Posts Tagged ‘michelin star’

Welcoming this new  year with an overwiew of the highs and lows of my 2016/2017 foodie adventures:

The best  meals of 2016/2017:
Le Coucou (NYC), Sushi Azabu (NYC), Dons Bogam (NYC) , Hvor (Montreal) — but Chef S’Arto Chartier-Otis does not work there anymore, Pamika brasserie Thai (Montreal), Ichimura (NYC) but Chef Ichimura does not work there anymore, Nozy (Montreal), Cocoro (Montreal), Argo (Fira), TO Ouzeri (Fira), Old Tavern of Psaras (Athens), Mere Michel (Montreal), Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe (Atlantic City), Junior’s (Brooklyn), Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn), The River Café (Brooklyn), La Caye (Brooklyn),  The steak at Wolfgang steakhouse Park Avenue (NYC)

The most memorable food items of 2016/2017:
1.Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe (Pres d’Eugenie)
Wall of fame material.
2.Rutabaga fettucine, black truffles, hazelnut butter, mimolette cheese (Hvor, Montreal) – Lifetime achievement award!!!
3.Roasted pineapple (Le Coucou) –
They all say they can make it. In reality, few, very few can pull out some roasted pineapple of this quality.

My GO-TO places:

La Frite à Brigitte (Vaudreuil-Dorion). When I discovered Quebecois classic food, I was filled with awe. Simple French-based food but full of dazzling flavors. Quebecois people have an awesome palate. They have glorious food items like the Poutine. French fries, gravy, cheese curds. Sounds straightforward, right? Perhaps, but Poutine is one of the best inventions of all times. It is so tasty, so well thought, so great. La Frite à Brigitte is currently my GO-TO place for their superb poutine . I keep going there for more. La Frite à Brigitte Addr: 347 Boulevard Harwood, Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC Phone: (450) 510-5151. My other GO-TO place in Montreal is Reuben’s Deli & Steakhouse. I never tried any steak there, but their delis are some of the most refined and better executed of this globe. They seem to pull off great things after great things at Reuben’s: some of the best strawberry cheesecakes in town, the best sliders I ever had in Montreal, etc. I am not implying that it is the restaurant of the century, but at whatever it does, it consistently  outshines its competitors.  Reuben’s Addr: 1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc Phone: 514-866-1029. My other go-to places in  Montreal: Gyu-Kaku, the current best local table top bbq grill restaurant.    Ichi Go Ichie (the best Isakaya, right now, in Montreal) , Escondite (the best local tacos and tequila bar),  Panama, my preferred Greek eatery in town, as well Loukouman Addr: 522 Jarry Ouest Montréal, Québec, H3N-1E9 Phone: 514-272-5272  (indeed, some of the best loukoumades in town eventhough they do not use the pricey honey that I am usually fond of, but regardless, they are as fine as you will get them in town, better than the ones of Mr Puffs, most Greeks will tell you, and that is what I think,  too). Another go to spot is Nouilles de Lan Zhou.  I also tried   Souvlaki Bar (the one in Laval) as well as the Marathon that is at 3313 Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux (the Marathon in Laval is disappointing) and both were good by Montreal Souvlaki Chain eateries (food cooked to order, the pork souvlaki as tender and meaty as it should at Souvlaki bar, the gyros you should prioritize at Marathon, the ingredients are fine at both places). Talking about Greek eateries  in Montreal, I had some of the best pork souvlaki in Montreal around 25  years ago at a place called Marvens in Parc Extension. Marvens used to also serve one of the very best homemade sauce, their special sauce boasting a light orange hue. Remembering how great it used to be, I went back this past summer and I am saddened  to submit that Marvens’s star  has faded: the special sauce is so sour, nowadays, that it made the food almost inedible. Inedible is also how I would describe the once stellar pork souvlaki which consistency is nowadays dry and tough. People who knew Marvens 25 years ago will be in a serious shock.  Away from Montreal, I am  a big fan of Jordan’s lobster dock (Brooklyn) that I never fail to visit every time I find myself in New York. Their seafood is so popular that it is even exported to Canada. This is the best seafood shack of  New York city. Jordan’s lobster dock 3165 Harkness Ave, Sheepshead Bay – Brooklyn, NY 11235 United States; Phone number (718) 934-6300; URL: http://www.jordanslobster.com .

The best food items of 2016/2017:
1.Mustard ice cream, grilled leavened bread, green tomatoes (Hvor, Montreal) – WOW!
2.Carpaccio of Quebec’s lamb, grated prosciutto (Hvor, Montreal) – You die  and are resurrected just for that!
3.Braised oxtail / potatoes (Le Coucou, NYC) – Even a 3 star Classic French Michelin restaurant in France would be J*E*A*L*O*U*S!!
4. Sea eel (anago) nigiri (Ichimura,NYC) – I thought this nigiri was  flown in straight from one of the best sushiyas of Tokyo!!
5.Langue de boeuf/ pommes/arachides/vinaigrette gingembre (Marconi, Montreal) – Ok, my life did not feel shattered, but damn ..that was GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6. The ramen at Cocoro (Montreal) – SLURP! …because, in the ramenya world,  that is the way to show how enchanted you were, about your ramen!
7. Grilled goat at Petite Ya quartier (Mtl) – With flavors like these….Oh you, Mother Africa, you make it impossible …. to stop loving you!

-The LOWS:
-The oysters at Docks Oyster House (Atlantic city)
-All the food at Vizantino taverna (Athens)
-My meal at Miss Favela (Brooklyn)

The reviews that you have perused the most in 2017: The review on Montreal steakhouses is the one that you keep favoring the most year after year.  It is an old review, dating back to  2013. Definitely not the review that I was expecting  to captivate any attention  on this blog, but somehow you like it.  At some point I did consider removing all posts of more than a year on this blog, as they become irrelevant,  but it would be a  nonsense to do so (I never saw a food blogger proceeding that way). The second most popular review was the one on Sushi Sawada (Tokyo). I am glad to see that you were interested by that review as it proves one thing: people are, sometimes, more interested by the content of a review, the technical aspect of the food that  lies before them (is it well conceived, does it respect the fundamentals of good cooking, you know…the right texture, the right temperature, etc) , rather than food porn (sexy instagram-esque pictures —  I was ready to shoot the pictures, actually, but we have got to respect the rules of a house, which, in the case of Sawada, forbids photo taking to normal diners). The 3rd most popular posts are  the ones on Dons de la Nature(Tokyo) and this post I wrote on Gault Millau Montreal/Yakitori Otto/Bombay Mahal Tali/Chez Jano.

4th most popular post, among you – The review on Argo (Fira) as well as the one on Kam Fung (Montreal)
5th  – L’Arpege (Paris)
6th – Ishikawa (Tokyo)
7th – Nice  (Cote d’Azur)
8th – Sushi Oono (Tokyo)
9th – Kanbai (Montreal)

This  web blog’s main intent is to cater to some close foodies with whom I share information about places where to dine at.  In the process, it benefits to the rest of the web as well – obviously. It is also an opportunity to have a firm  idea of how the information on the web is manipulated by many  individuals of the restaurant world (expecting otherwise would be utterly naive … ): although I was pleasantly surprised by the considerable amount of hits on the 9 posts I have just mentioned above (numbers that could almost rival those web sites that have a PR machine behind them — certainly a surprise for a web site that is anonymous like mine), it is clear that some  restaurants around the globe are paying the search engines to filter what can be found on them. That makes sense as it is all about business, protecting business, masquerading their failures as success, etc, and it takes a non restaurant-friendly source like the current  blog to remind you of that. Apparently, based on the wordpress stats of this blog,   you do  not care  for some of the very best restaurants of this globe …  Trattoria Vecchia Roma offers some of the best Traditional Cucina Romana in the world.  Sushi Azabu, Ichimura (New York) are some of the best sushiyas outside of Japan. Le Coucou (New York), one of the best French restaurants outside of France. Dons Bogam  (New York), one of the best Korean BBQ outside of South Korea.  Le Casse Noix (Paris),  has some of the best  riz au lait and Ile flottante in the world. Readers of this blog could not care less. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I believe that    truely exists.  Lol…a nonsense as those restaurants are some of the most popular of this planet…

Paris lost one of its best classic French restaurants (Moissonier) –  Moissonier , which  had  the best French pike quenelles as well as rice cake  of Paris, did close this summer. Paris will never be the same without  this restaurant which served classic French food from Lyon and Franche-Comté as remarkable as the impressive resume of its Chef (an Ex sous Chef of culinary legends such as Alain Senderens, The Troisgros family). Certainly  the sign that people, nowadays, are more interested by hype rather than substance: the closure of this restaurant did not make the headlines…  Moissonnier Addr: 28, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, Paris, Phone: 01 43 29 87 65

My special journey in Fontjoncouse – According to the Michelin guide, their 3 star restaurants “worth a special journey”.  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits in Fontjoncouse is a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is considered as one of the very best French restaurants in the world by those in the know. I had lunch and dinner there. You will find more, about my meals at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, here.

A stopover in Northern Catalonia’s Perpinyà  – At approximately 60 kms away from Fontjoncouse, you will find   Perpignan. Northern Catalonia was Spanish, then became French in 1659. It is an area that the French call Pyrénées-Orientales.  In Perpignan, I tried Le Divil which was recently credited with the title of the best restaurant for meats in France by Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘  (click here for that review) .

I was born to the sound of the sea waves hitting the rocks – It is magical. It really is, because all your life you remember the smell of that sea, the noise of the waves hitting those rocks and the treasure you sometimes found on those rocks. On those rocks, there were ..oftently..oysters! One of the ‘gemstones’ of the sea.  Decades later, oysters do not stop to fascinate me. While in Southern France, I had another opportunity to flirt with them, once again. This time, they were in one of France’s most important destinations of oysters, Leucate. Leucate is a commune in the department of Aude, a department with some of France’s most picturesque communes (Peyriac-de-Mer, one of its communes, has the potential to leave the most in awe). Most part of Leucate is composed of swathes of  beautiful landscapes (beaches, blue waters, the sea, the mountains).  Unexpectedly, the oysters ..those jewels of the sea…well, it is in the less pretty part of Leucate that you will find them. An area called Le Grau de Leucate where less than 30 oyster stands are offering the local Cap Leucate oyster. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

 

Cannot wait to try world famed Sorbillo Pizza in New York – New Yorkers, those lucky bastards! Lol. They attract the best of the best! Sushi Saito (Tokyo) is the current best sushiya in the world. Guess what… they had one of their Chefs who was ready to go working abroad, but it had to be ..guess where…in NYC, of course (Chef Shion Uino now working  at Sushi Amane at Mifune ). You remember the legendary Jiro, of Jiro Dreams? Well, that is not ‘new’ news anymore, but his apprentice  Nakazawa (one of the main characters of the movie Jiro Dreams) is ..guess where? Examples of great Chefs attracted by New York are endless (Ferran Adria, Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera), with the latest being Legendary Neapolitan Pizzaiolo Gino Sorbillo. I have long been fascinated by Pizze, particularly the Neapolitan Pizza. Actually, my next major ‘foodie’ project is to spend 3 months in Naples and review every single of their Pizza shops (a bit like what this guy did, many years ago, but I will stick to Naples, world’s ‘temple’ of the Neapolitan Pizza).  It took me a while to be prepared for this project: first, I wanted to spend years tasting all sort of Neapolitan pizze, understanding  the techniques, the ingredients, etc. I did that for the past 20 years and do, consequently, nowadays, feel ready for the last step before visiting all the Pizza shops of Napoli:  doing an apprenticeship at 3 of the best Pizza shops of Napoli. This will not be easy, perhaps even impossible, but where there is a will, there is a way!  If that happens, the 3 shops will not be reviewed  (I am a bit ‘old school’ about this, and do have nothing against those who think otherwise — I mean we are in an era where most critics do not care about such details — but I insist on never reviewing establishments that I am familiar with), but revealed, of course  (I would like the relevant blog to feature videos of what I am learning at those shops, as well as detailed written  accounts of my journey as an apprentice pizzaiolo in Napoli) .  Regarding Sorbillo NYC, expect the food journalists of  NYC to review it inaccurately as they never went to Napoli and will review this shop with their North American taste. You will not fail to identify those who have no clue of what to expect from a Neapolitan pizza: they will complain about the crust being a bit limpy (Americans prefer a crispier crust). Well, it is the way it is done in Napoli, folks! If you want a pizza which pie is crispy, them opt for a Roman style pizza or any of  your usual  Italian-American pizze. In the meantime, Sorbillo NYC, here I come !  Zia Esterina Sorbillo  334 Bowery Street at Bond Street, NYC Phone: (646) 678-3392 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SorbilloNYC/

The GREATEST CHEFS of the globe – My generation was gifted with some of the most talented Chefs of all time. One of them was Jacques Maximin. Chef Maximin  has inspired legends such as Ferran Adria as well as highly regarded Chefs like  Franck Cerutti, Christophe Moret or Bruno Cirino. Nowadays, he is not an active Chef anymore. He stood out for his impressive creativity. Oftently, he was able to create, with limited time, what many of the  other legendary  Chefs would, sometimes,  take ages to achieve. Perhaps the culinary Genius who had the more wit, the best natural instinct when it came to Classic French cuisine:

 

Series “Follow this CHEF” – There are NOT that many TRUELY talented world class Chefs around the globe at this moment. Many are marketed as such, for sure, but few are THAT talented. One superb talent is Chef David Bizet. He is largely considered, by those in the know,  as one of this globe’s  most underrated star Chefs right now. David is relatively young, and yet he has been the right hand of several multiple  michelin starred Chefs (Christian Lesquer, Phillipe Legendre, Eric Briffard). David will, sooner or later, have  its 3 Michelin stars and he will deserve them (which is not the case of some Michelin triple starred chefs who earned their stars just by following following the ‘checklist’ of what it takes to get there). For now (January 2018), David is at the helm of L’orangerie (Four seasons)  in Paris.

New York City’s Michelin Stars for 2018  –  I do not understand the Michelin guide (yeah, I know, it is trendy to say so, in the anti-Michelin circles, but it is NOT better in the anti-Michelin world, neither! ) on one hand, you have plenty of Japanese restaurants in NYC  that are awarded stars, and deservedly so… because, yep, truth be told,  we are talking about hard working people, proud of their craft rather than a bunch of money hungry bums disguised as restaurateurs as widely seen elsewhere in some other supposedly food cities. But then, why demoting Jean-Georges? I do  oftently visit  NYC and do know Jean-Georges well  and there is no difference between  Jean-Georges  in its current form Vs the one of the other years. Same for Daniel, btw! Is it, because Michelin, came to the conclusion that they should  not have been awarded  3 stars in the first place? Well, if that is the reason, then dear Michelin, you should have thought about that…in the first place! Is it because both Jean-Georges and Daniel do not have the “grandiose’ looks and feel of   3 star Michelin restaurants  like Per Se and  Eleven Madison Park? The special ‘cachet’ of Masa? I am sure NOT,   as Michelin does not have a  limited vision  of what the restaurant world should be about: to the contrary of what the anti-Michelin lobby is trying to sell to us, you do not have 1 type of restaurant that Michelin favors. Michelin stars were awarded to plenty of restaurants that do, actually, fit the mold of its competitors and detractors  — for example, L’Arpège and L’Astrance in Paris, which are restaurants that Michelin competitors  such as Le Fooding and  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants do regard as ‘non-Michelin enough’, ‘non-Palace enough’. Well, in reality, both L’Arpège and L’Astrance have … 3 Michelin stars! Examples like those abound: MirazurOsteria FrancescanaAsador Etxebarri are  all  San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants ‘bestsellers’. Well, they ALL have  Michelin stars, too!  Business is business…you can “bark”  as loud as you want, but at the end of the day, they are all competing for the same thing! At least, Michelin has managed, up to now, to avoid  laughable  decisions such as marketing  an ordinary restaurant  which best meal is  spaghetti and lobster …. as one of the top 100 best restaurants of the globe! A recent  “exploit” in the world  of  one of  Michelin’s  competitors (if, at least, that was the best spaghetti or the best obster out there, but no..not at all, not even close….Rfaol!).  Back to Michelin NYC 2018… I am not done with it: Torishin, the 1 star Michelin yakitori…can someone tell me how no Michelin inspector ever ran into the mixed bag of a service that did put me off when I was there (as reviewed here). What…??..the bad waiters I met at Torishin are nowhere to be found when the Michelin inspectors do visit Torishin? That mixed service would be BAU at a hole in a wall eatery managed by bums, nothing to do with a Michelin star restaurant!

N° 900 pizzeria is a one big succes story of  the Pizza  scene in the province of Quebec. Their growth  was such  that they have expanded to  16 restaurants across Quebec in a very short period of time. I went to the one in Laval (https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/) and ordered a margherita pizza: the cornizone (puffy rim) in evidence as it should with its (expected ) tinges of a blackened edge, fresh herbs are used, cooked in a wood-burning oven, but the pie I was having became tough too quickly (in comparison to the better renditions of the neapolitan pizze I tried elsewhere), and the sauce (not enough sauce, btw)  lacked a bit of the bright acidity and high mineral content that  I came to expect from the better San Marzano tomato sauces I had. I am realitistic enough to avoid surreal expectations such as expecting a Neapolitan pizza to be as good in Montreal as it can be in Napoli, or even in a true world class foodie destination like NYC, but Bottega (the one of St Zotique) used to make a far better Neapolitan pizza (I wrote “used to” because on my last visit, last summer at Bottega, my pizza was a far cry  from the dazzling pizze   they have served me for many years). That said,  N° 900 pizzeria has a friendly service, a nice  ambience and the pizza is  pleasant enough for me to go back. Save your dreams of a stellar Neapolitan-style pizza for your next trip to Naples or  New York and just eat your pizza quickly (which you should do, anyways) to enjoy that pie while it is crispy and chewy.  N° 900 pizzeria, Addr: 540 Promenade Du Centropolis, Laval. Phone: (450) 973-0947 URL: https://no900.com/restaurants/centropolis-laval/

Restaurant Petit Seoul opened in December 2017 to wide acclaim from the local food critics and it quickly turned into a very popular restaurant. I did visit it on a Tuesday evening, an evening that was quiet even for its very popular neighbor Magpie Pizzeria, and yet Petit Seoul was full of patrons. There’s no doubt that the kitchen brigade can cook genuine South Korean food as evidenced by a successful haemulgeon (seafood pancake with spring onion, carrot, onion and sweet potato) , but they seem to want to please the local crowd a bit too much: the dolsot bibimbap was adapted to local palates, meaning that is was not as genuinely flavored as I came to expect from the finer  dolsot bibimbap I had elsewhere, even here in Montreal.  I was missing a bap (rice) that stands out (it was fine, especially for Montreal, but the bap needed to impress more — obviously — for a dish that relies heavily on rice. I was missing morsels of meat that can delight. The beefy flavor that I came to expect from my bibimbap‘s meat happened to be a wish, here, not a feature.  Korean chili paste flavor is one of the most fascinating flavors out there, the art of seasoning, marinating and pickling  are Korean’s specialities, and a superior bibimbap is THE opportunity to showcase the vast array of cooking techniques of the Koreans (there is a reason why the bibimbap is considered by many to be one of world’s  most popular dishes…), but all of that was toned down and you can thank our local diners for this: they want Korean food but the way they want it, not the way Koreans are supposed to do it. Petit Seoul is a business, therefore you can’t blame them to adapt to their clientele! Petit Seoul  Addr: 5245 Boulevard Saint-Laurent Montreal, Quebec H2T 1S4 Phone: (514) 379-4929 URL: https://www.facebook.com/restaurantpetitseoul/

Pamika Brasserie Thai – Pursued with another major local opening, Pamika, a  Thai-inspired restaurant that is already one of the most popular  restaurants  in Montreal. There, on a 1st visit, I ordered their beef salad made of grilled flank steak, their seafood Tom Kha soup (the broth made of coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal), as well as  their  red curry seafood  which is made of kaffir leaves, basil, coconut milk, red peppers, calamaris and shrimps). Every single dish was eventful, featuring vibrant colors, enticing textures, judicious seasoning and superbly well balanced  genuine Thai  flavors. At handling, and cooking  seafood, they seem to have an edge on plenty of ambitious local restaurants. The Gaeng Daeng (red curry) obviously made of  a high quality curry paste. On a second visit, I was less taken by the green curry/chicken/winter melon/Thai eggplant/coconut milk/basil , the Yellow curry/chicken thighs/potatoes/coconut milk as well as the Thai satay chicken skewers   but that was because of personal taste (sometimes, for Thai food,  I just prefer the old fashion rustic bold mom-and-pop Thai flavors + there are some Thai regional ways of making sauces that I prefer more than others and I tend to be partial to  charcoal grilled satay) and not for a lack of skills as they all  were competently executed and were tasty. A special of the day, on my second visit, consisted of a starter of marinated pork in lemon grass (picture above), the pork finished on a grill. That starter looked simple, but that is the sign of a great kitchen brigade: it makes everything it does look so simple. Not many kitchen brigades are capable to deliver such a perfected starter as most would either under or over season it, others would grill it too long or not enoughly long killing the  delicious  flavor of the meat  in the process, some would cook it well but serve it at the wrong moment which would reduce their work to a non happening. Behind that superlative starter  there was a great deal of technical mastery (timing of its cooking, timing of its serving,  superb work of its marinade —lemongrass is a tricky ingredient for marinades as you really need to know what you are doing with it or else it will make your food pass as punishment —  which is not given to all cooks, btw,  a precise balance of the flavors, again …not an  ability that all cooks happen to be gifted with). The signs of the skills of this kitchen continued to be on display in their flawless  condiments and sauces. Traditional Thai desserts may be perceived as basic to most western eyes and palates, but they remain enjoyable:  I tried the Khao neow ma muang (sticky rice with mango) as well as  the Thai tapioca pudding.  The mango of the Khao neow ma muang may not come from Thailand, but the kitchen picked a ripe mango of fine quality,  the sticky texture of the rice properly rendered, the warm coconut cream a benchmark of its kind.  Both desserts were  well executed, their respective   Thai flavor profiles in evidence. Here is an example of a talented kitchen brigade that is not hiding behind the fear of having to cook what its patrons  want it to cook. Instead, it is cooking what it is supposed to cook, pulling off  Thai flavors that are as genuine as they get in Montreal (which they manage to keep at the forefront even when they add their own  twists here and there).  It will always be delusional to expect Thai food to taste exactly the same as in Thailand , this far away from Thailand (obviously, to do so, you would need every single ingredient to come from Thailand and shipped to you in a blink of an eye after being  harvested, and not long after, it will inevitably cost an arm to eat there  and the restaurant will go bankrupt), and this is not your old fashion (heavy sauces, bold) type of Thai food (the genuine Thai flavors are there, though, which is what matters), but Pamika is an elite  ethnic restaurant  in Montreal  right now.  Seems like Montreal has an an all rounder, here  (service and overall dining experience are good, quality ingredients and cooking are on display). Pamika Brasserie Thai, Addr: 901 Sherbrooke East, Montreal, Phone: (514) 508-9444 URL: http://pamika.ca

 

My next ‘immediate’ foodie project  – It is about time, for me, to take   my passion for food to another level. Cooking since my tender childhood and submitting my palate to all sorts of taste sensations  from all around the globe as well as trying to see what the girls and boys of the restaurant industry were  up to  (the sole reason I enjoyed visiting  restaurants) was useful, for sure. But now, I have seen what I had to and I am more than ready for the next steps: as mentioned earlier on, learning how to perfect the art of the Neapolitan Pizza, in Naples, is one of the next projects that is of interest. That can’t be done right away, though. Therefore, my next immediate foodie project is to focus on pushing taste sensations to dimensions that we are not used to, this side of our sphere. Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with the moringa (pictured above). It is ‘trendy’ , in the western world,  to introduce exotic ingredients in  our vocabulary, therefore the moringa is on everyone’s mind, but what matters to me is how complex, in terms of taste sensations, the moringa is. It is rare, in one single ingredient, to get to experience with a collection of clashing taste sensations like the ones delivered by the moringa. The moringa, on a culinary perspective, …it is a real ‘pain in the butt’, but as with everything that is not ‘easy to deal with’, it leads to interesting opportunities..

May 2018 be joyous, fruitful  for the epicurious in us and above all….DELICIOUS!

 

Advertisements

Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse
Type of Cuisine:  French (Haute cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Addr: 5 Avenue Saint-Victor, 11360 Fontjoncouse, France
Phone: +33 4 68 44 07 37
Email: reception@aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr
URL:  http://www.aubergeduvieuxpuits.fr/en/
Service: 10/10 World class service that is at the same time fun , approachable but also Pro. The Goujon talk to their customers (Madame Goujon and Chef Goujon came to say hello to everyone), Chef Goujon (a salt of the earth kind of man, from what  I gathered)  is present in his kitchen at a time when your neighborhood bistrot cook thinks that he is too good to be found in a kitchen.
Overall food rating: 8/10 Very good performance.

“Puits” is French for a water well. There is an old (Vieux)  water well on the premises. The restaurant  is located in the village of Fontjoncouse (commune of Corbières, deparment of Aude) in the south of France.

To get to L’Auberge du vieux puits, you can either take a train to Narbonne (30 kms away) or fly to Perpignan  (66 kms from Fontjoncouse). Narbonne is a town that I have always liked for personal reasons that I do not need to explain on this blog,  but Perpignan is a big city. This time, I stayed in Perpignan because  I had another meal to attend at France’s 2017 best restaurant for steaks (according to Internationally acclaimed  steak expert Franck Ribière of the movie ‘Steak Revolution‘ ), Le Divil (reviewed here). During this short stay in Southern France, the long time ostreaphile that I am  wandered outside Perpignan and dropped by Leucate, one of the  destinations   of the French Mediterranean oyster. There, you have a  tiny area called Le centre ostréicole du  Grau de Leucate featuring a line-up of oyster stands selling the celebrated local oyster  Cap Leucate. An hour away from Leucate, I had  the opportunity to taste some  dazzling oysters in Bouzigues which is located on the northern side of  the  Étang de Thau (famous for its oysters). In Perpignan, I pursued with the spéciale de claire and pousses en claire of Alain Laugier Goulevant from Marennes-Oléron and  I feasted on some  cupped (creuses) Prat-Ar-coum  oysters  as well as some Aber-Vrach flat (plates)  oysters  of  Yvon Madec at the  seafood restaurant 7 ème Vague Boniface .  I also found some of my preferred oysters of France, Yves Papin ‘s bivalves, in Perpignan.  All world class oysters.

In 2016, L’Auberge du vieux puits was in the top 10 of the best restaurants of this globe, according to La Liste ( La Liste is the sole restaurant ranking system that takes into account  all major  press reviews,  dining  guides,  and crowd-sourced sites  around the world ).

Chef Gilles Goujon is some sort of   “Messiah” for the tiny village of Fontjoncouse (as youtube’d here) , a village of  less than  200 inhabitants,  as his restaurant is their main attraction, their local “economy” relies heavily on him (most jobs, in the village, are related to Gilles’s restaurant).  A  Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious award in the culinary world),   he  was the assistant of a true culinary luminary —NOT  the kind of self proclaimed ones and/or marketed as such,  that we keep hearing about, these days —,  Chef Roger Vergé (at Moulin de Mougins when that restaurant had 3 Michelin stars).  He also worked at Gérard Clor’s L’ Escale (Carry le rouet) when the restaurant had  2 Michelin stars as well as at  Michelin starred Le Petit Nice (in Marseille). In 2010, Gilles was France’s Chef of the year.  The professional magazine Le Chef  ranked Gilles Goujon  in the top 50 best Chefs in the world. Gilles has 5 Toques at Gault & Millau.

 

The village of Fontjoncouse itself is quiet, but if you stay there (the restaurant is attached to a mini hotel), then consider visiting the pretty village of Lagrasse , the ruined fortress of Peyrepertuse, and the abbey of Fontfroide. All well worth going out of your way for.

L’Auberge du Vieux Puits has  3 tasting menus (the names of the tasting menus refer  to the surrounding Pays Cathare, therefore you have names such as  “Bienvenue au pays“, “Quelques pas dans la Garrigue”  or  “Air de fêtes en Corbières” ) as well as the A la Carte items (3 starters, 3 seafood items, 3 items for the meats, 3 desserts.  I ate there twice:  lunch as well as dinner.

The lunch  did start with some amuse-bouches with fillings such as cream of truffle, gazpacho, calamari, bottarga, sauce gribiche ), some  bread called fougasse (their take on it — different, in looks, from  most traditional variations  of the  fougasse — would make us, in North America, think of a “cousin” of the english muffin) that you dip in olive oil (fleur d’huile d’Olive of  Moulin a huile du Partegal ). Then a Mediterranean oyster, oyster Tarbouriech,  lightly poached, with a reasonable briny taste and plenty of body, served with seawater jelly and some oyster tartare. All pleasant.

Cressonette are Cuckoo flower leaves (a terrestrial  “cousin” of the watercress) and they are a dream for any fan of the watercress (I am one of them), their vibrant fresh wildcress flavor (without the agressive bitterness that watercress can sometimes be accused of)  expressed excitingly well in the cold “coulis” that it was transformed into, the piece of frog leg (with, inside of it, a “coulant” of the spectacular cuckoo flower leaves, a match made in heaven) as well as some first-rate baby vegetables  (with a particularly outstanding piece of celery root) that it was paired with, were all examples of what you are blessed with, when superb sourcing flirts with fabulous cooking. The kick of saltiness of the “coulis” was not a mistake, in this specific case, but a necessary flavor enhancer.  A world class dish. 10/10

Tourte d’anguille (a pie of eel), saoule de vin en matelotte fumée girolles et champignons en fine croûte de pain cramat. The eel is marinated in wine for several hours, seasoned, coated in flour , pan-seared then “encased” in squid ink flavored cylindrical-shaped sliced bread. That sliced bread is actually the  “croûte (crust) de  pain (bread) cramat (comes from the French word ‘ cramé’ which means ‘burnt’ because that is the effect the kitchen was  looking for when crafting the  squid ink flavored sliced bread).   The marinade is then used to make the sauce that will be thickened with butter and enhanced by the taste of cognac/thyme/bay leaf/espelette pepper/mushrooms/carrots/onions/smoked bacon. Very good 8/10

The lunch did end with one of their most popular  desserts:

Vrai faux citron de Menton délicatement cassant, sorbet citrus bergamote et kumquat du Japon (citrus bergamot / kumquat sorbet ), crème thym citron (thyme and lemon cream), meringue croustillante (crispy meringue).  A blown sugar “lemon” filled with a sorbet of citrus bergamot and   kumquat,  meringue, thyme and lemon cream.  The kumquat‘s natural bitterness was  toned down (the kumquat that was used is of the Meiwa varietal, a kumquat that is sweeter than most kumquats – L’Auberge du Vieux puits gets theirs from Mas Bachès) , which allowed for a fine balance of taste sensation. Only the leaf was real, all the rest was a reproduction of the shape of a lemon.  I am not a fan of the trompe-l’œil technique (the illusion of  a lemon , in this case) , but truth be told, it was really well done ( it looked like a real lemon), especially the “rind” of the “fruit”, which…I swear…I thought was the real thing. Above all, it tasted great. 8/10

At dinner, I had:

Razor clam / Mussel – A gentleman fisherman named Charly (from Vandre, near the Mediterranean sea which is not far) brings them his jewels of the sea. All utterly fresh. The beautiful thing about seafood..obviously…it that its freshness cannot be mimicked. It is utterly fresh or it will be a disaster. Nothing in between. You would tell me that Charly snatches his razor clams  from the floor of the sea and ships them right away to the restaurant, I would believe you –  It was that fresh!  Those who love the trompe-l’œil technique will be pleased by an edible  shell (for both the razor clam and the mussel) mimicking perfectly the real thing. Amusing to the eye, and pleasant on the palate.

The next food item was  one of their signature dishes:

-Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe melanosporum (truffled egg) , sur une purée de champignons (on a mushroom purée), et briochine tiède (with a small lukewarm brioche) et cappuccino  à boire (and “cappuccino” to drink) – Getting the Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe  is what people keep advocating. The egg is  from a farm called la ferme de Carrus (Mayronnes), its yolk is replaced by a coulis of black truffle (Chef Goujon got that idea after sampling a century egg), the egg served lukewarm, as it should be,  or else it will change to a solid state (obviously), it is covered by a black truffle sabayon,  served with a mushroom mash (butter was whisked into the mash at the end of the cooking process), and grated black truffle. The season for black winter tuber melanosporum truffles  goes from November to March, and this is the right time to enjoy them (eventhough, they are even better towards the end of December). You break the egg with a georgette. The main challenge comes from the truffles as they depend on the seasons, obviously, therefore the kitchen has to work harder in finding the right place for the right truffle.  On paper, eggs and truffle, that is a safe match, but, in reality, there was nothing “safe” about this food item as it takes  lots of thoughts  to create this dish. Be humourous  and crack a joke like “J’apprécie l’effort déployé par le Chef, mais je désire vous confier que d’ordinaire, je ne mange pas d’oeuf pourri” ;p   I am usually not a fan of altering the nature of an exceptionally good fresh egg, but what Chef Goujon  did was a demonstration of creativity that I do expect at this level of dining.  Excellent  9/10

With the oeuf poule carrus came a pleasant ‘cappuccino’ of truffle (indeed, you truely had the feeling of drinking a real cappuccino, only, here,  truffle was used instead of coffee) as well as an equally satisfying truffled brioche (7/10 for both).

Filet de rouget barbet (fillet of red mullet), pomme bonne bouche fourrée d’une brandade à la cébette en “bullinada” (potato  filled with a brandade of   the flesh of red mullet/spring onion as well the liver of the red mullet), écume de rouille au safran (foam of saffron rouille that the kitchen made by using  egg yolk/mustard/garlic/tomato confit/saffron/olive oil/vegetable stock ). Bullinada is a Catalan fish stew. They pour the stew  over the foam of saffron rouille, and both ‘fall’ over the fish and its accompaniments of mussels and thinly cut pieces of vegetables. The rouille’s depth of flavor and superb texture as perfected as it gets, the  level  of  the spice of the stew not  as vivid  as what you  came to expect from this sort of Southern French stew, but that is a positive thing in this particular case: the balance of the flavors was remarkably harmonious.  A creative contemporary take on a classic stew. 8/10

Lièvre à la royale is a classic of French cuisine that I have enjoyed for many years. Click here for a  recipe of the Lièvre à la Royale. There is more than one recipe of  Lièvre à la Royale, but I am not going to elaborate on them  as this is not the right post  for that. The hare (lièvre) is deboned, marinated,  stuffed with a mix of foie gras / the heart and lungs of the hare/ beacon/carrots/garlic/a bit of the blood of the hare/shallots and truffle, rolled into a ballotine, braised for hours, then served with a red-wine based sauce that is mixed with the blood of the hare and the cooking  jus (to which, a bit more of the foie gras, or some butter as well as cocoa can be combined to thicken the sauce).  This  dish  featured a  flawless full-bodied sauce with an equally technically well made ballotine.  8/10

Sorbet de clémentine en peau semi-confite, suprêmes en tartare, feuillantine de chocolat et crème pralinée pistache – A clementine sorbet made its way under a clementine peel that was candied to great effect: the peel timely simmered to an ideal tender consistency, you had a bit of the fresh  taste of the clementine in evidence, the level of sugar well judged. The segments of the clementine transformed into a “tartare”, the chocolate feuillantine made — as you would expect from a restaurant of this standing — of first rate chocolate. The praline cream expressing enticing almond and caramelized sugar flavors, and I will extend the compliment to the pistachio. The sorbet served at a temperature that does not  clash with the temperature of the candied peel, which most people  would  argue that it is a  ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ feature, but in reality, many pastry teams, even at this level of fine dining, would not get this right. The relevant classic French pastry techniques well mastered.    8/10

Pros: The world class frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis on the first meal.

Cons: The appetizers.

Bottom line  –   I started cooking seriously in my tender childhood (Pan-African cuisines), then in my 20s I developed a strong interest for Classic French cuisine. I started learning Classic French cuisine by following and perfecting the recipes of REAL culinary luminaries Roger Vergé, Jacques Maximin, Bernard Loiseau, Georges Blanc, Gerard Besson, Olivier Roellinger, Alain Senderens, Frédy Girardet , etc. I was lucky enough to have tasted the food of some of them. This had an impact on what I am looking for when I eat at a 3 star Michelin restaurant that is cooking French food. I am always curious about what the other Chefs did learn from those REAL culinary luminaries. I paid a visit to L’Auberge du Vieux Puits because their Chef, Gilles Goujon, did work with one of those TRUE culinary giants, Chef Roger Vergé. And,  I was not disappointed. I  squealed in  delight at every single spoonful of   the frog leg/Cuckoo flower leaves coulis . The Filet de rouget barbet, Vrai/Faux citron, and Oeuf poule Carrus « pourri » de truffe were very good. Nothing was intensely flavored, during the two meals. Flavors were generally harmonious.

My thoughts several weeks  later: A lovely restaurant, for sure, deserving of its accolades and superb reputation. Nothing that I could fault, indeed, but the  amuse-bouches could have been a bit more exciting.

Sushi Sawada –
Type of restaurant: Sushi shop
Date and time of the meal: 20-11-2014 12:00
Address:  MC Building 3F, 5-9-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku  Phone: 03-3571-4711
Tabelog: 4.28/5
Michelin stars: 2
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13001043/

NO PHOTO RESTRICTION

Picture taking is forbidden to normal diners as/per the house , therefore  no pictures were taken. No note-taking neither as I did not know whether that would offend the house’s staff, so I made a mental note of my appreciation of some of the sushi pieces which assessment was determinant in my overall rating of this meal.

***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered  (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).


Chef Sawada Koji‘ has long established his credentials as one of Tokyo elite Sushi Chefs, his  Sushi shop  is   a top  rated  restaurant  on Tabelog, Japan’s most important online community for local foodies.  Restaurant Magazine’s web site adding, and I’ll quote: ”’those in the know rank Sawada alongside better-known three-starred joints such as Mizutani and Sukiyabashi Jiro”.  I went there to enjoy the place and despite my generally less than enthusiastic report about the food, I could see why Sawada is highly regarded (It is, at this moment,  one of the  toughest restaurant reservations, as hard as Sukiyabaki Jiro Honten as/per  my hotel concierge — the concierge was ultimately not capable to book me a seat at  Jiro, but Sawada was indeed a really tough reservation ) :  it offers a relaxing journey that most of the other  elite Sushi shops failed to  deliver during this trip, the produce was generally of exceptional mention even by the high standards of its competition.  For those reasons, and only for those,  this dinner was my  preferred  ‘sushi experience’ in Tokyo. Had the food impressed me as much,  this would have been life shattering. This meal at Sawada was one of the last meals of  this trip,  therefore easier to compare to the earlier performances at the other sushi places.

FOOD REPORT:  Quick rundown of some of the many items that were offered (I did not take note of each of them, there were too many and I was  more busy enjoying my food rather than stopping all the time to reflect on them):

The highlights of this long meal (there were far more items than at the other Elite sushi shops) have been the sea urchin, which quality was easily the best of this trip (I have long familiarized myself with all sorts of sea urchin sourced from all corners of this globe and shall observe that those from Hokkaido –which Sawada San did serve of this evening — do rank among the most spectacular examples of sea urchin you’ll get to enjoy at a Sushi shop): Bafun sea urchin (less sweet than some of the finest sea urchin of California, but rich in taste, its vivid orange color so easy on the eyes, the taste divine), Murakasi (This sea urchin of mustard yellow color is one of my preferred sea urchin, its sweet taste so fresh in mouth). 10/10

Another highlight was the trio of tuna, in part because Sawada-san thought about the right way to stand out from his direct competitors: the tuna had more concentrated flavor as he has better aged his tuna. A beautiful touch was that   he did slightly grill his fattiest piece of tuna, where most of  the other elite sushiyas of this trip would offer it raw, allowing for the expected spectacular mouthfeel that rarely fails to come from grilled fat. 10/10

Ark shell clam (Akagai ) was  beautifully sourced (Sawada-san had, in general, the best produce of this trip with some items truly exceptional), elegantly  butterflied in typical upscale Sushi shop fashion. It is in the work of items like the Ark shell clam that you can really appreciate the vast difference between the finer vs lesser Sushi shops of Tokyo as the former’s extra efforts (in refining the texture) is admirable. This was almost as skilfully crafted as at the other elite sushiya of this trip,Mizutani,  the only reason I am not rating it with the ultimate score has to do with the fact that the  salinity of the rice stood, for me, as clashing a bit with the clam     8/10

Salt water eel (anago) tasted great, timely simmered, and its  quality I found even better than at Mizutani  (I won’t stop repeating it: the sourcing, here, is, in general, second to none and we are talking about this globe’s finest Sushi shops, so imagine!! ), Sawada’s preparation putting more emphasis on the natural delicate sweetness of the specimen’s flesh, keeping it simple,  whereas most of the other Sushi shops did add a bit of flavor intensity (for eg, at the other Sushi shops, the Salt water eel would  taste more of the tsume sauce that generally accompanies anago sushi, but at Sawada it’s the taste of the eel that stood out). As I prefer my seafood as unaltered as possible, Sawada’s approach suited me fine. However, I found, again, the white vinegar/salt portion of the sushi rice overpowering in a way that its saline intensity distracted from fully appreciating the salt water eel in its full glory. This was certainly – on its own —a great piece of anago, but it is also a piece of nigiri, which means the interaction between the rice and its topping should have been judicious.  7/10

Cuttlefish – Piece after piece, I was floored by the quality of his produce. As if he has suppliers that even the other Sushi Masters of this trip are not aware of. The quality of the cuttlefish was stellar, this time Sawada-San letting the cuttlesfish expressing itself at its best, the texture soft, the flesh retaining a nice chew. One of the best cuttlesfish nigiris of this trip. 8/10 (could have been a 10/10 had the slicing being as impressive as, say, Mizutani...there was also  the vinegar taste of the rice that clashed a bit with the cuttlefish in a way that it made the cuttlefish/rice blending tasting a tad superficial for my taste, but I’ll forgive  that one…it was lovely, highly enjoyable regardless of the downsides ).

Gizzard shad – Talking about exacting sushi pieces, this is another great example of just that. Gizzard shad is a demanding piece as each step of its preparation, from the curing, its slicing, having to cope with its strong natural flavor, everything should be flawless. It’s a fish that can be as rewarding as it can cruelly let you down. The thing about Gizzard shad preparation is that most won’t notice how great it is when it is well done, but one single mistep and you realize how challenging it can be to work with this fish.  As with all the seafood served during this meal, the Gizzard shad at Sawada was of superb  quality, but the effect of its preparation felt unimpressive to me as it tasted just a tad better than any other average Gizzard shad I have sampled in Tokyo, and certainly less spectacular than the one I had at Mizutani (At mizutani, the vinegar  flavor was so fresh and spectacular that it lifted the taste of the fish to palatable triumph, here the Gizzard shad  did not taste  as exciting) + the slicing of such fish should be precise,  but instead, a big part of the edges was almost dented! I am not saying that it is always like that at Sawada, I would not know as it’s my sole visit here, but that was the case during this meal and there’s no excuse for that at such level. 5/10

Hamaguri clam – The consistency springy as it should as/per hamaguri classic sushi prep standards, but the nitsume sauce a tad cloying and less enjoyable than at the other Sushi shops of this trip. The texture not vivid as those I had at the other shops in Tokyo (obviously a consequence of the prep method he used, which is most likely the aging of the clam). Take hamaguri clam, which in its traditional sushi preparation needs to be boiled. Then smoke it a bit, then let it rest at room temp and you’ll get to the exact same feel of my Hamaguri clam. Again, did he smoke it? age it? I did not ask as I do not want to sound / appear impolite to my Sushi Chef. I have heard about the tendency  of an increasing number of Sushi Chefs to age their seafood, and they do age some of their seafood at Sawada too. Alas, for my taste,  seafood’s texture and flavor is generally —-save for some sparse relevant examples  such as tuna/bonito  —, better expressed raw, especially for sushi. A long time ago, they were aging food because they had no choice, nowadays we find the idea attractive because we basically just love trends. Aging beef is a trend, nowadays, but it has its known limits (is meat still  enjoyable upon, let us say, 80 days ++ of aging??For me as well as for many serious Master tasters, it is not)  which, fortunately, most steakhouses are aware of. Aging seafood is sadly a theme that’s applied in a nonsensical fashion at most Sushi shops (around 90% of the aged seafood I tried at Sushiyas, even here in Tokyo,  epitomized the problem of trends:  too much style, little substance. It is one thing to know what seafood to age, it is disrespectful to the hard work of the fishermen  when you age every single seafood they have proudly ‘snatched’ from the floor of the ocean for you to appreciate the mother of all food –the seafood–  in its full natural glory….. ) . 5/10

Abalone was timely steamed to ideal palatable consistency (tender enough, with a nice chew), but Mizutani did better (7/10), bonito tasted great and was timely smoked although its quality was similar to what I had at the other places and honestly, it’s hardly a challenging piece (7/10), quality mackerel but which marination and seasoning failed at lifting its powerful flavor to the heights of palatable enjoyment attained at the other sushiyas (another exacting item where the genius expected at such high level needs to make a difference – Mizutani-san nailed this, alas not Sawada-san who had  not just one chance, but twice, as I had a smoked as well as a raw version of this piece of fish), a 6/10 for the mackerel (I had mackerel tasting as great at lesser Sushi shops in both the marinated as well smoked versions),  salmon roe (better than at the  other places 8/10).

Prawn – properly boiled and avoiding the common error to overcook the prawn –yep, I easily caught couple of   sushiyas  making this mistake in Tokyo—, BUT not as precisely sliced as Mizutani. Regardless, the quality of the prawn was superior at Sawada.  9/10

Omelette’s based cake (Tamago) in its ‘ sponge cake’ version – The elite sushiyas of Tokyo had in common this feature that  the refinement of their   tamagos is   simply unmatched outside of Japan.  But even better, the 2nd tier sushiyas that I  did visit in Tokyo  barely approached the 1st tier when it comes to  perfecting the texture and taste of the tamago. Excellent  texture and consistency of the cake and I can see why, some ppl,  judge some Sushi Chefs  by the tamago (if you go all your way to perfect such an apparently simple cake, then there is nothing more to add about your obsessive sense of perfection, lol –  A 9/10 for that tamago, but I’d give it a 10/10 had I not been a tad more impressed by the delicious tamago of Mizutani an (to set the records straight, Mizutani’s  tasted better  but Sawada’s had finer  texture).

Pros:  Leisurely and incredibly intimate ambience +  the fabulous sourcing of the ingredients (yeah …even by the high standards of the elite Sushi shops of this trip)!

Cons: At this level, I expect the most ‘challenging’ pieces of seafood, those that rely heavily on the best curing preparation/marination/knife skills/seasoning to express themselves authoritatively. That is exactly what Mizutani-san did. That is not what I have experienced at Sawada.  Furthermore, the precision in slicing seafood items like mackerel, gizzard shad,  and cuttlesfish  is a matter of the uttermost importance at this level. 

So,
1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered?  – Shari (sushi rice) comprised of a mix of white rice vinegar, as well as the usual salt and sugar. The problem is that the ratio of the salt was misjudged as the white rice vinegar mixed with the salt did, for my taste, impart  an ‘unatural’ kind of saline flavor to some of the seafood toppings, the anago nigiri being a perfect example of just that. This might sound nitpicking and most won’t play attention at such details, but restaurants of  this level, charging  those prices, do exist essentially for their patrons to be able to appreciate such subtleties (or else, just eat your sushi at any random entry level sushi shop).  Another quibble is that the rice was ‘one-dimensional’ in its construction (firm consistency throughout, on my visit), compared to what the other Elite Sushi shops have crafted, in the sense that the other Sushi shops did oftently offer an appealing (to the touch as well as on the palate) elaborate firm exterior/soft interior contrast that I did not experience during this meal at Sawada.  The sourcing  of the rice is uniformly exemplary at those great Sushi shops of Tokyo, Sawada’s is no exception, but I’ll stand by my observation about the seasoning of the rice and lack of complexity in the sushi rice (shari)’s construction.

(2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping? See previous point #1
(3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip?
Sawada-san can is certainly talented, or else he would not be considered as one of the best in Tokyo, and there are certainly plenty of other sushi shops in Tokyo that are doing worse . That said, Sawada-san is also considered as a world class  elite Sushi Master. Consequently, I’ll compare my appreciation of  his craft to those standards. And at such, solely on the back of this meal, I did not find his slicing skills to be as consistently precise/impressive as his peers, and I was left with the same impression about  his work of the textures (which were at times glorious, indeed,  but not always). On the bright side, he was consistent in maintaining  a perfect control of  the temperature of his food: during my meal there, he essentially went by the book, which means almost uniformly using body temp for the rice, room temp for the seafood topping. As for the taste, the overall was not as delicious as, say, the consistently mouth watering meal I just had at Mizutani but rest assured that everything tasted good (just not as consistently  delicious  as what came from the kitchen of some of his direct competitors, the mackerel –in particular—should have been the perfect opportunity to storm my palate, as the others did, but it was a non -happening during my visit).
(4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best)? Even by the already exemplary standards of those elite sushi Shops of Tokyo, some of his produce was exceptional.  Some of the other top sushi Masters of Tokyo can envy him for his beautiful produce. But for me, during this meal, he generally failed at extracting the most out of  his  exceptional produce in a way that his direct competition has managed to do,  during this trip.

””The sourcing is world class, but in the end, my meal at Sawada did not manage to leave an impression in the way that Mizutani did. To the contrary of many people, I do not mind Genius cooking (which is what sushi performance of this level, price tag and world class reputation, is supposed to be – Genius, in this case,  meaning an overall craftmanship that’s way above the standards that already exist and NOT some surreal /out-of-context vision of what food can’t be) to follow the course of hits and misses, but it has  to, ultimately, awe  me with an ‘impression of the spectacular’ that is capable to wipe all the misses and dominate the hits. That is what Mizutani-san did. Alas, Sawada-San did not walk in his steps (I was obviously not floored by Sawada’s seasoning + work of the texture of the rice as well as some of his sushis). At least the finer  sushis  managed  to convey how ingenious, often witty, the Master can be in his prime. I just wished he would express it more  consistently. Still, regardless of some of my severe observations, I fully enjoyed my time here and the journey remains one to never forget as the charisma of the Chef, coupled with a sense of place  and exceptional sourcing do  suffice in explaining why Sawada is oftently regarded as one of world’s finest Sushi shops”’. Obviously, and hopefully, my high  rating of  8/10 (see the section ‘overall food performance’) is a testament to my latest assertion.

SAWADA3

Overall food performance: 8/10  (Category: top tier Sushi shop in Tokyo, World class sushiya)  in comparison to the other Sushi meals of this trip to Tokyo (for eg,  I prefered my meal at Sawada to those I had at Daisan Harumi/Sushi Oono/Sushi Sho/Sushi Iwa, but the meal at Mizutani had the edge). The essential is already written above (the section in red), so I’ll just add that  you SHOULD NOT start comparing my score of Sushi Sawada to — to take an example —  the scores of my Sushi meals outside of Tokyo –  we are in a completely different set of expectations and circumstances.

What do I think a week  later: In Tokyo, the ‘sushi shop spectrum’ regulates itself….the best produce are for a handful of elite shops like Sawada,Mizutani, Jiro,Saito. The second tier shops and the rest will  have to fight hard to get good seafood, rice, etc. The huge advantage of Sawada is that a journey under this roof  does  boot with spectacular produce. That, alone, explains why many have been impressed by Sawada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On with the FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The food report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save

Event: Dinner at restaurant La Pergola, Rome
When: Tuesday, June 12th 2012 19:30
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine: Haute Italian
Addr: Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101 00136 Rome
Phone: +39 06 3509 1
Url: http://www.romecavalieri.com/lapergola.php

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

Overall Food rating: 8/10   At quick glance, many would have found it to be a flawless food performance. At 3 star Michelin level, in my view, this was indeed a very good meal but not an excellent (9/10)  nor a standard-bearing one (10/10). I am no god and MY assessment of MY meal is certainly just that, my assessment (which means a personal appreciation/thus purely subjective/far from being perfect), but there’s one major element I ‘need  to detect’ at such level, and it’s that …….firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint. La Pergola has a high class cooking brigade, make no mistake about that, and it truly deserves its 3 stars (I’d say a very good 3 star, which is great indeed, just not a standard-bearing/strong 3 star in my opinion), but the firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint  is what I was missing in the course of this meal (which my meals, couple of days later at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio  as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia, have all proven that what I was looking for is realistic at haute and casual dining levels).

Service/Dining experience: 10/10  Fabulous service.  I’ll take this example of  when they told me that taking photos of my meal is prohibited (I know…some were able to do so, but I insist on experiencing my meal as any normal diner would, therefore I was fine with this rule of them since it applied to their normal patrons): this  was handed with such a great tact that   we (both the staff and I) even gently joked over this.  Examples of this sort of coolness  abounded all along my meal there.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONI was in the mood of reviewing the meal, since I was alone and this was not a romantic meal, therefore I asked the restaurant staff if I was allowed to take photos of  my dishes. They said, no. so no pics of the food (though, I believe you can still make arrangements with them, since I saw web blogs with pics of meals at La Pergola; again, I did not insist since my intent is to experience things the way a normal diner would).  Which is fine to me, since I could appreciate what I was eating without any distraction. I took no note of my food neither, so I’ll go with general memory / impression of the overall meal and dining experience.

One quick day in Rome ( People look at you with big big eyes when you do that, Lol. Indeed, Rome deserves a longer stay)  before pursuing my journey of 7 days in Italy. I secured a reservation at the Rome Cavalieri’s hotel (an No..I didn’t lodge there, I do not have that kind of money Lol..) main restaurant and only 3 star Michelin in Rome (this sounds odd to me, I always thought Rome would have much more  Michelin 3 stars): La Pergola.

Upon entering the hotel itself,  most won’t fail to be seduced by the overall luxury and sense of wealth of this location. I think it is  smart on their part to open their 3 star Michelin restaurant only at night and not on lunch, since the view over Rome, at night, is really nice here. The restaurant is  situated at more than 3 miles away from downtown Rome . La Pergola offers Italian Haute dining and its executive Chef is a German who has spent the last two decades in Italy, Chef Heinz Beck; his success led him to also open Apsleys, a  two Star Michelin Italian haute table in London.

FOOD REPORT: I did not partake in their tasting menus (they have a 6 or 9 courses menu) on this dinner, since I had to catch a train around midnight (Yep, a crazy thing to do, I know), so I went with a choice of four food items on their à la carte  menu.

Started with an  item of sweetbreads (8/10), cooked to ideal consistency. As you might expect at this level, not one single technical slip is noticed, and the accompanied onion purée (9/10) and fig sauce (this had remarkable deep fruity taste)  offering logic balance to the meat. It  is  tough for me to get excited over this dish since I have sampled more impressive sweetbreads at bistrots that will never see the shadow of one single Michelin star in their entire existence, but in total fairness, this was a very good food item in which a lot of attention to details was invested and it would be inaccurate to  diminish the value of such dish (47 eur) simply because I had memorable ones at lesser $$$, elsewhere:  we all should know better that once you open the doors of a haute dining venture, you are paying for the stunning service, the luxury, the efforts that is put in the dining experience.

Then cheese and pepper spaghetti followed. A classic Roman fare, served in its chic version. This dish is  simple but this is where a skilled kitchen gets to show that a lot can be extracted from very little. Which, they did: flavors were good, the pasta cooked with the precision you would expect from a good Italian kitchen 8.5/10

Concluded the savouries with turbot served along asparagus, ham and spinach (8/10), which turned out to be more creative that what I anticipated (lots of thoughts in both the presentation and work of the flavors). The ingredients were of top quality, the fish in particular was an example of great seafood sourcing . At a non star Michelin restaurant, I would perhaps be tempted to give this dish  a 9/10, but with regards to 3 Michelin star standards,  the 8 over 10 score seems accurate to me.

I skipped the cheese and desserts since it  was, soon,  time to hop on my train. I still got to enjoy all their petit fours, which were expectedly well done without being as outstanding as some sampled at most haute dining ventures in Paris, for  eg(8/10).  No wine (I hate taking a train with wine in my blood), but they  have one  large wine selection of superb bottles covering most parts of the world, worth some intense perusing, with of course a vast list of Italian wines as well.

Pros: If I had to offer a special top-class dinner to a beloved one, La Pergola would be a top choice. It is not, on a personal level, a top favourite, for the simple reason that I am more into  personal/authoritative cooking (Dal Pescatore fits in what I am trying to point out), but that is subjective,  that is just me.  The most important, to the most, is that  it hits on all the right notes of a great haute dining experience. Which it does. I won’t argue against that. Also: the hotel of this restaurant (restaurant is on 9th floor) seems like a beautiful romantic retreat. I was not staying there and did not wander around neither,  but from the few glimpses at the hotel’s interior, it looked very pretty.

Cons: At 3 star Michelin level, I tend to favor a more   personal/authoritative cooking imprint, the type of cooking of which I can say ‘ok, ok, I think  not many, at its level,  can replicate that exact depth of flavor, this specific work of the texture, etc’. Though, in the case of La Pergola, their work of the texture of most of the dishes I was sampling was indeed of top flight level. The beauty with Italian cooking in Italy,  is that no one will forgive you for cooking a bad dish since the produce is fabulous, the sense of taste seems collectively high, the competition between eateries is an epic battle, lol. So, they have numerous highly skilled  artisan Chefs who know that people are eating their food because there’s something special/personal/authoritative in there, and you’ll find it at any level of their dining spectrum (haute or not). It’s really on that very specific aspect, where I felt that this meal could have been bettered (on the following days, my meals at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio  as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia would prove me right – they were not all as sophisticated as La Pergola’s, but I could remember each of the dishes I had at those 3 places…even months after, and in a blind tasting, I could tell exactly who cooked what).

Salute!


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.