and delicious flavors. 7/10.

Charlotte aux fraises (Strawberry charlotte) – The dessert featured a properly executed chantilly, an equally properly rendered luscious strawberry mousse, a timely cooled sponge cake as well as quality strawberries picked fully ripe. The fruity flavors in evidence, the presentation was rustic but that was intentional as to fit with the theme of the restaurant. A good charlotte. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 Good standard of French bistrot food