Archive for the ‘3 star michelin’ Category

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: 9/10 Excellent service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Maître D’, one of the very best you will encounter at this level of dining. Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone, in the dining room. Madame Goujon seemed a bit shy with first-time diners,  whereas Chef Goujon was  the total opposite: it was the first time that I met him and yet I felt like I have known  him for two decades. He is that amicable.
Overall food rating: 8/10 Very good performance.

 

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. 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. You have got to respect that.

“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.

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 truly 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 on the first meal.

Cons: The appetizers.

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. I  squealed in  delight at every single spoonful of   the frog leg/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.

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 truly 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: https://lespresdeugenie.com/en/les-tables/michelin-starred-restaurant-michel-guerard/

 

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.A destination, indeed. Still, at this level, if  I were them…I would “rewind the tape”  about the 8/10 service. That the younger staff did offer a flawless impression, whereas the older folks did not follow the bandwagon…well, that was Ok in the 1940s..perhaps….but right now, well ….you know….other 3 star Michelin French places  in France (Votre “niche” …)  are doing  better, on that front   (Pierre Gagnaire, L’Arpege, Le Louis XV, L’Ambroisie, L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, Ledoyen)….- Regardless, ..at the end of the count, I still loved LPE and would run back there, for the superb food, that friendly village, the world class French 3 star Michelin restaurant that LPE  truly is.

 

Service: 8 /10 The younger employees (mostly present in the dining room) offered the sort of stellar service one has come to expect at this level, being as attentive and professional as it gets. By contrast, the older gentlemen (mainly present outside the dining room) could not handle a candle to their peers at, let us say, L’Ambroisie, Le Doyen, Le Louis XV, L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, etc… : I felt, as if, the quality of their service was of the ymmv (your mileage may vary depending on who you are) type. Do not get me wrong, they were fine and professional, not mean at all, but they seemed more or less attentive depending on the customer they were dealing with. As an example, on my way out of the restaurant, I was asking a question to one of the older gentlemen, and he seemed more interested to talk to the couple who was behind me, as they looked more familiar (??) to him. Of course, that is normal  in general life, in your neighborhood, in a tavern, etc, lol, but NOT SO at a 3 star Michelin …. – that said, this is an utterly minor quip that took nothing away from my appreciation of LPE, as evidenced by a rating (for the service) that is still high.
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. I am afraid, they failed that test on my visit, as far as I am concerned (food assessment being obviously..subjective), of course.  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.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Posted: November 11, 2015 in 3 star michelin, Best meals, best restaurants in the world, destination restaurant, favorite restaurant, french restaurant, Michelin star, michelin star restaurant, paris, potential of benchmark food, stellar service, The World's Best Restaurants, top restaurant of the world, world class food, world class restaurant
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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)
Overall 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

 

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. Indeed, a Top-tier French 3 star Michelin anywhere across the globe.

 

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:

AUTOMNE
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.

Sushi Mizutani
Type of restaurant: Sushi shop
Date and time of the meal: 21-11-2014 11:30
Address: 8-7-7 Ginza | Juno Building 9F, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture Phone:03-3573-5258
Tabelog: 4.37/5
Michelin stars: 3
Tabelog link: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130103/13016524/

UPDATEDUPDATE:  THIS RESTAURANT IS  CLOSED SINCE  October 29, 2016

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NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONPicture taking is forbidden to normal diners as/per the house, therefore  no pictures were taken. No note-taking neither as I did not know whether that would offend the house’s staff, so I made a mental note of my appreciation of some of the sushi pieces which assessment was determinant in my overall rating of this meal.

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).

Mizutani-san has worked several years at the stronghold of the legendary Jiro Ono (Sukiyabaki Jiro in Ginza), then parted ways and opened his own sushiya which was awarded 3 Michelin stars several years ago. He was among  the very first sushi masters, along with Jiro, to have earned 3 Michelin stars. For those who are ‘allergic’ to Michelin star rating, rest assured that even the local foodie scene holds Mizutani-san in high esteem as his shop has a high score of 4.37/5 on Tokyo’s major  local food restaurant rating web site Tabelog: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130103/13016524/  . Some of this globe’s most experienced diners argue that Mizutani is even better than Jiro but I wouldn’t know as  my hotel concierge could not secure a reservation for me at the legendary Jiro, but Mizutani seemed to fit with what I was looking for:  elaborately crafted classic  sushi pieces by an  experienced Sushi Master of Tokyo.

FOOD REPORT:  As it was the case at Sawada, I did not take notes, fearing that the no photo restriction could also imply that the house would shower me again with other restrictions regarding, this time, perhaps, note-taking. I do not go to restaurants in order to fight with rules, so I took no notes of each single item but I’ll try to remember some of the key elements of this meal, the elements that weight  in my overall score for the food performance .

Sea urchin – The sea urchin,  of top quality as expected , bettered only by the exceptional sea urchin served at Sawada.  Sawada handled their sea urchin exceptionally well to the extent that you’d think the sea urchin was snatched from the floor of the ocean and served immediately. Mizutani’s did not have an intense  oceanic flavor but they were clearly of very  high quality, though of the tiny kind (two types were served: bafun and murasaki sea urchin). 8/10

The common trio of tuna (lean, medium fat, fatty)  ranging among the finest of this trip in Tokyo, their quality  simply startling. If you ever  think that good sushi tuna is just good sushi tuna, well ..NO!  I am not saying this  is a case of Wowness (though, I find  the raves about the Otoro not exaggerated at all;p )…I am not implying that this is  unparalleled— I am just insisting on the fact that the quality of the fish is really really high. Just try most of the medium and low level Sushi shops of Tokyo and you’ll better understand what I mean.  9/10

Steamed abalone showcased some world class seafood steaming technique as the texture of the flesh retained  the nice natural chew of the abalone’s flesh while allowing enough tenderness for palatability, but in a way that’s technically hard to achieve consistently well because timing and exceptional  know-how are as crucial as ever to get to this  sort of toothsome. A benchmark steamed abalone.  10/10

Prawn (8/10) and needlefish  (9/10) nigiris were  tastier than the  versions enjoyed at the other  sushiyas,but prawn killed right in front of your eyes (done at some of the other sushiyas, but not here) always add a “special” dimension that this prawn —although admittedly of the highest quality and execution — was missing .  As for the needlefish, Mizutani-san did sweeten it, on this instance (I have no clue if he always do that), which is usually not a feature I favor with seafood, but this was needlefish of superb quality. Mackerel (10/10) was  superior to  those I had at the other Sushi shops of this roundup, better prepared, better — though not boldly  –seasoned, better handled, better cured (the timing of the curing  simply perfect) than anywhere else.

Gizzard shad  (10/10) is, of course, the common affair of the Sushi Chefs,  a bit like crème brulée for a Pastry Chef, so that is exactly where I want to see the better Sushi Masters to distance themselves from the rest and on this meal, they did just that:  salting and soaking it in vinegar is what all sushi cooks do, but the proper timing and proper know-how are grounds that are  not that easy to cover.   Mizutani covered those grounds, his Gizzard shad tasting  better and fresher than his direct competitors of this trip, and those folks are unarguably  the best sushiyas of the globe , so imagine! And yet, there was still room for a little bit more excitement (nothing that would make me change my mind about its 10/10 score, though) : bolder vinegary flavoring of that Gizzard shad  would have been the ultimate blast, lol.

Squid was of stellar quality, with perfect chew , its looks glamourous (spectacular transluscence), with dazzling chewy texture. Some ppl judge a Sushi shop by the quality of the  tamago. But for me, it  is items like squid, mackerel, gizzard shad that count the most. A benchmark squid. 10/10.  Salt  water eel nigiri is one of those sushi pieces you rarely see offered in its prime, outside of Japan and here in Tokyo, there are clearly many rivers to cross between the salt water eel of the Mid-level  Vs top tier Sushi as the quality of the anago at Sushi Mizutani was only slightly bettered by Sawada and yet, this was a benchmark piece of anago, its tsume sauce as delicious and  carefully prepared as it gets. 10/10

Repeat sushis were the chutoro and otoro nigiris, which were as great as the earlier ones.

The fabled tamago (folded omelette cake), which at first glance looked less pretty than, say, the one I had at Sawada, but tasted far more DELICIOUS! 10/10 for the tamago.

PROS: 1.The most challenging (to handle and  prepare) seafood items were better executed here than anywhere else…that is all I needed to know  2.It is amazing to see a sushiya place demonstrating utmost care in selecting even  the non seafood items like eggs (the secret of his superior  tamago).

CONS: (1) The sea urchin, although of top quality, paled a bit in comparison to Sawada‘s “ocean breeze” sea urchin.(2)At this level, not one single nigiri should crumble under the slightless pressure of my sushi sticks….well, it happened twice, which again is not a major problem….just not what should be experienced at such high sushi mastery. Because, YES…as you would have guessed by now, the craftmanship is of the highest level  (3) Also, this is..as you might expect, dauntingly expensive…so ensure you do really care– this much  — about the quality of your Sushi. I do and did not regret —and even found this to be a bargain compared to another Sushi shop, a mid level one, that did charge me as much for lesser quality sushi —  but you’ll have to keep that in mind.

So,
(1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered? At first glance, Mizutani could be accused of playing it safe as the rice seasoning is not strongly vinegared, and if you are not into details, you’ll be tricked into believing that it’s just your common good “nothing special’ sushi rice. It’s certainly not a common /nothing special sort of sushi rice as the work of the texture was generally of a high level of ‘engineering’ (the inside, impossibly soft, the outside is SEMI-soft). I wished I could tell you that we were  ages ahead of the laughable crumbly pieces of sushi that sadly abound at sushiyas outside of Japan …but life always ensures to contradict you, lol: the rice of two nigiris crumbled, to my surprise, under barely no pressure from my sushi sticks. Regardless, this is a work of rice of very high level.

(2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping?
No  strong flavors here, but a focus on anything that most palates would interprete as deliciously rich, for eg the eggs of his tamago is richer in flavor than the eggs of the tamago that’s offered at the other elite sushiyas. His fattier piece of tuna belly had more marbling than the fattiest ones at the other elite sushiyas, the rice tastes a bit rich, not strong, etc. In general, his style allows  an impression of harmony between the rice and the topping.

(3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip? Not as  ultimately  spectacular  in shapes and colors as I’d imagine exceptional sushi to be (Sawada was –overall —  a less convincing meal for me, compared to Mizutani’s, but Sawada‘s sea urchin + trio of tuna were visually far more spectacular than at Mizutani , but certainly close-to perfect. That said, Mizutani has certainly  delivered the most delicious  sushis of this trip. As for the control of temperature, most of the sushis were served following the classic notion of controlling sushi temperature (for eg, rice at body temp, most of the seafood at room temp), and as it seems more and more common with his peers in Tokyo, he would sometimes leave a piece that’s thick in consistency, therefore one that takes a bit longer to reach the temp he deems proper,  resting to hit room temperature (A Sushi Master  does this in frontof his patrons s because he wants  you to  you see how concerned about proper temperature he is  — just adding this because some online reports on this matter have misinterpreted that part, suggesting that it is not normal. This is Normal as some pieces take more time to reach ideal room temp and when it’s not done before your eyes, then they did it in the kitchen ).
(4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best)?
He is the most experienced Sushi Master that I have visited on this trip  and that showed: he knows his produce like few can pretend as he is who digged deeper in the potential of his ingredients, extracting as much as he could from them. He did that and it worked thanks to his  exceptional  skills and long familiarity with the fruits of his soil.

Before my meal at Mizutani, I have heard it all:  better than  Jiro (which,to me, is like comparing a private club to a normal restaurant catering  to a normal public as places like Jiro is…like to hear this  or not…nowadays effectively a private club available only to some happy few)  according to many well-travelled connoisseurs, but also the total opposite (for eg, the suggestion that the work of the rice is  better at  plenty of the lesser Sushi shops in Tokyo  —well,  you may as well suggest that  conveyor belt sushis are better while you’re at it, lol , — or  that the standard of the food seemed to have slipped, etc). Regardless of those contradictory suggestions, I can only trade  in  facts  I know:   the “trickiest” seafood  (gizzard shad, mackerel,squid), those that do require the toughest efforts and sharpest skills, happened to be challenging  in the hands of all the other  Sushi Chefs of Tokyo whose food I have sampled during this trip (some aging their seafood to the point that is not enjoyable/palatable  anymore, so more style than substance,others were so inconsistent or playing it safe….). That is where Mizutani san stood out. The work of the rice is important, and I wished I did not have those two pieces of nigiris crumbling under barely no  pressure, but the more important is that the generally mastered softness of the texture of his rice as well its subtle flavor allowed for a better interraction between the neta and the shari.   For sure, do not expect  miracle,  this is not walking on water,  this is not landing on the moon, this is not saving lives, this is sushi  (generally) perfectly  well crafted  at the highest level possible, so ensure you  sync your expectations to what can realistically be crafted.  It is expensive,indeed, but it all comes down  to one very simple  choice to make: you either feed on tons of average sushis (that you could actually replicate at home with patience, time and practice)  or eat less of those and save for sushis this great. Keep in mind that this is classic sushi , so not for you if you are looking for fanciness.

Overall  food rating9/10  (Category: top tier Sushi shop in Tokyo, World class sushiya) in comparison to my meals, during this trip, at  the other   Tokyo sushiyas. The sea urchin, although of top quality,  left me feeling somehow indifferent (in light of what I am expecting at this level), BUT the most important for me (which explains the well deserved overall food score of 9/10) is that Mizutani-San managed to outperform his peers in many  aspects (deep understanding of the rice/seafood harmony, textures of (generally) benchmark refinement by world class sushi standards ).  Deserving (in general) of  its great reputation, I thought.

01What do I think a week later: To the contrary of what is widely suggested online, the majority of Sushi shops in Tokyo (from the mid level Sushi to the lower end) are generally NOT that superior to a good Sushi shop in Canada or the US. They do have a wider variety of seafood but nothing much. The top tier (which is no more than acouple of Sushi shops) Sushi shops are those that truly standout with a quality of ingredients you’ll have hard time finding outside of Japan. As for the work of  the rice, it is true that there is more thought/care that is invested in it, but much of the praises pertain to urban legend: everytime I hear that a Chef integrated X amount of grain of rice in his sushis…I do discretely take one of his nigiris, run to the gents room and discretely count the grains. It is never even close to the amount of grains advertised. Furthermore, although well done, the work of the rice is not as spectacular as it could be. That said, Mizutani san’s craft is hardly matched outside of Japan.

PS: Few weeks after this meal, Mizutani was demoted from 3 to 2 Michelin stars. I will keep the mention to the 3 stars as the current meal took place when Mizutani  was bestowed with  them.

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Restaurant: Ishikawa
Address: 〒162-0825 東京都新宿区 神楽坂5−37 高村ビル1F
Date and time of the meal: 18/11/2014 17:30
Type of cuisine: Kaiseki
Phone:03-5225-0173
Tabelog: 4.33/5
Michelin stars: 3
URL: http://www.kagurazaka-ishikawa.co.jp/

Ishikawa (1)

Kagurazaka Ishikawa is a well known kaiseki house in the area of Shinjuku (Shinjuku is vast, though, so keep in mind that if you stay close to the Shinjuku JR station,  Ishikawa is really NOT in the vincinity….;p). They have been operating for 11 years now. Chef Ishikawa explained that he comes from a part of Japan where the rice is of exceptional quality (yagata?? I am not familiar with Japanese names but it sounded like that), so he plays particular attention to the handling and preparation of  the rice (at a place like Ishikawa, you realize that rice is an ingredient that we, in the West,should  take seriously as great rice is not … just rice, indeed). The service here is world class (couple of waitresses and some few chefs) and the decor tasteful.    I tried to discretely take the pics of my food, discretely I insist  as  Japanese do not like that sort of distraction, especially in such intimate settings (in some of the restaurants that I will visit later on, photo taking is banned— at Ishikawa they are so nice that they won’t tell you anything,  but play close attention at the behavior of the other patrons and you’ll get what I mean ) , so as I usually do, out of respect to the privacy of other diners, I refrained from taking pictures of the room when it was full of patrons.

Ishikawa (2)

Kaiseki is my favourite type of Japanese meal for its strong focus on all sorts of seasonal produce. It is also the kind of meal that I do approach with a lot of anxiety (positive / constructive anxiety that is),  because I remember that I, too, come from a country with food of deep and extreme nuances/subtleties/complexity , therefore condemned to be oftenly  mis-interpreted / mis-judged because as diners, we  mostly have no time with how things are supposed to be,  rather interested to expect things to be what we want them to be . I remember, couple of years ago, inviting a long time food journalist/cook/experienced foodie to eat a dish of cassava leaves cooked in coconut milk. A dish of the kind that I like a lot since its description is ordinary, its execution pertains to a totally different registry. In facts, you need to find the proper cassava leaves, cook it for at least 6-7 hrs with the right amount of quality coconut milk (popular in some African cuisines ) and its final taste will depend on your palate and ability to keep enhancing the flavor with as little as coconut milk, water, garlic, onions, salt , your leaves and deep understanding of how fire can impart sublime taste to your food. I ensured that a long time experienced cook, a granny actually, cooked it, because I wanted that friend to start with a version of that dish cooked  by “hands and a palate ” of considerable  experience. That friend/foodie/cook’s verdict on that day was straightfoward: it’s bad, it is just leaves that he  would have boiled, nothing more and that all the attention to details and long time cooking was pure Bullshit. The granny was upset and accused that dude of ignorance.  Both reactions were expected, but  I simply asked my friend to try, as much as he could, to remember that supposedly ‘disgusting taste of simple boiled leaves’ but …since he loves food…. to keep his mind open and give a chance to that dish, wherever he finds it. But more importantly, to do it himself and try replicating that exact memory of taste. 10 years later, this is the dish that my friend admires the most, cooks the most, etc. Of course, this sounds like a fairy tale   — I know, i know …. we are ALL mostly pessimistic by nature,  and tend to be  bored with  nice stories lol — but there’s a reason I brought the “fairy tale” here:  Kaiseki suffers from the same faith…its complexity, its depth, its purpose  is not always  evident, especially for non Japanese palates/tastes.  Even for someone like me who has cooked seriously for almost two decades, and have  studied and practiced a lot with the nuances of Japanese fares for the past 3 years (it was  important for me to spend some time learning/understanding/practicising with one type of cuisine before starting to assess it) , I had to go out of my way in understanding one important element:  the work of the texture and exceptional focus on the details  is for the Japanese leading Chefs far more important than how it is valued elsewhere.

The food report:

Blanched blowfish tossed with Japanese herbs, grated white  radish sauce.  Basically a julienne of  veggies with morsels of blowfish. Tasty, but not a testament to high level kaiseki cooking  ( ordinary for a restaurant of this reputation) as it lacked a sign or two of restaurant quality brilliance (anyone could pull out this sort of ordinary flavors , in an effortless way, at a restaurant or at home…therefore, I was not happy with this item ) . 6/10

Ishikawa (3)

Deep fried shitake mushroom with minced Japanese duck,sliced duck breast, dried shitake mushroom: the quality of both the duck and the mushroom was impressive, but there was more. There was technique (the cooking of both the duck and the mushroom superbly achieved in letting the deep meaty flavor of the duck expressing itself, the mushroom timely roasted so that its earthy flavor is left unaltered while the mushroom is cooked enough and nicely seasoned to spectacular mouthfeel ) and an inspired touch (it is easy to extract decent flavors out of  duck and mushroom, but harder to  get duck and mushroom complementing each other this well. Exciting 10/10

Ishikawa (4)

White miso soup with savory rice cake. The quality of the ingredients continues to be, as I’d expect from a restaurant of this reputation, of the highest order. Such comment also applies to the technical execution of the food: as mastered as it gets ,meaning the balance of flavors is spot on, seasoning judicious (never too salty, never bland). The beauty of great kaiseki cooking is to extract the most out of the least, and that is what they’ve accomplished successfully: deep ,  balanced, delicious  and complex flavors out of a simple rice cake and miso soup. Miso soup is one of those things that escapes attention when done well but which failure you will quickly notice, so it is easy to take such great work of this soup for granted . Excellent Miso soup like this one I was sampling is a rare treat,even in Tokyo, as I came to realise. 9/10

Ishikawa (5)

Sea bream sashimi . I am not too sure what one should expect from seabream. There’s no exceptional seabream flesh, there are just great and bad ones. This was of the great sort. The quality of the seaweed high. As great as ..great fresh seabream flesh tastes.

Ishikawa (6)

Seared Ise Lobster with vinegared soya sauce – quality lobster, one piece served raw (sashimi), the other seared. The quality of an ingredient is always half the battle/ the quality of this lobster was high. There was  a true fresh taste of the sea when eating the raw lobster, which was a reminder that no ordinary lobster was served. Then you had the charcoal grilled piece, which did not fail to remind that quality seafood cooked using a flavor-enhancing cooking method like charcoal grilling does ultimately water the mouth. Delicious as one would expect,the soya sauce is,of course, of the non ordinary sort  8/10

Ishikawa (7)

Charcoal grilled horsehead snapper flavored with salted bonito innards sauce is a technique that I will steal from them as I love charcoal-grilling fish at home (using a hibachi charcoal bbq grill) but I was looking for new ways to enhance the natural flavor of charcoal grilled seafood. Bonito innards sauce is exactly what I was looking for: a distracted palate would think that you’ll get the same palatable impact using just salt .Well,no…there is indeed an impression of  ‘that is easy to replicate’ when flavoring fish with salted  bonito innards sauce, but the level of the  complexity of the resulting flavor is not that easy to emulate. This sauce matched beautifully with the snapper.  Whether it is street food or fine dining, I do not have  unrealistic expectations when it comes  to charcoal grill seafood. I just expect an exceptional understanding of what makes a simple piece of fish ..tasting great! Which is what they did. Superb  9/10

Gluten bread with walnut and dried sea cucumber . The sea cucumber oceanic flavor, striking (in a very very good way). I am usually accused of being very conservative about drying / and or dry-aging seafood, but that is because I find that seafood drying   and/or drying aging is oftently misunderstood (you really need to know which seafood is truly enhanced by such process ). This sea cucumber was timely dried, the exciting mouthfeel and aromas are a testament to its high  quality and this is an instance where drying seafood  adds — rather than substracting — to the pleasure of eating food.  8/10

Ishikawa (8)

Fresh water eel was flawless in all aspects: top quality eel, the tsume sauce highly enjoyable both in texture and taste, the mashed taro packed with vibrant fresh earthy flavors. As it is the case with all the other offerings, the ingredients are complementary BUT in an inspired/thoughtful/witty  way (only the 1st offering tasted and felt like an ordinary assemblage of food items). Flawless. 9/10

Ishikawa (9)

Hot pot of snow crab, tofu and seasonal vegetable. That the ingredients would remain of very high quality was not a surprise anymore,  so it’s in the work of the broth that I had high expectations. They were met: the broth had depth/complexity, its taste exciting.  A world class hot pot, with a benchmark tofu (I am a huge fan of tofu as it is one of those little things that is easy to overlook but that can marvel when executed masterfully ….the tofu,here, impossibly soft, its taste not bold at all and yet so revealing in subtleties) . 10/10

Ishikawa (10)

Steamed rice, seabream paste and pickled vegetables. I won’t rate this dish as my opinion is sadly..biaised.Biaised because the seabream paste was reminescent of our canned tuna in the western world, therefore I am unable to appreciate that seabream paste as I wished … because I can’t genuinely get excited about flavors and texture of this sort. Needless to stress that there is no fault here (it’s one perfect legit version of a  seabream paste), just a clash with a personal perception. What I will do,though,is NOT to overlook the star of this dish, the rice. Again, the Chef seemed to have mentioned Yagata (???) — correct me if I am wrong — as the place of origin of his rice. This, to put it boldly, was spectacular rice with superlative flavor and texture. That he steamed his rice like a master at his craft is not the sole reason behind that incredible bowl of rice  (10/10 for that benchmark rice). At some point, they transformed the dish into their take of the ochazuke dish (combination of green tea/steamed rice) which, on this instance, combined the spectacular rice, a perfect broth, nori, the seabream paste and sesame seeds. The overall was tasty.

Ishikawa (11)

Sweet red beans,Yuzu citrus ager and cream cheese with toasted wafer featured quality red beans which sweetness is not overwhelming but judicious, the yuzu citrus ager flawless in texture and adding necessary acidic balance, the cream cheese is a far better version of the standard cream cheese as its soft consistency coupled with superb lactic mouthfeel did stole the show . It is easy to overlook simple ingredients like those (red beans, cream cheese) as  they are oftently taken for granted, therefore we tend to be uninvolved when we use them. This dessert was a reminder that doing so (underestimating such humble/common   ingredients) is a mistake as cream cheese/red beans/yuzu citrus ager  done this well and tasting this good can be exciting.   8/10

Overall food rating: 8/10 (Category: top tier Kaiseki in  Tokyo)  Kaiseki cuisine (in this case, Chef Ishikawa’s take on it) is very simple in appearance, thefore it can sometimes  gives the wrong impression  that it is hard to get excited about,  but  its  subtleties can  reveal a lot more than what its first impressions may suggest. Ishikawa was about that, and much more: great service , a sense of place, ingredients of the highest quality and more importantly …. a great sense of taste. Ishikawa has an understanding of flavor combination that floats my boat (always that little inspired touch that imparts either surprise or joy in mouth,for eg the rice cake of the miso soup –not the classic texture of rice cake, rather a texture close to marshmallow and it happened to be more effective than the other sorts of rice cakes in its intent to surprise/please. Or a zest of orange skin that tentalized and added a thoughtful kick to the snow crab’s broth. All things that sound easy to do, but you still have to make it happen. Most, in the restaurant industry are NOT  doing it. They just talk. But Ishikawa walks the walk and that is why I am impressed by them ). I loved Ishikawa.

What I think weeks later: That rice, that rice …I do not know if their rice is always that stellar, but the one I was having was like no other rice.

Event: Lunch at restaurant Le Louis XV, Monte Carlo
When: Saturday September 21 2013, 12:15
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute Classic  Provençale (with North Italian touches)
Addr: Hôtel de Paris, Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
Phone: +377 98 06 88 64
Url: http://www.alain-ducasse.com/en/restaurant/le-louis-xv-alain-ducasse

ImageI am a bit busy with other things, so sorry for keeping this brief. In a nutshell: I went back to two old personal favourites that I have not visited for many years, 3 star Michelin L’Arpège in Paris ( reviewed here) as well as 3 Star Michelin Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo (current review).

Overall Food rating : 7/10 Great produce and no flaws on the aspect of the  technique  — temperatures, doneness, etc are mastered —  as you have come to expect from any respectable restaurant, BUT they are playing it  SAFE … with their savoury recipes.
Service: 10/10
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 One of the most beautiful restaurants in the world, the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean nearby. What’s not to like?

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Perhaps the most beautiful old-world interior, for a fine dining restaurant. Certainly a pastry team, a service,  cheeses and bakers of world class mention. But the Louis XV needs to be more assertive with their savoury recipes. Alain Ducasse’s praises of their beautiful produce, eating healthy and natural  is not enough: the savoury dishes lacked  “joy” and whatever the philosophy…if your savoury dishes are  not “festive” in mouth, then what you preach is meaningless to your diners. Alain, I know that    “extracting the most out of the least” is what you hope your Chefs would achieve and that  …  can be  great,  indeed,  as widely demonstrated by the superb “minimalist” savoury dishes in nearby Italy,  but that  was a “distant wish”   during this  visit  at  Le Louis XV (your savoury dishes were not bad, not great neither and certainly not as exciting as what many of your peers are pulling off right now …) –   

I was with my wife, so the report will  benefit from  the better pictures (than those of my humble pocket camera) of her more sophisticated camera as well as her additional views. Please find below the usual ‘Pros’, ‘Cons’, Overall ‘food’ and ‘service’ scores.  A month after my meals, I always add  a ‘What I think a month later’ section  that you’ll see completely at the bottom of each of my reviews, so that you’ll get a feel of how my perception of my meal has evolved in time.

ImageThe meal started with their long time offering of crudités (carrots, celery, radish, etc),  typical of  the region as it could remind a bit  of nearby  Nice’s raw vegetables served with an accompaniment of sauce (Nice’s bagna caùda). A fun idea, I have to give that to them, since it showcases the vegetables of the region, but this kind of serving  really shines if the vegetables are going beyond the ordinary: those were as good as any celery or carrot or radish I was sampling all along my stay on the French Riviera.  But the dip  (made of olives and egg, emulsified with oil like a mayonnaise) was a benchmark of its kind, with glamourous texture and a depth of  taste as rich  and as exciting in mouth as it gets. I do not know if that was wowness..I just know that you won’t easily find dips of this level.  It’s for creations of this kind that I go to restaurants.

ImageThey are known for their lovely bread offerings, of which I picked a pain baguette (Yep, I am a huge fan of Pains Baguettes, and do expect them to be at their best on the  grand  tables of France  and this one was no exception  as they have baked an excellent one by the finest artisan Boulanger standards that I am used to, in France 9/10), and tomato bread (7/10 too salty to be enjoyable and the tomato flavor was not as stunning I would have liked).

ImageVelouté rafraichi de courgette trompette, homard bleu court-bouillonné, caillé de brebis – A cold velouté of courgette trompette  (courgette trompette is a type of squash), adorned with a piece of boiled lobster and sheep’s curd. Delicious idea as I have   sampled many exciting versions of this kind of velouté mixed with sheep’s curd, but this dish, although well done as expected at this level of dining, had flavors too discrete  (the velouté, the sheep’s curd, and even the lobster) to make any great impression, for me. The velouté itself would benefit from a richer taste, the sheep’s curd from more expressive milky flavor. Both my wife and I thought that it was designed to not shock ( for eg, the lobster had no aggressive marine robustness so that it harmoniously complements the mild tasting velouté and  sheep’s curd) with strong flavors so that it  reaches out to the most. We respect the harmoniously calibrated flavors but had no fun.  I am not asking for the moon, and do remain very realistic, trust me, …couple of days before, in nearby Nice, a simple bistrot like Bistrot D’Antoine blew me away with food as simple as this.    6/10

ImageCookpot de petit épautre, girolles et jeunes légumes – Cookpot of tiny spelt, girolle mushrooms,  vegetables (radish, artichoke, carrots). It was cooked in a stock of carrots and parsley, some barley added to the mix. Nice sweet/salty sensation, but dishes cooked this traditional way do usually deliver lingering aromas that I failed to enjoy with this serving. For example, parsley and carrots express themselves beautifully using pot cooking techniques, but on this dish  they ended being discrete to my palate.  Again, another classic dish executed properly (there won’t be any technical fault to be noticed here), but a dish like this should be an opportunity for its ingredients to express their deep natural aromas.  6/10

ImageLoup de la méditérannée (seabass) en filet piqué d’Olives, garniture et bouillon d’un minestrone, basilic pilé au mortier – Tasty fish, cooked properly (seasoned carefully, absolutely no reproach about the doneness, temperature) , fleshy as it should and served with carrots, celery,  white beans. 7/10

ImagePoitrine de Pigeonneau des Alpes de haute Provence, foie gras de canard, pommes de terre nouvelles sur la braise, jus gouteux aux abats – The squab successfully rosy, but its taste not as deep  and as exciting as the one I had couple of days before  at L’Arpège. It came with a nicely plump piece of seared foie gras, precisely seared with good grill  marks, but I found it lacking of the full liver flavor of some of its exciting versions. Again, no reproach for the cooking and the quality of the ingredients is great, but such classic dish can and should excite in mouth, which was not the case for me.  6/10

ImageThen the generous cart of top quality cheese – France’s finest tables have that big pressure of having to offer cheeses of world class standard, and Louis XV’s cheese cart is an examplary one. All cheeses sampled showcased respective textures, tastes and body that were  in their prime state. France’s highly regarded cheese-maturer Bernard Antony had his widely praised aged comté available and it is admirable to see how the folks at le Louis XV did justice to his famous cheese with remarkable storage technique and care,   all features that sound simple in theory but that seem to fail in the hands of even very ambitious tables. The piece of comté, I was sampling, evolving onto  expected toasty hazelnut aromas, subtle grassy and toffee notes progressively complementing the rich and complex intensity of the  flavours. This was, in regard to what is expected at its age (3 yrs) , a superb  sample of the comté.  We’ve also enjoyed some superb Fourme d’ ambert, Camembert Jort lait cru as well as  some nearby goat cheeses (which names I forgot since this  was my first time trying them), all cheeses of benchmark mention.

Many years after being blown away by their classic desserts of Baba au Rhum and  Le Louis XV au croustillant de pralin , I did not bother perusing the dessert menu and ordered the two items. My wife (her first time at le Louis XV) does not like Baba au Rhum and she went with a soufflé of apricot.

ImageBaba au Rhum –  Le Louis XV’s version of the Baba au rhum has always been, with regards to the finest ones I had in France (being French, those found in France have naturally   been those I  am the most familiar with, and I won’t hide the fact that I prefer them to any of their other European versions), one personal favourite. It remains as great as the first one I had  here, in 1990, with flawless yeast raised dough, delicate spongy texture, the golden color superbly achieved. In typical Louis XV style, the presentation is an elegant piece of theater with several choices of top quality rhum to chose from, the cake offered in a golden dome . There is no expectations to have over a baba au rhum, a baba au rhum  is a baba au rhum, not an exploration of the moon, but this one remains a benchmark of its kind. 10/10

ImageLouis XV au croustillant de pralin–  A hazelnut biscuit wrapped in  a ganache of dark chocolate. Alain Ducasse’s famous refined take (sort of ) on a chocolate crispy brunch bar. The ganache  having  smooth glamourous texture showcasing great precision from the pastry team, and  the hazelnut mousse airy texture as enticing as I remember it from last time (they do not have the same Pastry Chef as on my last visit, here).  An  8/10 this time.

ImageSoufflé d’Abricot –  Properly risen soufflé, but the sourness should have been better controlled (that was way too strong for the soufflé to be enjoyable ). 7/10 as/per my wife, a score that I share ….. but come to think about it, I’d not be surprised to learn that that bold  sourness is perhaps appreciated by many people. We both are just not  fans of big  sour flavor in soufflés.

ImageChocolate, petits fours  –  This is to be taken with a grain of salt since there’s definitely no matter of serious displeasure here, but I found the chocolate offering, although of   good quality as you might expect from such place, to still not reach the heights it could have in the hands of an exceptional artisan chocolatier, to take an  example. I gather this is  real nitpicking, that it is a restaurant, not a chocolatier,  and it would be stupid to put down the overall appreciation of my meal on the pretext of such observation, but there are couple of 3 star Michelin destinations – even in the US for example, let alone throughout Europe – that are offering a better variety of chocolate closer to what I am referring to.  7/10 for the chocolate (in view of  what I am expecting at this level of dining), but in total fairness, there’s really few 3 stars offering the type of outstanding chocolate  of the level of an exceptional artisan chocolatier. The mignardises left me with almost similar  impression:  good execution and tasting fine of course, but not of the level of, say, the outstanding petits fours I once had at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie (where concentration of flavor, stunning taste and glamourous definition of textures rivaled each other). It is all in the details, I know, and that is why top dining destinations like Le Louis XV do exist: for the  opportunity to go deep into the details of a stellar dining experience. 8/10 for the petits fours (again, in comparison to what I am used to at this standard of dining).

PROS : One of world’s most richly decorated dining rooms, sublime service, the lovely  experience of being there.  The Baba. The benchmark cheeses.

CONS :  I miss a more personal and authoritative cooking imprint  like I  have sometimes enjoyed from Chefs like Bernard Pacaud, Maximin or Roellinger,  and  at numerous  humble eateries all along the Mediterranean coast, or even here, years ago,  under Cerutti.

Overall food performance: 7/10    Good and properly executed cuisine for this  genre (Classic French/Med), the Ducasse philosophy applied as far as keeping the fares simple and respectful of the ingredients, but this is my favourite type of cooking, so I know well what I need to expect from it, which is deeper expression of the flavors (exactly as many restaurants manage to do with classic cooking of this sort on the Italian riviera or  as Chef Cerrutti  actually did when I was here many years ago)  and that is where I was a bit less impressed. And No, it’s not a case where ‘’my palate may have evolved since that time, so perhaps my expectations are not realistic anymore’’’  (such theory would make no sense: I have just re-visited L’Arpège  after almost the same amount of years of no-show and was still blown away by the fabulous taste of some of their creations).  All in all, my general impression of the  savouries matches an overall score  of  6/10, which is good enough, though not great,  but I found that the pastry team did quite a remarkable job (I was very impressed with the Baba au rhum being as stellar as  over a decade ago, perfected and so delicious, and despite the way-too-sour soufflé and my severe observations on the mignardises, this pastry team has the solid and reliable skills expected at this level) to deserve an extra point for their performance, which justifies the overall  food performance score of 7/10.  That said, it’s hard to reach a wide conscensus with what I am looking for in this type of cuisine, so I can understand why the focus is on flavors that can be acceptable to  the most.

Service: 10/10  They know with whom they can be a bit more formal or casual, while always offering the highest standards of hospitality and being professional. They litterally read in your mind, Lol. A great example of this is when my wife (really not a fan of this kind of grand luxury setting)  revealed to me that upon entering the restaurant she was afraid to feel out of place, but that the behaviour of the staff gave the impression that she was at home, only the decor was far more elegant and she was pampered like a queen, Lol. Everything, in the end, looked normal to her, which says a lot about the genuine effort of this team to adapt to its guests  in a customized manner. I am sure if I’d gracefully ask them to stop holding the chair for me when I return to my table  (I come from an intellectual background that prohibits  admiration for that sort of royal treatment…but of course, I was there dining, having fun, so I was not going to stop them from doing what they are supposed to do ), they’d oblige. Such  is the impression I got: the customer first and foremost  as  they seem to be genuinely opened to whatever may satisfy.

Décor:  Belle époque grandeur, Christofle gold flatware, marble, chandeliers, trolley of bread, trolley of cheese, trolley of herbal teas. I love old world interior designs and architectures, so seating there and admiring this opulent décor was naturally a feast for my eyes.

CLOUIS XV, MONTE CARLO - SEPTEMBER 21ST 2013 - YOUR HUMBLE HOSTonclusion: I may not have been floored by the overall food performance on this specific lunch (remember, nothing was wrong with the food, it is just that I tend to be partial to strong /bold/eventful  flavors like those found in the dip of the crudités or while enjoying my baba au rhum ) , but Le Louis XV is a  dining experience of superlative attributes (stunning decor, world class service, cheeses of the highest standards , choices of wines that will please the most demanding wine lovers and I can go on and on with the qualities).

Added in Oct 2013 – What I think a month later:  Hard to not like le Louis XV, it’s packed with so much charms, so many qualities and it’s an incredibly beautiful restaurant.  And yes, the experience of being there remains second to none!  And hey, it’s the Mediterranean coast, the sun, the amazing views.  It’s also one of the rare places in the world where you can feel the genuine interest of the staff to always improve and please their guests, and they take criticisms really well. They take nothing for granted, which is an extraordinary feature and one that can’t be said of plenty of  restaurants around the globe. Now this: when that velouté arrived at our  table,  my wife  had this to say ‘ah, a velouté, you can’t go wrong with that, this dish will be very flavorful, there is no doubt about this”, to which I added ‘we can’t go wrong with the rest of this  meal neither…look, some sheep’s curd,  vegetable cookpot…obvious signs of deep joyous flavors…’, then we started eating and were both really surprised that the flavors were this discrete. Both my wife and I are not the kind of persons who will look down on what the most do take for granted, so we both do believe that greatness can be achieved with even the simplest food items, we both are opened to the idea that a simple velouté can be stellar even if it’s tough to make a bad one, therefore  this is not a case where the diner attended a meal with the  wrong expectations.  To the contrary,  we are sold to / and are very familiar with classic cooking of this sort and we are not the kind to attend a classical meal with  visions of modern cooking in mind. It’s not even as if we could not  figure out perfect scores for this type of classic cooking neither: I have just (couple of days prior to this meal at le Louis XV) rated  plenty of classic French bistrot  dishes with 10/10 scores, such as the lobster bisque at Bistrot D’Antoine (Nice), the Riz au lait  at Le Casse Noix (Paris), let alone the instances when I’ve never hesitated to score a simple crème brulée with a 10/10 (if it ranks among the finest I ever had, why not? Being simple and classic does not mean that a dish is condemned to be average!). What’s more classic French than those dishes?? And I am French, grew up and spent half of my life in France, so lobster bisque, riz au lait, crème caramel have been for me what a hamburger is to an American. It’s not even the fact that I can’t figure a way to assign a perfect score to classic dishes or meals at the highest  levels of Michelin star standards since I had many meals from Chefs like Jacques Maximin, Olivier Roellinger, Christian Constant, Gerard Besson that I scored with a 10.  Most, if not all of them, not behind the stoves anymore but  within the past recent two years, I still have not lost my ability to keep scoring highly anything that stands out and that is classic haute French or Italian (since the cooking at Le Louis XV is inspired by both type of cuisines):  a  score of  10/10 for a classic meal at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie, some few 10/10 dishes at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan (classic), a classic Ravioli di Faraona – Guinea fowl ravioli at Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio, and actually, right here at le Louis XV, a classic dessert like the Baba au rhum. I took the time to write all of that as a reminder that this is an instance where the kitchen was booting with an advantage: they had the diners on their side. Later on, someone who knows Le Louis XV told me that he is certain that the less expensive menus would have fared better.  Perhaps, since it is true that sometimes you have  kitchen brigades  that seem stronger on some of their menus, but again, sheep’s curd, cookpot cooking, those are known notions of flavor enhancement.  So impart  more  zing in those savouries (like when Frank Cerutti was in that kitchen; nowadays he is still around in his role of supervising Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco, while Dominique Lory is the current Chef at le Louis XV) and I’ll be a happy camper, because on the food department, there are highlights that few restaurants around the globe do this well (for eg, that Baba au rhum. If you ever think that it is not rocket science to find a Baba done this well, then  think twice! — For many ppl, the best of the Classic desserts of Alain Ducasse is the croustillant de pralin. To me, it’s the Baba).

Restaurant L’Arpège
Type of Cuisine: French (Alain Passard’s own interpreted classic French cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Tuesday September 17th 2013, 12:30
Addr:  84 Rue de Varenne  75007 Paris, France
Phone: 01 47 05 09 06
URL:  http://www.alain-passard.com

Overall Food rating: 10/10 At its best (meaning, on the back of the better food items they can cook), as far as flavours are concerned,  Passard’s kitchen brigade is on the roof of the world — in a league of their own, and yeah….I am looking at the very best restaurants of this globe, here  —  with little competition. Very little competition, indeed.
Service: 10/10 You have the energy of the youth (mostly young staff) with the expected high class professionalism.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 Classy but relaxed.
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

 

This meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot that’s supposed to read in your mind and feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their rank as a 3 star Michelin   (needless to stress that   this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did — with the better food items — on that meal. Thinking otherwise would reveal a deep lack in the understanding of what  cooking should  really be about). And that reason is the same that makes a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari all well praised cars: the details! You can love or hate them, but it does not matter, as  at the end of the day …they are effortlessly capable of heights, here and there,  that  their peers can only  dream of (a compliment that I am more than happy to extend  to L’Arpège …and knowing how skeptical I am about  those celebrated restaurants and their inflated prices, that is anything but a light feature) ! In the case of L’Arpège, it is IMPORTANT to stress that a distracted mind will easily fall into the trap of thinking that such simple looking food cannot be that stellar, but those in the know…those REALLY…in the KNOW..will…oh well…they will know how genuinely …GREAT.. L’Arpège’s higher highs can be. The problem, here, the real problem, for the most,  as with any luxury,  is the $$$. In French, my mother tongue, my post on  L’Arpège (click here for that write-up) has a bit more in regard to what  I had to convey  (it is brief but succint).

ADDED few years after this meal:  In this video, Alain says at some point “tout ce que j’ai  fait dans ma vie,  je l’ai fait avec le coeur. J’ai toujours regardé devant moi” (I always follow my heart). As professionals of the food industry, they always say that. Naturally, Lol. The difference is that Alain walks…the walk!

 

 

Before getting to the point, just a quick overview of some of the latest main changes in France’s restaurant scene:  as most know, Yannick Alléno has left Le Meurice (this was not a surprise since it was no secret that Chef Alléno was  looking for some new challenge).  It will be interesting to see if  Le Meurice will keep its 3 stars when next year’s Michelin stars will be published (though, according to Gilles Pudlowski, Le Meurice will benefit from Alain Ducasse’s association — click here for that article) . Not that I will miss Yannick Alléno (I am not a big fan of Chef Yannick Alléno), but he at least has proven to be capable of  pulling off   proper French haute 3 star Michelin standards . The legendary Marc Veyrat, a chef that I never had the chance to get to know, made a comeback (See Gilles Pudlowski’s article on the return of Chef Veyrat).

In an article of  Le Figaro about the 2013 Michelin stars of France, the article can be found here, my attention went to a comment from Cath98.  She writes about the elitism of most of those Michelin star Chefs, which is actually not the reason I mention her comment here (people  always think that what others do wrong is  elitism/bad/etc,  then when they  get to replace the wrong ones,  they inevitably end up doing the same thing… but done differently..lol…one elite is always replaced by another..elite,…if you have hard time getting this, think of Fidel Castro –he was reproaching Battista to stick to power..humm….. ). What I found interesting though is her comment about the militant-less attitude of most of those big Chefs.  She is absolutely right: how on earth, do you rise to such heights and have just the average BS speech about terroir/local produce  to content yourself with? I am all for the terroir, have fought for it since my tender age, but we all got this one  by now! In the UK, a chef like  Gordon Ramsay fights for wise fishing (ref: his actions against abusive shark consumption).  So, Michelin star Chefs, especially in France:  ” au violon,  il est temps de jouer  d’autres airs …svp“”!

 

Paris remains one of world’s REAL finest gourmand destinations, indeed – With the incredible exciting gourmand destinations like San Sebastian, Barcelona, San Francisco,  Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong,  stunning non upscale food that can be found in Ecuador, Taiwan, Malaysia,  I was starting to fear that my dear Paris just could not handle a candle anymore to its world gourmand competitors.  But the 4 recent visits here is re-assuring:  for sure, if you do no search at all and simply push open the door of whatever eatery you find on your way, you will inevitably be disappointed. Do not forget: this is one of the most visited cities of the globe, so fake cooks abound to grab their  share of the cake.  On the other hand, Paris finest eateries  easily justify  the position of Paris as still a REAL world gourmet destination, and I’ll name a few that have absolutely seduced me recently, on my 2,3 recent visits to Paris:  La Table D’Aki (Chef Aki was the fish cook at 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie for the past 20 years. He now has his own fish-centric bistrot where the technique remains 3 stars for anyone seriously familiar with the matter, the setting is of the bistrot type and I find the price reasonable given both the quality of the produce and skills . This, for me, along with Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer,  is currently the idea of what I have of a #1  seafood French classic bistrot anywhere around the globe), Officina Schenatti (one of the finest Italian bistrots outside of Italy. No surprise here: Chef Ivan Schenatti has been, for a long time, the mastermind behind Emporio Armani’s haute dining. He now has has his own little bistrot with bona fide skills oozing where it should: in the plates. To continue with  the theme of the great Chefs who are enoughly humble and respect their  customers (they are the few remaining GREAT ones who are found where they are expected: in their kitchen  instead of showing off  huge ego by delegating their incapacity to work seriously to name bearers),  I’ll drop a word on the very popular  L’Ami Jean: there is nothing like this anyhwhere else around the globe. YES, it is full of tourists, barely no locals. But who cares?? It is the food, ….! Rfaol! I love Chef Stéphane Jégo rustic food, because when his rustic rich French basque-inspire food is in its prime (not always, based on my experiences there) , it is divinely delicious. That is all that counts for me. The hordes of tourists have obviously got it. And locals do not flock here because it is a bit too $$$ for most French.  I am no exception: it is $$  for  me too, but I’d rather wait and spare a bit of money, eat a great rustic bistrot  meal here, once in a long while,  rather than attending  several  laughable attempts at what a bistrot might be.   L’Ami Jean has its drawbacks and they need to be repeated to anyone that does not know this: it is cramped, it is noisy, it is not the best place for a romantic meal. But I love it!   Another keepers: Restaurant Kei as well as Le Sergent recruteur .   I should not hijack this article on L’Arpège to those findings, but to be brief, other findings that make of Paris one of world’s very best:  Sola (A 1 star Michelin that would be 2 or 3 anywhere else; needless to add more. But what a gem of world class Japanese/French cooking and there is more to this place), the Pithivier of Eric Briffard at Le Cinq (Le Cinq is a real 3 star Michelin that has officially just 2 stars) , the Lièvre à la royale of Pierre Gagnaire/Senderens  (remember:  the best of French classic food being rich by nature, it shines in its full glory during game season).  Nah, you won’t find anything close to those anywhere else.  Last but not least, one of world’s current most talent Chefs, David Toutain, seem to be interested by a return on the food scene.

ARPEGE, PARIS (1)

 

 

 

 

Re-visiting L’Arpège (4th visit only in 15 years),  as well as another 3 star Michelin place that was reviewed later, le Louis XV.

The importance of the ‘gesture’ (IOTG) in cooking has long been pioneered by Chef Alain Passard (no need to introduce Chef Passard, which second grand passions are music and arts/  just google his name and you’ll have plenty of infos on one of France’s most celebrated Chef, whose restaurant L’Arpège – named after the musical technique called arpeggio — has kept its 3 Michelin stars since 1996). What passes as pure BS for plenty of lesser cooks, oftently because they just can’t bother understanding its deep meaning,  is actually one of the most important concepts in cooking: like it or not, the eye, the touch, the feel, the smell  set apart the better Chefs from the lesser ones. Many will tell you that they know all of that, alas few do really have the right eye/feel/smell and touch (which obviously explains why most restaurants have average cooks) and it’s easy, given that you are interested in such details (which I hope you do if you decided to take a chance on such pricey meals) , to perceive a developed sense of those matters:  the end result will always end up as inspired (or not)  as the care and deep ability of its creator to feel/touch/smell her/his produce. Fan or not of Alain Passard, there’s one thing you can’t reproach him:  he is one of the few who genuinely walked the walk when it comes to the subject of the ‘importance of the gesture’ (The IOTG).

 

 

Chef Passard,  with whom my interractions have always been limited to a simply ‘hello Chef’ when he tours the dining room, is a Chef that I have read a lot about.  But if I was a journalist,  I would have some interesting material to cover with him. His genuine passion for vegetables is not just another refrain recited by yet another Chef.  But it’s his views on the IOTG that has always caught my attention.  Of course,  parts of his views on the IOTG can be better understood by himself only:   as an example, the way he moves his hands, the importance of the notion of distance in his movements, those are elements no one else than  himself can really apply. But the IOTG is behind everything you want to do properly: take a tennis player for example. The way he/she moves his/her legs, the way he/she moves her/his arms, therefore the gesture,  plays a significant role in his/her attitude, therefore his/her  game.  Same logic applies to food: the way you cut your meat, carefully or nervously, the way you pick that carrot, carefully or carelessly, the way you cook your food, patiently or hastily, will of course always affect the end result. There is a reason,  in spite of nowadays need for speed, that I still insist on spending time with long hours of carefully slow cooking.

The IOTG goes beyond the ability of  feeling/smelling and having a great eye (essential for a real Chef) for your produce. You need, of course, to also understand the interaction between nature and the produce, you need to deeply understand how one specific ingredient reacts to an array of cooking techniques and temperatures. You need to understand the steps of the evolution of each single vegetable and fruit. You need to do the samething with meats, poultry, fish, etc. You need, and that is essential, to have memory of the flavors that were created before you. Or else, what are you really carrying on? What are you really improving upon? What can you be proud of if there’s nothing you can  refer to ? All things that everyone seems to take for granted, but how many have REALLY proven to be capable of mastering those. How many  cooks have bothered spending their time understanding and mastering the tastes of yesterday? How many really know, master and can reproduce the various traditional versions of a  Lièvre à la Royale?  How many are actually..real CHEFS, present for real in their kitchen? REAL great Chefs are  rare nowadays and we obviously see why.

The reason of the  previous paragraphs is to explain why I keep going back to L’Arpège. Alain Passard is there in his restaurant, away from the syndrome of the fake cooks parading on TV. And he did and still do something simply amazing (again, my admiration for Chef passard has nothing to do with my appreciation of my meals here. I had great as well as less impressive meals here, as anyone can have great and less impressive ones at their favourite restaurants) : applying himself to transmit the real taste of yesterday to his brigade, then building  — on that memory of taste – the creations of today. And they are doing it in an unusual way, their own way. Passard calling it his ‘cuisine légumière’ (they focus more on their work of the veggies than the average restaurants, with the veggies oftently the star, veggies that come directly from his own farms, the poultry or the seafood their equal, in contrast of the big majority of tables where the veggie is usually an afterthought, its presence serving as an accoutrement . Others have called it peasant food (for its mostly bold presentations and pure unfussy flavors) . Call it the way you want, but it is a ‘cuisine  d’auteur’ in which the brigade tries its best to interpret Alain Passard’s soulful vision of classic French cuisine. My admiration for Chef Passard has of course nothing to do with the appreciation of his food (Passard or not, if I value a food item as great or bad, I’ll point it out regardless of who cooked it), it has more to do with the fact that he is among those very few Chefs who are excelling at bridging the past with the present. They have that incredible ability to communicate the ‘uncommunicable”: memory of taste. Last summer, in Milan, I stumble upon another great Chef of this standing: Chef Aimo Moroni. I was impressed to see how Chef Moroni managed to embark his younger Chefs in a genuine mastery of the flavors of ‘yestergenerations’. Which inevitably allows a cuisine that transcends time.  There are less and less of them, those real great Chefs, and they are the last chance for the next generation of cooks to become REAL great Chefs.

THE MEAL

Before the usual vegetable tartlets, the kitchen served a feuilleté of vegetables. A feuilleté with superb airy texture and sublime buttery taste. Carrots,thyme and peppers were the star veggies of that feuilleté.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

 

 

 

Then sushi legumier (sushi of beet ). If you are going to make sushi crumbles  easily like this, better do something else.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

 

 

 

 

The serving of amuse bouches continued: Coquetier  liqueur d’érable  (a tiny egg shell filled with a creamy  mix of Xérès vinegar, egg yolk, maple liquor)   sounds way more interesting than what it tasted since  It was dominated  by a  vinegary taste that  overpowered  the best component of  that amuse, the egg yolk. Fresh egg yolk of stunning quality does not need the distraction of superfluous strong vinegar taste. Maple liquor..why not? but the kitchen took no advantage of that component neither, the liquor adding nothing  discernible here. My wife commented that ‘any Oeuf en coque that is this tiny …boots with a visual disadvantage…a sizeable egg opens the appetite ‘. Indeed, it was a tiny egg

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

 

 

 

 

Seems like the amuse-bouches had no intent to amuse on this lunch: the celebrated vegetable tartlets (filling of mousses of various seasonal vegetables) looking big on photos, but disappointingly minuscule in reality (I appreciate delicate creations…but not to the point of not being able to discern anything) , so tiny (about the size of our Canadian penny, no more than 20mm in diameter) that it was hard to properly enjoy their taste and make an opinion about them.  Even upon deploying tremendous efforts to focus on whatever discernible flavor that was  left, they tasted nothing special as far  as I am concerned. The level of those  amuse-bouches we were sampling on this lunch was weak ( 4/10 for the amuse-bouches)

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

 

 

 

 

Then carpaccio of tomato/ huile de sureau.  Finally a dish showcasing  Passard’s cooking philosophy, the one that appealed to me for its  ability to extract the most out of the least. This dish did just that: stellar tomato taste with exciting seasoning (huile de sureau).  9/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

 

 

 

 

Gazpacho de tomate, creme glacée moutarde is an example of creativity (rework of the gazpacho) paired with amazing deliciousness. Not many great kitchens can extract this much excitement from a gazpacho. The mustard ice cream adding incredible depth of flavour, but what amazed me with this dish is that many can copy it, but I doubt that the perfected textures and work of the taste can be reproduced even by the most skilled brigades.  For what it is (a creative gazpacho), this dish is of benchmark material. 10/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

 

 

 

 

Then, their legendary fines ravioles potageres. I read about comparisons with Chinese wonton soups, but  If you cook  both versions (Passard’s recipe is easy to find online) you will quickly realize that they have nothing in common apart the fact that they are boiled pastas. The ultra refined al dente pasta (another thing that you’ll realize when trying to replicate  this recipe is the amount of patience and long practice that is needed, even by professional cooks, to get to this level of precise refinement of both the stock and the texture of the pasta ) is a work of world class precision, and again that is what I call fabulous creativity (not many kitchen brigades would think about proposing ravioles the way they are doing it). The pastas were stuffed with seasonal vegetables, the one with beets tasting really of beets…but the others we were trying could have been whatever vegetable we would want them to be and it would not matter because they had no distinct taste. Furthermore, the taste of the broth (parfum de Melisse, on this instance) was one of such aggressive minerality (like a tisane high on mineral aromas, which means not a pleasant tisane) that I found this dish hard to enjoy. 5/10 (Still, keep in mind that this broth and the content of the ravioles varies a lot depending on the seasons, so there are chances you’ll stumble upon far more enjoyable ones).

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

 

 

 

 

Aiguillette de homard bleu nuit acidulé au miel nouveau, transparence de navet globe au romarin –  For my taste, most boiled lobsters (this one was boiled), as great as they might be,  can’t hold a candle to the finest grilled ones (for palatable impact) and sweetness (the lobster was slightly honey-flavored) to seafood dish is just another road block on my way to enjoy the marine freshness of the lobster. It was cooked right, as evidenced by the tender flesh of the lobster, but exciting this was not  6/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

 

 

 

 

Sole poached in vin jaune was delicious and its cooking without reproach, the accompanying pieces of octopus not startling, but properly tenderized. 7/10 for the fish (it came with nicely smoked potatoes, chives and cabbage)

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

 

 

 

 

Corn risotto/parsley emulsion is the kind of dish that many ambitious tables will take for granted because it looks simple  and sounds easy to create, but the reality might tell a different story: the stunning corn flavor was enhanced by a balanced and addictive creamy-ness that you can’t just provoke by adding cream to corn. I love this kind of dish since it  lures  into believing that you can replicate it. Yes, anyone can re-create this recipe, but few will be able to replicate the exact depth of eventful flavors of this dish.  Inspired!  10/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - Robe des champs Arlequin a l'huile d'argan

 

 

 

 

Robe des champs Arlequin à l’huile d’argan, merguez légumière, aubergine d’autrefois, courgette ronde de Nice, carotte white satin is a creatively constructed dish of  semolina, vegetables (beets, tomatoes,carrots), vegetable sausage….  but I was disappointed by a dry vegetable sausage that was oddly sweet and salty in a non appetizing way. The bitterness of the rest of that dish was the other major problem. Not a pleasant dish at all, for me and my wife was even more critical of that dish . 0/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

 

 

 

 

Things then took the direction of the finer dishes of this meal: my wife’s T-bone d’agneau de Lozère aux feuilles de figuier, aubergine à la flamme (roasted T-bone of lamb — the image on the left or above, depending on your web browser’s display settings) would be a crowd pleaser at a world class steakhouse (fabulous taste) and my piece of pigeon/cardamom was a benchmark beautifully rosy (ideal doneness) bird with exciting taste. 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for the pigeon, but scores will never be high enough to convey the real great pleasure that my wife and I were having with both the lamb and pigeon. Exciting. Also, ppl talk a lot about the beautiful  dishes at l’Arpege, and we were eyeing at an example of just that: the way my wife’s dish was constructed was of unusual  supreme visual appeal  (hard to tell  when looking at that pic, but definitely easy on the eyes in reality).

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

 

 

 

 

The pigeon came with white beans that had such an amazing  mid eastern flavour profile.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

 

 

 

 

Red pepper velouté was another benchmark offering of its kind, with superb creamy texture, joyous mouthfeel, the feast went on with the exciting combination of an addictive speck cream. A lesson in the art of taking a familiar dish and turn it into something profoundly inspiring. 10/10

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

 

 

 

 

To end the meal, a well kept aged Comte from Maitre affineur Bernard Anthony and a superb piece of moelleux du revard.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then their millefeuille (blackberry ,thyme) which is indeed light and an enjoyable alternative to its classic version (7/10), and a rework of the classic ile flottante that showcased a creative mind but which, for me, suffered from strong coffee flavour (6/10). My wife observed that the classic ile flottante fared better. I personally do not mind this creative take, but it was just difficult to cope with the strong coffee taste.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

 

 

 

 

A plate of mignardises comprised of vegetable-flavoured macarons (not as bad as I had anticipated), the nougat truly delicious, the apple tart shaped like a rose having nice buttery pastry with joyous apple flavour (8/10)

 

Prosthe young and dynamic sommeliere from the Czech republic.  Her wine suggestions by the glass were  so inspired (2)The superlative delicious pigeon/lamb/corn risotto, benchmark creative takes on the gazpacho/red pepper velouté. All items that many will pretend to be able to easily deliver, but few will really reach  out to the depth and deliciousness of those. Usually, when there are lesser impressive items in a meal, my overall impression is affected, but not in this case. Here my overall impression had just the finest dishes in mind (3)the very approachable and genuine Maitre D’ Helene Cousin. 

Consthe Arlequin robe des champs, lobster, ravioles potageres, vegetable tartlets (though, for the sake of accuracy, it is important to remind  that they do offer different versions of those, so you may be luckier than I was). Also, the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to explain the dishes a bit more, exactly like what Maitre D’ Helène Cousin did when she served the red pepper velouté

 

MEURSAULT LES TESSONS CLOS DE MON PLAISIR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wine service:  A section that I add to my reviews when I am very  impressed by the wine service at a restaurant. The behaviour of the sommeliere from the Czech republic  was admirable in all possible aspects: being able to listen, share, never contradicting while making her point whenever necessary, etc. But all of that was done way better than  what passes as the norm for great hospitality standards (Helene Cousin also excels at that, but in the different role of the Maitre D’).  Right upon perusing the wine menu I knew I’d pick the  2008 Meursault  ”Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir”  from the domaine Roulot. She had other choices in mind for me as she pointed to amazing little gems that were less expensive and indeed of great quality. But I went with what I had in mind for the most part of this meal, and she never interfered. A first great classy act from her part. This Meursault is a type of  Bourgogne blanc wine that I highly  enjoy for its  balanced acidity/minerality, enticing  nose of ripe fruits, great level of  intensity/complexity. It will continue to age well, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s already a top flight flacon). Me chosing that Meursault was also a trap:  was my sommelière going to be passive and not flag wine/dish pairings that made no sense (it is surprising how many sommelier/e/s even at highly regarded restaurants do fall into that trap)? NO she never fell into that trap! She is a very present/focused/competent  sommelière as she  tactfully intervened whenever necessary.  The way she did that and the suggestions she had is about the difference between a great sommelière (which she is) Vs a standard  sommelier-e. For me, a great wine pairing has nothing to do with showing off pricey wines. It should be about  finding, even among the more affordable ones, the wines that turn into true gems because their pairing to a specific dish is flawless.  It’s exactly what she did.  A world class sommeliere.

 

Service/Ambience:  Professional.  The younger waiters and waitresses looking very serious, though their youth and energy makes the whole effect not heavy (as in way too serious).  Maitre D’ Helene Cousin truly embodying the concept of L’Arpège — which is the theme  of  a ‘maison de cuisine’, a house imagined by   Alain Passard where he receives his guests in a cosy environment (which explains why you do not have the huge space between the tables / grand luxury, etc…of most of the grand restaurants of Paris) — with cordial and yet professional demeanour. I like this approach of being genuine/approachable (The sommelière from the Czech Republic also followed  this approach faithfully) since it reminds us that, after all, the most important is that the customer is there to have fun.  The only suggestion I would have is  that the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to be a tad more chatty in his description of his dishes. All in all, they are French, I am French, so communication was naturally flawless.

 

Decor:  The interior decor is oftently described as understated.  But this place is all about details, so the idea, as Chef Passard has  widely explained to numerous medias, is to  replicate the ambience of a house. Thus, no grand formal luxury,  but the apparent understated warmth of the art-deco inspired  home that Passard has imagined for his guests: pear tree wood panels (designed by Jean-Christophe Plantrou) sparsely adorned with  few of his paintings,  some glass etching works, some retro style chrome-armed chairs, ebene de macassar material (this material is elementary in classifying L’Arpège interior deco as Art deco). Passard replacing the usual flowers on the tables, by vegetables.

 

 

Overall food rating (by the highest Classic French 3 star Michelin standards): 8/10**  I was immensely impressed with  the best dishes of this meal which were so inspired  and had such high impact (on my palate) that the lesser items were long forgiven (though, not forgotten…which is the sole reason I am not giving a 10/10 to this meal. Trust me, I am tempted to give that 10, Lol.. but have opted to remain rational)! There are always restaurant meals which finest dishes are  impressive, but this one was  something else.  The heights of this meal, for their  benchmark joyous flavors and superb creativity, will rarely be paralleled. As with any restaurant meal that impresses, I do not know if  L’Arpège can do this all the time. All I know is that the best dishes of this meal I just had, are …. true benchmarks, by any top dining standards and will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right. It is rare that an 8/10 meal delivers dishes far superior to a 10/10 meal (i.e., a flawless high level meal but with no particular heights) and this was one of those rare cases. Soul satisfaction    ***Two months after this meal, I raised the score of my lunch at L’Arpège to a 10/10. It might sound  controversial to assign a perfect score to a meal where many items triggered indifference from my part (the amuse bouches, the ravioles potagères, just to name a few), but at the end of the round, and with hindsight, I was left with a much more important reflection:  even among world’s very best, few Chefs have the  exceptional palate found behind the finest dishes of that meal (referring to the incredible heights of deliciousness of the better dishes that they’ve cooked. And where many would reproduce those simple looking food presentations only to end up with  items of ordinary effect (which happens a lot because many kitchen brigades/cooks simply can’t make the difference between ORDINARY……….. vs SIMPLE), L’Arpège offers plenty of inspired touches to admire  for those with an eye and…a palate …….for details.  If such heights would have been the norm I’d play it rough (referring to the lesser dishes), but is is not. It is not the norm. It is NOT! What I like the most with L’Arpège is that they have opted to be different (from the conventional fla fla of luxury dining), NOT  for the sake of just being different because it’s trendy, BUT because they truly are.

 

ARPEGE, PARIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: I prefer a table that does not rests on its laurels like this one, rather than places where everything is uniformly done well but without soul/inspiration.  The better dishes of this meal were true moments of  divine ‘gourmand’ enjoyment. I’ll also  add this: for me, being creative is doing things the way few are thinking about doing them. The way they have thought their ravioles  (that level of finesse in creating those ravioles  and the thought they did put in working its taste – the fact that I did not like it substracts nothing from the true creativity of that dish — ) has nothing to do with what most ambitious kitchen brigades  would think about doing with a bowl/some pasta/some vegetable and water in their hands. The gazpacho, the corn risotto, the red pepper etc..same thing: easy sounding creations  that tons of kitchen brigades can do, BUT rarely with this level of utter refinement, attention to details, and superlative work of the taste.

For something safe all the way, which is not my thang, this meal (I judge meals, not restaurants) was obviously not perfect. But if for you, the higher highs can potentially …potentially, I wrote…rise to benchmark  levels (the case of  this lunch), then this would be a standard bearing one. My wife argued that despite the benchmark lamb/pigeon and the fact that she highly regards this place as one of world’s finest (especially for its refreshing and successful different approach of French/Cosmopolitan cooking), an 8 over 10 will be an accurate score for  the overall food performance of this lunch.  I think that when your higher highs are far better than restaurants of your rank (which was the case on this lunch), then you deserve a 10/10….but way too many items left me wanting for more on this lunch (lobster, ravioles potageres, arlequin Robe des Champs), which in the end leaves me with the 8/10 as a fair overall score (update November 2013: a score that  has NOT stood the test of time – SEE my addendum, written in red, to the overall score section ) . More importantly, L’Arpège  continues to rank among  the stronger  3 star Michelin destinations around the globe, one of my few favourite.

Added in October 2013 – What I think a month later :   I purposely add this section to all my reviews because there’s of course different stages of the appreciation of a meal.  There is the  ‘right-off the bat’ stage  which is obviously the freshest impressions you have, then of course what you think about it later on. Some people think that you should always wait before  unveiling your thoughts about a meal, which to me is akin to  manipulating reality. It’s one thing to think for a while before making an important decision, but if  talking about the appreciation  of your meal does  require some second thoughts, then I am afraid you are just sharing a portion of the reality. What you’ve read before was my fresh impressions. What you’ll read next is where I stand a month  later: that meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as  a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot who’s supposed to  read in your mind and  feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their  3 star Michelin rank (needless to stress that for me, this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal). And that reason is the same that makes  a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari  all well praised cars: the details!  If for you a Porsche is simply an assemblage or metal, nothing more, then do not bother with it! You are losing your time. Same thing for this meal at L’Arpège: if for you  that Arlequin of legumes is just a take on the couscous, or those ravioles are just interpretations of wonton soups, please do yourself a favor:  stick to the numerous canteens you won’t fail to find on your way.  Leave those to people who can appreciate the details / thoughts that were invested in those dishes. I do not mean to sound  rude by saying so, just pragmatic as you’d want to constructively tell to anyone who can’t properly appreciate a great song in its full nuances to simply stay away from it. Despite how easy as it sounds (upon reading many reports about their cooking), what I was sampling  takes, in facts,  a lot of training, efforts and skills (it’s one thing you not like a dish, it is another thing to trim it down to what it is not) . When this brigade at L’Arpège performs like  it did on this meal (referring to the finest dishes of this meal, obviously), the analogy I’ll consider is one related to sports, the 100 metres race: this brigade powered through the finish line when many of its peers are still at the starting blocks.

El Celler de Can Roca
Type of cuisine: Modern Spanish
Michelin stars: 3 
Date and time of the event: Saturday September 14th 2013 20:00
Addr: C/ de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, Spain
Phone: +34 972 22 21 57
URl: http://www.cellercanroca.com/index.htm

Sorry, no pics. This was a romantic dinner with my wife. I was not even interested to post about this meal,  but given all the hype about El Celler, I thought it would have been constructive to throw couple of words about this dinner.  IMPORTANT: Both my wife and I are great fans of El Celler de can Roca and Spain in general. The following post certainly does not contradict our love for Spain  and one of their finest tables, but it adds an important observation: it is NOT what the hype is trying to portray it.

World’s #1 restaurant is a San Pellegrino’s marketing stunt. If you put that aside, ECCR is an ‘experimental’ restaurant worthy of any fine dining lover’s attention. It is  definitely NOT worthy of the wait of 1 year that a table here will command. It does not have the most skilled  Chefs of this globe. It is  perhaps not as “exceptional” as the hype may suggest, but it is creative, buzz-worthy and  “well -oiled” enough to make all its flaws pass as unnoticed to the most. What the Spaniards are doing is “novel” only because few  countries do have a restaurant scene that is trying to be creative. As long that situation remains unchanged, a restaurant like ECCR will always give an  impression of superiority. 

This was our second visit to El Celler de Can Roca. First time was over 5 years ago and I remember finding El Celler deserving of its 2 star Michelin at that time, though not one that was going out of the way of what is expected from a good 2 star Michelin (read: a good but not an great 2 star Michelin). Then in September 2013, we seized the opportunity of a hard earned reservation (1 year) at El Celler as an excuse to also re-visit France. We basically spent just that 1 day in Spain with the sole excuse of dining at El Celler then moved on to France. Well, given that Restaurant Magazine has rated El Celler as World’s #1 restaurant and in light of their now 3 star Michelin, we logically hoped that the meal would have been way better than what we have experienced over 5 years ago. Unfortunately, even with food items that were different, it was even less impressive.

Overall Food rating : 7/10  this being a romantic dinner, I took no note, no photo, just enjoyed my food with my sweet half. We still have couple of food items that we have sampled all along this meal, as well as couple of key observations on which we would like to elaborate a bit.
-Salad of razor clam/royal cucumber: this was the highlight of the meal, for both my wife and I.  The clam swiftly steamed, which is how you should always do it,  its quality irreproachable,  marine flavor simply sublime. My type of seafood dish. 8/10
-Elderflower infusion/smoked eel – Perhaps the dish that I wanted to like the most. After sampling this dish –think of an elegant soup with cherries and smoked eel  in it –  (did not have it on my first visit here), I created,at home, plenty of amazing food based on the elements of eel / elderflower infusion  + the amaretto (another component of this dish).  This is a beautiful dish, I won’t argue with that. But I was surprised that the looks happened to be more memorable than its looks. Surprised because I found it so effortless to pull off amazing flavors based on the components of that dish ( and we do not even have, in Montreal,  top eel of the level that they were offering).  The idea is sharp: Japanese have proven that using the right type of eel with the right sweet concoction (unagi tare) can be a hit. So,  starting from that base,  you end up with an endless list of possibilities to replace the Japanese sauce and its thick texture. Here, Elderflower infusion and amaretto are thoughtful. Alas the broth was not as flavorful as I wished and honestly, my impression was that I was having cherries simmered in an ok broth. The eel really unecessary on a dish where it could have easily played an amazing role. Months later, my wife and I still consider that dish, in the form that we found it on that evening, to have been a ‘missed opportunity’   6/10
-the proteins: there were couple of meats. Mine was chicken, grilled on charcoal, having good depth of flavor but I had far more memorable  chicken  cooked at home on my bbq 6/10 for that chicken. My wife was luckier with her proteins. She had lamb, grilled on charcoal too, and it was indeed flavorful, though, again, pretty much something I could have enjoyed at many lesser restaurants, save for the quality of the lamb (that one my wife had was of top flight quality, indeed). 7/10 for that lamb. Here, both my wife and I found the accompaniments pretty much average for this level of dining: for eg, sweetbreads and egg plant, coffee flavor. It’s done well, make no mistake about that, but they are certainly not covering the grounds of creativity and surprise one would expect from a table that is widely buzzed as world’s #1 table. You know, I never talk about what does not exist…so go to the Fat Duck or Noma, since they have been world’s champ too, And oh…give a try to Alinéa in Chicago ….and come back and tell me if there’s still room for discussion, Lol.
-the most interesting dessert was an assortment of layers of crème anglaise / hazelnut cream / dark chocolate.  It was, at first glance, an elaborate dessert (mainly for efforts that went into shaping it) that does indeed  take  thoughts and good technique level to be interesting, which it was. But with careful focus on each of the layers of those flavors, this is no benchmark pastry creation. Let’s dig deeper: the hazelnut cream, my favourite of all creams in pastry, was a far cry from the stunning hazelnut cream that a good level pastry Chef will pull out, in say, France. If you tell me ‘yeah, but this is Spain’, I’ll reply ‘yeah…this is supposed to be world’s current #1 table’! So I need each of those layers of flavors to be , at least, among the most memorable of their categories. The crème anglaise flavor, same thing: just Ok. I had far more delicious versions of that. My wife agreed that it was a fun dessert but not one of the sort of spectacular effect that’s expected from  a pastry creation at this l vel of dining. Again, a good but not great pastry item. The description of the dessert was far more spectacular than its effective classic/normal/nothing-that-special effect on my palate  7/10

PROS:  Elderflower infusion with smoked eel! In cooking, I love using the term ‘sensuous’ to describe the  type of food that provides me with a personal feeling of ‘sensuality’. Naturally,  It does not mean much since it’s personal, but a big part of food appreciation  (which is what all opinions about food — are made of ) is based on that . That’s obviously why food will always be a subjective matter, Lol. Anyways, that ‘sensuous’ feeling is what I was able to provoke in my food  whenever I’ve been cooking using components of El Celler’s elderflower infusion/smoked eel recipe. I did not like this dish, but had to mention this since It’s rare that a dish inspires its dinner to create plenty of highly satisfying food (usually, it’s an ingredient – not a dish – that has that kind of effect. For eg, coriander and celeriac have been prolific generators of cooking ideas for me).

CONS: When I was here, 5 years ago, I hoped  El Celler would become one day what it truly deserves: world’s #1 table (for whatever that means). I wrote ‘I hope’ because they work extremely hard (their long journey going   from 2 stars to 3 stars is an epic story of tremendous efforts that few restaurants around the globe can be proud of )  and if there’s one table that would deserve just that — being  on top of the roof of the gastro world – it should be El Celler. So when I heard that they finally earned their position of world’s #1, I was certain that I’d find an improved version of the El Celler I already knew. To my surprise, that was not the case (yes, there were plenty of changes, but no, I did not find it necessarily better). I’ll let you with  this comment of my wife upon completing this meal ‘’’this is a superb place, we really had plenty of fun here, but how on earth can this  be world’s number #1 ‘. I mean, please….hit me at least with one…just one mind blowing item and I’ll start be a believer (I am a fan already, just not  a believer of the title of  crowned champ of world’s haute dining). I know it’s not your fault if you have the champ belt, but I waited 1 year (reserve one year ahead! Yep, one year! ) to see what the champ is now, up to. As world’s champ, creativity is key. I am not saying they are not creative,  to the contrary they are, just not of the sort of benchmark creativity that would justify being considered in, say, a world’s  top 10 .  El fuego, por favor!  IN CASE I WAS NOT CLEAR ENOUGH, THIS MEAL LACKED OF THE DELICIOUS FLAVORS AND BENCHMARK SENSE OF  OUTSTANDING CRAFTING OF THE SORT OF FOOD THAT BELONGS TO A TABLE PERTAINING TO AT LEAST A WORLD’S TOP 20.

CONCLUSION: I can see why so many people find El Celler de Can Roca to be a very special place:  they offer a lot of charming  attentions, the caramelized olive tree over here,  plenty of food in amusing shapes (spheres, foams, etc) overthere, then the plating that look like a painting, etc. Nothing revolutionary for this level,  but it is plenty of fun, truly amusing, we found. Then of course, the very low cost of the meal. All of that for the price of some appetizers at certain 3 star Michelin destinations in France, for eg.  So of course, the magic builds up. And I have no problem with that. I even find it to deserve its 3 star Michelin. But as the #1 table in the world,  Alinea, the Fat Duck and Noma are  far more convincing in their benchmark creativity  than El Celler. You may or may not like them, but they are.

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&AErica:  So what did you eat, what did you like and what did you dislike? A few food details, please. What restaurants in Spain do you love?

Hi Erica: Thanks for your question. So, as explained, disliked: the déjà vu gimmicky take on the olives, the desserts, the elderflower course. The proteins (so, roasted chicken in my case, was casual /normal stuff anyone with basic cooking skills would have been able to cook) Liked: no dish in particular, but as mentioned, we had great experience here (well treated, and we love Spain). In Spain, we loved: Abac, DiverXO, plenty of other less popular eateries but it really does not matter given that we had none of them in mind when eating at El Celler (El Celler, we judged it as a restaurant that’s known as one WORLD’S finest, not a competitor of our favourite eateries in Spain, which are countless since we are really fond of plenty of the casual / traditional eateries of Madrid as well as Southern Spain…so no fair comparison to make with a place like El Celler that needs to be judged as a completely different type of restaurant ). What we liked have no impact on our appreciation of El Celler (we’ve cooked for 20 years, both my wife and I, so we do not trade in terms of this is great because that other restaurant is bad, but we certainly know what to expect at X standard of dining) .Again, as I stated: we love El Celler (especially for its cost performance) but found the idea of electing it as world’s #1 over-rated. To each, their own, but that is our personal/subjective opinion, of course.

Restaurant: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Brooklyn Fare, 200 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11217,
Phone:+1 718-243-0050
Type of cuisine: Contemporary Cosmopolitan (mostly seafood,  a bit like a ‘kaiseki’ meal, but eclectic)
Michelin stars: 3
Date and time:  Saturday August 24th, 2013  19:00

Chef Ramirez is perhaps not a true 3 star Michelin Chef, for reasons I will explain below,  and what he  is doing is déjà vu elsewhere, but somehow he manages to make what he saw elsewhere pass as ‘interesting’ enough in his hands.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONNo picture and note taking, as/per the restaurant’s policies, —which are, to me, reasonable requests  — , do  indeed allow for a more enjoyable meal free of distractions. I was not there to review my meal neither. So I’ll go with my  general impression of my dinner, essentially focusing on the perceived subjective strengths and weaknesses of my meal..

The beauty with living in Montreal is that it is just a few hours drive away from New York, so  a short weekend there was the perfect excuse to re-try the stronghold of a Chef that I have admired since a long time (though, as you’ll see in my conclusion, I still do not agree with his current  3 star Michelin assignment) , Chef Ramirez (I am a big fan of Chef Ramirez since I first tried his cooking in his days at restaurant Tru in Chicago). This was only my second visit there in 3 years.

Overall food rating 8/10 as an overall rating There were numerous  bite sized  courses. Sam Sifton’s following summary is the best way to describe what was on offer: ‘’’’ a luxe sushi bar, a meal at Momofuku Ko, and a course taken in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park, without being anything at all like any of those. The food is French and Japanese and Italian, combined’’.  The only thing he missed is that, with an eye for details, you will notice couple of strong touches of Nuevo latino cooking too.  In a nutshell, we  had plenty of seafood served at times in   sashimi style (nothing special, a 6/10 in view of what I’d expect from sashimis at a 3 star Michelin, though the quality of ingredient was high, as expected), sometimes paired along eclectically crafted mousses/ jellies (his play on textures is fun, a clin d’oeil at kaiseki style cuisine, but not exceptional, again…in view of what you’d expect from this level of dining),  Japanese rice mixed with sea-urchin to provide a risotto-like effect (creamy and delicious risotto that I liked a lot, comfortably an 8/10, an item that would have been a crowd pleaser at any level of dining, anyways), their now signature sea urchin/truffle combo atop a brioche (I doubt someone familiar with Japanese cuisine would be floored, but a western eye and palate will find it fun to look at, flavorful, nicely thought 9/10) , we also enjoyed a really well thought vegetable-flavored sorbet elevated by a pleasant citrusy tone(Spot on depth of flavor. On each of my two visits, I realized that Chef Ramirez work really well his vegetable-based  sorbet. Not only are they daring (audacious ingredient combinations), but they taste great as well as having fabulous texture. It’s a sorbet I know,  but he does them better than many. There’s something deeply ‘nuevo latino’ in this sorbet’s flavor profile a 8/10 at a 3 star Michelin table (the quality of sorbet / ice cream, etc is  obviously high at this level, enoughly high for this sorbet, as fabulous as it was, to be a very good sorbet, but no more), way more if we were trading  on 1 star Michelin grounds.). But he also incorporates, rethinks some American dishes too.  Quality of ingredient here is even superior to what most high end tables of this rank do mostly offer in North America. And for the amount of luxurious ingredients you are getting, you’ll pay more at other restaurants.  . Stunning ingredients, as he even reach out to Japan for some of his ingredients . Virtually no one is re-inventing the wheel when it comes to cooking, even at the highest levels of dining,   and with that in mind, I  find Chef Ramirez to express a beautiful inspired creativity. His combo of sea urchin and black truffle is not novel, but in his hands it continues to be  an appealing offering for this genre of dining style. That said, although fun and consistently well executed, this is certainly  no benchmark cooking performance  for  this style of contemporary cosmop craftsmanship, neither.

Décor/Ambience/welcoming: the stainless counter seating experience makes this place somehow ‘special’ among its 3 star Michelin peers. It’s  refreshing to have such intimacy between the diners, the Chef presence, the casual yet refined setting. On my two visits  here, Chef Ramirez was mostly quiet, a shy person and it is pleasant to see a Chef not yelling at his sous chefs. A proof that you do not need to act stupid in order to be inspired. Perhaps  some find the  no photo taking, no note taking policies a bit brutal, but it does, at least, allow for  a very serene ambience. I had no problem at all with those rules. It certainly does not make fun blog reports, but I rather enjoy my meal this way –whenever I get the opportunity — rather than stopping at each course to either take a pic or write about the course. Not too sure how he’d react if I’d break the rules, lol, but I am an easy customer so I abide by the rules and just enjoy my food. In that regard, I’ve always enjoyed my meals here. The reservation process is the only aspect  I found a bit tough.

PROS: Find me one single restaurant, anywhere around the globe, at any echelon of the dining spectrum, that offers that many luxurious food items on such a long tasting menu at less than $300! Caviar, Sea urchin, truffles, top quality foie gras, and all I can tell you is that such meal, anywhere else, would easily cost three time what was paid. At some point, they will have no other choice but to charge more or offer less luxurious items. For now, as a customer, guess what ………………..I CAN’T COMPLAIN, LOL!
CONS: I go to  3 star Michelin restaurants  with the sole intent to experience  two very precise elements (of course, subjective as always), or one of them (1) a benchmark work of  the flavors and/or (2)a benchmark work of the textures. To achieve that, you oftenty need to spend years and years to perfect  that singled-out  food item.  Or you need an incredible culinary ‘genius’ with  amazing instinct (for eg, Chef Jacques Maximin in his heydays). None of that came out of my two dinners here, which is why, for me, it’s a place that I like, but not a place where I’d go for what I am looking for at a 3 Michelin standard of dining.

Chef Ramirez, a culinary genius? That seems to be an  opinion shared by many food journalists and food bloggers in New York, an opinion that I unfortunately do not share.  To be precise, Chef Ramirez has the sort of creativity that will surprise some diners, though not as many diners as what those food journalists/food bloggers would like to believe. For eg, if you travel a lot, you’ll quickly realize that he is really good at observing what is done abroad, learning from that  and trying his best to make something fun/interesting with his own sense of creativity. Inevitably, his work will offer nice little surprising touches to some. Now, awarding 3 star Michelin for what he is doing, I believe that’s a bit too much.  I can see how a Japanese itamae who has spent decades perfecting his craft in Tokyo, to take an example, would deserve a 3 star Michelin. I can see, how a young Chef like Pascal Barbot (L’Astrance), covering contemporary international cooking too, does, to some extent, fully deserve his 3 stars. There are extremely talented Chefs who are indeed crafting  Nuevo latino food  that is so remarkable that I would understand their eventual/potential 3 star assignment.  A Chef like Christian Bau is a a peerless icon  of  contemporary cosmopolitan haute dining, creating dishes of extreme and deep beautiful complexity and his 3 stars are a good example of what I can understand.  But Chef Ramirez –with all due respect — is not at  those levels, as far as I am concerned.

That said, there was undoubtly some strong skills and pretty presentations in each of the numerous small dishes that were served. At least, here, there’s a personal authoritative/personal imprint with a Chef who’s there,  hard at work and who has the courage to cover various cooking styles (a courageous risk, since everyone who has been in a kitchen knows that the only way to be the / or one of the / standard-bearer (s) in cooking is to stick to one style and perfect it forever).

Conclusion: As a 3 star Michelin destination, by now, you know what I think. As a Chef’s table, as a refreshingly different concept from what most of its peers are offering, this is indeed nice.

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&A –Matt B asks if there’s any 3 star I find deserving of its rank on NYC? Answer:  Matt,  I think Per Se is the restaurant that gets closer to what most do expect from a 3 star Michelin destination. I personally do not understand the other 3 star Michelin NYC ratings, but again…that is just ME.