Archive for the ‘paris’ Category

Le Dôme (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 Paris, Phone: 01 43 35 25 81), opened in 1897, is an upscale historical brasserie  in Paris. 

Saumon marine a l’aneth (dill marinated salmon) was fine enough, but it would not be hard to fine better versions of that, at plenty of restaurants in Paris 6/10

I came here for the oysters. It is actually Huitrerie Garnier that I wanted to revisit. Huitrerie Garnier is one of my go to places for oysters in Paris, but it is closed till September (From Sept to Dec, oysters are as fresh as it gets and Huitrerie Garnier operates only when oysters are at their best).  As I was walking nearby Le Dôme, I remembered that they have quite a variety of interesting oysters and decided to push open their door. The raising and maturation of oysters, in France, is taken to a level rarely seen elsewhere around the globe***. Many regions of France have first-rate oysters. My favourite have been the fines de claires and spéciales de claires of Yves Papin (Marennes Oléron in  Charente Maritime), Roumegous (Charente maritime), the Isigny, Saint-Vaast (Normandie), Gruissan (Aude), and many more.  This time, I focused on Brittany. In France, oysters are offered  by weight. Numbers 0 to 5  are assigned to oysters. The higher is the number, the smaller is the oyster (that is explained here). I ordered 3 types of oysters: the cupped oysters  boudeuse de bretagne (Cote Des Menhirs) and tsarskaya no2 (Parcs Saint Kerber) as well as the flat oysters  Plate de Cancale no.­000 from that same Parcs Saint Kerber.

The oysters matched what their marketing do suggest:

the hint of sweetness, the meaty texture for the tsarskaya. There is a lot of marketing / buzz behind the tsarkaya, but although a great oyster, I am not particularly enamoured with it in a way that some other oysters of France have impressed me.

Plates de Cancale had their typical light nutty flavour in evidence

And the boudeuse  had a concentrated flavor and it was fleshy as expected from  an oyster “that refused to grow”.

And of course, the nice fresh iodine flavor that every single oyster of this globe has to come with, was there, in every single bite.

Le Dôme served  perfectly well shucked oysters of fine quality with a flawless mignonette. I still prefer Huitre Garnier for oysters in Paris, and Paris has plenty of stellar oysters to feast on, anyways.

Mousse au chocolat, marmelade d’oranges, sorbet passion – classic French kitchen brigades are what you are looking for when it comes to a fine mousse of chocolate. The chocolate was of fine quality, its thick consistency tolerable, but there were many rivers to cross between the finer mousse of chocolate of France and this one (just not as dazzling on the palate). 6/10

Millefeuille ” Napoléon” parfumé au rhum et à la vanille – Rhum and vanilla flavored Millefeuille came with a spectacular rustic flaky look that some generations of French may have flirted with, at some point in their life, but it was not as memorable on the palate nor to the smell as the finer Millefeuille that those same generations have known. Still, this was tolerable, just  not as enjoyable as it should have been. 5/10

Overall food rating (Categ: French Brasserie): 6/10 Yes, the oysters are well sourced,  BUT such classic French brasserie needs to offer better renditions of basic classic French desserts such as a chocolate mousse or a Millefeuille.

Bottom line: Le Dôme is ideal for a piece of restaurant history in Paris. It has couple of historical companions in the vincinity. Last time I was here, it was 25 years ago and I am glad that such historic restaurants is still open. Couple of metro stations away, at metro st germain des pres, restaurant history goes on with cafe de flore, brasserie Lipp. On the culinary front, well, the best of classic French cooking in Paris will not come from here. It is neither good, nor bad.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

I did opt for the A La Carte menu).

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

My starter was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mignardises at Pierre Gagnaire were also of great standard.

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

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

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

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

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

 

This meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot that’s supposed to read in your mind and feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their rank as a 3 star Michelin   (needless to stress that   this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal. Thinking otherwise would reveal a deep lack in the understanding of what  cooking should  really be about). And that reason is the same that makes a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari all well praised cars: the details! You can love or hate them, but it does not matter, as  at the end of the day …they are effortlessly capable of heights, here and there,  that  their peers can only  dream of !

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

THE MEAL

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

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

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

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Le Casse Noix
56 rue de la Fédération – 75015 Paris
French Bistrot (Classic French with a twist)
http://www.le-cassenoix.fr/fr/

CASSE NOIX, PARIS

Le Casse Noix is the bistrot of Chef Pierre Olivier Lenormand who has spent years alongside legendary 3 star Michelin Chef  Christian Constant at l’Hôtel de Crillon (Chef Constant is no more active as a Chef, but now owns several restaurants in Paris such as les  Cocottes de Christian Constant, Café Constant, Le violon d’Ingres ) , then alongside another legend, Chef Alain Solivérès  (who has now 2 stars with restaurant Tailevent).  He also worked at the very popular La Régalade.

CASSENOIX, PARIS - AGNEAU

My wife’s lamb was full of delicious meat flavor, the cooking, doneness (medium rare) and seasoning spot on. Exciting on the palate, the quality of the lamb surprisingly high given the low prices (3 courses for eur 33)  8/10

CASSENOIX, PARIS - BOEUF

Beef, which was my choice, was ordinary. I’d prefer my beef either grilled or braised since the ‘éffiloché’ technique (which would have worked better  with pork) seemed, in this case, to have muted the full beef flavorful character of the meat. The effect, in mouth, was reminiscent of corned beef, an effect that I do not dislike but that I definitely find inferior to what’s expressed by braised/grilled meats 5/10

Desserts were of top range, and we are in France, Imagine!  A long time ago, at any great cooking school  as well as on the great tables of France, this  is this kind of perfected joyous and fresh rich riz au lait and ile flottante that they were looking for.  Only, here they avoided the boring old fashion textures making those greats classics vibrant in texture, eternally divine in taste:

CASSENOIX, PARIS - RIZ AU LAIT

So, Riz au lait, done the classical way,  had amazing beautiful milky texture while tasting divine. Among the finest riz au lait in Paris (I also like the one at Chez L’Ami Jean). 10/10

CASSENOIX, PARIS - ILE FLOTTANTE

Ile flottante, also done the traditional way, had fabulous deep rich flavor, the execution flawless.  Ironically, even at some tables widely known by French people for their Ile flottante, few came close to this one.  An excellent Ile Flottante that I’ll remember for a long time. 9/10

Service was a charm (we were served by a young woman and gentleman), with the right amount of warmth and  professionalism. Very efficient (no exaggerated  slowness). If you hear anyone complaining about poor  service in Paris, send them to Le Casse Noix so that they can  enjoy  the other type of service they can also get in Paris

Overall score for the food performance on this lunch: 7/10 (but the desserts were world class creations that would not be out of place at a serious Classic French 3 star Michelin in France) As with any great bistrot, you’ll eventually stumble upon one or two dishes you might perceive as weaker than others, but in general the level of cooking here is high for a bistrot,  the technique reliable, the work of taste excellent.  They take some classical French dishes and revisit them with pep.

All in all, a great charming bistrot with nice  warm decor, great service, delicious food at reasonable prices (they have an affordable menu at  33 euros for starter/main/dessert) and it is  located near  the Eiffel tower.

Event: Lunch at Restaurant Ledoyen, Paris
When: March 24th 2011, 12:30
Michelin Star: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute French with a mix of classic and contemporary fares
Addr: 1 Avenue Dutuit,  Carré des Champs Elysees
Arrondissement: 8th
Phone:+33 01 53 05 10 01
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau

I will put aside my years of cooking all sorts of food, particularly french food, at a high level as well as my long time familiarity with high end dining and will talk on behalf of the average diner you will find at those restaurants: people, nowadays, eat out a lot and eventhough most of them are not regulars of 3 star Michelin restaurants (there is no need to be a regular in order to reach out to the conclusion i am heading into), they certainly have an idea of the level of technical prouesse (mastery of the taste, texture, temperature, synergy between all of that) that is expected at a 3 star. And, in the hypothesis that they would not have any clue of what to expect at such level, you..as a 3 star Michelin Chef, should always ensure that, night and day, you live up to those standards. I go to a 3 star restaurant to enjoy what a Chef can pull out at his best. Not to be a witness of such a lacklustre performance.

 

Overall Food rating: 6/10 I would have rated this meal with a 5/10 based on the ordinary savouries that I have sampled on this lunch,  but the dessert and depth of refinement shown in  the work of the nibbles showed impressive skills worth of an extra point on the aspect of the  overall food rating. With that said,  there is a section called “what I think months later”. You will find it at the bottom of this review. It sums pretty much everything I needed to say regarding this meal.
Service: 10/10 (Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet offered a highly accomodating  service)
Overall dining experience: 7/10 Although everything was to my taste (the classic decor, the service),
I did not find the dining experience to feature anything really particular on this lunch
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

We all dine at  3 Michelin star ventures for different personal reasons. Mine has nothing to do with its prestige, nothing to do neither with whatsoever gigantic expectations placed upon such dining events. For me, especially in Paris, it is the opportunity  for enjoying ingredients I do not get to oftently enjoy like the “poulet de bresse”, the “canard de challans”,  some exclusive cheese aged by Bernard Antony,  the Poujauran’s bread and many more (France has a soil that is blessed: their produces  are usually simply amazing, and this comes from someone who was born and raised on  a land of stunning poultry, meats, seafood, greens and fruits).  In the hands of a true 3* Chef, this can be worthy of high consideration. At the haute dining level, I have a personal yearly  (or every 2 years if Paris is too far, depending on where I live)  Parisian routine that does not cost that much (well, nothing compared to what you would pay for the menu degustation at those restaurants) and makes sense since it focuses on widly known strenghts o f those  places I’ll mention next:  I go  to L’Arpège only for their ‘Canard de Challans à l’hibiscus’ (à la carte,  with no wine; perhaps a starter and a dessert).  I do the same at Plaza Athénée (Ducasse) for their ‘Poultry Albufera’ when it is available.   Gerard Besson’s (now close) “tourte de  gibiers et foie gras” used to attract me to Paris too, on my (bi)-yearly gourmand trip.

Picking a 3* in Paris is a nightmare for me: there is no doubt that I will eat well at most of them,  but for the price I am afraid that the usual hype, sumptuous decor and nod to history won’t suffice to  impress me. Keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground, I refuse to expect fireworks (it is food,  not a Disney show) but food that needs to be deliciously superior. Whatever the reasons justifying a 3* dining experience,  food at such level needs to come from a Chef who is capable of pushing the limits of deliciousness to heights that are not commonly experienced. This is not about delusional expectations: if you are lucky enough to get  Michel Bras in person cooking for you at his stronghold of Laguiole, you will understand what I mean.    It doesn’t need to be Michel Bras or a 3* Chef, it just need to come from a cook with that magical touch where somehow an exceptional talent, passion and love for savourish food are transferred into your plate:  my lifetime most memorable meal was a simple spiny lobster grilled by an anonymous cook. When I told people how talented he was, most replied that grilling a lobster was no big deal and could not fail to be tasty.  Years have passed, that cook became one of the most acclaimed Chefs of his country and many of World’s most  respected Chefs have tried, albeit in vain, to  attract him to the Western world. Years have passed and not one  claw of lobster have been as impressive as that one…and  I’ve tried them in all variations, at bistros or 3* tables, on the street or by the sea, in different geographical areas. The name of that Chef is irrelevant here.  His magic touch
is. Could that magical touch be purely subjective? Part of it is of personal appreciation naturally, but the exceptional  talent of one Chef never lies: some may like his food, others not, but if seeking for great food is a passion for you, you will  notice the talent that’s behind the meal. That’s my only expectation for a 3* meal: that exceptional talent, that exceptional  touch not aiming to impress but that pulls the most out of the least.

I grew up in Paris and have already visited almost all its  current 3 Michelin star holders (PG, APDA, Arpege, Pré Catalan, L’Astrance, Guy Savoy, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, etc) except Ledoyen and L’Ambroisie.  Ledoyen seemed to be a match with what I’ve always encouraged:  a Chef, Christian Le Squer, mostly praised for his exceptional talent and who is found where he needs to shine: behind his stoves. The same applies to L’Ambroisie, although, in the case of the latest, the fact that it is one of the few last classic strongholds at the 3* dining level weighs a lot in the balance.

My Parisian friends who know both places well recommended that I start with Ledoyen.
”Save the pricier one for the last”, Jean-Luc commended to me. Not that it would make any difference:  I already knew that Parisian 3* restaurants are no bargain.  Anyways, I just need my food to be very delicious regardless of its price or creativity level. VERY delicious, I stressed! VERY DELICIOUS, was I assured.

Preparation is always the name of my game whenever I decide to dine at a 3* Michelin table. It has been like that the very first time I stepped foot in a 3* Michelin restaurant (1990, Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV); the  pattern has not changed more than two decades later.  Mine consisted of  in depth intelligence about Christian Lesquer’s (my readers know how I value true artisans working for real behind their stoves over cooks who serve as name bearers for celebrity-entrepreneur-chefs. Christian is found where he should be: behind his stoves) strengths and weaknesses, type of cuisine, culinary philosophy. At such prices, at such level of dining, I may as well indulge in what he is best known for. Daniel  — a  close friend (of mine)  who has followed Christian Lesquer’s career  since Christian was working at Le Divellec — was my most prolific info provider on Ledoyen restaurant’s strong man. Daniel is an admirer of Lesquer but was very honest about the Brittany’s Chef. He ensured that I was not expecting some kind of techno-revolutionary cuisine but a highly skilled cuisine that is classic with enough modern inspiration in style and creativity to   be worth of the highest accolades.

I first wanted to pick his five course ”spécialités‘ (signature dishes), but his prix fixe dejeuner menu is affordable. I chose the latest and added two ‘spécialités’:  the lobster + Toasts brulés d’anguilles.  If I had a second stomach, the sweetbreads skewer would be part of the plan.
FOOD

Today, the  menu dejeuner at Ledoyen consisted  of  a mise en bouche of  “tartare de dorade à la tahitienne”, a first choice of veggies in an emulsion of radish/or some langoustines with its own jus, a second  choice of chicken (supreme de volaille des Landes en croute de pain rassie), cheese, a choice of two desserts: one made of bananas (Transparence banane, fruits de la passion), the other from strawberries (Fraises “Gariguette” parfumées coriandre/Hibiscus).

Tartare de dorade à la tahitienne: great ingredient as expected (the fish was of superb freshness, same could be said of the thin slices of scallops disposed atop the tartare ), perfect balance in taste and seasonings. A good tartare, but at this level, I need this tartare to shine a bit more in  creativity or at least with surprising  flavors. The apple-lemon  gelée underneath was nice, but kept the tartare in a ‘pedestrian’ registry. 7.5 /10

Jardins de légumes vert à l’émulsion de radis – peas (superb quality), green beans (good quality), onions, dried tomatoes in a radish emulsion.  Cute like a bug, that dish…enjoyable too…but not a dish that I am expecting at this level of cuisine neither. Do not get me wrong: I am not expecting fireworks here. Just a touch of next-level  daring-ness may it be in the taste or overall gustatory enjoyment of the course. Good 7/10

Sole de petite cotière étuvée de petit pois – The sole was superbly presented in the shape of a tube. Enjoyable taste, perfect moist consistency of the flesh. Indeed, some great cooking technical mastery in there. The green rolls were filled with a cream of peas and the truffle sauce, although not of memorable mention,  retained a   ‘smokey’ flavor that I enjoyed a lot.  Well done, perhaps, but it lacked  prime palatability . 7.5/10

As mentionned earlier on,  I also ordered two of their signature dishes:

Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes:
Everytime I try lobsters at a restaurant, it suffers from my instant comparison to my all-time favourite ones: the spiny tropical langoustes of the Indian Ocean. To me, the latest  stands predominate (with the carribbean’s being my second best) despite years of enjoying all sorts of them around the globe. Langoustines are smaller  with (to my palate), a more discrete marine robustness. Comparison aside, I love lobsters and always try them wherever I go. Those of Brittany are familiar enough to me. Not in my top 3, but good enough in taste whilst a tad less appealing (to me) in consistency. Chef Christian Lesquer added a middle eastern touch to the dish: kadaif (vermicelli-like pastry)  balls filled with  the crustacean meat, fried, then set atop the langoustine tail. The citrus fruit emulsion, emulsified with the usual olive oil,  which  basically turned out to be a citrus/olive oil based  mayonnaise was certainly well executed (it was somehow light enough to  not overwhelm the lobster meat and added a pleasant dimension to its enjoyment) …but  as far as in-mouth enjoyment goes, it was suprisingly discrete (where is the punch?).   The idea is good though: it is  no surprise that a citrus flavored emulsified concoction is meant to pair  naturally well with lobster (mayo pairs well with lobster meat, citrus flavors too, etc). I’ve tasted better variations (read more flavorful) of this dish before, but Lesquer’s version is still fine enough (the lobster’s meat was nicely cooked + the effort and idea he did put in the kadaif  deserve a bonus point) for me to rate it with a 7.5 over 10

Toast Brulé d’Anguille– This is how you set yourself apart, this is how the most will notice you, this is how you have chances to seduce the stars: think of a signature dish, one that will evoke souvenirs of you. Lesquer understands this well, as numerous 3* defining dining signature dishes were made by him.  Toasts brulés d’anguille is one of his; an attractive visual curiousity. At first, it reminded me of a miniature  replica coffin. Yep, coffins can be appealing to the eyes. The dark base is made of bread. The violet-colored topping is eel reduced by grape juice and wine. It’s  before such dish that I value the genius of a creative Chef, a really  smart one: why bother with tubes, liquid nitrogen,  when there are a lot left in the hands of all things natural (or “mother nature” as Marco Pierre-White loves to say) –> take the eel (the ingredient) , its lustrous skin (an inspiration for texture), and think of a flavor that hits (smoky… for  the smokiness flavor of that toast). Add talent, add inspiration (with dishes like his spaghetti/parmesan/ham/morels rectangular-shaped signature dish, take his “blanc de turbot”, take the “toasts d’anguille…it’s clear that you need to be inspired to create those ), and you have got a winner. A 10 over 10 for the creativity, the idea, the fun execution. A 7.5 over 10 for its gustatory amazement (It was more cuter than tastier, but tasty  enough to be considered as a good / to very good creation). fyi: What you see on the side is a cube of potato filled with “creme de raifort” (just ok)

Many frequent  star Michelin diners  have raved over those two signature dishes of Chef  Lesquer (Toast brulé d’Anguille + Grosses langoustines bretonnes), but to my surprise both dishes failed to leave any imprint on my memory even by keeping  my expectations as low as possible. The  Grosses langoustines bretonnes was unexpectedly disappointing: I had a similar dish prepared in Turkey (1993) and a Lebanese cook has prepared  a similar one on an Indian Ocean Island that I visited in 1997.   Chef Lesquer’s version never even came close to a quarter of the overall prime palatable  impact that both non Michelin-starred cooks provided through their langoustines dishes.

When I see written here and there than Chef Lesquer makes great desserts, all I can say is that this is an accurate statement:

Fraise “guariguette” parfumées coriandre/hibiscus –   Excellent dessert where sublime taste and lots of creativity were  on display. The parade of  the stawberry, coriander and hibiscus flavours in mouth was a true act of genius.  What I kept waiting for (in terms of superb complementing — or even contrasting — flavors, textures and delicious taste) in the savories … was finally unleashed in this successful dessert.  10 over 10

They offer lots of extras:

Several “mises en bouche”

Many  “mignardises” (excellent licorice macarons, hibiscus gelée, delicious chips of caramel butter, pina colada lollipops)

And they also brought chocolates, some Brittany’s pastries  too.

I know: the ratings of this specific meal  are not what we might expect at a 3 star Michelin level.  But still, at euros 88 (the menu dejeuner), and especially with the superb service I found on this lunch + all the extras that are offered to all patrons, I’d still highly recommend Ledoyen. It is a place where I truly felt good, and for once I’ll forgive the lack of gustatory amazement that was found — on this lunch — the exception being  the dessert (to some extent, the “toast brulé” was also appreciated).

SERVICE

Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet is a sociable gentleman, professional and yet extremely caring. This man knows what ‘accomodation’ means and his open mind (he travelled a lot around the world and worked for top restaurants like those of Boulud’s in Vancouver — now closed) is refreshing. The entire service was in line with what you do expect at such high level of dining: courteous, attentive.

DECOR
The exterior is marked by Ancient Greece inspired neoclassical facades of  blank walls, columns. The inside is in Second Empire style: ornamented, elegant surrounding moldings. As a non food related note, if – like me — you enjoy this style of architecture, pay a visit to Le Louvre and the Opera house.

LOCATION
Off Les Champs Élysées

PROS: The service on this lunch sets the bar for what hospitality should be about at this level of haute dining.  And this type of  classic decor appeals to me. Paris truly has an architectural  charm that others will spend their life mimicking,  just mimicking…

CONS:  The food I had on this lunch lacked interest, in my assessment. Not bad, not great neither. And a signature dish needs to shine!

CONCLUSION –  Their prix fixe Lunch menu is one ideal way to enjoy a  3 michelin star meal at  reasonable cost in Paris.

ADDENDUM – MY CURRENT FAVOURITE  3 STAR MICHELIN IN FRANCE (I am adding this section just for informative value only; added only to reviews of 2 and 3 star Michelin in France since it’s the country which restaurant scene I did familiarize myself with)  -> L’Ambroisie (this is a tricky one. Pacaud was on the verge of retiring when I lunched there, but he was cooking at lunch time when I was there. Based solely on that visit, it is clear in my mind that L’Ambroisie is simply the best Classic Haute French 3 star Michelin around the globe, let alone in France. Yep, with not one single hesitation regardless of the fact that such claim is always controversial. Now, is it the same when Pacaud is not there? I obviously can’t tell), Troisgros (I am normally not a big fan of the Troigros, primarily because I find it odd that a 3 star Michelin in France would opt for Intl influences as intensively as they do. Ironically, that does not bother me at all at the 2 star Michelin level, Rfaol! Go figure! Lol. But at the 3 star level, in France, Nah. Regardless, when this kitchen is in its prime, it is indeed one of France’s finest 3 star Michelin destinations and it is based on that observation that Troisgros somehow fits among my  favourite 3 stars in France), L’Arpège, Paris (Before I visited L’Ambroisie, this was my #1  three star Michelin in Paris. Many Chefs claim to treat ingredients with passion, which is a claim that I usually do not care about since they have to. But when such claim comes from the mouth of Alain Passard, it means something else. We are here among the exceptional few which love for the ingredient is genuine, not dicted. I am a huge fan of Passard, even when things did not go the way I wanted – for example on lesser impressive meals at L’Arpège —  because I come from a school of thought with  strong emphasis on how to treat and respect the produce from the second you remove it from the soil till it gets into your mouth. It would take an entire article to elaborate on that spectacular journey of the ingredient accompanied by its companion —because to me, that is what a real Chef is about…serving as the guide/companion  to his ingredient —   but Alain Passard was the one that better expressed it ), Les Pres d’Eugenie in Eugénie Les Bains (oh god, it has been a while I haven’t went back, but the souvenirs that I have are unlikely since not much has changed there, for example the kitchen still has the same staff as on my last visit there. One of France’s most solid 3 stars in my own experience, with French classic food delivered with panache /  Chef Michel Guérard)

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: 3 star Michelin restaurants have a pressure that few others have. They need to be consistent with at least the basic standard that their customers are used to at this level of dining. Ideally, they need to rise at the heights that their counterparts have already set. Again, on a  regular basis. On the other hand, people eat out a lot, so expectations are more and more meaningless, which is why I have stopped expecting anything from restaurants for years.  I just visit, appreciate what they are serving to me and just boldly give my opinion based on what is realistic: for example a piece of meat is cooked anywhere else with a minimum of X beefy mouthfeel. If you go below that common mark of X beefy mouthfeel, then your piece of beef is below average. If you go beyond, then I’ll tell you how far beyond — what I am used to   — you managed to go. No more, no less, no surreal expectations but playing the game with the cards that exist on the table. Now, when you pertain to such an exceptional level of dining, most people will never forgive one single off day. I won’t even go to that extent, being again very down to earth in my way of seeing things as I know that off days are normal, but  I need a minimum and it is called TASTY FOOD. I am not even asking you for divine food, just tasty. And this is where I was a bit frustrated by this lunch ( again, I can talk only for my meal. I never judge restaurants since food and dining experiences are variable by nature, anyways): for example, the lobster and its citrus emulsion. That has no other choice but to be delicious. I am not asking for the moon here, I am not even expecting the heights reached by  some of France’s finest 3 star Michelin lobster dishes (for eg, the finest of  Alain Passard, Olivier Roellinger’s lobster creations  when he was at the helm of his 3 star Michelin venture in Cancale or Michel Guerard’s )…no…BUT  a dish of lobster, even at a low key steakhouse, let alone a hole in a wall serving seafood is widely known as an expected delicious affair. On this reviewed lunch , it was subtle in flavor, rather unexciting. Same could be said of the toast of eel, the pea appetizer, the tartare, all items that can be easily pushed to realistic palatable excitement that this lunch never managed to approach. I was  generous in my score, trust me! But go, since I believe this was just an off day. Well, I hope or else, there’s something I am definitely not getting.