Daniel Boulud’s fame took off as the Master behind ex 3 star Michelin Daniel in New York (now 2 star Michelin) and he has  nowadays a mini empire of restaurants across America: Café Boulud in Toronto, Boulud Sud in New York, etc.

In Montreal, Maison Boulud is located inside the Ritz Carlton, a symbol of luxury that resonates well with the old time pal who did invite me to share this dinner with him. Coincidentally, one of my preferred French food journalists, Gilles Pudlowski, has published a rave review on Boulud Montreal. A meal, which for Gilles, was an awe-striking performance. The opinions of Gilles coupled with  the idea of a  meal  with an old time friend sufficed to fuel my enthusiasm for eating at Maison Boulud.

The dinner menu (you can find an example of that menu here )  is divided in several sections: a tasting menu,  food items to share, a section untitled “from the garden” and the A la carte items (fish, meats, pasta). Since it is white truffle season at this moment, they also have a white truffle menu. The influences of the cooking  are essentially Italian, and French. The ingredients are of very high quality by Montreal restaurant standards.   I ordered a starter of scallop ceviche, a main course of lobster gnocchetti as well as a dessert of Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon:


PRINCESSE SCALLOPSPrincesse scallop ceviche, sea urchin, apple and celery – the ceviche was served in seashells, but this was closer to a salad of scallops and apple than to a proper ceviche. Yes, I could taste a bit of the ceviche’s marinade under the scallop and celery/apple, but they  should have mixed all the ingredients together in the marinade.  Furthermore, it is hard to appreciate a ceviche of scallops that has more apple in it than scallops. The idea of serving a ceviche as separate tiny portions is fine in regard to the   presentation but I prefer having my ceviche served on a plate.  The way this ceviche was conceived needs to be rethought.  6/10

gnocchettiHomemade Potato Gnocchetti with Lobster, Leeks, Mushrooms and Coral Emulsion – There was  way too much of the emulsion for the quantity of gnocchetti and  Lobster that was served.  The Coral emulsion could have been more flavorful had its maritime fragrance better expressed. 6/10

Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemonPear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon – Pear of good  quality,  dazzling sorbet (of pear), excellent praliné parfait, the meringue not only perfectly executed but also packed with superb flavor. The base of the dessert needs to be softer though (it was way too hard).  Even if I take into account the issue with the base of that dessert,  this —by the standards of desserts found in Montreal restaurants — was a really nice  way of  revisiting a classic combination of ingredients such as pear and chocolate.  7.5/10

PROS: (1) Excellent service as you would  expect from both the Ritz and a Daniel Boulud’s restaurant (2) Thoughtful menu

CONS: (1)More coral emulsion than gnocchetti and  Lobster..is like serving a beer with more of its frothy foam than the actual beer. Meaning, there is not much that you will end up enjoying. For my taste, this was  a misjudged use of the coral emulsion. With a bit more lobster and pasta, a delicious creamier seafood flavored  sauce and  just a little bit of that coral emulsion, this dish would have fared far..far better. (2)In  a ceviche, if the protein element is not going to cure / benefit from its marinade, then it is not a ceviche anymore. It is a salad. And a salad served in sea shells –actually even a proper ceviche in sea shells — is hardly something that you can properly taste because the portion is way too small .. therefore it won’t last enoughly long in your mouth to leave any impression.

Bottom line: it is always a great pleasure to share a meal with a long time friend, so  that aspect of the  dinner was perfect. On the subject  of the food, it was no love, for me, except for the nice dessert and superb coffee.  Service was as great as it gets in town.  Maison Boulud Addr: 1228 Rue Sherbrooke O, Montréal, QC Phone: 514) 842-4224 Type of cuisine: Fine dining (French/Italian), on this evening, but they also have more casual fares. Date and time of this meal: 20-11-2015 19:30 My personal overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 6/10 Service: 10/10

#Pray for Paris. I am currently in the city of lights, Paris  and was dining out with close relatives and watching France-Germany soccer match when the phones started ringing informing us about the sad events of the Paris attacks that were taking place just 2 miles away. Paris is currently extremely quiet with a heavy military presence, especially around the 10th/11th arrondissements. Pray for Paris.

With the recent addition of Manresa, California  has now 5 triple  Michelin starred restaurants  (Benu in  San Francisco, The French Laundry in  Yountville, Manresa in  Los Gatos, The Restaurant at Meadowood in St Helena as well as Saison in San Francisco), which makes it the most triple- starred Michelin  state in the US. With its exceptional wines, superb weather and enviable terroir , SF keeps positioning itself as a true, not just marketed as such (hein Montreal?), world class foodie destination. Here is a list of Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco (quite impressive, I have to say).

Visiting   Rome and Sicily – As with any popular foodie destinations, Italy has its shares of misses and hits when it comes to  food. Do some search, lots of it ..or else, you may end up …like me….with your share of really  ordinary (just Ok)  meals.

ROME1Rome – In ancient times, the saying “all roads lead to Rome” basically meant that whatever you do, only the Roman way mattered. Rome may not be the so-called “centre of the world” that it was once dubbed, but  its glorious past  still resonates nowadays in the hearts of  the impressive mass of tourists that it keeps attracting even in November, a period  when tourism frequentation  is at its lowest level  anywhere else around the world. One of this globe’s most touristicky cities,  as one would expect, and deservedly so….though, for the food, I am not fully sold about Rome’s position among world’s best foodie destinations. Perhaps I should have done better searches, perhaps…but I recall that  cities lile Tokyo or San Sebastian  dazzled more with no specific planning. I have to say, I am frustrated by the level of the food in Rome. Of course it is a good food city, but its better food is as tasty as any fine Italian food eaten in  America. The food here is victim of something called GLOBALIZATION…and between you and me…it is a  shame because what you generally eat in Rome could have been served to you in New York…and the difference is not that huge anymore.On Rome, during this visit, Vecchia Roma led the pack of the eateries I have tried. I also ate at: Ciampini, Baia Chia, L’Angelo Ai Musei. Just make sure that you are really familiar with Roman cuisine and do enjoy it, or else I  can foresee some serious inaccurate opinions.

PALERMO - MONREALE Palermo, Sicily, was no love at first sight for me. But the more I got to wander in its streets, the better it fared. Quattro Canti, the Norman palace, their beautiful old town, the unique blend of Christian and Muslim architectures and arts…Palermo kept fighting back. In the end, I had no other choice but to surrender: yes, some  parts of Palermo was destroyed during the second world war and little of that was  renovated since then, but this city has way more to offer than its first impressions,  which is not a surprise when you start digging in its past: Phoenicians, Greeks, Normans, Romans, Arabs…where else can you find such ecclectic influence?? Outside of Palermo, I had time to visit Monreale (sorry, I did not get the fuss.Yes, they have a beautiful church and a nice view over Palermo, but I had nothing more to bite into) and the very pretty seaside city of Cefalu. An island with such varied historical and cultural richness (few places in the world did themselves proud by proving to the world that Muslims and Christians can coexist together in such harmony…no  wonder Palermo, their capital city,  is a UNESCO  world heritage city) needs to be taken seriously (5 days in just Palermo, Monreale and Cefalu is clearly not enough). On the aspect of the food, with the surrounding Mediterranean sea in the picture, I was expecting the usual dazzling seafood I came to expect from  well, … the Mediterannea. But nah, that was not going to happen. Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera, which I visited two years ago, offered seafood and vegetables of far better quality than what I kept sampling in Sicily.

L’Oxygene (Paris) – is an African restaurant in Bois Colombes, with a Senegalese young Chef at the helm. To some, going to Paris is the opportunity to eat French food and that is obviously what I would recommend to the most. But the best African cooking outside of Africa is in Paris.  As   I “breath”/eat/cook French classic food since age 6,   it goes without saying that I do not need to eat solely French food in Paris. Given my familiarity with African cuisines, I do also eat at African restaurants whenever in Paris. On a first visit, I had the braised chicken which was as flawless as it could have been as well as their braised bass – nicely braised, but I was annoyed by the fact that the fish was not marinated for a long time. Furthermore, I ordered the braised fish for take out and it was mixed with a brunoise of tomatoes which diminished the flavor of the fish.  All dishes (there are just 4 or 5 items from what I recall) cost eur 15.  (My verdict: Very good>Good>Ok>Bad ): Good.  The best Senegalese restaurants in Montreal get  nowhere near  what you will find here.  Eventhough  I still prefer how ppl from the Carribean and the Indian Ocean do marinate and grill their fish (marinated longer, the seasoning a bit more elaborate ) —normal, as one tends to prefer the flavors he grew up with — , what you need to know is that the Senegalese do it a bit differently so consider than  when reading the aforementioned account. As for the brunoise of tomatoes altering the flavor of the fish..well, just ask to have your  brunoise served separately /  not mixed with the fish, if you order it for takeout. At the end of the day,  regardless of my personal taste, their talented young Senegalese Chef  is cooking good food.  Restaurant L’Oxyene, Addr:  241 Avenue d’Argenteuil 92270 Bois-Colombes Phone: 06 06 57 85 86

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – As explained elsewhere, on this blog, I am not a fan of visiting plenty of high end restaurants. Most upscale restaurants have kitchen brigades capable of  offering a  good standard of food, but no more. At the high end dining level,  it is rare, nowadays, to eat food that tastes “personal”  in the way the food of Chefs like Jacques Maximin or even, on my last meal at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud, to name those two Chefs, could taste like (certainly food that could only come from an “artisan Chef”). In other words, most upscale restaurants cook food that can be easily replicated by many kitchen brigades because their food  just taste “impersonal”. Impersonal cooking is obviously the best way  to  run a restaurant successfully, nowadays, and I can certainly see why, but I am not moved by such evidence. PG is a big business, but at least it can’t be accused of playing it safe. The  review of my meal at 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire can be found here.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Posted: November 12, 2015 in Uncategorized

Source: Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

PG01Event : Lunch at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
When: Wednesday  November 11th 2015, 12:00
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: 6,rue Balzac, 75008 Paris
URL: http://www.pierre-gagnaire.com/
Phone:  +33 1 58 36 12 50
Type of cuisine: French (classically  French at its core, mostly contemporary in its presentation, at times cosmopolitan  in its work of the flavors, using many  exotical ingredients , though, as it is generally  the case with most 3 star Michelin restaurants in Paris, the kitchen at PG puts the finest produce  from France in the forefront of their cooking).

Rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)
Food rating: 9.5/10 Creative French cooking of the highest level.  Perhaps the cooking of ex Chefs like Jacques Maximin/Olivier Roellinger, or (more recently) Bernard Pacaud / Alain Passard do fit a bit more with what I’d feel comfortable to rate with a 10/10 at this level of French cuisine as I think that Roellinger, Maximin, Pacaud or Passard would have delivered far more exciting versions of the brunoise of vegetables as well as the cucumber soup —– , and although the “ghocchi” and “Cèpes confits, noix, blette paquet” were excellent at what the kitchen was trying to convey (see their respective reviews below), my gut feeling is that the aforementioned Chefs would have replaced them by food items of assertive flavors pertaining to traditional French cuisine – especially Pacaud and Maximin – which, for my taste, is the only way that this meal at PG could have been bettered  .
Regardless,  that is just a personal impression. What you need to know is that PG kitchen brigade’s is one of world class quality. There were certainly many exceptional dishes as you’ll see in the account below.

Service: 10/10
Overall Dining experience: 9/10 Excellent

I am seizing the opportunity of a short trip to  Paris to eat at a 3 star Michelin table that I haven’t tried for over a decade, Pierre Gagnaire.

There is a considerable number of  food items served at Pierre Gagnaire. For example, my   starter (untitled  AUTOMNE) will come in   a series of  starters. The same applies to the   main course and  dessert.

I did opt for the A La Carte menu).

PG02The meal started  with two series  of   nibbles (calamari of superb quality marinated in soya, a brunoise of vegetables in a cold soup of cucumber, the brunoise as well as the cold soup were Ok…but I was disappointed that a kitchen brigade of this quality could not deliver a better version of that amuse bouche –  , some cuttlefish ink’s gelée  of spectacular maritime fragrance and a texture designed by the Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, because it was so  pretty to espy,  a superlative lemon paste, an excellent bisque of crab, and many more items – all of great standard at the exception of the brunoise of vegetables in a cold soup of cucumber).  The lemon paste, in particular, had a dazzling taste  which exciting mouthfeel   is hard to imagine even at this dining level.  All in all, 8/10 for the nibbles. Serious  stuff.

My starter was:

IMG_3174Cocotte d’aromatiques dans laquelle on fume quelques instants un gros gnocchi au Laguiole – velouté Vert d’automne, graines et pousses de moutarde – Gnocchi on a bed of vegetables. the gnocchi  having the texture of tofu…but in this case, that is not a bad thing at all. Rather a beautiful touch of creativity. I suspect that it is with items like this that some may perceive such meal as uneven (made of ups and downs) since this is certainly not an item designed to wow, but then that would be a complete misunderstanding of what should be expected here: this is a perfectly well conceived  twist on a  piece of gnocchi served with some steamed  vegetables underneath and it was not of the boring kind (both the vegetables and the special sort of gnocchi had vibrant textures and tasted of what they should).  8/10
PG - NOIX DE RIS DE VEAUNoix de ris de veau laquée d’un suc de carotte à l’argouse, pulpe de reine-claude au tamarin – Caramelized sweetbreads that were a  world away from their  tired looking versions, the meaty consistency successful (just the right moist consistency, not mushy) , the overall taken to an even higher level of amazement due to the addition of the tamarind. A dish that could turn into a flop  in the hands of many  kitchen brigades (from the perspective of someone who has cooked with exotical ingredients while understanding the fundamentals of French cuisine, this  is actually a combination that is logical  , but it is also very easy to misjudge the proper quantity of tamarind needed to make such combination exciting)  even at this level, but here it was a demonstration of what a benchmark example of  tamarind mixed with  sweetbreads can look, smell  and taste like. An excellent way of updating a French classic dish. 10/10
PG-Terrine d’anguille au pavot bleu, céleris branches.Terrine d’anguille au pavot bleu, céleri. Gelée de pain de seigle – Quality eel was succesfully paired with celery and a jelly of rye bread. One  of those items which intent is not to dazzle. The intent behind this dish is  to combine  ingredients that most people would not think successful  as a whole  (eel, celeri, rye bread). I have no problem with this   philosophy but in the hands of the majority of cooks it is either a recipe for disaster or an annoying assembly of  ingredients.  Here, you taste that dish and realize that what you just had is a set of matching elements that simply work  really well against all odds.

Infusion de navet daïkon au vin jaune du Jura, écrevisses pattes rougesInfusion de navet daïkon au vin jaune du Jura, écrevisses pattes rouges, oxalis et feuilles de capucine – Crawfish(boiled), daikon radish, white wine, oxalis, nasturtium leaves.  Dazzling contrast  of flavors (sweet/sour/salty) that is technically hard to get this right even at this level. 10/10

PG2 - cèpes confits, noix, blette paquetCèpes confits, noix, blette paquet – I have oftently read that PG takes risks that do sometimes not pay off. This is one of those dishes that could easily be perceived as unsuccessful. Well, as mentioned elsewhere, I do not agree with the suggestion that PG’s cooking is sometimes off. It may not be to one’s taste, but it is certainly not what I would categorize as occasionally faulty. Take this dish: its effect is basically similar to what you’ll get with a juxtaposition of a layer of custard, mushrooms and nuts. All of great quality, for sure, but potentially boring too…??  Now, what about this being a take on the Japanese  Chawanmushi? Not that boring anymore,hein? lol. There are different versions of the Chawanmushi and this one was extremely subtle flavor-wise (some people may even find it bland, but is is not bland…just full of  very  subtle umami flavors) – a take on a perfectly legit  example of the the Chawanmushi.

The main course I chose was AGNEAU (the lamb):

PG- LambCarré d’agneau de l’Aveyron frotté d’origan – the lamb from Aveyron is known for its quality, and this Carré d’agneau did justice to its reputation. Excellent on all fronts: taste, texture, seasoning. A flawless Carré d’agneau. 9/10

Papillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjisoPapillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjiso – pasta made of black pudding was shaped as butterflies and was served with a mixture similar to chilli paste but without the distracting piquancy. Date palm was added to the dish. This, for my taste,  was sensational (complex middle eastern flavors,  the date palm  blending excitingly well with the  aforementioned chilli paste-alike mixture). It takes a Chef with an incredible palate to create  dishes of this sort.   10/10

Selle en crépine, carpaccio de betterave rouge, betterave blanche au Roquefort.Selle en crépine, carpaccio de betterave rouge, betterave blanche au Roquefort. – The exceptional  lamb from Aveyron made a second appearance. It was paired with a carpaccio of  superlative beets. 10/10

crumble Vert, ails roses sablés, chorizo, cébetteCrumble vert, ails roses sablés, chorizo, cébette – sauteed cabbage, garlic, chorizo was a classic dish but not of  the tired sort,- extremely flavorful. Another exciting dish. 9/10

Soufflé à la vanille de Tahiti, crème glacée Soufflé à la vanille de Tahiti, crème glacée – Finished my meal with a benchmark vanilla soufflé which depth of flavor can only come from eggs and milk of exceptional quality. 10/10

BISCUIT SOUFFLE - CRUS DE CHOCOLATI was less impressed with the Soufflé of chocolate –  , which although generously portioned  and tasting of top quality chocolate was not as exciting as other Soufflé of chocolate I had at lesser restaurants. 7/10

The mignardises at Pierre Gagnaire were also of great standard.

PROS:  They master the fundamentals of French cooking  in a way that few can pretend to, even by the finest 3 star Michelin French cooking standards. Exciting flavors when they cook or reinterpret French classics (Soufflé à la vanille, Crumble Vert/ails roses sablés/chorizo/cébette, Selle en crépine/carpaccio de betterave rouge/betterave blanche au Roquefort). Then, at times, it is possible that you’ll travel to places where  the flavors are   subtle  (the case of Japan, during this meal), but that does not mean the cooking is off. The journey around the globe took me to the Middle East, too and it was a stopover not to forget (Papillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjiso).

CONS: The brunoise of vegetables / soup of cucumber was ordinary –the quality of the  produce was great, for sure, but a brunoise of vegetables should dazzle at this level, a cold soup of cucumber too — and that surprised me given the overall fabulous journey.

PG03Bottom line: The kitchen here is helmed by Chef Michel Nave, a 2004 MOF. As most MOFs from the 1990s/2000s, Chef Nave cooking is deeply rooted in Classic French cuisine (meaning the flavors are generally intense/rich, the meal marked by the expected consommé/veloutés/mousseline/meringue/marmelade), with, of course, its own twists (twists that obviously make their French food look and feel contemporary) . Here at PG, the creativity they are talking about covers non conventional ingredient combination (by French cooking standards, although, in France, nowadays, this  is is not as unusual as it used to be ), executed with a very high level of technique, top notch ingredients and an exceptional sense of  combining unlikely textures/flavors/ingredients  (many kitchen brigades do try to  blend  unlikely textures/flavors…but they are generally just basically assembling ingredients with little interraction between each other).

What I think days later: A true world class food destination with superb French gourmet food  to match. As with plenty of high end French restaurants, nowadays, PG also explores non French flavors, so ensure you are familiar and do appreciate such flavors too.

CEFALUCefalu (Sicily) is a  picturesque  tiny seaside Mediterranean city of the kind that you would expect to see  in movies. Very easy on the eyes, it certainly won’t be hard, for the most, to fall for this place. It takes 1 hr by train (it costs €5 one way) to get there from Palermo.

CEFALU2In Cefalu, I ate at Al vicoletto (Addr: Via Madonna degli Angeli, 12 Piazza Duomo – Cefalu Phone: 0921 420971) , where I picked a risotto alla marinara (mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, parsley — the fresh maritime flavor of the seafood was not muted)  as well as a cold couscous made of olives and tomatoes (enticing fresh lemony acidity).

My verdict (Very good>Good>Ok>Bad): Ok. Honest casual food. Fine ingredient by the standards of the seafood that I kept finding in Palermo and its surroundings at most of their casual restaurants. As ever, food this simple can always be bettered by spectacular ingredient and/or a touch of genius at surprising the palate, but such performances are rare – anyways.

PALERMO1Completing this short trip to Italy with few days in Sicily. Palermo did not knock my socks off, I will admit, but there is no doubt that Sicily is one of the jewels of the Mediterranea. My recommendation: if this matters to you, hire a car and tour the entire island of Sicily, do not stick just to Palermo.

PALERMO2Al cancelletto verde (Addr: Via Riccardo Wagner, 14, 90139 Palermo  Phone:091 320537) is opened since 1954, so one of the old restaurants of downtown Palermo (not far from the harbour). Bucatini with Sardines (the first  pic) was properly done (the pasta not as firmly aldente as so oftently found in Rome, but firm enough for proper chew, the sardine of fine quality). Grilled trout and squid was also another dish that was done as it should, meaning with respect to how Sicilian do traditionally  season their grilled seafood and the cooking  (temperature of the sea food, doneness, timing) without reproach.

My verdict (Very good > Good > Ok> Bad): Ok. Food this simple can always be bettered with a touch of bold seasoning, or whatever surprising effect/personal twist the Chef may deem interesting to throw in. But then, you are adding a twist to the original recipe. Here, they keep the recipes as authentic as it is, so this is not food that is trying to wow, rather food that is done as it has always been. And it is done properly.  Excited, I was not, but you are warned (1)  many items of Sicilian cuisine  — I have the same issue with Roman cooking — are not my cup of tea for reasons that have nothing to do with what is  good or   bad. As an example, I can’t appreciate stuffed seafood …. which Sicilians do and which was served to me during this meal in the form of stuffed squid. Does that mean stuffed seafood is bad? I do not think so.  Just not what I prefer. (2) People who were raised by the sea (my case) oftently tend to  have an almost intimate preference for the types of fish they grew up with. Trout is not one of them.

GIOLITTI1Last, but not least, a must-try in Rome: Giolitti. For those in the know,  Giolitti  is widely known as Rome’s ice cream shop to beat. On the day of my visit, there were even special tourist  tours focusing on  Giolitti.

GIOLITTI2Such fame tend to influence people, polarizing their opinions between instant haters (oh nah..another touristicky place) or lovers (oh yeah, it is the best ice cream of my life). I can only trade in facts that my palate is aware of, so I had no particular expectations. I just wanted their ice cream to be a technically well made ice cream, basta! And perfectly made it was, indeed, with a depth of  fresh milky taste (Never mind the flavors: whether the flavor of my ice cream  was pear or vanilla or something else, I believe that is not important — what matters to me is the technique, the depth in the work of the flavors) that is way more refined than at most of the other major ice cream spots of Rome.

Can it get any better than this? Was this my lifetime best ice cream? Remember, this …as excellent as it is …caters to the mass. So, ultimately, I had better ice cream (bolder milky flavor, bolder fruity flavor) done by talented ppl in their homes. But for ice cream catering to the masses, Giolitti’s certainly  one fine example. Giolitti  Addr: Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 – Roma – Tel 06.6991243  http://www.giolitti.it/