Posts Tagged ‘michelin star’

L’Ambroisie, Paris

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

店データ:伝統的なフランス料理。

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

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

(電話) 01-42-78-51-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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L’Ambroisie, Paris

Event: Lunch at restaurant L’Ambroisie, Paris
When: Friday March 25th 2011 12:30
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: 9, pl des Vosges Paris, France (4e arrondissement)
URL: http://www.ambroisie-placedesvosges.com/
Phone: Phone: 01-42-78-51-45
Type of cuisine: Classic french

Overall Food rating : 10/10 (Superb delicious food)
Service: 10/10
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 Everything, on this lunch, was of superior 3 star Michelin standards
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

 

I will, for this review on L’Ambroisie, seize the opportunity to elaborate a bit on my expectations, experiences and views on French cuisine in general, 3* Michelin Fine dining  and the Michelin guide in particular. I hope this will be useful to the  readers  of the current report.

I am French myself and as an admirer of French fine dining, I have naturally sacrificed a big portion of my hard earned money in what France offers on the upper scale of its restaurant scene.  L’Ambroisie, along with Ledoyen, are the only Parisian 3* Michelin ventures that I had not  visited yet as of today (Ledoyen was finally visited yesterday). You’ll find more about my experiences with France’s haute cuisine in the next sections of this review, but for now I’ll start with the motivation that lead to  my consideration of  the Michelin red book: for years, I have carefully followed all type of restaurant reviews. ALL! … only to end up with SOME supposedly serious food columnists (I wrote “some” since NOT ALL  of them are concerned by  my reservations)  raving  over  restaurants where impressive pre-sold magic are  never found in the plates but  rather  in the   media buzz  itself (I do not mind buzz. It is necessary as a business /marketing tool, but back your buzz by matching  reality)! When you end up with supposedly serious professionals who themselves recognize that they are well known to those they are reviewing, you know it is about time to put an end to the circus. That reliability I was dearly seeking, I knew  I had  to  find it elsewhere!  That is how I started to trust Michelin. Not that it is a perfect system (there will never be a perfect system anyways), but at least it does what has to be done: anonymous reviews (instead of the friendly reviews of some) and a rigorous work of evaluating  excellence in food and dining experience. Michelin may have its detractors (who doesn’t?) , but I prefer discretion and serious work over annoying quest for celebritism through restaurant reviewing.

Michelin being initially from France, I also tend to value its appreciations on … France’s restaurants. To some extent, its evaluations of French restaurants in general, whether they are in France or outside of France. I do not expect Michelin to be the specialist of non  French restaurants. But that’s just my personal expectations of  Bibendum’s works.

Many of the 3* Michelin France’s haute  dining —- that I partook in — have delivered some  moments of culinary amazement  (Michel Bras, when he was regularly behind  his stoves, that was   a true defining experience of 3* dining excellence in my opinion. Thought the same about  Michel Guérard, Olivier Roellinger, Gerard Besson,  Georges Blanc when they are / were  at  their very best). Chef Bernard Loiseau (had couple of meals cooked by him in 1992, 1993, 1997) , who unfortunately took his own life, will always be remembered too as one giant who has never failed to serve me what still rank, years later, among the best moments of all my Michelin starred meals (for those who went recently dining at his restaurant, please send me an email with details of  your own experience. I am curious to learn about the cooking of their current Chef, Monsieur Patrick Bertron).

Of course, I did also experience few  other  3* events that did not seduce, of which I could easily identify the major problems: usually it was either a hasty interest in modernizing the cuisine or a lack of clear culinary identity (this oftently happens when the kitchen switches in between the hands of too many cooks or a Chef whose brigade is weak / lacking in leadership).

How I chose a 3* table:

Most people I know won’t bother with careful long research on restaurants when it comes to  dining out. They  basically rely on opinions of who they think is enoughly reliable, eventhough this is clearly not a matter of reliability but of personal preferences as in  the preeminent and realistic long formula “”food enjoyment = personal expectations + knowing what you like Vs what you do not + what your palate has bookmarked as previous references + misc personal encounters during your diner + the ability of remaining humble enough to avoid unnecessary pretention +  how informed you were about the place you are dining at + what you have been eating before you head there + your state of mind + how open minded you are…and I’ll stop here, Lol! “””.  I can’t blame them (there are certainly other interests that deserve much attention), but my choice for a dinner goes through an absurdly (yeah, I’ve got to admit this…although I will always maintain such diligence) extended process: I read ALL, absolutely ALL possible comments, inform myself a lot about the Chef’s philosophy/creations/ background/achievements + the type of restaurant, its history, its style. I do the same, whenever it is possible, with the authors whose opinions  I read: enquiring about the style of dining he or she usually favors is one (among others)  essential piece of intelligence.

This dinner at L’Ambroisie is the result of a two years long  study on an impressive list of 3* Michelin tables around the world. Two years is time consuming, but I do not go to restaurants just for the sake of piling numbers (The  number of restaurants you visit says nothing about the quality of the dining experience you accumulate). I go to a restaurant for the adding value I presume the restaurant can bring to my personal dining experience.  Back to L’Ambroisie, it is interesting to note that  I could have picked restaurants on which there seems to exist more favourable conscensus. In Paris, if you do not want to miss the boat on the upper 3* Michelin starred dining echelon, just pick Guy Savoy, L’arpège or Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée. They are great: their food is consistently good and they treat you like you are a king. Exactly what we all should expect from an   expensive and haute  dining experience. But what attracts me to a restaurant is a combination of very precise factors: (1) food that has a chance to set some kind of new reference to my personal gustatory repertoire,  (2) food of a Chef mostly praised for that little touch that sets the truly talented cooks apart. And in the case of L’Ambroisie, there is also this reason: he –Bernard Pacaud – is one of the last chefs from the nouvelle cuisine movement. There is nothing ‘’nouvelle’’ anymore with that culinary movement , but this is one type of cuisine that suited well with my palate. Before Chefs like Pacaud  retires (He is 64 yrs old ), I’d suggest anyone interested in French fine dining to try at least once in their life the cuisine of those  last pioneers of the nouvelle cuisine.

I  was lucky enough to fullfill this aim to sample the food of some of them:  Michel Guérard (I sampled his food in 2005 and 2006 at Les prés d’Eugénie in Aquitaine. I hope it is still as great as it used to be since I never went back since ), Bocuse’s Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon (2006,2007,2008 All three meals were admittedly not among the best I ate, but they all featured some dishes with character that  still rank high among those I keep referring back to whenever I indulge in French haute dining), Alain Senderens whose food I tasted in 2004 and 2009, and of course the other Chefs that I mentioned previously.

The meal began ..NOT with their  usual expected  serving of classic French cheese based savory choux pastry from Burgundy (gougeres), BUT with

Langoustine, ananas, velouté de crustacés – Bien, voilà. Yesterday, when I was at the other 3 star Michelin Parisian restaurant (Ledoyen) and I kept writing that I was not amazed by the food, what I meant is that the type of gustatory amazement that I am seeking at this level of cuisine does indeed exist and was not found there. It took no time for L’Ambroisie to give me the chance to write about the perfect example of what I was expecting.  On this amuse bouche, the langoustine itself was a treat (divinely tasty, moist) but the amazement did not stop there: that little complimentary ‘brunoise‘ of pineapple (mixed with dices of green, red peppers) was not your next-door brunoise. Think of a luxurious, geniusly-concocted brunoise that sets the reference for all other brunoise. And a lifetime  will never be enough to find  superlatives to describe the taste of that velouté. That was all I am looking  for at this level of dining -> Delicious with a huge D! And for sure, the  most successful food item I ever sampled at  a 3 star Michelin table since my meals at Joel Robuchon’s Hôtel du Parc and Frédy Girardet (both dinners occured in 1995)  . And those are far from being the last 3 star Michelin that I’ve visited. Which says a lot about the stunning palatable impact of this one food item (but it was not just tasty. It was packed with such  impressive technical mastery that most of the top restaurants out there would never manage to achieve in their entire existence). A 10 over 10 and off we go for one of the best food items I ever sampled with  any Michelin starred and Non starred dinings !

Chaud froid d’oeuf mollet au cresson , asperges vertes, caviar oscietre gold– The oeuf mollet (the egg is  successfully half cooked as it should)  was covered with a layer of watercress sauce (I enjoyed  the interesting kick brought by the sourness of the watercress to the egg)  and served along asparagus (they have mastered the doneness of the vegetable pretty well) and caviar (typical oscietra thin flavor, a rich quality salty fish roe   as I expect at  such heavy  price). A dish that has been perfected to deliver memorable deliciousness. 10 over 10

On the side, I was served with their:

Oeuf en coque: Sorry Chef Passard (at L’Arpège), I love your famous ‘egg’ appetizer … but the ‘Oeuf en coque’ of Chef Pacaud tantalizes me more:  DELICIOUS taste, kept all the essence of Oeuf en coque while boosting it with the simplicity of chives. Amazing. The huge D in  DELICIOUS! Another 10 over 10!

Sea bass and artichoke atop a caviar (Ocietra gold from Iran) white butter sauce –  Sea bass has always been one of my favourite fishes (especially the Chilean sea bass, with pan roasting being my #1 cooking method for fish). The seabass was nicely cooked (perfect moist interior) and tasted great (it is amazing how this ugly fish can taste good ;p).  The butter sauce had great textural quality, balance between its ingredients (shallots, white wine), and  enough acidity (coming from the sauce’s white wine) to control its richness . The mild flavor of the artichokes (sliced artichoke hearts) paired  well with the sauce and the quality of the sturgeon’s processed salted roe was at its finest. Overall, a dish that is technically without reproach  (you can see that each step of the preparation of that fish was well-timed) and more importantly delicious. It did not have the ‘magic’ of the previous courses, but deserved its rank among the best 3 star food items out there. A 8 over 10.

Concluded with an excellent pamplemousse Ice Cream (Again the D in DELICIOUS was at the rendez vous here again):

The Pamplemousse Ice cream

DESSERT:

Tarte fine sable au cacao, glace à la vanilla bourbon – A chocolate pie, its topping  made of a powdery cocoa layer, paired  with vanilla ice cream. I love pies because they reveal a lot about the technical level and personality of the Chef behind it. Yep, the pie … that simple item that we all virtually never miss…it hides some dirty little secrets, Rfaol! Pies are amazing: they are vibrant in taste and texture in the hands of a fun Chef, they are as great as the talent of their creator. I know this can be said of any food in general, but it shows up way more convincingly through a pie. Pacaud uses a dark rich chocolate from a famous Parisian chocolatier known for its quality products: Christian Constant. This is only my 5th or 6th experience with  Constant’s chocolate. They are fine but not my favourite (really a question of personal preference: I prefer Debauve & Gallais, Robert Linxe’s creations at la Maison du Chocolat where Constant used to work, Jean-Paul Hévin). Pacaud’s pie is indeed a little curiosity when you taste it for the 1st time (which is my case): it’s unusually delicate in both shape and consistency. And as I initially anticipated, it told me a lot about Pacaud: the raw talent (shown in the perfect thickening of the pie’s filling,  a soft and creamy plain chocolate filling that  was flawless in execution), the discretion and humility (no shocking deep flavors, no adornments), the exclusivity (not a common pie), the profound respect for the product’s identity  (I have spent years studying the signature tastes of many chocolatiers creations, and if you are familiar enough with those, you would not fail to decipher Christian Constant’s imprint in that chocolate). The challenge here is epic: we appreciate the effort,the quality of the product, the impeccable technique but did it live up to what matters: was it delicious? Was this the best chocolate pie my palate has ever flirted with? Response: YES, YES, Hell YEAH!! A perfect 10 (This pie is NOT raw…as I read in some reviews! And more importantly, it unveils  amazing culinary technical mastery mixed with DELICIOUS taste. Pair  that choco pie  with the vanilla ice cream that comes along –I forgot to ask but it tasted more like Tahitian vanilla rather than Malagasy one — and … ambrosially amplified goes the taste. Divine!) 10/10

I read a lot about L’Ambroisie before going there. Some found it sublime. Few others found it subpar. Based on this very specific lunch,  I am asking myself if those who found it subpar dined at the same restaurant? Or perhaps no one was in the kitchen when they dined there, Rfaol!..Joke apart, this one Lunch that I enjoyed on Friday March 25th is the perfect example of what I consider as the perfect 3 star dinner: food that is UBBER-DELICIOUS and …. read the rest!

SERVICE: Here again, I need to drop a few words. I know some wrote that the service was perfect. But what about those who wrote that they met with ‘bricks of wall’. To the latest, I urge them to not confuse ‘being serious’ with ‘being cold’. I know..I know..I know: the service is professional, serious. BUT what do you expect at a 3 star restaurant??   This not a Brasserie nor a Bistro, right??  Mr Pascal, my Maitre D on this lunch is  a serious professional and amazing gentleman. Oui, Oui…he looked serious and reserved, so what? I just craked some jokes with him and he was relaxed aftterwards.  We talked about Mr Lemoulac’s departure a bit, the amazing 2006 Meursault Leflaive I chose for the meal, and many other interesting subjects. All along this  meal, observing this impeccable service I was enjoying on this lunch, I kept repeating to myself  “”but what were  some complaining about? are we at the same restaurant, Rfaol!..perhaps the language barrier…but still, they were all nice, so what….anyways.”””.    Bottom line: an impeccable service as you might expect at a top 3 star table.

DECOR:
If like me, you are fond of baroque style , then L’Ambroisie interior will appeal. I noticed the Aubusson tapestries that I kept hearing about when informing myself on L’Ambroisie (http://www.finehomecrafts.com/aubusson-tapestries.htm), the marble floors, paintings.  It is not  as grandiose as I had once anticipated, but extremely charming.

PROS:  I think that Bernard Pacaud’s  cooking (he was cooking on this lunch) is the finest haute French food that has ever blown away my taste buds since Joel Robuchon and Frédy Girardet have  retired. To my taste, this  overall dining experience on Friday March 25th at L’Ambroisie is exactly what reaches out to my own definition of the pinnacle of a 3 star Michelin dinner.

CONS: Nothing that  comes to mind.

CONCLUSION:  My definition of ‘’great food’’ turns around a  combination of   80% from  the natural talent of the Chef (the personal touch of an exceptionally skilled artisan, whatever magic his personal impulsive genius can generate, the s-o-u-l of the Chef!!)  + 20%  that will come from the quality of the ingredients. Basta! The rest (whatever philosophy, vision is great for both the Chef himself on a personal level and/or his marketing team) is theoretical.

There is an important distinction between talent and personal touch:

a Chef can be technically skilled (mastering various cooking methods, cooking at the correct temperature, with the right ingredient combinations, etc) but his food lacking in terms of soul (ever wonder why out of a team of highly talented chefs, cooking the exact same dish, with the exact same ingredients, there is always one or two who still manage to elevate the dish  to some kind of gustatory reference?). Passion? It should already be part of the personality of a great Chef  or else he has no business being a chef. Great ingredients? Absolutely, but in the hands of a non talented chef, they worth nothing.

Going there, I was looking for great cuisine that is taking no risks nor trying to be trendsetting (“dated” in not part of my vocabulary. Good or bad food are), but that is delectable and heartwarming. Going there, I was expecting Bernard Pacaud, a Chef widly praised  for his exceptional talent, to make a good impression on me. Fortunately, I got all of  of that at this restaurant.

The overall  may boast an impressive price tag, which most (opinions over the web + among those close to me who are regulars of Paris haute dining  ) have agreed on, but the most important was delivered:  food that  was superbly D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!  Many Michelin 3-star dinings have pleased me, but I can count with the fingers of my hands the few remarkable moments  when food was as savourish as on this one lunch.  Now that I’ve visited all current Parisian 3 Michelin star establishments –Le Doyen and L’Ambroisie being the only two that I had not visited up to this day (luckily, there are not that many and no newer Parisian 3 star have emerged lately), I can confidently state that L’Ambroisie is — at this moment —- my personal choice for #1 best Parisian three Michelin star (for the record, L’Arpège used to be my personal #1 for a long time, in Paris) .

L’Ambroisie reaches out to my dining expectations and philosophy:  I am not one interested in whatever theatrical or conceptual aspect of food. It is food and its main duty has to be fulfilled: it has to storm my palate for its superior savourishness.  They did it with the highest mastery one might expect at this level of cooking, shining with equal excellence on both the savories and the desserts. But L’Ambroisie went way beyond that:  this type of  decor, the service (elegant, serious and focused) , the way the sommelier did his work  (grace and efficiency),  absolutely everything went in line with what I expect from the best 3-star michelin   ventures.

To quote il Maestro Gualtiero Marchesi, one of my top favourite Chefs around the world: ”’A melody is composed only of the necessary notes‘.  L’Ambroisie, on this lunch was profoundly melodius. Our lives are defined by moments. This was a moment.  A moment of two hours and a half , transcendent and memorable.

If you came to me with such a statement as “””this is currently the best classic Haute french michelin 3 star in operation in the world”’,   I’d reply that  ”’I concur with you””!  This one specific lunch was simply divine. The price? No..No..No..I won’t reveal it simply because as human beings, we tend to overwhelm excellence by material value. Which is not an issue when the experience is average (in which case, I see the $$$ in BOLD!! Rfaol!), but when it is exceptional — as it was with this one specific lunch at L’Ambroisie — I will never let numbers overshadow exceptional dining occurence!  There was,  on this lunch, a feel of remarkable  grace and  profound commitment  for   ultimate delicious  food   that will mark my souvenirs for a long time.

Wishing  you this  same amazement!

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:  Bernard Pacaud was behind the stoves on that lunch, and I regret to have discovered him so late at a stage where he is close to retirement.  Well, at least I had this priviledge because this is what I consider as a priviledge:  skills so exceptional that they pertain to my top 5 all time favourite Chefs of the globe, alongside Joel Robuchon, Jacques Maximin, Constant,  Girardet,  Besson.  Again, I never tried this place when Bernard Pacaud is not behind the wheels, so I can talk only for this one instance.

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.

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)