Posts Tagged ‘michelin star’

Event: Lunch at Restaurant Ledoyen, Paris
When: March 24th 2011, 12:30
Michelin Star: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute French with a mix of classic and contemporary fares
Addr: 1 Avenue Dutuit,  Carré des Champs Elysees
Arrondissement: 8th
Phone:+33 01 53 05 10 01
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau

Overall Food rating: 6/10 I would have rated this meal with a 5/10 based on the ordinary savouries that I have sampled on this lunch,  but the dessert and depth of refinement shown in  the work of the nibbles showed impressive skills worth of an extra point on the aspect of the  overall food rating. With that said,  there is a section called “what I think months later”. You will find it at the bottom of this review. It sums pretty much everything I needed to say regarding this meal.
Service: 10/10 (Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet offered a highly accomodating  service)
Overall dining experience: 7/10 Although everything was to my taste (the classic decor, the service),
I did not find the dining experience to feature anything really particular on this lunch
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

We all dine at  3 Michelin star ventures for different personal reasons. Mine has nothing to do with its prestige, nothing to do neither with whatsoever gigantic expectations placed upon such dining events. For me, especially in Paris, it is the opportunity  for enjoying ingredients I do not get to oftently enjoy like the “poulet de bresse”, the “canard de challans”,  some exclusive cheese aged by Bernard Antony,  the Poujauran’s bread and many more (France has a soil that is blessed: their produces  are usually simply amazing, and this comes from someone who was born and raised on  a land of stunning poultry, meats, seafood, greens and fruits).  In the hands of a true 3* Chef, this can be worthy of high consideration. At the haute dining level, I have a personal yearly  (or every 2 years if Paris is too far, depending on where I live)  Parisian routine that does not cost that much (well, nothing compared to what you would pay for the menu degustation at those restaurants) and makes sense since it focuses on widly known strenghts o f those  places I’ll mention next:  I go  to L’Arpège only for their ‘Canard de Challans à l’hibiscus’ (à la carte,  with no wine; perhaps a starter and a dessert).  I do the same at Plaza Athénée (Ducasse) for their ‘Poultry Albufera’ when it is available.   Gerard Besson’s (now close) “tourte de  gibiers et foie gras” used to attract me to Paris too, on my (bi)-yearly gourmand trip.

Picking a 3* in Paris is a nightmare for me: there is no doubt that I will eat well at most of them,  but for the price I am afraid that the usual hype, sumptuous decor and nod to history won’t suffice to  impress me. Keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground, I refuse to expect fireworks (it is food,  not a Disney show) but food that needs to be deliciously superior. Whatever the reasons justifying a 3* dining experience,  food at such level needs to come from a Chef who is capable of pushing the limits of deliciousness to heights that are not commonly experienced. This is not about delusional expectations: if you are lucky enough to get  Michel Bras in person cooking for you at his stronghold of Laguiole, you will understand what I mean.    It doesn’t need to be Michel Bras or a 3* Chef, it just need to come from a cook with that magical touch where somehow an exceptional talent, passion and love for savourish food are transferred into your plate:  my lifetime most memorable meal was a simple spiny lobster grilled by an anonymous cook. When I told people how talented he was, most replied that grilling a lobster was no big deal and could not fail to be tasty.  Years have passed, that cook became one of the most acclaimed Chefs of his country and many of World’s most  respected Chefs have tried, albeit in vain, to  attract him to the Western world. Years have passed and not one  claw of lobster have been as impressive as that one…and  I’ve tried them in all variations, at bistros or 3* tables, on the street or by the sea, in different geographical areas. The name of that Chef is irrelevant here.  His magic touch
is. Could that magical touch be purely subjective? Part of it is of personal appreciation naturally, but the exceptional  talent of one Chef never lies: some may like his food, others not, but if seeking for great food is a passion for you, you will  notice the talent that’s behind the meal. That’s my only expectation for a 3* meal: that exceptional talent, that exceptional  touch not aiming to impress but that pulls the most out of the least.

I grew up in Paris and have already visited almost all its  current 3 Michelin star holders (PG, APDA, Arpege, Pré Catalan, L’Astrance, Guy Savoy, Le Bristol, Le Meurice, etc) except Ledoyen and L’Ambroisie.  Ledoyen seemed to be a match with what I’ve always encouraged:  a Chef, Christian Le Squer, mostly praised for his exceptional talent and who is found where he needs to shine: behind his stoves. The same applies to L’Ambroisie, although, in the case of the latest, the fact that it is one of the few last classic strongholds at the 3* dining level weighs a lot in the balance.

My Parisian friends who know both places well recommended that I start with Ledoyen.
”Save the pricier one for the last”, Jean-Luc commended to me. Not that it would make any difference:  I already knew that Parisian 3* restaurants are no bargain.  Anyways, I just need my food to be very delicious regardless of its price or creativity level. VERY delicious, I stressed! VERY DELICIOUS, was I assured.

Preparation is always the name of my game whenever I decide to dine at a 3* Michelin table. It has been like that the very first time I stepped foot in a 3* Michelin restaurant (1990, Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV); the  pattern has not changed more than two decades later.  Mine consisted of  in depth intelligence about Christian Lesquer’s (my readers know how I value true artisans working for real behind their stoves over cooks who serve as name bearers for celebrity-entrepreneur-chefs. Christian is found where he should be: behind his stoves) strengths and weaknesses, type of cuisine, culinary philosophy. At such prices, at such level of dining, I may as well indulge in what he is best known for. Daniel  — a  close friend (of mine)  who has followed Christian Lesquer’s career  since Christian was working at Le Divellec — was my most prolific info provider on Ledoyen restaurant’s strong man. Daniel is an admirer of Lesquer but was very honest about the Brittany’s Chef. He ensured that I was not expecting some kind of techno-revolutionary cuisine but a highly skilled cuisine that is classic with enough modern inspiration in style and creativity to   be worth of the highest accolades.

I first wanted to pick his five course ”spécialités‘ (signature dishes), but his prix fixe dejeuner menu is affordable. I chose the latest and added two ‘spécialités’:  the lobster + Toasts brulés d’anguilles.  If I had a second stomach, the sweetbreads skewer would be part of the plan.
FOOD

Today, the  menu dejeuner at Ledoyen consisted  of  a mise en bouche of  “tartare de dorade à la tahitienne”, a first choice of veggies in an emulsion of radish/or some langoustines with its own jus, a second  choice of chicken (supreme de volaille des Landes en croute de pain rassie), cheese, a choice of two desserts: one made of bananas (Transparence banane, fruits de la passion), the other from strawberries (Fraises “Gariguette” parfumées coriandre/Hibiscus).

Tartare de dorade à la tahitienne: great ingredient as expected (the fish was of superb freshness, same could be said of the thin slices of scallops disposed atop the tartare ), perfect balance in taste and seasonings. A good tartare, but at this level, I need this tartare to shine a bit more in  creativity or at least with surprising  flavors. The apple-lemon  gelée underneath was nice, but kept the tartare in a ‘pedestrian’ registry. 7.5 /10

Jardins de légumes vert à l’émulsion de radis – peas (superb quality), green beans (good quality), onions, dried tomatoes in a radish emulsion.  Cute like a bug, that dish…enjoyable too…but not a dish that I am expecting at this level of cuisine neither. Do not get me wrong: I am not expecting fireworks here. Just a touch of next-level  daring-ness may it be in the taste or overall gustatory enjoyment of the course. Good 7/10

Sole de petite cotière étuvée de petit pois – The sole was superbly presented in the shape of a tube. Enjoyable taste, perfect moist consistency of the flesh. Indeed, some great cooking technical mastery in there. The green rolls were filled with a cream of peas and the truffle sauce, although not of memorable mention,  retained a   ‘smokey’ flavor that I enjoyed a lot.  Well done, perhaps, but it lacked  prime palatability . 7.5/10

As mentionned earlier on,  I also ordered two of their signature dishes:

Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes:
Everytime I try lobsters at a restaurant, it suffers from my instant comparison to my all-time favourite ones: the spiny tropical langoustes of the Indian Ocean. To me, the latest  stands predominate (with the carribbean’s being my second best) despite years of enjoying all sorts of them around the globe. Langoustines are smaller  with (to my palate), a more discrete marine robustness. Comparison aside, I love lobsters and always try them wherever I go. Those of Brittany are familiar enough to me. Not in my top 3, but good enough in taste whilst a tad less appealing (to me) in consistency. Chef Christian Lesquer added a middle eastern touch to the dish: kadaif (vermicelli-like pastry)  balls filled with  the crustacean meat, fried, then set atop the langoustine tail. The citrus fruit emulsion, emulsified with the usual olive oil,  which  basically turned out to be a citrus/olive oil based  mayonnaise was certainly well executed (it was somehow light enough to  not overwhelm the lobster meat and added a pleasant dimension to its enjoyment) …but  as far as in-mouth enjoyment goes, it was suprisingly discrete (where is the punch?).   The idea is good though: it is  no surprise that a citrus flavored emulsified concoction is meant to pair  naturally well with lobster (mayo pairs well with lobster meat, citrus flavors too, etc). I’ve tasted better variations (read more flavorful) of this dish before, but Lesquer’s version is still fine enough (the lobster’s meat was nicely cooked + the effort and idea he did put in the kadaif  deserve a bonus point) for me to rate it with a 7.5 over 10

Toast Brulé d’Anguille– This is how you set yourself apart, this is how the most will notice you, this is how you have chances to seduce the stars: think of a signature dish, one that will evoke souvenirs of you. Lesquer understands this well, as numerous 3* defining dining signature dishes were made by him.  Toasts brulés d’anguille is one of his; an attractive visual curiousity. At first, it reminded me of a miniature  replica coffin. Yep, coffins can be appealing to the eyes. The dark base is made of bread. The violet-colored topping is eel reduced by grape juice and wine. It’s  before such dish that I value the genius of a creative Chef, a really  smart one: why bother with tubes, liquid nitrogen,  when there are a lot left in the hands of all things natural (or “mother nature” as Marco Pierre-White loves to say) –> take the eel (the ingredient) , its lustrous skin (an inspiration for texture), and think of a flavor that hits (smoky… for  the smokiness flavor of that toast). Add talent, add inspiration (with dishes like his spaghetti/parmesan/ham/morels rectangular-shaped signature dish, take his “blanc de turbot”, take the “toasts d’anguille…it’s clear that you need to be inspired to create those ), and you have got a winner. A 10 over 10 for the creativity, the idea, the fun execution. A 7.5 over 10 for its gustatory amazement (It was more cuter than tastier, but tasty  enough to be considered as a good / to very good creation). fyi: What you see on the side is a cube of potato filled with “creme de raifort” (just ok)

Many frequent  star Michelin diners  have raved over those two signature dishes of Chef  Lesquer (Toast brulé d’Anguille + Grosses langoustines bretonnes), but to my surprise both dishes failed to leave any imprint on my memory even by keeping  my expectations as low as possible. The  Grosses langoustines bretonnes was unexpectedly disappointing: I had a similar dish prepared in Turkey (1993) and a Lebanese cook has prepared  a similar one on an Indian Ocean Island that I visited in 1997.   Chef Lesquer’s version never even came close to a quarter of the overall prime palatable  impact that both non Michelin-starred cooks provided through their langoustines dishes.

When I see written here and there than Chef Lesquer makes great desserts, all I can say is that this is an accurate statement:

Fraise “guariguette” parfumées coriandre/hibiscus –   Excellent dessert where sublime taste and lots of creativity were  on display. The parade of  the stawberry, coriander and hibiscus flavours in mouth was a true act of genius.  What I kept waiting for (in terms of superb complementing — or even contrasting — flavors, textures and delicious taste) in the savories … was finally unleashed in this successful dessert.  10 over 10

They offer lots of extras:

Several “mises en bouche”

Many  “mignardises” (excellent licorice macarons, hibiscus gelée, delicious chips of caramel butter, pina colada lollipops)

And they also brought chocolates, some Brittany’s pastries  too.

I know: the ratings of this specific meal  are not what we might expect at a 3 star Michelin level.  But still, at euros 88 (the menu dejeuner), and especially with the superb service I found on this lunch + all the extras that are offered to all patrons, I’d still highly recommend Ledoyen. It is a place where I truly felt good, and for once I’ll forgive the lack of gustatory amazement that was found — on this lunch — the exception being  the dessert (to some extent, the “toast brulé” was also appreciated).

SERVICE

Maitre D’ Bertrand Pagnet is a sociable gentleman, professional and yet extremely caring. This man knows what ‘accomodation’ means and his open mind (he travelled a lot around the world and worked for top restaurants like those of Boulud’s in Vancouver — now closed) is refreshing. The entire service was in line with what you do expect at such high level of dining: courteous, attentive.

DECOR
The exterior is marked by Ancient Greece inspired neoclassical facades of  blank walls, columns. The inside is in Second Empire style: ornamented, elegant surrounding moldings. As a non food related note, if – like me — you enjoy this style of architecture, pay a visit to Le Louvre and the Opera house.

LOCATION
Off Les Champs Élysées

PROS: The service on this lunch sets the bar for what hospitality should be about at this level of haute dining.  And this type of  classic decor appeals to me. Paris truly has an architectural  charm that others will spend their life mimicking,  just mimicking…

CONS:  The food I had on this lunch lacked interest, in my assessment. Not bad, not great neither. And a signature dish needs to shine!

CONCLUSION –  Their prix fixe Lunch menu is one ideal way to enjoy a  3 michelin star meal at  reasonable cost in Paris.

ADDENDUM – MY CURRENT FAVOURITE  3 STAR MICHELIN IN FRANCE (I am adding this section just for informative value only; added only to reviews of 2 and 3 star Michelin in France since it’s the country which restaurant scene I did familiarize myself with)  -> L’Ambroisie (this is a tricky one. Pacaud was on the verge of retiring when I lunched there, but he was cooking at lunch time when I was there. Based solely on that visit, it is clear in my mind that L’Ambroisie is simply the best Classic Haute French 3 star Michelin around the globe, let alone in France. Yep, with not one single hesitation regardless of the fact that such claim is always controversial. Now, is it the same when Pacaud is not there? I obviously can’t tell), Troisgros (I am normally not a big fan of the Troigros, primarily because I find it odd that a 3 star Michelin in France would opt for Intl influences as intensively as they do. Ironically, that does not bother me at all at the 2 star Michelin level, Rfaol! Go figure! Lol. But at the 3 star level, in France, Nah. Regardless, when this kitchen is in its prime, it is indeed one of France’s finest 3 star Michelin destinations and it is based on that observation that Troisgros somehow fits among my  favourite 3 stars in France), L’Arpège, Paris (Before I visited L’Ambroisie, this was my #1  three star Michelin in Paris. Many Chefs claim to treat ingredients with passion, which is a claim that I usually do not care about since they have to. But when such claim comes from the mouth of Alain Passard, it means something else. We are here among the exceptional few which love for the ingredient is genuine, not dicted. I am a huge fan of Passard, even when things did not go the way I wanted – for example on lesser impressive meals at L’Arpège —  because I come from a school of thought with  strong emphasis on how to treat and respect the produce from the second you remove it from the soil till it gets into your mouth. It would take an entire article to elaborate on that spectacular journey of the ingredient accompanied by its companion —because to me, that is what a real Chef is about…serving as the guide/companion  to his ingredient —   but Alain Passard was the one that better expressed it ), Les Pres d’Eugenie in Eugénie Les Bains (oh god, it has been a while I haven’t went back, but the souvenirs that I have are unlikely since not much has changed there, for example the kitchen still has the same staff as on my last visit there. One of France’s most solid 3 stars in my own experience, with French classic food delivered with panache /  Chef Michel Guérard)

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER: 3 star Michelin restaurants have a pressure that few others have. They need to be consistent with at least the basic standard that their customers are used to at this level of dining. Ideally, they need to rise at the heights that their counterparts have already set. Again, on a  regular basis. On the other hand, people eat out a lot, so expectations are more and more meaningless, which is why I have stopped expecting anything from restaurants for years.  I just visit, appreciate what they are serving to me and just boldly give my opinion based on what is realistic: for example a piece of meat is cooked anywhere else with a minimum of X beefy mouthfeel. If you go below that common mark of X beefy mouthfeel, then your piece of beef is below average. If you go beyond, then I’ll tell you how far beyond — what I am used to   — you managed to go. No more, no less, no surreal expectations but playing the game with the cards that exist on the table. Now, when you pertain to such an exceptional level of dining, most people will never forgive one single off day. I won’t even go to that extent, being again very down to earth in my way of seeing things as I know that off days are normal, but  I need a minimum and it is called TASTY FOOD. I am not even asking you for divine food, just tasty. And this is where I was a bit frustrated by this lunch ( again, I can talk only for my meal. I never judge restaurants since food and dining experiences are variable by nature, anyways): for example, the lobster and its citrus emulsion. That has no other choice but to be delicious. I am not asking for the moon here, I am not even expecting the heights reached by  some of France’s finest 3 star Michelin lobster dishes (for eg, the finest of  Alain Passard, Olivier Roellinger’s lobster creations  when he was at the helm of his 3 star Michelin venture in Cancale or Michel Guerard’s )…no…BUT  a dish of lobster, even at a low key steakhouse, let alone a hole in a wall serving seafood is widely known as an expected delicious affair. On this reviewed lunch , it was subtle in flavor, rather unexciting. Same could be said of the toast of eel, the pea appetizer, the tartare, all items that can be easily pushed to realistic palatable excitement that this lunch never managed to approach. I was  generous in my score, trust me! But go, since I believe this was just an off day. Well, I hope or else, there’s something I am definitely not getting.

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Expectation is  our worst enemy but there is nothing we can do, apart perhaps to try our best in controlling it.  Given the price, given the prestige,  most do naturally expect a 3 Michelin star dinner  to fulfill the expectation of excellence of a lifetime memorable dining moment. But since more and more people are dining in restaurants , chefs recipes losing more and more of their exclusivity,  culinary trends provoking clashes between traditional and modern fares … we are going to experience less and less  of those once in a lifetime memorable meals. It is like when we were discovering our first candy store: that was magic. Not anymore, with time and omnipresence of candy stores. Still, let’s walk through some basics of what might need to be expected at such level of dining:

The decor: for a long time, most diners would expect nothing less but sumptuous decor at a michelin starred restaurant. Especially at the 2 and 3 star ones. If that is your case, you might need to inform yourself in advance about such since this is not necessarily the case anymore. You still have the classic luxurious establishments like Le Meurice,   Le Louis XV who can reach out to your requirement, but lots of 3* restaurants have a more humble decor (L’Astrance, the Fat Duck, many of the 3* Japanese ventures, etc).    I personally do not consider the decor in  what I seek  in a 3* dining event ,  although I can’t deny that is pleasant to — once in a while — indulge in a bit of luxury.

The service: some 3 * restaurants provide a quality of service that simply sets the bar. Think of Guy Savoy  Paris, most of the 3* in NYC. Most need to provide a service that is at least very professional though. The debate over what type of service to expect at a 3 star Michelin can vary from people expecting spectacular warmful service like the one you get at Guy savoy, to those  — like me — who believe that professionalism (absence of hostility, do what you have got to do with seriousness, care)  suffices.  I am very open minded in my expectations towards services at a 3 star restaurant:  if it is in  a remote location for ie, I do not mind a laid back very friendly and down to earth level of service.  In facts, do expect professional service at most 3* restaurants but stay open minded (we should not  always define ”service”  from  our occidental perceptions).

The food: It is here that I had the more expectations. Still do.  At such level of  dining, I needed the food that do match.  Not a lifetime dining  moment (a simple grilled lobster in front of the ocean + a perfectly roasted  hedgehog enjoyed over 15 yrs ago in Africa remain  my personal lifetime best dishes ever), but food that will somehow show exceptional talent. I learned with time (my 1st experience with Michelin star restaurants started with the Louis XV in 1997, since numerous of them have been explored)  that I had to see things differently:  some expect their 3* dinner to be classical magic , others think it should be packed with lots of  creativity and / or philosophical incentive (redefining textures and taste with molecular cuisine à la Blumenthal/Adria, or the profound reverence to nature as seen  with Passard, Redzépi).  What you should expect though is a cuisine that is haute (refined, beautifully plated, with luxurious ingredients like lobsters, caviar … although you should not be surprised by the presence — at times —  of  less luxurious ones).  This is where it matters a lot to understand and get to know the way your food critic sees things.  Some food writers value new trends, redefining food: those will find traditional cuisine  to be too tired.   Sometimes,  some will tend to over rate a dish simply for its trendy nature.  And this also happens the other way around   with some of those who tend to favor classic food. Where do I situate myself in all this big scheme? I focus a lot on the depth of taste,  so wherever you see  my higher marks, just think  “”rich, savourish, vibrant taste “‘ regardless of the type  of cuisine.  I am more into classic French rather than  molecular — which btw does not mean that there are no delicious items on the molecular scene / or that I do not appreciate molecular  —  so do not expect me to run back at Alinea, WD-50, El Bulli or the Fat Duck anytime soon. I am opened to re-visit those establishments eventually and have enjoyed some great molecular dishes at some of them, with many  even ranking among the best food I ever tasted at the upper fine dining level, but what I am looking for in the first place is a variety of classical and contemporary 3* where molecular is not the focus.

Bottom line,  there is no definitive answer to what a 3* should be. There will never be one. Your best 3* will be the one that better suits your needs (know what you want, know what you like and customize your 3* dining accordingly), not the one that I or anyone else finds the best.

In total honesty, I would not have cared much about those restaurant guides and writings.

They come with the natural limitations of all systems: humans are juding other humans works,
interests are constantly flowing in human minds, and the need for the system to not crash is in the minds
of all humans supporting it. A counter-system is always around, impatient to take over.
And when one system is overthrown by another one, it is always the same tape that
is rewinded: the newer heroes think they are going to re-invent the wheel only to replicate what their predecessors have done. Amen!

But we need guidance, we need somekind of lead. Therefore, the Michelin, Gault Millau and myriad of other
food evaluation systems, reports, etc.

I do not agree with all Michelin evaluations. So do I with any others too! And so do I expect from others too
(on my tastes and preferences)! And so do I on yours too (on your tastes and prefs)!
It is food, a purely subjective matter,  hence that is normal.

What I do NOT find normal though are those celebrity writers who are reviewing restaurants
where they are recognized and where they know well that they will indulge in a welcoming that only the few will
experience. Please, a bit of respect for us who work hard and would like to spend our hard earned money in something real!

And Michelin does it the real way: their inspectors are anonymous patrons, exactly like you and me.
Of course, if you are into the Anti-Michelin bashing matrix, you will naturally find all of this to be pure BS,
but your fury is nothing compared to the facts: the anonymous nature of Michelin evaluations
comes closer to what you and I will experience than what a celebrity food columnist will get to enjoy.

You might tell me that you do not agree with all Michelin evaluations. So do I. So some will with yours as they
will with mine. But again you should know better that no evaluation  on a subjective  matter as food will reach conscensus.
With that in mind, I prefer a system that at least does the basics right:
reviewing food as the most will get to experience it.

I sometimes read things like “”Michelin has deceived me…that restaurant does not deserve a 3 Michelin star”.
It is normal to not agree with Michelin evaluations. It happens to me, too. But I do not see why I would bash on
Michelin for something purely subjective as a dining experience. Because you relied on their guide? Oh well,
you’ll learn then: food is a subjective matter. Dining experience at a restaurant is subjective.
Even your own appreciation, no matter how convincing you feel, is subjective too.
Who are we to decide over the tastes and choices of others? Have you thought about this, to begin with?
If not, then you should!

Does the fact that I trust Michelin makes of me an opponent of Gault Millau and other restaurant
evaluation guides? Absolutely Not. Doing so would be absurd and not understanding the “subjective” nature of
food appreciation.

Are the criticisms about Michelin favoring the sumptuosity of the service and decor over food true?
I am not Michelin, you need to ask that to them directly, but then again if you happen to think so,
you certainly do not know what you are talking about: L’Astrance, l’Auberge du Vieux Puits, most of
the 3* Michelin Japanese ventures have nothing to do with the sumptuosity that those criticisms are referring to!

What about the criticism that Michelin hesitates to get rid of some Michelin stars?
If you think that a restaurant deserves less Michelin stars than what it is assigned with, good for you.
But have you thought about the possibility that others might think that you are wrong? You should seriously
consider that as well, then. I just can’t imagine a guide adjusting itself to the likings of each of us:
6,890,100,000 of people, last time I checked world’s population! Rfaol!

Lol, I know. I may have sounded like a Pro Michelin preacher. My apologizes if you have perceived it that way.
But seriously, the point here is to keep it real when it comes to food reviewing. You, I, Michelin or whoever else
have just subjective views to bring. If at least we can get those basic elements (avoid familiarity with
the restaurant world, avoid reporting things that do not represent the reality that most will experience,
not confusing food — a pure personal and simple act — with an excuse for celebritism) — we can control —  right,   then a long way would have been covered.

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

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

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

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

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

1985-1988 (The African era):

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

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

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

-Le Theatre, 2 star Michelin, July 1990

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

1991-1995 (the Asian era):

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

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

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

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

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

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

2006 – 2007 The American (USA) Michelin stars era

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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