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Detours, Pau

Posted: September 2, 2017 in Uncategorized
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  Detours (14 rue Latapie, 64000 Pau, Communauté d’Agglomération Pau-Pyrénées, Phone: +33 5 24 36 53 02) is one of the latest most touted new tables of Pau.

In Pau, I did hesitate between traditional food (Chez Olive, Chez Laurette, Henri IV) or the contemporary casual eateries opened by Chefs who have spent long years alongside the greatest Chefs of France (Chef Nicolas Lormeau of Lou Esberit, Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin at Detours). Not an easy decision as I am partial to those two different types of restaurants, but I am already familiar and do cook traditional french cuisine (from all regions of France) at home, therefore I decided to see what the well trained artisan Chefs had to offer in their casual eateries. My decision was  influenced by the fact that I do already cook classic French food at home, and not contemporary takes on that type of food, therefore I suggest you try their traditional food if you are in Pau.

Chef Jean-Pascal Moncassin worked, in the past, at Michelin starred Michel Sarran in  Toulouse as well as reknown restaurants such as Le Crillon and le Grand Véfour.

I ordered two A la carte  items from:

Jarret de veau en nems croustillant, quinoa aux petits legumes, herbes fraiches. Nems filled with veal, on a bed of quinoa and vegetables/fresh herbs.
The genuinely Vietnamese nem flavour is faithfully replicated, quinoa cooked properly, the vegetables (carrots, radish) featuring a nice crunch. A finely composed healthy dish (no unecessary bold seasoning, but flavour where it needs to be found, as exemplified by the exquisitely seasoned nem, then the lightly seasoned quinoa and vegetables , which was the right thing to do in this case. 7/10

Agneau, epaule confite 36hrs, caviar d’aubergine, legumes de saison (pommes de terre, zucchini, carrottes, champignons) cuits dans le jus de cuisson. Lamb shoulder confit, cooked for 36 hrs. In a separate pot, potatoes/zucchini/ carrots/ mushroom. Timely cooked vegetables and lamb. Eggplant caviar was perfect, the vegetables cooked in a delicious and flawlessly reduced cooking jus. Another fine dish. 7/10

Overall food rating: 7/10 A Chef who knows when and where flavours need to be expressive or subtle, the food tasty.

 

 

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Lou Esberit, Pau

Posted: September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized
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Chef Nicolas Lormeau has honed his skills alongside some of France’s best Chefs: Michel Trama (Aubergade, 2 star Michelin), Gerald Passedat (Petit Nice, 3 star Michelin), Gilles Goujon (Auberge du vieux puits, 3 star Michelin).

They have, in France, many Chefs with 2, 3 star Michelin skills who have decided to open their own venues, and get this: they are there, in the kitchen, cooking for real. A distant dream in many parts of the globe. No wonder France will remain a superpower of the foodie world for a while.

In 2016, Nicolas,  did open his own restaurant, Lou Esberit, in Pau, which style of food can be described as “bistronomy” if you wish, and his talent has since been rewarded with, among other achievements,  a selection in the top best 3 Chefs of the Credit Agricole’s Talents Gourmands Pyrenees/Gascogne (not a light reward in a region with plenty of talented Chefs).

There are several menus (A la Carte, tasting menus, etc). I picked the following two A la carte menu items:

Croustillant de langoustine, fine purée d’une barigoule, queues de langoustines roties, petales d’artichaut frit (crispy and roasted Dublin bay prawns, artichokes mash and chips). I could not enjoy the prawns as they were way too salty. The artichokes mash was fine, but that was not enough as the overall dish lacked sparks (felt generic/average in mouth). 5/10

Filet de rascasse grillee, soupe de Roche et pomme de terre fondante. Grilled scorpion Fish fillets, potatoes and his take on the “bouillabaisse” (which was in a glass and that I had to pour over my fish). Grilled scorpion Fish, one of the fishes  commonly used for a bouillabaisse,  is one of my preferred fish. The fish was cooked properly (retained an ideal amount of moist, firm as it should). not boldly seasoned and that is fine. Some parts were bland, others seasoned, but in this case, I can live with that (as you will pour the bouillabaisse on it, anyways). But his take on the bouillabaisse lacked maritime flavour. I presume it had to come from the fish I would pour the bouillabaisse on…but pouring a bouillabaisse on the fish does not have the same effect as cooking the fish in the bouillabaisse! 6/10

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 On my visit, the Chef tried too hard to be creative, Alas …to not much effect.

Bottom line: I have no doubt that Chef Lormeau is a good Chef. The locals told me he can be great. I even saw an online picture of Michel Guerard paying a visit to him. So he must have been doing great things to be noticed by a heavyweight like Chef Guerard. But the 2 dishes I was having could not testify to that. In cooking, whatever you do, food needs to satisfy. Those 2 dishes failed at that. Service is great, the Chef is one of the friendliest characters of the restaurant industry (great smile, talks to everyone), the restaurant is popular and superbly well located (at a stone throw of the gorgeous Chateau de Pau). Just make that food festive again, Chef! Lou Esberit 8 rue adoue, Pau, France 64000 Phone: +33 9 83 97 58 58 URL: http://www.restaurant-louesberit.com

Knowing my profound  admiration  for  Japanese food, a local foodie friend has notified me about the recent opening of two Japanese eateries in Montreal and I went trying both: Tsukuyomi (current review) was visited on Wednesday Aug 16   and I did dine at  Cocoro (reviewed here) on Thursday Aug 17.

Tsukuyomi (Addr: 5207 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC Phone:  514-273-8886) is located on St Laurent Street, almost at the  corner of Fairmount. They are essentially making ramen : a veggie tonkotsu Pork bone broth + veggie topping), Chashu tonkotsu (Porkbone broth + braised pork belly topping), which is what I picked, a chicken tonkotsu (Pork bone broth + boiled chicken topping) as well as a Vegan ramen (Vegan broth + vegetable topping). Each bowl costing $13. Sides are Edamama (salted green soya beans) $3,  a daily Vegan salad $4, Goma-ae boiled spinach with sesame sauce 4$, Tokowasa wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed 4$, Mini Chashu Don (Braised pork on top of the rice), steamed rice $2.  They also have Sapporo/La fin du monde beers as well as Kocha Japanese milk tea/Matcha honey green tea/Ramune Japanese soda/Sencha green tea.

The   woody  interior mimics faithfully the North American idea of a casual Japanese eatery, and   there are seats with partial views on the opened kitchen.

What I ate:

Takowasa – Wasabi flavored octopus with nori seaweed. Pieces of octopus marinated in a sugar/wasabi mixture. Had the wasabi be of the “grated root”  type  (which you will NOT  find at a  restaurant in Montreal, this would have been a hit. Alas, as expected, the wasabi paste found in Montreal, which was used here, is way too pungent to complement the flavor of octopus.

Pork bones based Tonkotsu ramen was   second to the one at Yokato Yokabai, with a broth that was not  as deep and complex in flavor as I wished, but certainly pleasant with some Ok  chashu and semi firm boiled egg yolk that I , as well as plenty of ramen fans, prefers with a wet-appearing center (which I was missing, here) for the simple reason that it tastes better when it melts with the soup (the main reason why ramen has an egg in it). Still, I prefer this ramen than what you will get at most   ramenyas  in town.

Overall food rating: 6/10 (Categ: ramenya in Montreal) The Chef is Japanese and it shows: the food has genuine Japanese flavor. That said, he should use better judgement (true, the wasabi marinated octopus is a great idea, but if you do not have the right wasabi, do not insist on it…).  I will go back as it remains one of the rare bowls of ramen I liked  in Montreal (behind Cocoro / Ramen Misoya / Yokato Yokabai).

 

What is HOT and what is NOT right now in Montreal : Right now, ONLY the few eateries with artisan Chefs (Chefs REALLY working in their kitchen) worth a detour, in town, namely  Le Serpent, La Chronique,  Nozy, Marconi. Pay big respect to Toque! as well as Le Club Chasse et Peche!  I went to Toque! twice. The 1st time was superb, the second just Ok but Toque! is certainly a destination restaurant by Montreal restaurant standards. LCCP was amazing under Chef  Claude Pelletier, not as stellar as in those days, anymore,  but it remains a top tier  table for Montreal.

BIG UP to the best poutine (but NOT the one at la Banquise…Nah!!))  and smoked smeat (Reuben’s Deli is still one of the very best in town) in the world, their  happening is right here in YUL! Ou bagels, our cheesecakes are also the best in the world.

According to the latest local buzz, Manitoba/L’Express/Impasto/Le Vin Papillon/Cadet/Lawrence/Le Mousso/Hopkins/Bar George and Tuck Shop  are doing a fine job lately. I have not been to Kitchen Galerie in a long time, but most foodies I know seem to continue to find it good.

At the end of the day, whatever the local hype is  trying to sell to you, the wisest thing to do is to remember that the restaurant  scene in Montreal  continues, in general,  to be a pale copy of what was done, at least 2 to 5 years ago, in the true foodie destinations found abroad. That is the TRUTH!  You know…when you manage to convince an International list of restaurants like the “San Pellegrino’s top 100 best restaurants in the world”  that your best restaurant is that one that’s selling spaghetti found at the supermarket, served with some lobster (I just came from Greece and most  casual eateries do serve  lobster spaghetti because it is easy to sell, but somehow, in Montreal that was enough to be a revelation ), you truely are a joke! And it is not even funny…

Anyways,  the Montreal foodie scene is hardly going to be a serious foodie scene for at least another 10 years, easily, as our best Chefs have long abandoned their stoves (Martin Picard) or  have simply deserted  Montreal (Jean-François Bélair, Hughes Dufour, Jean-Paul Giroux). Of that generation of gifted Chefs, there is Martin Juneau who is still around, especially on TV, but Martin is not the brilliant Chef that he used to be in his heyday at La Montée (in those days, Martin was easily a world class Chef…BUT that was 10 years ago!!!).

When you look at the restaurant reviews on this blog, my reviews have  covered restaurants that are mainly abroad . There are actually 10  times more restaurants reviewed on this log that are not located in Montreal than there are from Montreal. On a blog which focuses on what’s supposed to stand out in Montreal, that speaks for itself.

 

Being a critic is NOT as easy as some may think. Far from that. I am not talking about the common restaurant-friendly food write-ups wildly found online.  I am talking about serious ppl who are willing to say things the way they are, and most importantly, who bother about knowing what they are talking about.

Not to sound pretentious (btw, as explained elsewhere on this blog, I do not have the pretention of being a food writer or food blogger. I am not. I am sharing my dining experiences of an anonymous/normal diner with foodies who help me find eateries abroad when I travel and this is just sharing back with them. As it is easier to simply put that on a website, it was all natural to post my experiences on a blog. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less), but my 20 years of analyzing the restaurant industry helped me composing the following list of the characteristics of  a great food critic (again, as I just mentioned, I am not a critic):

1.Are you capable to separate your analysis of the food from your feelings of the dining experience?  On MY blog, an amateurish blog, written by someone who is not a food critic, I gave a 9/10 for the food of a restaurant of which I hated the dining experience. In my post, both feelings were clearly expressed while avoiding being unfair to the kitchen (not their fault if the front house is amateurish). If an amateurish food blog like mine can do this, needless to stress that more is expected from a food critic.

2.Do you know what you are talking about? It took me 25 years of familiarizing myself with Brazilian food before deciding to review a Brazilian restaurant. And by familiarizing, I meant eating serious mom and pop traditional brazilian food for 25 yrs. And that is food that is very close to the food I grew up with, btw! 20 yrs of eating serious / genuine Russian and Romanian food  are still not enough, for me to decide reviewing both cuisines. And we are talking here about someone who is cooking seriously since his tender childhood. Again, not to brag, but to make the point that if an amateurish critic like me goes to such extent, you can imagine what needs to be expected as the minimun  to be a REAL critic/ food journalist/food writer.  Most food journalists / food writers review Japanese food when the closest they got to Japan was to drink Sake. They are as clueless about most cuisines. I recall a food journalist putting down a dessert perfumed with rose, at an afghan restaurant in Montreal, because for her the fragrance of rose is just good for soap. A true ignorant disguised as a critic. Worst, most of them are known to the food industry, therefore you can easily imagine how the way they are treated has nothing to do with what the normal/anonymous diner will experience, making their opinions utterly useless to someone who wants to get a serious idea of the reality that he will face at the restaurant he chose to dine at

3.Do you feel the need to please an audience? Most do. But that is right there the very first sign that you are not a serious critic.

4.Do you really know what needs to be assessed? It is an important question to ask yourself as a critic. As an example, many so-called professional critics  do assess   classic food  as “tired” only because they do not know how to differentiate an average classic dish from its better versions. They basically just associate excitement with novelty, and do not have the proper knowledge to dig deep in anything that is not ..novel. There is also a lot of ignorance about textures/doneness/temperatures: your meat is tender? then it is good. Your meat has a firmer consistency, then it is not, etc. And they do that regardless of the type of cuisine they are assessing, which is the perfect recipe to spread inaccuracies.  A good critic SHOULD BE INFORMED about  the notion of doneness/textures/temperatures that is proper to the cuisine that he is assessing. Or else. what is he assessing??

My last visit at le Serpent (Addr: 357 rue Prince, Montreal; Phone: 514-316-4666) was a long time ago. It was a big hit, when it opened, and their Chef, Michele Mercuri, is a Chef capable of world class cooking, but I was curious to see if it is still one of the better tables in Montreal. Past meals are reviewed here and here.

Remembering the dazzling all’onda  risotti of Chef Michele Mercuri, I had to order the seafood risotto again. Every Chef has his touch and with true focus on the matter, you won’t fail to connect a dish to his creator. I doubt Michele has cooked this one, as it was not as dazzling as only himself can make it. But hey…it was really good,  all’onda and delicious. Whoever has cooked this risotto did a fine job. 7/10

Lamb was cooked sous vide. Again, seasoned really well (meaning judiciously, with enough punch/excitement). Wild peas and a  very minty sort of “pesto” that both added to the enjoyment of the dish. Delicious and really well conceived. This was a daily offering, which I suggest you always order at any restaurant where the Chef is skilled  (the case here) as, naturally, it is the opportunity for his skills  to shine through 7.5/10

Strawberry mousse, white chocolate, rhubarb and strawberry sorbet tasted fine and  I can see, now,  that  Pastry Chef Masami Waki is  better than what I initially thought —  (she is a consultant here, therefore not present at the restaurant but the kitchen brigade did assemble her creations and they are of a good pastry standard).

Overall food rating: 7.5/10 A reliable standard of cooking that continues to deliver some of the better restaurant food in town. Seasoning/flavors, everything was on point. And yes,  Pastry Chef Masami Waki’s fans were right … she is more talented than what my assessment of her take on the Tiramisu (check that out here) would suggest. Eventhough Pastry chef  Masami Waki is some sort of “consultant” for this house, whatever she is asking that kitchen brigade to do/replicate/mimmick/assemble… sounds right (except for her tiramisu, it seems…). It will not dazzle, but it feels right.

Bottom line: I was  not floored, this time,  and I kinda found the bill a bit too “ambitious” for what was on display, but I will come back here before returning to plenty of popular local eateries that I tried recently, which is a comment that I have rarely appended to my restaurant reviews in Montreal.

What I think days later: It is against Chef Michele Mercuri usual standards that I assessed this meal and in that regard, it was good, not startling. But this kind of “good” is already a lot by our local restaurant standards, standards that are as laughable as that local restaurant that just opened and that I recently reviewed and that every single so called local food expert is raving about but that can’t even season its food correctly. Yeah, I know, lol, that’s Montreal: you can be a culinary genius here, without any knowledge of the basics of cooking. At least, of Le Serpent, I can say that I am not referring to them when I have to remind myself that we have an amateurish restaurant scene . Le Serpent is a great restaurant by Montreal standards. It could be even better, but in Montreal, that would not be necessary.

A recent review of food journalist and ex Chef Thierry Daraize about Hopkins (his review on Hopkins, here) contained enough positive material to  encourage me to reserve a table here.

It would take a seriously naive person to think that the  “ultimately  reliable” food journalist or food rating exists. As one should know better, opinions, ratings and  taste are subjective, O B V I O U S L Y!… Thierry is one serious food journalist who, to the contrary of his colleagues, has been a Chef, too. I find  Thierry to be generally weak when it comes to assessing tropical food (his rave review about Lavenderia contrasts with MY OPINION  about that same restaurant, although, to be honest…MOST of the local restaurateurs are always at their best ONLY when a poster-diner is at their restaurant – the MAIN REASON  why the local restaurant scene can’t compete with serious foodie scenes like New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, etc ), but the best (of all local food journalists)  at judging French-based food (the food he cooked as a Chef and therefore, knows the best).

The perfect observation that even “experts” like the food journalists are useless on the aspect of assessing restaurants: I have been an active observer of the local restaurant scene for the past 18 years. In 18 years, the local food journalists were useful ONLY in two situations: the discovery of Chef Michele Mercuri (indeed, what a giant when he is in his prime! In his prime, Michele can easily compete with the best Chefs of this globe. Easily!) and Chef Jean-François Bélair when he was at Le Marly (now closed). It is Thierry Daraize that made us discover  Chef Jean-François Bélair, in this article. The  lack of success of Le Marly  was just another reminder that it is accurate to submit that the foodie scene in Montreal is one of world’s most clueless foodie scenes. What Chef Belair was doing at Le Marly would have impressed world class foodie scenes like New York/Paris/Tokyo/London. But in Montreal, the local foodie scene lacked (and, continues to) the  necessary experience/knowledge (even, right now, which means … 6 years after getting to that same conclusion…) appreciate that. A third world foodie scene.

Hopkins is a beautiful small contemporary restaurant. It is chic, hip and yet not stuck-up at all.  The decor is very bright and white with a superb penetration of natural light. Truely classy / tasteful with a superb service.

I sat at the bar and picked the 5 courses tasting menu:

First, some homemade charcuterie. Charcuteries — as it is the case at the big majority of our local restaurants —- are not at the level of a fine charcuterie in France or Italy, for the sake of comparison, but you will  definitely get to munch on some pleasant charcuterie, which was the case here 6/10

Clams/black beans puree – Clams of superb quality, from masssachusetts. This featured some necessary bold kick of saltyness to lift up the maritime flavor of the clam. The accompanying black beans puree seasoned exquisitely. Top shelf food item. 9/10

Pecorino/ravioli/beacon – A runny egg encased in a homemade ravioli. So close ( rich and delicious, as one would expect from some runny egg inside a ravioli of proper al dente texture),   yet ..so far (way too much  salt and that distracted from appreciating this dish). This was an easy trap (beacon is salty, pecorino is salty, etc…but that is exactly when and where   skills should shine…

Artic char (omble chevalier)/beets- montee au beurre – again, the fish was way too salty even for someone, like me, who loves salt. The beets were timely cooked and tasted as if they came from a serious michelin star destination –  such was its quality. 8/10 for the dazzling beets. But how do you rate a superb piece of fish (masterful doneness, dazzling quality) that is sadly as salty as a bowl of seawater? Seasoning is the most important skill in a kitchen, obviously, but during this meal, someone forgot how important it was….

Chocolate fondant/expresso – the idea is original, by the standards of our local restaurants, but a chocolat fondant and some expresso need to dazzle in the mouth of someone, like me, who is easily impressed by anything that has expresso in it. This tasted ordinary and it was frustrating to get to that conclusion as it was easy to see that some thoughts were put in it.

Overall food rating: 5.5/10 This was an inconsistent performance, culinary-wise. On one hand, there were obvious flashes of brilliance (the clams, the beets).  Alas,  that was marred by plenty of oversalted food items.

Bottom line: Somehow, you could see that they  have the potential to beat the best in town. For now, whoever has cooked my food needs to go back to the basics of cooking and learn to season his food judiciously.

 

Greece
My first time in Greece. Particularly liked Santorini famous caldera view. Mykonos is perfect for beach parties and Delphi was a highlight for me.  On the culinary front, I need to ask: What’s wrong with those tourists who go to Greece and stick to gyros and souvlaki, lol? There is much more than that in Greece. I went there, and enjoyed plenty of decent food that have nothing to do with the gyros and the souvlaki. A recap of my hellenic journey here.
My Wall of fame of the 1st quarter of 2017: Nozy, Marconi (Montreal), Sushi Azabu, Le Coucou, Ichimura and Dons Bogam (New York), Argo (Santorini), and the old tavern of Psaras (Athens). Hvor in Montreal has been a highlight, too, but Chef Sarto is taking a break, so I’ll drop by and see how things are under the new Chef.

My wall of shame: my oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city), my meals at Miss Favela (Brooklyn) and  Taverna Vizantino (Athens).

 

Sushi Oono review is the most popular among the readers of this blog –  Based on WordPress stats, my review on Sushi Oono is extremely popular, these days. Second only to the one on  Montreal’s finest steakhouses. This blog is  meant for my own “foodie documentation” and as a FYI for close foodies, relatives, friends who love dining out. But I am also responsive in the sense that if the stats on WordPress lead me to believe that a specific article is very popular, then I need to go out my way and “shed some light” on what was written. Not that I care about the impact of my opinion (I do not…we no not live in North Korea, so I do not have to justify my thoughts. And honestly, I could not care less. But, listen,  in the case of Sushi Oono, since you seem to go crazy about it, lately, I do care a bit. I do, because Tokyo is one of the few REAL foodie destinations of the world. This would be Montreal, and I would say..let it be!! Let that overrated self-marketed foodie city deal with its own reality, meaning its fake reputation! But Tokyo does not deserve that. Really NOT!  Therefore, my review on Sushi Oono has to be taken in this very specific  context: Sushi Oono would be a top tier Sushiya anywhere around the globe. But in Tokyo, with their crazy competitive Sushi market, things are a bit different. That said, be careful: Yes, I have familiarized myself with high end sushi for a certain time, now. But I am not Japanese. Therefore, there will always be “certain things” that are ” lost in the translation”. At least, I do an effort to pinpoint my weaknesses, but YOU…as a smart diner, GO AND TRY and see for yourself. Food is subjective. No one is perfect. One good example is this: in my review of Sushi Oono, I was rude about the dry crab. Yes, but some Japanese love it that way. The same way as I love some dishes I grew up to consider as stellar but that others would find hard to love. That is the reality of having an opinion: the opinion is just what it is ..OUR OWN PERSONAL OPINION! The best way for you to identify what you like, it is to go and find out!!

When a tourist trap is a fabrication of the mind — I know people who see tourist traps everywhere. When I was in Cinque Terre, I even saw ppl confusing the fabulous cooking of A Cantina da Mananan (Addr: Via Fieschi, 117, 19018 Corniglia SP, Italy Phone: +39 0187 821166) with the food of a tourist trap. I have no clue if A Cantina da Mananan  is bad, right  now, but reducing the dazzling cooking that this restaurant  was pulling off in those days to tourist trap’s food just confirms that either your knowledge of food is concealed in some kind of limitation (limited to contemporary cooking?) or cooking is not your thing at all. Cinque Terre, when I was there, was actually the proof that tourist trapping has nothing to do with a place being touristy or not. Tourist trap is the demonstration of your inability , as an entrepreneur, to do things right, a lack of pride, the work of bums. In touristy locations like Cinque Terre and Santorini, the best food I had was a reminder that there are honest and talented ppl working seriously in touristy locations. Cinque Terre and Santorini were beautiful parts of the world where everything tasted far fresher and gloriously delicious than in many parts of Italy and Greece. The best food of Santorini and Cinque Terre were cooked on a beautiful planet that was ages away from the sad swathes of muddy lands of THAT  supposedly legendary seafood destination of Atlantic city that served me some gloriously frozen oysters OR  the equally life-shattering frozen fish I was fed on in Sicily while eying at the crystal blue waters of the mediterranean sea.