Archive for the ‘excellent service’ Category

Keen’s Steakhouse – New York, NY

Posted: July 6, 2019 in aged beef, best aged beef, best aged steak, best dry aged beef, best dry aged steak, best porterhouse steak, best restaurants in new york, Best steakhouses, best steaks, excellent service, High hospitality standards, new york, steak, steakhouse, The World's Best Steaks, Top steaks in the world
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Keens is an institution of NYC, a piece of restaurant  history that started in the  19th century (established in 1885). Its dark wood walls are covered with a tasteful  display of  memorabilia (time-honored paintings, photos, cartoons).   This restaurant could be an incredible shooting location for a movie.

 

The avid fan of history that I am  had to find himself in this charming old world  decor, espying what could have possibly been the pipe of Roosevelt over here (thousands  of clay pipes of  patrons who dined at Keens are on display on the steakhouse’s ceiling), climbing the same stairs as Einstein over there.   Nowadays, Keens is one of NYC’s most popular steakhouses, attracting tourists, locals as well as many connoisseurs of North American steaks (as you will see below, their steaks did not « rest on their laurels »). But, with legendary places like this one, I am on my guard, always ensuring that  the lore shall never be part of the lure.

On a previous visit here, over 2 years ago, I did try their fabled slow roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop (aka the ”mutton chop“). It is not mutton, anymore. It  is  lamb  that they do serve nowadays. The lamb is raised in  Colorado,  some of the  most sought after lamb  in the nation. Colorado does offer to its  free-ranging sheep,  vast swathes of vegetation to feed on, thanks to the numerous mountains and hills of the state. The sourcing of this piece of  pasture raised lamb was  of high level , its subtly earthy lamb flavor  (milder than, say the flavour of lamb from New Zeland)  dazzled. Boasting an enticing color, definely tender, this  was as great as your roasted lamb loin‘s saddle  chop  will be if served to you at a top tier  steakhouse. 9/10

Then last year I dropped by with a long time genuine connoisseur of North American steakhouses and we had the porterhouse.  For anyone truely familiar with beef aging, it was easy to enjoy the great effect of the dry aging (they dry-age and butcher the meat on the premises) process that went into that piece of meat (great concentration of beef flavor). The thing about aging meats is to think about the right effect for the right meat. Oftently, you see people dry aging then wet aging their meat (perfect recipe to cancel the benefit of dry aging that meat …), dry aging meat that has fat that is so delicate that it cannot  ‘age’  well (highly marbled wagyu as in this case at Dons de la Nature, one of Tokyo’s leading steakhouses. It is the sort of fat that is way too delicate to   benefit from dry aging — I will write, later on, a detailed article on what type of fat benefits from the aging process and why), dry aging fishes that have the taste of nothing if you age them (few fishes do benefit from the dry aging process, most do not…most fishes that are aged do simply fit in the ridiculous trend of aging the flesh for the pleasure of following a trend, as stupid as that – ). Not all steakhouses do master the dry aging of meats as  obsessively well as, at, let us say, Le Divil in Perpignan, but the concentration of flavor of that porterhouse steak  at Keens revealed some serious mastery of the dry aging of their meats.   8/10

 

This is my 3rd visit here, and this time I ordered the prime rib of beef  (king’s cut – meaning that it’s bone-in),  the  medium rare doneness that I wanted was precisely achieved,  and it came charred at my request, served with au jus.  The loin end   rarely fails to be flavorful once cooked,  and yet, you realize how, in the USA, they have perfected its cooking  with no shortage of dazzling renditions of the  prime rib such as the ones you can enjoy at  establishments such as the House of Prime RibLawry‘s or   Dickie Brennan‘s  to name a few. But this prime rib at Keens was not out of place in that fierce competition, as here again, you had all the qualities of a stellar piece of North American steak (the quality of the meat really high as you would expect from a North American steakhouse of this reputation, the standing rib roast timely cooked, its delicious fat properly rendered, the seasoning competent, the steak craveable ).   8/10

 

I love Keen but I was NOT  in love with my platter of a dozen of oysters: all had their superb maritime flavour in evidence, true, but some of the oysters were served a bit too cold than expected at a restaurant serving seafood. The shucking could have been better, too.

Our sides of creamed spinach , sautéed mushrooms and cooked broccoli did not tantalize both my girlfriend and myself :  for both of us,  this preparation of their creamed spinach  did not  enhance  the taste of the spinach. And they did add a bit less cream than I would have preferred.  Still, their way of doing it is one legit classic way of cooking the creamed spinach and I am fine with that.  The broccoli,  I need them to retain a vivid fresh appearance  (I am not here to talk about cooking techniques but there’s a technique for that, there is a technique that allows your broccoli  to be nicely cooked while retaining its perfect crunch and vivid looks, a technique that is widely documented. There is no doubt that the kitchen brigade at Keens knows how to do that, but, again, their choice is to remain classic, therefore they did use a more classical approach  and that is to be respected. As for the mushrooms, they  looked and felt as if they were sautéed a bit too long  and served a bit too late,  the taste of the mushrooms not in evidence.

The crab cake of my girlfriend  featured   fresh crab flavour, the seasoning well judged. The crab came from Maryland and it is in season right now, consequently its depth of flavour was remarkable. Of her crab cake, she said that it was about “”the full taste of the crab and not a lot of filler””, which was a good thing.  7/10

Bottom line: This article of the NY Mag had its author arguing that   « The meat isn’t first class anymore, especially by the standards of today » at Keens…another one of the absurd and senseless suggestions of our so-called food journalists. A steak is first class if the quality of the meat is great, the cooking accurate, the flavours on point, the extra steps to elevate the taste of that meat making a difference (for example, my pieces of steak, here, at Keens, did benefit from the nuances that an educated palate would detect as nuances that can only come from a competently dry aged piece of quality meat). And you do all of that better than at most other steakhouses, which is the case of Keens.  You stop being first  class the day your steak costs an arm and a leg only to have the taste and feel of a generic-tasting piece of meat that you  would buy at the supermarket (the case of one so-called legendary steakhouse right here in The old Montreal …). Keens has nothing to do with an outdated steakhouse.  For his  steaks, Keens is still one of NYC’s very best. I was not in love with the sides, but again, this was (more of) a matter of preference (at the exception of the mushrooms) rather than the sides being faulty. They need to control the temperature of those oysters, though. My number 1 North American steakhouse is still Peter Luger (the one in Brooklyn) , but that takes nothing away from the superb steaks of Keens. The service and ambience at Keens are  also  great. One of my preferred chophouses in NYC. Steaks (9/10), Appetizers (7/10), Sides (6/10 ), Service (8/10 ) –  Keens steakhouse Addr: 72 West 36th St. New York, NY 10018 Phone: 212-947-3636 URL: http://www.keens.com

 

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Roberta’s pizza (above picture shows the take-out section of the establishment) has been hyped up as one of the biggest current hits of the dining scene of NYC.

It is relatively not that old (opened in 2008) and yet it is already a cult in NYC dining history. Its nontraditional

pizze featuring oftently in the top 5 of the best pizze in the nation, not a light exploit in the US.

It is an American-Italian pizza eatery, therefore I went with the flow and ordered exactly what the local crowd have been raving about, their Italian-American pizze (which ratings are not to be compared to my ratings of Neapolitan pizze, btw – two completely different styles).

-Torchietti pasta /topneck clams/ garlic/herbs – it is a pizza place. Not a pasta restaurant. Therefore no expectation, here. I just picked the pasta because I wanted some pasta as well. This was too salty (yep, the cook who cooked this dish seemed to have misjudged that the clams have already plenty of salt ) though pleasant enough 6/10

-« Babe: Pig in the city » is the name they gave to their pizza made of cheddar/mozzarella/ prosciutto cotto / onion / salsa verde – all their pizze are wood fired. Plated on metal pizza tray. No ample quantity of sauce, but just the right ratio. The dough made with specialty flour (they use a blend of specialty flours) and it did, obviously, rise for a long time, judging by the superb flavour of that crust. To get to such nicely rendered crust (excellent thin chewy crust with a superb light feel and ideal crisp to its texture) , they must have been using some of the best thin-crust pizza techniques of the industry. Delicious complementary flavours (the flavour of the crust responding well to the one of its toppings). 9/10

-Lieutenant Dan pizza (marinated summer peppers, pork sausages, cheddar, basil, onion, chili pepper, sesame) – They are so creative and fearless about their choices of toppings that, at times, a distracted palate can easily interpret the presence of some toppings as being « out of place ». That is not the case at all, in reality: take the sesame. It added to the overall festive mouthfeel of this pizza. Another thin crust pie that was well rendered (clearly, there is no quickie kneading operation in their pizza making process) as evidenced by its superb crunch, the right chew factor, and its exciting flavours. 9/10

-Freshly grilled pork collar /cucumbers/ spring onions /cabbage / salsa verde – had fine taste, the flavour that comes from the open fire always imparting an enticing smoky flavour as it did, here, with both the grilled protein as well as veggies. They seem to bother about quality organic veggies as that it how the veggies felt. The salsa verde had superb taste and texture. The grilled veggies tasted fine, too. Nice seasoning as well. Again, you are here for the pizza, but the non pizza items are still enjoyable enough as it was the case with this dish. 7/10

According to the media, the owners were not in the pizza industry before. Then one day they decided to open a pizza shop, went to Italy and learned from those in the know. And then came back and gave birth to Roberta’s. Well, if that is true, then they are the proof that sometimes, you need to come from « outside the box ´´ to offer a better show. As with any operation that is creative, they have to take risks (with their choice of varied toppings), therefore I suspect that it cannot be always as stellar as it was during my visit, but what matters is that Roberta’s has proven, once again, that it is capable of some of the best pizze in the nation.

Overall rating: 9/10 for the pizze – Category ´American-Italian pizza ‘ (They are technically as excellent as It is possible to be, they do come with a divine taste and a flawless crust). If you hear someone telling you that this is as good as any other Italian-American pizza in nyc, then that is coming from the same dude who thinks that mp3 and aiff do have the same quality of sound. 9/10 for the excellent service – no drama, no attitude here, but humble professionals who are passionate about their jobs and doing it really well. Ambience was a 9/10 (the place does not look like much from both the inside and outside, ´rough looking’ from the outside, situated in a ´tough looking’ area, but it is full of life, in a civilized way, which is of course a good thing). Roberta’s Addr: 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206 Phone: 718-417- 1118; URL: http://robertaspizza.com/

Ichiran is one of the major ramen chains coming straight from Japan  that decided to open branches in Manhattan (two) as well as one in Brooklyn. In Japan, I tried both Ichiran and Ippudo (the other major competitor to Ichiran), but discretely, lol, as it is a bit as raving about Burger King and Mc Donald while you are in the US. Not that I do not like Mc Donald and Burger King (I do actually like both of them), but there are plenty of  artisan Chef’s (the opposite of a chain’s operation) ramenyas in Japan who do offer world class ramen  and that is what, as a true ramen fan, you should be looking for when in Japan. That said, here in NYC, Ippudo and Ichiran feature among the best ramenyas , consequently do  expect plenty of buzz about those two ramen chains.

 

The proof that ramen is extremely popular nowadays: there are 3 times more hits on my review of Ippudo than this entire blog would attract in 6 months. Yep, a miracle for a sleepy blog like this one (do not forget that this is a non marketed blog targeting just couple of close foodies, here and there, with whom I share about our foodie adventures). But that tells you how ramen is trendy.

I went slurping at one of their branches in New York, the one situated at 132W 31st .

First thing first:

My ratings of the ramen I had in Japan should NOT be compared with the ones of the bowls I had in Montreal, which, in turn should not be compared to my ratings of the bowls I had in NYC

For the simple reason that they can’t (different geographical areas mean the water is different, the ingredients comes from different soils, etc).

 

So, Ichiran NYC that is.

Style of ramen:  tonkotsu style.

Noodles: freshly made  as you came to expect from any respectable ramen shop. I picked them firm (you have to decide on  the consistency of your noodles) so that the noodles do hold in  the broth. The noodles compare favorably with its counterpart in Japan. 7/ 10

The broth: Pork-bone based that has enough strength to its taste, meaning enough nuances / complexity  flavor-wise.  Eventhough it is certainly not as exciting  as at an Ichiran in Japan. A bit thinner than its incarnation in Japan. Fine enough broth 6/ 10

The chashu (Japanese braised pork belly) – I was very disappointed with this. I kept reading   praises about their timely braised, boldly  flavoured  chashu at  Ichiran NYC. That it was delicious and so on. But mine was dry. It  had Zero flavor.  0/ 10

Tare (The sauce flavouring the broth): fine concentration of flavours, verging on the sweet side. Not as amazing  at its incarnation in Japan but still, flavorful / enjoyable enough. 6/ 10

Egg: served cold (I do not get that one). Not fully runny at all. There are parts of the world where the ramen is not their speciality and yet they are delivering beautifully fully runny eggs that are served warm and that blend well with the rest of the ramen at their ramenya. And here you have a popular Japanese chain of ramenya that seems to take such important feature lightly (as a reminder, the reason a ramenya adds a runny egg to its ramen is not to make the ramen cute and ready for instagram, Lol. It is because it add lots of enjoyment to the overall mouthfeel of the ramen). 0/ 10

Bottom line: The service is great and it is a lovely place. I went there to really like  Ichiran, but it was a disappointment on the aspect of the food.  Ichiran NYC Addr: 132 W 31st St, New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 465-0701 URL: https://www.ichiranusa.com/  Overall rating Food 5/10, Service 8/10

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.

Argo (Thera 847 00, Greece Phone +30 2286 022594  )  seems to have impressed its share of patrons as the place was fully booked on an evening that was very quiet for most of its local competitors. Even the other local top gun, To Ouzeri, looked empty in comparison. But reserve your table weeks in advance…if you want to eat in company of the stunning view of the caldera (not all tables have a caldera view). 

I ordered some of their “recommended” dishes:

Patatina – Argo cooks superb classic Greek food, but their patatina is some sort of “cosmopolitan” invention of their own. In this instance , they reduced fried potato of superb quality into the delicate shape of vermicelli (inspired by the Chinese potato bird nest??)  and topped the whole thing with some scramble eggs. It is not the invention of the decade, but it was well executed 8/10

Fava bean purée had superlative flavour and texture. And this is coming from someone who has fava beans as one of the Main ingredients of his country. Fava beans has a unique taste, though, here in Santorini, because of its volcanic soil. 10/10

White egg plant is one of the main ingredients of Santorini. It was simply baked but revealed some serious sourcing. The cooking was as flawless: seasoning and timing that showcased superb know-how / technique. Excellent 9/10

Giaprakia – Greek stuffed cabbage rolls (ground meat, rice, mint) served with fries and yoghurt sauce. The presentation is elegant, the genuine traditional flavours vibrant. Quality ingredients are used. A benchmark yiaprakia. 10/10

An assortment of fresh seafood (mussels, shrimps) was timely cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. As I explained elsewhere, I tend to perceive Chefs who cook seafood with great care (the case, here) as capable of cooking everything else (vegetables, meats)  with brio, and this entire meal was an example of just that. 8/10

Overall food rating (categ: Mediterranean/ Greek): 9/10

Service: 10/10

Bottom line: Argo could cook some of the best Mediterranean food of any major food city in the world. Even the service, at Argo, was of prime mention (my main waitress, Angelica, would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant). Both Argo and the Old tavern of Psaras were the highlights of my foodie adventures in Greece. Next time I will be in Greece, I will happily eat again at those two restaurants and will make a detour by  Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia, as well as visiting the Peloponnese as many Greeks I know have raved about the dazzling food in both locations.

Fato a Mano  (Meletopoulou square Mykonos Greece, Greece Phone: +30 2289 026256) cooks Mediterranean  food (Greek, Italian), is located in Mykonos Town, and has the longest salad menu I ever saw at a restaurant in Mykonos. The place looks cozy with comfortable chairs and dominant earthy colours.

Feta cheese, honey, sesame and cinnamon / pleasant firm texture, fine produce . such typical Greek combination of honey and cheese tantalizes the palate, in general, as it happened right here, in Mykonos, the day before, but at Fato a Mano, it tasted  surprisingly  ordinary. This is the sort of window of opportunity that a kitchen brigade should seize to showcase wit, personal touch, skills. Greeks rarely fail to miss this one… 5/10

I also had grilled sea bream which was cooked properly, nicely seasoned. 7/10

Baklava was not the best I had, but not bad at all,  neither as it was tasty enough. That said,  this was not as flaky, crispy and tender as the far better baklava I had in Mykonos, Santorini or Athens during this trip. 5/10

Overall food rating: 6/10

Service is fabulous here. And Fato a Mano was a pleasant experience, but on the culinary front, I was not moved: yes, I liked my sea bream and indeed, it was nicely seasoned, but the grilled feta cheese and baklava were the true “tests” where the kitchen’s skills needed to shine, exactly like what  Avli did with a simple pita bread or Yialo   with a simple freshly baked pie. I am not asking the moon, just that little extra step that awakes the palate.

Restaurant Bonaparte (443 rue Saint-François Xavier, Montreal, Phone 514-844 4368) is a French restaurant offering classic French cuisine in the Vieux Port of Montreal. Their Chef, Gérard Fort, from the French region of Normandie, did work for 3 star Michelin Chef Alain Ducasse years ago.

It has been more than 5 years that I have not dined at Le Bonaparte. I used to frequent Le Bonaparte and Chez Delmo, when I was working nearby. Chez Delmo has changed physically (I miss the old world decor)  and  I found its  culinary performance not as stellar as it once was. Still, Chez Delmo is nice by our (admittedly) not that strong (in general — as there are exceptions, of course) local restaurant standards. Le Bonaparte continued to maintain itself among my preferred classic French restaurants in town, but it is not as great as it used to be, though, not bad neither.

 

Raviolis de champignons (mushroom raviolis), Proper al dente texture. Champignons de Paris was the appropriate mushroom to use, in this case. Butter/sage sauce using fine quality butter. Tasty 6/10

Navarin de homard a la vanille (Vanilla, muscat wine flavored lobster stew) – Different Chefs, different twists, preparations of navarin sauce can vary widely from the ordinary to the stellar. This one tried to be more contemporary (flavors are not bold, presentation is elegant, the vegetables not cooked in the stew which, for the purist in me, does not really qualify as a lobster stew/ navarin de homard )than traditional (a ragout/ all components are cooked in the stew). Regardless of the twist, I came to expect bold flavors from the best lobster navarin I had. This was a bit too subtle in flavor… for a navarin de homard, though executed properly, with quality ingredients (the butter that they use to make their sauces is of great quality, the creme fraiche too, the muscat wine blends harmoniously well in that sauce).  A good —not great — take on the navarin de homard. And yep, I know, there is a limit to how bold creme fraiche and vanilla can be, BUT I had more exciting lobster navarin that were made of those same components. Still, this, in light of what you will find in Montreal, was fine 6/10

Grand Marnier soufflé – a tad less spectacular, in looks, than the one I had recently at Chez la Mere Michel, but airier. The grand marnier fragrance in evidence. Good. 7/10

Profiteroles- The puff did rise, at some point, for sure, but that was a useless process…as the choux pastry arrived at my table in its non edible form (very hard). I forced myself to eat it just to be polite, fearing the anger of Napoleon Bonaparte….0/10

The flavors are not boldly, but properly French. A compromise between the old (rustic) and the new (the rich flavor is there, but there is also a health-conscious touch in the plate).

Pros: One elegant French classic restaurant in town.

Cons: (1) those profiteroles should not have left any kind of kitchen, even at a hole-in-a-wall eatery, let alone a kitchen charging those prices (2)the pastas served with the navarin de homard was overcooked. A slip that reduced the enjoyment of that dish. Not a badly conceived navarin de homard for a navarin de homard revisited with  a contemporary (a navarin not cooked as a ragout) and international (addition of the pasta) touch, but you will not be floored if you are a purist, although, to be fair, the french technique of the sauce is legit.

Bottom line: As a reminder, the ratings of my meals are based on the standards set by the direct local competition of the restaurant I am eating at. Consequently, it would be inaccurate to compare my ratings of a French restaurant in Montreal to the one I did rate in New York or Paris. New York has superior French food (Montreal does not have Classic French food that could compete with, say, the likes of NYC’s Le Coucou, Bouley, Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecôte, Balthazar,  etc. ), and France remains, obviously, the reference for that kind of food. It goes without saying that the 7/10 of my review of Le Casse Noix is more accurately a 10 by Montreal restaurant standards, their Ile Flottante and riz au lait a distant dream for Montreal. Therefore, we are in a completely different set of expectations. Whenever a table goes beyond the standards of its direct competition (a pointer: the relevant dish is either a 9/10 or a 10/10) and offers food of world class quality, I will let it know.  Regarding this meal, all I have to say is that French fine dining, at those prices, even when it is fine enough…will always “taste” overpriced if it is not going to stand out …, . Overall rating (Categ: French fine dining outside of France): Food (6/10 Fine enough, by Mtl classic French cooking standards, but I was not moved in a way that equivalent restaurants (of same price range, cooking the same type of classic French food), located abroad, not even in France, have been able to move me. I would perhaps rate such meal with a 6/10 if we were in NYC. Others would not forgive the slip of the profiteroles (which I did not forgive, neither, but does a fine enough overall meal deserve a 4 or 5/10 because of some disappointing choux pastry?? I did not think so), Service (8/10 Very good ), Ambience: 8/10 (civilized).