Archive for the ‘stellar service’ 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: 9/10 Excellent service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Maître D’, one of the very best you will encounter at this level of dining. 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.

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.

Pierre Gagnaire, Paris

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

I did opt for the A La Carte menu).

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

My starter was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mignardises at Pierre Gagnaire were also of great standard.

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

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

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

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

Restaurant: Ishikawa
Address: 〒162-0825 東京都新宿区 神楽坂5−37 高村ビル1F
Date and time of the meal: 18/11/2014 17:30
Type of cuisine: Kaiseki
Phone:03-5225-0173
Tabelog: 4.33/5
Michelin stars: 3
URL: http://www.kagurazaka-ishikawa.co.jp/

Ishikawa (1)Kagurazaka Ishikawa is a well known kaiseki house in the area of Shinjuku (Shinjuku is vast, though, so keep in mind that if you stay close to the Shinjuku JR station,  Ishikawa is really NOT in the vincinity….;p). They have been operating for 11 years now. Chef Ishikawa explained that he comes from a part of Japan where the rice is of exceptional quality (yagata?? I am not familiar with Japanese names but it sounded like that), so he plays particular attention to the handling and preparation of  the rice (at a place like Ishikawa, you realize that rice is an ingredient that we, in the West,should  take seriously as great rice is not … just rice, indeed). The service here is world class (couple of waitresses and some few chefs) and the decor tasteful.    I tried to discretely take the pics of my food, discretely I insist  as  Japanese do not like that sort of distraction, especially in such intimate settings (in some of the restaurants that I will visit later on, photo taking is banned— at Ishikawa they are so nice that they won’t tell you anything,  but play close attention at the behavior of the other patrons and you’ll get what I mean ) , so as I usually do, out of respect to the privacy of other diners, I refrained from taking pictures of the room when it was full of patrons.

Ishikawa (2)Kaiseki is my favourite type of Japanese meal for its strong focus on all sorts of seasonal produce. It is also the kind of meal that I do approach with a lot of anxiety (positive / constructive anxiety that is),  because I remember that I, too, come from a country with food of deep and extreme nuances/subtleties/complexity , therefore condemned to be oftenly  mis-interpreted / mis-judged because as diners, we  mostly have no time with how things are supposed to be,  rather interested to expect things to be what we want them to be . I remember, couple of years ago, inviting a long time food journalist/cook/experienced foodie to eat a dish of cassava leaves cooked in coconut milk. A dish of the kind that I like a lot since its description is ordinary, its execution pertains to a totally different registry. In facts, you need to find the proper cassava leaves, cook it for at least 6-7 hrs with the right amount of quality coconut milk (popular in some African cuisines ) and its final taste will depend on your palate and ability to keep enhancing the flavor with as little as coconut milk, water, garlic, onions, salt , your leaves and deep understanding of how fire can impart sublime taste to your food. I ensured that a long time experienced cook, a granny actually, cooked it, because I wanted that friend to start with a version of that dish cooked  by “hands and a palate ” of considerable  experience. That friend/foodie/cook’s verdict on that day was straightfoward: it’s bad, it is just leaves that he  would have boiled, nothing more and that all the attention to details and long time cooking was pure Bullshit. The granny was upset and accused that dude of ignorance.  Both reactions were expected, but  I simply asked my friend to try, as much as he could, to remember that supposedly ‘disgusting taste of simple boiled leaves’ but …since he loves food…. to keep his mind open and give a chance to that dish, wherever he finds it. But more importantly, to do it himself and try replicating that exact memory of taste. 10 years later, this is the dish that my friend admires the most, cooks the most, etc. Of course, this sounds like a fairy tale   — I know, i know …. we are ALL mostly pessimistic by nature,  and tend to be  bored with  nice stories lol — but there’s a reason I brought the “fairy tale” here:  Kaiseki suffers from the same faith…its complexity, its depth, its purpose  is not always  evident, especially for non Japanese palates/tastes.  Even for someone like me who has cooked seriously for almost two decades, and have  studied and practiced a lot with the nuances of Japanese fares for the past 3 years (it was  important for me to spend some time learning/understanding/practicising with one type of cuisine before starting to assess it) , I had to go out of my way in understanding one important element:  the work of the texture and exceptional focus on the details  is for the Japanese leading Chefs far more important than how it is valued elsewhere.

The food report:

Blanched blowfish tossed with Japanese herbs, grated white  radish sauce.  Basically a julienne of  veggies with morsels of blowfish. Tasty, but not a testament to high level kaiseki cooking  ( ordinary for a restaurant of this reputation) as it lacked a sign or two of restaurant quality brilliance (anyone could pull out this sort of ordinary flavors , in an effortlessly way ) . 6/10

Ishikawa (3)

Deep fried shitake mushroom with minced Japanese duck,sliced duck breast, dried shitake mushroom: the quality of both the duck and the mushroom was impressive, but there was more. There was technique (the cooking of both the duck and the mushroom superbly achieved in letting the deep meaty flavor of the duck expressing itself, the mushroom timely roasted so that its earthy flavor is left unaltered while the mushroom is cooked enough and nicely seasoned to spectacular mouthfeel ) and an inspired touch (it is easy to extract decent flavors out of  duck and mushroom, but harder to  get duck and mushroom complementing each other this well. Exciting 10/10

Ishikawa (4)

White miso soup with savory rice cake. The quality of the ingredients continues to be, as I’d expect from a restaurant of this reputation, of the highest order. Such comment also applies to the technical execution of the food: as mastered as it gets ,meaning the balance of flavors is spot on, seasoning judicious (never too salty, never bland). The beauty of great kaiseki cooking is to extract the most out of the least, and that is what they’ve accomplished successfully: deep ,  balanced, delicious  and complex flavors out of a simple rice cake and miso soup. Miso soup is one of those things that escapes attention when done well but which failure you will quickly notice, so it is easy to take such great work of this soup for granted . Excellent Miso soup like this one I was sampling is a rare treat,even in Tokyo, as I came to realise. 9/10

Ishikawa (5)

Sea bream sashimi . I am not too sure what one should expect from seabream. There’s no exceptional seabream flesh, there are just great and bad ones. This was of the great sort. The quality of the seaweed high. As great as ..great fresh seabream flesh tastes.

Ishikawa (6)

Seared Ise Lobster with vinegared soya sauce – quality lobster, one piece served raw (sashimi), the other seared. The quality of an ingredient is always half the battle/ the quality of this lobster was high. There was  a true fresh taste of the sea when eating the raw lobster, which was a reminder that no ordinary lobster was served. Then you had the charcoal grilled piece, which did not fail to remind that quality seafood cooked using a flavor-enhancing cooking method like charcoal grilling does ultimately water the mouth. Delicious as one would expect,the soya sauce is,of course, of the non ordinary sort  8/10

Ishikawa (7)

Charcoal grilled horsehead snapper flavored with salted bonito innards sauce is a technique that I will steal from them as I love charcoal-grilling fish at home (using a hibachi charcoal bbq grill) but I was looking for new ways to enhance the natural flavor of charcoal grilled seafood. Bonito innards sauce is exactly what I was looking for: a distracted palate would think that you’ll get the same palatable impact using just salt .Well,no…there is indeed an impression of  ‘that is easy to replicate’ when flavoring fish with salted  bonito innards sauce, but the level of the  complexity of the resulting flavor is not that easy to emulate. This sauce matched beautifully with the snapper.  Whether it is street food or fine dining, I do not have  unrealistic expectations when it comes  to charcoal grill seafood. I just expect an exceptional understanding of what makes a simple piece of fish ..tasting great! Which is what they did. Superb  9/10

Gluten bread with walnut and dried sea cucumber . The sea cucumber oceanic flavor, striking (in a very very good way). I am usually accused of being very conservative about drying / and or dry-aging seafood, but that is because I find that seafood drying   and/or drying aging is oftently misunderstood (you really need to know which seafood is truely enhanced by such process ). This sea cucumber was timely dried, the exciting mouthfeel and aromas are a testament to its high  quality and this is an instance where drying seafood  adds — rather than substracting — to the pleasure of eating food.  8/10

Ishikawa (8)

Fresh water eel was flawless in all aspects: top quality eel, the tsume sauce highly enjoyable both in texture and taste, the mashed taro packed with vibrant fresh earthy flavors. As it is the case with all the other offerings, the ingredients are complementary BUT in an inspired/thoughtful/witty  way (only the 1st offering tasted and felt like an ordinary assemblage of food items). Flawless. 9/10

Ishikawa (9)

Hot pot of snow crab, tofu and seasonal vegetable. That the ingredients would remain of very high quality was not a surprise anymore,  so it’s in the work of the broth that I had high expectations. They were met: the broth had depth/complexity, its taste exciting.  A world class hot pot, with a benchmark tofu (I am a huge fan of tofu as it is one of those little things that is easy to overlook but that can marvel when executed masterfully ….the tofu,here, impossibly soft, its taste not bold at all and yet so revealing in subtleties) . 10/10

Ishikawa (10)

Steamed rice, seabream paste and pickled vegetables. I won’t rate this dish as my opinion is sadly..biaised.Biaised because the seabream paste was reminescent of our canned tuna in the western world, therefore I am unable to appreciate that seabream paste as I wished … because I can’t genuinely get excited about flavors and texture of this sort. Needless to stress that there is no fault here (it’s one perfect legit version of a  seabream paste), just a clash with a personal perception. What I will do,though,is NOT to overlook the star of this dish, the rice. Again, the Chef seemed to have mentioned Yagata (???) — correct me if I am wrong — as the place of origin of his rice. This, to put it boldly, was spectacular rice with superlative flavor and texture. That he steamed his rice like a master at his craft is not the sole reason behind that incredible bowl of rice  (10/10 for that benchmark rice). At some point, they transformed the dish into their take of the ochazuke dish (combination of green tea/steamed rice) which, on this instance, combined the spectacular rice, a perfect broth, nori, the seabream paste and sesame seeds. The overall was tasty.

Ishikawa (11)

Sweet red beans,Yuzu citrus ager and cream cheese with toasted wafer featured quality red beans which sweetness is not overwhelming but judicious, the yuzu citrus ager flawless in texture and adding necessary acidic balance, the cream cheese is a far better version of the standard cream cheese as its soft consistency coupled with superb lactic mouthfeel did stole the show . It is easy to overlook simple ingredients like those (red beans, cream cheese) as  they are oftently taken for granted, therefore we tend to be uninvolved when we use them. This dessert was a reminder that doing so (underestimating such humble/common   ingredients) is a mistake as cream cheese/red beans/yuzu citrus ager  done this well and tasting this good can be exciting.   8/10

Overall food rating: 8/10 (Category: top tier Kaiseki in  Tokyo)  Kaiseki cuisine (in this case, Chef Ishikawa’s take on it) is very simple in appearance, thefore it can sometimes  gives the wrong impression  that it is hard to get excited about,  but  its  subtleties can  reveal a lot more than what its first impressions may suggest. Ishikawa was about that, and much more: great service , a sense of place, ingredients of the highest quality and more importantly …. a great sense of taste. Ishikawa has an understanding of flavor combination that floats my boat (always that little inspired touch that imparts either surprise or joy in mouth,for eg the rice cake of the miso soup –not the classic texture of rice cake, rather a texture close to marshmallow and it happened to be more effective than the other sorts of rice cakes in its intent to surprise/please. Or a zest of orange skin that tentalized and added a thoughtful kick to the snow crab’s broth ). I loved Ishikawa.

What I think weeks later: That rice, that rice …I do not know if their rice is always that stellar, but the one I was having was like no other rice.

Event: Dinner at L’Européa
Date/Time: April 16th 2014, 18:00
type of cuisine: French (Fine dining)
Address: 1227 de la montagne, Montréal, QC
Tél: (514) 398-9229
URL: http://www.europea.ca/

Latest reviews:

Pursuing with my reviews of the major restaurants of Montreal (previous review was about restaurant La Chronique — click here for that review). L’Européa is  a popular fine dining destination in Montreal.  It recently became a Relais & Chateaux and is now part of Les Grandes tables du monde. Their Chef is Jerome Ferrer,  an amicable Chef with several restaurants in Montreal.  L’Européa is his stronghold. The food here is French gourmet.

The meal started  with many nibbles such as a morsel of beef jerky, cheese lollipops, a ‘cigar of cheese’,  cheese-flavored popcorn, a slice of scallop with a drop of mango purée atop so to give the impression of an egg, etc.  All amusingly presented but most  I personally found  surprisingly  ordinary (in light of what is generally served at a restaurant of this standing) :  for example, the popcorn lacked of the vibrant toasty flavour  of its    better versions, the  cheese lollipops had no problem at all on the aspect of the conception but it won’t be hard to find far  more exciting  versions of what I was having, the beef jerky as ordinary as anywhere else, the scallop with its drop of mango purée is certainly a good effort but such combo works only if the ingredients are exceptional;  they were good enough BUT  they were not the stellar specimens they had no other choice to be  and that pretty much sums up what was going to lie ahead (good intent, hard work but lack of  sparks) .  The best of those nibbles being  the ‘cigar of cheese’ and yet, its effect was similar to what plenty of  lesser restaurants would  serve in town.

Then:

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Lobster cream Cappuccino with truffle puree

 

 

 

 

Lobster cream Cappuccino with truffle puree  lacked  of the bold rich dimension it needed to make an impression.  This was way too mild tasting for a lobster cream   3/10

 

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Carpaccio of yuzu pecking sea bass

 

 

 

Carpaccio of yuzu pecking sea bass. Creamy crab salad and celery remoulade as a cannelloni. Slowly confited crab leg in a lime butter – The  cannelloni of celery remoulade was well done, but I found the sea bass leaving quite a generic impression as far as I am concerned (not bad, not good), as I have enjoyed far more exciting versions of it even in Montreal, the crab salad fine, but again nowhere close to the best I had even here in Montreal   5/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Tagliatelle of calamari

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagliatelle of calamari cooked at low heat was the best dish of this meal.  This reminded me very much of Chef Jean Francois Piège  ‘calamar à la carbonara‘. The calamari retaining balanced doneness between the right chew (it is in the  proper nature of  the flesh of the  calamari to be packed with a certain chew) and ideal tenderness,  the overall  providing  enjoyable mouthfeel.  I’d not hesitate to score this  higher at a low end restaurant or a bistrot, but for what’s usually delivered at a restaurant of this standing, a 7/10 (Good) seems fair in my opinion.

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Pan sear foie gras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maple bark stewed pan-seared foie gras, caramelized on a river stone with Fire cider. Apple and cranberry crumble as a tatin. They first present you with a hot slab of stone on which the piece of foie gras continues to cook. Warm cider is poured on top of the foie gras and the dish is completed with apple and cranberry crumble. Pan seared foie gras is easy to get right, actually easy to excite in mouth (plenty of bistrots in town offer some dazzling ones) but the foie gras I was having  this evening kept all of that potential at bay: the deep livery flavor so typical of a startling version of this simple dish was replaced by barely any distinct flavor (a piece of foie gras relies heavily on  that dazzling deep livery/  minerally dimension that I was missing on this instance) .    3/10 (to be fair, there was technically nothing wrong with this piece of foie gras as the doneness was right  and quality good, but as already explained here, my score is related   to the DEGREE of excitement sensed by my palate. Purely subjective as it is the nature of any opinions, obviously).

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - sea bass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea bass filet cooked in breakable clay. Cook-ooning cauliflower and special tabouleh Green Asian salad’s leaves and stalk. Bright red “beurre blanc”. I certainly cannot fault the doneness of that fish (cooked right, which means neither overdone nor underdone) , but the baking effect of clay pot cooking has rarely been, for my taste, the best technique to impart excitement to a piece of sea bass filet (grilling, pan-searing make more sense to better appreciate such mild tasting fish) , unless, of course, you add a dimension of spectacular seasoning to it, or its presentation is something out of the ordinary. On this instance, there was no spectacular seasoning and presentation but the observation that my unexciting sea bass filet (ordinary tasting) could have been memorable with a simple ‘kiss’ from the grill and its skin left unremoved (a bit more tricky to achieve, compared to the clay pot cooking technique, but with far more exciting sensation. This should have been about a greater expression of the ingredients  3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Prawn risotto

 

 

 

 

Prawn risotto. Straw wine emulsion. Suspended prawn spring roll. For me, a passable take on the risotto. Risotto relies on complex deep  flavors, a dimension that this rendition lacked: at home,  when in the mood of something quick and basic but satisfying enough , I sometimes cook a quick (non elaborate) riz au lait by simply pouring milk over steamed rice. This take on the risotto had that  same ordinary effect, only it is delivered  with the savoury dimension that is required to call it a rendition of the risotto, and came with prawns in this case. Those  prawns, although not bad at all,   still got nowhere close to the finest prawns that I have sampled in a restaurant, even here in Montreal, and a take on the risotto needs texture (this was closer to a soup of rice than to a rendition of the risotto).   3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot

 

 

 

 

 

Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot. Root vegetables fondant, hen broth infused with galangal. Celery bulb entremet and béarnaise. In Alain Passard‘s style (this reminded me of  Chef Alain Passard   long time ‘chicken cooked in hay’ dish, the chicken is replaced by the Cornish hen on this instance) , the Cornish hen cooked in hay-lined pot is presented in its pot, at the table. This is a dish that’s simple to cook,  as well as one that can easily dazzle with barely not much.  The one I was having on this evening was nowhere close to what I wish it could have been:  simply put, the seasoning lacked spark (for my taste, Galangal —as the dominant aroma —  has never been  ideal   for poultry, as its flavor  wont complement  the poultry  taste in an exciting   way – The effect I was left with was one of a generic tasting piece of poultry with a soya-flavored sort of sauce (that’s how the sauce tasted), which was  hardly going to pay justice to the better  renditions of this dish).  I appreciate the work and effort that went into cooking this dish, which  a simple reading of its title clearly suggests (galangal, bearnaise, hay-lined pot cooking, etc), but unfortunately, for my taste, this was way too simplistic, not enoughly gutsy. 3/10

RESTAURANT L'EUROPEA, MONTREAL - L'AligotAligot with cheese Quebec Chef’s way. Basically, their take on the Aligot, using local Quebecois cheeses instead. The cheeses that were used were good substitutes to the Tome cheese traditionally found in the original versions of the  Aligot, but for my taste the Tome trumps. I personally prefer   the numerous takes on the  original rendition, this  being a bit too ‘soupy’ (the stretchy consistency is mandatory for me to call an aligot, an aligot) in texture in my view. I am still impressed that a restaurant in Montreal would try making an Aligot since this is the type of dish I value the most for one simple reason: the recipe being  basic, it is easy to underestimate the potential that lies  ahead (let alone the number of times I caught restaurants, abroad, confusing aligot with ..what it is not!! ) , but startling Aligots do exist. It’s the ‘magic’ of the Aligot: you can reach a surprising depth of textural and palatable complexity with barely not much. I am a purist, when it comes to the aligot,  hence my nitpicking but   what they’ve done on this instance is   not bad at all (for sure, I could admire the perfect balanced flavors between the ingredients that were used).  6/10

Then an array of sweets: macarons (good), fruit paste (the best of those sweets, very good), barbe à papa (of the quality of any barbe à papa I could had anywhere else), a dessert crafted around the coconut (for eg, coconut ice cream, coco-based meringue, etc — again, not bad but I had far more exciting coconut-based desserts at plenty of lesser restaurants).  All fine enough, but  the general level of the pastry at, say, the top 20  finer restaurants of  Montreal  is nowadays as good if not higher than what I was sampling on this evening and more is certainly expected from their Pastry work which has a MOF (Meilleur ouvrier de France) at the helm.  With the sweets came a glass  of pina colada which was not packed  with the  usual fresh startling punch that an exciting mix of coconut cream and pineapple flavor do usually rarely  fail to deliver – an underwhelming rendition of one of my lifetime favourite cocktails, mostly because none of its basic ingredients shone through as they were either discrete ( for the coco cream)  or felt average (pineapple).  It also failed on the aspect of the visual appeal (a glass of Pina Colada should always look sexy! ;p).

Service/Ambience: if you like theatre at a restaurant (not my cup of tea), you will have fun with acts like (on this evening)  a piece of salmon hidden in what looks like a book, you open the book, some smoke comes off and here’s your piece of salmon inside. At some point, a waitress came and served me some food directly to my mouth (It is clear that  they keep themselves up to date with what’s going on abroad and do want to offer to Montreal a panorama of what’s best done –in terms of dining experience — on the international restaurant scene). They brought the sea bass encased in a container made of clay. You break the container and here’s the sea bass. then you’ll fall for their generosity: plenty of nibbles throughout the meal and they really work hard in making the experience festive. Again, I am not a fan of such things, preferring a strong focus on the food experience itself, but the room was full and most patrons  seemed to love this kind of experience, so this seems to be a successful concept. Certainly a house with a great sense of festivity and high hospitality standards.

Overall score for dining experience and food performance:  3/10 for the overall food performance, 10/10 for the non-food aspect (dining experience, service).  I found  the food performance on this specific meal (I can talk only for what I have experienced with, which is the meal I was having) to be  very weak, by any standard that I can think of, here and abroad, not just fine dining (even at a generic bistrot, the food I was having on this evening would make me frown and would get away with that exact same overall food performance score). This is a well-oiled restaurant (with world class service — they will take care of you in a way that few restaurants in this city can pretend to, the staff really great, the experience of being there is truly unique by Montreal standards),   so if they can get the food performance to match  their better aspects, then certainly I’ll be a fan.

What I think weeks later: I can understand the shower of praises of  L’Européa (the accolades, the enthusiastic appraisals on Tripadvisor, Yelp, etc) as you’ll be treated like a queen/king, so it’s humanly hard to not fall for  that, but ultimately I need my food to leave an impression.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ristorante Dal Pescatore
Type of Cuisine: Updated Haute Italian (Classics of  Mantuan cuisine, Lombardy)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Thursday June 14th, 2012 12:00
Addr: Località Runate – 46013 Canneto sull’Oglio , Mantova
Phone:+39.0376.723001
Email: santini@dalpescatore.com
URL: http://www.dalpescatore.com

Service: 10/10 Mostly young, well behaved Gentlemen with great tact. I am French, so they spoke French to me, and listening to Italians talking in French, with an Italian accent, is always pure joy to me. It has its charm, a charm that lingers on my mind.
Overall food rating: 8.5/10 The Santinis have an amazing sense of taste as largely proven by the fabulous ravioli di faraona,  the stunning  tomato compote,  great risotto, outstanding reduction to the braised  beef shoulder,  benchmark torta di amaretti.  And at a time when everyone thinks that we’ve seen it all with a  polenta, they manage to deliver one against which I will judge all  other polentas. The only reason I give it a 8.5/10, as opposed to a 10, is because the overall impression I have of this meal is  one of an  overall Very good-to-excellent (8.5/10) classic 3 star Michelin meal rather than one of benchmark level (10/10).  Regardless, this is exactly  the  type of classic 3 star Michelin I like most and I would run back to Dal Pescatore way before thinking about going back to Michelin star restaurants that I have rated with a 10/10.  As always, a subjective matter based on personal experiences, etc.
Overall dining experience: 10/10 I have rarely felt so happy in a restaurant, Michelin starred or not. It goes without saying that at this level of dining, every little detail counts and each one  found all along this meal simply scored high on my appreciation scale: the plating, the beautiful and elegant country home decor,  the countryside, the charming and down to earth wait staff met all along this meal , and the qualities I expect from a top dining destination just kept piling up while I was there.

 

To call a restaurant ‘the best in the world’,  you either do it for marketing purpose / generating hype  (for eg, San Pelegrino  World best restaurant’s ranking  ) or you do it based on personal preferences, obviously.  And NO..you do not need to visit every single restaurant in the world to have a good idea of what you could define as YOUR  “best restaurant in the world (only someone who has  no clue of what professional cooking and the high end restaurant level is really about would need to reassure himself that way..a bit as if you would feel the need to visit every single country  of this globe to get to the conclusion that Americans are among the best at playing Basketball.. ).  For me, for my taste, with respect to what I value as real great “artisan Chef’ cooking, coupled with my profound love for Italian cooking and the countryside of  beautiful Italy, Dal Pescatore is  “THE  best restaurant in the world”.

Around two years ago when I decided to review restaurants (NOT really something that I like to do, reasons are explained here, and I do NOT  systematically think about reviews wherever I go, or on whatever I eat,  Lol!), I knew exactly what I wanted in  my reviews: avoiding style at all costs and focusing on what I believe to matter most: assessing the (relative) value of the restaurant food that I am eating.  Ironically, by ‘assessing the value of my restaurant meal”, I went one step further and removed …the price factor…. out of the equation. That is because on top of the already explained reasons that led me to review restaurants, I had one major quibble (with most opinions about restaurant reviews) that jumped to my attention: what if the $$$ was not taken into consideration??  Apparently, from most answers I have gathered throughout the years, most would have found their meals to be excellent had the price been lower! Interesting…So, oftently it is worthy of raves because it was affordable. Let’s take $$$ out of the picture then and focus on what I have in my plate. Make no mistake: I understand  the notion of value for my bucks, but I am interested by one thing ONLY: the deliciousness of the food that I am eating way before its value gets lost in ‘value for money’  interpretation.

Restaurant reviewing is, of course, not limited to one or two aspects of a dining experience. And it does not  have to be something special neither. I personally refuse the idea of  restaurant reviewing on a professional level for a very simple reason: I don’t see why something as personal as this  (talking about the food you eat) would be remunerative , unless you go way beyond the basic restaurant scripts and books of recipes as it is the case for  few  exceptional food journalists  like Quebec’s Marie-Claude Lortie, Perico Légasse in France, John Mariani in the US .  I know,  it (reviewing restaurant as a job) is a pointer, a way to be better informed.  But you have this in tons of  opinions over the web,  and those people are not renumerated. I know some will argue that a professional food critic will provide you with stylish write-ups and professionalism. BUT  that is not what I want in a restaurant review: like it or not, I do not eat ‘style’ nor ‘a sense of professionalism’ nor ‘megalomania expressed through writings”.  I eat food and I just want to know what is offered, how it is made, to what relative level of cooking is the kitchen reaching out to.

There is also the widely preached bogus belief that  anonymous reviews may hide personal agendas.  Even a saint can hide an agenda.  We  all know that.  More importantly, a  normal diner   at a restaurant is anonymous, shall I remind this? And when you dine at a restaurant, guess what…you have opinions on what you have just paid for, with, as it should normally happen… your own hard earned money.  Those opinions can be expressed in many ways: verbally, in writings, etc. So, I do not see any problem with comments from  anonymous or well known sources. They both can either  hide agendas or be honest. No one will ever have any  control over this, anyways. Desperate harmful and insulting views with no constructive and no honest purpose —- which is the only thing that would make sense to fear from an anonymous review–  should obviously NOT be encouraged and this applies to  celeb faces hiding  agendas of restaurant propaganda .  Either way, there should be no  excuse to intimidate freedom of speech.  The debate over anonymous opinions is a debate full of nonsense, a creation of some of the industry’s watchdogs,  a debate pertaining to ancient times when big Daddy, scared of the judgements of others, would command you to show your face before you can  think and judge accordingly.  But humanity has evolved and people  paying for what they consume, with their  own hard earned money, should never accept that the restaurant industry and some of their watchdogs  take control over what we should have as opinions.

Who you are, as a restaurant reporter,  makes absolutely no difference: this type of opinions (about restaurants) are subjective anyways, no matter how credible you might think you are, and consequently, knowing what you like or not, what you are hiding or not,  is of utter irrelevance. We should do this (sharing our opinion) for the simple sake of sharing knowledge but certainly not as an exercise of potential serious  influence on the choices of others. As far as I am concerned, my agenda is clear: it’s written here  and as explained, I wanted to experience for myself the journey of  an independent voice completely detached from the restaurant industry.  I wanted to be able to rave –or not — about what I felt authentically deserving of its raves –or not –, to be able to freely convey what I really had in mind as opposed to be influenced by outside elements.  Naturally, I can afford behaving this way (fully enjoying the role of  a normal diner,  being independent from the industry, mocking at style or etiquette) and abide by my own principles no matter who says what —  only because I have no commercial interest in the restaurant business . I took time to write this because there is nowadays a universal debate around the subject (of anonymous restaurant reviews), a non-debate in my pertinacious view, thus my two little cents on this matter.  This is my opinion, and I’ll proudly and obdurately drink to that, Rfaol!

Before I write about the current reviewed restaurant – Every gourmand’s dream is to find the  best value restaurant at the very top level of world’s fine dining. Once every 5  years or so, I  stumble upon one and lately,  it is in Chicaco, Illinois. It is L2o, a restaurant that I  have discovered back in the days of Chef Laurent Gras. It was back then already deserving its 3 stars. Then Chef Francis Brennan took control of the kitchen, and the solid 3 star Michelin performance kept rising to the top. Now, that Chef Brennan left, it was downgraded to a 1 star Michelin restaurant and I recently had a meal there, under its present 1 star Michelin assignment,  and everyone at my table (they are regulars of world’s haute dining extravaganza) agreed: it is, between you and me, the current best value at the very top Michelin star dining level, and Chef Matthew Kirkley is, for now, the most underrated Chef in the world. You get a top 3 star Michelin dining at an official 1 star Michelin. Other great discovery, lately: La Table d’Aki (after more than 2 decades alongside Bernard Pacaud of 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie, Chef Akihiro Horikoshi has opened his own little bistrot and is unleashing some of the secrets that made of Chef Pacaud one of the most respected icons of La France gourmande. A great way to sample the sense of classic culinaric savourishness of Chef Pacaud, brought to us by Aki, at very sweet $$$. Check that out: Table D’Aki, 49, rue Vaneau, 7th Arr, Paris.  Phone: 01 45 44 43 48).

And now, our featuring restaurant review (Lunch on Thurs June 14th, 2012 at noon):

Dal Pescatore, its cuisine, its Chefs –  Dal Pescatore is  a restaurant of haute Italian cuisine balanced between innovation and tradition. The latter (balanced between innovation and tradition)  being a description that is dear to them; on their web site they do insist on this, and it is also, based on my meal there, a realistic portray of their cooking style. Innovation here means that it brings an updated approach to a style of Italian Haute dining that remains classic (with a focus on its surrounding regional fares: for ie risottos, nearby Mantuan pasta dishes, other Italian classics especially from their local Lombardy region ), but it is by no means into  futuristic culinary styles. They do also insist on the food being wholesome.  It is among restaurant Magazine top 50 best tables of the world, a member of the prestigious ‘Les Grandes Tables du Monde” as well as earning three Michelin stars since 1996 (only seven Italian restaurants boast three stars). It is considered by Paul Bocuse, the pope of French gastronomy and many top culinary journalists such as Gilles Pudlowski and John Mariani as well as frequent patrons of the haute dining scene as  the very best restaurant in the world. High profile chefs such as Anne-Sophie Pic had their lifetime’s best meal here. The soul of Dal Pescatore, Chef Nadia Santini (one of her sons, Giovanni,  is nowadays an active Chef at this  restaurant  as well as their legendary Mama Bruna / I recommend that you read their story on their web site, it is an interesting read – it’s surely fun to observe how they evolved from a 1920s countryside tavern to the top of world’s Alta cucina, for ie, or how Nadia Santini went from studies in Political Sciences to the position of  one of world’s most respected 3 star Michelin Chefs / It is also amazing to note that Chef Nadia Santini rejects the idea of a brigade in a kitchen; she is one of the very rare top Chefs around the globe who thinks that hierarchy is unnecessary in a kitchen and that everyone should work as equal members of one team)  is frequently mentioned as one of the top 3 best female Chefs in the world alongside  Pic (Maison Pic, France) and Elena Arzak (Arzak, Spain).  Many grand Chefs have also trained and honed their culinary philosophy here: LA’s Sotto Chef Steve Samson , Celebrity Chef Todd English, Malibu’s Granita Restaurant Chef Jennifer Naylor, Chicago’s Spiaggia Chefs Sarah Grueneberg, Tony Mantuano and many more. Other  high profile Chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli and top British Chef Angela Hartnett have expressed great admiration for DP. It is always admirable  to learn that such a Grand Chef like Nadia Santini (who, after numerous years of excelling at such top level,  would be in the excusable position of saying ‘I have nothing to prove anymore’)  is always in her kitchen  in a world where ‘embryo’ cooks with a lot left to be proven are busy parading afar from where they are supposed to be found!

Decor –  A mix of classic and contemporary elegance with emphasis  on ‘ la gioia di vivere ‘ , the joy of life, as easily expressed by the possibility of indulging in one of Italians favourite custom ‘Mangia fuori’  on their  veranda in summer,  evidences of cozyness  (fireplaces, the joyful color scheme of the 3 dining rooms, the wooden floor  that gives the room a warm and intimate feel), the  artworks on the wall. Pastel colored walls (in pure Northern Italian decorating style , the colors pay respect to various elements of the surrounding countryside:  lakes, earth, etc), beautifully laid tables positioned for privacy.  Think of the restaurant as a  sophisticated  country house  with  a peaceful view on a well  kept garden.

Location –  Dal Pescatore is located in the village of Runate, municipality of Canneto sull’Oglio, in the province of Mantova (region of Lombardia),  North of  Parma, East of Milan. Around 65 km from Verona Intl Airport, 115 kms from Milan Linate Airport, 150 kms from Milan Malpensa Airport. I’d suggest you include a dinner here within a tour of Lombardy’s main attractions (historical cities of Mantova, Modena, Cremona, Parma / the urban life of  Milan / scenic places like lakes Maggiore, Como, Garda). Hire a car.

Produce–  I have always admired Chefs who are really close to the land, to the point of growing most of their own food. I have always favored Chefs who are really close to their local produce and artisans. That is perhaps why I always had a soft spot for the  work of Chef Alain Passard at L’Arpège, Chef Patrice Gelbart who used to work at ‘Aux Berges du Cérou’ or Chef Craig Shelton who was at the helm of the  Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, New Jersey. I remember my excitement when, during a dinner at the Ryland Inn (Chef Shelton does not work there since years, now), Chef Shelton kept rushing between his garden and his kitchen making sure that optimal freshness was present on our plates. He had that strict  ‘xxx minutes maximum delay’ ..5 or 7 mins if I remember properly (Chef Shelton was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement on the East Coast in the US) …in between picking the ingredient, getting it cooked and served. Of course, Chef Shelton is an exceptionally skilled Chef and I would have never mentioned this had his food not been of stellar mention. Years later, here I am in Canneto sull’Oglio and the Santinis have that exact same philosophy at heart: they raise most of their vegetables on the premises.

The food report

I started with a tomato compote of stunning marinda (from Sardinia, Italy)  tomato flavor 10/10.  It’s a great example of why Italian food is so well respected: startling simplicity and beautiful produce. Italians know how to make you rediscover the real flavor of an ingredient. I am not rating this with a 10 just for the produce alone: a  touch of beautifully aged balsamic and inspired hands brought this tomato to palatable triumph.

Followed by Porcini, Fegato di Vitello (Veal liver), romarino (rosemary) – Flawless cooking technique as shown all along this meal. The mushroom packed with deep earthy flavors that complemented so well with the veal liver. No quibble here: cooking achieved beautifully and flavors as good as you can get from a nicely prepared veal liver. 8/10

Then, Tortelli di Zucca (Zucca, Amaretti, Mostarda, e Parmigiano Reggiano) – tortelli with pumpkin, amaretti biscuits,  mostarda (a type of candied fruit and mustard chutney condiment and a speciality of Lombardia) and Parmesan – Star Chef Todd English has always praised Dal Pescatore for for being the place where he learned everything about pasta and  the work of the dough. Pasta making is indeed pushed to high level of conception, here. It is artisanal pasta, hand made on the premises. Pasta can’t be fresher than this: they make it only when you order. One Pasta signature dish of Dal Pescatore is Tortelli di Zucca, and a Mantuan classic:  made of pumpkin (Zucca), nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, cloves, mostarda (A ‘glacé fruit’  preserved  in a spicy syrup), Italian almond-flavored cookies (Amaretti) and the iconic cheese of this region: their Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are using, in Mantua, an ingredient that adds so much to pasta: pumpkin, as expected,  does indeed add amazing texture and superb flavor.  Its sweet, and yet savory nature teasing the palate. As a quick reference, if you had sampled Chef Todd Stein’s iconic “Caramelli dish” (pasta filled with butternut squash, sage, amaretti crumbs) when he was at the helm of Restaurant Cibo Matto in Chicago – that dish made  it to America’s best pasta dishes of several top food magazines —  then think of Tortelli di Zucca as its elder (not served the same way, and not fully identical, but the basic idea and also ingredients behind both dishes are similar) .  Dal Pescatore’s version was flawless: the mostarda enhancing the pumpkin with lots of panache, the pasta itself is impeccably executed, its texture utterly refined, the taste is of course a bit less rich and rustic compared to the tortelli di zucca I tried at the other places in the region but this is understandable since this is fine dining and not rustic dining. Also, the Santinis focus a lot on good healthy food, therefore food that’s  not overwhelmingly rich nor too rustic. What justifies, in my opinion, a 3 star Michelin meal is its depth of precision in balancing, better than many others, the flavors, textures and  other cooking aspects (timing of the cooking, judicious choice of the ingredient combination, effective usage of heat, etc) that are involved on a dish, all things achieved brilliantly on this dish. PS: Try this recipe at home . Excellent. 9/10

Ravioli di Faraona – Guinea fowl ravioli was of benchmark 3 star Michelin material. The preparation of the pasta, its impeccable texture, the outstanding balance of flavors, the superb mouthfeel are just a fraction of the superlaives I could use to discribe the amazement of this dish. 10/10

Then Branzino con olio extravergine umbro, Prezzemolo, Acciughe e Capperi di Salina – Excellent seabass that retained its well known enjoyable mild flavor, its flesh was firm and immaculately white as any top quality fresh seabass has to, the cooking achieved to ideal moisture retention.  8.5/10

Followed by Risotto con pistilli di zafferano e aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (sometimes it is ‘Risotto (Vialone Nano) con pistilli di Zafferano e Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale ) – Saffron risotto with traditional Balsamic vinegar from Modena  – They grow their own saffron on the premises and this is thoughtful: it has nothing to do with the average  saffron I am accustomed to, and that you find in most saffron risotti of the region. This saffron has a superior subtle aromatic freshness that, on its own, transforms their risotto into a unique one.  But the kitchen goes beyond the full satisfaction of their spice, and as stands true to a good Il Bagatto, it brings another secret weapon to the center stage of the show: the ethereal aged authentic Modena balsamic vinegar with its mesmerizing long finish flavor. Vialone Nano, well known for absorbing liquid better than many other rices,  is indeed the appropriate rice that needed to be used for this risotto dish. Of this dish, I’ll remember the great technique, the superb taste that can only come from a top quality stock, the  proper heat regulation and excellent texture.   9/10

Cappello da Prete di Manzo al Barbera e Polenta Gialla di Storo – braised shoulder of beef   slowly cooked in Barbera wine with  polenta  –  Cappello del prete is a cut of beef ideal for braising (although, in my view,  not quite at the level of what a meat like  beef cheeks can deliver when it’s braised to its  prime) . The meat was cooked to tender consistency for long hours in a rich Barbera wine based sauce. This dish, due to its comforting nature could have been  predictably less memorable but it was not: the sauce was reduced as it should, the delicious juice-infused beefy meat  kept   an ideal tender consistency to it, the exemplary polenta (if you see a cook looking down on polenta…it is not a Chef, it is just a lesser cook who badly needs to get a taste of a polenta like this one so that he will forever understand how he was never made aware of the full potential that lies ahead of such a supposedly simple fare). The reduced sauce was remarkable, even for this level of dining. 9/10

Amaretti Torta –  For years, I have made Amaretti torta many times (this  as well as torta sabbiosa, zabaione and chiacchere are among my favourite Italian desserts/cakes), and I just like tasting it whenever it is baked by others, just to see how far they push it,  therefore an appealing pick for me. This one had a good ratio of the basic ingredients necessary to make this cake (choco chips, amaretti cookies, etc). The amaretti base was impeccably made, the cake itself cooled down to room temp, had proper moist consistency and was packed with a depth of enticing chocolate, coffee and almond aromas. Easily, a benchmark amaretti torta  10/10

I was warned by some of my Italian foodie friends that on Italy’s best tables,  I should not expect petits fours of the standard found on France’s best 3 star Michelin tables. They were wrong: the array of fabulous petits fours (various chocolate creations, mini fruit tart, etc)  on display could have been served at a top 3 star Michelin table in France and I would see no difference. They were that great, and I had a huge smile when I sampled the solo  cherry featuring among those petits fours:  I urge anyone to find me a better cherry! 10/10

My short conclusion on this meal at Dal Pescatore –  The strength of this meal I just had at DP lies in (1) how this cuisine  is entirely symbiotic with its environment and  (2) how most of the dishes are perfected:  the pastas I had would set the bar for their artistry in colors, their flawless textures,  their delectable stuffings.  The risotto I have just tasted is also of that level of culinary mastery.  I was quite surprised (in a good way) by this performance, even by the standards expected at this level of dining. Almost everything was copacetic all along this meal.  The minimum at such standards of dining  is food that’s  refined and well done, for sure,  but  it was still remarkable to find items as eventful as some that I have just tasted. Many among world’s most talented Chefs have a spectacular culinaric sense, but few have an exceptional palate. Whoever has cooked the ravioli faraona, the tomato compote, the petits fours  and the amaretti torta can be counted amongst the latter. I don’t know Dal Pescatore enoughly well so I can’t really tell which dish  was cooked by Chef Nadia Santini, her son, or by Mama Bruna, etc —  something I generally like to know since each person has a signature cooking touch and that aspect matters to me —  but  I could observe a common denominator in their cooking as a team: they favor harmonious flavours. I wanted a repast exempt from what I perceive as the UNECESSARY (the pipettes, the foams, the paintings on the plate, and tons of other gimmicks), a meal focusing on the pleasure of eating real food, enjoying the best local produce. You can eat very well at low cost in Italy (If you stumble upon a bad cook in Italy, my guess is that it is not a cook…it is an impersonator who just wants to make a quick buck…because here, it is not the ‘buzz’ that dictates who you are —some cooks in some cities will recognize themselves in the latest statement —  it is oftently real talent! Hard working Real Chefs cooking for real….), but on this occasion, I wanted this simple and delicious cuisine expressed in its most refined version. That is exactly why I went to DP and that is also what I got.

From an aphorism of France’s 20th century best known writer, Curnonsky: “Good cooking is when things taste of what they are.”. Curnonsky would have been very happy with most dishes of this meal: wherever things looked simple, they were elevated with brio, but never through gimmicks and only with inspired emphasis on their very own nature. Simplicity, I’ll always reiterate, is nice only when it is in the hands of a gifted Chef.

In fine, for the food on this meal, I’ll underline the careful balance of flavors on all of the dishes, the importance of never roaming away from the comfort zone of a nice hearty classic dish (their meat, their pasta dishes) while adding the touch of superior inspiration and culinaric effort expected at this echelon .

PS: Wine – One of my favourite all time red wines accompanied this meal. It’s a 2008 Pergole Torte Sangiovese (memorable licorice aromas, perfectly balanced tannins). Talking about their wine list, it not only suits to all budgets and covers a big part of the globe (of course Italy and France, but also Australia, Lebanon, New Zeland, etc), but how thoughtful was that to classify it by type of wines (for ie, Franciorta – Trento classico e altri spumanti, Bianchi Italiani, Rossi Italiani, etc), then by vintage years. Here’s a sommelier who perfectly understands the importance of a logically well conceived wine list. Another great moment: a glass of giulio ferrari 2001, a must when it comes to bubbles.

PROS (of this  meal at Dal Pescatore):  In the days leading to my meal at DP, I have enjoyed Mantuan food at some serious trattorias  of the region.I was also lucky enough to have sampled the food of two  talented nonnas living in the region,too.  So, my experience and expectations of my meal at DP was  different, from, say, the standard food traveller who would have just visited DP with, in mind, some  general knowledge of Italian food (as opposed to accurate information  about Mantuan food and what should be expected from an  interpretation of this specific cuisine). There are things  that I am not fond of, such as the tad-less-runnier  texture of the risotti that Classic Mantuan cuisine tend to favor, but that is just a matter of preference and should not be assessed as inferior to the sort of a bit-more-runnier textured  risotti that can be found, for example, in the region of Veneto. It is just two different ways of taking the risotto.  DP clearly offered a perfected interpretation of Mantuan Classics.  I had a great time, here and this (great food, great wine, top service, nothing overworked but to the contrary brought up in a natural appealing way may it be in the behaviour of the staff, the presentation of the food, etc) is exactly what I do expect from a 3 star Michelin dining venture.
CONS (of this meal at Dal Pescatore): When a heart is happy, there’s nothing to pique at.

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER – Your judgement of a meal goes down to who you are.  I am someone who believes that greatness is about doing the most with the least. So simplicity done this well is,  to me, the definition of perfection. It’s a classic place, so if classic is not your thing, you have tons of tables for you: Noma, Thierry Marx, The Fat Duck, Alinea, etc. If you want noise, buzz, hype, trend, there are tons of popular bistrots and restaurants around the world that will fit the bill. On the other hand, if like me, you believe in great classic cooking, then DP is a benchmark table. For me, for my taste, with respect to what  I value as  real great cooking, Dal Pescatore is an example of what I would define as a “best restaurant in the world”. I loved Dal Pescatore.

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I will be honest with you, I get bored reviewing restaurants. I initially didn’t even want to do this (read this on my 3 star Michelin web site). As a matter of fact, I am now reviewing just 10-20% of the places that I am visiting  because many of them are not offering food that would justify that I spend time writing about . When I keep saying to people that I am not a true foodie, I guess you have right there a perfect confirmation of what I am talking about (I respect foodies and believe that they are the best architects of the newly-found enthusiasm for exciting dining experiences, but I know myself enoughly well to assert that I do not have their genuine enthusiam. I am just a cold hunter for what I believe is food that stands out in my view, but I don’t get any satisfaction in eating out just for the pleasure of doing so). To find motivation in continuing to write, I will vary once in a while between restaurant reviews, interviews of the greatest Chefs around the globe and culinary reportages.

This is only my second interview with one of the grand Chefs of the globe. Previous interview was with Chef Corey Lee, Ex 3 star Michelin Chef who was at the helm of the French Laundry (CA) when this restaurant was among Restaurant Magazine’s top 5 best tables of the world. Chef Lee is now at Restaurant Benu, SF (I am planning a culinary trip to SF in  the future which will include Manresa, Benu, FL, Bouchon, Ubuntu, Saison, Atelier Crenn but Benu won’t be reviewed since Chef Lee was interviewed here. Sounds not cool, but I find it more important to remain loyal to my principles.). As a reminder of my strict code of ethics: the restaurants which Chefs I am interviewing will never be reviewed. This reaches out to the very 1st rule behind my decision of reviewing restaurants: never interacting with the staff of restaurants that I review. An interview is an interaction, so no review!

This time, I am interviewing Chef Luisa Valazza of 3 star Michelin Al Sorriso in the city of Sorriso. Her restaurant is known, in world’s finest dining circles, as one of the very best of the world. Chef Valazza is also the perfect choice for the  type of Chefs that I praise a lot: an artisan Chef, far from the big buzz, busy behind her stoves, the only place we need a talented Chef to shine. Before publishing the interview, I want to thank Chefs like Corey Lee and Luisa Valazza for being down to earth, open to answer any questions coming from any of their customers. This sounds like a small detail, but in a world where many Chefs forget where they came from, and what brought them to the highest praises, it’s touching to see Chefs, among the very best in their domain, finding time and humility to answer the questions of their real customers, you and I, anonymous Joes!

Last but not least, Chef Valazza being Italian and not British, I dearly hope that you will remain open minded and thankful to her efforts to express herself in English. I am myself French and I feel flattered (and am thankful to them) to see English people sometimes trying their best to share with me in my own language. So let’s remain open minded and get the most out of this constructive interview :

Question #1: Chef Valazza , you have been at the helm of your  3 star Michelin table for a while now. In retrospective, would you be able to pint point the exact evolution steps that made you evolve from a 1 star to a second then to a 3rd. For ie: have there been very precise actions that got you going from a 1st to 2nd star. Then from a 2nd to a 3rd? Did you make major changes to your cooking in between each of those steps? Or has this been the fruit of improvement in service, decor?  This is a question that I thought interesting to ask since many 3 star Michelin Chefs would simply respond that they got the 3rd star upon continuous hard work. Although that is surely true, it would be very informative to be more accurate about those steps of evolution.

 

My  first coming  in tu  the ciuisine it was on  November 1981  because  the   chef  we had  went away , so  i  decided  that  the  better  way it was to take  the  responsability of  the  Cuisine  , tu have a continualy  style.

Whit great work i had  the   first  Michelin  star on  1982  a Surprice,  and  continuing in to the pledge  and reserch i had  the satisfaction to have  the  2d star  even a  surprice. on 1988. i was crying .
I was feeling  more  responsable, bat  the  passion  and  thee desire of beeng  better geve to me the  sprein to  continuing  to reserce  the  best way  to an expression on my  plaite the  taste  and  the  parfum  of the Italian  cuisine.

all these bring  mee after  10  years  to have  with  a great  surprice  the  3rd  Michelin  star. with  great  and  hard  work  i crowned the  dream of  evry  chef.

 

Question #2: Italy has great produce and a cuisine that’s mosly glorious in its simplicity. But it slightly differs from region to region. What type of cooking do you offer: a recap of Italian cuisine from all corners of Italy?  Or Italian Cuisine from your  region of Piedmont only?  And how would you consider your cooking: a modern take or a personal re-interpretation of  Italian cooking ?

 

On  my  cuisine  thereis not only an interpretation of the  Piemontese  cuisine  but  i am looking in th the  region  around  Piemonte , introducing also even  fish from  the see , ( Sardegna , Sicily , Liguria  and everywhere there are better product. )  My  cuisine is  a cuisine of  reserce of the  traditional Italian cuisine in a modern Key.

 

Question #3: I have heard that you are a self-made Chef. So no trainning at all? Just going from home cooking up to 3 michelin star excellence?

 

Yes  I am professor of Italian Lecterture and  come  from University to the cuisine , on  my  family  my  mother  was also a professor  but she cooked at home and i never  tuch a pot before.

when i Married  my  husband  i  prefered  to do his job  , starting  first study  of  Italian cuisine book  from  old  and  new  cuisine  

 

Question #4: Many 3 star Michelin restaurants have some signature dishes that are the imprint of their culinaric work. For ie, the seabass/caviar at l’Ambroisie, the Eel toast at LeDoyen, etc.  I believe  this makes sense since at 3 star Michelin standard, the level of dining is so high that it needs to leave its imprints. To a first time diner at your 3 star Michelin restaurant, what can you recommend as signature dishes? What inspired you in creating those signature dishes and  what reflexion/message did you want to communicate through those dishes?

 

My  important plait are  1st  the  ”  patata  all’uovo gratinata  al  tarufo d’Alba ”     2d   ”  fungo porcino farcito con olio e aglio di Vessalico  ”  3rd   ”  The  green  ravioli  with Bettelmatt cheese and wild herbs  “

The  message i transmet to the  guest  is  the  semplicity, great product, great  taste.

 

Question #5 – Piedmont seems like the ideal place to open a restaurant: self-sufficient (wines, cheeses, meats, etc are found in this region). Was this the primary reason that led to the opening of your 3 star Michelin table in the beginning? What about your clientele: are they mostly gastronomic travelers to Piedmont? Italians? Foreigners?

 

The  reason we open a restaurant in  Piemonte  is  that we are  Piemontese  from Here  Luisa is  from SORISO  and  Angelo  From  BOCA  near SORISO

My  clientele are  gourmet and  people they like good Cuisine  , must of  them are foreigner  from all ower the Word .
Hope  you  cann understand every  thing i send you  my  best  regards

Luisa  Valazza

Event: Dinner @ Le Marly restaurant, Montreal
When: Saturday April 23rd 2011, 19:00
Type of food: Modern French Bistronomy (on lunch), Fine dining gourmet (on evenings)
Addr: 1065, cote du Beaver Hall, Montreal, QC
Phone: 514-439-3904
Web site: http://www.lemarly.ca/

UPDATEDTHIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED

 

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

Click here for a recap of  my picks of all Montreal’s top fine dining & best Montreal’s bistrots.
Also: My  3 and 2 Star Michelin restaurant review web site

UPDATE JULY 2012: CLOSED SINCE NOVEMBER 2011 – THIS REVIEW IS KEPT ONLINE FOR HISTORICAL VALUE. CHEF BELAIR IS NOW EXECUTIVE CHEF AT AIX CUISINE DU TERROIR.

(English review to follow) – J’anticipe votre réaction “hein,..quoi..du calibre d’un 3 étoiles Michelin…mais il est fou celui  là”. Et vram le survol d’attentes surréalistes! Rires. Soyons clairs: je ne fonctionne qu’avec ce que je vis, je conclus que sur ce que je sais: Je ne suis point  devin et ne pourrai prévoir  si vous vivrez le meme sentiment , mais ce repas du Samedi 23 Avril 2011 à 19:00 fut tout aussi spectaculaire que la majorité des meilleurs repas 3 Étoiles Michelin que j’ai eu l”occasion de savourer. Que vous dire d’autre? Ah oui, qu’il faut pas jouer à l’autruche: un restaurant c’est d’abord un Chef  qu’on le veuille ou Non. Alors, j’ai fait mes devoirs: j’y suis allé un Samedi Soir car je ne m’attends pas à ce qu’1 Chef soit aux fourneaux 24/24, midi et soir, 7/7. Parcontre, Un Vendredi ou Un Samedi Soir, je m’attends à ce qu’il y soit (oui, je sais, certains Chefs travaillent nuit et jour, Peut etre que le Chef Belair est dans cette ligue,  mais c’est surhumain) et le Chef Belair y était comme il y est souvent d’ailleurs. C’est un Chef au talent exceptionnel. Oui, de calibre 2 à 3 étoiles Michelin. Facilement. Si vous y alliez sur l’heure du midi (c’est rare de trouver du gastronomique élaboré sur l’heure du midi ici ou ailleurs) , ou au moment qu’il n’y est pas et que vous m’envoyiez un courriel pour me dire que ce ne fut pas aussi grandiose que ce que j’y ai vécu, alors il faudrait peut etre relire ce que je viens d’écrire!. Et je concluerai sur ceci: Le Chef Jean-Francois est un Chef  d’exception!

I know…with a title like ‘Food of 3-star Michelin level!’, one might think that this is a new marketing strategy. Especially because this is Montreal, a city that …in the perceptions of most foodies and gourmands around the globe….can not succeed at such level…..perceptions, dear perceptions, oh you dear perceptions….I still remember those folks, defining  Montreal food restaurant scene’s perfection  to Le Club Chasse & Peche and Au Pied de Cochon….my project (the current web blog and my top 15 best dinners in Mtl & surroundings) was a direct response to them: buds, you got it all wrong!

Le Marly…I will be honest with you…has never captured my attention as far as food goes: its night-club feel is enticing, indeed, but there was no particular interest in its food: the initial reviews on its restaurant  confirmed that I was right. But then Le Marly  sent a serious warning to Montreal’s food scene: in February, they hired a Chef with an exceptional  raw talent, Jean Francois Belair. I waited 3 months before stepping foot, enough time for Chef Belair to set his comfort zone. I will, for once, let the food talk for itself…before we talk about anything else:

Snails – snails of top quality with an intense, rich savourish snail-meaty sauce on beds of  impeccable brussels sprouts. Excellent 10/10

Cream of corn, parsley foamy milk, coq au vin nugget:   – The nugget of coq au vin  is cooking at its best: a depth of taste that simply revolutionizes the taste of   coq au vin, which on its own is already one of the most flavorful French meals. Whilst the coq au vin nugget, a reference for any upper level cooking performance, was impressive, the cream of corn/parsley foamy milk would be of fair 2-star Michelin refinement (of all corn-based creations that have left great impression, only Navarrete Jr’s Corn soup, Potato salad, chives, aioli, crab meat  fared  better than this one of Chef Belair, for its more flavorful impact), but it stood no short of excellence: a mastery in balanced taste (both the taste of the corn milk and the parsley were harmonious and complemented each other well) and texture. 10/10

Carpaccio of beef – perfect raw meat, of impeccable quality, expressed through impeccable technique and mesmerizing deliciousness.  Each morsel of the composition elevated the overall dish brilliantly: parmesan cheese in its best condition, utterly fresh quality bok choy providing an un-matched kick of taste when paired with the parmesan cheese, parnsnip rediscovered at its best, home made potato chips that are nothing short of perfection…who would think that a potato chip —an already delicious item — had a lot more to prove? Obviously Chef Belair is one of the few who thought so. Carpaccio perfected!  10/10

Medaillon d’agneau, lentil du puy au Chorizo, purée d’olives noir, jus simple – Chef Belair has great humor: at two occasions, he mentionned ‘jus simple’ (simple jus) both on the initial ‘Snails’ dish, and then on this dish. I am sure he believes that his sauces are indeed simple, but in reality most of the 3-star Michelin Chefs that I know will revere him for his amazing sauces. Sounds too flattering, you might think? Nah..would be reality’s response. Have you noticed that I do not bother anymore losing my time with technical notes like ”the meaty beefy note of the sauce was balanced by a perfected texture, enhanced by  a well seasoned jus”…??? Right, there’s no need for such description…especially when the food is perfected to this point. This was Jannice’s food and I had no intent to sample it. But she insisted: huney, you should try this lamb…pure perfection in cooking technique..pure perfection in refinement of taste…you should taste the purée of olives, a redefinition of the perfect olives purée…  Jannice is one of the few which palate   I trust the most  and this  has nothing to do with the fact that she is my sweet half, she does have a profound and unique developped ‘sense of taste’. I tried the lamb (a flesh of impeccable  quality, with an excellent mouthsome and a top-tier jus which lifted the dish well)  3-star Michelin perfection, on this dish . 10/10

Supreme de pintade, champignons pied de mouton, nage de mais, daikon – In March, when we were dining at 3-star Michelin Ledoyen in Paris, my mum had the ‘poulet de bresse’ which is highly regarded as one of the finest poultry at that top level of dining.  Ledoyen’s meal has not impressed as you can read on that review (although that ‘poulet de bresse was not reviewed on that post), but from bites of my Mum’s ‘poulet de bresse’, I  have to admit that her dish was in the top 3 best poultry dishes I ever sampled. The supreme de pintade of Chef Belair is in its own league though: far superior to the Poulet de Bresse in all aspects: excellent depth taste, perfect moisture consistency, accompaniments (potatoes, apple, shrimps, daikon) that were cooked and tasted of exquisite perfection. 10/10

Meyer lemon pie, lemon sorbet – Here, I wish I had a top of the line camera. The picture does not do justice to this dessert. regardless, I want to say this: you know, at our top of the line world’s best tables, buzz aside, what you get on your plate is usually one or two marvellous dishes of exceptional level (the 10/10 that I use), and then a lot of well mastered courses but with nothing out of this world (the 8/10 that I use). And usually, you have either stellar savoury dishes or stellar desserts (L’Ambroisie was one of the few 3-star Michelin tables that delivered stellar execution in both savories and desserts), but rarely both. Tonight, Le marly’s kitchen offered 3-star Michelin perfect food not only towards their savoury dishes, but also in their desserts: the lemon pie and its sorbet were not only packed with a stunning depth of fruity flavour (loved the intense flavor of the sorbet) but their  respective execution was nothing short of perfection. Stellar! 10/10

Caramelised poached pear, churros, salty caramel – I used to say that France is unbeatable when it comes to desserts. I kept saying so even after having tasted the amazing desserts of Quebec’s talented pastry Chefs like Patrice Demers (Although, I have always preferred Rouyé‘s desserts). But  the pastry Chef at Le Marly has put an end to my belief: he did not even need modern sophisticated creations to impress. Nah…he went right in the basics, the simple ingredients, the simple techniques, the simple pastries  (poached pears, churros, salty caramel) and elevated everything to rarely matched execution in terms of perfected refined taste and texture (here, the quality of that pear stood out, the execution of the churros was flawless).  10/10

Decor
Modern, design, Bistro-chic  decor. There’s a night-clubbing feel to the place, but obviously they take the food very seriously (not a huge place: when you enter, the bar is on the right, the restaurant part facing the bar on your left. They will also have a 30-seat terrace open for summer).

The menu
Relatively short but smartly thought (varied): for ie, the main courses included a variety of food items (guinea fowl, boar, lamb, fish) with diverse accompaniments. The same could be said of the starters and the wine list (wine list has lots of affordable choices, with mostly plenty of wines from France and Italy but also some from other parts of the world). I found the by-the-glass pairings to be among the ones that I enjoyed the most in Montreal (Alex, my waiter and sommelier of this evening mastered so well his pairings). Here’s a sample of their menu.

Service:
impeccable (Alex, our waiter, was the perfect balance between professionalism, accomodation, coolness, patience  and took great care of his customers). Great work ethic from what I could see on this evening’s dinner (not stuffy at all, but caring and friendly).

Price:
A bargain for such level of food. You can see the prices on their online menu.

CONCLUSIONS:

What impressed me the most with this dinner was that rare ability of elevating familiar cooking to excellence: take those snails, the lamb medaillon, the lentils, the guinea fowl, the poached pears for ie. They sound very familiar, perhaps, but the modern re-work of those dishes was superb, exciting, and as Jannice stated ‘this is food that brought emotions”.

What about the  10/10 marks? Does perfection exist? I am not one who forces his imagination to see trouble where there is not. If a dish has superb depth of flavor, is very well executed and stands as ultimately delicious to my palate, then that is a perfect dish to me. If it is lacking, then that is not a perfect dish. The marks over 10 should not be a surprise: this blog is not about ‘adventure-sly’ discovering restaurants, but focuses on restaurants  that has long proven to stand out in Montreal. In the case of Le Marly, it is the arrival of talented Chef Belair at this place that attracted me there. And yet, despite focusing on a certain level of skilled cuisine, some  meals at other restaurants have failed  miserably if you take time to go though all my reviews. Regarding each course of this meal at Le Marly, they deserved their high scores for the amazing top quality ingredients and high level cuisine that was experienced on this evening. And even where they sounded simple (snails, poached pear), they were executed with outstanding refinement. Being able to make the most out of the least, that — in my opinion — is one important equation of a skilled kitchen.

Recently, when reviewing le Filet Restaurant, I was stating (following the launch of my latest 3-star Michelin Star dining web site that saw light in Paris), that Montreal most talented Chefs (Michelle Mercuri at XO Le Restaurant, Navarrette Jr at Raza, Rouyé at La Porte, Normand Laprise at Toque, Loiseau at Bistro Cocagne, Pelletier @ Club Chasse & Peche, etc) are mostly as stellar as the best 2 Star Michelin Parisian Chefs. I also mentionned that Paris had a big advantage on the 3-star Michelin dining level and that only Michelle Mercuri’s XO Le Restaurant was of 3-star Michelin caliber. Chef Belair, on  the back of  this exceptional dinner performed to a level of perfect 3-star caliber Michelin cuisine. Furthermore, this meal  is the  new #3 of my top 15 best dinners in  Montreal’s & Surroundings.

What about the reference to the 3-star Michelin? Was that a joke? Rfaol…Nope, not at all. First, I am talking about 3-star Michelin level of food. In Montreal, up to now, only  4 dinners have reached that level in my opinion:
-XO Le restaurant’s March 19th 2010 dinner
Raza’s October  22nd 2010
-To some extent, the dinner I had at  La Porte was almost of that level, too
-This one dinner at Marly
Of course, they are not identical: Raza was modern Latino/French, XO Le Restaurant was Modern European, La Porte Modern French, same could be said of this one dinner at Le Marly.  Those were all food that definitely left better impression on me than at some attended 3-star Michelin meals like my 2008 lunch at Jean Georges, or the most recent 3-star Michelin meal at Ledoyen. With that said, from my perspective, food of a level of 3-star Michelin just means food which cooking and taste have been perfected to a rarely matched level. But even at that level there are several sub-levels of perfection: a 3-star Michelin table like L’Ambroisie, for ie, pertains to the top of the crop of 3-star Michelin perfection, and even among the best well established official 3-star restaurants I don’t see many approaching to the excellent level of L’Ambroisie. So, in the case of  this above reviewed meal at Le Marly I am referring to a good level of 3-star Michelin level, which although is by no means to the level of L’Ambroisie remains a solid dinner performance of the highest order. I’ll go back!

Wishing you the same amazement!

PROS: This was a startling dinner. As long as Chef Belair keeps the heat ON as what I found on this meal, Le Marly will be in Montreal’s top 3 fine dining destinations.

CONS: Nothing to complain about. But a reminder: I believe that the best time to indulge at most restaurants with such skilled Chef is in the evening, especially a Friday or Saturday evening.

***For the record, I have gathered a recap of all my reviews here (this is an easier way to get  to them rather than scrolling the entire xanga web page).

Dinner @ Restaurant Poivre Noir,
Type of cuisine: Modern French fine cuisine with eclectic influences (Oriental, Latin American, etc)
Friday September 17th 2010, 07:30 PM
1300, rue du Fleuve
Trois-Rivières, QC
Url: http://www.poivrenoir.com/au-resto
Phone: (819) 378-5772

Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7), just Ok (6)

This friday, we went visiting two cities outside of Montreal: Quebec city and Trois-Rivières.

Since I am always in  search for fine dinings that are in the upper echelon  of Eastern Canada’s restaurants, we went at two elite dining ventures of the province of Quebec:
L’Initiale (Quebec City) for Lunch and a dinner at Poivre Noir.

The restaurant is located in Trois Rivières, a city located at approx 2 hrs drive from Montreal, 1hr and a half from Quebec City.

Decor:
Poivre Noir’s setting is elegant  with a comfortable and inviting feel to it,  promoting a real sense of serenity that both Jannice and I have enjoyed on this evening.

The contemporary interior cohesive design is marked by warm and bold colors

The table-setting style: white tablecloths, Candlelit, quality glassware:

The view on the Saint Lawrence river (scenic)

adds to the charming romantic warm decor

Food:
On this dinner, Poivre Noir featured an attractive menu, blending modern/European French fine dining fares with Oriental (there were Chinese, Indian influences on this dinner)/Latin american ingredients .

We picked the tasting menu:

Tourte de saumon – A first nibble of salmon pie was served along a fresh lemon-coriander yogurt. The pie was perfectly baked with an excellent meaty salmon filling that was packed with superb fresh marine robustness. The yoghurt was light, tasted fresh and delicious. 8.5/10

Fromage bleu en Baluchon (amazing quality cheese, perfect depth of enjoyable rich tangy taste),  a thin slice of fresh  cucumber wrapped around a raspberry (simple, but I guess this was more of  an ode to the products. I’ll take it that way since both the cucumber and the raspberry were exceptional  in terms of quality), Black Corinth grapes (the product for the product. They were of excellent quality),  foie gras au torchon (well done  with an ideal soft buttery consistency, perfect salmon-pink texture,  great taste)  7.5/10

The next course comprised of
-An espuma of tarragon and Mozarella di Bufala (10/10): there have been, all along this dinner, couple of  exceptional food items. I’m referring here to performances you usually find on 2* and 3* michelin starred tables. One of those is this espuma. Simply outstanding in terms of taste (moving / will  set the bar to most of it’s variations on the upper scale of fine dining), impeccable texture and overall execution.
-Halibut en papillote, Garam Masala, baked peach (3.5/10): the only weak food of the entire dinner.
The halibut was masterfully cooked (beautiful golden texture, nicely moist consistency of the flesh),  but it tasted bland! One  major ingredient of the Garam masala blend of spices made things even worst:  a subtle taste of cumin added unpleasant bitterness. The baked peach was of no help neither.
Dommage, because the idea was ambitious.
-Marinated beets, cabbage, parsley, radish salad (10/10): Only an exceptionally  talented Chef can work  his veggies to such highest level (amazingly tasty, superbly seasoned, outstanding well balanced taste).  At some point, Jannice and I  made a joke about this:  we laughed over the idea that those veggies would walk from our table, get into  the kitchen and start thanking  the Chef for the amazing job he did with them ;p

My main meal of this tasting menu was the Duck magret.
The dish was of generous portions. Aside from the duck magret itself (10/10 top quality meat, expertly cooked and remarquably savourish),  I also had the following accompaniments:
-Truffles, chives, mascarpone millefeuille: another outstanding food item you will usually find on a table of 2 or 3* Michelin caliber. This one specific brilliant rendition of that millefeuille was a cutting edge coherent nibble bursting with  outstanding vibrant flavors. A reference to most palates. 10/10
-A mixture of cooked veggies: filling and tasty. Seasoned perfectly well. Good +. 7.5/10
-Butternut, orange espuma: light, enjoyable. 8/10

One of France’s most celebrated knives, the Laguiole knife, was in action to cut that delicious duck

The main course of Jannice was a tempura-alike lobster tail:
this was another successful dish since the top quality lobster managed to keep an upfront   depth of  marine freshness flavor. Superbly well cooked. It was accompanied by a cube of tasty  squash stuffed with walnuts, a bowl of bok choy (We both love cabbage, so the bok choy was much appreciated. This oriental cabbage was cooked at ideal crisp-tender consistency and kept its best sign of freshness: a perfect bright green color) corn meringue with mild pimenton (enjoyable), a  kumquat (the tartness level of the kumquat was brilliantly lowered by  marinating the fruit in a delicious syrup),  an outstanding delicious white chocoloate/coconut sauce (made perfect sense to complement the subtle sweetness of the seafood, although both Jannice and I opted to  enjoy it separately). 9/10

Next came
an impeccable duo of luscious peach gelato (fresh taste of flavorful peaches) bathed in an eau de vie was served as a pre-dessert. 8/10

Ended with the
Beets,Raspberry shampoo (not an acquired taste to the most, I presume, but definitely an interesting surprising taste to discover and re-discover), coffee and dark chocolate meringue (nice dark chocolate, the meringue was elegantly airy  and rich without going overboard on the sweet side). 8/10

Conclusion:
This is one type of restaurant that I like a lot since it is a  cuisine that stays away from the safer  side of gastronomy. It explores new frontiers, varies it’s cooking methods, dares setting new gustatory references and it works. For me, only the halibut en papillotte  missed the marks on this dinner.  But where it counts, they scored really high with regards to the highest fine dining standards:  the level of perfection of  their main course of duck magret is to be expected on a table pertaining to a 2* Michelin  star caliber or higher. The same could be said of the mille-feuilles of truffle, mascarpone, chives, and their sauce of white chocolate/coconut.

The lobster was  outstanding. Many food items were unique, in a very enjoyable  way, and could serve as newer references to some.

This  was a fun and exciting journey through the flavors of the world  without losing the main  focus on the enjoyable aspect of modern french fine dining. Moments where this dinner did not fail to awe were numerous.

It  is also an all-rounder. It pleases those who — like me — are willing to submit their palate  to different tastes,  but it will also reach out to those who want to take safer paths:  I found them to be very accomodating (it is part of their philosophy as explained by their Chef on this video. You are welcomed to indulge in their inventive creations, but they will address your needs for a more conventional cuisine as well).

Service: Professional, friendly, knowledgeable. Special mention to our main waiter, Simon: he talks about wine like Oscar Wilde writes about Arts.

PROS: At this moment, a top-tier table in this province. I prefer a table like this, that takes risks, where the technique is mostly outstanding and the end result exciting rather than a top table that’s taking the safe routes of predicatability. The best dishes of this meal was of solid 2 star Michelin caliber.

CONS: At the end of Sept 2011, I dropped by on lunch time. It’s clear that this table primarily shines at night, like most high end tables anyways, but not at lunch. The lunch we had was way too pricey for the offerings on display: I had no quibble against my choice of a 15$ plate of nachos with chicken  since the nachos (their own take on nachos) — although sounding overpriced — were so outstanding (for a plate of nachos to impress that much  tells a lot about this Chef’s skills) that I did not mind the $$$. My problem though was with my wife’s croissant of crab meat. At approx $27, this was frustatingly pricey and at that price, I expect some fresh bake croissant coming right from the oven! Anyways, at night, the dinner is an event that counts among this province’s very best so dinner is the way to go! And it’s (dinner) at reasonable cost.

 

2009-2010 AROMES    TOP 15 BEST DINNERS IN MONTREAL