Posts Tagged ‘food columnist’

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.

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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: 9/10  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 9, as opposed to a 10, is because the overall impression I have of this meal is  one of an  overall excellent (9/10) 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 .  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”.

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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.

L’Ambroisie, Paris

2011年3月25日(金)12:30、パリの3ツ星レストラン、「ランブロワジー」にてランチ。

店データ:伝統的なフランス料理。

(住所)9, pl des Vosges Paris, France (4e arrondissement)

(URL)http://www.ambroisie-placedesvosges.com/

(電話) 01-42-78-51-45

Langoustine, ananas, velouté de crustacés(ヨーロッパアカザエビとパイナップル、エビのポタージュ):昨日他のミシュラン三ツ星レストラン(ルドワイヤン)で食事をし、その味に大きな感動を覚えることはなかったと書いたのだが、それは私が探しているこのレベルの料理においての素晴らしい味わいは必ず存在しており、しかしながらそこでの発見は無かったということであった。しかしながらここ「ランブロワジー」は私が期待し続けていた完璧な例を書き綴る機会をすぐに与えてくれたのである。このアムズ・ブシュであるラングスティーヌは申し分の無いもの(神々しいまでのうまさとしっとり感)であった。驚きはそこで終わらない。ブリュノワーズのパイナップル(グリーンペッパー、レッドペッパーのダイスとミックスされたもの)はそこらのブリュノワーズではない。魅惑的に、天才的に作り上げられた、すべての他のブリュノワーズの典拠とでも言っておこう。更にこのヴルーテにおいては何といえば良いのだろう。これこそ探し求めていたこのレベルの料理というものである。卓越したうまさ!満点。有星、無星レストランで今まで試した中で最も優れた一品の一つだ!

Chaud froid d’oeuf mollet au cresson , asperges vertes, caviar oscietre gold(クレソンと堅め半熟玉子、グリーンアスパラと金のキャビア添え) :euf mollet(卵は予想通りの完璧な半熟)はクレソンのソース(ソースによる楽しい意外性を含んだ卵の味を楽しめた)で覆われており、アスパラガス、(彼らは野菜を上手く調理することを極めている)キャビア(一般的な、チョウザメの薄味で高級な塩づけの魚卵。トップレベルの料理に期待するもの)が添えられていた。

Oeuf en coque(半熟玉子):「ラルページュ」のシェフ、パサルド、申し訳ない、貴方の有名な「卵」の前菜は大好きだが、パコーの‘Oeuf en coque’は極上だ。うまい。半熟玉子のすべてのうまみの本質がシンプルにアサツキのみで高められている。驚愕!満点以上!

Sea bass and artichoke atop a caviar (Ocietra gold from Iran) white butter sauce(シーバスとアーティチョークのキャビア添え、ホワイトバターソース):シーバスは上手く調理されており(完璧な火の通り具合)味は最高(この見た目の悪い魚がこんなにうまくなるとは!)バターソースはすばらしく口当たりが良く、材料(者ルロットと白ワイン)とも好相性だ。丁度よい酸味(ソースの白ワインからきている)がその高級感を湛えていた。マイルドな味のアーティチョーク(スライスされた中心部)がソースとよく合っており、チョウザメの加工された塩漬けの卵の質はピカイチであった。総して、非の打ちどころがない(この魚の下準備に相当の時間を掛けているのは明らかである)一品というのはとても貴重なうまさなのだ。この料理に「マジック」は感じないが、そこでの3本の指に入るに値するだろう。(評価:A9/10)

Tarte fine sable au cacao, glace à la vanilla bourbon(薄いココアサブレのチョコレートタルト、ブルボン産ヴァニラのアイスクリーム添え):薄いココアサブレの層で覆われた、ヴァニラアイスクリームを添えたチョコレートタルト。このタルトは驚くべき製菓技術の秘密をそのうまさと共に明らかにした。これもまた満点

私は訪れる前に「ランブロワーズ」についてたくさんの記事を読んだ。卓越している、との評価、たまに伝統的基準で測れない、とも。特にこのランチを基準に言わせてもらうと、後者の評価を出した人達は果たして同じレストランで食べたのだろうか?それとも、もしかしたら彼らが食事をしに来たときキッチンに誰もいなかったのでは?冗談はさておき、私が楽しんだ3月25日金曜日のこのランチは、私が理想とする完璧な三ツ星料理の完璧な例であった。食べ物は極上のうまさであり、更に。。。。続きをどうぞ!

ここでもまた、いくつか言葉を挙げたい。誰かがサービスは完璧だったと書いてあったのを知っている。しかし彼らが「レンガの壁」に遭遇した、と書いてあったのはどうであろう。最近私は彼らに「真剣」と「冷たい」を混乱しないように、と進言した。分かっている、そのサービスはプロフェッショナルである、間違いなく。しかしながら、3ツ星レストランに何を期待するのか?ここはビアホールでもビストロでもない、そうであろう?パスカル氏、このランチで私を担当した彼は本当にプロフェッショナルかつ素晴らしいジェントルマンである。「OUi, oui」・・・彼は真面目で控えめであった、そう、だから?私は軽くジョークを交わし、その後彼はリラックスしていた。私たちはルムラック氏の引退について少し話し、私がその食事で選んだ素晴らしいドメーヌ・ルフレーヴ2006年物など、様々な楽しい話をした。食事中ずっと、この申し分ないサービスを観察しながらランチを楽しんでいたのだが、私は自分自身に問い続けていた。「何が問題だというのだ?本当に同じレストランか?(笑)・・・おそらく言葉の壁・・・いや、それにしても彼らは皆良い感じではないか、一体・・・いや、とにかく、」 結論:三ツ星レストランに期待すべき、申し分のないサービスである。

総じて、びっくりするような値段を誇っている、というのが大多数(ウェブサイト上+私のパリの高級フレンチの常連仲間の意見)が認めてるところであるが、もっとも重要なことは運ばれてきた料理、それが極めて う・ま・い!ということだった。それよりも私にとって明らかになったことは、このような食事を経験して私はもはやランブロワーズが現在存在する中で最も優れた高級三ツ星フレンチレストランであるということに驚かない。今、この日まで訪れたことのなかったパリの最近のミシュラン3ツ星の称号を得たただ二店、ルドワイヤンとランブロワーズを訪れ(幸運なことに、パリの三ツ星はそれほど多くなく、最近新たに取得した店もなかった)、私は自身を持ってランブロワーズがーこの時点においてー個人的に選んだパリでナンバーワンの3つ星であることを宣言できる。特別な食事として何年も私の思い出に残るだろう。

FAQ + Learn to know your food reviewer

Posted: December 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My  reviews are written in a style that is not sellable / media or buzz-friendly. In other words, you will rarely find my reviews advertised on restaurant web sites or promoted in the foodie blogosphere. This is exactly what I want since the purpose of my reviews is to be as indepent as possible from the restaurant industry.

***My food rating system is explained here.

Also my background as a gourmand -> http://tinyurl.com/8774sax

I realized that most people do not take time to learn a bit more about the writer of the food review they are reading. It makes no sense to me.  That writer, being human, has naturally his/her  preferences as you, I, or anyone else  writing  about restaurant and food.

If, as an example, that writer does not like bistro food, I presume you understand that you might need to consider this when you need or read his advices on bistro food.

I personally am more into traditional fares (French, African, Asian, Carribean), therefore I will naturally tend to favor rich savourish dishes over simplistic display of raw ingredients on my plate. Of course, I love contemporary fares too:
I am fond of the modern bistro fares as much as I like their traditional versions. I do appreciate Modern French cuisine a lot, perhaps as much as I like traditional French.

I was born in a fishermen village, which explains my sacred fascination for seafood and why I am particularly demanding/strict when I evaluate seafood dishes. But I am as much picky with meats too: few years ago, curious about the buzz on Japanese seafood and beef, I sacrificed three months in just that -> enjoying what Japan was offering as its best beef and seafood. That was a fascinating experience that I will never forget, and also a reminder of  how the best of what others might have enjoyed  could be completely different from what you have liked the most. Japan has indeed amazing products and their top quality beef deserve the hype, but the best seafood I enjoyed was in Africa and the Carribean.
The best beef? hard to say.  Japan top graded beef are truly one thing you need to experience at least once in your life (it will be way too long for me to explain all the different types of top graded Japanese beef here. We’ll leave that for a later post on top Japanese beef, but their beef, at the upper echelon, is one experience you will not enjoy elsewhere), but I preferred the Australian beef. The top graded Argentinian beef, to my surprise, did not impress me up to now, but I need to spend more time in Argentina in order to have a more extended experience with their beef. I need to experience the Galician beef, of which I heard rave opinions. Chicken fared better to me in Africa (some chicken I tried there were far better than another chicken that I love so dearly and that is highly praised, for good reasons because it is indeed a great chicken: France’s poulette de Bresse).

The best meat I ever ate: a roasted tailless tenrec  over 15 yrs ago, in the Indian Ocean. No meat at a 3* Michelin restaurant, none of the widly praised meats, not one dining venture ever came close to that one.

I am very curious and want to submit my palate to as much tastes as possible, thus  I tend to try all sort of food. There are many remote places I’d like to go just to taste their food: I dream of spending years with remote saharian, amazonian tribes and discover their cuisine, their cooking techniques.

 

Let’s conclude on a straightforward Q&A’s in order for you to better read/interpret/understand my restaurant evaluations:

Why anonymous? Because guess what…a normal diner has always been anonymous, not a fame-seeker, not a celebrity. I am interested by the dining experience that any normal diner has a chance to partake in, not one where the normal cooking and experience is adjusted because you are recognized….good for those taking advantage of such situations, but it is irrelevant for someone like me who wants to know how things are happening in normal conditions.

In a world where most would not shy away from a moment of fame and freebies, why are you taking the opposite route? Indeed, most would prefer fame and freebies and I wish I was like that as it would make my life certainly easier in the relevant aspects (less money to spend, better food as I’d essentially attend PR related meals with all the bells and whistles that come along, etc).  But then, that would not be me. Things like those do boil down to who you are as a person, how you view life, how you were brought up. I take no pleasure in benefitting from privileges and attention, I am a giver, not a taker so right there it’s easy to understand how freebies and fame are useless notions for me. At best, I can appreciate that they are useful to others.

Marco Pierre White once decried the fact that he was assessed by people who knew less than him
Marco could afford saying that kind of stupid thing because he was a true great Chef. I say stupid because it is always stupid to try to shutdown the voice of others when you are living in a democracy full of grown men and women … NOT  in a banana republic. I say stupid because how can he know that those who are assessing his food are not better than him. It is not because you think you are right, that others are not! I say stupid because there is obviously a difference between doing the work of a critic and doing the work he is talking. When Marco reads the critic of a movie, does he expect the critic to be as good as the actors in the movie? I know people try all sorts of tactics to discourage views that are not favorable to themselves, but that logic of criticizing the assessment of a critic is infantile at best. That said 90% of the restaurants of this globe do have kitchen brigades that cooks average food that is inferior to what most can cook at home.

 

Any problem with those seeking fame? Nope. It is their rights. If you want to use food blogging to make a name in the food industry and build your career, or make friends, or standing as the cool kid of the block, why not? It is your right. But obviously, I am not going to get the ‘right time’ with  what you are communicating .

In regards to your blog, what achievement are you the most proud of? Many, not all, but most …have hard time distancing themselves from emotional aspects. For eg, if the restaurant is very famous, they look forward to put it down at the first opportunity. If it’s pricey, same thing. If they have been to a fancy modern restaurant that have impressed them, the next classic restaurant they will visit will pass as subpar, not because it is subpar but because they are mixing up emotions with rationality. One of the very first reasons that brought me into food blogging was to keep that  in check, to control it. So, I work hard in focusing on what is on my plate regardless of trends, buzz, opinions,etc. This is the kind of thing that will never be apparent to the most, but what matters is that I am proud to have achieved the impossible: when a meal is bad, it is bad and I will say it but I know deep inside of me that it is bad because I found it bad, not because of superfluous reasons. When it is great, same thing.

What’s the thinking behind this blog? All my personal initiatives (meaning initiatives on which I have full control) follow this attern -> I look at what already exist, observe what I (subjectively) perceive as missing  and start building upon such observation. It’s not meant to purposely play the role of the “outsider” for the pleasure of it, that is not the intent. The intent is to broaden my horizon  with varied perspectives. If most foodies are writing diairies or simply posting pics of their meals, I respect that, but I find interesting, for me at least, to bring more. So I rate my meal, I try my best to either be  concise or, to the contrary, to enrich my opinion with more than what is usually found. I see most people making friends and I say “oh, let’s see how things will fare, in the restaurant world, without…“. I go to some restaurants where there are restrictions to normal diners, but that is not mentioned anywhere else, so I mention them because I want normal diners to know what awaits. I see people writing about what’s basically a private restaurant and I think “this does not cater to the normal diner that I am, so NO, I won’t write about such place”. I see people writing in their mother tongue and I say “omg, good for them, I respect that, but that is too comfort zone for me”.   It might not be perfect as it’s the nature of virtually everything, but it’s the way I view things.

-Your blog is designed to remain an “underground” foodie souce. Aren’t you afraid that it remains “anonymous”?

It will be popular, at some point. I do not not know when, but it will be. Because people are “never  satisfied” by nature. They like what is popular, indeed, but at some point they get used to that and want the opposite of … just that, lol! And a real Chef with a head on his shoulders, do you really think he is naive enough to believe that he can thrive on the back of opinions about how great things are?? Lol.  It would be naive to think that it is the case. He won’t reveal it to the world, for sure, but he will, secretely, look for opinions like the ones you find on “underground” blogs like mine.

There is an educational dimension to your blog? Why is that?
I think it is important. I see many people going to restaurants with unrealistic expectations and that is because of the lack of information on what to expect when dining out. Even myself, I sometimes forget that restaurants are manned by human beings. The other day, a friend had to remind me that it was naive from my part to expect some restaurateurs to maintain a high level of cooking performance if there is no incentive. So true. What biped would be motivated to cook well on a consistently basis with no incentive?
I know, the incentive is supposed to be the money you are paying for your meal, but the average biped does not “walk” that way. You paying for your meal…that, they take it for granted.

-How difficult was that, for you, to decide sharing about your foodie adventures?  For someone who comes from very humble backgrounds like me, the hardest part was to learn to respect the other foodies out there. When you were born in a fishermen village and have spent your childhood extracting the most out of a simple piece of fresh fish, you tend to lack respect to ppl who seem to run without having learned to walk. In the beginning, reading things like ‘the squid was excellent because it was tender’ or the ‘abalone was the finest because it was melt in your mouth tender’…and that ‘this squid or that abalone was bad because I’ve eaten more tender versions of it’ ..reading that kind of crap was really frustrating for me. I kept saying to myself “how come they pretend they like something and they do not even bother  finding out, at the source, about how a fresh piece of abalone or squid looks/smells/feels   in its ””just-snatched from floor of the-sea” condition.  And those folks kept feeding my sarcasm: some having half of the vegetables and meats featuring among ” things they do not like”, others rushing to restaurants with no clue of how the restaurant operates (you know, the famous ”the portions are too small”….at a gourmet restaurant..c’mon!!!!!!!!!!), some expecting bistrot ambience at gourmet restaurants, others comparing low level cooking skills to top level ones only because they have no clue of the efforts and true technical depth that sets apart the great from the just ok, ..in a nutshell, a collection  of complete mess.   With time I learned to respect those ppl, understanding that they are still  entitled to their opinion with or without proper knowledge of what they are talking about.

What do you think about cooks who suggest that they could not care about critics and opinions? That they work only for their customers? I doubt those cooks would like the opposite scenario of no one talking/caring about their work. And what’s a critic? Guess what..he’s a customer. He is just sharing his opinion about what he has enjoyed. Exactly as any other customer would do, unless those cooks consider ‘customers’ as those who are not entitled to an opinion.  Spitting on a ‘sea of free advertisement’ (that’s basically what we, food bloggers, are; that is basically what food journalism is, too) provided by  people paying with their hard earned money, that is everything you want except brilliance.  Clearly,  suggesting that you could not care about critics is a plain stupid declaration.

Is that true that the restaurant world manipulates the food blogging scene? Life is a manipulation. Virtually everything is a manipulation.  Take my own  blog:  I believe in what I do, which means assessing my food from the perspective of a normal diner paying for his food and rejecting  ‘ fame through food blogging’ as any normal diner should, but at the end of the count it is still manipulation as in the concerned situation, I am manipulated by my belief that this is the right thing to do.  So, I do not care about manipulation. All I am asking the restaurant world is to remember that normal diners (which count  for the majority of their clientele)  are paying to enjoy  good food, and they (the restaurateurs) are paid to deliver it.

-What do you say to people who finds reviews of food to be exxagerated? By nature, an opinion is an exxageration because it is a perception. You are basically saying what you think of what you’ve  perceived as facts. An opinion about someone else’s opinion is a double exxageration because you are not even talking about your perception of facts, you are talking about what others have perceived.

Why do you rarely state that  this or that restaurant deserves this or that X award/rating, etc? There’s a huge difference between people who have cooked for a long time (like me) Vs those who are judging the restaurant world with no experience in a kitchen. A huge one, and that is not a reproach, that is not to elect one opinion as better as another, not at all, that is  just an observation. People who have cooked since a long time tend to be very careful about comparisons. They wait and wait and wait until they gather lots of evidence / material before risking comparisons, because they know that what most are basically doing is judging tastes/opinions of others but that beyond that, there are so many factors that only them have experienced with (mood of the cook, produce that is one day great, another day impossible to get, etc). Those who are not sensibilized to those realities judge hastily as you and I would judge anything we are not that knowledgeable about. At the end of the day, everybody is entitled to an opinion and it’s up to their respective audience to do the rest.

The problem with most diners, nowadays? They should consider dining  out only upon ensuring that  they are  really familiar with the type of cooking offered at the restaurant where they are heading, as well as the true purpose of that restaurant.  You hurt both your wallet and your intelligence when you dine out with ignorance at the core of your actions/judgements and you can’t hide that:  if you go to a bistrot expecting fine dining, if you are eating a properly well executed classic dish but you were expecting, without knowing it, sparks of modern cooking, you really sound as stupid as those who go to the sea and can’t stand water. Ask  aunts, uncles,  grandmas/grandpas, people familiar with textures and tastes of past generations cooking  to cook /show you/educate your palate  about the classic dishes you are interested to try at the restaurant, then your opinions will have better substance. But do not go to a restaurant simply because it is highly regarded by others. Before expecting something to be great, you should first know what you like, if what you like is really something you are familiar with/have understood/appreciated to greater extent.  I love food, have familiarized my palate with food from all around the globe, from various generations, and yet there are food of which I give no opinion (for eg Russian, Romania cuisines), food that I do not assess because they have either flavors that are acquired taste for my palate or simply because I am not fully familiar with all its nuances. I can’t judge that because I have no real reference, no real experience, no real knowledge with that sort of food.   Once you know, you’ll really know what is bad and what is really good, or else you are making a fool of your ownself.

Did you experience with restaurants that you suspect of offering fake dining experiences? Fortunately, they do not abound but YES, I know of some restaurants that can’t be serious at what they do. I always give them 2 to 3 tries, just to make sure that it’s not my mind playing tricks, but you feel that kind of things right from the 1st visit…you feel it  when a restaurant has nothing to do with what you’ve read in the  reviews…they tend to  keep  having nothing to do with what is reported online even after a 2nd, even a 3rd visit…you know right away that is a fake restaurant, dispatching its better cooking staff when a food journalist is dining in the house but not capable to deliver consistently.

Is it true that they segregate diners at most restaurants, for eg the better looking ppl are provided with the best seats, etc – Many restaurants do that. But that does not bother me at all as it’s the food that matters to me.  If your food is bad and you segregate diners on top of that, then you  are a dump!

Do you care about criticisms over food bloggers? No, I can’t care about that.  I”ll politely listen, of course as I have always believed in freedom of thought. My own kid, my relatives, they are actually my harshest critics. Kids have ‘no filter’, they say the truth and my kid’s criticism would make a grown man cry, lol. But here’s the thing: for me, there are times for caring about criticisms. Again, if you want to be a celebrity food blogger, if you want to find a window of  opportunity in this industry, of course you need to care about what people think. But not every people are  interested to approach the foodie world as an opportunity to make a buck and I am genuinely one of those. Listen, when I first decided to launch my food blog, a foodie friend urged me to first read  couple of  very popular food blogs. Indeed, they had all it takes to be very popular: all well written as their  authors are writing in their mother tongue, using a very ‘magazine-like” writing style,  so clearly operating in their comfort zone and caring about the image/packaging of their craft.  Most showing no restraint in the use of the usual  bells and whistles: stunning pics, amazing web page layout, etc. But three observations jumped to my attention:  (1)I found that many of those had a ‘static palate” or take their palates ‘for granted’.  Exempli gratia, they do not like something in X period of time, and would still not like it 3,5 years later.  I can understand that there can be 1 or two flavors that are acquired tastes and if you do not like it, well you don’t and it’s correct that it reflects on your assessment   BUT it’s a   problem when no effort is made to better understand food we did not like in the first place. When I do not like something, I am still curious: I go back to the people who know that taste  and I try to understand what it is about. What appeals to them? I have no clue if that will make the food better next time I’ll try it, but as someone who pretends to like food, I do at least try to understand what does not seem to be to my liking. I suspect most do not do that…which is nonsensical  if you say you like food. (2) most had authors who have many ingredients they did not like. It’s Ok not to like couple of ingredients, but when your list of undesirable  ingredients covers almost 30% of what nature is delivering, well…I am sorry but you can’t call yourself ‘someone who loves food’.  (3)They seemed to find certain sort of cuisine superior to others. For eg, they were capable of identifying the lows and the benchmark in X type of cuisine, but just lows and just the good, never the benchmarks, in others. That I cannot  understand: how on earth, do you pretend to like food and yet you show some restraint in your assessment of certain types of food. How on earth do you pretend loving food, are able to identify a benchmark dish in French cooking, to take an example,  but you can’t do the same in African or Haitian or Thai cuisine? How? This is actually a classic problem: many people can’t judge food in its context. They have to judge it in relation to irrelevant aspects: for eg, they judge Thai food on the basis of  the realities of french cooking. They do even worst than that: they judge a Pizza in X place in relation to a Pizza in Y place, obviously ignoring plenty of important elements: water is not the same, flour not the same, the clientele (so the palate of the people eating the pizzas) not the same at all at  both locations.  That’s beyond comprehension, for me. Of course this whole thing is subjective, but you should still be able to identify what’s a benchmark, in your own subjective opinion,  if you are confident about identifying the lows. I went back to my foodie friend who was in shock that I’d decide to not write in my mother tongue (French), ditch the popular stuff and just stick to what I deemed necessary to focus on:  appreciating food as a normal diner, without the need to perceive it as a trend, and with as much effort I can deploy in assessing it the most accurate way possible within its glorious subjectiveness. Again, it’s imperfect as anything operated by human beings, certainly utterly boring to some, obviously not the cool/right way if you want to make friends in the foodie world, but it has at least the merit to be what it is, whick means sticking to its own identity/purpose  rather than ‘morphing’ into  what others want it to be.

What are the funniest things you heard about food blogging?
Many things, but one that is laughable is when ppl tell you that you are copying someone else’s writing style. Give me a break: writing and talking is not the private property of anyone in particular. You can tell me that I am copying X, and trust me that if I focus on the matter, it won’t take be long to prove you that X is copying Y, Lol. And we can go and on, endlessly, at  that game.    I mean, there are more than 6 billions of bipeds on this planet, and planet earth was not discovered few days ago, Lol…so I am not naïve enough to start believing that there are ppl out there who are inventing anything new in this time and age? Bottom line, I write the way I want and if some are not happy with it, that is their problem.

What to look for, primarily,  in my reviews:  the NUMBER rating! Two dishes can be well conceived, flawless and the words I’ll write on both cases will naturally reflect the relevant situation. No need to put down one great dish because another one is better.  So  how will you know that one is still  superior to the other? The number will talk for it! 10/10 – Exceptional (level of daring deliciousness that is rarely fullfilled, a benchmark in terms of taste), 9/10 – Excellent (flawless, delicious, daring but not a benchmark), 8/10 (Very good), 7/10 (Good … but at a 2 or 3 star dining level, this is not enough to me and means “not recommendable”). Anything below 7/10 is bad.

What do I value primarily in the evaluation of a dish? The TASTE! All my life I have focused rigorously on taste enjoyment via my own personal research for richer/more vibrant flavors and  with personal routine of  dining practices such as (1) never sampling anything that could alter taste perception within the 5 hrs prior to a meal…so no coffee, no tea, nothing acidic..etc  (2) closing my eyes and totally freeing my mind from any apprehension on the first bites of sampled dish. There are many other little practical techniques (that I use) in order to try to enjoy the dish with the closest neutral perception  possible, but you get the idea.

Will the gimmicky looking food items automatically suffer from poor ratings since I prefer elaborate, refined and rich classic fares?   I do not care about the looks. The food needs to taste great, that is all I am  looking  for.

Will the food evaluation suffer from its price? Absolutely not! I am rating the delicousness level of the food (10 is exceptional, 9 is excellent, 8 is very good,  7 is good,   anything below is bad), not its value.

Should we expect French fares to be better rated that others? That would be a mistake. Food is tasty or not, regardless of its origins. The African food item that my palate identifies as the tastier that it ever sampled, deserves a 10 as much as its Japanese, Chinese,Quebecois, French, Thai, Burmese, Haitian, Latin American counterparts.

Will  classic fares benefit from more reviews  than the latest experimental cutting edge food? I am big on classical French/African/Oriental/Caribbean fares,  classic French bistro,  modern haute French, bistro Moderne. But sometimes I get bored and love trying out molecular / experimental cuisine too. So Yes, this blog will rarely  focus   on the latest.

What to avoid as a food critic? Do not try to cheat (for eg, trying friendly critiques,  seeking for exchange of favors, etc).  That will show up:  people eat out a lot nowadays,  so they will quickly find out about your little games. For eg,  I once trusted a food columnist who raved a lot about a specific Chef. My friends kept  telling me that there was a huge gap between what she was raving about Vs reality. I wanted to see for myself. I went eating at the restaurant of that Chef .  He was the only one cooking on that day. And I discovered that indeed, that  food columnist was just promoting that Chef since the latest was not even capable of cooking very basic fares. Also:  if you are allowed privileges that others won’t get … people will quickly realize that they can’t trust you.  For all those reasons, I prefer staying anonymous, avoiding close relationship with the restaurant world,  so that my experience reflects the reality of the most.

Common misconceptions? Thinking that someone who rates a dish as excellent, or who raves about a Chef … is suspicious. That’s a big mistake that the most  tend to do. Although understandable (I am the first one who find that ‘hard to believe’ sometimes ;p), we must be honest:  when a dish is excellent to our standards, it should be said. If 10 dishes out of 10 were flawless, you should say it.  Thinking that others might find it ‘fishy’ is right there a manipulation of our own experienced reality.

How do you react when something you found great is perceived as not that great by someone else? There’s no reaction to have. Just means you have different tastes.

Is it easy to write reviews? About anything is easy when it is done without rigor.  If writing about restaurant was just a matter of sitting at a table and contenting myself with describing my food,  then I’d not do this. What attracted me into writing about dining is all the discipline that is involved:  how far can I control my human emotions and judge my food as accurately as possible? How far can I  detach mysefl from  the surrounding  distractions around my meal? How far can I resist to popular perceptions and freely express what’s on my mind (see previous question)? How far do I know myself to provide  opinions on a given type of food:  for eg, I  sometimes see people judging food that  they just don’t like  in the first place.  That is easy to spot:  the person, whatever he or she eats,  is never capable of appreciating one single dish of that given type of cuisine. That is absolutely normal:  I, too, have some types of food that I just can’t appreciate. What is not normal though is to judge a type of food you can’t like since your perception of it is already biased. I only review cuisines that I understand and appreciate because I can then accurately tell you which dish I found good or bad. The cuisines that I do not like,  I simply describe them and also wait to be enoughly familiar, knowledgeable about them before providing my readers with opinions on them.  I also follow very strict practices that I believe are essential for your judgement about food to be accurate such as never eating anything and drinking only flat water within the 4,5 hours leading to a meal that I want to review. It is a nonsense to review a dinner without any ethic, method.

What to look for in a food critic? Just one thing:  his dining history / experience and pray that(1) he/she is honest about it and (2) she/ he has a good palate!  That is like having a lot of money…it does not mean that you will have good taste ;p  Any critic should expose her/his pedigree so that her/his readers have an idea of how to interpret her/his views.  I’m exposing mine here:  extensive experience with French haute fine dining at both classic and modern level in France and abroad (Taillevent, Senderens,  Bocuse, Guerrard, Le Gavroche, Gagnaire, Passard’s Arpège,  Bernard Loiseau, Michel Bras, French Laundry, Guy Savoy, Lumière, etc),  same with Classic and Modern French Bistros throughout France and abroad,  African fares (Especially Western fares like those from Togo, Senegal + Central Africa with focus on Congolese food, Indian Ocean,  Eastern as in Ethiopian fares, Northern as in Morrocan, Libyan, Egyptian) Oriental fares (Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese but on the classic level only. So zero experience of Modern Oriental fares unless you count Oriental/French fusioned fares like those at Tetsuya),  African classic fares, Caribbean classic fares.  Have I covered everything to be the perfect food critic? ABSOLUTELY NOT! NO ONE WILL! I know nothing about the upscale Japanese fine dining (their top 2, 3 star Michelin), I know nothing about most of the Latin American  (Chile, Equador, etc), Russian, East European cuisines. So, as you can see no one will ever be knowledgeable enough about food.  What this tells you though is that that in French fine dining, French Bistro fares, African food, most of the common Oriental fares, you know what to expect from my opinions.  My reviews of seafood dishes are also ones you should play attention to since I have a life time obsessive admiration for great seafood and have educated my palate accordingly. So needless to stress that bad seafood is subject of rough reports, chefs not capable of offering great seafood dishes are perceived as poor skilled cooks.  Proof that no one, absolutely no one  will ever stand as  perfect! At least,  you know what to expect and how to read my reports, Rfaol! Also: I tend to prefer skilled artisan Chefs (you know, those who are in their kitchen for real..) over cooks who are in the comfort of their leaving room or parading on TV whilst I am dining at their table….

What about the preconception that food bloggers do this to get freebies? It’s like with anything in life:  there are fake chefs and there are true Chefs as well. There are corrupted renumerated food critics, there are honest ones too. There are lowlife  opportunistic  food bloggers, and there are those with ethics as well.

Should restaurateurs be afraid of food critics? A dishonest and not capable restaurateur should because he/she knows deep inside inside of him/herself that there are reasons not to be at peace with her/his work. I came to realize that most chefs who can’t deliver (for eg:  not capable of getting the job done because they can’t be present behind their stove)  tend to not appreciate food critics. Of course there are unfortunately some stupid critics who are mixing up personal vendettas with the seriousness of accurately reviewing a dinner, but that is easy cheap shot to spot. That should not be an excuse for restaurateurs to refuse to live in peace with the notion of freedom of speech.

What about restaurants playing the ‘checklist’. Are they penalized in my review? Life is a checklist! Whatever you do, however rebellious or original you feel, you are filling out a checklist! A while back, a  trend  arose:  let’s put an end to the stuffy haute fine dining theme! Guess what:  now, that trend is criticized to play the game of the new checklist: trying to be too cool, trying to be too simple at all cost!  It ”does not seem natural anymore””, in the eyes of some! Rfaol!  Now, we all know what the checklist might look like in the type of restaurants that I am reviewing through the current web site: a spoon of caviar over here, an endless  array of nibbles over there, theatricality over here and so on. All of that is nice, but they do not count in the  evaluation of my dinner! You will rarely see me writing a lot about that aspect of my dinner, at best couple of words on it because it is always a good thing to know that this table is a bit more generous  than another.  But with me, you won’t run from the essential:  whatever caviar or edible gold  leaf you are adding to my dish…it’s the dish that needs to be stellar! It’s the dish that needs to impress me. It’s the technical conception, the level of enjoyment, the sense of worth of that dish that will prevail in my judgement! So, play the checklist, I do not mind…I’ll focus on the essential list, anyway!

Do opinions of others matter in my evaluations? Opinions should be always encouraged. We need to talk, exchange, find ideas  in order to step forward. But when you review  your own dinner, you have  to say what you think, not what others want you to think…right? Or else, what is the point? You may as well rename your work ‘the opinion of others!””..Rfaol!  Your opinion counts because mine counts, too. This web site is about my opinion: what you have experienced at those restaurants is what you have experienced.  What I’ve experienced is what I’ve experienced.  There’s nothing I can’t  say about yours since it’s not my experience and vice versa. Of course, there are little things we need to know: for eg, I keep reminding to people that two dinners can’t exactly happen the same way because many things can differ: the presence or not of the same chef? his / her state of mind, who’s cooking your food?…etc The restaurant world is a tough affair: as tough for a Chef who gives his 100% but has humanly no control over what may happen as it is for a reviewer.  A reviewer has people he/she likes a lot and who trust his/her  reviews. Imagine when those people who you truely do not want to disappoint may face a disappointing reality you have no clue it may have happened! Alas, such is the reality of things.

-A good Chef? One who has a good palate and who won’t serve you a dish he would not pay for.

-A bad Chef? The opposite of my definition of a good Chef ;p

-The best Chefs of all times?  Of all times, that …no one knows. But based on pure technical skills and exceptional ability to deliver food for what it should, which means ultimate pleasure,  I have my top 5: Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson, Christian Constant, Joel Robuchon, Frédy Girardet  when they were behind the stoves. In 2011, I discovered another exceptional Chef who deserves a seat  among my personal all times favourite, and it is Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie (unfortunately, I discovered him when he was close to retirement, but what an exceptional palate this great among the greatest man has!).  I really miss Chef Besson and it is true that JF Piège when he was at Les Ambassadeurs, that was something.  I will also never forget Chef Alain Passard: he treats his  produce with a passion that you could sense miles away!  It is almost as if he talks to them, tell them how they should express themselves, and they do listen to him with equal enthusiasm. Sadly, this is the kind of things you can’t transmit to others (a brigade, in this case), so sometimes people go to L’Arpège and ask what all the fuss about Passard is about. Make no mistake: when Passard cooks for you, it can be epic in emotions.  On the human aspect, my favourite Chef has to be Guy Savoy. He is the Mahatma Ghandi of the restaurant world, a force tranquille, a universe of positive vibration, a first class human being. Everyone should always have a copy of his interview with Agents  d’Entretiens.FR. Perhaps the most brilliant and inspiring interview that a Chef has ever delivered.

Montreal is the city which restaurants you know the most. To you, how does Montreal fare on the International restaurant  scene? Montreal is an amazing city, full of great things such as a cultural and artisitic scene of world class standard.  BUT the food at its restaurants, though  generally not bad, remains  a world away from  this globe’s finest food cities. There are, currently in Montreal, only 5 to 6 Chefs of whom I can safely say that they have the proper skills and discipline to really shine in any of this globe’s best dining cities. But that’s over 6000 cooks and more! So, for now, Montreal is clearly an overrated dining city.  Montreal restaurant scene will never compete with the finest food scenes abroad as long as they overlook true skills, which is essentially what  has been the problem up to now:  the rare times I stumbled upon a world class Chef, in Montreal, he/she either had to leave the city or lower his/her standards. There have been some few of those exceptional  Chefs who did insist on maintaining  their standards high, but their dining room is oftently empty. So most inevitably opt for the easy way around, cooking what sells most (simple bistrot fares, etc) and they are not to be blamed. They have mouths to feed as anyone else.

-Your biggest disappointment about the Montreal restaurant scene? The usual problem  you see everywhere else: some  brilliant Chefs  who lost the passion of the craft, lacked discipline, got the big head, fooled themselves into believing that they are stars,  and are now performing the role of restaurateurs who can’t seriously deliver. That is the problem when you can’t bother learning to walk and are already busy running. Those folks   think they are Alain Ducasse / Joel Robuchon / Gordon Ramsey, but they are nowhere near. Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are nowadays restaurateurs, it is a fact, but they went through long years of rigorous learning, and mastery of what they wanted to offer to their customers, they know exactly what they are doing. Consequently, People working for Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are very serious, very talented, highly reliable. Which is rarely the case of most of those ex-brilliant Montreal Chefs who were lured into turning hastily into restaurateurs (most  have poorly skilled cooks / brigades working for them ). The other major problem of the Montreal restaurant scene are the prices (in relation to what’s offered):  in Montreal, a starter of  pan sear foie gras will cost you, in general, in between $15 to $25 (which means in between eur 10 to eur 17). In comparison, a piece of foie gras of that same size would cost you less that 5 euros in San Sebastian. In that 5 euros, do not be surprise if a free glass of wine (Txakoli) is included. In Montreal, your glass of wine may vary in between $10 to $15 on average.To make matters worst, during my stay of 2 weeks in San Sebastian, I have eaten foie gras at least a dozen of time and 99% of what I was eating was always perfectly cooked and featured dazzling livery flavour. In comparison, if I take the 15 years of dining in Montreal, I’d be generous if I’d tell you that 50% of all foie gras dishes I had in town matched what I had in San Sebastian. We are talking about something as very basic as pan sear foie gras here. I know some people are busy selling Montreal as a great food city on par with this world’s best food cities, but I think that is a huge mistake as this simple comparison between Montreal and a true food city like San Sebastian demonstrates . Again, the food is generally not bad at all, in Montreal, and there are indeed couple of world class Chefs and restaurants, but we need to be rational:  the reality is that we are a world away from this globe’s finest food cities where world class Chefs can’t just be counted on the fingers on one hand (the case of Montreal’s current food scene).

-When you know the restaurant scene of a city, Montreal in your case, is is tempting to mock those who are lured to believe that they’ve tried the best of your city while you know well that they are delusional? No, that would be a mistake. When you do not know a place, you tend to follow what’s best sold to you. Since  what’s best sold does not always mean that it’s what’s best done, most people will somewhat be inaccurate in their assessment. We all are victims of that situation. Even when you use caution: for eg, when I visit a new city, I pick 2 tables recommended by the usual  advertisements for tourists, 2 tables from the network of local foodies that I’d approach, then 2 based on online reviews I believe to be trustworthy. And yet, it is not a perfect process at all. The only thing that I avoid is to listen to celebrities: they seem to uniformly appreciate everything. Which is fine, and I wish things were like that, I too would love to believe that everything is positive, but that is unfortunately far from being realistic. Mind you, it is rare that a restaurant would treat a normal diner the same way they would treat a celebrity, so right there it’s useless for me to know what a celebrity thinks about a restaurant.

Your blog’s name refer to your meals at Michelin star restaurants and yet you also have posts not related to your Michelin star’s experiences. Also, the blog name does  not sound ‘trendy’ at all.
It is my way of saying that when I have control over something, then my modus operandi is to  say ”enough of trends’!  Enough  with the preformatted / linear thinking! If the title of a blog bothers you, then all you care about is the shape and looks of the container, nothing more.

Talking about trends, do you understand the voices of those who argue that haute dining is generally intimidating, too stuffy to be enjoyable. It depends on what you expect from a restaurant. The only expectation that I have over haute dining is a certain level of cooking brilliance, meaning a touch/ a depth of flavor/technique/craftmanship that is not ordinary. Therefore, when I go to a haute dining venture and the cooking has no depth, that it stands as  ordinary as everyone else would have cooked at lesser restaurant levels, then I am frustrated and I will perceive the  relevant haute dining experience as worthless. Sadly,that happens a lot at plenty of haute dining ventures because many restaurants are busy selling concepts rather than delivering great food: for example, it is sometimes trendy to try to impress the diners with concepts like ‘cuisine à quatre mains’ (four-handed cooking). For someone, like me, for whom the finest cooking should be about a highly skilled Chef expressing his personal touch, four-handed cooking is a laughable concept. But many people buy into that, so you get the sort of ‘impersonal’ cooking (meaning food that 100 of other cooks could have delivered) that is generally found at most fine dining restaurants. Unless there is a personal touch on display (for eg, the Santini family at Dal Pescatore, Bernard Pacaud when he was still active behind his stoves at L’Ambroisie), haute dining remains,  for me,  generally worthless. Affordable  food that tastes great and that is enjoyed in lively  environments will always be a safer bet (compared to haute dining).

The reaction of the readers of a blog can surprise, sometimes. Some examples in your case? True, there’s no way, oftently,  to take people’s reactions for granted. The reaction to my review on Montreal steaks and steakhouses have surprised me. It’s a post that I did not expect to be that popular. There’s nothing special about that post and reviewing steak is like reviewing colors. There’s rarely a bad steak. There are just  ones we prefer. And there’s nothing special, neither, about making a steak.  My reviews are meant primarily for friends, relatives (one reason I want to enjoy the experience as any normal diner), and in the process, I am just sharing them with the rest. So, when I saw the popularity of that post, I was lost. I did my best to remind th ereaders of that post  that this is subjective as they should know better, that it’s virtually  not about  bad or good steaks, but steaks that get close or distance themselves from what we perceive as our favourite steaks.  On the other hand, there are stellar Chefs giving their 100% and that I enthusiastically wrote about but most readers  did not bother.  Such is life, lol.

If you had the means, would you visit all existing widly known restaurants around the world?
No. I don’t believe in quantity as a decisive factor. If you do have a good palate, a sense for details, that is all that count. 25 yrs of dining or one second  of it won’t make any difference if you are close minded, see no difference between what is good, great or excellent, and have no palate.

Why do you refuse to dine with other food bloggers, or anyone related to the hobby? Because I want to be alone and make up my own opinion. It’s the purpose of my web site: my opinion of my experience.  When  I review a restaurant, I dine with people who have no interest in the matter. Because I want my companion to just enjoy his/her meal and me to just focus on what I think of what I am eating. I want to avoid any corruption of my own opinion of my own experience. When people start sharing opinions on the food at a table, it is fine. But most of the times, your own opinion is lost in others.

When did you realize that cooking was made for you? It is not for me, I am too impatient, too demanding with myself.  For example, I will never serve a dish if I am not satisfied with it.  I remember a tasting menu I once served at  Christmas.  My mum, an exceptional cook gifted with an equally exceptionally palate,  tasted a specific item and told me that it was top. Ready to serve. I served it only 1 hour later, not satisfied with the results, only because it was not hitting the exact mouthfeel I wanted from it. The guests found me crazy. But that is me:  it has to taste exactly the way I want it to taste. Whether you like the result or not, I do not care. But Iknow how I want it to taste, Lol. You can’t open a  restaurant or cook with pleasure with such state of mind. But Yes, there once was a defining moment when I realized that I could please others too: it was years ago in France, in a very demanding countryside area. The cook was a friend but he was sick for 1 week. And he was sad that he could not serve his clientele for that long. So, I offered him to cook for that week with only one condition:  serving just what I felt like serving. So, for one week there was that sign in front of the restaurant “pour toute la semaine, menu du jour selon l’inspiration du Chef”. Lol. And since I value only classic fares as worthy of the efforts I would put in my cooking, I did classic fares he usually had  few time to do:  slowly cooked ragouts, mijotés, etc. The kind of food I value as really top because virtually no one with decent cooking skills can miss them, but few can do outstanding ones, even at very high cooking levels. When I left, he phoned me and told me that now he was in big trouble: his customers wanted those fares i was cooking to feature on his menu. Lol.  This is not to brag, just to make a point that it was a pleasure to see that all those efforts in trying to do things well paid of, especially in a corner of France that was that demanding.

What is, to you, the current  world’s best restaurant dish?
Subjectively, of course: I am a huge fan of French classic cooking, so I’ll go with  Chef Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers (Le Cinq, Paris) .  I wish I could go there everytime  it’s available (they serve it in Oct/Nov? You need to verify with them). It is heaven, for me. But remember: it is not a light dish, naturally.

Your current world’s top restaurant?
Again, subjectively and relatively to what I like the most, French cooking:  It is Eric Briffard’s  Le Cinq in Paris.

Your last meal?
It just never happens the way  we want it, Lol. Anyways, it is, in my hopes,  any of the following: a stunningly grilled-spiny lobster, a mouthwatering steak. Or if it is at a restaurant table, then I’d go with Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers or a stand out ‘lièvre à la royale’ in Antonin Carême-style. Anyways, only the lord decides over those things. So let him feed me with whatever he deems necessary ;p

Do you have a style?
I hope not since one of the reasons that led me to write about some of my dining experiences is just that: whenever I needed infos about where to go dining, I kept stumbling upon many reviews spending more time on style rather than pulling off what I needed.. So, my reviews, as imperfect as they stand, are at least what I want them to be: a correction of what I did not like in many other reviews. It is imperfect, but I do not care and I am happy with them since it is exactly what I wanted. But when people write to me, complaining that I have no style, what that tells me is that I have one, whether I like it or not, Lol. Because..sadly for me… that’s the definition of a style: it appears as unidentifiable..because it is like no other…thefore guess what..it is your own style. Regardless, I am not enthused at the idea of having a style and I do not want to have one. I did everything to have no style: I chose to not write in my mother tongue in which I have a literature degree, I’ve opted for a non-sellable / media-friendly format, I deliberately  make no effort to embellish anything, so there is no reason to expect style where the  purpose is obviously anti-style .

You are a big fan of Perico Legasse, the food journalist of France’s magazine Marianne. Where do you part ways with him?
The question of food journalism is one piece of my long time aversion to food reviewing in general. Many  food journalists think they are the hot stuff, based on sole restaurant write ups or books of recipes or making friends with cooks. The reality is that they are paid to create nothing, write about whatever most non remunerated individuals could have expressed,  they are saving no life, and  worst: they bring absolutely nothing! Ludicrous. So, when I found that Mr Légasse went beyond the usual ‘self-adulation through heavy  penchant for stylish writing and other megalom symptoms ” of some of them, my eyes opened. I was impressed by his way of genuinely defending the notion of ‘terroir’. Many talk about those things such as ‘terroir’, but it’s usually wind. They talk about it a bit, here and there just to capt media attention whenever that serves them. But I have never seen someone so engaged, so tenacious about it. His battle against the EU’s protected designation of origin is epic. He is among the few  fighting against the danger of loss of authenticity. He is not just a food journalist, he is a genuine activist and I can’t think of anyone else as involved as him in whatever he defends. Many are afraid of associating themselves with him as you will rarely see him referred on a food blog or other restaurant related web sites. That tells you a lot about the agenda of those people. It is the generic agenda, the agenda of the sameness, the ‘safe mode’s applause’. That said, I do not always agree with Perico, which is normal. For example, he is strongly against molecular cooking style. For me,   all styles should  co-exist next to each other. I am not a big fan of cooking that heavily relies on spectacular scientific experimentations neither, which does not mean that I can’t appreciate it, but it deserves to exist and be encouraged as cubism, fauvism, mannerism, baroque…all deserve to exist as eclectic forms of arts  to be respected in their own ways.