Archive for the ‘french restaurant’ Category

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

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

 

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

Here are the food items we did order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine service and selection is of prime mention, here.

For desserts, we had:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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02L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, the  restaurant chain  of Chef Robuchon, has — since  December 2016 — a branch  in the casino of Montreal (1 Avenue du Casino, Montréal, QC  Phone: 514-392-2781 Click here for their web site) . At the helm of the restaurant, Chef Eric Gonzalez – This is a major opening for Montreal and Eric is a logical choice for such venture given his past experience in Europe with  well known Chefs Bernard Loiseau and Jacques Chibois. He was also working  at restaurant Clairefontaine when the venture was awarded with a Michelin  star.  In the past, I ate Eric’s food in his days at Le  Cube (now closed) , then at Auberge St-Gabriel.

I took the “seasonal discovery” menu (there are also A la carte items, a ” small portions ” / vegetarian /and  another tasting  menu) :

foie-gras The amuse-bouche was  creamy foie gras royale (a foie gras based flanc), topped with parmesan cheese emulsion and a  Maury “vieilles vignes” wine reduction sauce. Once mixed together (which you are supposed to), this food item  provided an  enjoyable mouthfeel, rich and yet refined. As it will be the case all along this meal, every single element is executed correctly   7/10

salmon-tartareSalmon tartare (from Nova Scotia) with caviar (from British Colombia) atop, shiso shoots and gold leaf.  The tartare was good, the quality of the salmon and caviar noticeable. There is some nice caviar from Estrie that tastes exactly the same  as this caviar from BC. So why going that far for the caviar?  That said, as it came out from my discussion with the waitstaff,    top quality produce from Quebec is a priority, and indeed I could appreciate their effort in that regard as some great Québecois produce such as the scallops from Percé and halibut from Gaspésie featured on the written menu.  This  fine logical combination of  ingredients was good. Robuchon’s plating is always elegant and that was going to be an evidence during this meal  7/10

 

scallopsScallops from Massachusetts, endives and black truffles: around this time of the year, I recall having sampled some dazzling scallops from Gaspesie in the past. The scallops of this evening  were undoubtly fine, their maritime fragrance at the forefront. But those from Gaspesie had the edge.  Still, nicely seared tasty scallops and a salad of endives ( great soucing of the endives)  that was not an afterthought. Good 7/10

chataigneVeloute of chestnut, spring onion mousse, cardamom cloud. Chestnut veloute (which is very popular in France) is not common in Quebec,  therefore, this may come as a   pleasant “discovery” for many local diners. Which is always a “bonus” as far as  the dining experience goes. This was delicious and well made. Very good 8/10

 

lobsterLobster, coconut emulsion, wasabi flavored spinach, tempura chips, civet – lobster (claws) cooked just through, coconut emulsion, a civet  and tempura chips showcasing fine technique. Cooking lobster is certainly no culinary achievement,  but I have a soft spot for seafood handled and sourced this well …. no matter the level of the cooking. Very good 8/10

halibut-Halibut from Gaspésie, shiso shoots tempura, cuttlefish ink risotto. The halibut’s cooking is well timed. Halibut can get dry really fast, so timing is important. The delicious risotto (bomba rice) retained a perfect all’onda consistency  7/10 for the halibut, 8/10 for the risotto (it is a tasting menu, therefore the risotto came in small quantity)

 

quail-Honey/Soya sauce lacquered quail  was served with Joel’s fabled pomme purée, which is a potato purée with a bit more buttery flavor and refined texture than your  usual pomme puree (from what I remember, the pomme purée was more delicious at Atelier Robuchon Etoile). This is a good example of why this meal —  although, well composed  — never managed to knock my socks off: this quail, as expected  from a Robuchon restaurant, is of good quality. But quail is  usually packed with a flavor that is a bit assertive (a bit more than chicken, for eg) and that can stand up well with strong spices and the use of flames (chargill, etc). Here, they have opted to refine the flavor of the quail and I was not thrilled (of course, a matter of personal choice)  eventhough their quail was enjoyable  (in a way, it reminded me a bit of what a high end isakaya would do with their quail – refining its taste, adding luxurious touches like the foie gras that this quail was stuffed with, and opting for an oriental flavor profile such as the one provided by the Honey/Soya sauce of this evening’s quail ). This dish is a signature dish that is offered at other Robuchon restaurants in its current form, therefore do not expect any modification to the formula.   Still a   7/10

cocoParfum des Iles – Passion fruit cremeux (the cream successfully dense and soft as it should, with the flavor of the fruit  present enough), rhum granite (the semi-frozen dessert having  its rhum flavor subtle, so subtle that I would not know if it was flavored with rhum had they not mention it – the subtle rhum flavor was not a bad thing in this case as a strong flavor coming from the rhum would have overwhelmed the dessert), coconut wisp (fresh coconut aromas that went  well with the passion fruit cremeux).    7/10

 

cranberryLe rubis – One of  the signature desserts of Robuchon restaurants. The ingredients and presentation may vary  from  locations to locations. The one I was having was made of cranberry buttercream  which was a particularly enticing  flavor, calpico jelly (calpico is a japanese drink, tasting a bit like yoghurt)  and a lychee chantilly.  I had a version of Le rubis once at Atelier Joel Robuchon Etoile in Paris and the Parisian Rubis dazzled more (more flavorful). Still,  the execution was correct, the flavors fine.  7.5/10

The breads (a small basket of a perfect pain baguette, delicious Quebecois Alfred le Fermier cheese bread, some snail-shaped bread as delicate and light as a croissant and a bacon/dijon wheat stalk  bread) , freshly baked on the premises (among the best breads you will find at a local restaurant) , were all excellent (Joel Robuchon seems to always hire  talented bakers as the breads have always been consistently superb at his restaurants abroad). I picked a coffee (superb) and the meal ended with their usual  mignardises (well made pâte de fruits and macarons).

Service was  professional, and yet warm, friendly. And the  black and red luxurious interior design is attractive.

PROS: By Montreal high end restaurant standards,  this is already a destination restaurant. Opting for the informal counter seating “Atelier” concept, rather than formal fine dining,  is “the way to go” in Montreal, I believe.

CONS: The  desserts lacked crunch and bite – which is understandable with one dessert, but not with two – and that is an aspect they could improve upon.  A texture change between two desserts is always more fun. Furthermore, I think that a chocolate-based dessert — like le “chocolat tendance” or the “chocolate sphere” found at the other AJRs around the globe — would have better complemented their wintery seasonal tasting menu and contribute a bit to the sense of “extravaganza” / “theatre” that you may sometimes find at other AJRs and that I was missing a little bit here.

Overall food rating: 7/10 by Montreal  top tier fine dining standards. There are 4,5 other Chefs in Montreal who,  in their prime, have impressed more with their French-inspired gourmet food , which is why I can’t rate this meal higher. For my taste, this meal was more about proper  execution/flavors / textures  rather than  benchmark cooking.  But the Robuchon’s empire has access to a worlwide network of experienced kitchen brigades, so expect the food to benefit from such expertise and thrive. And although I am big on local produce, I will  admit that one way for an International restaurant to surprise its local diners is by using produce that we are not familiar with. I bet that even the most ferocious advocates of our local produce will, behind closed doors, fantasize about the idea of feasting on alba truffles or hard-to-find wagyu beef if such items were offered at AJRM.

What I think days later: Occasional local diners as well as our local food jounalists will  be impressed while well travelled foodies will be expecting more in light of the standards that AJR has set elsewhere. I do not see a  restaurant like this one making an impression in a world class foodie city  (i.e, New York, Tokyo, London, or Paris). On a personal level, I think that the Joel Robuchon brand  is, nowadays, relevant only if you try his 3 or 2 star Michelin restaurants around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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. This is proper 1 star Michelin French/international/American  cooking.

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.
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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Daniel Boulud’s fame took off as the Master behind ex 3 star Michelin Daniel in New York (now 2 star Michelin) and he has  nowadays a mini empire of restaurants across America: Café Boulud in Toronto, Boulud Sud in New York, etc.

In Montreal, Maison Boulud is located inside the Ritz Carlton, a symbol of luxury that resonates well with the old time pal who did invite me to share this dinner with him. Coincidentally, one of my preferred French food journalists, Gilles Pudlowski, has published a rave review on Boulud Montreal. A meal, which for Gilles, was an awe-striking performance. The opinions of Gilles coupled with  the idea of a  meal  with an old time friend sufficed to fuel my enthusiasm for eating at Maison Boulud.

The dinner menu (you can find an example of that menu here )  is divided in several sections: a tasting menu,  food items to share, a section untitled “from the garden” and the A la carte items (fish, meats, pasta). Since it is white truffle season at this moment, they also have a white truffle menu. The influences of the cooking  are essentially Italian, and French. The ingredients are of very high quality by Montreal restaurant standards.   I ordered a starter of scallop ceviche, a main course of lobster gnocchetti as well as a dessert of Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon:

 

PRINCESSE SCALLOPSPrincesse scallop ceviche, sea urchin, apple and celery – the ceviche was served in seashells, but this was closer to a salad of scallops and apple than to a proper ceviche. Yes, I could taste a bit of the ceviche’s marinade under the scallop and celery/apple, but they  should have mixed all the ingredients together in the marinade.  Furthermore, it is hard to appreciate a ceviche of scallops that has more apple in it than scallops. The idea of serving a ceviche as separate tiny portions is fine in regard to the   presentation but I prefer having my ceviche served on a plate.  The way this ceviche was conceived needs to be rethought.  6/10

gnocchettiHomemade Potato Gnocchetti with Lobster, Leeks, Mushrooms and Coral Emulsion – There was  way too much of the emulsion for the quantity of gnocchetti and  Lobster that was served.  The Coral emulsion could have been more flavorful had its maritime fragrance better expressed. 6/10

Pear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemonPear and hazelnuts, praliné parfait, meringue, confit lemon – Pear of good  quality,  dazzling sorbet (of pear), excellent praliné parfait, the meringue not only perfectly executed but also packed with superb flavor. The base of the dessert needs to be softer though (it was way too hard).  Even if I take into account the issue with the base of that dessert,  this —by the standards of desserts found in Montreal restaurants — was a really nice  way of  revisiting a classic combination of ingredients such as pear and chocolate.  7.5/10

PROS: (1) Excellent service as you would  expect from both the Ritz and a Daniel Boulud’s restaurant (2) Thoughtful menu

CONS: (1)More coral emulsion than gnocchetti and  Lobster..is like serving a beer with more of its frothy foam than the actual beer. Meaning, there is not much that you will end up enjoying. For my taste, this was  a misjudged use of the coral emulsion. With a bit more lobster and pasta, a delicious creamier seafood flavored  sauce and  just a little bit of that coral emulsion, this dish would have fared far..far better. (2)In  a ceviche, if the protein element is not going to cure / benefit from its marinade, then it is not a ceviche anymore. It is a salad. And a salad served in sea shells –actually even a proper ceviche in sea shells — is hardly something that you can properly taste because the portion is way too small .. therefore it won’t last enoughly long in your mouth to leave any impression.

Bottom line: it is always a great pleasure to share a meal with a long time friend, so  that aspect of the  dinner was perfect. On the subject  of the food, it was no love, for me, except for the nice dessert and superb coffee.  Service was as great as it gets in town.  Maison Boulud Addr: 1228 Rue Sherbrooke O, Montréal, QC Phone: 514) 842-4224 Type of cuisine: Fine dining (French/Italian), on this evening, but they also have more casual fares. Date and time of this meal: 20-11-2015 19:30 My personal overall rating for the food of this specific meal: 6/10 Service: 10/10

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

Posted: November 11, 2015 in 3 star michelin, Best meals, best restaurants in the world, destination restaurant, favorite restaurant, french restaurant, Michelin star, michelin star restaurant, paris, potential of benchmark food, stellar service, The World's Best Restaurants, top restaurant of the world, world class food, world class restaurant
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PG01Event : Lunch at Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
When: Wednesday  November 11th 2015, 12:00
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: 6,rue Balzac, 75008 Paris
URL: http://www.pierre-gagnaire.com/
Phone:  +33 1 58 36 12 50
Type of cuisine: French (classically  French at its core, mostly contemporary in its presentation, at times cosmopolitan  in its work of the flavors, using many  exotical ingredients , though, as it is generally  the case with most 3 star Michelin restaurants in Paris, the kitchen at PG puts the finest produce  from France in the forefront of their cooking).

 

What you need to know is that PG kitchen brigade’s is one of world class quality. There were certainly many exceptional dishes as you’ll see in the account below. Indeed, a top tier French 3 star Michelin anywhere across the globe.

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.

Restaurant La Chronique
Dinner on: April 23rd 2014, 18:00
Type of cuisine:  Updated French-based market-driven cooking (Fine dining)
Addr: 104 ave Laurier Ouest
Phone: 514.271.3095
URL: http://www.lachronique.qc.ca/

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL

This month, I am revisiting some of Montreal’s top restaurants. This time, La Chronique.  La Chronique is considered by plenty of   ‘experts” of the local food scene as one of Montreal’s very best tables. Even if my previous visit here did not impress me (its review can be found here),   there was still no doubt in my mind that La Chronique’s  envious  position on the local restaurant scene was justified (if you carefully re-read that review, it’s not the skills of the kitchen that I had issues with, far from that. It was the presence of couple of items I judged not worthy of that tasting menu). Anyways, la Chronique has always ranked in my top 7 best tables of this city,  although   the  meal I was having on this evening  gave me no other choice but to  firmly insert La Chronique in my personal top 3 in Montreal (La Porte/Au Cinquieme Peche/La Chronique).  I think that most Montreal food connoisseurs (food journalists, etc) got it right in their assessment of La Chronique.  Where those ‘experts’ of the local food scene have largely missed the boat was in the case of XO Le Restaurant (when Chef Michelle Mercuri was working there, he is now working at Le Serpent) as well as the (now closed) Le Marly : it was laughable to observe that the ‘experts’ were  raving about weak Chefs at the helm of average restaurants and largely ignoring two of the very best tables that Montreal ever had . BUT oh well, what do you want… it’s all subjective, n’est-ce pas?  ;p

 

Back to La Chronique. They have now moved to 104 ave Laurier Ouest, right in front of their old location, the restaurant having  two floors. On the street level, the room is narrow and small, with an elegant interior bathed in warm tones of white and dark brown, a large glass window providing great penetration of natural light.  Upstairs, they have a private dining room for special events as well as some few tables.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_MENU

 

 

 

 

 

On this evening, the market driven menu featured 5 starters as well as 5 main courses, which is, in my view, a smart way, for a kitchen relying on the freshest produce available , to better express itself without the distraction of long (unfocused) offerings. There was an additional tasting menu available.

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_LOBSTER BISQUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

I opted for the tasting menu, which kicked off with a first-rate lobster bisque. This is the other ‘best’ lobster bisque I ever had in Montreal, the other startling bisque is one that I once had at Le Bonaparte. Le Bonaparte’s is executed the traditional way, whereas this one is a revised take on that. I am normally a hardcore purist when it comes to the bisque, but this rendition cooked by La Chronique just broadened my perspective of the bisque beyond my once firm veneration of the traditional bisque: inside the bisque,  thinly sliced leeks, pieces of lobster meat and truffle cream as well as the thoughtful addition of parmesan cheese crumble. On paper, that addition of parmesan cheese crumble was the touch I was afraid the purist in me would be frustrated about, but in mouth it turned out to provoke exciting sensations that would convert any purist on a heartbeat. When I learned cooking,  I was taught to always respect tradition and to  build on the best part of the past.  When you master the flavors of the past, however crazy you want to express yourelf, chances are that you’ll pull off something great because it’s built on solid foundations. This is what this bisque was about:  you still had the best part of its traditional conception (the traditional bisque flavor was there) and much much more, in a much much more exciting fashion…  This was a  bisque about exceptional skills, by any standards of dining, here and abroad, its depth of flavor and fabulous texture simply of benchmark material 10/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_tuna tataki, shrimp tempura

 

 

 

Followed by tuna tataki, shrimp tempura, drops of spicy mayo of unparralled depth of taste, avocado purée of spectacular quality lifted by an exciting fresh kick of acidity, quality cucumber nicely marinated (the marinade’s expression being spectacular in mouth). The tuna tataki featured high-grade tuna (references to quality will abound in this article – yep, when a kitchen uses such stellar ingredients, to such great effect, there’s no shame about underlining the feature endlessly), its spicy crust marked by balanced and highly enjoyable heat sensation. The shrimp tempura encased in phyllo pastry, the shrimp beautifully meaty,  its taste utterly fresh and  exciting, the phyllo pastry executed well.  Inspired! 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_scallops

 

 

 

 

 

Next, scallop from Iles de la Madeleine. You’ve got the picture by now: the scallop was not the usual average scallop most restaurants in town are serving, its sear spot on and of course, the flavour exciting. Inside the scallop, some of the freshest crab meat I ever had on a table in Montreal. On the plate, quality cauliflower completing the dish. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_pan sear foie  gras

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then,  pan sear foie gras (of examplary fresh quality and memorable deliciousness, the sear admirable, the deep livery flavor so typical of the finest seared foie gras lingering on my palate), pastrami of duck (a clin d’oeil to the pastrami that we all know, but here using duck – this was flawlessly executed), drops of an exciting reduction of soya/maple-syrup (yeah, the kind most cooks will pretend to never miss, so easy it sounds, but rest assured that most can’t pull this off this skilfully),  and superb potatoes. 8/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_lamb

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb of Kamouraska rank  among the finest quality lambs of this province, the kitchen carefully opting for a top-grade short saddle of lamb. This was not only of fabulous quality by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, but everything else was as admirable: remarkable depth of fresh meaty flavor, irreproachable accompaniments such as beautifully sourced zucchini, olives and a vibrant chickpea purée. Another top class dish. 9/10

LA CHRONIQUE, MONTREAL_baba au rhum

 

 

 

Ended with a take on the baba au rhum, topped by a stellar homemade ice cream of almonds/amaretto/vanilla (10/10 for the ice cream, and like most ppl….I haven’t started enjoying ice creams ..yesterday;p ) as well as a ‘brunoise’ of  pineapple that did benefit from exemplary sourcing (the acidity low, which is great, and for those familiar with the matter, it was easy to see that this is pineapple that was hand picked at its optimal stage of ripeness / we were far from the ordinary looking and dull tasting average pineapple that so sadly abounds in plenty of restaurants in town, a remarkable feature for a table that could have rest on its laurels following the previous spectacular courses BUT that chose , instead, to maintain the bar of its quality produce high till the very end), the baba au rhum risen enoughly long to allow better flavor, the cake light, having a perfect crumb and, on this instance, not boozy at all. An excellent take on the Baba au rhum (9/10).

Service was  of great hospitality standard, with on this evening, one waiter and also the Chef serving   his own dishes. Chef Olivier De Montigny came regularly in the room to serve every patron and he explained that he tries to not roam away from the principles of French cooking by avoiding flourishes such as, to take an example, espumas. Well, that is exactly what I favor the most too.  I find that too many people go to restaurants with absolutely zero knowledge of what the restaurant is doing. How many times did I hear people expecting flourishes on tables that are focusing on doing the classics great, the flourishes really not in their plans at all. You want flourishes, fine, but then do expect it where you should: at a restaurant that’s known to adopt it.  It is nice that Chefs serve their own food and explain what they try to achieve:  it’s the best way to remind ourselves that a good part of enjoying a meal is to understand what it is about, not what we want it to be.

Wine pairings was a charm, featuring some top choices with excellent picks such as a dazzling glass of brego cellars pinot noir (2010) serving as a brilliant match to the pan seared foie dish, an amazing glass of  Jermann Afix Riesling 2012 (great pairing to the tuna tataki) or the memorable Passito del Rospo 2009 2009 (for the baba au rhum).

Overall food rating: 10/10 The meal I was enjoying on this evening is a 10/10 meal by Montreal highest restaurant standards, an enthralling meal from end to end. This is  revised/updated French-based artisan Chef cooking (Chef Olivier de Montigny is not watching TV at home while you dine here, he is right there working for real in his kitchen), with a Chef who has a great palate (something I regrettably can’t say about a myriad of cooks …) and superb skills using what count among the finest ingredients to be found on a table of this city.  The restaurant itself is also classy: minimally but tastefully decorated, intimate/cozy.  I know restaurants  in France and across Europe that went on to  earn two Michelin stars for the quality of food  that I was enjoying on this evening.  I decided to indulge in their elaborate evening tasting menu so that I can enjoy their work in its full glory, but they also have affordable lunch menus for those who want to try La Chronique at lower cost. La Chronique deservedly joins La Porte, Au Cinquième Péché, Kitchen Galerie on Jean Talon   in  the ‘cream of the crop’ of my favourite restaurants in Montreal.

 

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).

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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