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.

“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.

My thoughts several weeks  later: 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.

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 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

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.

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

 

 

 

River Café, Brooklyn
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States
URL: http://therivercafe.com
Phone: 1 718-522-5200
Type of cuisine: American cuisine (Essentially Classic French cooking technique using American ingredients)

RCThe River Café (near the Brooklyn Bridge) is an iconic restaurant which is widely known as one of the most romantic restaurants of New York city. I am usually not a fan of 1 star Michelin restaurants serving classic French cuisine in North America because their cooking hardly leaves any souvenir on my mind, but this was a special romantic occasion and River Café was the appropriate restaurant in this instance.

The meal started with an amuse of Citrus and Olive Oil Poached Squid with Saffron Panna Cotta and sweet pepper Gelee. Pretty to espy and an indication that, although using classic French techniques, the creativity of this kitchen brigade is hard to ignore: the variety of colors is thoughtful, a cube of saffron panna cotta  with some poached squid is not a usual combination of food items at most restaurants, and yet they were complementary. My only regret is that I have familiarized  my palate with strong flavors to the extent that I have hard time appreciating the subtle flavors of this amuse. I won’t rate this amuse as I just do not have the required palate  to appreciate it.
RC2Tuna of prime quality served as a tartare with a layer of thin slices of the fish atop. This showcased a great understanding of how to get the most out of raw fish (well judged seasoning allowing the quality of the fish to be at the forefront while lifting up its natural flavor – I did not ask the staff if they did age the tuna a little bit, so I am not too sure if they did, but that was the effect I had in mouth and it dazzled. Miso/valencia orange/ pickled chili vinaigrette brought necessary complexity. 8/10
RC3Jumbo shrimps, poached to ideal doneness (tender while retaining a nice chew) served alongside a faultless citrus Maltaise sauce. Another display of some serious seafood cooking (superb produce, classic flavor combination but mastered really well) 8/10
RC5Steamed (with meyer lemon) salmon with an inspired  oriental broth (a shiitake mushroom broth that was as vibrant as some of its original Japanese renditions) was delicious, the aromas of the broth exciting and above all, balanced. This was served with jasmine rice. 8/10
RC4Poached lobster was another display of superb produce and great mastery of classic French cooking as the seafood tasted great, its poaching well timed, the classic French flavors enticing. If cooking using classic technique done this well is one’s definition of boring cooking, then I’d rather get bored lol. This came with lobster claw, spinach gratin and lobster infused marinara, squid ink cavatelli pasta (tiny quantity, wished I had more as that was  some great pastas that would not be considered as average in a good Italian restaurant ). 9/10
RC6Milk chocolate soufflé (served with toasted marshmallow, hot fudge, Tahitian vanilla bean ice milk) was risen properly but milk chocolate needs to be exciting at smell and in mouth to leave an impression. As with everything at the RC, this chocolate was of top quality, admittedly, but the soufflé was unexciting for my taste. Furthermore, when I see the mention of “milk”, I want to be blown away by some bold fresh milky fragrance….which was not the case with this dessert.  6/10
RC7Blueberry tartlet was  a proper rendition of the tartlet, the fruits of stellar quality, but the pastry lacking a bit of the exciting buttery fragrance that I prefer when enjoying a tartlet. Actually, this was made of caramelized almond which does  normally express very appealing flavor, but that was not put in evidence  6/10
On web sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp, some reviewers considered that the food at RC was average. I beg to differ. I would need to be totally ignorant of classic cooking (the presentation is contemporary but the food is backed by classic French cooking techniques) or to hate it in order to reach similar conclusion. For sure, this is not Eleven  Madison Park but they both are not bestowed with the same number of Michelin stars neither!
Pros: One unique / truely special romantic restaurant with an exceptional riverfront view over Manhattan, and one that chose not to rest on its laurels as even the food is not an afterthought.
Cons: A bit more “pep” (milk should be packed with bold lactic fresh flavor, caramelized almond should have the almond and caramel flavors better expressed, etc) is to be expected from the pastry creations I have sampled on that evening.
Overall food rating: 7.5/ 10 (Category: North american/french/international 1 star Michelin). It may sound harsh to score an overall 7.5/10 for the food after the series of really good savory dishes, but this is a 1 star Michelin, therefore the desserts needed to leave an impression too. They were good desserts, not great enough for a 1 star Michelin. That said, this is proper 1 star Michelin  French/international/American  cooking.  Same applies to the restaurant (in the classic restaurant category , obviously). It is pricey,should I repeat, but above all this is a world class romantic destination.

 

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PG01Event : Lunch at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
When: Wednesday  November 11th 2015, 12:00
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: 6,rue Balzac, 75008 Paris
URL: http://www.pierre-gagnaire.com/
Phone:  +33 1 58 36 12 50
Type of cuisine: French (classically  French at its core, mostly contemporary in its presentation, at times cosmopolitan  in its work of the flavors, using many  exotical ingredients , though, as it is generally  the case with most 3 star Michelin restaurants in Paris, the kitchen at PG puts the finest produce  from France in the forefront of their cooking).

Rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)
Overall food rating: 9.5/10 Creative French cooking of the highest level.  Perhaps the cooking of ex Chefs like Jacques Maximin/Olivier Roellinger, or (more recently) Bernard Pacaud / Alain Passard do fit a bit more with what I’d feel comfortable to rate with a 10/10 at this level of French cuisine as I think that Roellinger, Maximin, Pacaud or Passard would have delivered far more exciting versions of the brunoise of vegetables as well as the cucumber soup —– , and although the “ghocchi” and “Cèpes confits, noix, blette paquet” were excellent at what the kitchen was trying to convey (see their respective reviews below), my gut feeling is that the aforementioned Chefs would have replaced them by food items of assertive flavors pertaining to traditional French cuisine – especially Pacaud and Maximin – which, for my taste, is the only way that this meal at PG could have been bettered  .
Regardless,  that is just a personal impression. What you need to know is that PG kitchen brigade’s is one of world class quality. There were certainly many exceptional dishes as you’ll see in the account below.

Service: 10/10
Overall Dining experience: 9/10 Excellent

I am seizing the opportunity of a short trip to  Paris to eat at a 3 star Michelin table that I haven’t tried for over a decade, Pierre Gagnaire.

 

There is a considerable number of  food items served at Pierre Gagnaire. For example, my   starter (untitled  AUTOMNE) will come in   a series of  starters. The same applies to the   main course and  dessert.

I did opt for the A La Carte menu).

PG02The meal started  with two series  of   nibbles (calamari of superb quality marinated in soya, a brunoise of vegetables in a cold soup of cucumber, the brunoise as well as the cold soup were Ok…but I was disappointed that a kitchen brigade of this quality could not deliver a better version of that amuse bouche –  , some cuttlefish ink’s gelée  of spectacular maritime fragrance and a texture designed by the Greek goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, because it was so  pretty to espy,  a superlative lemon paste, an excellent bisque of crab, and many more items – all of great standard at the exception of the brunoise of vegetables in a cold soup of cucumber).  The lemon paste, in particular, had a dazzling taste  which exciting mouthfeel   is hard to imagine even at this dining level.  All in all, 8/10 for the nibbles. Serious  stuff.

My starter was:

AUTOMNE
IMG_3174Cocotte d’aromatiques dans laquelle on fume quelques instants un gros gnocchi au Laguiole – velouté Vert d’automne, graines et pousses de moutarde – Gnocchi on a bed of vegetables. the gnocchi  having the texture of tofu…but in this case, that is not a bad thing at all. Rather a beautiful touch of creativity. I suspect that it is with items like this that some may perceive such meal as uneven (made of ups and downs) since this is certainly not an item designed to wow, but then that would be a complete misunderstanding of what should be expected here: this is a perfectly well conceived  twist on a  piece of gnocchi served with some steamed  vegetables underneath and it was not of the boring kind (both the vegetables and the special sort of gnocchi had vibrant textures and tasted of what they should).  8/10
PG - NOIX DE RIS DE VEAUNoix de ris de veau laquée d’un suc de carotte à l’argouse, pulpe de reine-claude au tamarin – Caramelized sweetbreads that were a  world away from their  tired looking versions, the meaty consistency successful (just the right moist consistency, not mushy) , the overall taken to an even higher level of amazement due to the addition of the tamarind. A dish that could turn into a flop  in the hands of many  kitchen brigades (from the perspective of someone who has cooked with exotical ingredients while understanding the fundamentals of French cuisine, this  is actually a combination that is logical  , but it is also very easy to misjudge the proper quantity of tamarind needed to make such combination exciting)  even at this level, but here it was a demonstration of what a benchmark example of  tamarind mixed with  sweetbreads can look, smell  and taste like. An excellent way of updating a French classic dish. 10/10
PG-Terrine d’anguille au pavot bleu, céleris branches.Terrine d’anguille au pavot bleu, céleri. Gelée de pain de seigle – Quality eel was succesfully paired with celery and a jelly of rye bread. One  of those items which intent is not to dazzle. The intent behind this dish is  to combine  ingredients that most people would not think successful  as a whole  (eel, celeri, rye bread). I have no problem with this   philosophy but in the hands of the majority of cooks it is either a recipe for disaster or an annoying assembly of  ingredients.  Here, you taste that dish and realize that what you just had is a set of matching elements that simply work  really well against all odds.

Infusion de navet daïkon au vin jaune du Jura, écrevisses pattes rougesInfusion de navet daïkon au vin jaune du Jura, écrevisses pattes rouges, oxalis et feuilles de capucine – Crawfish(boiled), daikon radish, white wine, oxalis, nasturtium leaves.  Dazzling contrast  of flavors (sweet/sour/salty) that is technically hard to get this right even at this level. 10/10

PG2 - cèpes confits, noix, blette paquetCèpes confits, noix, blette paquet – I have oftently read that PG takes risks that do sometimes not pay off. This is one of those dishes that could easily be perceived as unsuccessful. Well, as mentioned elsewhere, I do not agree with the suggestion that PG’s cooking is sometimes off. It may not be to one’s taste, but it is certainly not what I would categorize as occasionally faulty. Take this dish: its effect is basically similar to what you’ll get with a juxtaposition of a layer of custard, mushrooms and nuts. All of great quality, for sure, but potentially boring too…??  Now, what about this being a take on the Japanese  Chawanmushi? Not that boring anymore,hein? lol. There are different versions of the Chawanmushi and this one was extremely subtle flavor-wise (some people may even find it bland, but is is not bland…just full of  very  subtle umami flavors) – a take on a perfectly legit  example of the the Chawanmushi.

The main course I chose was AGNEAU (the lamb):

PG- LambCarré d’agneau de l’Aveyron frotté d’origan – the lamb from Aveyron is known for its quality, and this Carré d’agneau did justice to its reputation. Excellent on all fronts: taste, texture, seasoning. A flawless Carré d’agneau. 9/10

Papillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjisoPapillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjiso – pasta made of black pudding was shaped as butterflies and was served with a mixture similar to chilli paste but without the distracting piquancy. Date palm was added to the dish. This, for my taste,  was sensational (complex middle eastern flavors,  the date palm  blending excitingly well with the  aforementioned chilli paste-alike mixture). It takes a Chef with an incredible palate to create  dishes of this sort.   10/10

Selle en crépine, carpaccio de betterave rouge, betterave blanche au Roquefort.Selle en crépine, carpaccio de betterave rouge, betterave blanche au Roquefort. – The exceptional  lamb from Aveyron made a second appearance. It was paired with a carpaccio of  superlative beets. 10/10

crumble Vert, ails roses sablés, chorizo, cébetteCrumble vert, ails roses sablés, chorizo, cébette – sauteed cabbage, garlic, chorizo was a classic dish but not of  the tired sort,- extremely flavorful. Another exciting dish. 9/10

Soufflé à la vanille de Tahiti, crème glacée Soufflé à la vanille de Tahiti, crème glacée – Finished my meal with a benchmark vanilla soufflé which depth of flavor can only come from eggs and milk of exceptional quality. 10/10

BISCUIT SOUFFLE - CRUS DE CHOCOLATI was less impressed with the Soufflé of chocolate –  , which although generously portioned  and tasting of top quality chocolate was not as exciting as other Soufflé of chocolate I had at lesser restaurants. 7/10

The mignardises at Pierre Gagnaire were also of great standard.

PROS:  They master the fundamentals of French cooking  in a way that few can pretend to, even by the finest 3 star Michelin French cooking standards. Exciting flavors when they cook or reinterpret French classics (Soufflé à la vanille, Crumble Vert/ails roses sablés/chorizo/cébette, Selle en crépine/carpaccio de betterave rouge/betterave blanche au Roquefort). Then, at times, it is possible that you’ll travel to places where  the flavors are   subtle  (the case of Japan, during this meal), but that does not mean the cooking is off. The journey around the globe took me to the Middle East, too and it was a stopover not to forget (Papillons Noirs, datte medjoul, kinjiso).

CONS: The brunoise of vegetables / soup of cucumber was ordinary –the quality of the  produce was great, for sure, but a brunoise of vegetables should dazzle at this level, a cold soup of cucumber too — and that surprised me given the overall fabulous journey.

PG03Bottom line: The kitchen here is helmed by Chef Michel Nave, a 2004 MOF. As most MOFs from the 1990s/2000s, Chef Nave cooking is deeply rooted in Classic French cuisine (meaning the flavors are generally intense/rich, the meal marked by the expected consommé/veloutés/mousseline/meringue/marmelade), with, of course, its own twists (twists that obviously make their French food look and feel contemporary) . Here at PG, the creativity they are talking about covers non conventional ingredient combination (by French cooking standards, although, in France, nowadays, this  is is not as unusual as it used to be ), executed with a very high level of technique, top notch ingredients and an exceptional sense of  combining unlikely textures/flavors/ingredients  (many kitchen brigades do try to  blend  unlikely textures/flavors…but they are generally just basically assembling ingredients with little interraction between each other).

What I think days later: A true world class food destination with superb French gourmet food  to match. As with plenty of high end French restaurants, nowadays, PG also explores non French flavors, so ensure you are familiar and do appreciate such flavors too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last note in the “off-record’ section of this post:  I need to drop a few lines  on one of the best interviews a Chef ever offered:  it is one that Chef Guy Savoy had with Agents d’entretien. You can find that interview here. Guy Savoy has always been a first rate human being, the Mahatma Ghandi of the stoves, a monument of positive vibes  and that review will inspire many, not only those interested in food.

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

ARPEGE, PARIS (1)Back to my homeland (France) re-visiting L’Arpège (4th visit only in 15 years),  as well as another 3 star Michelin place that was reviewed later, le Louis XV.

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

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

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

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

THE MEAL

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

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

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

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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