Posts Tagged ‘Michelin’

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)

 

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. For those in the know, it would not be hard to understand anyone who would argue that this is, right now, the best French 3 star Michelin in the globe. Of this meal, I can certainly submit that eventhough perfection is a relative word,  “perfected” is how I would quality this meal I had under their roof. Perfected in a way that is rare, even at such high level of dining, I meant.

 

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.

 

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.

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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

I will put aside my years of cooking all sorts of food, particularly french food, at a high level as well as my long time familiarity with high end dining and will talk on behalf of the average diner you will find at those restaurants: people, nowadays, eat out a lot and eventhough most of them are not regulars of 3 star Michelin restaurants (there is no need to be a regular in order to reach out to the conclusion i am heading into), they certainly have an idea of the level of technical prouesse (mastery of the taste, texture, temperature, synergy between all of that) that is expected at a 3 star. And, in the hypothesis that they would not have any clue of what to expect at such level, you, Christian Le Squer,  as a 3 star Michelin Chef…. should always ensure that, night and day, you live up to those standards. I go to a 3 star restaurant to enjoy what a Chef can pull out at his best. Not to be a witness of such a lacklustre performance.

 

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.

Dejeuner au restaurant Ledoyen, Paris
Quand: March 24th 2011, 12:30
Étoiles Michelin: 3
Type of cuisine:  Francaise
Addr: 1 Avenue Dutuit,  Carré des Champs Elysees
Arrondissement: 8
Telephone:+33 01 53 05 10 01
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau

Il n’ y avait, sur Paris, plus que deux triple étoilés Michelin que je n’avais pas encore visités: Ledoyen et L’Ambroisie. C’est fait.  Petit détour par  les champs Élysées, sur l’Avenue Dutuit:  les trois étoiles du Breton Christian Lesquer.  Ai choisi le menu déjeuner (88 euros) avec deux éléments de la carte:  le ”toast d’Anguille” et les ”grosses langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’agrumes”.

On prendra pas milles chemins pour en arriver au but:

Les Plus: un excellent service, et un décor classique comme je les aime.

Les Moins:  en ce 24 Mars 2011, sur l’heure du midi, pas l’ombre d’une seule étoile dans mes assiettes! De jolis plats, exécutés correctement, certes…mais sans éclat.  Seul le dessert  et leur générosité (mignardises,  plein de petites entrées, patisseries et chocolats) ont pu sauver la mise…

Ma note: 7/10 pour la cuisine.  Inacceptable pour un 3 étoiles Michelin! Je peux comprendre qu’il y’ait des hauts et des bas, c’est humain…mais lorsqu’on est un triple étoilé, il faut assurer un certain minimum:  sur 6 plats, tous — excepté le dessert — ont été tout simplement ordinaires.

J’y retourne? Non, pas moi.  Par contre, allez-y. Qui sait? Ce ne fut là…peut-etre… qu’un faux pas.

Vous pourrez voir les photos   des plats et un peu plus de détails dans mon article écrit en Anglais.

This is  your average Joe’s anonymous (WHO KNEW THAT ONE DAY WE WOULD REMIND SOME PPL THAT A NORMAL DINER IS, IN THE FIRST PLACE,  AN ANYNYMOUS PERSON DINING LIKE ANYONE ELSE AND NEEDS NOT TO BE AN EXCUSE TO SEEK FOR  FAME! ) dinner reports at 3* and 2* Michelin tables. SO a NORMAL (lol)  Montrealer diner who is fascinated by travels and dinings.  His last initiative  (The top of Montreal and Eastern Canada upscale finest dinings at http://aromes.xanga.com/) completed, he now wants to share with you his visits at some of his favourite 3*  and 2* Michelin star finest tables. From the kitchen of my grandma to  years of solid  cooking background (traditional and modern French , African , Caribbean, Oriental),  with a long time passion for all things edible (I am also a long time militant pioneer of the ”’One home, One garden …let’s democratize agriculture’ ideal )  and drinkable (long time passion for wines ),  I decided that it was about time I share my experiences of the  finest dinings with you.

It is  while doing my searches on where to go dining that  I realized that  the task would be  painful.  I therefore decided to grab the bull by the horns: the best way would be to discover those tables myself.  I am your next door Joe, paying for his own food, with his hard earned money (I pay for my own meals and earn the right to judge what I am paying for with my hard earned money), friend of no one in the food industry. I believe in the voice of honesty because it is the only way we can move forward, NOT by faking! I’ll say things the way they are: when it is great/exceptional/out of this world,  I’ll say it! When it’s bad,  I’ll say it is bad! No need to take shortcuts here! No need of unecessary heavy scripts, neither. But reporting things the way they are:  anonymously (gone are the friends-eat-at–friends  disrespectful reviews where the diner is allowed privileges that the most won’t experience! What I’ll get is what you’ll get!),  with realistic opinions (Gone are the ”’I like this food because it was intellectual”” BS! All people want to know is how good the meal was!).  Those are reviews by a normal diner for the normal diners.  Enjoy this independant voice on Michelin star fine dinings and more (THIS IS  also a conventional blog with my views on various subjects, both in French, my mother tongue, as well as in English. The 3 and 2 star restaurant reviews are listed on the left of the blog, as well as the various non-restaurant blog posts that I wrote).

In case this matters (to be taken more as a contructive piece of extra information  for you to better interpret my opinions of the  restaurant meals I am reviweing, to also better know your food reviewer in relation to what he is experiencing , and NOT as a deliberate intent to be pretentious; the latter having anything nothing pertinent to offer in my view), you can find my gourmand background here.

Enjoy!