Archive for the ‘Best classic restaurants in the world’ Category

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.

 

Service: 8 /10 Well trained young staff, unstuffy, professional as you would expect at a restaurant of this reputation.
Overall food rating: 9/10 All in all, this was some excellent  cooking  by existing 3 star classic French Michelin star standards. Of course, Les Prés d’Eugénie is capable of an overall food rating of 10/10. There is NO doubt about that. But I have got to assess this specific meal, during which the Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ was THE big “test” they had to pass as it requires lots of technique, precision, know-how, a great palate. Regardless, Les Prés d’Eugénie did pass plenty of other BIG tests,  as evidenced by the superlative pommes soufflées/gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel/amuse-bouches/pastries.
Overall dining experience :  See the section “My thoughts, days later” at the bottom of the current post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The amuse-bouches did really … amuse!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

The old tavern of psaras (Erotokritou ke Erechtheos 16, Athina 105 56, Phone: +30 21 0321 8733) is located in the very touristy area of Plaka

If you meet someone complaining about plaka’s  food been touristy, he is certainly not wrong, but then he needs to eat at places like the old tavern of psaras. The  food, here,  is genuinely Greek. 

I discovered this tavern after a joke with a local. I argued with him that Plaka was the worst place for a foodie. He responded that I needed to try the old tavern of psaras, and that I should let him know how things went.

The tavern is situated at the top of a flight of stairs of Plaka, in an area called anafiotika. 

Feta cheese ravasaki – the folks at Fato o Mano should come here and have a taste of how grilled feta cheese, sesame seeds and honey does rarely fail in the hands of the Greeks. An example of a benchmark feta cheese ravasaki (dazzling flavours, superb ingredients). 10/10

Boiled octopus in vinegar and olive oil – loved the rustic presentation. they do not go rustic because tourists are looking for that. The cooking is rustic because it is genuinely traditional. big pieces of semi firm octopus (the texture I grew up to consider as the right texture for octopus, in the fishermen village of the Indian Ocean where i was born), with a good chew. Superb maritime flavour and exquisite seasoning. 9/10

Baked Chicken in lemon is very Mediterranean and, of course, very Greek. Delicious traditional sauce, the quality chicken cooked expertly. This is one of my preferred classic Greek / Mediterranean dishes and although not a dish that is hard to execute, I cannot say that it has always been as great as this one that they made at the OToP. Excellent 9/10

Fava purée- after the refined versions at R41 and Argo, I was ready for a rustic rendition of the Fava purée, which is what the OToP offers. Another successful traditional dish 7/10

Overall food rating: 9/10 Flawless traditional Greek cuisine. To the local who has recommended the old tavern of psaras, you know your food really well, buddy! 

To Ouzeri (Thera 847 00, Greece  Phone: +30 2286 021566) is one of the most popular and finer  restaurants of Fira, the capital city of Santorini. 

Fried battered cod fish balls, beetroot and garlic cream/ this had superb taste and flavour, the balls of fried  cod fish not oily at all. The presentation is done with care. 8/10

Giouvetsi veal stew in tomato sauce served with orzo pasta, Parmesan cheese. Another excellent dish showcasing some serious technique (timing, seasoning were all examples of what they should be), the Chef having an excellent palate. I liked how Avli in Mykonos made his stew, and yet Ouzeri managed to deliver a tastier one. 9/10

Overall Food rating (Categ: Greek, Mediterranean) 9/10

Bottom line: In Santorini, I preferred Argo  a tad more (Argo  is so fun, with food to match and if you can snatch a seat with the caldera view, go for it! ), but Yes, culinary-wise, Ouzeri is on par. Genuinely Greek and tasting great. 

Save

Save

The cooking at Le Coucou (Addr: 138 Lafayette St, New York; Phone +1 212-271-4252) has been making headlines around New York  since the  opening of the restaurant in June 2016, with rave reviews  from New York’s major sources of information on their local restaurants: Time Out New York, New York Times, Zagat, Forbes, The Infatuation, Grubstreet, Village Voice and the Wall Street Journal. The Chef , Daniel Rose from Chicago, was an apprentice at Bruneau, when the restaurant was bestowed with 3 Michelin stars (Bruneau  has a sole Michelin star nowadays)  and trained under the supervision of 3 star Michelin Chef   Yannick Alleno (Yannick now owns a duo of 3 star Michelin restaurants in France,  Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen as well as Le 1947 in Courchevel) . Daniel, who  also owns successful restaurants Spring and Chez la vieille in Paris, is offering Classic French cooking at Le Coucou.

This  is, right now, a destination restaurant in New York serving some of the very best French fares outside of France. And it happens to have an interior that is very easy on the eyes.

 

I wanted to visit Le Coucou since a  long time, but it is a very popular restaurant and snatching a seat for dinner, here,  can be a bit tricky (they start taking reservations at midnight, 28 days prior to the day you want to book). For pictures of the interior, click here.  Everything else that you need to know about the restaurant is concisely described in this Zagat’s post, therefore I will focus on the food I was sampling.

Here are the food items we did order:

Oysters from Washington DC /seaweed butter – fresh maritime flavor. This, although pleasant, its sourcing great, its execution without reproach…was not going to help me understanding the hype about Le Coucou. 6/10

Endives/ham – Endives salad, with dried Iberico ham, served with a grapefruit vinaigrette. A superlative vinaigrette with fresh acidity and vibrant flavor of the sort that many restaurants have long forgotten about. That vinaigrette, as well as the rest of the condiments will be showered with praises, deservedly so, but the overall salad, although enjoyable, was not going to leave any lasting impression. Upon finishing this dish, all I had in mind, is the picture of Le coucou, that small unimpressive bird…though, do not get me wrong: the endives and oysters were made by a competent kitchen brigade, I am not denying that. But in light of the hype, I was expecting more. 6/10

I chose the veal tongue / golden ossetra caviar / creme fraiche – a thick slab of veal tongue, firm in consistency, with, of course, some room for proper chew. This is how a certain generation of French used to prefer their veal tongue. A feeling of a bistrot of la ´France rurale’. I appreciate that Daniel brought such memories back. 8/10 for the quality veal tongue, 10/10 for the dazzling (and pertinent, to this dish) homemade creme fraiche (it is rare for a creme fraiche at a top French table, in North America, ​to be packed with such exciting lactic freshness).

My girlfriend did opt for the Lobster salad, lettuce – on the side a dazzling lobster sauce mixed with egg yolk. 10/10 for that sauce. Perfectly well grilled small piece of tasty quality lobster. 7/10 for the lobster. Hard to tell when you look at the picture above, but there was a big lettuce, next to a tiny piece of lobster ..and that did not sit well with me (quite a weird sight, I found). May as well call it “lettuce salad” …. “avec un soupcon de queue de homard” ….

Lamb rack, egg plants, tomatoes stuffed with “choulder and chard” – faultless cooking with requested medium-rare doneness achieved successfully, quality lamb from Colorado, first-rate lamb jus sauce (mixed with red wine). 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for that exciting lamb jus. Clearly, this saucier is crazy … ;)

Prime filet of beef/bone marrow jus/oxtail potatoes – served with a dazzling sauce bordelaise (10/10), the filet mignon of superb quality (8/10),

Braised oxtail / potatoes boasting superlative textures and flavor. This would NOT be out of place at  a serious classic French 3 star Michelin table (10/10).

Cheeses (Aretheusa Blue, O’bannon Goat, Overjarige gouda, Hooligan, Red Hawk) of good quality, from several parts of the US as well as abroad, all served with a first rate sauce of plum/ porto. When sauces are done this well, all I can say is that “you are a first-rate french restaurant”!

Wine service and selection is of prime mention, here.

For desserts, we had:

Riz au lait (rice pudding) — My idea of the perfect riz au lait is the one that Bistrot Le Casse -Noix did serve me, years ago, in Paris. When it comes to the rice pudding, I do not like too many extra ingredients. At le Coucou, Le riz au lait comes with extra ingredients: chartreuse, pistachio. This rice pudding was still enjoyable with one flavor profile that some French of a certain generation will remember, only it is revisited and was well made (6/10)

Roasted pineapple is a simple dessert, consequently there is no shortage of decent roasted pineapples at good restaurants. What’s rare, though, are roasted pineapples that stand out. For some reason, the equation roasted pineapple=quality pineapple+dazzling flavors is an equation that is not taken as seriously as it should by many kitchen brigades. Mind you, who is going to blame a Chef, in the west, for not losing a sleep over some tropical fruits? Le Coucou is one rare restaurant, in the west, that does not underestimate that aspect, as the pineapple that they did use seemed to have been carefully hand picked at its optimal stage of ripeness. The roasted pineapple was served  with a yellow chartreuse sorbet and a touch of olive oil. This roasted pineapple was packed with memorable fruity aromas, a benchmark of its kind (10/10)

We also had a technically flawless  chiboust (impossibly light and delicate), with well judged meringue to pastry cream ratio. 9/10

As well as a coconut financier  with exciting fresh coconut flavor. The coconuts are from the Caribbean and are grated for their  financier. The sourcing of the coconut was not an afterthought, the technique of high level (9/10).  The talented Pastry Chef Daniel Skurnick, who worked previously for some of this globe’s best restaurants (The River Café, Jean-Georges)  is their current Pastry Chef.

Pros: First-rate updated French sauces. A meal as well as an overall dining experience with many highlights!
Cons: For my pineapple juice, may I suggest that you use that same outstanding pineapple you did use to make the ananas roti? Also:  c’mon folks…..that lobster / lettuce menu item…I mean…c’mon, that is more “coucou” the unimpressive bird than a “crowned eagle” …Lol.

The hospitality standards are up there with what the grand tables of this planet have to offer, minus the heavy decorum that can be found in some houses. The restaurant has a tiny but prettily decorated bar at the entrance. On the wall of that bar (you cannot sit there, btw), a painting that will remind you of Provence. It is the kind of bars you see in movies. The rest of the decor is lavishly styled, with chandeliers, candles on every table, large glass windows, vaulted ceiling, a modern open kitchen.

Overall food rating: 9/10 (Categ: Fine dining, Top tier French restaurant outside of France, Top tier restaurant in New York) –  Hey, mon Coucou, I have no clue if your sauces are always as dazzling as on the evening of my visit, but with sauces of this caliber… , I am flying, too!!!

Bottom line: I made it difficult for Le Coucou. I went there on a Monday, generally a quiet evening, when the best cooks of a kitchen brigade tend to stay at home. I decided not to take their most popular dishes (pike quenelles, tout le lapin, bourride). I brought my girlfriend, a hard-to-please diner. And the star Chef, Daniel Rose was not present. When the meal started, I was certain that I was going to corner the bird and accuse it of not living up to its hype. The oysters and anchovies were fine, but given the hype, they did not deliver the emotions we came for, therefore I was determined to “pluck the feathers” of the bird. But Le coucou fought back, and the bird went on cruising at exceptional altitudes. By the time the beef filet and carre d’agneau arrived at our table, the bird was out of reach, really high in the skies. Then the desserts were served, and I received a note, falling from the sky “coucou, I am not… I am actually a crowned eagle, ca te va? ” Crowned eagle, you are, buddy! Can’t agree more. Ca me va! Hype is always too much, oftently impossible to live up to, but Le Coucou deserves its reputation. It is, right now, a destination restaurant serving some of the very best French fares outside of France. And it happens to have an interior that is very easy on the eyes. I loved Le Coucou!

What I think weeks later: Daniel Rose is a TRUE / REAL Chef. You know you are dealing with a REAL Chef when his absence is not felt at all. That is because GREAT Chefs will never leave a kitchen in the hands of poorly trained cooks. I have no clue where Daniel was, on that evening, but if he happened to be at a bar, in the carribbean, sipping a pina colada while I was dining at his restaurant..I swear, I would take a plane, right away, fly to his hideaway and thank him…which, if you have read this blog, is not my normal reaction in such circumstance. Lol. But that is the thing: Daniel is a GREAT Chef! Michelin, please continue to stay away…Le Coucou is a bird that is great, the way it is right now, free from the ridiculous rules that have killed so many talents. Please, please …  DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, dear Michelin! Go elsewhere. Lol  UPDATE: In NOVEMBER 2018,  Michelin did award a star to le Coucou, which I hope is not going to be the beginning of the end for this restaurant ….

 

 

 

While visiting Atlantic city, I ate at another one of their most popular eateries (the other popular local restaurant that I tried is Docks oyster House, which was reviewed here), southern soul cooking  restaurant Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (201 Melrose str, Atlantic city, Phone: +1 609-350-6800, Facebook link) –

Southern fried chicken (wings and breast were my choice) – Cooked fresh to order (this is what they wrote on the menu and it was not a tease as that is exactly what they did in reality), the chicken was delicious and moist and seasoned exquisitely, the genuine flavor profile of african american southern soul food in evidence. This came with a choice of two sides (I chose the collard greens as well as the  macaroni and cheese)  7/10

Collard greens (the leaves timely cooked, meaning not overcooked), tasting  great (superb classic southern seasoning) 8/10

Corn bread was pretty to espy and its execution as great as its looks, its taste deserving of the same compliments as its looks and execution (superb fresh corn flavor) 9/10.

Macaroni and cheese had a flavorful comforting homey taste to it, one forkful calling for the next. 7/10

Crab cake had decent  crab flavor, the quantity of crab meat was generous. The crab cake was served with a freshly made cole slaw as well as good french fries 7/10

All in all:  I am partial to artisan Chef cooking (a Chef cooking for real, instead of one who thinks he has enough awards to supervise an army), which is the type of cooking that is happening here at Kelsey & Kim’s. But then, it has to be done skillfully. That, too, is a reality, under their roof. This is one fine southern soul cooking, worthy of your time and hard earned money, to be enjoyed between New York and New Jersey. I will happily go back. No reservation for lunch, just walk-ins. Just remember that it is a bit far from the busiest part of the boardwalk (far from where the hotels Ceasars and Bally’s are situated), so you will need a car (taxis and uber are available in AC) to get there if you are staying near the above mentioned hotels.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
Event: Dinner at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
When: Saturday June 16th 2012, 7:30 PM
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: Via Privata Raimondo Montecuccoli, 6 20147 Milan (Italy)
URL: http://www.aimoenadia.com/
Phone: +39 02 416886
Type of cuisine:  Italian Haute cuisine (Pan-Italian with Tuscan influence)

The Maestro is not cooking anymore but what I found here was some of the better Italian food of this  globe. 

 

Overall food rating: 8/10 Delicious take on Italian classic. One of my few favourite tables around the globe.
Service: 9/10 Lovely, attentive
Overall dining experience (the non food factor):  8/10    This is my type of  dining experience, classic, focused on real great food/flavors. For those whose ideal of  a dining experience needs to be pepped up with  ‘theater’, the score will undoubtly be lower, and   I also suspect that the dining room, not modern-looking though charming, and the neighborhood, perhaps too ‘suburb’,  might lack the little ‘extra mileage’ in appeal that some would require to be floored. To each their own, then.

 

Food I had:  I am a bit busy,  was there with some friends (so no pics since having fun between friends turned out more important than bothering about food photographing), so won’t  elaborate too much on each of the dishes — we basically shared bites of what we had ordered — , but I have sampled a tortelli / ossobuco of Piedmontese veal, the work of taste amazing, though very classic in presentation which is my liking (9/10), Veal (tenderloin cut) / Jerusalem artichoke, the veal (from the region of Piedmont) of stunning quality, the vegetable just ok (easily an 8/10 for that piece of veal — they could have simply served it as a carpaccio and I would have been a happy camper, the meat on its own being so fabulous in mouth) , Oxtail of beef is a classic here and you should not miss it if you go there, its deep meaty flavor enhanced by a well bodied stew made of red wine. Again, hearty and delicious like whatever we kept eating on that meal, easily a 8/10 for that oxtail.  Rest assured that you can’t make such dish exquisite only by relying on the fact that fat and bones will do the talk…it takes a great palate and skills and this brigade certainly has both.

The script:
This concludes an  interesting journey of seven days in Italy that I started off in  Rome (only 1 quick day in Rome) , and then  carried on to Northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto,  and Emilia-Romagna). Tiring to say the least, but this is Italy: a borderless  ‘open-air candy store’ where everything is tempting. It is, as we all know, one of those rare countries where each parcel of  land worths its weight in gold. This is  not my first time in Italy, and everytime I visit this country, I regret of not having spent more time.

Gastronomy is, to me, as important as culture, history and architectures. Italy obviously offers plenty of those and this trip was the excuse to enjoy some great food as well as visiting as many historical vestiges as I could in such a short period of time. The dining part of this journey is crazy: Dinner on Tuesday at 3 star Michelin La Pergola in Rome, an impromptu quick lunch at 2 star Michelin Trussardi alla Scala in Milan on Wednesday, a big lunch at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio on Thursday, and finally this Saturday dinner at the iconic 2 star Michelin Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan. It is absurd to enjoy as many meals in one single week, but absolutely understandable given the circumstances.

It was interesting, as a reflexion on my visits at the above mentioned Italian Michelin  star ventures to reach conclusions I had not expected prior to the events: for eg , I had high hopes, given the raves and also its worldwide status as one of the grand tables of the world,  that La Pergola would  have blown me away. Although grand — It’s indeed a grand table, executing to perfection all the details that makes it known as one of the very best 3 star Michelin tables in the world – I have to admit that I was not fully impressed on a personal basis. I found it to be as expected: a great 3 star dinner, but not one that was outstanding enough in my view. This explains the recurrent 8/10, 8.5/10 marks (which means ‘very good’ in my assessment, but far from stellar) that I thought accurate to assign to most food items. In contrast,  other 3 star Michelin tables that many would find average have surprisingly fed me with sometimes quantitatively less…but  oftently far more impressive food. That is why this whole thing is subjective, after all … and it would be fair to remind that this is based just on one visit at those places.

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, situated in remote suburbs of Milan,  is a 2 star Michelin and legendary establishment of  the city’s haute dining scene, with over 50 years of existence. The original Chef,  Tuscan cordon bleu Aimo Moroni (he started cooking in the mid 50s) now fulfills the role of the  owner, while two  Chefs, Fabio Pisani (Grand Veyfour, Waterside Inn, Dal Pescatore) and Alessandro Negrini (Dal Pescatore, as well), are at the helm of  the kitchen’s operations. What they do is basically their own interpretation  of Pan-Italian cuisine with inspirations   from Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily and many other regions of Italy as well.

Aimo e Nadia is particularly praised among experienced gourmands of  Italy’s high end gastro scene for  offering strictly  the very best produce of the country (for eg, the top grade veal from Piedmont, Sienese lardo, etc), which is a feature that  I do expect at any table anyways, especially at this dining  level and in this corner of the world, although I am mentioning this because that aspect will naturally grow big on the subconscious dimension of my perception of the meal to come.

In a world where there is a lot of babbling about classic   techniques being boring, you would think that  trendy modern cooking would bring the supposedly exciting palatable emotions that comes along,  but years after the rise of  those novel cooking trends, few modernist Chefs are really capable of offering the true excitement that pertains to the splendid impact that classic food can unleash in skilled hands (the Spaniards remain among  the very few  whose depth of modern cooking creativity can  indeed rise at palatable heights of  the fabulous taste of the kind of successful classic cooking that I am praising). So many people are lured by the superficial aspect of food that they can’t even make a difference between an average, above average, superior or excellent straightforward food item such a soup or a tartare.  You get the idea:  a restaurant like Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia  catches my attention more than any of the latest trendy eateries, but this naturally comes with the expectation that classic food being my favourite cuisine type, it therefore needs to surpass itself.

Conclusion: Italian cuisine is in my top 10  favourite in the world along with Haitian, Congolese (Ex-Zaire), French, Chinese (from all over China), Indian (from all over India), Burmese (a lot of Indian and Thai influence)  and Thai. In that top 10, it is perhaps the cuisine that is technically closer to my cooking philosophy: try  getting the MOST (vibrant taste, above average exciting dishes, etc) out of the very LEAST (a simple ingredient, no fussy manipulation). It is therefore a cooking style that I am at ease with, because you sense the skills  (or lack of talent) of the cook almost on the spot. When I was a kid, one popular   leisure activity   in my neighborhood was to give 1 fish to a dozen of kids (the exact same kind of fish for each of the kids), 1 humble charcoal grill (not the fancy ones we have nowadays),  a box of matches, a bit of  salt and 1 lemon. With those humble and limited elements in hands, the kids had to surpass themselves and make a fish as stunning in taste as they could. Their palate had to dig deep in its sensitivity. Their taste memories constantly enriched with subtleties.  To me, this was the best cooking school in the world because the culinary touch of  each of those amateur cooks could be sensed and appreciated. It was like appreciating Miro’s touch in a painting of Joan Miro, It was Chagall’s spirit in Marc Chagall’s works. Nowadays, when you eat at most restaurants , there is usually a brand name … then Paul, Clara, John and X cooking for the brand name. It’s Miro but not Miro that did it. It’s Chagall, but not Chagall that created it.  It does not  matter who is cooking, as  long as there’s some sort of standard and some buzz. Just paint like Miro and Chagall, the most important is that their name are on the ad and make some noise, hourrahh!!  And most people do not care anyways, since it’s mostly either good or bad food. Lol. No wonder it sometimes takes me 1 year of intense reflexion and research  before deciding over a dinner worth of my hard earned money. What I liked with a place like Aimo e Nadia, eventhough Aimo and Nadia are perhaps not cooking that oftently anymore, it’s the presence of just those two Chefs only (Pisani an Negrini) with one goal: trying to convey, along the years,  the spirit of Aimo e Nadia. They perhaps will never be in a position to replicate Aimo’s personal touch (I am not even sure that cloning Aimo can address this, Lol), but what they did on this dinner was exactly what both Aimo and I seem to have as a common culinary philosophy: a fascination for turning the least into the very most.

Osteria con cucina ‘A Cantina de Mananan’
Via Fieschi, 117 – Tel 0187 821166
Corniglia, Liguria, Italy 19018
Email: mananan@libero.it
URL: https://www.facebook.com/cantinademananan/

One   highlight of my gourmand’s journey in Northern Italy was  a tiny stone walled  Italian osteria in the very touristy destination of Cinque Terre   called  A cantina de Mananan  :

The local gastronome  who brought me here did also introduce me to other  non touristy eateries that are popular with the locals in nearby  Lombardy as well as Emilia-Romagna . Therefore, when he told me  about this  spot located in the  touristy  ‘hamlet’ of Corniglia in Cinque Terre,  I had hard time believing him as Corniglia looked like a place where decent food would be hard to find.

 

I had their Piatto misto acciughe / Mixed dish of anchovies. Top quality produce that has been soaked in the sun of the Mediterranean sea, hand picked, kept away from any freezer or fridge. It is of produce of such  quality that the most ambitious Italian tables outside of Italy do dream about. There are Italian tables with Michelin stars, across the globe, outside of Italy, that would dream to serve ingredients of this quality. But then, it is not just about the sourcing. You also need to know what to do with that superb  produce and at that, they nailed it too: the seasoning was judicious, the flavours divine.  This was  an unusually well executed  dish and  would pass as NO ordinary at all, even by the standards of the finest osterias of Italy. 8/10

 

 

I also ordered   their gnocchi salsa di noci (gnocchi and walnut sauce) – Ethereally light gnocchi, featuring a delicious potato flavour, standing up perfectly to the walnut sauce it was served with, rendered in a way that some ambitious Italian tables, especially outside of Italy, would not  achieve this well (the soft texture of that gnocchi was that great). Superbly well executed potato dumplings paired with a flawlessly creamy, smooth and flavorful  walnut sauce  that could only come from combining quality ingredients (it is a simple sauce that relies on few ingredients, therefore the ingredients need to be of topshelf quality, and that was the case here) with a great know-how.  9/10

 

PROS: Great  Italian regional cookery (I am talking about the food I had there in summer 2012)

CONS: Do not come here expecting anything special as far as service goes. Do not get  me wrong: the service is not bad, far from that. Just remember that you are here for the food, though. After all, just keep in mind that it is not a ristorante, it is not a trattoria. It is an osteria (the most casual and laidback of the 3).

One drawback of  Italy’s lucrative tourism industry  is that  plenty  of subpar eateries  are competing with the few rare  gems like OCDM  to  feed the legion  of tourists . Therefore, for a foreigner, it is hard to locate the rare genuinely great eateries  that are silenced by the aggressive competition of the lesser ones.

Over a decade ago, there was great food to be found pretty much anywhere across Italy. To the contrary of what the Tourism authorities are trying to sell to us, that is not the case nowadays. Right here in Italy, a big city like Rome will offer mostly generic food that taste the same as it would taste in any other city in the western world.

Further down the boot, do not be surprised to be served fish that was frozen while eyeing at the Mediterranean sea.  Because that fresh seafood coming straight from the Mediterranean sea is way too expensive. Therefore, they will serve you the more affordable fish that came straight from the freezer, imported from afar. It is not like that just in Italy. It is like that pretty much everywhere alongside the Mediterranean sea .

Exceptional produce does exist, but you will have to pay through the nose to enjoy them at expensive restaurants. My first two days in Northern Italy were frustrating in that regard. On my 3rd day, I was lucky enough to meet with some knowledgeable local foodies and things went uphill from there as  I did enjoy some great  food and produce  at reasonable cost on the ensuing days as it was the case here at A Cantina da Mananan.

There were also some truely great celebrated restaurants such as Del PescatoreIl Luogo di Aimo e Nadia as well as Le Calandre that I did visit during this trip.  But food-wise,  few  left such a big impression on me as this humble osteria (there are 2 other osterias that also made a big impression on me – I just can’t remember their names, right now).

As for  A Cantina da Mananan, it would be interesting  to see how such eatery will fare in the long run: Corniglia is very touristy, therefore I hope ACDM does not, one day, turn into yet another eatery that just wants to cash in on its tourists. It certainly would be tempting. But I can talk only for what I have experienced and  those truely interested by / knowledgeable about genuine Italian regional cuisines would have found this meal at A Cantina de Mananan to be  one great example  of    Italian regional cookery that is hard to improve upon at an osteria  (great ingredients, superb  taste, excellent cooking technique).