Archive for the ‘michelin star restaurant’ Category

Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse
Type of Cuisine:  French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Addr: 5 Avenue Saint-Victor, 11360 Fontjoncouse, France
Phone: +33 4 68 44 07 37
Email: reception@aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr
URL:  http://www.aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr/en/
Service: 10/10 World class service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Goujon talk to their customers (Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone), Chef Goujon (a salt of the earth kind of man, from what  I gathered)  is present in his kitchen at a time when your neighborhood bistrot cook thinks that he is too good to be found in a kitchen.
Overall food rating: 8/10 Very good performance.

A lovely restaurant, for sure, deserving of its accolades and superb reputation. Nothing that I could fault, indeed, but the  amuse-bouches could have been a bit more exciting.

“Puits” is French for a water well. There is an old (Vieux)  water well on the premises. The restaurant  is located in the village of Fontjoncouse (commune of Corbières, deparment of Aude) in the south of France.

To get to L’Auberge du vieux puits, you can either take a train to Narbonne (30 kms away) or fly to Perpignan  (66 kms from Fontjoncouse). Narbonne is a town that I have always liked for personal reasons that I do not need to explain on this blog,  but Perpignan is a big city. This time, I stayed in Perpignan because  I had another meal to attend at France’s 2017 best restaurant for steaks (according to Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘ ), Le Divil (reviewed here). During this short stay in Southern France, the long time ostreaphile that I am  wandered outside Perpignan and dropped by Leucate, one of the  destinations   of the French Mediterranean oyster. There, you have a  tiny area called Le centre ostréicole du  Grau de Leucate featuring a line-up of oyster stands selling the celebrated local oyster  Cap Leucate. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

In 2016, L’Auberge du vieux puits was in the top 10 of the best restaurants of this globe, according to La Liste ( La Liste is the sole restaurant ranking system that takes into account  all major  press reviews,  dining  guides,  and crowd-sourced sites  around the world ).

Chef Gilles Goujon is some sort of   “Messiah” for the tiny village of Fontjoncouse (as youtube’d here) , a village of  less than  200 inhabitants,  as his restaurant is their main attraction, their local “economy” relies heavily on him (most jobs, in the village, are related to Gilles’s restaurant).  A  Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious award in the culinary world),   he  was the assistant of a true culinary luminary —NOT  the kind of self proclaimed ones and/or marketed as such,  that we keep hearing about, these days —,  Chef Roger Vergé (at Moulin de Mougins when that restaurant had 3 Michelin stars).  He also worked at Gérard Clor’s L’ Escale (Carry le rouet) when the restaurant had  2 Michelin stars as well as at  Michelin starred Le Petit Nice (in Marseille). In 2010, Gilles was France’s Chef of the year.  The professional magazine Le Chef  ranked Gilles Goujon  in the top 50 best Chefs in the world. Gilles has 5 Toques at Gault & Millau.

 

The village of Fontjoncouse itself is quiet, but if you stay there (the restaurant is attached to a mini hotel), then consider visiting the pretty village of Lagrasse , the ruined fortress of Peyrepertuse, and the abbey of Fontfroide. All well worth going out of your way for.

L’Auberge du Vieux Puits has  3 tasting menus (the names of the tasting menus refer  to the surrounding Pays Cathare, therefore you have names such as  “Bienvenue au pays“, “Quelques pas dans la Garrigue”  or  “Air de fêtes en Corbières” ) as well as the A la Carte items (3 starters, 3 seafood items, 3 items for the meats, 3 desserts.  I ate there twice:  lunch as well as dinner.

The lunch  did start with some amuse-bouches with fillings such as cream of truffle, gazpacho, calamari, bottarga, sauce gribiche ), some  bread called fougasse (their take on it — different, in looks, from  most traditional variations  of the  fougasse — would make us, in North America, think of a “cousin” of the english muffin) that you dip in olive oil (fleur d’huile d’Olive of  Moulin a huile du Partegal ). Then a Mediterranean oyster, oyster Tarbouriech,  lightly poached, with a reasonable briny taste and plenty of body, served with seawater jelly and some oyster tartare. All pleasant.

Cressonette are Cuckoo flower leaves (a terrestrial  “cousin” of the watercress) and they are a dream for any fan of the watercress (I am one of them), their vibrant fresh wildcress flavor (without the agressive bitterness that watercress can sometimes be accused of)  expressed excitingly well in the cold “coulis” that it was transformed into, the piece of frog leg (with, inside of it, a “coulant” of the spectacular cuckoo flower leaves, a match made in heaven) as well as some first-rate baby vegetables  (with a particularly outstanding piece of celery root) that it was paired with, were all examples of what you are blessed with, when superb sourcing flirts with fabulous cooking. The kick of saltiness of the “coulis” was not a mistake, in this specific case, but a necessary flavor enhancer.  A world class dish. 10/10

Tourte d’anguille (a pie of eel), saoule de vin en matelotte fumée girolles et champignons en fine croûte de pain cramat. The eel is marinated in wine for several hours, seasoned, coated in flour , pan-seared then “encased” in squid ink flavored cylindrical-shaped sliced bread. That sliced bread is actually the  “croûte (crust) de  pain (bread) cramat (comes from the French word ‘ cramé’ which means ‘burnt’ because that is the effect the kitchen was  looking for when crafting the  squid ink flavored sliced bread).   The marinade is then used to make the sauce that will be thickened with butter and enhanced by the taste of cognac/thyme/bay leaf/espelette pepper/mushrooms/carrots/onions/smoked bacon. Very good 8/10

The lunch did end with one of their most popular  desserts:

Vrai faux citron de Menton délicatement cassant, sorbet citrus bergamote et kumquat du Japon (citrus bergamot / kumquat sorbet ), crème thym citron (thyme and lemon cream), meringue croustillante (crispy meringue).  A blown sugar “lemon” filled with a sorbet of citrus bergamot and   kumquat,  meringue, thyme and lemon cream.  The kumquat‘s natural bitterness was  toned down (the kumquat that was used is of the Meiwa varietal, a kumquat that is sweeter than most kumquats – L’Auberge du Vieux puits gets theirs from Mas Bachès) , which allowed for a fine balance of taste sensation. Only the leaf was real, all the rest was a reproduction of the shape of a lemon.  I am not a fan of the trompe-l’œil technique (the illusion of  a lemon , in this case) , but truth be told, it was really well done ( it looked like a real lemon), especially the “rind” of the “fruit”, which…I swear…I thought was the real thing. Above all, it tasted great. 8/10

At dinner, I had:

Razor clam / Mussel – A gentleman fisherman named Charly (from Vandre, near the Mediterranean sea which is not far) brings them his jewels of the sea. All utterly fresh. The beautiful thing about seafood..obviously…it that its freshness cannot be mimicked. It is utterly fresh or it will be a disaster. Nothing in between. You would tell me that Charly snatches his razor clams  from the floor of the sea and ships them right away to the restaurant, I would believe you –  It was that fresh!  Those who love the trompe-l’œil technique will be pleased by an edible  shell (for both the razor clam and the mussel) mimicking perfectly the real thing. Amusing to the eye, and pleasant on the palate.

The next food item was  one of their signature dishes:

-Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe melanosporum (truffled egg) , sur une purée de champignons (on a mushroom purée), et briochine tiède (with a small lukewarm brioche) et cappuccino  à boire (and “cappuccino” to drink) – Getting the Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe  is what people keep advocating. The egg is  from a farm called la ferme de Carrus (Mayronnes), its yolk is replaced by a coulis of black truffle (Chef Goujon got that idea after sampling a century egg), the egg served lukewarm, as it should be,  or else it will change to a solid state (obviously), it is covered by a black truffle sabayon,  served with a mushroom mash (butter was whisked into the mash at the end of the cooking process), and grated black truffle. The season for black winter tuber melanosporum truffles  goes from November to March, and this is the right time to enjoy them (eventhough, they are even better towards the end of December). You break the egg with a georgette. The main challenge comes from the truffles as they depend on the seasons, obviously, therefore the kitchen has to work harder in finding the right place for the right truffle.  On paper, eggs and truffle, that is a safe match, but, in reality, there was nothing “safe” about this food item as it takes  lots of thoughts  to create this dish. Be humourous  and crack a joke like “J’apprécie l’effort déployé par le Chef, mais je désire vous confier que d’ordinaire, je ne mange pas d’oeuf pourri” ;p   I am usually not a fan of altering the nature of an exceptionally good fresh egg, but what Chef Goujon  did was a demonstration of creativity that I do expect at this level of dining.  Excellent  9/10

With the oeuf poule carrus came a pleasant ‘cappuccino’ of truffle (indeed, you truely had the feeling of drinking a real cappuccino, only, here,  truffle was used instead of coffee) as well as an equally satisfying truffled brioche (7/10 for both).

Filet de rouget barbet (fillet of red mullet), pomme bonne bouche fourrée d’une brandade à la cébette en “bullinada” (potato  filled with a brandade of   the flesh of red mullet/spring onion as well the liver of the red mullet), écume de rouille au safran (foam of saffron rouille that the kitchen made by using  egg yolk/mustard/garlic/tomato confit/saffron/olive oil/vegetable stock ). Bullinada is a Catalan fish stew. They pour the stew  over the foam of saffron rouille, and both ‘fall’ over the fish and its accompaniments of mussels and thinly cut pieces of vegetables. The rouille’s depth of flavor and superb texture as perfected as it gets, the  level  of  the spice of the stew not  as vivid  as what you  came to expect from this sort of Southern French stew, but that is a positive thing in this particular case: the balance of the flavors was remarkably harmonious.  A creative contemporary take on a classic stew. 8/10

Lièvre à la royale is a classic of French cuisine that I have enjoyed for many years. Click here for a  recipe of the Lièvre à la Royale. There is more than one recipe of  Lièvre à la Royale, but I am not going to elaborate on them  as this is not the right post  for that. The hare (lièvre) is deboned, marinated,  stuffed with a mix of foie gras / the heart and lungs of the hare/ beacon/carrots/garlic/a bit of the blood of the hare/shallots and truffle, rolled into a ballotine, braised for hours, then served with a red-wine based sauce that is mixed with the blood of the hare and the cooking  jus (to which, a bit more of the foie gras, or some butter as well as cocoa can be combined to thicken the sauce).  This  dish  featured a  flawless full-bodied sauce with an equally technically well made ballotine.  8/10

Sorbet de clémentine en peau semi-confite, suprêmes en tartare, feuillantine de chocolat et crème pralinée pistache – A clementine sorbet made its way under a clementine peel that was candied to great effect: the peel timely simmered to an ideal tender consistency, you had a bit of the fresh  taste of the clementine in evidence, the level of sugar well judged. The segments of the clementine transformed into a “tartare”, the chocolate feuillantine made — as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing — of first rate chocolate. The praline cream expressing enticing almond and caramelized sugar flavors, and I will extend the compliment to the pistachio. The sorbet served at a temperature that does not  clash with the temperature of the candied peel, which most people  would  argue that it is a  ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ feature, but in reality, many pastry teams, even at this level of fine dining, would not get this right. The relevant classic French pastry techniques well mastered.    8/10

Pros: The world class frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis on the first meal.

Cons: The appetizers.

Bottom line  –   I started cooking seriously in my tender childhood (Pan-African cuisines), then in my 20s I developed a strong interest for Classic French cuisine. I started learning Classic French cuisine by following and perfecting the recipes of REAL culinary luminaries Roger Vergé, Jacques Maximin, Bernard Loiseau, Georges Blanc, Gerard Besson, Olivier Roellinger, Alain Senderens, Frédy Girardet , etc. I was lucky enough to have tasted the food of some of them. This had an impact on what I am looking for when I eat at a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is cooking French food. I am always curious about what the other Chefs did learn from those REAL culinary luminaries. I paid a visit to L’Auberge du Vieux Puits because their Chef, Gilles Goujon, did work with one of those TRUE culinary giants, Chef Roger Vergé. And,  I was not disappointed. I  squealed in  delight at every single spoonful of   the frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis . The Filet de rouget barbet, Vrai/Faux citron, and Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe were very good. Nothing was intensely flavored, during the two meals. Flavors were generally harmonious.

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Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard,
Type of Cuisine: Classic French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on September 3rd, 2017 12:00
Addr: 334 Rue René Vielle, 40320 Eugénie-les-Bains, France
Phone: +33 5 58 05 06 07
Email: reservation@michelguerard.com
URL: https://lespresdeugenie.com/en/les-tables/michelin-starred-restaurant-michel-guerard/

 

They have the best MOFs working for them (Chef Olivier Brulard, in the case of Les Prés d’Eugénie – Chef  Brulard  spent some time at La Réserve de Beaulieu where he earned 2 michelin stars, after years alongside real culinary illuminaries and legendary Chefs such as Alain Chapel, Jacques Maximin, Gaston Lenotre)  and it shows in the very high level of classic French cooking technique on display.

 

Service: 8 /10 Well trained young staff, unstuffy, professional as you would expect at a restaurant of this reputation.
Overall food rating: 9/10 All in all, this was some excellent  cooking  by existing 3 star classic French Michelin star standards. Of course, Les Prés d’Eugénie is capable of an overall food rating of 10/10. There is NO doubt about that. But I have got to assess this specific meal, during which the Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ was THE big “test” they had to pass as it requires lots of technique, precision, know-how, a great palate. Regardless, Les Prés d’Eugénie did pass plenty of other BIG tests,  as evidenced by the superlative pommes soufflées/gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel/amuse-bouches/pastries.
Overall dining experience :  See the section “My thoughts, days later” at the bottom of the current post.

Restaurant Les Prés d’Eugénie, located in a countryside’s spa resort in the  Landes, has 3 Michelin stars since the late 70s, one of the longest-running Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. It is the sole 3 star Michelin restaurant in  southwestern France, a historical gourmet destination where many great  Chefs of France have honed their skills (Gerald Passedat, Alain Ducasse, Michel Troisgros, to name a few).  Outside of France,  Chef Quique Da Costa of world famed 3 star Michelin Quique Da Costa in Denia (Spain) counts Les Prés d’Eugénie’s Mastermind Michel Guérard among the Chefs he drew his  inspiration  from (as he stated in this interview), and Chef Massimiliano Alajmo, the youngest Chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars, of 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sarmeola di Rubano, Padua, Italy (which I did visit, my review here) worked at Les Prés d’Eugénie at some point  in his career.

Michel Guérard, now 84 years old,  is one of the iconic Chefs of France, for his many achievements such as promoting Nouvelle cuisine in the 70s, with culinary heavyweights Roger Verge/Paul Bocuse/Alain Chapel/ Pierre Troisgros, which signified a break from Escoffier‘s classicism (the heavy sauces, etc), then, later on, his cuisine minceur.

The ‘Nouvelle cuisine’ (a lighter way of cooking, for i.e, refraining from using heavy sauces/marinades, reducing cooking time to preserve the natural flavors of the ingredients, etc), that we are talking about is, of course, not ‘nouvelle’ (new) anymore, but it is THE movement that led to the type of classic French cuisine that we know today. Way before the concept of ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ became trendy in the 1970s, one Chef began his own revolution of French cooking: Chef Jean Delaveyne. Chef Delaveyne started to cook a lighter version of French food as early as in the late 50s. What Chef Delaveyne did not have, it is the sense of marketing that Chef Michel Guérard was gifted with. Chef Delaveyne’s revolutionary approach to cooking did inspire Michel Guérard, who, in his turn, did help popularizing the concept of ‘Nouvelle cuisine’.

Chef Guérard had another personal motivation in Nouvelle cuisine: according to him, Pastry Chefs were underestimated in those days, therefore he wanted to prove to the world of cooking that as a Pastry  Chef, he could play an important role in the evolution of cooking.

On the premises, they   have a very pretty old barn converted into a bistrot, La Ferme aux Grives,  that  I also tried (reviewed here). Chef Guérard’s mini-empire of restaurants includes La Bastide and Mère Poule & Cie

On the day of my visit, there were  several tasting menus, the A la carte menu, as well as some “special 40 years of Michelin stars” food items.

I did start the journey at their lounge bar, the Loulou‘s Lounge Bar, where I was served couple of amuse-bouches, which, on this lunch, were composed of:
-Caesar salad served with anchovies from Palamos (Spain), on toasted bread
-Shrimp “beignet” with verbena sauce
-a delicate pastry cone filled with a citrus flower mousse.

The Caesar salad was, as expected, not going to be your standard caesar salad but a creative take on it, delivered in the form of a mini “tartare” made of elements of a caesar salad mixed with first-rate anchovies (The anchovies from Palamos, which were served here, deserve their reputation as one of world’s best), atop a delicious piece of toasted bread. The kind of nibble that sounds simple, but which, once in mouth, do serve as a reminder that it is not …by chance…that some kitchen brigades managed to perform for decades at the highest level of classic French cooking (obviously, their case). 10/10

Shrimp “beignet” featured  shrimp of top quality, not one single sign of oil to be found, the batter delicately light, the fresh maritime flavour of the shrimp fragrant, the beignet was  served with a superlative verbena sauce. 8/10 for the shrimp beignet, 10/10 for that verbena sauce which brought incredible joy in mouth.

Then the pastry cone, filled with a citrus flower mousse of divine flavour, its impressive smooth texture stealing the show as well. 10/10

The amuse-bouches did really … amuse!

3 small breads are offered: olive, lemon and brioche. All, superb. The olives bread being the most popular during my visit. How do I know? Well, I asked.  Ferme Ponclet butter from the Finistere deserves praises, too. Perhaps one of the very best butters of this globe, boldly flavored but balanced,  with a fresh creamy finish that lingers gloriously on the palate.

Le Zéphyr de truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ / Vichyssoise is composed of an unsweetened  floating island infused with black truffle coulis disposed on a bed of white truffle cream and Vichyssoise, garnished with black truffles and a parmesan crisp. The dish came with a beautiful poetic description, the textural contrast between the slices of black truffle and the snowy white appearance of the floating island /white truffle cream/Vichyssoise so pretty to espy. One can imagine the incredible potential of such creation: imagine a dazzling airy floating island, the stunning fresh flavour of whipped egg whites. Imagine the fragrance of truffles. Imagine the taste sensation of a superlative Vichyssoise. A dish like this one is designed to blow you away. Done, as it should, it will. Alas, the flattering potential of my Zephyr experience was expressed only on paper. The Vichyssoise had way too much milk in it, more milk than vegetables, actually, which made it taste more of a cream of milk than of a proper Vichyssoise. I had better Vichyssoise at casual eateries, and was surprised that this one I was sampling at Les Prés d’Eugénie was underwhelming. The floating island? It paled in comparison to the world class example I had at Bistrot Casse-Noix in Paris: not as airy, not as tasty. Some say that there is just air in a floating island…well, there is more than that in a benchmark floating island, whether it is sweetened or not. There is the precise skills that allow for addictive fresh whipped egg whites flavour (which was missing in action, during this lunch at Les Prés d’Eugénie), there is timing. Vichyssoise, floating island, some important — as well as   exciting —  food items of classic French cuisine… this is where a kitchen of this caliber should  nail it! Even the white truffle cream was not satisfying enough to lift up the overall dish. The black truffle, you ask? Its fragrance was muted! Quoi d’autre? This was “unidimensional ” (essentially tasting of milk, and milk, and milk) flavor-wise, I am afraid. The parmesan crisp, the saving grace, but by then, I could not care anymore. 5/10

L’Oreiller moelleux de mousserons et de morilles au fumet de truffe – A  ravioli (the “oreiller” is for the ravioli- “oreiller” is French for “pillow”) wrapped around a filling of morels and fairly-ring mushrooms, bathed in a sauce made of mushrooms, truffle, with some asparagus atop. The sauce was packed with the enticing earthy aromas of the top quality mushrooms, the pasta cooked carefully to aldente doneness, the filling of morels timely cooked too (not mushy), tasting as delicious as a filling of meat. Even a fan of meat, like me, would opt for mushrooms in place of meat if fillings of mushroom could always taste this great. After the disappointing “Zéphyr de truffe”, the ‘Oreiller moelleux de mousserons’ came to the rescue and made this lunch great again. 8/10

Le demi-homard rôti, légèrement fumé à la cheminée, oignon confit au four – A half lobster (clawed blue lobster from Brittany) roasted in an open fire, some sweet onions (filled with a purée of peach and onions, gratinéed with parmesan cheese) accompanying the crustacean and its saffron butter sauce dressing . The saffron-flavoured butter sauce  is a nice idea, the saffron flavour not overwhelming as you would expect from top flight saffron. But having eaten my share of fully flavoured beautifully-meaty freshly caught spiny lobsters (I know, not of the same family of lobsters as the one of Brittany), during my tender childhood in the Indian Ocean, I wonder if it is fair to expect a fine dining restaurant to do better with its lobster? Can it better the dazzling freshly caught clawed lobster of the Maine (Trying to be fair here, and not being partial to spiny lobsters) or of Brittany, that we can enjoy at a lobster shack? Well, it cannot because fresh lobster is just great …away from any fine dining intervention. I had no choice but to take the lobster as it was part of my tasting menu.  They did put a lot of thoughts in this dish and this was certainly not a bad food item at all, but it was hard for me to fully enjoy such tiny  pieces of lobster flesh (they do not look tiny on that picture, but in real life, they were).  The peach/onion purée with gratinéed parmesan cheese  was as pleasant as you can imagine a purée of sweet onions and peach to be, and it would certainly compliment the sweet flesh of the  lobster but I would need a sizeable piece of lobster  to corroborate that …

Filet de Boeuf sur le bois et sous les feuilles, jus de viande et de raisin, pommes crémeuses à la truffe et pommes soufflées- Filet of beef (blonde d’Aquitaine breed), covered with leaves of plane trees then cooked (the meat cooked rare as /per my request) on wood fire. Those leaves do enhance the barbequey flavor of that meat. Wood fire cooking (which is the cooking method they did use to cook this filet of beef) is my preferred cooking method for red meats as its resulting delicate and enjoyable smoky flavor appeals to me. On the palate and to the smell, the smoky flavor was actually subtle, but as a result of using wood fire and cooking the meat under the leaves, I could appreciate the depth of the flavor of the meat. I was afraid that the addition of grapes would not work with the jus de viande, but the taste of the grapes  was barely noticeable, and fulfilled its mission of adding depth to the jus de viande. Flawless jus de viande, timely simmered, precisely reduced. This was not a dull piece of filet. 7/10

With the filet de boeuf, they served some pommes soufflées cooked to order, executed in a way that exemplary pommes soufflées do look, feel and taste like (spectacularly light, with an exquisite crisp and superlative fresh potato flavour. Bring back the poetic description, Chef! Roll the drums! I love when French classics are mastered this well. 10/10), as well as a very good purée of pommes de terres agria/truffles (8/10).

Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe – The dessert I wanted to try at Les Prés d’Eugénie was the labor intensive and technically difficult (to compose) soufflé «Roulé-Boulé», but it was not available. I went with my second choice, the Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel. This is a hybrid dessert (part soufflé, part crème renversée — the crème renversée barely cooked, essentially made with a hot water bath sweet bechamel) created by Pastry Chef Jérôme Chaucesse (when he used to work at Les Prés d’Eugénie as he does not work there anymore), served with a rhubarb ice cream and a raspberry coulis. The raspberry coulis responding really well to all the components of that cake, especially to the caramel sauce flavor. The soufflé part looks like a “soufflé failure”, but that was intentional. Consequently, you will not eat this cake with “your eyes”, but a palate that has long been familiar with classic French desserts will appreciate that every single component of Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel was of the extraordinary sort: for sure, it is not rocket science to make a sweetened bechamel, a caramel sauce, a soufflé, etc, but what IS rocket science is to deliver benchmark versions of those, which is what the pastry team at Les Pres d’Eugenie did with their Gateau mollet. There was wit, a very high level of classic French pastry technique and, on the palate, an intensity of flavor to never forget. 10/10

Canelés surprises à l’armagnac/ tartelettes aux fraises (mini strawberry tarts) /madeleines, all freshly baked, as expected from a restaurant of this standing. I have heard about the superb work of the pastry team at Les Prés d’Eugénie, and I can tell you that it lived up to the hype, with exceptional sourcing and skills. A benchmark tartelette aux fraises (10/10), an equally perfected mini madeleine 10/10). The canelés (rum was replaced by armagnac)   were also great (8/10).

Pros: One great Classic French 3 star Michelin.
Cons: The Zephyr de truffe, on this lunch,  so close … yet so far

Bottom line: Chef Guerard, 84 years old, is, naturally, not cooking anymore. But what I like, in France, it is how serious those legends (Guerard, Bocuse) are about their legacy. They have the best MOFs working for them (Chef Olivier Brulard, in the case of Les Prés d’Eugénie – Chef  Brulard  spent some time at La Réserve de Beaulieu where he earned 2 michelin stars, after years alongside real culinary illuminaries and legendary Chefs such as Alain Chapel, Jacques Maximin, Gaston Lenotre)  and it shows in the very high level of classic French cooking technique on display.

My thoughts, days later: A high level dining experience, where you are interacting with friendly people. The ambience is relaxing. Food is great. Not too far, the cattle of blonde d’Aquitaine is grazing on emerald green grass. Stay in this village, Eugenie les Bains, for a day, walk in the countryside, rediscover the civilized manner of saying “hi” with a genuine smile to people you do not know (an aggression in most big cities,lol), smell corn (there are vast fields of corn to feed the cattle of Blonde d’Aquitaine) the way it used to smell and feel before the big industries have decided that chemical elements are necessary for their growth. And If you are a foodie, there are couple of eateries in the village. They have small hotels of far superior quality than most of the so-called budget hotels of our big cities,  and I did spot a farm in the village, with some serious foie gras. A destination, indeed.

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 ….

 

 

 

Marea, New York
Michelin stars: 2
Addr: 240 Central Park S., New York, NY 10019
URL: http://www.marea-nyc.com/index.php/
Phone:  212-582-5100
Type of cuisine: (Their contemporary version of)  Italian cuisine .

MAREA 01Widely known as one of NYC’s  best Italian restaurants, celebrated for its homemade handmade  pasta dishes (some of the best in the country, according to NSE  ) ,  Marea is situated in Manhattan. They offer what is  more accurately their contemporary take (refined,  small portions) on Italian cuisine, with combinations of ingredients that are not always traditionally Italian (cheese and seafood, to take an example) but the fundamentals of Italian cooking are never too far.

Marea does what it takes, in light of what we are accustomed to in North America…to deserve its accolades – nothing to fault here, not extravagant but tasteful contemporary interior,  great service.

 

What we ate:

3The trio of crudo (big eye tuna, long island fluke, pacific jack mackerel) ,  top quality raw ingredient.  they did  avoid the mistake of overseasoning them. 8/10

4 ZUPPA – almond and watercress soup, seppia, shrimp, roasted peppers. It had  everything a great soup needs: acidity, sweetness, texture, enticing flavors. Complex in a highly enjoyable way 8/10

2Gnochetti, ruby shrimp, chilies, rosemary. properly rendered consistency  (to the tooth) of the pasta , the chilies not too hot, which was a good idea as to add an extra layer of flavor without the distracting (unecessary) piquancy, the ruby shrimp not a serious challenger to some of the far more delicious shrimps of the mediterannea but the overall is tasty and well executed. I could not fault this dish, I could not fault one single dish of this entire meal, actually …BUT   in comparison to   other 2 Michelin star Italian meals that I had elsewhere a 7/10 would be a fair rating (what would it take to score this dish with a higher rating? A sauce that’s spectacular as I have enjoyed at plenty of other Italian restaurants. This one was great. Just not supremely delicious.

1 Tagliata – creekstone farms sirloin, bone marrow  panzanella, braised romaine. / the sirloin seasoned exquisitely,  their take on the bread and tomatoes panzanella salad a good idea …but time and again I could not stop thinking about how dazzling this entire meal would have been with produce as spectacular as what can sometimes be found in some parts of Italy (as an example, the amazing produce found at an Italian osteria like Osteria con cucina A Cantina de Mananan  in Corniglia …and there is even better than that in some  parts of Italy) . 7/10

 

5Polipo / octopus –  I had octopus a tad more remarkable than this (meaning with bolder maritime flavor) , in North America, but this was of really  good quality,  the seasoning enticing , it had an ideal chewy consistency (enough firmness to remind ourselves that this is octopus, and not a jellyfish but also  tender enough for proper enjoyable chew).   7.5 /10

 

6PANNA COTTA  – sicilian pistachio panna cotta, raspberry , rhubarb rose granita as well as a bit of  aniseed. This was fine, rather than dazzling, panaccotta (had the pistachio flavor been more expressive and the taste a tad richer, I would call it “dazzling” instead of “fine…BUT expressive pistacchio flavor would clash with flavors of raspberry and rose granita…so instead of the pistachio flavor, use something else that you can easily pair with the rest ).  Still …, a fair 7/10

7SORBETTI blood peach, apricot, strawberry balsamic – Sorbetti were excellent even by fine sorbetti  standards in Italy. The suggestion that sorbetti are better in Italy is oftently a fabrication of the mind. In North America, there are sorbetti  that are as good and this is one perfect example of just that  9/10

 

PROS: Marea does what it takes, in light of what we are accustomed to in North America…to deserve its accolades – nothing to fault here, not extravagant but tasteful contemporary interior,  great service.

CONS: However great the ingredients  – and great  they are at Marea (by North American standards),  it would take the finer ingredients of some parts of Italy ………AND  a  sense to make food taste extraordinary for me to understand the shower of raves on Marea.

Overall food rating:  An 8/10 by  the standards of  Contemporary Italian cuisine in North America  ..SO NOT  to be compared to my ratings of places like, to take an example,  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan —  a two star Michelin too —  which would, with no doubt  be a 10/10 in my books if it was in NYC.  We are in a completely different set of expectations …) – But a 7/10 when I compare it to the 2 Michelin star Italian food I had elsewhere (Michelin star is international, so I believe that is fair to also assess Marea against the 2 star Michelin food found outside of North America ).   I am ignorant about many cuisines (Brazilian, Romanian, etc) , but Italian, French, most African / Asian /Carribean cuisines are food that I have patiently mastered/familiarized myself with and cooked for decades.  By familiarizing myself with I mean …learning from those in the know, the Moms and Pops and NOT by watching food shows on TV or following recipes 0n the web. So, I know what I need to expect from such food. From Italian food, I expect the most (perfecting the simple texture of your pasta or risotto, pulling off superb flavors  ) from the least (simple/ classic combinations of  ingredients).  Of this lunch at Marea, I saw no evidence of perfected textures and the sort of dazzling flavors I came to expect, at times,  from some other 2 star Michelin offering Italian food, but   there was nothing to fault neither, and the food is certainly really good by  Italian upmarket restaurant standards in North America, though, not peerless by those same standards —).

 

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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.

Sushi Sawada –
Type of restaurant: Sushi shop
Date and time of the meal: 20-11-2014 12:00
Address:  MC Building 3F, 5-9-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku  Phone: 03-3571-4711
Tabelog: 4.28/5
Michelin stars: 2
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13001043/

NO PHOTO RESTRICTION

Picture taking is forbidden to normal diners as/per the house , therefore  no pictures were taken. No note-taking neither as I did not know whether that would offend the house’s staff, so I made a mental note of my appreciation of some of the sushi pieces which assessment was determinant in my overall rating of this meal.

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).


Chef Sawada Koji‘ has long established his credentials as one of Tokyo elite Sushi Chefs, his  Sushi shop  is   a top  rated  restaurant  on Tabelog, Japan’s most important online community for local foodies.  Restaurant Magazine’s web site adding, and I’ll quote: ”’those in the know rank Sawada alongside better-known three-starred joints such as Mizutani and Sukiyabashi Jiro”.  I went there to enjoy the place and despite my generally less than enthusiastic report about the food, I could see why Sawada is highly regarded (It is, at this moment,  one of the  toughest restaurant reservations, as hard as Sukiyabaki Jiro Honten as/per  my hotel concierge — the concierge was ultimately not capable to book me a seat at  Jiro, but Sawada was indeed a really tough reservation ) :  it offers a relaxing journey that most of the other  elite Sushi shops failed to  deliver during this trip, the produce was generally of exceptional mention even by the high standards of its competition.  For those reasons, and only for those,  this dinner was my  preferred  ‘sushi experience’ in Tokyo. Had the food impressed me as much,  this would have been life shattering. This meal at Sawada was one of the last meals of  this trip,  therefore easier to compare to the earlier performances at the other sushi places.

FOOD REPORT:  Quick rundown of some of the many items that were offered (I did not take note of each of them, there were too many and I was  more busy enjoying my food rather than stopping all the time to reflect on them):

The highlights of this long meal (there were far more items than at the other Elite sushi shops) have been the sea urchin, which quality was easily the best of this trip (I have long familiarized myself with all sorts of sea urchin sourced from all corners of this globe and shall observe that those from Hokkaido –which Sawada San did serve of this evening — do rank among the most spectacular examples of sea urchin you’ll get to enjoy at a Sushi shop): Bafun sea urchin (less sweet than some of the finest sea urchin of California, but rich in taste, its vivid orange color so easy on the eyes, the taste divine), Murakasi (This sea urchin of mustard yellow color is one of my preferred sea urchin, its sweet taste so fresh in mouth). 10/10

Another highlight was the trio of tuna, in part because Sawada-san thought about the right way to stand out from his direct competitors: the tuna had more concentrated flavor as he has better aged his tuna. A beautiful touch was that   he did slightly grill his fattiest piece of tuna, where most of  the other elite sushiyas of this trip would offer it raw, allowing for the expected spectacular mouthfeel that rarely fails to come from grilled fat. 10/10

Ark shell clam (Akagai ) was  beautifully sourced (Sawada-san had, in general, the best produce of this trip with some items truly exceptional), elegantly  butterflied in typical upscale Sushi shop fashion. It is in the work of items like the Ark shell clam that you can really appreciate the vast difference between the finer vs lesser Sushi shops of Tokyo as the former’s extra efforts (in refining the texture) is admirable. This was almost as skilfully crafted as at the other elite sushiya of this trip,Mizutani,  the only reason I am not rating it with the ultimate score has to do with the fact that the  salinity of the rice stood, for me, as clashing a bit with the clam     8/10

Salt water eel (anago) tasted great, timely simmered, and its  quality I found even better than at Mizutani  (I won’t stop repeating it: the sourcing, here, is, in general, second to none and we are talking about this globe’s finest Sushi shops, so imagine!! ), Sawada’s preparation putting more emphasis on the natural delicate sweetness of the specimen’s flesh, keeping it simple,  whereas most of the other Sushi shops did add a bit of flavor intensity (for eg, at the other Sushi shops, the Salt water eel would  taste more of the tsume sauce that generally accompanies anago sushi, but at Sawada it’s the taste of the eel that stood out). As I prefer my seafood as unaltered as possible, Sawada’s approach suited me fine. However, I found, again, the white vinegar/salt portion of the sushi rice overpowering in a way that its saline intensity distracted from fully appreciating the salt water eel in its full glory. This was certainly – on its own —a great piece of anago, but it is also a piece of nigiri, which means the interaction between the rice and its topping should have been judicious.  7/10

Cuttlefish – Piece after piece, I was floored by the quality of his produce. As if he has suppliers that even the other Sushi Masters of this trip are not aware of. The quality of the cuttlefish was stellar, this time Sawada-San letting the cuttlesfish expressing itself at its best, the texture soft, the flesh retaining a nice chew. One of the best cuttlesfish nigiris of this trip. 8/10 (could have been a 10/10 had the slicing being as impressive as, say, Mizutani...there was also  the vinegar taste of the rice that clashed a bit with the cuttlefish in a way that it made the cuttlefish/rice blending tasting a tad superficial for my taste, but I’ll forgive  that one…it was lovely, highly enjoyable regardless of the downsides ).

Gizzard shad – Talking about exacting sushi pieces, this is another great example of just that. Gizzard shad is a demanding piece as each step of its preparation, from the curing, its slicing, having to cope with its strong natural flavor, everything should be flawless. It’s a fish that can be as rewarding as it can cruelly let you down. The thing about Gizzard shad preparation is that most won’t notice how great it is when it is well done, but one single mistep and you realize how challenging it can be to work with this fish.  As with all the seafood served during this meal, the Gizzard shad at Sawada was of superb  quality, but the effect of its preparation felt unimpressive to me as it tasted just a tad better than any other average Gizzard shad I have sampled in Tokyo, and certainly less spectacular than the one I had at Mizutani (At mizutani, the vinegar  flavor was so fresh and spectacular that it lifted the taste of the fish to palatable triumph, here the Gizzard shad  did not taste  as exciting) + the slicing of such fish should be precise,  but instead, a big part of the edges was almost dented! I am not saying that it is always like that at Sawada, I would not know as it’s my sole visit here, but that was the case during this meal and there’s no excuse for that at such level. 5/10

Hamaguri clam – The consistency springy as it should as/per hamaguri classic sushi prep standards, but the nitsume sauce a tad cloying and less enjoyable than at the other Sushi shops of this trip. The texture not vivid as those I had at the other shops in Tokyo (obviously a consequence of the prep method he used, which is most likely the aging of the clam). Take hamaguri clam, which in its traditional sushi preparation needs to be boiled. Then smoke it a bit, then let it rest at room temp and you’ll get to the exact same feel of my Hamaguri clam. Again, did he smoke it? age it? I did not ask as I do not want to sound / appear impolite to my Sushi Chef. I have heard about the tendency  of an increasing number of Sushi Chefs to age their seafood, and they do age some of their seafood at Sawada too. Alas, for my taste,  seafood’s texture and flavor is generally —-save for some sparse relevant examples  such as tuna/bonito  —, better expressed raw, especially for sushi. A long time ago, they were aging food because they had no choice, nowadays we find the idea attractive because we basically just love trends. Aging beef is a trend, nowadays, but it has its known limits (is meat still  enjoyable upon, let us say, 80 days ++ of aging??For me as well as for many serious Master tasters, it is not)  which, fortunately, most steakhouses are aware of. Aging seafood is sadly a theme that’s applied in a nonsensical fashion at most Sushi shops (around 90% of the aged seafood I tried at Sushiyas, even here in Tokyo,  epitomized the problem of trends:  too much style, little substance. It is one thing to know what seafood to age, it is disrespectful to the hard work of the fishermen  when you age every single seafood they have proudly ‘snatched’ from the floor of the ocean for you to appreciate the mother of all food –the seafood–  in its full natural glory….. ) . 5/10

Abalone was timely steamed to ideal palatable consistency (tender enough, with a nice chew), but Mizutani did better (7/10), bonito tasted great and was timely smoked although its quality was similar to what I had at the other places and honestly, it’s hardly a challenging piece (7/10), quality mackerel but which marination and seasoning failed at lifting its powerful flavor to the heights of palatable enjoyment attained at the other sushiyas (another exacting item where the genius expected at such high level needs to make a difference – Mizutani-san nailed this, alas not Sawada-san who had  not just one chance, but twice, as I had a smoked as well as a raw version of this piece of fish), a 6/10 for the mackerel (I had mackerel tasting as great at lesser Sushi shops in both the marinated as well smoked versions),  salmon roe (better than at the  other places 8/10).

Prawn – properly boiled and avoiding the common error to overcook the prawn –yep, I easily caught couple of   sushiyas  making this mistake in Tokyo—, BUT not as precisely sliced as Mizutani. Regardless, the quality of the prawn was superior at Sawada.  9/10

Omelette’s based cake (Tamago) in its ‘ sponge cake’ version – The elite sushiyas of Tokyo had in common this feature that  the refinement of their   tamagos is   simply unmatched outside of Japan.  But even better, the 2nd tier sushiyas that I  did visit in Tokyo  barely approached the 1st tier when it comes to  perfecting the texture and taste of the tamago. Excellent  texture and consistency of the cake and I can see why, some ppl,  judge some Sushi Chefs  by the tamago (if you go all your way to perfect such an apparently simple cake, then there is nothing more to add about your obsessive sense of perfection, lol –  A 9/10 for that tamago, but I’d give it a 10/10 had I not been a tad more impressed by the delicious tamago of Mizutani an (to set the records straight, Mizutani’s  tasted better  but Sawada’s had finer  texture).

Pros:  Leisurely and incredibly intimate ambience +  the fabulous sourcing of the ingredients (yeah …even by the high standards of the elite Sushi shops of this trip)!

Cons: At this level, I expect the most ‘challenging’ pieces of seafood, those that rely heavily on the best curing preparation/marination/knife skills/seasoning to express themselves authoritatively. That is exactly what Mizutani-san did. That is not what I have experienced at Sawada.  Furthermore, the precision in slicing seafood items like mackerel, gizzard shad,  and cuttlesfish  is a matter of the uttermost importance at this level. 

So,
1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered?  – Shari (sushi rice) comprised of a mix of white rice vinegar, as well as the usual salt and sugar. The problem is that the ratio of the salt was misjudged as the white rice vinegar mixed with the salt did, for my taste, impart  an ‘unatural’ kind of saline flavor to some of the seafood toppings, the anago nigiri being a perfect example of just that. This might sound nitpicking and most won’t play attention at such details, but restaurants of  this level, charging  those prices, do exist essentially for their patrons to be able to appreciate such subtleties (or else, just eat your sushi at any random entry level sushi shop).  Another quibble is that the rice was ‘one-dimensional’ in its construction (firm consistency throughout, on my visit), compared to what the other Elite Sushi shops have crafted, in the sense that the other Sushi shops did oftently offer an appealing (to the touch as well as on the palate) elaborate firm exterior/soft interior contrast that I did not experience during this meal at Sawada.  The sourcing  of the rice is uniformly exemplary at those great Sushi shops of Tokyo, Sawada’s is no exception, but I’ll stand by my observation about the seasoning of the rice and lack of complexity in the sushi rice (shari)’s construction.

(2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping? See previous point #1
(3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip?
Sawada-san can is certainly talented, or else he would not be considered as one of the best in Tokyo, and there are certainly plenty of other sushi shops in Tokyo that are doing worse . That said, Sawada-san is also considered as a world class  elite Sushi Master. Consequently, I’ll compare my appreciation of  his craft to those standards. And at such, solely on the back of this meal, I did not find his slicing skills to be as consistently precise/impressive as his peers, and I was left with the same impression about  his work of the textures (which were at times glorious, indeed,  but not always). On the bright side, he was consistent in maintaining  a perfect control of  the temperature of his food: during my meal there, he essentially went by the book, which means almost uniformly using body temp for the rice, room temp for the seafood topping. As for the taste, the overall was not as delicious as, say, the consistently mouth watering meal I just had at Mizutani but rest assured that everything tasted good (just not as consistently  delicious  as what came from the kitchen of some of his direct competitors, the mackerel –in particular—should have been the perfect opportunity to storm my palate, as the others did, but it was a non -happening during my visit).
(4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best)? Even by the already exemplary standards of those elite sushi Shops of Tokyo, some of his produce was exceptional.  Some of the other top sushi Masters of Tokyo can envy him for his beautiful produce. But for me, during this meal, he generally failed at extracting the most out of  his  exceptional produce in a way that his direct competition has managed to do,  during this trip.

””The sourcing is world class, but in the end, my meal at Sawada did not manage to leave an impression in the way that Mizutani did. To the contrary of many people, I do not mind Genius cooking (which is what sushi performance of this level, price tag and world class reputation, is supposed to be – Genius, in this case,  meaning an overall craftmanship that’s way above the standards that already exist and NOT some surreal /out-of-context vision of what food can’t be) to follow the course of hits and misses, but it has  to, ultimately, awe  me with an ‘impression of the spectacular’ that is capable to wipe all the misses and dominate the hits. That is what Mizutani-san did. Alas, Sawada-San did not walk in his steps (I was obviously not floored by Sawada’s seasoning + work of the texture of the rice as well as some of his sushis). At least the finer  sushis  managed  to convey how ingenious, often witty, the Master can be in his prime. I just wished he would express it more  consistently. Still, regardless of some of my severe observations, I fully enjoyed my time here and the journey remains one to never forget as the charisma of the Chef, coupled with a sense of place  and exceptional sourcing do  suffice in explaining why Sawada is oftently regarded as one of world’s finest Sushi shops”’. Obviously, and hopefully, my high  rating of  8/10 (see the section ‘overall food performance’) is a testament to my latest assertion.

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Overall food performance: 8/10  (Category: top tier Sushi shop in Tokyo, World class sushiya)  in comparison to the other Sushi meals of this trip to Tokyo (for eg,  I prefered my meal at Sawada to those I had at Daisan Harumi/Sushi Oono/Sushi Sho/Sushi Iwa, but the meal at Mizutani had the edge). The essential is already written above (the section in red), so I’ll just add that  you SHOULD NOT start comparing my score of Sushi Sawada to — to take an example —  the scores of my Sushi meals outside of Tokyo –  we are in a completely different set of expectations and circumstances.

What do I think a week  later: In Tokyo, the ‘sushi shop spectrum’ regulates itself….the best produce are for a handful of elite shops like Sawada,Mizutani, Jiro,Saito. The second tier shops and the rest will  have to fight hard to get good seafood, rice, etc. The huge advantage of Sawada is that a journey under this roof  does  boot with spectacular produce. That, alone, explains why many have been impressed by Sawada.

Restaurant: Dons de la Nature
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, B1F
Phone:+81 3-3563-4129
Cusine: Steakhouse (serving only one type of meat: Purebred Wagyu)
Date/Time of the meal: 19-11-2014 18:00
Michelin stars: 1
URL: http://dons-nature.jp/

DLN is widely considered as a top tier steakhouse in Tokyo. Service (by the wife of the Chef)  was uneven for a 1 star Michelin restaurant: over-the-board friendly with some diners, decent with others…which, I gather, is ‘normal’  in ‘general life’ as this boils down to chemistry between people..less so  by the standards of  a 1 star Michelin restaurant. That said,  rest assured that the service is still really really good (you are in Japan, after all). The quality of the meat is the main reason that brought me here, and there is no denying it: the quality is, as expected, of top shelf mention. Sadly,  Wagyu is overrated, which is not the fault of DLN, indeed, but DLN …as a steakhouse…needs to pair  better red wine to their steak.  

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Dons de la Nature is widely considered  as one of Tokyo’s finest steakhouses. Which means that, here, you are exempt from the laughable mis-identification of the meat, a sad recurrent feature  at plenty of steakhouses around the globe. At Dons de la Nature, when they tell you they have Kobe beef, then it is the real one that  comes from Kobe in Japan (and not from elsewhere),  and when they say Wagyu,  then it is TRUE PUREBRED Japanese beef and they will tell you from what region in Japan.

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Traceability is taken seriously here. Wagyu beef is  usually (usually, I wrote, not always) fed on rice straw which is essential for achieving the high level of  intramuscular fat as well as whitening the marbled fat. The slaughter occurs in between 23 to 28 months.

THE FOOD:

I took no starter, fearing that the steak would be filling.

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The meat  available on the day of my visit was  Wagyu from the Oki Islands, (there was a choice of a highly marbled sirloin,  as well as tenderloin — for my taste, Sirloin features the  characteristics I am looking for when eating Wagyu as it’s not lean like tenderloin, the flavor certainly more expressive compared to tenderloin).

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Oftently, in Tokyo, steaks are cooked on an iron griddle (teppanyaki), but here, at Dons de la Nature, they grill it over charcoal (my  preferred cooking method for steak), no ordinary charcoal that is (they use the highly praised Binchōtan charcoal) ,  inside a kiln.  From such steakhouse, there’s not much to say about the basics (as expected, they get the requested doneness right, medium-rare in this case, the seasoning, although simple — a bit of salt — is judicious, the nice crust on the outside that most steak aficionados favor nowadays is achieved beautifully , and the kitchen  clearly knows how to delicately handle a meat of such extensive fat marbling ),

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so what I was looking for was how far the extensive marbling could impress in flavor. Unexpectedly,  the umami  kick  that the  media and plenty of online accounts have praised  continues to elude me (this was the 3rd Wagyu tasting of this trip, having tried Matsusaka a day prior, then Sanda) .Well, YES the umami dimension is  definitely there (afterall the effect of the marbling has to be ultimately felt)  but I get more exciting umami flavor from most   40 to 45 days perfectly dry aged corn-finished prime Black Angus cuts …that have less marbling.  I also do not get the comparision to  foie gras (a common comparison) that I oftently hear about. Do not get me wrong:  this is   quality red meat, that is for sure,  the fat much more delicate in taste and texture in comparison to a fatty cut of Black Angus, but at the end of the count …it is just not as flavorful.   I admire the  quality of Wagyu beef, but for the enjoyment part ..nah,sorry…I (my palate) just do not get it. This was a  6/10, at best, for me  (Grade: A5/  Breed: Japanese Black Wagyu from Oki Islands, 30 days of wet aging  + 30 other days of dry aging )

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The Chef’s wife has suggested to pair the steak with a glass of Camus Père & Fils Mazoyères-Chambertin Grand Cru 2001. This is a wine that scores high on paper: exceptional soil, exceptional vintage, too, as 2001 is one of the very best years of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine.  But the wine I was having had barely any structure (surprising for a wine known for its complexity), the wine devoid of the mouthfeel expected from a grand cru, the finish disappointingly short. Furthermore, this glass of wine was so dry that it clashed with the flavor of the meat I was having. Dryness is a characteristic of Mazoyères-Chambertin wine, but but this was way too dry to be enjoyable. This is an instance where you need a wine with silkier tannins/rounder palate.

Pros:  Wagyu is so praised outside of Japan that there are no shortage of marketing manipulations to call pretty much everything that looks like meat… Wagyu.  You therefore really appreciate the moment when you get to enjoy the real thing on its very own land, which is exactly what Dons de la Nature offers.

Cons:   Wine pairing to a steak is expected to be a highlight at a steakhouse. It has to.

 

Service: Very intimate, very very friendly. The wife of the Chef (she was the sole waitress on that evening) is very enthusiastic, perhaps more with some than  others, but I am nitpicking here. It is much more informal than at most of the steakhouses that I have been to.

My verdict and conclusion:  I won’t rate this house as I do not want my aversion to Wagyu to influence my opinion about Dons de la Nature.  But Wagyu, you my friend….even at the same cost as my favourite Black Angus steaks, there is simply no way I could appreciate you. I respect your legendary reputation but for me, it is clear  that your scarcity creates your value. Yes, you are beautiful to espy (I have rarely seen marbling of such striking beauty), but for my palate, you are not even half as flavorful as an expertly dry aged prime cut of Black Angus. And I just gave you 3 chances right here on your own lands! I even  ensured to lower my expectations (I had none, to tell you the truth) and I did erase  any notion of price from the equation so that the assessment’s  focus is on what matters most:  the flavor!!!.

What I think weeks later: That Wagyu is my all-time biggest disappointment on the aspect of food, that is life and I can deal with that. What struck me most was how the praises about its superlative flavor had absolutely nothing to do with what I have enjoyed. If the flavor of meat is going to be almost as subtle as the one of tofu….then I’ll take the tofu! Meat needs to be flavorful no matter how hard you have worked its quality.