Posts Tagged ‘l’ambroisie paris’

restaurant-lambroisie-paris-6L’Ambroisie, Paris –  is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that transcends time. Here, following trends is the least of their priorities. They know what Classic French food should taste, feel and smell like and they deliver benchmark versions of such food.   They are who they are and are very proud of that. This is a very expensive restaurant to the point that they do not even bother revealing the price of their dishes. With Dal Pescatore, L’Ambroisie is my “ideal”  of  a  “best restaurant in the world”. I do not mind firing confidently  such bold statement as one should better know that this is utterly subjective. People who are not interested in Classic French cooking are obviously … not going to fall for such place, but putting down L’Ambroisie because one does not like Classic cooking is like electing one color as superior to another, the moon better than the sun, water superior to fire, that right is better than left, that eating is better than drinking ..meaning, as meaningless as it gets. L’Ambroisie will not win any prize for cost performance, which is not its intent neither, but this globe’s most serious food bloggers/foodies/food journalists (just google them if that matters to you) continue to admit it: this is Classic French food by which such food needs to be judged. Years after my sole visit there (there won’t be a second visit as the anonymous/normal diner that I am can’t afford a repeating visit here) –click here for my write-up on that meal — I am amazed to read about how stellar the Classic French food at this place continues to be a benchmark of its kind, considering that they have lost some of their major sous Chefs:  Aki who opened La Table d’Aki and Matthieu  Pacaud   who is now at the helm of Hexagone and Histoires  —  (So, ….Chef Bernard Pacaud has not retired or what??  ).

01Restaurant Hvor , Montreal – This is one of the rare restaurants in Montreal  that has a small garden that any normal /  anonymous diner can actually visit (as far as I know, Joe Beef is the other local restaurant where normal diners have access to the restaurant’s garden).  That,  alone, will pass as a beautiful  surprise for plenty of local diners and foodies. When I arrived, my table was not ready, so they invited me to go upstairs in the garden for a drink at a communal table to be found there, in the garden, which I opted for, with the promise that someone was coming to offer a drink..obviously..and that they will let me know when my table is available. This was going to have “””the same taste “””as the promises of most politicians: there  was indeed a young waitress who came at the communal table asking the couple who came after me if they wanted a drink, but I was invisible to her. Needless to stress that I was not going to rely on her in regard to the second leg of the promises (…”””we’ll come to see you when your table will be available””  – ). Fortunately, when I went downstairs to claim my table, the same young lady was able to realize that I was an actual human being that can be noticeable to a human eye, or two, or more, actually, because … to be fair, the rest of the squad offered a stellar service on this evening. And in light of what followed, we can forget  about that slip..,although..at those prices and with the stellar service found under this roof..that waitress may….if that is common practice in her world…pass as …an unpleasant feature of an evening that was actually really great.  It is always hard to explain why some ppl make mistakes that even a child would stay away from..I mean does it take a genius to understand that the first person who is there…at a table of just 3 ppl… a couple and one other guest…expects to be served his drink  (we are not talking about food, here)  first?? We are talking about the very  basics of hospitality services here.

On to the food (surprise menu concept):

02A kale-wrapped maki sushi roll made of avocado, omelette, smoked egg plant – excellent take on a vegetarian maki  sushi roll. Appealing  textural contrasts (the  kale  — this one not bitter at all, so presumably boiled as that is the way to make kale not bitter — vibrant to both the eye and the smell, but also in mouth. Its texture as superbly well rendered as the one of the rice, omelette and smoked egg plant). The avocado is one logical component of most maki sushi rolls, indeed, but the addition of the other ingredients added a lot  to this technically great  piece of maki. Sometimes a dish is not designed to wow but to reveal much more than the ephemeral: there are tons of takes on vegetarian maki sushi rolls… but what this piece taught me is that …this is a kitchen brigade that can successfully blend a considerable amount of ingredients with great ease…the sign of a skillful  kitchen. I won’t rate this dish as my rating won’t convey my real opinion about it, but the verbiage has all you need to know.

03Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes  – few kitchen brigades in Montreal do master the textural contrasts of their food this well (the way the grilled bread complemented the green tomatoes, which in turn lifted both the flavor and the texture of the mustard ice cream is not your ordinary kitchen brigade’s attempt at juxtaposing this seemingly basic collection of ingredients). Let us just say that they made this look  so easy to do, but that most kitchen brigades would have hard time recreating this superb “symphony” of textures (the flavors, too, are worth of praises). Most just follow a textbook: warm vs cold, crunch vs smooth, salt vs sweet, but this dish was about stellar contrasts, not just dumbly applying the basic concepts of textural contrasts into cooking. Here, the cold in its prime, the crunch exactly where it should be but where many would not pull it off. What looks like a poached egg is actually what most would opt for, the poached egg, because that is the easy way out. Instead, here, what looks like a poached egg is your mustard ice cream and it dazzles, because your brain was expecting the warmth of a poached egg, but then it’s surprised by something that is an even better complement to the overall dish, the ice cream of mustard. World class skills!  10/10

04 Sturgeon from Cote Nord, sea spinach, orange confit – sea spinach seasoned excitingly. It is sea spinach, therefore already salty, obviously, so most kitchen brigades would be frightened of  the idea of seasoning it because most will inevitably overseason it!  Not an issue at all, here, a sign of … great confidence.  Confidence is also what it takes to pair some orange confit with a piece of fish if you do not want the diner to walk away with the observation that it is a piece of bread, and not a piece of fish, that he needed with his orange confit. But confident they were and it worked. Dazzling orange confit that went so well with the spinach and the fish because … instead of tasting of a vulgar fruit jam, it had a complexity of flavors  that  was designed to complement  the fish and the sea spinach.  I am usually not a fan of fish caught in northern waters, so I am  fonder of the subtropical  sturgeon, but this was high quality subarctic sturgeon, its mild flavor an indication that it was wild caught (which my palate finds more flavorful than the farm raised sturgeon). Enticing smoky flavor from the fish.  The overall is classic and yet not tired looking nor tasting, rather inspired!  9/10

 

05 Scallop from Cote Nord, spiced carrots puree/ celeriac, sea urchin sauce – classic flavors done superbly well. Nothing tasted tired here but flavorful / exciting.  The sea urchin based sauce being a benchmark of its kind (this was of top quality, as all the other ingredients they do use, but what was remarkable is the way they got the  natural flavor of the sea urchin amplified) . Again and again, not one single ingredient made no sense here… the sea (scallop, sea urchin) and the land (carrots, celeriac) so complementary (a piece of cake, you think? Well think twice because many kitchen brigades, using those same ingredients, will have hard time combining spiced carrots puree, celeriac and sea urchin sauce to such exciting effect)   9/10

 

06Canard de la canardiere, cerises (cherries), choux rouge (red cabbage)-  the least impressive dish of the evening, though nothing to fault as every single ingredient was there for a reason ..the sign of a skilled kitchen brigade. Some few of their aromatic leaves ,  pine seeds, cherries…an item or two too many? Not at all…rather some thoughtful add-ons  that many kitchen brigades would be scared to add to this dish!!!  My sole issue:  the main star of this dish…the duck! Whatever the cooking technique they did use to cook the duck (some cook it sous vide then pan sear it switfly, others pan sear it then bake it, etc), the genuine gamey flavor of the meat of the duck — one flavor I am particularly fond of– was completely gone.  This was just not as flavoursome as the better duck magret dishes I had at other local restaurants. Consequently, especially after enjoying  the other superb  items of this meal, I was kind of taken aback.  6/10

07Mille-feuille , bleuet, caramel salee (salted caramel in place of the traditional icing or fondant that is usually found atop a classic mille-feuille)   – A classic that I am fond of because it is so hard to perfect. Here, the classic French pastry did benefit from  the addition of a bit of caramel sauce (atop the mille-feuille) and some blueberries . The creamy filling as remarkable as what the finest pastry Chefs in France are capable of, the crisp of the puff pastry superbly well conceived . As it was the case, all along this meal, every single ingredient adds to the overall enjoyment of the  dish, so even the blueberry  was not a dull adornment. A pastry team that seems to be as inspired as the team that has cooked the savory dishes.  8/10

08And to wrap up this meal, some popcorn , salted caramel  ice cream – clearly, here , every single ingredient has a purpose. I know this because when you add popcorn to desserts, or any type of food, I am skeptical. But they turned my skepticism into real enjoyment.

Pros: in its prime…easily in Montreal’s top 3!
Cons: The duck magret.

Bottom line: 8/10. My current top 3 in Montreal  has two long time members (La Chronique/ Le Serpent) as well as a new one:  Hvor!  Hvor 1414 Rue Notre-Dame O, Montréal Phone: (514) 937-2001 URL: http://hvor.ca/

What I think days later –  In general, I do not share the enthusiasm  of most of our  local food journalists ( with Maison Boulud , Le Fantome or Lavenderia coming to mind as the most recent examples of such)  but in the case of Hvor, the local food journalists were absolutely right: Hvor, on the back of this meal,  is worth going out of your way for, and that … regardless of my opinion about the duck magret. The quintessential duck magret is traditionally one key food item by which I judge the skills of a kitchen because it is so easy to get  right, so hard to make a mesmerizing one and mesmerizing  duck magrets are normally what you do usually get at restaurants of the quality of Hvor. But I have no doubt that a table like Hvor can cook a first-rate  duck magret. The duck, on that evening, was perhaps intimidated by the beauty of the other food items. But as ever  with  most restaurants in Montreal, the right question to ask is one that is about consistency:  will Hvor consistently maintain those  high standards in the long run? Time will tell.

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****The only time I did eat at L’Ambroisie, Bernard Pacaud was the sole Chef cooking as there were just 2 tables booked on that lunch and he was still cooking at noon,no more in the evenings as retirement was approaching for him. I gather that we all have our own definition of what a grand Chef is, and mine is very simple: you take that simple classic food and you make it taste way better than anyone else and bingo, you are my hero! Lol. I do not need trends, I do not pertain to the new gen of diners, I just want my damn food to simply dazzle in mouth. For me, Bernard Pacaud did it in a way that few of nowadays best Chefs would do. I come from very humble backgrounds, I am paying my restaurant bills with my hard earned money, not on the back of society or a newspaper, so charging me that much (the $$$ are strastopheric there) and still leaving an imprint on my palate …well, your food better taste damn great.That said, you are not me and I am not you, so your best restaurants Vs mine might simply be as comparable as water and fire ;p. More importantly, L’Ambroisie has changed a lot, since then as the son was in charge, then went opening a restaurant called Hexagone. So who knows, perhaps the L’Ambrosie of my souvenirs are something of the past.Perhaps Not. I won’t know as it is way too $$$ for me to go back there, but no matter the way things are turning out for them, my meal prepared by Chef Bernard Pacaud during my sole visit under his roof will be remembered as an exceptional demonstration great classic French food.

****A Taste Of The Caribbean will take place from June 26 to 28. Their facebook page here, web site here. Of particular importance, for me,  the free live cooking demonstrations offered by  some Chefs from the Carribean (that is free) which work I will discover for the first time. I am a huge fan of Carribean varied cuisines and do look forward to Carribean food we do not get to sample oftently in Montreal,.

KINKA ISAKAYA 1Kinka Isakaya is one of the latest hottest additions to the Montreal food scene with real Japanese Chefs at the helm, pretty settings and festive ambience.

KINKA ISAKAYA 2I started with Maguro Tataki (seared Albacore, tuna sashimi with ponzu and garlic chips) – Albacore  tuna has a natural mild flavor, so you need to rely on your marinade to make a tataki preparation of such fish  worthy of mention, but the  marinade lacked enough acidity to make this dish exciting. 5/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 3Seaweed Tofu salad / marinated seaweed & tofu on greens – the texture of the tofu ‘normal’ / ‘standard’, with an Ok  balance between the firm and the soft,  but this was certainly not the result of long hours spent in finding the perfect balanced texture of a tofu neither. Since  it is a bistrot, not a fine dining destination,  I will  pass on this one, although in Tokyo and elsewhere, I had better tofu at  isakayas. Frying that tofu, in this instance, would have brought it a long way (again, nothing wrong here…just your usual/normal tofu type). The seaweed salad was tasty, the greens fresh . 6/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 4Deep fried chicken (Karaage) featured a nice crisp, but this Karaage was short of  the bold chicken fried flavor that I came to expect from fried  chicken at isakayas, in Tokyo or elsewhere (this tasted way too mild, defeating the point of fried chicken, at isakayas,  which rarely fail  to express bold, joyous meaty chicken flavor). 6/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 5Karubi (grilled miso marinated beef short ribs) – the grilling flavor coming through as it should, the meat not seasoned boldly but tasting delicious, the power  of the miso well judged (which was one of my main issue with the next dish). Tasty   7/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 6Grilled miso marinated black cod with yuzu miso sauce – one of my favourite fish preparations at  Isakayas in Tokyo and elsewhere. In this instance, the black cod tasting way too sweet to let the fish flavor standing…imparting, actually,almost a fruity note to the flesh of the fish. This, whatever the excuse, is just misjudged seasoning of the marinade of the black cod. I do not hate sweetness, but when your fish taste almost fruity, like on this evening, my boat won’t float. It’s the first time that this dish disappoints me at an Isakaya.  2/10

KINKA ISAKAYA 8Baked oyster with spinach, mushroom,garlic mayo topped with cheese is one of their most popular items, according to most online reviews as well as the opinion of their staff. Admittedly, baked oyster was  never going to be the favourite item of the old school seafood purist that I am as I simply can’t appreciate oyster that is cooked (I had no other choice but to try it as it was part of the tasting menu that I picked). My palate interprets the baking of oyster as a way to diminish the best aspect of the oyster, its maritime flavor. Therefore,you can imagine how the addition of spinach, cheese,mushroom, mayo… just made it harder and harder , for me, to get excited about it. Gratinéed dishes are usually crowd pleasers and they please me too, but gratinéed seafood tend to oftently  infuriate me, lol (why overwhelming the jewels of the sea in such manner? Lol…). I won’t rate this dish as it is not their fault if I simply can’t see baked oyster standing as an improvement over some nice raw oysters (at least, they did it right and indeed, restaurants cannot limit themselves to a minimalistic approach of preparing seafood, so long live to the baked oyster and to creativity ..but without me!).

KINKA ISAKAYA 7Unagi Bibimbap is their take on the Korean Bibimbap. Bibimbap is relatively easy to make,but what interests me with such a simple dish are the elements that sets it apart. Koreans go the extra mile in flavoring their sauteed veggies and a good Bibimbap is way more than just an ordinary mix of rice and sauteed veggies in part  because of the obsessive care that Koreans put in the pairing condiment of soybean or chilli pepper paste. What I was having tonight had none of the soybean or chilli pepper paste, so right there I was left with the Bibimbap in a much more basic form, with unagi that was of fine quality, indeed, but an overall flavor profile that was way too sweet for a Bibimbap to be enjoyable . 6/10

Black sesame ice cream was the best item of my meal, on this evening, with a taste that is a bit less lactic and rich compared to the one I had at Kazu, but texture was glamorous and the taste delicious. 7/10

Overall food rating: 6/10 – An Isakaya, with real Japanese Chefs: right there,  Kinka did boot with an advantage over most of its peers. And yes, indeed, most of the food tasted as Japanese as an Isakaya can taste in Montreal. My problem was elsewhere: the leading Isakayas , nowadays, may it be in Japan or even in the US, will push the work of the texture of their tofu beyond the ‘just standard/normal’, fried chicken will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to dazzle, a salad of seaweed will not content itself with just ‘the nice acidity of its seasoning’.  Bibimbap is a Korean staple, but in Tokyo, the US, Toronto, Vancouver, well…. there are Isakayas who are delivering startling takes of the Bimbimap…because such simple dish needs to stand out with either exceptional produce or exceptional Flavors. On this evening, I saw no evidence of what I came to expect from most Isakayas in Tokyo or elsewhere. For sure this meal was slightly above  average for Montreal, but it is not rocket science to do better with such  simple bistrot fares.  That said, this is a fun place, restaurants are  not consistent by nature,and they have a great variety of other items that may  float my boat. So to be tried for a second time.