Archive for the ‘french restaurant’ 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: 10/10 World class service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Goujon talk to their customers (Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone), 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.
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.

“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. All pleasant.

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 truely 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.

Advertisements

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.

 La Ferme aux Grives (Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France. Phone: +33 5 58 05 05 06) – A casual / countryside take on Chef  Michel Guerard‘s classic French cooking is available in a pretty farmhouse located next to the Chef’s 3 Michelin star restaurant, which I did also visit . I did hesitate between going back to Pau and eat at one of the rare touristy restaurants that are opened on sunday or to pursue my journey at Eugenie les Bains. The decision was not too hard to take, given the   favorable online reviews on la Ferme aux Grives.

What I ate:

Saucisson sec: The traditional dry-cured sausage (saucisson sec), air dried for a minimum of 6 weeks, came from the nearby commune of Les Aldudes in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Saucisson sec is one of the things that the French rarely fail to do well, and this was no exception. Nice distinctive nutty aroma, beautifully marbled filling, balanced intensity of its spicy taste. Sourcing great dry-cured sausage from artisans is one thing, knowing how to store it is another story. They excelled at both. 9/10

Gougère soufflé: The technique of the savoury choux pastry was on point (good puffy structure, with a nice golden exterior and carefully rendered soft interior). You can serve your gougère cold , hot or lukewarm. Lukewarm (my preferred temperature for this  choux pastry) is what they were looking for, at La Ferme aux Grives , but theirs was not enoughly mildly warm to lift up the gougère flavor. Consequently, the cheesy flavor of the the gougère was not expressive. This was still a well made gougère, with enough enticing gougère flavour brought to the fore. 7/10

 

Salade de boudin grillé, jardinière de coco, vinaigrette de simples (mangue/fruit de la passion). Blood sausage, white beans, a vinaigrette made of mango and passion fruit. Great technique in the execution of the blood sausage (soft filling, judicious seasoning), a blood sausage that had a taste that is more refined than your usual traditional French blood sausage, cabbage, white beans as well as the vinaigrette were all seasoned adequatly. Perhaps not enoughly ‘bold’ on the palate as I would have preferred when I am ordering grilled blood sausage, but again, as it has been the case all along this meal, the execution and work of flavors could hardly be faulted. 7/10

Spit-roasted suckling pig (over an open fire). As tasty as your suckling pig will taste at most good restaurants in France and North America. A bit like with the lobster, I have hard time finding suckling pig, in France and North America, that can match the dazzling suckling pig I was eating in my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean (I think it happened just once in North America
and twice in France, within the last 20 years). Anyways, this was good: carefully seasoned, quality suckling pig, and you cannot go wrong with meat cooked slowly for so long. 7/10

Gratin de pâtes, fromage parmesan, cèpes- Gratineed pasta, cooked in a parmesan/penny-bun bolete mushroom cream. The pasta cooked a bit longer than aldente. I find it less “fun” to eat pasta cooked too long in a cream because you have less textural contrast,  less ‘counterpoint’ to the cream, but hey…we are in France, not Italy. That said, this featured precisely balanced rich and delicious flavors. 7/10.

Charlotte aux fraises (Strawberry charlotte) – The dessert featured a properly executed chantilly, an equally properly rendered luscious strawberry mousse, a timely cooled sponge cake as well as quality strawberries picked fully ripe. The fruity flavors in evidence, the presentation was rustic but that was intentional as to fit with the theme of the restaurant. A good charlotte. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 Good standard of French bistrot food

  Detours (14 rue Latapie, 64000 Pau, Communauté d’Agglomération Pau-Pyrénées, Phone: +33 5 24 36 53 02) is one of the latest most touted new tables of Pau.

In Pau, I did hesitate between traditional food (Chez Olive, Chez Laurette, Henri IV) or the contemporary casual eateries opened by Chefs who have spent long years alongside the greatest Chefs of France (Chef Nicolas Lormeau of Lou Esberit, Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin at Detours). Not an easy decision as I am partial to those two different types of restaurants, but I am already familiar and do cook traditional french cuisine (from all regions of France) at home, therefore I decided to see what the well trained artisan Chefs had to offer in their casual eateries. My decision was  influenced by the fact that I do already cook classic French food at home, and not contemporary takes on that type of food, therefore I suggest you try their traditional food if you are in Pau.

Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin worked, in the past, at Michelin starred Michel Sarran in  Toulouse as well as reknown restaurants such as Le Crillon and le Grand Véfour.

I ordered two A la carte  items from:

Jarret de veau en nems croustillant, quinoa aux petits legumes, herbes fraiches. Nems filled with veal, on a bed of quinoa and vegetables/fresh herbs.
The genuinely Vietnamese nem flavour is faithfully replicated, quinoa cooked properly, the vegetables (carrots, radish) featuring a nice crunch. A finely composed healthy dish (no unecessary bold seasoning, but flavour where it needs to be found, as exemplified by the exquisitely seasoned nem, then the lightly seasoned quinoa and vegetables , which was the right thing to do in this case. 7/10

Agneau, epaule confite 36hrs, caviar d’aubergine, legumes de saison (pommes de terre, zucchini, carrottes, champignons) cuits dans le jus de cuisson. Lamb shoulder confit, cooked for 36 hrs. In a separate pot, potatoes/zucchini/ carrots/ mushroom. Timely cooked vegetables and lamb. Eggplant caviar was perfect, the vegetables cooked in a delicious and flawlessly reduced cooking jus. Another fine dish. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 A Chef who knows when and where flavours need to be expressive or subtle, the food tasty.

 

 

Chef Nicolas Lormeau has honed his skills alongside some of France’s best Chefs: Michel Trama (Aubergade, 2 star Michelin), Gerald Passedat (Petit Nice, 3 star Michelin), Gilles Goujon (Auberge du vieux puits, 3 star Michelin).

They have, in France, many Chefs with 2, 3 star Michelin skills who have decided to open their own venues, and get this: they are there, in the kitchen, cooking for real. A distant dream in many parts of the globe. No wonder France will remain a superpower of the foodie world for a while.

In 2016, Nicolas,  did open his own restaurant, Lou Esberit, in Pau, which style of food can be described as “bistronomy” if you wish, and his talent has since been rewarded with, among other achievements,  a selection in the top best 3 Chefs of the Credit Agricole’s Talents Gourmands Pyrenees/Gascogne (not a light reward in a region with plenty of talented Chefs).

There are several menus (A la Carte, tasting menus, etc). I picked the following two A la carte menu items:

Croustillant de langoustine, fine purée d’une barigoule, queues de langoustines roties, petales d’artichaut frit (crispy and roasted Dublin bay prawns, artichokes mash and chips). I could not enjoy the prawns as they were way too salty. The artichokes mash was fine, but that was not enough as the overall dish lacked sparks (felt generic/average in mouth). 5/10

Filet de rascasse grillee, soupe de Roche et pomme de terre fondante. Grilled scorpion Fish fillets, potatoes and his take on the “bouillabaisse” (which was in a glass and that I had to pour over my fish). Grilled scorpion Fish, one of the fishes  commonly used for a bouillabaisse,  is one of my preferred fish. The fish was cooked properly (retained an ideal amount of moist, firm as it should). not boldly seasoned and that is fine. Some parts were bland, others seasoned, but in this case, I can live with that (as you will pour the bouillabaisse on it, anyways). But his take on the bouillabaisse lacked maritime flavour. I presume it had to come from the fish I would pour the bouillabaisse on…but pouring a bouillabaisse on the fish does not have the same effect as cooking the fish in the bouillabaisse! 6/10

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 On my visit, the Chef tried too hard to be creative, Alas …to not much effect.

Bottom line: I have no doubt that Chef Lormeau is a good Chef. The locals told me he can be great. I even saw an online picture of Michel Guerard paying a visit to him. So he must have been doing great things to be noticed by a heavyweight like Chef Guerard. But the 2 dishes I was having could not testify to that. In cooking, whatever you do, food needs to satisfy. Those 2 dishes failed at that. Service is great, the Chef is one of the friendliest characters of the restaurant industry (great smile, talks to everyone), the restaurant is popular and superbly well located (at a stone throw of the gorgeous Chateau de Pau). Just make that food festive again, Chef! Lou Esberit 8 rue adoue, Pau, France 64000 Phone: +33 9 83 97 58 58 URL: http://www.restaurant-louesberit.com

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 7/10

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 good 7/10

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. Very good. 8/10

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.

Overall food performance (Categ: Montreal Classic French restaurants), 6.5/10. 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).

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 …, .

UPDATEDTHIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED ******************

Chez La Mère Michel (1209 Guy St, Montreal, QC Phone: 514- 934-0473) is a classic French restaurant in Montreal that opened over 50 years ago. I could not make it to Chez La Mère Michel, 50 years ago, but here I am, in 2017, attending my first meal ever at this legendary house. The New York Times once submitted “”for dinner, you have to try Chez La Mère Michel, if only because it might just be the finest of Montreal’s more than 4,000 restaurants“.

The menu is concise, featuring great classics of French cuisine such as rognons de veau flambés a l’armagnac, homard nantua, magret de canard sauce aux agrumes, sole de douvres meuniere, the terrines, etc

I ordered:

Oysters “tresors du large” from Iles de la madeleine – Shucked like … it was shucked by someone who would be the defacto winner of a highly prized competition of the best professional oyster shuckers. There are restaurants specializing in oysters, with shuckers for whom, this level of precise shucking is a distant dream. The oysters were first-rate bivalve molluscs, tasting freshly of the sea.

Escargots, beurre a l’ail parfume au ricard (snails in garlic butter with a splash of ricard) – One proper traditional French Escargots beurre a l’ail. Snails of fine quality. To make it healthy, they did not add too much salt to it. I am fine with that. 7/10

The pan-fried dover sole of my friend was a true dover sole, not the pacific dover sole.  Carefully filleted, lightly cooked as it should. Great sourcing of the ingredients and a classic French preparation that was well mastered by the kitchen (seasoning, the work of flavors and textures, everything was of a high level) . 9/10

Coq au vin (that they translated as “genuine french chicken in wine sauce”)  -This classic from Bourgogne is one of my preferred French classics. The recipe, regardless of its variations, is not rocket science, just time consuming. And of course, as it is the case with all recipes, a great palate will make the difference. The best Coq au vin I had were made with wild roosters which flesh led to an intensity of flavor that was a world away from any coq au vin I ever had in Montreal. Chez la Mere Michel’s got close to those souvenirs, except that wild roosters are rarely used nowadays, here and even in France. They use chicken. Technically well executed red wine-based sauce,the french flavor profile on the forefront, the chicken timely braised (the meat not feeling dry). The use of wild rooster would have led to the sort of fuller taste that I came to expect from the best coq au vin I had, but in the context of Montreal restaurants, this was very good. 8/10

 Crêpe Suzette – the friend, I was dining with, is on the look out for some great crêpe Suzette  in Montreal. I think you can find satisfying crêpe Suzette in town, but I doubt you will find one that is done with the “tour de main” and passion of a good classic table in France. Still, I am expecting such house with long years of cooking classic French food to get me a bit closer to what a good crêpe Suzette  can taste at a fine classic restaurant in France. That is exactly what happened at Chez la mere Michel. No more of the tableside presentation that I am fond of (the city does not allow that anymore) , but a crêpe Suzette  that will, in the context of Montreal, get you as close as it can be, to the delicious traditional crêpe Suzette  that past generations of French have long perceived as the way a good traditional crêpe Suzette  should feel, smell and taste like (dazzling genuine flavors, with an exciting orange confit/grand marnier sauce). Beautiful nostalgy! 8/10

Soufflé grand Marnier – I would have liked it a tad airier, but this was done really well, properly risen, with enticing fresh eggy fragrance.  I could not fault the accompanying Crème Anglaise, mixed with a bit of grand marnier. 7/10

Pros: Easily among the best classic French fares I ever had in Montreal.
Cons: N/A

Overall food rating : 8/10 (Category: Best traditional  French restaurants  in Montreal) – The limitation, here, is … the evolution of trends. Since a long time, now, even in France, many are not cooking their Coq au vin in a certain old fashion way (braising a wild rooster, which I remain  partial to). In the case of the Coq au vin, this has been a major  change, a change that transformed this superb classic into an ordinary dish (chicken is nowadays widely used, but however tasty the chicken…it will never match the character of a Coq au vin made with braised wild rooster). That limitation aside, the sauce revealed how talented their Chef was.

That talent was also noticeable when the excellent dover sole was served. Then came the crepe suzette. The most ‘classiquement Francais” of the crepes  suzettes I ever had in town. Not many Chefs, in Montreal, do cook traditional French food this well. I can imagine how special   this house used to be with its service au gueridon (they dropped that).

Bottom line: Chez La Mère Michel may appear divisive (some have raved about it, but they have also been dubbed a tourist trap by others),  but  that has  to do with their desire to please their patrons. I realized it when my waiters told me that they adapt to the taste  of their customers. I immediately told them that I know and love traditional French food and do expect the Chef to express his classic French  cooking freely. They understood that I was not a tourist, and what came from the kitchen was one of the most inspired traditional   French meals I ever enjoyed in Montreal. To think otherwise, I would have to be utterly ignorant of traditional French cuisine, or some aspects of  it, or to confuse it with something else …

What I think days later – Montreal works really hard to ensure that food loses its soul and  should taste of ..nothing:  Fire (smoking, wood / charcoal grilling, flambeeing) elevates the taste of food? Forbidden! Continue like this,  Montreal! Lachez pas! Foodies around the world have long noticed that our city is the most overrated food city in the world, thanks to your ridiculous policies. As for La Mere Michel,  I have no doubt that it used to be even better when you could  flambée your crepe suzettes before the eyes of your patrons and when the “service au guéridon” was still a reality, but  in the context of a city like Montreal, you have worked wonders.