L’Ambroisie, Paris

Event: Lunch at restaurant L’Ambroisie, Paris
When: Friday March 25th 2011 12:30
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: 9, pl des Vosges Paris, France (4e arrondissement)
URL: https://www.ambroisie-paris.com/
Phone: Phone: 01-42-78-51-45
Type of cuisine: Classic french

Overall Food rating : 10/10 Superlative flavours, benchmark textures.
Service: 10/10 As “perfected” as their food and overall dining experience.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 Everything, on this lunch, was of superior 3 star Michelin standards
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

 

To quote il Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi, one of my top favourite Chefs around the world: ”’A melody is composed only of the necessary notes’. L’Ambroisie, on this lunch was profoundly melodious. Our lives are defined by moments. This was a moment. A moment of two hours and a half , transcendent and memorable. For those in the know, it would not be hard to understand anyone who would argue that this is, right now, the best French 3 star Michelin in the globe. Of this meal, I can certainly submit that eventhough perfection is a relative word,  “perfected” is how I would qualify this meal I had under their roof. Perfected in a way that is rare, even at such high level of dining, I meant.

 

I will, for this review on L’Ambroisie, seize the opportunity to elaborate a bit on my expectations, experiences and views on French cuisine in general, 3* Michelin Fine dining  and the Michelin guide in particular. I hope this will be useful to the  readers  of the current report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am French myself and as an admirer of French fine dining, I have naturally sacrificed a big portion of my hard earned money in what France offers on the upper scale of its restaurant scene.  L’Ambroisie, along with Ledoyen, are the only Parisian 3* Michelin ventures that I had not  visited yet as of today (Ledoyen was finally visited yesterday). You’ll find more about my experiences with France’s haute cuisine in the next sections of this review, but for now I’ll start with the motivation that lead to  my consideration of  the Michelin red book: for years, I have carefully followed all type of restaurant reviews. ALL! … only to end up with SOME supposedly serious food columnists (I wrote “some” since NOT ALL  of them are concerned by  my reservations)  raving  over  restaurants where impressive pre-sold magic are  never found in the plates but  rather  in the   media buzz  itself (I do not mind buzz. It is necessary as a business /marketing tool, but back your buzz by matching  reality)! When you end up with supposedly serious professionals who themselves recognize that they are well known to those they are reviewing, you know it is about time to put an end to the circus. That reliability I was dearly seeking, I knew  I had  to  find it elsewhere!  That is how I started to trust Michelin. Not that it is a perfect system (there will never be a perfect system anyways), but at least it does what has to be done: anonymous reviews (instead of the friendly reviews of some) and a rigorous work of evaluating  excellence in food and dining experience. Michelin may have its detractors (who doesn’t?) , but I prefer discretion and serious work over annoying quest for celebritism through restaurant reviewing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelin being initially from France, I also tend to value its appreciations on … France’s restaurants. To some extent, its evaluations of French restaurants in general, whether they are in France or outside of France. I do not expect Michelin to be the specialist of non  French restaurants. But that’s just my personal expectations of  Bibendum’s works.

 

Many of the 3* Michelin France’s haute  dining —- that I partook in — have delivered some  moments of culinary amazement  (Michel Bras, when he was regularly behind  his stoves, that was   a true defining experience of 3* dining excellence in my opinion. Thought the same about  Michel Guérard, Olivier Roellinger, Gerard Besson,  Georges Blanc when they are / were  at  their very best). Chef Bernard Loiseau (had couple of meals cooked by him in 1992, 1993, 1997) , who unfortunately took his own life, will always be remembered too as one giant who has never failed to serve me what still rank, years later, among the best moments of all my Michelin starred meals (for those who went recently dining at his restaurant, please send me an email with details of  your own experience. I am curious to learn about the cooking of their current Chef, Monsieur Patrick Bertron).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, I did also experience few  other  3* events that did not seduce, of which I could easily identify the major problems: usually it was either a hasty interest in modernizing the cuisine or a lack of clear culinary identity (this oftently happens when the kitchen switches in between the hands of too many cooks or a Chef whose brigade is weak / lacking in leadership).

How do I choose a 3 Michelin star restaurant?

Most people I know won’t bother with careful long research on restaurants when it comes to  dining out. They  basically rely on opinions of who they think is enoughly reliable, eventhough this is clearly not a matter of reliability but of personal preferences as in  the preeminent and realistic long formula “”food enjoyment = personal expectations + knowing what you like Vs what you do not + what your palate has bookmarked as previous references + misc personal encounters during your diner + the ability of remaining humble enough to avoid unnecessary pretention +  how informed you were about the place you are dining at + what you have been eating before you head there + your state of mind + how open minded you are…and I’ll stop here, Lol! “””.  I can’t blame them (there are certainly other interests that deserve much attention), but my choice for a dinner goes through an absurdly (yeah, I’ve got to admit this…although I will always maintain such diligence) extended process: I read ALL, absolutely ALL possible comments, inform myself a lot about the Chef’s philosophy/creations/ background/achievements + the type of restaurant, its history, its style. I do the same, whenever it is possible, with the authors whose opinions  I read: enquiring about the style of dining he or she usually favors is one (among others)  essential piece of intelligence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dinner at L’Ambroisie is the result of a two years long  study on an impressive list of 3* Michelin tables around the world. Two years is time consuming, but I do not go to restaurants just for the sake of piling numbers (The  number of restaurants you visit says nothing about the quality of the dining experience you accumulate). I go to a restaurant for the adding value I presume the restaurant can bring to my personal dining experience.  Back to L’Ambroisie, it is interesting to note that  I could have picked restaurants on which there seems to exist more favourable conscensus. In Paris, if you do not want to miss the boat on the upper 3* Michelin starred dining echelon, just pick Guy Savoy, L’arpège or Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée. They are great: their food is consistently good and they treat you like you are a king. Exactly what we all should expect from an   expensive and haute  dining experience. But what attracts me to a restaurant is a combination of very precise factors: (1) food that has a chance to set some kind of new reference to my personal gustatory repertoire,  (2) food of a Chef mostly praised for that little touch that sets the truly talented cooks apart. And in the case of L’Ambroisie, there is also this reason: he –Bernard Pacaud – is one of the last chefs from the nouvelle cuisine movement. There is nothing ‘’nouvelle’’ anymore with that culinary movement , but this is one type of cuisine that suited well with my palate. Before Chefs like Pacaud  retires (He is 64 yrs old ), I’d suggest anyone interested in French fine dining to try at least once in their life the cuisine of those  last pioneers of the nouvelle cuisine.

I  was lucky enough to fullfill this aim to sample the food of some of them:  Michel Guérard (I sampled his food in 2005 and 2006 at Les prés d’Eugénie in Aquitaine. I hope it is still as great as it used to be since I never went back since ), Bocuse’s Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon (2006,2007,2008 All three meals were admittedly not among the best I ate, but they all featured some dishes with character that  still rank high among those I keep referring back to whenever I indulge in French haute dining), Alain Senderens whose food I tasted in 2004 and 2009, and of course the other Chefs that I mentioned previously.

 

The meal began ..NOT with their  usual expected  serving of classic French cheese based savory choux pastry from Burgundy (gougeres), BUT with

 

 

 

 

 

 

Langoustine, ananas, velouté de crustacés – The langoustine , in season  and  as fresh as it gets (which you have come to expect at this level of dining). It is rare that you will see me praising seafood at a high end restaurant as I grew up with the spectacular seafood of the Indian Ocean   right in front of my door, therefore  a fine dining restaurant, miles away from any sea or ocean, with its inflated cost …is hardly going to seduce me with its seafood offerings. I rarely order seafood at a high end restaurant as I know that it  cannot match the seafood of my childhood both on the front of the quality  as well as the price (this was an amuse-bouche , therefore not ordered from the menu ). It does not help that I have always found  langoustine not as worthy of my attention as lobsters .  Langoustines are members of the lobster family, but they are tinier than lobsters and (for my taste), not as flavourful (langoustine is …less flesh to put in your mouth, anyways,  therefore less to ..savour, obviously). Alas,  lobsters are no longer “trendy” at high end restaurants, langoustines are. That said,  I can only trade in facts: although  the precise cooking of that langoustine (perfectly firm and meaty, moist as it should)  is to be expected, L’Ambroisie managed to make the point that I was eating at a 3 star Michelin restaurant by never allowing that offering to leave a “mundane” impression:  a little  ‘brunoise‘ of carefully handpicked prime  pineapple (mixed with dices of green, red peppers) as well as a superlative velouté (exciting crustacean flavours) were benchmark examples of what they should feel, taste and look like even by the very high standards of this level of dining.  10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaud froid d’oeuf mollet au cresson , asperges vertes, caviar oscietre gold– The oeuf mollet (poached egg – the egg is  successfully half cooked as it should)  was covered with a layer of watercress sauce (I enjoyed  the interesting kick brought by the sourness of the watercress to the egg)  and served along asparagus (they have mastered the doneness of the vegetable pretty well) and caviar (typical oscietra thin flavor, a rich quality salty fish roe   as I expect at  such heavy  price). A dish that has been perfected to deliver memorable deliciousness. 10/10

 

On the side, I was served with their:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oeuf en coque: Many  high end French restaurants have their version of  the “boiled egg” appetizer. Since it is  seemingly easy to do (a boiled egg, right?), they tend to overwork it with ridiculous flavour combinations. Chef Pacaud’s “Oeuf en coque” managed to be a sublime take on the “Oeuf en coque” by relying on spectacular sourcing (it is rare that you will find an egg of such spectacular quality even at the best 3 star Michelin restaurants) and an unusually  “gifted palate” — so to speak — (even, by the highest standards of fine dining that this restaurant is competing…you will rarely get to the conclusion that “wow…whoever has cooked my food has an exceptional palate”. That does not happen as often  as  you may think…). It may sound surreal to be impressed by some boiled egg, but few, even at this level of dining,  are capable of  an exciting “Oeuf en coque” (you had  all the essence of an Oeuf en coque, boosted  with the simplicity of fresh chives, nothing else, but delivered with an emphasis on bold, fresh  delicious and memorable flavours) 10/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea bass and artichoke atop a caviar (Ocietra gold from Iran) white butter sauce –  Sea bass has always been one of my favorite fish (especially the Chilean sea bass, with pan roasting being my #1 cooking method for fish). The seabass was nicely cooked (perfect moist interior) and tasted great (it is amazing how this ugly fish can taste good ;p).  The butter sauce had great textural quality, balance between its ingredients (shallots, white wine), and  enough acidity (coming from the sauce’s white wine) to control its richness . The mild flavor of the artichokes (sliced artichoke hearts) paired  well with the sauce and the quality of the sturgeon’s processed salted roe was at its finest. Overall, a dish that is technically without reproach  (you can see that each step of the preparation of that fish was well-timed) and more importantly delicious. 8/10.

 

DESSERT:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarte fine sablée  au cacao amer, glace à la vanille bourbon – A chocolate” pie”, that is – to the contrary of what some online reviews have pointed out – not raw at all,  its topping  made of a powdery cocoa layer, its filling consisting of chocolate ganache and sabayon . The pie was  served with a side of vanilla ice cream (which, as expected at this level, was not going to be of  the run-of-the-mill sort. High grade fresh vanilla being used, the lactic fragrance coming straight  from … a dairyman’s dream). Pacaud uses a dark rich chocolate from celebrated Master chocolatier  Christian Constant. All in all, the pie showcased  a great deal of  technical skills  (the super delicate consistency of that pie)  and  reaffirmed  the recurrent  strong focus —that was met all along this entire repast — on making food tasting genuinely  delicious  (the filling of chocolate ganache + sabayon is a great idea, indeed, as it added  enticing layers of flavours) . 10/10

 

SERVICE: As “perfected” as their food and the overall dining experience. Madame Pacaud welcomes all her patrons, but even though many wives of Chefs do the same, at restaurants, what sets her apart is her exceptional ability to talk to you with a genuine warmth and expression of care you will rarely experience with her competition. What is impressive, based on what I could observe, during this lunch,  is that she is able to do that with the same intensity whether you are a regular (a table nearby had regular diners) or someone she never saw before (me).  Not always an easy thing to get right, even by the high standards of hospitality expected at  high end restaurants, but she nails it. There was also Mr Pascal, the Maître d’Hôtel on this lunch, a classy gentleman and experienced  professional who is easily among the very best at what he does. For sure, that is what one needs to expect at this dining level, but even  by those lofty standards, he stands out from the pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DECOR:
If like me, you are fond of baroque style , then L’Ambroisie interior will appeal. I noticed the Aubusson tapestries that I kept hearing about when informing myself on L’Ambroisie (http://www.finehomecrafts.com/aubusson-tapestries.htm), the marble floors, paintings.  It is not  as grandiose as I had once anticipated, but extremely charming.

PROS:  I think that Bernard Pacaud’s  cooking (he was cooking on this lunch) is the finest haute French food that has ever blown away my taste buds since Joel Robuchon and Frédy Girardet have  retired. To my taste, this  overall dining experience on Friday March 25th at L’Ambroisie is exactly what reaches out to my own definition of the pinnacle of a 3 star Michelin dinner.

CONS: Nothing that  comes to mind.

CONCLUSION:  My definition of ‘’great food’’ turns around a  combination of   80% from  the natural talent of the Chef (the personal touch of an exceptionally skilled artisan, whatever magic his personal impulsive genius can generate, the s-o-u-l of the Chef!!)  + 20%  that will come from the quality of the ingredients. Basta! The rest (whatever philosophy, vision is great for both the Chef himself on a personal level and/or his marketing team) is theoretical.

There is an important distinction between talent and personal touch:

a Chef can be technically skilled (mastering various cooking methods, cooking at the correct temperature, with the right ingredient combinations, etc) but his food lacking in terms of soul (ever wonder why out of a team of highly talented chefs, cooking the exact same dish, with the exact same ingredients, there is always one or two who still manage to elevate the dish  to some kind of gustatory reference?). Passion? It should already be part of the personality of a great Chef  or else he has no business being a chef. Great ingredients? Absolutely, but in the hands of a non talented chef, they worth nothing.

Going there, I was looking for great cuisine that is taking no risks nor trying to be trendsetting (“dated” in not part of my vocabulary. Good or bad food are), but that is delectable and heartwarming. Going there, I was expecting Bernard Pacaud, a Chef widly praised  for his exceptional talent, to make a good impression on me. Fortunately, I got all of  of that at this restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The overall  may boast an impressive price tag, which most (opinions over the web + among those close to me who are regulars of Paris haute dining  ) have agreed on, but the most important was delivered:  food that  was superbly D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!  Many Michelin 3-star dinings have pleased me, but I can count with the fingers of my hands the few remarkable moments  when food was as savourish as on this one lunch.  Now that I’ve visited all current Parisian 3 Michelin star establishments –Le Doyen and L’Ambroisie being the only two that I had not visited up to this day (luckily, there are not that many and no newer Parisian 3 star have emerged lately), I can confidently state that L’Ambroisie is — at this moment —- my personal choice for #1 best Parisian three Michelin star (for the record, L’Arpège used to be my personal #1 for a long time, in Paris) .

L’Ambroisie reaches out to my dining expectations and philosophy:  I am not one interested in whatever theatrical or conceptual aspect of food. It is food and its main duty has to be fulfilled: it has to storm my palate for its superior savourishness.  They did it with the highest mastery one might expect at this level of cooking, shining with equal excellence on both the savories and the desserts. But L’Ambroisie went way beyond that:  this type of  decor, the service (elegant, serious and focused) , the way the sommelier did his work  (grace and efficiency),  absolutely everything went in line with what I expect from the best 3-star michelin   ventures.

 

 

 

 

 

If you came to me with such a statement as “””this is currently the best classic Haute french michelin 3 star in operation in the world”’,   I’d reply that  ”’I concur with you””!  This one specific lunch was simply divine. The price? No..No..No..I won’t reveal it simply because as human beings, we tend to overwhelm excellence by material value. Which is not an issue when the experience is average (in which case, I see the $$$ in BOLD!! Rfaol!), but when it is exceptional — as it was with this one specific lunch at L’Ambroisie — I will never let numbers overshadow exceptional dining occurence!

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was,  on this lunch, a feel of remarkable  grace and  profound commitment  for   ultimate delicious  food   that will mark my souvenirs for a long time.

Wishing  you this  same amazement!

 

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  Bernard Pacaud was behind the stoves on that lunch, and I regret to have discovered him so late at a stage where he is close to retirement.  Well, at least I had this priviledge because this is what I consider as a priviledge:  skills so exceptional that they pertain to my top 5 all time favourite Chefs of the globe, alongside Joel Robuchon, Jacques Maximin, Constant,  Girardet,  Besson.  Again, I never tried this place when Bernard Pacaud is not behind the wheels, so I can talk only for this one instance.

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