Posts Tagged ‘critic’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MEAL

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

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

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

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

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

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On with the FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao!

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

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

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

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.

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, i 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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Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
Event: Dinner at  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
When: Friday September 16th 2011,  7PM
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: Schloßstraße 27-29, D-66706 Perl-Nennig/Mosel
Email: info@victors-gourmet.de
URL: http://www.victors-gourmet.de/englisch/gourmet_restaurant/index.php
Chef Bau’s web site:  http://www.christian-bau.de
Phone: 49 (0) 68 66/79-458
Type of cuisine:  Modern French/Cosmopolitan

Overall food rating (by 3 star Michelin standards)10/10 Chef  Bau is a  magician with the exceptional ability of those few who will always set the bar (the precision and depth of  his cooking skills is of prime mention), for others to follow. He is to food what  a virtuoso is to music. An exceptional virtuoso.

Service:   10 /10 They are mostly young, open minded and hard working. Their hard work shows.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 This is different from the grand Parisian 3 Michelin stars, and yet
it provided, on this dinner, an overall dining experience that is as exciting as the best ones found in France.
Food rating:  Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Before going ahead, a quick declaration of respect  to one of the   the world’s most exciting Chefs of our time, El Bulli’s Adria . As we all know, El Bulli has closed its doors (as a restaurant) in July.  I am buying all your books, Chef, and shall practice all your tricks! So that the amazing artist that I saw in you remains present in my mind, the mind of a classic-cuisine gourmand, btw! Proof that even the most traditionalists among us have embraced your cult! Hasta siempre, Jefe! As for those who are looking after the next clone of Adria:  forget clones, folks! Your best souvenirs are ..your best souvenirs.  They perfume your memories till you lose it, and that is it.

Wow, this has been  the shortest but most intense constructive trip I ever had in Europe:  four little days  of culinary congress, meetings, exchanges.  Only a few knows this, but aside from  Sciences, Litterature, Economics and Politics, one of my long time passion has been the research of enhancing flavor combinations in classic food.  Basically, what Jefe Ferran Adria does with progressive cooking at El Bulli , I do the same with classic cuisine. Where the latest cook who has just completed his culinary degree tells you that he is excited to test progressive cuisine because there’s not much  to discover with a simple classic filet mignon, I spend timeless moments in  my kitchen finding the ingredients or best cooking technique to ‘rejuvenate’  that  classic filet mignon.  This is why you won’t fail  to realize that my favourite Chefs mostly happen  —- whether they’ve chosen to partake in the progressive cooking trend or not — to   have a great depth of mastery  in classic cooking.  As soon as I have some time,  I will try to write about those congresses I’ve just talked about (truly interesting for us, gourmands from all around the world).  Then I had to end this European mini tour with —of course —  a bit of self-pampering:  I had either El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) or one of Germany’s top 3 star Michelin tables on my short list of tables I’d be interested to visit since a long time.  Spain is my type of  country. It’s a place where I’ll go back oftently anyways,  it’s even a place where there are big chances that I spend the rest of my life.   So I went  for Germany this time. Destination: Perl.  Perl-Nennig.   My final choice: Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg.

The city of  Perl-Nennig, where Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg  is located,  is  in a geographical area that is famous for its vineyards, castles  and scenic surroundings that I unfortunately did not take time to explore on this visit, but if this is of interest for you, I’d recommend you have a look at Rick Steve‘s article on that region. This trip there was the conclusion of months of been puzzled between Chef Bau‘s restaurant where it is located, and another German 3-star Michelin:  Waldhotel Sonnora‘s restaurant.  Waldhotel Sonnora  was actually my very 1st choice for its more classical cooking,  but since it sounded too remote and way too complicated to get there by train (my only mean of transport during this trip),  I ended opting for Victor Gourmet-Restaurant  Schloss Berg. The thing that attracted me with both 3-star Michelin restaurants is their legendary reputation for consistency.  I have rarely sat at a 3-star Michelin with food consistently good from the 1st amuse bouche to the last mignardise, one of the few exceptions being the last meal at L’Ambroisie in Paris, or the last meals at Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet in 1995 (both are now closed, since) where each dish lived up to what I do expect at this level of dining. A quick personal tip: if you are in Perl Nennig and have hired a car, head to the tiny Luxembourg town of Remich for refuel (it’s at approx 3,4 kms from Nennig). I am sure you don’t need a picture ;p And Remich is a little town I’d recommend that you visit, especially in summer (it’s lively!).

My take on Chef Bau’s  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg:  Known as one of the most brilliant 3-star Michelin Chefs around the globe, Christian Bau has chosen not to create a restaurant empire like many of his peers. Instead, he prefers perfecting his cooking in the kitchen of his triple-starred Michelin stronghold of Perl-Nennig. An aspect that I  value a lot in a Chef’s philosophy (reminder: on top of being completely independent from anything  related to the restaurant world, I do also insist on mostly dining  at restaurants where you have the actual Chef behind his stoves instead of running after popularity contests and leaving his customers to name bearers). He first earned an initial Michelin star in 1998, followed by a second one in 1999, and was awarded his third in 2005. A third Michelin star that he retains since then.

Many, among some of the connoisseurs of world’s finest tables, argue that the only reason Chef Bau’s restaurant is not a worldwide attraction has got to do with its secluded location (the restaurant is located in the remote German’s Saarland  state, a territory bordering France and Luxembourg). In my opinion, the location  is far from being an issue: it is situated at 30 mins drive from the major urban area of Luxembourg-city.  Those connoisseurs did  also express their dissatisfaction over the fact that Chef Bau’s talent  is not recognized by worldwide restaurant listings like the S Pellegrino’s Top 100 world best dining ventures, an observation to which I’ll append my personal  opinion:

If you play attention at that list, you quickly realize that most of the featuring restaurants are ones that did set  themselves apart by their persistent adoption  of a given culinary trend:  for ie, the molecular movement (Fat Duck, El Bulli, Alinea etc), the ‘rise’ of  bosky cuisine (Noma, for ie), the unique progressive touches of Mugaritz or Quique Da Costa,  the unorthodox style of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand, etc.  But of course, being unique in a daring way does not necessarily mean  being among the best (or does it? I’ll leave this to your discretion), which brings us back to our featuring restaurant review:  Chef Bau is currently not making the headlines of world’s gastronomy perhaps because he is not trying to follow trends for the sake of popularity nor trying to reinvent the wheel, and that did not stop him from being, in facts,  at the very top.  Bau has spent years alongside legendary German Chef Harald Wohlfahrt (perhaps one of the few Chefs that I admire the most, for his amazing food, naturally, but also for one of the most fabulous Chef quotes ‘’Don’t cook out of ambition because this is what your food will taste like’’), prior to his appointment as Chef of Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant Schloss Berg in 1997.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONAs/per the house, photo taking is normally forbidden to everyone, normal diners or not. I was fine with that rule, because my point is to experience things the way a normal diner would experience it (this blog sole intent is to share just with close friends and relatives. In the process, I am sharing it with the rest of the web, for just knowledge sharing as the sole motivation). But they told me that on that evening, a bunch of food bloggers and food journalists were paying a visit to them and were allowed to take pics, therefore that restriction was loosened and I could thereore feel free to seize the occasion and take pics of my meal, which I did. I am taking the time to write this because I believe in  ‘honesty” as the first mandatory step of anything we shall aim at.

The  menu:  it is a tasting menu, at the discretion of the Chef,  that they call ‘voyage culinaire” for its international influences.  You can be served   4,  6, 8 or 10 courses , but whatever set of courses you are opting for, they will also offer 8,9 free extra nibbles +  an array of mignardises. And those are outstanding nibbles! This is one of the most affordable 3 Star Michelin tables.

Decor:  Omnipresence of  light warm  tones in an overall decor that is nicely balanced between elements of victorian and contemporary design .  Having myself spent  time studying the influence of colors on a diner’s appetite, that specific aspect naturally caught my attention at this restaurant: whether it  was their intent or not, color psychology is better mastered here than at any other restaurant that comes to mind. A beautiful and smart use of appetizing colors; for ie the light brown  of their wooden floors or the discrete sparse  touches of red  (mini flower pots of gorgeous red roses on the table, on this evening) follow the principle of  the ‘appetizing color’ theme.

Food

I led off with a parade of  bite-size savoury  appetizers that showcased  ingenuity:

As an ie, cornet with   tenderloin, Räucheraalcreme (smoked eel cream ) & chives – finely hand-cut meat to a consistency that’s ideal for tartares, accurate seasoning and mix-ins;  at the art of intensifying taste and flavor, you can’t go wrong when you pair a perfectly conceived beef tartare with the addictive richness of a well composed smoked eel cream. Not to forget  the  elegant and ideal aromatic substitute to onion: the chives. That was naturally eventful and it deserves its full 10/10 marks

-Parmesan crust with yuzu confiture had a  terrific crunchy cheesy appeal marrying perfectly with the yuzu flavor 10/10

The array of  impressive nibbles went on with

– Jabugo Bellota ‘Puro’ (I’m a big fan of this ‘crème de la crème’ well praised ham; the bellota type is truly sublime – As I’ve learned with time, the Spaniards always back buzz with effective accomplishments. Not just blabla and wind just to cash in mileages of advertising non deserved visibility;) atop a flawless and delicious creative risotto-inspired mini ball of rice. 10/10

-Majorcan gamba  with lardo and caviar had an addictive multi-dimensional parade of marine fresh  flavors 10/10

– Crab cracker with hamachi, fennel & apple, green tea biscuit with lobster and kimizu was a show-stopper for its surprising balance of complex  tastes and textures. It showed in terms of “culinary prouesse” the humongous depth of technical mastery of Chef Christian Bau. That depth kept shining throughout the entire meal, a rare occurence at any level of dining. 10/10

-Bio carrot  with yogurt and coriander (the left side photo) was simply startling: I’d not be surprised to learn that  it would be hard  to find a better veloute of carrot than this. The kick of coriander  adding an extra dimension of remarkable tastes. This came along a refined veggie sushi and phenomenal moussy take on carrots 10/10

There was also a plate of 5 creations based on bluefin tuna with Miso, soja and cucumber. It will be hard to put in words the level of impressive successful complexity at play on each of those 5 morsels. Startling! 10/10

Not one single flaw throughout that exposition of superb  mini culinary concoctions. Nine mini courses  before the main dishes arrive, imagine! Generosity is the motto.

The first main course arrived:

A construction around oyster. A succulent lucious and juicy poached oyster was paired with oyster-flavored refined chips, pearl-looking creations  oozing of amazing fresh oysteriness, combava as the citrus enhancer and algae (passe-pierre) for a concerto of pure  palatable amazement . Complex, exciting and so thoughtful 10/10

Sea spider took me by surprise. I expected some kind of tempura sea-spider. The sea spider came as a meaty roll, this was actually reminescent of crab meat imho  but it was sea spider. Part of the appeal of this dish is its clever conceptualization:  you can see   that each item was diligently thought and carefully selected  in relation to the next (I have rarely seen a Chef pairing so flawlessly and excitingly veggies with seafood. It sounds like an easy thing and most of the time it’s a common affair, but the way Chef Bau marries veggies and seafood make them pass as items of the same  species).  The flavour of  the seafood  is maintained in its pure form, its taste as delicate as it should.  He adds lots of  extra textural and taste dimensions to all his dishes (I could count at least 8 different components on that dish) and what turns usually as a big risk in most talented hands  is like a piece of cake for him. To epitomize what I’ve just asserted, a creamy velouté of green veggies poured over this dish tasted like a tantalizing seafood enhancer to the sea spider rather than tasting of some futile veggie cream thrown against seafood. 10/10

The next offering (which I forgot to take a picture of ) was goose liver  from the Landes (au torchon) wrapped by top quality seaweed. I have to admit that I was lucky to have sampled some stunning quality foie gras (duck and sometimes goose as well) in the past (in Quebec, France and in some other countries), but this one has a phenomenal taste that I won’t forget as long as my memory serves me. A modern take on a ragout of mushrooms with a citrusy hint of sudachi (a citrus fruit) complemented the dish. This course  had great finesse with a mouthfeel worthy of superlatives. 10/10

A serving of artichoke from France’s region of Bretagne rose as the epitomy of the perfect artichoke-centric dish: it had jabugo bellota ham , parmesan foam and artichoke root sauce imparting an impressive depth of  enticing flavours to this dish. The care, composition and  cooking mastery  behind this dish were herculean in scope, the presentation immaculate. As with each menu item  that I was served all along this tasting, accurate cooking times were skilfully surveyed and the technique, impeccable. The taste, a pure bliss with each mouthful insisting on the next. 10/10

The next course  exalted by a delicious meaty piece of irreproachable fresh prawn (the Gamberoni was cooked à la plancha and kept its genuine marine flavor). The small green “globes” you see on the picture are made of peas and were packed with unusual exquisite taste.  A cream of Kombuseaweed had impressive taste sensation that stood out in a very distinct way and lightened the dish. Another item that was mingling so well in this successful concerto of tastes and textures was Jasmin rice broth with coconut infusion: it  was a fun and creative take on what looks like rice crispy  but  would then give rice crispy a newly discovered refined state. Here’s a dish that attracts me  towards its creativity.  10/10

A plate of  Atlantic turbot was next.  The fish on its own had perfect flasky consistency and the flesh,  translucent. The exquisite moistness of the fish was superb. It was combined with sweet potato dots, the brilliant addition of a mouth watering gingery sauce, the crunchy nutty dimension of the hazelnuts that was topping the fish.   A sensational culinary creation with ingredients which sourcing is exemplary and perhaps one of my lifetime favourite cosmopolitan dish (there was, once all items were mixed together, a middle Eastern feel to this dish that propulsed me in heaven – literally). Chef Bau count among the exceptional few who can offer some of the most creative and exciting cosmopolitan dishes of our era.  10/10

Bresse-Pigeon from Mieral – This  preparation perfectly accented the natural flavors of the fowl. The pigeon’s meat  retaining its natural ideal dark texture and a meaty juicy  mouthfeel. Delicious pigeon that kept its enjoyable gamey taste vibrant. Another take on this bird also featured on this dish: a perfect pigeon-goose liver flan (you don’t see it on the picture because I ate it way before I thought of taking the picture..Rfaol..) which conception was simply stellar. On the right side of the pic, the little nutty-covered sphere you see was also pigeon’s meat surrounded by hazelnuts (well done). The dots are made of carrot cream (particularly delicious). There was also a jus of smoked tea and spices that — to my surprise — tasted like  the best  match to the meaty fowl. A bit as if I was telling you that a reduction made of smoked tea & spices  &  the meat’s sauce was far tastier and made more sense (in mouth)  than just the meat’s sauce alone. That was the case, here. 10/10

Nebraska beef – This serving  had  lots of flavors imparted into the beef  with the meat  having a  smooth melting texture, cooked equally thoughout,  fully meaty and shining  through pretty well due to non inclusion of  extraneous  ingredients and a judiciousness of the seasoning  that is right on. The sauce is rich and deep, a square of back and short rib (you don’t see it clearly on the picture) was tasty, the Japanese egg plant puree well done, the dots of black garlic adding a nice kick, the overall clever and highly satisfying. 9/10

Champagner Bellini was a collection of sweet creations around peach and  raspberry in various renditions:  sorbet, mousse, a ragout (of peach).  Champagne was additionally poured in the center of the plate. A ravishing dish (really beautiful to espy with its visually pleasant carefully constructed decorative features). Technically, not one single flaw. 9/10

This was the modern and refined take of the kitchen on the theme of a   banana split. The chocolate elements  had the accurate ratio of cream/chocolate and ideal texture (as firm as it should, with a rich  chocolate colour).  The chip of banana was packed with addictive fruity flavor. As with all creations of this kitchen: a lot of work is put in the details, the refinement and the delicious taste. A joyous inspired dessert 9/10

An array of top quality petits fours brought an end to this startling dinner experience. This was  really stunning  food after stunning food and the meal  joins my 1995 dinners at JR and Girardet, 2009 dinner at Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) + 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie in my all time favourite 3 star Michelin dining occurrences

Service: It’s amazing to see such a young staff excelling in professionalism and showing such a genuine desire to please their hosts. I have rarely seen this since the exceptional service of Sidonie (XO Le Restaurant in Montreal) and the one I had in March at Ledoyen in Paris.

Pros: A table of exception where everything is pure exciting perfection. It’s one of those few tables around the world, where I would be tempted to go back again and again. I’ll never be in a position to humanly eat at all existing restaurants in the world, but deep inside of me, if such survey could make sense, this table would get  my vote in the top 5 best restaurants of the globe.  And it’s not even expensive!

Cons: Nothing wrong.

Conclusion: That  was pure genius food. Sure, I love French food and International  cuisine as well so I was seduced, but the real reason I felt for this restaurant lies in Chef Chistian Bau exceptional skills. Many Chefs are scared to go beyond the common boundaries. Or when they do it, it’s usually with inconsistencies. But Chef Bau goes ages ahead, blending an impressive quantity of ingredients with astonishing efficiency.  Bau is a Genius with a big G!

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  I gathered, from various   emails  received following this review, that some other  restaurants do offer equal cooking performance. When asked what they were, I was in for a surprise: most were tables I  was already familiar with and although offering Modern International cuisine,  those places were in facts not even close to half of the skills showcased by Chef  Bau.   It was interesting to observe that the Chefs at the restaurants that are supposedly at the same height as VGSB would do great with 3 to 5  ingredients,  but would perform poorly as soon as they would get to the count of  6 or  7  ingredients on the plate.  In contrast,  Chef Bau could align 8 to 15  elements with stunning precision and harmony as proven on this reported meal.  A reminder   that  what could look similar at first glance do not necessarily have the same depth of mastery behind them.  To me, that is how I measure the genius of a Chef :  in its ability to offer a  substantial depth of skills  that his peers can’t accomplish as succesfully.    Rest assured that Chef Bau has the skills for others to follow, especially his exceptional precise work of shapes, colors and flavors. I have no clue if he is there all the time behind his kitchen, but when he is cooking, which was the case on that evening, there is no doubt in my mind that he is among the few truely  gifted Chefs of the globe.

I don’t see why a flawlessly executed Pizza, Crème Brulée or any other easy-to-make food item that is perfectlty executed  would not deserve a 10/10.  It has to, when it’s flawless and it stands out.  It is NOT about whether perfection exists or not.  It is about what is  interpreted  as the bar (or not) of what has been achieved in oneself’s perception.     Furthermore, if you can talk about the good, it implies you know the bad, if you know what’s  a 0/10,  you should know what’s a 10/10.  As for rating a food item, my intent behind it is not to patronize, nor to put down anyone. My sole intent is to ‘convey’  a contructive evaluation of what I am eating at a restaurant.  ——— Aromes

All along my years of cooking practise,  I found important to enjoy two roles that are complementary and that all Chefs (and hopefully food critics , too)  would benefit from experiencing  :  sometimes in the kitchen,  sometimes as a diner.  As the diner, I spent years studying all kind of food rating systems (Michelin, Gault Millau,  methods used by food critics,  the ‘Good Food Guide’ and plenty others).  I came to the conclusion that, since food appreciation is anyways subjective,  the only rating that makes sense (to me) is what I think of what I am eating. I’ve adopted  a very simple rating system over 10 since rating food does not need to be rocket science. Food is food, there’s no need for unecessary intellectual complication,  and all that matters is what we think of what’s in our plates. The only thing you need to ensure is to be as accurate as possible and that can only be achieved by long years of educating your palate, knowing what you are talking about (never, never ever talk about food that you are not familiar with…that shows, as with a recent food critic who complained that what he was eating was spicy whereas spiciness is the main feature of the cuisine he was covering..aouch!), tasting as much different cuisines as possible (the more you travel, the better) and of course, while you are at it, cook..cook..and cook, taste ..taste and taste ..so that you better understand flavor combinations.

All food ratings will always be imperfect for a very simple reason:  while you are there reading what I’ve experienced, I was there eating.  The theory Vs practice clash is a first step of the imperfection of a review. You would have been eating what I was eating, at the same moment, and there could have been differences in both our interpretations of those same dishes.  So imagine what can be lost into the translation of it all.   I tried my best to  get  the rating numbers  as accurately representative of my overall impression of the food I eat.

Meals and food items at non-michelin starred ventures will be primarily scored in relation to their closest geographical competitors : for example, scores of a bistrot in Montreal should only be compared to scores of  an equivalent bistrot in Montreal and not to a fine dining destination in that same city nor to bistrots abroad.  If the score applies to comparative dining scene abroad, I’ll explicitly mention it.  Regarding Michelin star ventures, since it is a global standard, my scores encompasses cross continental comparisons : As an example, of a 2 star Michelin restaurant in Hongkong, I expect what I am used to at other equivalent 2 stars Michelin abroad. Whether I should not expect such comparison (of a 2 star Michelin standards in one place Vs the same at another location) — or not –is irrelevant to me since it (Michelin stardards) ‘s supposed to be a global standard in the first place.

Now, the details of my food rating:

Remember,  I am reviewing specific  dishes on a a given meal.  I am all about democratically  putting our rating systems to the test of popular criticism,  but given their subjective nature (whoever you are, the food item that you found spectacular is just that:  a food item YOU found spectacular)  I believe that it is a nonsense to go over and over the meaning of a given rating system.  It will always never be perfect anyways, however you compose it and whoever you are! Also:  I am rating the food only. The service is not rated but commented.  As for the ambience,  I am not going  to put this on the back of a restaurants:  diners  make  their own ambience!

There are two levels of ratings in my reviews: An overall rating as well as individual dish scores.

I. The overall  rating  – Overall food rating  HAS NOTHING TO DO with the arithmectic calculation
of the individual courses.  It is my personal subjective rating of the meal’s overall performance relatively to the highest standards I am used to at similar dining level/category.

10/10 (A meal that as a whole stood out — against the top standards I am used to find at the level of dining / cuisine category  in which the given restaurant is competing– example of categories, bistro/fine dining/poutine place/burger shop/sushi shop, etc — as a benchmark meal in all aspects: refined work of the texture, sublime work of the taste, outstanding technique.  AGAIN, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE RESTAURANT CONSISTENTLY DELIVERS 10/10 MEALS. U MIGHT GO THERE AND IT IS A DIFFERENT COOK COOKING IT FOR YOU. COULD BE THE SAME COOK BUT HE IS NOT IN THE SAME MOOD, ETC — SO ALWAYS BEAR  THAT IN MIND . If that meal rivals with other places outside its geo location, I’ll explicitly mention it) ; 9/10 (An excellent overall meal against the standards I am accustomed to in its category  with flawless execution, excellent work of flavors and textures, excellent technique  but not a benchmark in comparison to what I have experienced at its level. If that meal rivals with other places outside its geo location, I’ll explicitly mention it. This is food of a meal that worths leaving the comfort of home for); 8/10 (A very good / great overall meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category   with great technique, great work of textures and flavors); 7/10 (A good, NOT great overall meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category. Although this is food of a meal that generally showcased potential to easily rise to higher levels);  6/10 (An overall just Ok meal  in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category. Without being particularly strong as an overall food performance, this is a meal that somehow managed to detach itself from the pack  with a slight edge either for being technically a bit more consistent than the standard in which it is competing, or for standing out in a particular aspect which detail will be explained in the review of that meal. Either way, it is not an impressive meal, not a severely weak one neither  );  5/10 (An overall average meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category , and clearly the entry point to what appeared to me as an overall  close-to dissapointing meal where technique/taste/texture  was generally lacklustre.);  4/10 (an overall below  average meal in relation to what I am accustomed to in its category.  A severely disappointing meal)

II.The rating of each dish – The following is how I rate each dish.  This dish per dish rating ‘s purpose being to try my best to convey my real personal appreciation of each of the sampled  dishes. I have been cooking for years and was lucky to be part of a family where many have cooking abilities that would put most top Chefs out there to shame, therefore it  is hard for me to go to a restaurant just for the excitement of discovering the next new eatery. While reading my reviews, you will need to remember that this is not a restaurant review website to try restaurants, not a traditional restaurant review web site at all, and that is the intent behind it . This is the result of long diligent searches about which restaurant might reach out to my personal expectations as a dining experience that I could perceive as  worthy of an effort  (to partake in) from my part.  It is like spending years finding that exact wine that really sounds to be the standing out  pick worthy of a try. As you might expect from such, you should not  find lots of bad scores on this web site (PS: do not get me wrong,  although a web site like this could make you think that I am picky or elitist, that is not the case at all. To the contrary, you might be surprised by how a simple fully-flavored juicy grilled lobster with a bottle of beer appeals to me way more than any of the best food items at those top world’s tables). Please find my dish per dish evaluation scale:

Exceptional (10/10) – Certain evaluators believe that a mark of 10 should be omitted, arguing that perfection
does not exist. I am against that way of thinking.  Unless all you do is to force your imagination  into refuting reality, perfect food item does exist (naturally, relatively to our respective personal expectations)!  If to your palate, a given meal reaches the top marks, you should be honest about it!  A 10 of my standards means a dish that reached, as far as I’m concerned, one of /or the three following conditions:  (1) a level of deliciousness — to my palate — that would be hard to improve upon (2) a   level of balance between  cooking technique  and   taste that is of the highest consideration (3) a level of creativity that is very unique and that  brings a lot to cooking evolution, but it really needs to be very tasty as well since my primary  focus is the pleasure of my palate after all.  A very creative dish with no taste will of course suffer from a poor rating, but I’ll insist on underlining its fortes. The quality of ingredients needs to also be superb on such dish.  Either way, a 10/10 is of benchmark material and also means the dish had sparks. A food item of the highest level of excitement (the excitement should  primarily be palatable, but it needs to be also technical:  for example, a superior  work of the textures, colors, temperatures, etc – Again,  dinings being variable by nature, I can only talk for what I had experienced at X given time.  Does not mean the same item will be cooked by the exact same persons, in the exact same mood when you will get to sample it). As a rule of thumb, if you see at least two 10/10 dishes in one of my reviews, consider the relevant restaurant as capable of true world class food relatively to what you will find in its category (regardless of what you will think of the other ratings of that review).

Excellent (9/10) -No benchmark material, but perfect (impeccable cooking technique, seasoning, mastery of the temperature, and superb taste) and inspired.  Quality of ingredient needs to be impeccable, too.

Very good (8/10 to 8.5) – Great (well cooked, tasty, technically superb). Quality of ingredient needs to be very high.  A food item of great  level of excitement.

Good (7/10 to 7.5 ) – Good.  A dish that remains   tasty,  the overall been well cooked, technique is  good (suitable cooking temperature as well  as a work of taste and flavors that are on point) too,  but that remains “standard / normal / safe/expected ” (although NOT ordinary at all) for the standard  of dining in which it is competing. A food item of good  level of excitement.

OK  (6/10 to 6.5/10) – A dish  with  a weak  level of excitement,  but still  acceptable to some extent.  Ordinary or close-to ordinary food item with regards to the comparative  standards I am accustomed to.

Average (5/10 to 5.5/10) –  Average,  forgettable with regards to the standards  of dining in which it is competing.

Below average (4/10) – And anything below is what I perceived as simply bad with regards to the standards  of dining in which it is competing.

****The overall rating,  is the rating that you will see at the top of my reviews of Michelin star  restaurants, at the bottom of all my Non-starred Michelin reviews.   As for my reviewed  Michelin starred meals, you will not fail to  notice that whereas there’s usually a big difference betwen a top 3 star Michelin table and  a top 2 Star Michelin (usually in the refinement of the texture and the ability to push complexity –either in flavor combination or in technique — further without failing), there are virtually none among the average  2 Vs 3 stars (for ie, a  good 2  star can be as good as most standard 3 stars, a very good 2 star as good as a good 3 star and you of course have 2 stars that are simply better than most 3 stars as this applies to any level of dining as well, naturally).  I try my best to avoid comparing apples to grapes, so you should not compare my ratings of a progressive kitchen like the Fat Duck (gave my 2009 meal at the FT, an overall score of 9/10), for ie, to my rating of a classic one like L’Ambroisie (a score of 10/10 for my 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie). Both are simply different and since they perform at a very high level of excellence in their respective genre,  it is important to understand that my overall rating of their meals is  not an   observation that one is better than the other (at such level, those folks have reached a level of perfection that’s hard to fault anyways) , but that one catered more to my personal likings.

***What about two dishes  with same ratings? How to know which was better, to me ? Indeed, of  two similarly-rated dishes, there’s still that possibility that one dish was better than the other, in my view.  Answer: just ask!

***To make it clear, whether it is a Michelin-star table, a laidback neighborhood table, food on the street, etc: food is food (whatever goodies, effects, sensation that is propelled around it is irrelevant to its core purpose: it needs to be stunning in mouth!) , so there is no discriminating-rating:  it’s exceptional, excellent, very good, good or bad!

***Last but not least:  read between the lines….when I use words like “divine food” that obviously means it’s about food that blew away my taste buds, as an ie.

In conclusion, here are what I value in a meal: the level of deliciousness / precision of the cooking/technicalities such as the proper temperature, cooking techniques/association between the elements/sparks in taste/ creativity, originality. Again, no creativity nor originality will be valued at the expense of taste! The quality and freshness of ingredients are of course very important, but you can have the best ingredients in hands and not knowing what to do with it…so it all lies in the talent of the Chef (in either transforming the product or in leading the product to express itself at its very best).

The restaurant world, as with most things in life, is of imperfect nature. It is meant, as you and I, to disappoint as many as it might rejoice.  It’s as frustrating for a diner to throw a lot of money on a deceiving dinner as it is stressful for a restaurateur to find his work being criticized. But such is the  nature of things:  when you pay for something, you do expect a return on your investment, nothing less but enjoyment in this case. Talking of impect nature,  even our best findings are condemned to sometimes let us down, which is why I won’t stop reminding  all of you that all I can guarantee is my  opinion   on the food that I a reviewing. The rest is completely out of my control.

No one will ever be in a position to recommend what’s  perfect for  you. But hopefully,  this can help.

Another article worth of reading: Learn to know your food reviewer.

Also:  My background as a diner -> http://tinyurl.com/8774sax

Bon appétit!

Aller au restaurant, c’est se fabriquer des souvenirs.” – Chef Jacques Maximin (Bistro de la Marine, Cagnes sur Mer)

IMPORTANT: This is not a show off, nor to brag about anything. That is not my style, btw.  I believe that it is important you know the background of the person who is reviewing her/his meals so that  you can put in context that person’s appreciation of her/his meals. It might not mean much since restaurant experiences are variable by nature, all kind of tastes abound in nature, but it is a piece of information that is delivered with the intent of sharing, so that that we are better informed, less ignorant, therefore I do hope it will serve you somehow.

(PS: You will find, completely at the end of current post, a list of my favourite tables around the globe).

It’s just recently that I have decided to review restaurants. Not all restaurants that I do visit are subject of a review neither (for ie, on romantic diners, diners with friends and relatives, etc..). So my review site does of course suffer from little reviews in comparison to effective meals sampled over the years. But I’ll try my best to gather a quick overview of the most important years in my diner’s lifetime. Again, this is not meant for a show, that is not my style anyway, but as some informative background (I’ve always insisted on the fact that a reader needs to know the dining experience of the restaurant reviewer whose writings he is  perusing). Also notice that my only goal throughout all those years was mainly to sample the very best in Classic and Modern French (that explains why, for me, the greatest Chefs of all times are Chefs Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson, etc)

Some of the  2 and 3 star Michelin restaurant meals I tried in between 1990 – 2010  (None are reviewed since it is just recently that I started reviewing some of my meals) along with the score of the meal, listed from the meals I rated higher: Gerard Besson, closed (3 times, 10/10 the 3 times),  Le Theatre of  Chef Maximin  – now closed  (3 meals; 10/10 the 3 times), Girardet, Crissier (now close, 2 meals, 10/10 both times), Joel Robuchon at  Hotel du Parc (now closed, 2 meals 9/10, 10/10), Noma (1 meal, 10/10), Alinea (2 meals, 9/10, 10/10), Fat Duck, (1 meal,  9/10), Le Cinq (3 times, 8/10, 10/10, 9/10), Louis XV (2 times at the moment of posting this ; 9/10, 10/10), Arpege (3  times at the moment of posting this, 8/10,  10/10, then 7/10), Rostang (1 meal, 8/10), Pierre Gagnaire (2 times, 8/10, 7/10), La Bastide de Capelongue, Bonnieux (1 meal, 8/10), Michel Bras (2 times, 7/10 both times), Les Ambassadeurs (2 meals, 10/10 under Chef Piege, 8/10 under Alleno),  Michel Sarran (2 visits, 9/10 then 7/10), Lucas Carton / Senderens (closed, 2 meals, 8/10 both times), Troisgros (2 meals; 8/10 both times), Le Parc of Franck Putelat (1 visit, 7/10), L’Oustaù de Baumanière (1 visit, 7/10), Bristol (1 time, 7/10), Georges Blanc (2 meals, 7/10 then 6/10), Relais Louis XIII,  Paris (7/10), French Laundry (1 meal, 7/10), Taillevent (1 visit, 7/10), Westermann’s Le Buerehiesel (2 times, 7/10 both), Hostellerie de Plaisance, St-Émilion (1 meal, 7/10), Grand Vefour (1 meal, 7/10), Passage 53, Paris (1 meal, 7/10),  Cordeillan-Bages (1 meal, 7/10),  Le Petit Nice, Marseille (1 meal, 5/10), Le Bernardin, Nyc (1 meal, 5/10), Pre catalan (2 times, 4/10, then 5/10), Waterside Inn, Bray (1 meal, 5/10), Jean Georges, nyc (1 meal 5/10)

1985-1988 (The African era):

This was the period of the best produce I ever sample in my entire life. Those years were spent in the Indian Ocean, and two decades later, I still have found no meat, no seafood, no veggies as stunning as those found during that era.

1990 (My 1st two and three star Michelin)My first coup de Coeur for Chef Maximin

-Louis XV, Monte Carlo. 3 star Michelin. June  1990

-Le Theatre, 2 star Michelin, July 1990

At that time, I was living in Southern France. My very  first Michelin star restaurant ever was 3 Star Michelin Louis VX of Alain Ducasse, in Monte Carlo. Hard to give a rating of that dinner since this was my very first introduction to such opulence and level of food. So nothing to compare it to at that time since this was the very 1st dinner experience of that caliber. Also: since this was a 1st time in a palace-looking setting, with such high level of service and food so expertly composed, I was simply impressed. Subsequent meals at Louis XV have left me with less enthusiastic emotions, but there’s no denial that the produce serve there are simply stunning. At that time the highlight was, for me, Jacques Maximin food at his 2 Star Michelin  his restaurant Le Theatre. Chef Maximin was at that time among the most talented Chefs of French dining around the world and to some, like me, he was simply the best. He actually let his friend Alain Ducasse at the helm of Louis XV and chose to go his own way with a relatively  less spectacular restaurant setting. To me, he was far better than Ducasse…which can come as a shock to some….but to those who have been able to compare both Chefs at their very best, many will confirm that I am not wrong. This led to many other meals at Le Theatre, and on each occasion Chef Maximin just proved me right in elevating him in my top 5 best Chefs ever. Ducasse himself has always considered Chef Maximin with high esteem, and many of the very best of French fine dinings found motivation in Chef Maximin’s  guidance. Nowadays, many are impressed by Chefs like Adria, Blumenthal, Achatz, Gagnaire, Bras, Passard, Redzépi, Keller, etc. Although the latest are great Chefs, I believe that a Chef like Maximin was way superior because he had better natural cooking instinct and was gifted with a greater sense of flavor impact.  My intent at that time was not to  review restaurant since I would have never thought this to be a subject of interest: it’s purely subjective and food is just food. But some later events that came to my attention just legitimized my motivation to also provide my side of restaurant dining. On a personal note, this was the beginning of long years of intensive cooking and experiments.

1991-1995 (the Asian era):

-Several high end restaurants and also street food meals in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong  Kong, Burma and Singapore. At that time, Michelin stars were not really present in Asia but many tables in HK and Bangkok were already of at least 1 star. During those years, my favourite all-time Indian restaurant happened to be in Hanoi (Khazana). Street food in Bangkok was the most impressive of those, and my favourite all-time duck (HK), nem and phos (Hanoi) were sampled in that period. And Burmese cuisine was the best discover I made at that time.

1995-1998 (The European 3 and 2 star Michelin Era): Gerard Besson and Christian Constant  join Jacques  Maximin in my all-time top 5 favourite Chefs

Up to 1995, my only experience with Michelin star tables was limited to the July 1990 dinner to Louis VX in Monte Carlo and Maximin’s dinner at Le Theatre. But this would change in an extreme way: 1995-1998 was marked by a visit to no less than 35 two and 3 star Michelin in Europe. Not a lot for an intensive gourmand, but given the time consuming and careful selections, it’s also normal. Among those, the major meals were sampled at  Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet (1995), on that same year: Georges Blanc, Bernard Loiseau, Alain Senderens, Marc Meneau’s L’Espérance, Jung’s Au Crocodile, Gerard Besson, Westermann’s Le Buerehiesel, Vrinat’s Taillevent. In 1996, Bocuse, Pierre Gagnaire, Troisgros, Auberge de L’ill of Haeberlin, L’Arpège of Alain Passard, Michel Bras, and many more. I had only one big regret at that time: to have missed Chef  Marc Veyrat (actually, by a silly and avoidable misunderstanding with the restaurant staff during reservation time). It’s of that era that I started to identify the type of Chefs which talent really impress me: Chef Christian Constant’s work at les Ambassadeurs (that he left in 1996) has being so marking to me that up to now, he remains in my lifetime top 5 best Chefs ever (along with JR, Girardet, Jean Francois Piège when he was at les Ambassadeurs – a discovery that will come later; see the ‘2000-2005’ era — , Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson) . Chef Besson is my revelation-Chef of that period along with Constant.

2000-2005 (Some other European 3 stars, intro to Adria and Blumenthal + a marking discovery: Chef Piège joins Maximin, Constant, Besson, Joel Robuchon in my lifetime top 5 of world’s favourite Chefs)

After 2 years of break (I am not a fan of food perse as you’ll find in my writings and those two years is a proof of that — when I go dining, it’s really to aknowledge the depth of skills of a specific kitchen and see what it can bring to me in my evolution as someone who has always been interested in techniques to push flavors and textures as far as possible within classic techniques), those 5 years were marked by sporadic visits to some tables known as very dominant at the time: 2000 was marked by 2 meals at El Bulli. This was my introduction to Adria’s work. At that time, his food was closer to classic French than what it turned into later. The two back to back meals were indeed marked by an exceptional sense of creativity and  those too meals proved that Adria is also a fantastic classic Chef (although the most seem to remember him through what he did later: molecular cuisine). I never managed  to get a reservation there the following years, which is not a surprise given the popularity that he later on enjoyed. So, my only experiences with his cuisine is limited to those 2 meals in 2000. Heston Blumenthal’ Fat Duck was a must-visit given the rise in popularity of Mr Blumenthal so FT was tried in 2005. It was total novelty for me (so nothing I could compare to, at that time), so hard to rate that dinner but definitely a must in terms of dining experience. Those years were completed with visits at Régis Marcon, Guy Savoy, le Meurice, Le Bristol, Les Ambassadeurs, three visits at le Cinq and many more 3 and two star Michelin tables.

In 2004, a marking moment: the discovery of Chef Jean Francois Piège’s work at Les Ambassadeurs. He joins my lifetime top 5 best Chefs.

2006 – 2007 The American (USA) Michelin stars era

Living so close to the US and having never tried their best tables would not make sense. So 2006, 2007  was focused on Jean-Georges, Daniel, Le Bernadin, Keller’s Per se and the French Laundry. I was –unexpectedly—disappointed by that period since I thought some of those 3 stars, during that rundown, performed less convincingly than at  most 1 star tables I had tried in France. I am sure it’s not always like that, but on that given time frame, none of those big restaurants have left any great impression on me. I had the feeling of eating well executed food, indeed, but nothing more.

2007 – Noma, Alinea (going out of my way, experiencing difference)

That year, another break was necessary for me, especially after the very busy 2006. But a friend insisted that I give a try to something completely different from what I have experienced: Nordic cuisine based on an interesting take on foliage and from what he told me, in his own words, spectacular creativity. So, an exception was made along with another discovery recommended from that same friend: Alinea in Chicago. Alinea, along with FT were the only exceptions I made in moving a bit away from  my favourite type of cuisine (classic or Modern French) into a style that I found interesting but that I remained not fond of (molecular). To some extent, I’d say that I found Noma’s more interesting, more fun, without necessarily moving me neither. A question of personal taste, as usual.

 

2009 – For the sake of bringing an independent voice and something constructive to the now widly ‘restaurant review’ practice, I decided to write about some of my dining adventures as well. That gave birth to my fine dining and best bistrots review site of Montreal (the city where I was located at that time)

2011 – Visited the only 3 star Michelin  Parisian tables  that I had not visited to date: L’Ambroisie, LeDoyen.  Chef Bernard Pacaud was at the helm on that lunch (there were only 3 tables occupied and since he is close to retirement, he seemed to be mostly working on lunch time when I was there) and his meal turned out to be the  best 3 Star Michelin repast I ever enjoyed  since the time of Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Frédy Girardet.  As for my meal at Ledoyen, it  unfortunately did not impress (I  never thought that I would one day stumble upon a lobster and citrus emulsion that would be discrete in terms of palatable excitement,  an achievement that did materialized itself on my lunch here, hopefully just an off day) .  Then I completed the year at a table which Chef  I do consider as one of the very best titan-Chefs of the globe: Chef Christian Bau’s Victor Goumet Restaurant Schloss Berg. I took the time to review all three meals on current web site. In fine, I also visited San Sebastian in the Pais Vasco, temple of the famous pintxos (Pais Vasco’s tapas), and ended up being very impressed by their produce and work of flavors. It’s in those occasions that I am thankful to the Lord that he gave me a palate that is not muted ;p San Sebastian, as well as the entire Spain, is indeed one of world’s few real gastronomic destinations, because there…it is talent that commends the buzz. Not wind nor megalomania.

2012 – First time that I try some Michelin stars ventures in Italy (I do usually stick to their laidback trattorias whenever I am there and I am still ever fonder of those upon this visit of some of their Michelin stars ;p).  This visit to Italy covered only the regions of Liguria, Lombardy, Veneto and Cinque Terre. As it so oftently happens to me whenever I do visit  Italy, I found  another coup de Coeur in their coastal regions and this time it is a tiny trattoria in Corniglia  called  A cantina de Mananan. Being born and raised with stunning produce all around me, oftenly elevated with brio by real gifted cooks, it was with great joy that I could re-connect with such great souvenirs  in that little trattoria. Visited Michelin star destinations during this trip were 2 stars Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia (classic Italian cuisine full of flavors where ingredients are not just of superior quality, but the cooking skills paying justice to that quality, too. I was impressed to see how younger Chefs carried on flavors passed from generations to generations, the only way..in my view..to get food plenty of soul. That is exactly how I would describe my lunch there, and this is the kind of cuisine that I appreciate the most. The locals told me that it was even better, before. So imagine…), then 2 stars Trussardi alla Scala in Milan, too (Nothing that I found out of the ordinary based on the usual 2 star Michelin standards that I know, thus I was not particularly moved, as I could easily name plenty of 2 stars that were more memorable in my mind. That said, not bad at all, good actually and a safe choice for some good upscale dining, but not a favourite neither), 3 star Michelin Dal Pescatore (My type of 3 stars, where there’s no fuss but a strong focus on real delicious Italian fare done with panache. A beautiful and lovely classic 3 star Michelin venture that I enjoyed a lot), then 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Rubano (young, modern, fun place but the savouries left me indifferent as they were well executed but, for me,  lacked mouthfeel excitement during that lunch there).  I took the time to review the meals at Le Calandre and Dal Pescatore on current web site.

Sept 2013 – Went visiting two old time favourites after many years of no-show. First L’Arpège in Paris. There’s a lot of blabla about how easy it is to make food delicious and that food is inevitably delicious wherever there’s cream, sauces, etc. The problem is that reality unveils a totally different story: I remember a friend who I once brought to L’Ami Jean in Paris and he kept laughing at them suggesting that any meat that has fat in it and that you braise will of course be delicious and that he did not need L’Ami Jean to get to that point, Lol. It’s been almost 2 years now that that friend is trying to put his suggestions  into practice, alas in vain, and he now understands … to borrow an analogy from music … that it’s one thing to observe thatà a song is made of octaves, it’s another thing to appreciate their nuances. Cases like this abound.  Of course a bowl of ice cream with a bit of caramel in it is supposed to please the most, but 3,4,5 versions of that can vary, if you bother about  details, from the ordinary to the most sophisticated (in depth of taste, for eg)  even despite having the exact same appearance. So, that was how I’d describe this meal at L’Arpège: its finest dishes (yep, yep there are items I did not like, but they were long erased from my mind, largely overwhelmed by their finest counterparts), although simple  looking are no easy dish to conceive for even the most ambitious kitchen brigades out there. And their taste, their taste, their taste was deep and divinely delicious!!!!  Simple looking Vs easy, that’s for me the major difference to make, because I don’t go to restaurants for easy dishes. As simple as they might look, the dishes here were complex in reality: full of character,soul, inspired in their execution, so much so  that even the dishes I did not like commanded admiration (take the dish of Arlequin de legumes. Really not to my taste, I even scored it with a 0/10, simply because the taste clashed with what I perceive as eventful, but I admired the creative  execution because I know well that many will think that it is a matter of just adding semolina to some boiled vegetables, but that if you play attention to the nuances of that dish..well, it’s far from being as simple as that. It’s right there the problem of most kitchen brigades: they tend to confuse simple looking execution with  easy creations, a problem that L’Arpège does not suffer from. L’Arpège continues to be in the top tier of my favourite 3 star Michelin restaurants around the globe. Then Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, where the food has not impressed me this time (this, French/Med classic cooking is my favourite type of cuisine because you can do a lot, with very little, which is essentially all that interests me about food; for eg pot cooking vegetables is usually eventful since it’s the occasion for the aromas of the ingredients to truly express themselves,  but unfortunately for me, although nicely executed, the food on this lunch had flavors that were generally discrete in their expression. And yes, of course, there  is always a subjective level in what people think of as eventful or not, and for me those were uneventful flavours) , but it does not matter since the experience of being there, that world class service, the little details that makes a restaurant grand (the luxury, the carts of bread/outstanding cheeses, the presentation of the butter, etc)  and that beautiful dining room are still amazing souvenirs for the mind and the eyes. I am not trying to balance my slight disappointment of the food (again, nothing bad, just not as eventful as I came to expect from such cuisine) with the positive comments about the overall experience …just for the sake of sounding fair, far from that..it’s just that when I don’t like, I don’t and I’ll say it but where it pleases me, I will do the same thing. Regardless of the food performance that did not knock my socks off, Le Louis XV continues to be a  grand classic experience that is unparalleled.

In November 2014, I visited Tokyo and that trip revealed how food is, in general, a matter of perception as Wagyu, a meat praised as one of this globe’s finest, was not even as half as flavorful as any ordinary cut of Black Angus having less marbling than the steaks of Wagyu I have enjoyed in Tokyo (i tried Matsusaka, Sanda as well a Wagyu from the Oki Islands). Sushi was also another revelation but not the way I was expecting it: Yes, the tiny group of elite Sushi shops (for eg Mizutani, Sawada) do certainly have access to seafood of exceptional quality, BUT the rest of the sushi shops are not that vastly superior to a good Sushi shop in North America. And most sushi conveyor belts would not be allowed to open even in a city like Montreal. That said, Tokyo is a true world class food destination as plenty of really great food can be found virtually at every street corner with a standard of cooking and a level of consistency, as well as competitive prices, that can be found only in few cities around the globe. I ate really well for less than $5 in Tokyo, a possibility that is simply unimaginable in most western cities. Food aside, Tokyo is a magical city with incredible energy (the seas of people and neon lights, the never ending electric ambience, the mesmerizing marriage of the old and the new architectures). One of this globe’s hottest destinations, without a doubt! (major restaurants visited during this trip: Sushi Oono, Sawada, Sushi Mizutani, Dons de la nature, Ishikawa, Fuunji)


In Nov 2015
, I tried 3 star Michelin Pierre Gagnaire for the 2nd time in 10 yrs. This is true world class French cuisine. I went expecting a meal made of ups and downs as sometimes accounted online, but what I suspect  to be perceived as occasionally  ” off ” at PG were actually their riffs on genuinely well conceived non french food items (for example, a take on the japanese chamachurri in the case of this meal). So, nothing technically faulty at all. When comparing the rating of my meal at l’Arpege to the one at PG,  you may ask why a 10/10 in the case of L’ Arpege and a lower rating for Pierrer Gagnaire’s (both essentially cooking French food regardless of how their food is described by the medias ) . Take that with a grain of salt as  at this level of cooking, it is just a question of personal taste. But If you still insist in knowing why, there you go: the flavor of fire (of which I am a fan) was more present at l’Arpege (but that has to do with my choices of food, not the fault of the kitchen at Pg) and the best items at L’ Arpege fared slightly more delicious to my palate ….slightly i’ll stress because Pg’s work of the flavors is generally outstanding (the superlative vanilla souffle/beets/lamb, etc).

***A list of my favouite restaurants around the globe:

Restaurant L’Ambroisie, Paris
Maison des tanneurs, Strasbourg
Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg, Perl-Nennig
La table D’Aki, Paris
A cantina de Mananan, Corniglia
Lawrence, Montreal
Le Marly, Montreal (Now closed)
C’heu l’Zib, Menetou-Salon
Le Sergent recruteur (Chef Antonin Bonnet), Paris
L’auberge du XIIe siecle, Sache
Ca La Maria, Mollet de Peralada
Brouwerskolkje, Overveen
Pasquale Paoli, Rousse Island (Balagna)
Khazana, Hanoi
Aung Thukha, Yangon
Da Vittorio, Brusaporto
L’autre pied, London
The Square, London
Le Gavroche, London
Xindalu, Shanghai
Michel Rostang, Paris
L’Abeille, Paris
Le Cinq, Paris
Taillevent, Paris
L’Arpège, Paris
Edsbacka krog, Sollentuna
Lux, Stockholm
Chez Dominique, Helsinki
L’Auberge de l’Ill, Illhaeusern
Cabana Las Lilas, Buenos Aires
Bistro de la marine, Cagnes sur Mer
Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
Olivier Roellinger, Cancale (His previous restaurant)
Graze, Bangalore
Restaurant Emile’s, Calvi
Aubergine, Carmel by the sea
Tetsuya’s, Sidney
Kolonihagen Frogner, Oslo
Au rince Cochon, Limogne en Quercy
Les Crayeres, Reims
Les prés d’Eugénie, Eugénie les bains
Residenz Heinz Winkler, Aschau im Chiemgau
U Kastelana, Brno
La Pyramide, Vienne (Isère)
The Dolder Grand, Zurich
Urasawa, Beverly Hills
Frédy Girardet, Crissier (retired)