Archive for the ‘FUN place’ 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 – sometimes,  some restaurants do not have a star because they are way more inspired, creative and superior than those having the stars…then they gain their stars and are stuck in a formula…Good luck dear Coucou!

 

 

 

LA BANQUISE1***La Banquise is the most popular poutine eatery in town, a local  institution.  There is not one single food jounalist’s written account   and tourist brochure that has not raved about La Banquise as Montreal best poutine and one of the very best of the province of Quebec.  I was at La Banquise only once, around 3 years ago and went back this summer.

La Banquise remains a fun place, lively but its classic poutine, which is the only type of poutine that   I have always ordered all along the 20 years ++ that I spent in Quebec, does not rank among the finest poutines I ever had in Montreal. Let alone in this province. And that is taking into account the fact that the general standard of the poutine  around the province went seriously down (20 yrs ago, even fast food chains like Lafleur were delivering some serious poutine).

PROS: Fun, lively place. I wish all eateries had such ambience.

CONS:  see my ratings below

LA BANQUISE2I ordered their classic poutine.

 

The sauce:  Loved the fact that it was salty in an appetizing way, the  dark brown color  also appealing. But the thing to remind ourselves, here,  is the fact that there is, obviously,  a huge difference between the “artisan chef” feel of a poutine sauce made  in Quebec’s rural areas versus the one you will find at a popular poutinerie in a major urban area (the case of La Banquise).  It is the same difference between having to cook for a legion of patrons vs few hundreds. The artisan Chef has all the time that is required to perfect his craft.  The poutinerie in the big  city will stick to a decent formula that it can endlessly replicate.  The former will have distinct flavours, the latter decent ones.  And that is the noticeable difference between La Banquise’s classic poutine Vs some of the dazzling classic poutines found outside of Quebec’s big cities. La Banquise classic poutine is unlikely  going to be one of the  best classic poutines that a  Quebecois who is passionate about his poutine would have tasted in his life, but chances are that he will find the  quality of this  sauce  to be  fine enough, that its taste is of one genuine Quebecois poutine’s profile, that  the sauce’s flavour did not overwhelm the taste of the fries (which is what you are looking for). He will also opine that there was not  enough gravy for the quantity of fries (you do not want your poutine to be buried under a ‘wave” of gravy, indeed, but you do not want the quantity of your sauce to be ‘relevant’ to 30% of your french fries neither… )  6/10

The french fries : The finest classic poutines in Quebec feature large chunky pieces of french fries full of lingering potato flavor.  In contrast, in this instance, the   french fries were half the size of your standard poutine’s french fries, the potato flavor unexpressed. The quality of the potato is Ok , though nowhere close to the quality  of the potatoes found, at, let us say, La Frite A Brigitte. Barely no crisp.  Again, the high volume of the poutines that they have to serve does not allow them to serve you a poutine of the quality that an artisan  Chef will serve you in his food truck in the rural areas of Quebec.  Of course, not bad at all, but somehow  quite ”average” when compared to some of the dazzling french fries found in the finer classic poutines  (i.e, hand cut fries, more exciting potato flavour, ample time to think about the right  technique to make his french fries exciting. etc )  of the province of Quebec. 5/10

The cheese curds: It has to be squeaky, right? Well it was not. Again, that was to be expected: an artisan Chef in the rural areas of the province of Quebec  can afford hand picking the best quality of cheese curds, freshly delivered to him when he needs it. He does not have to store vast quantities  of cheese in a fridge to feed legions of patrons. That was not going to happen in a big city like Montreal, obviously. Furthermore, the cheese curds were of the tiny type, therefore you need a mouthful of those cheese curds to fully enjoy the texture and the taste of the cheese  (a sensation that big chunky pieces of fresh cheese curds will deliver way better than here). The better poutine shops of this province will never  fail to serve you the standard big chunks of cheese curds. Even in the local depanneurs, your cheese curds is of the normal chunky type. 5/10

Foodies from abroad who visit Quebec do come here and think this is  the benchmark local poutine. I wished they knew the poutine of a place such as the Casse-croûte du Vieux-Moulin (Pont-Rouge) when it was in its prime (before 2015) –it is not as great as it used to be anymore — just to get a good idea of what a first-rate  poutine Quebecoise is really all about.  But I cannot blame them: me, too, when I go abroad I have, most of the times, to rely on what is heavily marketed as great by the local tourism authorities and their friendly network  of advertisers (food journalists, food bloggers paid by them, etc) as opposed to what is really great. Therefore I will not mock them. Instead, I did write the following paragraph to help them in their  search for the finest poutines of the province of Quebec :

IN SEARCH OF THE BEST POUTINES
In between the never ending contradictory online reviews (normal, it is called competition: one poutinerie sends its online supporters bashing its competition,  and vice-versa), who to trust (is your reviewer someone who confuses classic poutine with bad poutine? Does he confuse novelty with being better?  Did he learn from those in the know, did he enjoy his poutines where it has originated —as an example, I started my journey in the rural areas of Quebec that claimed to have created  the poutine, discovering it with Quebecois who are passionate about their poutines, then little by little, I enjoyed numerous poutines throughout almost 2 decades,  and it is just recently that I felt confident to assess poutines ) —-which is rare (most online surveys and reviews about the poutine are basically repeating what the local tourism authorities do want to sell to you. There is no secret to that).

If you are really passionate about poutines, I suggest you skip the online reviews, and just hit the road, and travel in the rural areas of Quebec  for your poutine discoveries. The way to go is to visit the poutineries that the Quebecois themselves do recommend in the rural areas that you are visiting.  Here is a good way to start : 15 poutineries suggested by the  Journal de Quebec, as well as  Evelyne’s reviews of the poutines she has enjoyed across the province (Evelyne Audet has a superb palate as evidenced by some of her top choices that I found really great. Of course, taste is personal and there are some of the top picks of Evelyne that I am not fond of –as an example, Patati Patata would not be in my top 15 in Quebec — , but the big majority of her  suggestions were spot on , some of them featuring among my personal top picks, and she is by far one of the best reviewers of the poutines of Quebec. This blog is also great, with features you do not see on any other poutine-centric web sites, features such as searching for a poutine by  the consistency of its cheese or gravy, etc. It is also the most detailed web site about poutines. It is now outdated but many of those poutineries are still in business ).  Look for those who make their own homemade sauce , serve hand-cut  french fries, invest their energy in quality potatoes and the best techniques to fry them , source the best cheese curds (this blog’s post  covers some of the best cheese curds of the province of Quebec ) and freshly cook their potatoes.  And remember: what you are looking for is a classic sauce, in a classic poutine. The rest (non classic poutine, non classic sauce) is just a masquerade.

As for La Banquise, if you go there, you may as well order their other types of poutines (for eg, with peas, with pogos, etc) so that you redirect your attention on something else (other than the cheese curds and potatoes). And if you insist on taking the classic poutine, and you are not  familiar with poutines, then remember that the tiny french fries and diminutive cheese curds are NOT the norm for a poutine across the province of Quebec (all the rest is aligned with  what Quebecois  have grown to expect from a classic poutine: overall taste and feel).  La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel, Montreal, QC  https://www.facebook.com/poutinelabanquise?fref=ts

Restaurant: Au Cinquième Péché
Cooking Style:  Bistrot (French)
Addr: 4475 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal
Phone: (514) 286-0123
Event: Dinner on Tuesday April 1st 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.aucinquiemepeche.com/stdenis/

UPDATEDTHIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED

The meal started with an amuse-bouche of ‘potage potimaron, marrons, beacon’ – the pumpkin  velouté showcasing precise  understanding of  how to extract eventful flavors without being stuck in the trap of the usual ‘heavy richness‘  of the traditional veloutés while retaining its exquisite dimension. The texture refined, the addition of chestnuts enhancing well the velouté and  the quality beacon imparting thoughtful subtle smokey meaty notes. This was not just a startling  velouté (by any restaurant standards, btw, here and abroad) but also a reminder that using restraint in cooking (no overwhelming use of salt/ butter)  can still lead to exciting food. You just need to know how to properly do it, which is  an aspect that plenty of restaurant kitchens (not just in Montreal) do not master this well.  Here’s a great  example of what I wished my velouté at le Louis XV in Monte Carlo (reported here)  could have been. 9/10

ImageLangue de boeuf braisé, oeuf mollet frit, haricots verts, carotte, choux fleurs – The braised beef tongue (the temp lowered on part of the meat, warmer on the rest, an interesting feature I found) benefitting from appealing chargrill flavor, its seasoning spectacular and the quality of the ingredients as high as it gets in town. There’s no shortage of great braised or grilled beef tongue dishes in Montreal (it’s one of the things that our cooks do consistently well, usually)  as it’s hard to get that one wrong, but this was one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting braised beef tongue dish I ever had in this city. 10/10

ImageRis de veau crousti-fondants, ,carotte au beurre noisette, carotte et noisette – Chef Benoit Lenglet’s signature sweetbreads remains  the sweetbreads restaurant dish  against which I  judge all  its other versions in Montreal. This time, the sweetbreads managing to be even a tad more exciting in mouth than the last one I’ve sampled last year, a feature I thought not possible given how they’ve perfected that item and yet they made it happen. The impeccable quality of that meat and the know-how that went into its preparation and cooking maintain Chef Lenglet’s ‘Ris de veau crousti-fondants” among my all time favourite bistrot fares in town. Top quality carrot, both served as a flawlessly executed purée as well as nicely boiled and hazelnut (also of exemplary standing) accompanied the Ris de veau crousti-fondants. A stellar bistrot item by Montreal standards (here’s his online video on how he crafs his little marvel) 10/10

ImageCh’tiramisu is a take on the famous Italian dessert, using speculoos in place of ladyfingers, a take … so not to be compared to the original Tiramisu (for eg, the one  I was having did not focus on the usual coffee taste of the Italian Tiramisu). This evening’s version starred  long lasting fresh aromas of hazelnut flavoring nicely the mascarpone element as well as a  mousse  of chicory which   gorgeous textural consistency pertained to very ambitious pastry standards. This dessert was as delicious (the impression is one of a light take on the tiramisu,  but the delicious part brought forward),  as it was technically superbly achieved.  9/10

Conclusion: 10/10 What I was sampling on this evening was clearly a benchmark meal by Montreal bistrot standards with dishes that were not only strong on the technique, but also exciting on the palate. In retrospect, this is one rare bistrot  that has been consistently good throughout the years. Of course, not all my meals have been as spectacular as this one (there’s no kitchen, there’s no Chef that can be consistently  spectacular meal after meal, obviously), but even on less ‘spectacular’ meals, their performance has always been better compared to the norm in town.  Featuring consistently in my top  favourite restaurants in Montreal

Event: Lunch at restaurant Le Calandre, Sarmeola di Rubano
When: Saturday, June 16th 2012  12:00
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute Italian (Mix of Classic & Contemporary)
Addr: Via Liguria, 1  35030 Sarmeola di Rubano, Padova
Phone: 049 635200
Url: http://www.calandre.com/

 

Having great ingredients  is half the battle, but NOT…the battle! That was the sole  problem I was having  while dining there. The savoury dishes were in   1 star Michelin territory. Grazie a dio, the superb risotto, spectacular sweets and overall fabulous dining experience  were of memorable mention.

Overall food performance: 7/10  I am forgiving the ‘just ok’  initial part of this meal, since the ending was so spectacular on this Saturday June 16th 2012 lunch. Based solely on the savouries, I would rate this meal with a 6 over 10 since, although technically flawless, the savouries dishes appeared to me as average compared to what I came to expect at this level of dining. But the dessert part was so spectacular and stood as exceptional even by 3 star Michelin standards, thus the extra point. I think 7 over 10 is fair for this overall food performance .  It is worth reading the section “What I think months later” (at the bottom of current review)
Service: 10/10 A great balance between being professional and yet fun, charming. I find that 3 star Michelin standards of service, tranposed in an Italian context,  adds a zest of appeal that I have hard time putting in words. Might be the magic of the gioia di vivere.
Overall Dining experience: 8/10 They do a lot to make the dining experience optimal: the decor, the choice of dinnerware , the modern ambience, the fun and playful interraction with the staff. It is amazing how they balance so well the formal (3 star Michelin standads of service and what goes along is respected and fully applied) with the casual (how fun..fun..fun..fun were those folks on this lunch! Amazing). For me, not a benchmark on that aspect (I prefer the grand classic dining experiences), but in total fairness, a very good dining experience (hence my 8/10 mark).

INTRO – This concludes an  interesting journey of  several days in  Northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto,  and Liguria). Tiring to say the least, but this is Italy: a borderless  ‘open-air candy store’ where everything is tempting. It is, as we all know, one of those rare countries where each parcel of  land worths its weight in gold.  This is  not my first time in Italy, and everytime I visit this country, I regret of not having spent more time.

Gastronomy is, to me, as important as culture, history and architectures. Italy obviously offers plenty of those and this trip was the excuse to enjoy some great food as well as visiting as many historical vestiges as I could in such a short period of time. The dining part  (((( I have always paid attention to Michelin starred ventures only in France. Just recently, in Germany. In Italy, I preferred traditional dining destinations of which my long time favourite has been Da Maria ristorante in Zanco  Di Villadeati, Piemonte now in good company with my  ‘coup de coeur’  of this gourmand week in Northern Italy : A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia – Cinque Terre .   This is the first time that I am trying some Michelin star restaurants in Italy))))  of this journey is crazy:  quick lunch at 2 star Michelin Trussardi alla Scala in Milan on Wednesday, a big lunch at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio on Thursday, a  dinner on Tuesday at 3 star Michelin La Pergola in Rome, then a 3.5 hrs fast train to Milan, quick lunch at 2 star Michelin Trussardi alla Scala in Milan on Wednesday, a big lunch at 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio on Thursday, this Saturday’s lunch at Le Calandre as well as a  dinner at the iconic 2 star Michelin Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan later on,  in the evening  of that same day.
(for those who may ask: I never review restaurant meals when I am eating with other ppl since I personally find it mannerless to take notes of my meal in such occurence, the only exception is when I dine with my wife since she is supportive of my ideal of  knowledge sharing ) . It is absurd to enjoy as many meals in seven days, alongside so many places to visit, but absolutely understandable given the circumstances. I only regret to have missed a dinner at 3 star Osteria Francescana that some of my foodie friends  have invited me to partake in.  Alas  I was just too exhausted and could not make it to Modena.

I came here  to Le Calandre because I heard  that Chef  Massimiliano Alajmo was mastering, to a level that outstands what is usually found at most tables pertaining to this caliber of dining,  the aspect of food that I favor the most: unveiling what’s left to be discovered from traditional  cuisine. He (Chef Alajmo) is doing it with a fresh new (modern) approach, though: from what I gathered, the cooking techniques are mostly modern, but the intent is to push traditional fares to their contemporary revised versions.   In a world where there is a lot of babbling about classic  cuisine being boring, you would think that  trendy modern cooking would bring the supposedly exciting palatable emotions that comes along,  but years after the rise of  those novel cooking trends, few modernist Chefs are really capable of offering the true excitement that pertains to the splendid impact that classic food can unleash in skilled hands (the Spaniards remain among  the very few  whose depth of modern cooking creativity can  indeed rise at palatable heights of  the fabulous taste of the kind of successful classic cooking that I am praising). So many people are lured by the superficial aspect of food that they can’t even make a difference between an average, above average, superior or excellent straightforward food item such a soup or a tartare. You get the idea:  I pushed opened the door to Chef Alajmo’s dining room  expecting  classic food’s inspired creations to be brought to their  glory.

Chef Alajmo was the youngest Chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars for his creations at his restaurant Le Calandre (he still holds those since 2002).  He started with some studies in restaurant management, which obviously explains his great business sense with several restaurants, a food store,  books, and plenty of other entrepreneurship ideas you will not fail to notice on his web site. Before taking over the kitchen at Le Calandre (a family affair,  his mum was the previous Chef there), he worked for several Italian restaurants (for ie, Ja Navalge in Moena)  as well as a relatively brief presence alongside France’s  star Michelin Chefs Michel Guerard (perhaps the focus on light food that I sensed on most of the dishes during this meal came from here) and Marc Veyrat (It would be interesting that a journalist ask him a bit more about what he thinks of Veyrat and what he learned from that phase – I have always been curious about  Veyrat and regret to have never been able to sample his modernist creations when he was actively behind the stoves. I do not know Veyrat so it was impossible for me to identify any Veyrat’s  influences all along the meal I was sampling at Le Calandre). Despite his young age, Chef Alajmo has been a mentor to many successful Italian Chefs such as Chef Stefano Merlo (Rossini’s in Bangkok) or Relais Galu’s Sergio Preziosa.  In 2012, Chef Alajmo’s Le Calandre restaurant features in Restaurant Magazine top 50 best restaurants of the globe.

The restaurant Le Calandre is situated in Sarmeola di Rubano, at approx 6 kms away from the city of Padova, less than 50 kms away from Venezzia.  The restaurant itself is inside the family’s restaurant/hotel  building  (They have another of their numerous restaurants in that building:  Il Calandrino).  The inside decor is contemporary minimalist- chic with tones of black and grey, no tablecloth on the tables. The room itself has elements of great artistic value such as the tables made of a  century-old   type of ash-oak tree wood as well as dinnerware/Italian hand blown crystal glassware worth of prime attention (they seem to pride themselves for putting lots of  thoughts and care in this aspect of the dining experience;  as an  ie  many restaurants have famous sommeliers who serve great wines and yet you look at the size or shape of some of their  wine glasses and have quibbles to raise. At le Calandre, even such detail is not overlooked as clearly demonstrated by glasses designed for optimal flow of the wine onto your palate) . It would be interesting to incorporate some ideas of a great Venetian achitect like Carlo Scarpa in that contemporary interior.

Wine list: Over a thousand of wines, catering to all budgets, presented on an electronic display device (Ipad). Needless to describe that wine list since you can peruse it  online (I found it very practical to have the wine list on the web). They do also, I am pretty sure, have more gems that do not necessarily feature on that online list. On this lunch, they initially served some glasses of Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 1999, then followed by  some  choices of wine by the glass that I appreciated a lot (I chose the default wine pairing to the ingredienti tasting menu). The highlight of this  wine pairing was, for me, the  2007 Domaine Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Narvaux.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONAs/per the house, photo taking is forbidden to normal diners. All my life I have always respected people’s right to dine peacefully, virtually never photo shooting other diners or a full room, so in an empty room (which was the case during this meal), I do not see why I should refrain from taking pics of my meal since there’s absolutely no one that I am disturbing. I therefore discretely took those pics whenever the staff would not be in the dining room.

On with the FOOD:

Vegetable salad comprising of marinated beets, boiled carrots,  sunflower cream, celery, tomatoes.  The idea was to present the veggies in various textures (crunchy, dried, boiled, marinated, etc)  and temperatures with layers of different piquant flavors (gingery, and dijon mustard in this case).  Playful and interesting although I wished that some ingredients of this dish would have left a  higher  palatable impact as so oftenly  expressed by ingredients in the Mediterranea (especially the tomatoes and the beets)  7.5/10

Next was  cream of tomato/marinated and sauteed aubergine, fresh basil  (Sorry for having taken the picture after sampling the food). The tomato part was essentially a take  on the idea of a gazpacho. Top quality Sardinian Paue Carasau tomato featured on this dish.  Refreshing with an interesting  use of complimentary ingredients. 7/10

Followed by  Ricciola raw fish carpaccio and a  tartare of seafood and red meat. Lemon cream bringing the needed balance of acidity to the seafood,  caviar adding extra textural dimension and cabbage was served alongside those ingredients. Good, objectively, but “standard” for  this level  7/10

Then linguine (spelt linguine), black truffle, scallops, cuttlefish cream – the overall dish was properly cooked, had good flavors  and was prettily presented on  stone support.
Good, but again nothing out of the ordinary of what is to be expected at  this level of dining  7/10

Most of the dishes served to that point were paired with a fabulous Meursault Les Narvaux 2007 (Domaine Vincent Girardin).

Next was Rose risotto/peach/ginger. Chef Alajmo oftenly came in the dining room, exchanging with his customers,  and he explained to me that this is his reference to Italian renaissance art. A great idea indeed, playful, creative  and this was certainly a good risotto with rice achieved at ideal bite, the cheese counterpoint matching really well  the aromas of the rose, ginger and peach flavors adding to the complexity of the dish in a perfectly well balanced way. Very good. 8/10

Followed by veal cutlet and sweetbreads/curry sauce – The veal  being of prime quality, the curry sauce thickened ideally and tasting good. On the side, a classically made fresh green salad.  But at the end of the day, it is a piece of quality veal that’s  nicely executed (I could have enjoyed that at home or at any level of the dining spectrum), nothing more.  7/10

Then lamb chops served with a  cabbage roll. Nice acidity coming from that roll of cabbage, but another “standard / nothing special”  dish. A roll of cabbage hardly the base for  anything exciting at such level of dining, although indeed  Good 7/10 (this was paired with a glass of Il Poggione San Leopoldo 2004,  an interesting blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and  Cabernet Franc, barrel-aged for 12 months in French oak, and that  expressed superb structure and long enjoyable fruity finish of dark berries.

Whereas the previous dishes were certainly all well executed,  I found them to be a bit short on sparks. Still, the overall  experience  itself (with the fun and yet professional service,  the charming ambience, the way they go above and beyond to make every little moment as  memorable as it can be) was so fantastic   that nothing was going to alter my high appreciation of their work.  Well, it is as if they did not want me to leave with the impression that the kitchen could not deliver.  The proof:  a big surprise would follow next,  and it would come from the  kitchen ->

They suggested that I move to a different room, where I’d be alone to enjoy the dessert phase of  my tasting menu.  That phase is untitled ‘Game of Chocolate 2012’. In the room, some music is played with the sole intent to connect memories
of the basics of life’s evolution with  different items of an array of mini desserts. Now, while the previous dishes varied in between 7 to 8/10 in my personal assessment, I was now in a completely different arithmetic logic (which in my case is just an extra effort to convey, in the best constructive way possible, the emotions and palatable impact brought to me by a dish). Interestingly, here’s what was written on a little piece of paper that I had to read prior to indulge in what was going to stand as the spectacular finale of this meal: “””In & Out choco game 2012 is something that we have all experienced before from our first heartbeats (IN) to our entrance into the world (OUT). During this passage, there is a moment of darkness that suddenly turns into pure light. IN & OUT is a simple expression of a large message”.  Rfaol, upon reading that note, I said to myself   “That is it, I got it now…Lol..the darkness was the first part of the meal (just kidding. The 1st part of the meal was no darkness at all) and now I was going to partake in the “pure light” phase of the meal. Laughs. Joke aside, this part was simply spectacular with an array of mini desserts that kept the bar of palatable excitement  to memorable heights. I’ll let the numbers convey how of an awe-inspiring level the choco game 2012 phase was: a delicious shot of dark choco was a benchmark of its kind (10/10), vanilla topped with a milky concoction of their own had my tongue leaving my mouth and start dancing in the room, Rfaol – It was that spectacular in mouth! A 10/10 for that vanilla/milk mixture. Then a shot of ginger/peach (10/10), some benchmark choco truffles (10.10), a shot of cold expresso with dulce di lecce underneath (10/10), a cracker with impossibly perfect sweet goat cheese in between (9/10), an impressive citrus flavored lollipop with white choco and pineapple (a Blast! 10/10 ), an exciting shot of their own take on pina colada and it went on and on with creative and exciting mini creations of that sort, but of world class perfection and palatable impact worth of superlatives.

A  fantastic end to a meal that started on less impressive grounds.

PROS: The spectacular ending to this meal (fabulous flavors brought to surprising palatable heights in each bite of that  memorable choco Game 2012 mise en scène) …
CONS: …had that same amazement being expressed towards the first part of this repast, the entire meal would have been an epic culinary achievement.  Regardless, this was still a very enjoyable experience and where many fail to seduce their customers, Le Calandre is succeeding at being a charm.

Ciao!

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  As a dining experience, what a charm! Lovely place where I certainly had plenty of fun as I had rarely enjoyed anywhere else, all dining levels taken into account (apart, of course, the life memorable simple food enjoyed on the beaches of my beloved Indian ocean ;p).  And the thoughts put in the modern and very zen décor have really seduced me. But  the food on that lunch featured un-remarkable  savouries — which although technically well executed (plating / textures as beautifully mastered  as I’ve  come to expect from any good 1,2 or 3 star Michelin)  and delivered with top quality ingredients — missed the palatable excitement that the sweets finally delivered. It was odd to eat in Italy and not associate one single of those savouries with the theme of “utter deliciousness”.  Showcasing great produce is one thing that I appreciate. Your ability to transform them into mouthfeels of  bliss is the reason I pay to sit at your table.  With that said, restaurants have changing menus and a menu that did not appeal to me at a given time means just that: at X time, it was just not my cup of tea and that perhaps on a  next occasion, another menu will better suit my expectations. As long as Le Calandre never roams away from the essential: at this level, food needs to be outstanding in its aim to  leave an imprint on my palate. Or else, each of the 3 stars will be scrutinized heavily. But I have to say this:  i had fun here, which is already a great achievement.

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&A – Marcus W asks how come such simple array of sweets  triggered that much superlative from my part. Answer: Marcus,  it is in the simple things that my focus triples! LOL. Their Pastry team delivered benchmark versions of what you are calling simple. And indeed, it is so simple that many do not bother perfecting them. They did, and that is why I was impressed.