Posts Tagged ‘Restaurant’

Vizantino taverna (18 Kydatheneon Street, Plaka, Athens Phone +30 21 0322 7368)
Stumbled upon this  taverna of Plaka while walking in Plaka.

Spinach cheese pie – not freshly baked, meaning reheated, consequently hard and dry

Veal with eggplant – delicious eggplant, delicious sauce BUT The meat was reheated, therefore…again, it was dry … and could not  taste as meaty as it should have been. 

Lamb lemon sauce – at first, it was available. Then 5 minutes later, it was not …anymore. Therefore, they asked if I would like some grilled lamb, instead, which I agreed on, only to discover that … even the grilled lamb …they managed to  reheat it…!!

Cooked to order is a notion they have NEVER heard of, at Vizantino …

Overall food rating: 0/10 Dear cooks at vizantino, how would you feel if reheated food was served to you at a restaurant? Chances are that you would find it insulting and you would confront the restaurant staff. I happen to be well behaved and I do not go to restaurants to confront anyone, but ….by respect to the hard work of the honest workers of the restaurant industry, I hope that  words will spread so that you start realizing  that what you would not accept to be fed on…well, you SHOULD NOT feed people with it.   Yes, you are popular, but in an instance like this, what I could not fail to observe is that there were just tourists at your restaurant, which, btw.. should not be an excuse …for a serious restaurant, I mean…to serve reheated food – On the back of this meal, you do not seem interested to be a serious restaurant. You are an insult to the hard working and proud professionals that I have met all along this trip in Greece, namely the folks at Argo, the Old tavern of Psaras, Avli Tou Thodori, To Ouzeri, Yialo Yialo, all true restaurant  professionals who are located in places far more beautiful and touristy than the “slum village” corner of Plaka where you are operating and could have rested on their laurels because tourists would flock to their restaurants, anyways,  but  herein lies the difference between you and them: they are professionals. You are not.

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Fato a Mano  (Meletopoulou square Mykonos Greece, Greece Phone: +30 2289 026256) cooks Mediterranean  food (Greek, Italian), is located in Mykonos Town, and has the longest salad menu I ever saw at a restaurant in Mykonos. The place looks cozy with comfortable chairs and dominant earthy colours.

Feta cheese, honey, sesame and cinnamon / pleasant firm texture, fine produce . such typical Greek combination of honey and cheese tantalizes the palate, in general, as it happened right here, in Mykonos, the day before, but at Fato a Mano, it tasted  surprisingly  ordinary. This is the sort of window of opportunity that a kitchen brigade should seize to showcase wit, personal touch, skills. Greeks rarely fail to miss this one… 6/10

I also had grilled sea bream which was cooked properly, nicely seasoned. 7/10

Baklava was not the best I had, but not bad at all,  neither as it was tasty enough. That said,  this was not as flaky, crispy and tender as the far better baklava I had in Mykonos, Santorini or Athens during this trip. 5/10

Overall food rating: 6/10

Service is fabulous here. And Fato a Mano was a pleasant experience, but on the culinary front, I was not moved: yes, I liked my sea bream and indeed, it was nicely seasoned, but the grilled feta cheese and baklava were the true “tests” where the kitchen’s skills needed to shine, exactly like what  Avli did with a simple pita bread or Yialo   with a simple freshly baked pie. I am not asking the moon, just that little extra step that awakes the palate.

Time for a long break. I shall be gone till November. Leaving you on the following notes:

-My recent restaurant reviews: Thursdays, Tapas 24 MtlVertigo StkBar, Gia BaRestaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché, Au Pied de Cochon, Callao , Shinji, Mochica, Bottega .

La Porte, a restaurant that I have always regarded as Montreal’s #1 (click here for past reviews of my meals at La Porte ) has recently closed. Chef Rouye’s food has always fared, to me, as one of the very  best that  Mtl has ever been able to offer and he was pulling it off on a consistent basis. Couple of weeks ago, Chef Rouyé has opened a more humble restaurant in Val David, called La Table des Gourmets (https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-table-des-gourmets/1463806720537762). It’s, apparently, already a big hit overthere,which, knowing Chef Rouyé’s talent, came as no surprise. Check that out: La Table des Gourmets 2353 rue de l’église, Val-David, Quebec (819) 322-2353

La Queue de Cheval,  Montreal’s very best steakhouse,  has now re-opened. Lavish/luxury/pricey, whether you like it or not, it leaves no one indifferent. I’ll leave the debate over cost performance/price/tolerance to lavishness/perceptions based on price…  to your discretion (you’ll have a lot to say about it, trust me) and will stick to what matters to me: not one single steakhouse in Montreal masters the nuances of  its steak as well as QDC. Just remember, it is very pricey (though ,the Q is aware of that and is consequently also offering  affordable lunch and late night menus).   La Queue de Cheval 1181 Rue de la Montagne, (514) 390-0091 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queuedecheval  .

I finally tried Tapas 24 Montreal, which is is affiliated with Barcelona’s reknown Tapas restaurant Tapas 24. I was very pleased with both the food and the experience, and if they pursue with the standards I found on the evening of my two visits, then Tapas 24 Montreal will easily rank among the few truely great  restaurants in  Montreal. Keep in mind that it is bite-size food (which is what tapas are), so obviously  not your usual ‘big eater’ destination .My review here. Tapas 24  420 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, Phone:(514) 849-4424

I recently tried couple of places in Laval, a city North of Montreal: Enotecca Mozza did nothing for me, Pirate de Laval continues to be a decent restaurant by local standards, Le Cosmopolitain remains my preferred breakfast place in Montreal and its surroundings and my once preferred poutine place in Laval (Le Croque) is not what it used to be. You can peruse that report here.

Went back to my other preferred Isakaya in town, Kazu, after a previous meal that was average. This time Kazu was in top form with the best Japanese-isakaya inspired roasted salmon that I ever enjoyed in a restaurant of Montreal as well as a spectacular soft ice cream tasting of the raw fresh cow milk of my tender childhood. I could have a bone to pick over the fact that their omnipresent secret homemade sauce lessens  (a bit, I find) the enjoyment of the food, and the more affordable offerings are  generally not what you should come here for, but Kazu continues to deliver the most delicious Isakaya fares of this city.

Couple of places visited this summer: (1)Bier Markt 1221 René-Lévesque Boulevard West (514) 864-7575- I tried their hamburgers as well as silders which I did both rate with a 4/10 as, for my taste,they lacked the deep beefy bold flavor that such basic fares have no choice but to deliver. Furhermore,  the meat was overcooked/border dry  on both instances. The  variety of beer is amazing, indeed, for a beer destination in Montreal but I wish the food could be up to par. The welcoming, at the entrance, could be warmer.  (2)Le Hachoir 4177 Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal (514) 903-1331- It’s being a while that I wanted to visit Le Hachoir which  name aroused  the carnivore in me. Here, I tried their trio of mini burgers which was  certainly not bad at all, the quality of the meat really good, but I wish theirs had a beefier kick. The quality of the meat was also the saving grace of a nice fresh meaty tartare that I also enjoyed there, but the seasoning lacked  spark. I get their point though: they want the main ingredient to shine through, but in both cases a beefier kick for the trio of mini burgers as well as an exciting seasoning for the tartare, as long as it’s judicious…they would have brought those items a long way. A 5/10 for me,  but this place is popular, fun, the service amazing so consider this to  be a NO sour 5/10 (you can see that they are capable of better). (3)-Reubens Deli 1116  Ste Catherine  continues to impress me. It is the only other restaurant in Montreal, alongside Bottega on St Zotique, that you can rely on, in my view, in terms of consistency.It has been consistently good,for me, year after year. This summer I   had my share of sliders in town and theirs simply blew away any other serving of  sliders I have enjoyed in town. The beefy flavor as well as superb  moist meaty consistency of those sliders were ages ahead of the rest. Their 10 oz “famous super sandwich “continues to be the most refined smoked meat in town. This is not refinement sacrificing flavor, to the contrary it’s technical prouesse in demonstrating that you do not need messy smoked meat to pretend that it is good or authentic, you just need one that’s deliciously meaty, the meat of top quality, the seasoning exciting. Their Montreal-style cheesecake  is also one of the few tastier and better executed ones out there,with strawberry of spectacular fresh ripe /wild flavor. Overall, a 9/10 by Delicatessen standards. Reubens Deli’s refinement may hit on the nerves of those who believe that delicatessen should taste,look and be served in rustic settings –which is pure BS as food is well done or it is not, delicious or not…and nothing else—  , but ultimately it  is one excellent Deli, one of my few preferred Delis anywhere around the globe.

 

On a non-foodie subject, the habs have signed Pk Subban for 8 years worth $72 million. This is little money for one of the greatest athletes of our decade, an exemplary ambassador of his sport  . I think we are lucky, in Quebec, to have such inspiring  athletes such as PK, Georges St Pierre and of course, our latest rising star Eugénie Bouchard.

Restaurant: Au Pied de Cochon
Type cooking:  Remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine+ Misc French classic bistrot fares
Address: 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montréal
Date/Time of the meal: June 13th, 2014 18:00
URL: http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/

Recent reviews: Restaurant Mercuri, Bar Mercuri, Le Serpent, La Chronique, Jun IL’Européa, Sushi Yasu, Kyo, Peter Luger, Kam Fung, FiregrillPatrice Patissier, Raku, Au cinquième péché.

 

I went back to a long time favourite bistrot, Au Pied de Cochon. Sadly, this is the 3rd visit in a row that leaves me disappointed. I am one of the earlier fans of APDC, with amazing souvenirs of its brighter days. I do understand that not every cook can trade head to head with super skilled Chefs like Picard or Dufour (the earlier kings of this house) but there is no excuse for  subpar cooking….especially for food as easy to satisfy as classic-based bistrot  fares. It pains me  to write this about  Picard’s stronghold, Au Pied de Cochon (APDC),  as I had some of the  most interesting restaurant remakes of  rustic/old school hearty Quebecois and French bistrot  food,  there in its early days when both Picard himself and Chef Hugues Dufour were  still at the helm, but it now  seems, to me, far, and each time further and further, from its  best days. On this evening, I dined with a friend who knows his food well. His first time at APDC.  His opinion is that he was impressed by the great service and loved the concept but sharp cooking skills is basically what he was missing.

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, CRAB SALAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab salad – Basically, well sourced fresh crab flesh mixed with a salad of cucumber. Not bad, but an $18 salad of crab certainly calls for a sign or two of ….restaurant quality effort. This was basically as decent  as any salad that  anyone would have made at home with quality crab and cucumber in his/her hands. Casual cooking does not mean easy / basic food….And btw,  most bistrots would deliver this with a bit more creativity, a witty touch. Want more? Ask Chefs Dufour and Martin Picard if they would have deliver this salad in such uninspired fashion (simply toss a mayo-based vinaigrette with cucumber and crab meat..the effect was as basic as that)   5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, POUTINE FOIE GRASPoutine au foie gras – There is a myriad of suggestions about what the perfect poutine should look and taste like, but such debate essentially pertains to the the usual subjective nature of personal preferences. What matters is that you are using real and quality potato, that your gravy is not of the soggy tasteless kind, that your fries feature a nice crisp, and that the cheese curds are of fresh springy quality. So, homemade French fries is the way to go, and homemade those were, starring proper cooked-potato texture and flavor. The cheese curds are, as expected from a place of this standing, of very high quality (perfect springy consistency), fresh. The crisp of the fries, decent enough . The accompanied lobe of foie gras having a nice sear, its livery flavor sadly not as deep and exciting in mouth as it once used to be under this same roof (disappointingly subtle, in flavor, during this meal) . The sauce is the secret, as they say in Quebec, and APDC’s creamy foie-gras based concoction has been for a long time, one one of the most appetizing poutine sauces you’d run across in town. On this evening,  its texture not as perfectly  smooth as you want your poutine gravy to be, its temperature judiciously controlled so that the cheese curds do not start melting, indeed, but the sauce used to be far more inspiring: I recall finding the texture of the gravy more spectacular/ the taste more delicious.  All in all, this fared , to me,  far less accomplished than its versions of the earlier days (The fries used to hold their crunch longer, the sauce more exciting during those days)  5/10 (oftently an 8.5/10 back in the days)

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, SEAFOOD PLATTERSeafood platter – Summer at APDC has the seafood platter as the star of the house. APDC seafood platter comprises of a mix of raw (oysters, clams, conch , whelks, mussels, calamari) as well as fried items (sometimes fish, but on this occasion, well…anyways, we’ll get to that later), served with condiments such as tomato sauce, aioli, spicy yoghurt. Everything was well sourced on this platter, but sadly…everything was overdone and in a nonsensical fashion: whelk was drowned in a sort of mayo-based concoction that I did not bother inquiring about since it killed the appreciation of the whelk with its heavy creamy overwhelming dimension. Poor whelks, one of my favourite seafood items…. – The brigade on duty this evening seems to really love anything that  pivots around  mayo or cream-cheese or whatever yoghurty look alike dressing:  the oyster not escaping from this pattern  as one of those nonsensical dressings did escort my oysters,   an aigrelette cream sauce   accompanied the oysters this time . Good lord, … that is a perfect recipe to turn the oyster serving into an unappetizing bite both texturally and palatably (the effect being exactly the same, on this instance, as pairing cream cheese to oyster…certainly, that was not going to do anything good to the oyster).   Mussels came in the form of small mounds of heavy-loaded brunoise of veggies mixed with mussel flesh, introduced within the mussel shells…so heavy on the stomach that I would hate mussel forever had this been my lifetime first mussel bite.  Calamari, were drowned in what looked like a squid-ink based concoction that managed to be cloying, …poor calamari!  As for the fried item..well, it  came in the form of what looked like tiny pieces of fish (??) tempura sitting atop  some of the sea shells offerings, and shall be remembered as yet another element too many in an already confusing seafood platter (this was the $60 seafood platter).  For me, this was nothing more than just a  waste of well sourced ingredients  2/10

 

AU PIED DE COCHON, LOBSTER RISOTTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster risotto featured rice that was properly cooked to the bite but the overall texture was   ‘cloying’ rather than creamy.  I do not expect them to compete with the finest Italian risotti in town but for me, this was cloying, not creamy and cloying is not the texture I need with a risotto. And at $42 the plate, I need the lobster morsels to benefit from more inspired work than just featuring as morsels of boiled lobster laid atop the risotto…  5/10

AU PIED DE COCHON, VEAL TARTARE

 

 

 

 

 

Veal tartare was the best item of this meal, the veal seasoned judiciously, its taste really appetizing. The ‘asian’ touch of wrapping them in a nori sheet is an idea that never fails to entice as raw meat and seaweed sheets is one of those combinations condemned to pair well.  7/10

PROS : Popular, boisterous, it is never boring here. The service really great as always.

CONS: This (a remake of rustic traditional Quebecois cuisine) is one kind of food that I am very familiar with (by very familiar, I mean about 2 decades of enjoying it…) and to which my palate tends to be partial to, therefore easy to reach out to my expectations, BUT their current cooks really need to  draw the line between enjoyable rich food (what made Au Pied de Cochon a widely praised foodie destination)  Vs overwhelming fares (what I have experienced all along the recent  3 visits). Today, I saw plenty of dishes, served at other tables, and that were lost amidst an unreasonable amount of ingredients and condiments. My past two visits starred a lamb shank confit that was so over garnished to the point that I could not tell the difference between the meat and its garnishes. On that same visit, a piece of delicate fish suffered from the same problem (why, on earth, do you associate a delicate piece of fish with that much reduction on the plate??).  As for the current meal, same old problems….

Overall food score for this meal: 4/10 You have all you need to know in the description of each of the dishes. Needless to add more …

Conclusion: Once upon a time, under this very same roof, the exact same items that failed today … were better conceived, and came with a very personal touch, because whoever was crafting them had a better sense of flavor combination, in my view and for my taste. APDC remains ‘unique’ / ‘original” by local standards, but, for me, the soul of this house has moved to their sugar shack (the souvenirs of the inspired rustic food that Martin Picard or Hughes Dufour were once crafting … they seem to have somehow resurfaced at their sugar shack). I do not  know if there is an  urgency of hiring a Chef of Picard’s or Dufour’s ilk, I just know that ADPC  seems, to me, to fail to thrive well.

Post thinking: I usually have a section called ‘what I think a week or a month later”.  With a meal like this, there’s no need for such section as it’s not a performance I want to think about. There are many things in life that we learn to cope with, and a forgettable meal is just part of life, even when you pay as much as what you would have paid at  a 3 star Michelin restaurant….  for a poorly executed bistrot performance, but I   have a friendly advise, just a friendly one:  seafood are a gift from the above, whoever cooks has no other choice but to  be gentle with them (the seafood), respect them (the seafood) because they (the seafood) are unforgiving when you treat them badly….they bite! (wink).  I know that, because I have yet stumbled upon a kitchen that cooks well without paying utter respect to them (the seafood). Seafood is the mother of all ingredients, trust that one….On an aside note, I’ll conclude by suggesting that as an old fan of Martin Picard, and knowing how proud and passionate this man is, I can safely presume that Martin would not be proud of what I was left with in the course of  the underwhelming past 3 visits.  The past 3 meals had more to do with testing my patience rather than getting the job done…Now, can we resume with  serious cooking???Is that too much to ask?

WOLD CUP SOCCER 2014On a non-foodie subject, the magic of  the soccer world cup is now in full effect. So an exciting summer for us, fans of soccer. June 12, July 13, let’s play!  My WISH : a final between Brazil and Germany! ;p Though, I have a soft spot for Italy (would love to see Pirlo with the world cup in his hands, he’s my favourite soccer player ) as well as the UK (I grew up admiring Steven Gerrard). Regarding the recent games, my opinion is  that the defeat of Spain against the Netherlands should not be taken seriously. Spain knows how to win and their next games will reveal an unbeatable side. I really do not see Brazil going that far eventhough my wish is that they face Germany for the cup. Yes, they have some of the players that I do admire a lot, like Oscar and Willian, but I do not sense, from their part,  the fire or strong and deep passionate commitment  typical of a team that is on mission (It’s of course a bit too early to talk about such, but Costa Rica seems to have that fire up to now). I also think that the South American teams will surprise many during this WC! Ah, soccer, the beautiful game….

 

 

 

 

Restaurant Tre Colori
Cuisine: Italian
Date/Time of the dinner: January 29th 2014, 19:00
Addr: 1696 Avenue Bourgogne, Chambly
Phone:(450) 658-6653
URL: http://trecolori.com/
Other Mtl & suroundings Italian restaurants reviewed on  current blog: Le Serpent, Pasta Casareccia.

TRE COLORI, CHAMBLY 2

I was southshore Montreal (in Chambly, 32 kms from Mtl), eating with some friends and seized the opportunity to visit a place that was highly recommended by many ppl I know.

It’s  an institution down there in the city of Chambly, opened since 1967 with a generation of Italian families (from Calabria)  at the helm. As always, I like reading reviews before going to a place, but most of the bad opinions sounded like personal vendettas against that place, whereas most of the glorifying reviews sounded over the top for a place of this caliber. So I quickly erased those from my memory. After all, your best judge is your very ownself, lol The place has a classic Italian elegance interior décor (minus the pricey material like marbles), white tablecloths, paper napkins on the tables (although, those were of good quality).

TRE COLORI, CHAMBLY - MARGHERITA

The ppl who did recommend TC to me  have raved about the Pizza, so I ordered a Pizza Margherita (as always, it’s in the simple and authentic  little things that I want to see you walking the walk..never with the  flights of overdone /overloaded pizzas…lol) . Being a long time fan of Pizza, particularly the Neapolitan ones, I do naturally favor wood-fired pizza ovens (At Tre Colori, there’s no wood-fired pizza oven on the premises), though it’s of course not  synonymous with  a better pizza (you have the tool, but then you need to use it skillfully). Tre Colori’s Pizza Margherita is certainly nowhere close to Bottega’s levels –but again, who does in Mtl??   Everytime I hear about a Pizza place in Mtl that’s supposedly better than Bottega, I  try it…and time after time, the suggestions turned out to be sad jokes!!!!! and NOPE…I won’t start un-realistic comparisons to what’s done in Italy, at say, a place like  Da Michele in Napoli. We are not in Italy!  — but for a Pizza that does not benefit from the advantage of nice wood-fired aromas (they use the deck oven you’ll find at most Pizzerias in town) , it was actually good:  it still featured some of the characteristics that gets close to a Neapolitan Pizza, such as a tender center, nice puffy crust edges, the proportion of dough Vs sauce pretty much well balanced,  the mozza of good quality and the homemade tomato sauce as good as you’ll get from most  good pizzas in town .  This fared  actually way better than plenty of Pizza places that oftently appear on most rundowns of top 10 best Pizzerias in town. 7/10 by Montreal  & surroundings standards.

TRE COLORI, CHAMBLY - spaghetti a la calabrese

Then Pasta (spaghetti) alla calabrese – Here using capicollo and homemade tomato sauce, though using  sardines in place of capicollo would have somehow imparted a much more Southern Italian/Calabrian touch to that pasta (listen, I am not saying this to sound interesting or ‘connoisseur’, I do not trade on those grounds. This touch would have provided that dish with more genuine flavors, which would have elevated it from a standard pasta dish to something more ).  Still, tasty enough, the doneness of the pasta to the bite as it should and the homemade tomato packed with superb tang of fresh acidity.  By Montreal standards, a proper 7/10.  Good.

TRE COLORI, CHAMBLY - Tiramisu

Went for their Tiramisu, $6. YEP..I know, some find it  too cliché to stick to  the T at an Italian eatery, but ‘cliché’ is not part of my vocabulary. Those simple items that have been around for so long, I like them because I’m interested to see how far you can get them to shine. Tiramisu is indeed easy to make, but a startling one will always be hard to get by. I realized that when even one of my favourite Italian tables in Montreal, Bottega, had a Tiramisu that was indeed good, but not stellar. And god knows that Bottega’s kitchen is not your average / ordinary kitchen. Presented in a glass, Tre Colori’s has the relevant mascarpone/eggs mix blending appetizingly with the coffee flavor, and this was as good if not even a tad better (though not conceived the same way: this one had a first creamy layer, then you had the cake part in the middle, whereas the I had at bottega was mostly a cake) than  the one I had at Bottega.  Among the better Tiramisus you’ll get in  Mtl.   8/10   PS: The well known ‘Italian lobster’ dessert, widely found in Southern Italy, would have brought a  ‘special’ dimension in that otherwise safe list of desserts (essentially composed of the Tiramisu and couple of chocolate-based desserts – you can see that menu online).

One companion picked the $39 special daily menu, which comprised of a minestrone soup, lamb chops that came with pasta simply sautéed in olive oil and garlic  +  a lemon granitée (he shared  some of his soup, lamb chops as well as granitée with me) . The minestrone soup  was  an average one (5/10), but the lamb chops pertained to a standard you won’t get to enjoy that oftently at any restaurant level in town and one that would make a great Michelin star restaurant really proud. It was a lesson on  how flames, exploited dexterously,  can lift up the taste of meat to levels that our palates tend to ignore  because most do not bother about taking ‘the granted’ (no one should miss grilled lamb chops …) and turn it into the  ‘not that granted‘  (…but few can make one this delicious). There’s certainly no scarcity of lamb chops in town, and I do not know if they do it this well on a regular basis, but those we were enjoying on this evening were simply sublime in all accounts (the meat enhanced by superb grilling flavors but in an exciting palatable  way that few can achieve, the seasoning bold and perfect, even the texture of the cut/quality of the chop  was flawless), exciting  lamb chops that will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right (9/10), the accompanied pasta achieved to proper al dente doneness though a tad too garlicky according to the person who ordered the lamb chops (I did not sample the pastas, but  this buddy knows his food so I trust his judgement) , then a lemon granitée  of great finesse (7/10) –  the third person  took a small  all dressed Pizza $11  (6/10 They call it All’Americana , dressed with pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, bacon, brick cheese — not bad at all, from bites that I have sampled,  BUT I found the Margherita to better showcase the good level of skills of this kitchen)  as well as some cheese au gratin French bread $5 (again, surprisingly average considering the skills displayed on the better dishes of this evening 5/10).

Service:  Service (by two young ladies) was flawless, though I had a booking experience (over the phone) that I thought  pertaining to ancient times. The gentleman who picked the phone left me on hold for 5 minutes, acted as if he was seriously taking my reservation (name, phone number, etc), but when I arrived at the restaurant, the waitress told me that there was no reservation (she actually never looked at the reservation book) for that evening. Basically, the dude over the phone knew that for a wednesday evening, they do not take reservations but instead of informing his customer, he preferred enjoying his moment of smartness. As usual, no drama and there are certainly worst things in life, Amen, lol, but that kind of behaviour is certainly not what a customer should  be looking forward to. At the restaurant, the service was of great standards so that unecessary episode is long forgotten as well as forgiven.

PROS: The top flight lamb chops of this evening. I do not recall having enjoyed a better one in Montreal, the amazing service by the two young ladies.  The operatic Italian music and overall charming classic  ambience…Truly felt like being in an episode of the Sopranos (some may not like it, but I DO!) ;p Tre Colori is not the discovery of the year, far from that, but it does certain things better than plenty of places enjoying   far more visibility / credits.

 CONS: To me, it’s a place that has its strengths  (clearly, if you tell me that this is an average kitchen, then I do not want to know what you perceive as good, lol,  cause those lamb chops I had on this evening are everything you want, certainly not average. Same for the Margherita Pizza, the Tiramisu….simple items I know, but many still miss them whilst they did not),  but there were sparse factors that left me underwhelmed (but not to the point of dramatizing neither)  and that  I did not find  consequent with their fortes: the episode about the reservation as detailed in the ‘service’ section of current account, the  napkins –which although of good quality — took away a bit of the purpose of the beautiful classic tablecloth’d table, the average minestrone soup, the average  bread, the pasta that’s fine but a tad less impressive than elsewhere. At least, here, I can say that I was more satisfied than not and I can certainly tolerate what I’ve perceived as less enchanting (thanks to their better dishes which clearly would send many other supposedly superior kitchens to shame, thanks to that sublime service of those two young classy ladies, thanks to their pride and perseverance at remaining true to what they’ve always been instead of  running laughably after trends).

The list of wines  flows through several pages of a very pretty winebook, essentially Italian wines (on their web site, you can have a good idea of the wine offerings), with prices ranging from the very affordable (for eg, around the  $30/$40) to its far opposite. There was already a bottle on the tables, apparently the restaurant’s ‘coup de coeur’ of the moment, according to my waitress, and you are free to opt for it or not. I chose their  ‘bottle of the moment’, a 2011  Apaltagua Envero  Carmenere  from Chile (online retail price around $16, sold $45 at the restaurant), one  kind of red wine  I favor for its fine medium body of dark fruit aromas (the plums, in particular,  coming through nicely towards the end of this evening’s tasting with an enjoyable round mouthfeel). The bottle of wine opened perhaps at 1 degree under room temperature, though I am confident that  this was just a rare minor  omission, and I can’t really complain because my  waitress was very classy in  asking if  the temperature was to my liking. To which I replied that it was fine since I did not want to pass as the  ‘’’smart ass of the moment’’ in front of friends who were there to simply have fun and not bother about such details. Again, the waitress and the  house are not at fault at all as those things happen even in grander houses and it was up to me to let them know.

TRE COLORI, CHAMBLY 3Conclusion: Conclusion: Montreal having a big Italian community, we are lucky to have plenty of eateries doing really well. I do not understand the recent report  of a local food journalist suggesting that there are RARE authentic Italian restaurants in Montreal. So what is Tre Marie then? Da Enrico? What is Pasta Casareccia ? Villa Armando? Di Menna? And there are actually a good dozen of other ‘authentic’ Italian restaurants that I could add to that list!  I am not even mentioning my favourite Italian places here. All those places providing flavors as close as possible (for a restaurant that’s several continents and oceans  away from Italy)  to their genuine versions in Italy.  And YEP, guess what, it’s a country that I know well, too!  Do those places stop existing as soon as there’s  a new trendy restaurant in town (that food journalist was reporting about a new Italian table ) ?? LOL. Now, you’ve guessed it:  Tre Colori’s 40 years in business with real experienced Italian Chefs at the helm commended that I go there with, in mind, the expectations that their  local peers have already set. In that regard, my meal here was  of really good  level by local standards. 7/10 as an overall score,  the  pasta dishes of this meal were almost (almost, I wrote)  as good as it gets in Montreal/surroundings, the lamb chops I was having on  this evening will be the new reference against which I’ll judge other examples of those in town. I’d have sampled only the lamb chops + Pizza Margherita + Tiramisu  and the overall score would be higher than a 7/10. The only reason I am not scoring the whole meal higher has to do with the weak minestrone soup + au gratin French bread (the heights attained by the lamb chops of this evening, as well as good standard of the Tiramisu/Pizza Margherita suggesting  that it was reasonable to expect a bit more from even simple items like that minestrone soup and the  gratin French bread (it’s not un-realistic expectations: startling minestrone soups do exist), and, I found the pasta  perhaps a tad less impressive than at, say, Pasta Casareccia (though, let’s set this straight right away: they are NOT  bad at all neither).    Next time, I want to test their risotto (it was not on the menu, but the waitstaff told me that you  can ask for it and they will oblige)  as well as other varieties  of the pastas   to get a more complete impression of this house.  Prices are fair, portions generous.  Certainly a genuine  finding for me  (just skip the items that are usually too mundane like the minestrone zuppa, or else, I am afraid you’ll miss the point), though not one that blew me away, but  ”to Ceasar what pertains to him”:  what matters most  to me is that they’ve proven how far they can go, which answer came in the form of  the exciting lamb chops, really good Tiramisu and Pizza Margherita.

Event: Lunch at restaurant Le Louis XV, Monte Carlo
When: Saturday September 21 2013, 12:15
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine:  Haute Classic  Provençale (with North Italian touches)
Addr: Hôtel de Paris, Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
Phone: +377 98 06 88 64
Url: http://www.alain-ducasse.com/en/restaurant/le-louis-xv-alain-ducasse

ImageI am a bit busy with other things, so sorry for keeping this brief. In a nutshell: I went back to two old personal favourites that I have not visited for many years, 3 star Michelin L’Arpège in Paris ( reviewed here) as well as 3 Star Michelin Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo (current review).

I was with my wife, so the report will  benefit from  the better pictures (than those of my humble pocket camera) of her more sophisticated camera as well as her additional views. Please find below the usual ‘Pros’, ‘Cons’, Overall ‘food’ and ‘service’ scores.  A month after my meals, I always add  a ‘What I think a month later’ section  that you’ll see completely at the bottom of each of my reviews, so that you’ll get a feel of how my perception of my meal has evolved in time.

ImageThe meal started with their long time offering of crudités (carrots, celery, radish, etc),  typical of  the region as it could remind a bit  of nearby  Nice’s raw vegetables served with an accompaniment of sauce (Nice’s bagna caùda). A fun idea, I have to give that to them, since it showcases the vegetables of the region, but this kind of serving  really shines if the vegetables are going beyond the ordinary: those were as good as any celery or carrot or radish I was sampling all along my stay on the French Riviera.  But the dip  (made of olives and egg, emulsified with oil like a mayonnaise) was a benchmark of its kind, with glamourous texture and a depth of  taste as rich  and as exciting in mouth as it gets. I do not know if that was wowness..I just know that you won’t easily find dips of this level.  It’s for creations of this kind that I go to restaurants.

ImageThey are known for their lovely bread offerings, of which I picked a pain baguette (Yep, I am a huge fan of Pains Baguettes, and do expect them to be at their best on the  grand  tables of France  and this one was no exception  as they have baked an excellent one by the finest artisan Boulanger standards that I am used to, in France 9/10), and tomato bread (7/10 too salty to be enjoyable and the tomato flavor was not as stunning I would have liked).

ImageVelouté rafraichi de courgette trompette, homard bleu court-bouillonné, caillé de brebis – A cold velouté of courgette trompette  (courgette trompette is a type of squash), adorned with a piece of boiled lobster and sheep’s curd. Delicious idea as I have   sampled many exciting versions of this kind of velouté mixed with sheep’s curd, but this dish, although well done as expected at this level of dining, had flavors too discrete  (the velouté, the sheep’s curd, and even the lobster) to make any great impression, for me. The velouté itself would benefit from a richer taste, the sheep’s curd from more expressive milky flavor. Both my wife and I thought that it was designed to not shock ( for eg, the lobster had no aggressive marine robustness so that it harmoniously complements the mild tasting velouté and  sheep’s curd) with strong flavors so that it  reaches out to the most. We respect the harmoniously calibrated flavors but had no fun.  I am not asking for the moon, and do remain very realistic, trust me, …couple of days before, in nearby Nice, a simple bistrot like Bistrot D’Antoine blew me away with food as simple as this.    6/10

ImageCookpot de petit épautre, girolles et jeunes légumes – Cookpot of tiny spelt, girolle mushrooms,  vegetables (radish, artichoke, carrots). It was cooked in a stock of carrots and parsley, some barley added to the mix. Nice sweet/salty sensation, but dishes cooked this traditional way do usually deliver lingering aromas that I failed to enjoy with this serving. For example, parsley and carrots express themselves beautifully using pot cooking techniques, but on this dish  they ended being discrete to my palate.  Again, another classic dish executed properly (there won’t be any technical fault to be noticed here), but a dish like this should be an opportunity for its ingredients to express their deep natural aromas.  6/10

ImageLoup de la méditérannée (seabass) en filet piqué d’Olives, garniture et bouillon d’un minestrone, basilic pilé au mortier – Tasty fish, cooked properly (seasoned carefully, absolutely no reproach about the doneness, temperature) , fleshy as it should and served with carrots, celery,  white beans. 7/10

ImagePoitrine de Pigeonneau des Alpes de haute Provence, foie gras de canard, pommes de terre nouvelles sur la braise, jus gouteux aux abats – The squab successfully rosy, but its taste not as deep  and as exciting as the one I had couple of days before  at L’Arpège. It came with a nicely plump piece of seared foie gras, precisely seared with good grill  marks, but I found it lacking of the full liver flavor of some of its exciting versions. Again, no reproach for the cooking and the quality of the ingredients is great, but such classic dish can and should excite in mouth, which was not the case for me.  6/10

ImageThen the generous cart of top quality cheese – France’s finest tables have that big pressure of having to offer cheeses of world class standard, and Louis XV’s cheese cart is an examplary one. All cheeses sampled showcased respective textures, tastes and body that were  in their prime state. France’s highly regarded cheese-maturer Bernard Antony had his widely praised aged comté available and it is admirable to see how the folks at le Louis XV did justice to his famous cheese with remarkable storage technique and care,   all features that sound simple in theory but that seem to fail in the hands of even very ambitious tables. The piece of comté, I was sampling, evolving onto  expected toasty hazelnut aromas, subtle grassy and toffee notes progressively complementing the rich and complex intensity of the  flavours. This was, in regard to what is expected at its age (3 yrs) , a superb  sample of the comté.  We’ve also enjoyed some superb Fourme d’ ambert, Camembert Jort lait cru as well as  some nearby goat cheeses (which names I forgot since this  was my first time trying them), all cheeses of benchmark mention.

Many years after being blown away by their classic desserts of Baba au Rhum and  Le Louis XV au croustillant de pralin , I did not bother perusing the dessert menu and ordered the two items. My wife (her first time at le Louis XV) does not like Baba au Rhum and she went with a soufflé of apricot.

ImageBaba au Rhum –  Le Louis XV’s version of the Baba au rhum has always been, with regards to the finest ones I had in France (being French, those found in France have naturally   been those I  am the most familiar with, and I won’t hide the fact that I prefer them to any of their other European versions), one personal favourite. It remains as great as the first one I had  here, in 1990, with flawless yeast raised dough, delicate spongy texture, the golden color superbly achieved. In typical Louis XV style, the presentation is an elegant piece of theater with several choices of top quality rhum to chose from, the cake offered in a golden dome . There is no expectations to have over a baba au rhum, a baba au rhum  is a baba au rhum, not an exploration of the moon, but this one remains a benchmark of its kind. 10/10

ImageLouis XV au croustillant de pralin–  A hazelnut biscuit wrapped in  a ganache of dark chocolate. Alain Ducasse’s famous refined take (sort of ) on a chocolate crispy brunch bar. The ganache  having  smooth glamourous texture showcasing great precision from the pastry team, and  the hazelnut mousse airy texture as enticing as I remember it from last time (they do not have the same Pastry Chef as on my last visit, here).  An  8/10 this time.

ImageSoufflé d’Abricot –  Properly risen soufflé, but the sourness should have been better controlled (that was way too strong for the soufflé to be enjoyable ). 7/10 as/per my wife, a score that I share ….. but come to think about it, I’d not be surprised to learn that that bold  sourness is perhaps appreciated by many people. We both are just not  fans of big  sour flavor in soufflés.

ImageChocolate, petits fours  –  This is to be taken with a grain of salt since there’s definitely no matter of serious displeasure here, but I found the chocolate offering, although of   good quality as you might expect from such place, to still not reach the heights it could have in the hands of an exceptional artisan chocolatier, to take an  example. I gather this is  real nitpicking, that it is a restaurant, not a chocolatier,  and it would be stupid to put down the overall appreciation of my meal on the pretext of such observation, but there are couple of 3 star Michelin destinations – even in the US for example, let alone throughout Europe – that are offering a better variety of chocolate closer to what I am referring to.  7/10 for the chocolate (in view of  what I am expecting at this level of dining), but in total fairness, there’s really few 3 stars offering the type of outstanding chocolate  of the level of an exceptional artisan chocolatier. The mignardises left me with almost similar  impression:  good execution and tasting fine of course, but not of the level of, say, the outstanding petits fours I once had at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie (where concentration of flavor, stunning taste and glamourous definition of textures rivaled each other). It is all in the details, I know, and that is why top dining destinations like Le Louis XV do exist: for the  opportunity to go deep into the details of a stellar dining experience. 8/10 for the petits fours (again, in comparison to what I am used to at this standard of dining).

PROS : One of world’s most richly decorated dining rooms, sublime service, the lovely  experience of being there.  The Baba. The benchmark cheeses.

CONS :  I miss a more personal and authoritative cooking imprint  like I  have sometimes enjoyed from Chefs like Bernard Pacaud, Maximin or Roellinger,  and  at numerous  humble eateries all along the Mediterranean coast, or even here, years ago,  under Cerutti.

Overall food performance: 7/10    Good and properly executed cuisine for this  genre (Classic French/Med), the Ducasse philosophy applied as far as keeping the fares simple and respectful of the ingredients, but this is my favourite type of cooking, so I know well what I need to expect from it, which is deeper expression of the flavors (exactly as many restaurants manage to do with classic cooking of this sort on the Italian riviera or  as Chef Cerrutti  actually did when I was here many years ago)  and that is where I was a bit less impressed. And No, it’s not a case where ‘’my palate may have evolved since that time, so perhaps my expectations are not realistic anymore’’’  (such theory would make no sense: I have just re-visited L’Arpège  after almost the same amount of years of no-show and was still blown away by the fabulous taste of some of their creations).  All in all, my general impression of the  savouries matches an overall score  of  6/10, which is good enough, though not great,  but I found that the pastry team did quite a remarkable job (I was very impressed with the Baba au rhum being as stellar as  over a decade ago, perfected and so delicious, and despite the way-too-sour soufflé and my severe observations on the mignardises, this pastry team has the solid and reliable skills expected at this level) to deserve an extra point for their performance, which justifies the overall  food performance score of 7/10.  That said, it’s hard to reach a wide conscensus with what I am looking for in this type of cuisine, so I can understand why the focus is on flavors that can be acceptable to  the most.

Service: 10/10  They know with whom they can be a bit more formal or casual, while always offering the highest standards of hospitality and being professional. They litterally read in your mind, Lol. A great example of this is when my wife (really not a fan of this kind of grand luxury setting)  revealed to me that upon entering the restaurant she was afraid to feel out of place, but that the behaviour of the staff gave the impression that she was at home, only the decor was far more elegant and she was pampered like a queen, Lol. Everything, in the end, looked normal to her, which says a lot about the genuine effort of this team to adapt to its guests  in a customized manner. I am sure if I’d gracefully ask them to stop holding the chair for me when I return to my table  (I come from an intellectual background that prohibits  admiration for that sort of royal treatment…but of course, I was there dining, having fun, so I was not going to stop them from doing what they are supposed to do ), they’d oblige. Such  is the impression I got: the customer first and foremost  as  they seem to be genuinely opened to whatever may satisfy.

Décor:  Belle époque grandeur, Christofle gold flatware, marble, chandeliers, trolley of bread, trolley of cheese, trolley of herbal teas. I love old world interior designs and architectures, so seating there and admiring this opulent décor was naturally a feast for my eyes.

CLOUIS XV, MONTE CARLO - SEPTEMBER 21ST 2013 - YOUR HUMBLE HOSTonclusion: I may not have been floored by the overall food performance on this specific lunch (remember, nothing was wrong with the food, it is just that I tend to be partial to strong /bold/eventful  flavors like those found in the dip of the crudités or while enjoying my baba au rhum ) , but Le Louis XV is a  dining experience of superlative attributes (stunning decor, world class service, cheeses of the highest standards , choices of wines that will please the most demanding wine lovers and I can go on and on with the qualities).

Added in Oct 2013 – What I think a month later:  Hard to not like le Louis XV, it’s packed with so much charms, so many qualities and it’s an incredibly beautiful restaurant.  And yes, the experience of being there remains second to none!  And hey, it’s the Mediterranean coast, the sun, the amazing views.  It’s also one of the rare places in the world where you can feel the genuine interest of the staff to always improve and please their guests, and they take criticisms really well. They take nothing for granted, which is an extraordinary feature and one that can’t be said of plenty of  restaurants around the globe. Now this: when that velouté arrived at our  table,  my wife  had this to say ‘ah, a velouté, you can’t go wrong with that, this dish will be very flavorful, there is no doubt about this”, to which I added ‘we can’t go wrong with the rest of this  meal neither…look, some sheep’s curd,  vegetable cookpot…obvious signs of deep joyous flavors…’, then we started eating and were both really surprised that the flavors were this discrete. Both my wife and I are not the kind of persons who will look down on what the most do take for granted, so we both do believe that greatness can be achieved with even the simplest food items, we both are opened to the idea that a simple velouté can be stellar even if it’s tough to make a bad one, therefore  this is not a case where the diner attended a meal with the  wrong expectations.  To the contrary,  we are sold to / and are very familiar with classic cooking of this sort and we are not the kind to attend a classical meal with  visions of modern cooking in mind. It’s not even as if we could not  figure out perfect scores for this type of classic cooking neither: I have just (couple of days prior to this meal at le Louis XV) rated  plenty of classic French bistrot  dishes with 10/10 scores, such as the lobster bisque at Bistrot D’Antoine (Nice), the Riz au lait  at Le Casse Noix (Paris), let alone the instances when I’ve never hesitated to score a simple crème brulée with a 10/10 (if it ranks among the finest I ever had, why not? Being simple and classic does not mean that a dish is condemned to be average!). What’s more classic French than those dishes?? And I am French, grew up and spent half of my life in France, so lobster bisque, riz au lait, crème caramel have been for me what a hamburger is to an American. It’s not even the fact that I can’t figure a way to assign a perfect score to classic dishes or meals at the highest  levels of Michelin star standards since I had many meals from Chefs like Jacques Maximin, Olivier Roellinger, Christian Constant, Gerard Besson that I scored with a 10.  Most, if not all of them, not behind the stoves anymore but  within the past recent two years, I still have not lost my ability to keep scoring highly anything that stands out and that is classic haute French or Italian (since the cooking at Le Louis XV is inspired by both type of cuisines):  a  score of  10/10 for a classic meal at Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie, some few 10/10 dishes at  Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan (classic), a classic Ravioli di Faraona – Guinea fowl ravioli at Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio, and actually, right here at le Louis XV, a classic dessert like the Baba au rhum. I took the time to write all of that as a reminder that this is an instance where the kitchen was booting with an advantage: they had the diners on their side. Later on, someone who knows Le Louis XV told me that he is certain that the less expensive menus would have fared better.  Perhaps, since it is true that sometimes you have  kitchen brigades  that seem stronger on some of their menus, but again, sheep’s curd, cookpot cooking, those are known notions of flavor enhancement.  So impart  more  zing in those savouries (like when Frank Cerutti was in that kitchen; nowadays he is still around in his role of supervising Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco, while Dominique Lory is the current Chef at le Louis XV) and I’ll be a happy camper, because on the food department, there are highlights that few restaurants around the globe do this well (for eg, that Baba au rhum. If you ever think that it is not rocket science to find a Baba done this well, then  think twice! — For many ppl, the best of the Classic desserts of Alain Ducasse is the croustillant de pralin. To me, it’s the Baba).

Restaurant L’Arpège
Type of Cuisine: French (Alain Passard’s own interpreted classic French cuisine)
Michelin Stars: 3
Event: Lunch on Tuesday September 17th 2013, 12:30
Addr:  84 Rue de Varenne  75007 Paris, France
Phone: 01 47 05 09 06
URL:  http://www.alain-passard.com

Before getting to the point, just a quick overview of some of the latest main changes in France’s restaurant scene:  as most know, Yannick Alléno has left Le Meurice (this was not a surprise since it was no secret that Chef Alléno was  looking for some new challenge).  It will be interesting to see if  Le Meurice will keep its 3 stars when next year’s Michelin stars will be published (though, according to Gilles Pudlowski, Le Meurice will benefit from Alain Ducasse’s association — click here for that article) . Not that I will miss Yannick Alléno (I am not a big fan of Chef Yannick Alléno), but he at least has proven to be capable of  pulling off   proper French haute 3 star Michelin standards . The legendary Marc Veyrat, a chef that I never had the chance to get to know, made a comeback (See Gilles Pudlowski’s article on the return of Chef Veyrat).

In an article of  Le Figaro about the 2013 Michelin stars of France, the article can be found here, my attention went to a comment from Cath98.  She writes about the elitism of most of those Michelin star Chefs, which is actually not the reason I mention her comment here (people  always think that what others do wrong is  elitism/bad/etc,  then when they  get to replace the wrong ones,  they inevitably end up doing the same thing… but done differently..lol…one elite is always replaced by another..elite,…if you have hard time getting this, think of Fidel Castro –he was reproaching Battista to stick to power..humm….. ). What I found interesting though is her comment about the militant-less attitude of most of those big Chefs.  She is absolutely right: how on earth, do you rise to such heights and have just the average BS speech about terroir/local produce  to content yourself with? I am all for the terroir, have fought for it since my tender age, but we all got this one  by now! In the UK, a chef like  Gordon Ramsay fights for wise fishing (ref: his actions against abusive shark consumption).  So, Michelin star Chefs, especially in France:  ” au violon,  il est temps de jouer  d’autres airs …svp“”!

One last note in the “off-record’ section of this post:  I need to drop a few lines  on one of the best interviews a Chef ever offered:  it is one that Chef Guy Savoy had with Agents d’entretien. You can find that interview here. Guy Savoy has always been a first rate human being, the Mahatma Ghandi of the stoves, a monument of positive vibes  and that review will inspire many, not only those interested in food.

Paris remains one of world’s REAL finest gourmand destinations, indeed – With the incredible exciting gourmand destinations like San Sebastian, Barcelona, San Francisco,  Madrid, Rome, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong,  stunning non upscale food that can be found in Ecuador, Taiwan, Malaysia,  I was starting to fear that my dear Paris just could not handle a candle anymore to its world gourmand competitors.  But the 4 recent visits here is re-assuring:  for sure, if you do no search at all and simply push open the door of whatever eatery you find on your way, you will inevitably be disappointed. Do not forget: this is one of the most visited cities of the globe, so fake cooks abound to grab their  share of the cake.  On the other hand, Paris finest eateries  easily justify  the position of Paris as still a REAL world gourmet destination, and I’ll name a few that have absolutely seduced me recently, on my 2,3 recent visits to Paris:  La Table D’Aki (Chef Aki was the fish cook at 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie for the past 20 years. He now has his own fish-centric bistrot where the technique remains 3 stars for anyone seriously familiar with the matter, the setting is of the bistrot type and I find the price reasonable given both the quality of the produce and skills . This, for me, along with Bistrot La Marine in Cagnes sur Mer,  is currently the idea of what I have of a #1  seafood French classic bistrot anywhere around the globe), Officina Schenatti (one of the finest Italian bistrots outside of Italy. No surprise here: Chef Ivan Schenatti has been, for a long time, the mastermind behind Emporio Armani’s haute dining. He now has has his own little bistrot with bona fide skills oozing where it should: in the plates. To continue with  the theme of the great Chefs who are enoughly humble and respect their  customers (they are the few remaining GREAT ones who are found where they are expected: in their kitchen  instead of showing off  huge ego by delegating their incapacity to work seriously to name bearers),  I’ll drop a word on the very popular  L’Ami Jean: there is nothing like this anyhwhere else around the globe. YES, it is full of tourists, barely no locals. But who cares?? It is the food, ….! Rfaol! I love Chef Stéphane Jégo rustic food, because when his rustic rich French basque-inspire food is in its prime (not always, based on my experiences there) , it is divinely delicious. That is all that counts for me. The hordes of tourists have obviously got it. And locals do not flock here because it is a bit too $$$ for most French.  I am no exception: it is $$  for  me too, but I’d rather wait and spare a bit of money, eat a great rustic bistrot  meal here, once in a long while,  rather than attending  several  laughable attempts at what a bistrot might be.   L’Ami Jean has its drawbacks and they need to be repeated to anyone that does not know this: it is cramped, it is noisy, it is not the best place for a romantic meal. But I love it!   Another keepers: Restaurant Kei as well as Le Sergent recruteur .   I should not hijack this article on L’Arpège to those findings, but to be brief, other findings that make of Paris one of world’s very best:  Sola (A 1 star Michelin that would be 2 or 3 anywhere else; needless to add more. But what a gem of world class Japanese/French cooking and there is more to this place), the Pithivier of Eric Briffard at Le Cinq (Le Cinq is a real 3 star Michelin that has officially just 2 stars) , the Lièvre à la royale of Pierre Gagnaire/Senderens  (remember:  the best of French classic food being rich by nature, it shines in its full glory during game season).  Nah, you won’t find anything close to those anywhere else.  Last but not least, one of world’s current most talent Chefs, David Toutain, seem to be interested by a return on the food scene.

ARPEGE, PARIS (1)Back to my homeland (France) re-visiting L’Arpège (4th visit only in 15 years),  as well as another 3 star Michelin place that was reviewed later, le Louis XV.

The importance of the ‘gesture’ (IOTG) in cooking has long been pioneered by Chef Alain Passard (no need to introduce Chef Passard, which second grand passions are music and arts/  just google his name and you’ll have plenty of infos on one of France’s most celebrated Chef, whose restaurant L’Arpège – named after the musical technique called arpeggio — has kept its 3 Michelin stars since 1996). What passes as pure BS for plenty of lesser cooks, oftently because they just can’t bother understanding its deep meaning,  is actually one of the most important concepts in cooking: like it or not, the eye, the touch, the feel, the smell  set apart the better Chefs from the lesser ones. Many will tell you that they know all of that, alas few do really have the right eye/feel/smell and touch (which obviously explains why most restaurants have average cooks) and it’s easy, given that you are interested in such details (which I hope you do if you decided to take a chance on such pricey meals) , to perceive a developed sense of those matters:  the end result will always end up as inspired (or not)  as the care and deep ability of its creator to feel/touch/smell her/his produce. Fan or not of Alain Passard, there’s one thing you can’t reproach him:  he is one of the few who genuinely walked the walk when it comes to the subject of the ‘importance of the gesture’ (The IOTG).

Chef Passard,  with whom my interractions have always been limited to a simply ‘hello Chef’ when he tours the dining room, is a Chef that I have read a lot about.  But if I was a journalist,  I would have some interesting material to cover with him. His genuine passion for vegetables is not just another refrain recited by yet another Chef.  But it’s his views on the IOTG that has always caught my attention.  Of course,  parts of his views on the IOTG can be better understood by himself only:   as an example, the way he moves his hands, the importance of the notion of distance in his movements, those are elements no one else than  himself can really apply. But the IOTG is behind everything you want to do properly: take a tennis player for example. The way he/she moves his/her legs, the way he/she moves her/his arms, therefore the gesture,  plays a significant role in his/her attitude, therefore his/her  game.  Same logic applies to food: the way you cut your meat, carefully or nervously, the way you pick that carrot, carefully or carelessly, the way you cook your food, patiently or hastily, will of course always affect the end result. There is a reason,  in spite of nowadays need for speed, that I still insist on spending time with long hours of carefully slow cooking.

The IOTG goes beyond the ability of  feeling/smelling and having a great eye (essential for a real Chef) for your produce. You need, of course, to also understand the interaction between nature and the produce, you need to deeply understand how one specific ingredient reacts to an array of cooking techniques and temperatures. You need to understand the steps of the evolution of each single vegetable and fruit. You need to do the samething with meats, poultry, fish, etc. You need, and that is essential, to have memory of the flavors that were created before you. Or else, what are you really carrying on? What are you really improving upon? What can you be proud of if there’s nothing you can  refer to ? All things that everyone seems to take for granted, but how many have REALLY proven to be capable of mastering those. How many  cooks have bothered spending their time understanding and mastering the tastes of yesterday? How many really know, master and can reproduce the various traditional versions of a  Lièvre à la Royale?  How many are actually..real CHEFS, present for real in their kitchen? REAL great Chefs are  rare nowadays and we obviously see why.

The reason of the  previous paragraphs is to explain why I keep going back to L’Arpège. Alain Passard is there in his restaurant, away from the syndrome of the fake cooks parading on TV. And he did and still do something simply amazing (again, my admiration for Chef passard has nothing to do with my appreciation of my meals here. I had great as well as less impressive meals here, as anyone can have great and less impressive ones at their favourite restaurants) : applying himself to transmit the real taste of yesterday to his brigade, then building  — on that memory of taste – the creations of today. And they are doing it in an unusual way, their own way. Passard calling it his ‘cuisine légumière’ (they focus more on their work of the veggies than the average restaurants, with the veggies oftently the star, veggies that come directly from his own farms, the poultry or the seafood their equal, in contrast of the big majority of tables where the veggie is usually an afterthought, its presence serving as an accoutrement . Others have called it peasant food (for its mostly bold presentations and pure unfussy flavors) . Call it the way you want, but it is a ‘cuisine  d’auteur’ in which the brigade tries its best to interpret Alain Passard’s soulful vision of classic French cuisine. My admiration for Chef Passard has of course nothing to do with the appreciation of his food (Passard or not, if I value a food item as great or bad, I’ll point it out regardless of who cooked it), it has more to do with the fact that he is among those very few Chefs who are excelling at bridging the past with the present. They have that incredible ability to communicate the ‘uncommunicable”: memory of taste. Last summer, in Milan, I stumble upon another great Chef of this standing: Chef Aimo Moroni. I was impressed to see how Chef Moroni managed to embark his younger Chefs in a genuine mastery of the flavors of ‘yestergenerations’. Which inevitably allows a cuisine that transcends time.  There are less and less of them, those real great Chefs, and they are the last chance for the next generation of cooks to become REAL great Chefs.

THE MEAL

Before the usual vegetable tartlets, the kitchen served a feuilleté of vegetables. A feuilleté with superb airy texture and sublime buttery taste. Carrots,thyme and peppers were the star veggies of that feuilleté.

ARPEGE, PARIS - SUSHI LEGUMIER

Then sushi legumier (sushi of beet ). If you are going to make sushi crumbles  easily like this, better do something else.

ARPEGE, PARIS - OEUF EN COQUE

The serving of amuse bouches continued: Coquetier  liqueur d’érable  (a tiny egg shell filled with a creamy  mix of Xérès vinegar, egg yolk, maple liquor)   sounds way more interesting than what it tasted since  It was dominated  by a  vinegary taste that  overpowered  the best component of  that amuse, the egg yolk. Fresh egg yolk of stunning quality does not need the distraction of superfluous strong vinegar taste. Maple liquor..why not? but the kitchen took no advantage of that component neither, the liquor adding nothing  discernible here. My wife commented that ‘any Oeuf en coque that is this tiny …boots with a visual disadvantage…a sizeable egg opens the appetite ‘. Indeed, it was a tiny egg

ARPEGE, PARIS - VEGETABLE TARTLETS

Seems like the amuse-bouches had no intent to amuse on this lunch: the celebrated vegetable tartlets (filling of mousses of various seasonal vegetables) looking big on photos, but disappointingly minuscule in reality (I appreciate delicate creations…but not to the point of not being able to discern anything) , so tiny (about the size of our Canadian penny, no more than 20mm in diameter) that it was hard to properly enjoy their taste and make an opinion about them.  Even upon deploying tremendous efforts to focus on whatever discernible flavor that was  left, they tasted nothing special as far  as I am concerned. The level of those  amuse-bouches we were sampling on this lunch was weak ( 4/10 for the amuse-bouches)

ARPEGE, PARIS - TOMATES, HUILE DE SUREAU

Then carpaccio of tomato/ huile de sureau.  Finally a dish showcasing  Passard’s cooking philosophy, the one that appealed to me for its  ability to extract the most out of the least. This dish did just that: stellar tomato taste with exciting seasoning (huile de sureau).  9/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - GAZPACHO

Gazpacho de tomate, creme glacée moutarde is an example of creativity (rework of the gazpacho) paired with amazing deliciousness. Not many great kitchens can extract this much excitement from a gazpacho. The mustard ice cream adding incredible depth of flavour, but what amazed me with this dish is that many can copy it, but I doubt that the perfected textures and work of the taste can be reproduced even by the most skilled brigades.  For what it is (a creative gazpacho), this dish is of benchmark material. 10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - RAVIOLES POTAGERES

Then, their legendary fines ravioles potageres. I read about comparisons with Chinese wonton soups, but  If you cook  both versions (Passard’s recipe is easy to find online) you will quickly realize that they have nothing in common apart the fact that they are boiled pastas. The ultra refined al dente pasta (another thing that you’ll realize when trying to replicate  this recipe is the amount of patience and long practice that is needed, even by professional cooks, to get to this level of precise refinement of both the stock and the texture of the pasta ) is a work of world class precision, and again that is what I call fabulous creativity (not many kitchen brigades would think about proposing ravioles the way they are doing it). The pastas were stuffed with seasonal vegetables, the one with beets tasting really of beets…but the others we were trying could have been whatever vegetable we would want them to be and it would not matter because they had no distinct taste. Furthermore, the taste of the broth (parfum de Melisse, on this instance) was one of such aggressive minerality (like a tisane high on mineral aromas, which means not a pleasant tisane) that I found this dish hard to enjoy. 5/10 (Still, keep in mind that this broth and the content of the ravioles varies a lot depending on the seasons, so there are chances you’ll stumble upon far more enjoyable ones).

ARPEGE, PARIS - AIGUILLETTE DE HOMARD

Aiguillette de homard bleu nuit acidulé au miel nouveau, transparence de navet globe au romarin –  For my taste, most boiled lobsters (this one was boiled), as great as they might be,  can’t hold a candle to the finest grilled ones (for palatable impact) and sweetness (the lobster was slightly honey-flavored) to seafood dish is just another road block on my way to enjoy the marine freshness of the lobster. It was cooked right, as evidenced by the tender flesh of the lobster, but exciting this was not  6/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - SOLE

Sole poached in vin jaune was delicious and its cooking without reproach, the accompanying pieces of octopus not startling, but properly tenderized. 7/10 for the fish (it came with nicely smoked potatoes, chives and cabbage)

ARPEGE, PARIS - CORN RISOTTO

Corn risotto/parsley emulsion is the kind of dish that many ambitious tables will take for granted because it looks simple  and sounds easy to create, but the reality might tell a different story: the stunning corn flavor was enhanced by a balanced and addictive creamy-ness that you can’t just provoke by adding cream to corn. I love this kind of dish since it  lures  into believing that you can replicate it. Yes, anyone can re-create this recipe, but few will be able to replicate the exact depth of eventful flavors of this dish.  Inspired!  10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - Robe des champs Arlequin a l'huile d'argan

Robe des champs Arlequin à l’huile d’argan, merguez légumière, aubergine d’autrefois, courgette ronde de Nice, carotte white satin is a creatively constructed dish of  semolina, vegetables (beets, tomatoes,carrots), vegetable sausage….  but I was disappointed by a dry vegetable sausage that was oddly sweet and salty in a non appetizing way. The bitterness of the rest of that dish was the other major problem. Not a pleasant dish at all, for me and my wife was even more critical of that dish . 0/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - AGNEAU

Things then took the direction of the finer dishes of this meal: my wife’s T-bone d’agneau de Lozère aux feuilles de figuier, aubergine à la flamme (roasted T-bone of lamb — the image on the left or above, depending on your web browser’s display settings) would be a crowd pleaser at a world class steakhouse (fabulous taste) and my piece of pigeon/cardamom was a benchmark beautifully rosy (ideal doneness) bird with exciting taste. 8/10 for the lamb, 10/10 for the pigeon, but scores will never be high enough to convey the real great pleasure that my wife and I were having with both the lamb and pigeon. Exciting. Also, ppl talk a lot about the beautiful  dishes at l’Arpege, and we were eyeing at an example of just that: the way my wife’s dish was constructed was of unusual  supreme visual appeal  (hard to tell  when looking at that pic, but definitely easy on the eyes in reality).

ARPEGE, PARIS - PIGEON

The pigeon came with white beans that had such an amazing  mid eastern flavour profile.

ARPEGE, PARIS - VELOUTÉ

Red pepper velouté was another benchmark offering of its kind, with superb creamy texture, joyous mouthfeel, the feast went on with the exciting combination of an addictive speck cream. A lesson in the art of taking a familiar dish and turn it into something profoundly inspiring. 10/10

ARPEGE, PARIS - CHEESE

To end the meal, a well kept aged Comte from Maitre affineur Bernard Anthony and a superb piece of moelleux du revard.

ARPEGE, PARIS - MILLE FEUILLE

Then their millefeuille (blackberry ,thyme) which is indeed light and an enjoyable alternative to its classic version (7/10), and a rework of the classic ile flottante that showcased a creative mind but which, for me, suffered from strong coffee flavour (6/10). My wife observed that the classic ile flottante fared better. I personally do not mind this creative take, but it was just difficult to cope with the strong coffee taste.

ARPEGE, PARIS - MIGNARDISES

A plate of mignardises comprised of vegetable-flavoured macarons (not as bad as I had anticipated), the nougat truely delicious, the apple tart shaped like a rose having nice buttery pastry with joyous apple flavour (8/10)

Prosthe young and dynamic sommeliere from the Czech republic.  Her wine suggestions by the glass were  so inspired (2)The superlative delicious pigeon/lamb/corn risotto, benchmark creative takes on the gazpacho/red pepper velouté. All items that many will pretend to be able to easily deliver, but few will really reach  out to the depth and deliciousness of those. Usually, when there are lesser impressive items in a meal, my overall impression is affected, but not in this case. Here my overall impression had just the finest dishes in mind (3)the very approachable and genuine Maitre D’ Helene Cousin. 

Consthe Arlequin robe des champs, lobster, ravioles potageres, vegetable tartlets (though, for the sake of accuracy, it is important to remind  that they do offer different versions of those, so you may be luckier than I was). Also, the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to explain the dishes a bit more, exactly like what Maitre D’ Helène Cousin did when she served the red pepper velouté

MEURSAULT LES TESSONS CLOS DE MON PLAISIRThe wine service:  A section that I add to my reviews when I am very  impressed by the wine service at a restaurant. The behaviour of the sommeliere from the Czech republic  was admirable in all possible aspects: being able to listen, share, never contradicting while making her point whenever necessary, etc. But all of that was done way better than  what passes as the norm for great hospitality standards (Helene Cousin also excels at that, but in the different role of the Maitre D’).  Right upon perusing the wine menu I knew I’d pick the  2008 Meursault  ”Tessons, Clos de Mon Plaisir”  from the domaine Roulot. She had other choices in mind for me as she pointed to amazing little gems that were less expensive and indeed of great quality. But I went with what I had in mind for the most part of this meal, and she never interfered. A first great classy act from her part. This Meursault is a type of  Bourgogne blanc wine that I highly  enjoy for its  balanced acidity/minerality, enticing  nose of ripe fruits, great level of  intensity/complexity. It will continue to age well, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s already a top flight flacon). Me chosing that Meursault was also a trap:  was my sommelière going to be passive and not flag wine/dish pairings that made no sense (it is surprising how many sommelier/e/s even at highly regarded restaurants do fall into that trap)? NO she never fell into that trap! She is a very present/focused/competent  sommelière as she  tactfully intervened whenever necessary.  The way she did that and the suggestions she had is about the difference between a great sommelière (which she is) Vs a standard  sommelier-e. For me, a great wine pairing has nothing to do with showing off pricey wines. It should be about  finding, even among the more affordable ones, the wines that turn into true gems because their pairing to a specific dish is flawless.  It’s exactly what she did.  A world class sommeliere.

Service/Ambience:  Professional.  The younger waiters and waitresses looking very serious, though their youth and energy makes the whole effect not heavy (as in way too serious).  Maitre D’ Helene Cousin truely embodying the concept of L’Arpège — which is the theme  of  a ‘maison de cuisine’, a house imagined by   Alain Passard where he receives his guests in a cosy environment (which explains why you do not have the huge space between the tables / grand luxury, etc…of most of the grand restaurants of Paris) — with cordial and yet professional demeanour. I like this approach of being genuine/approachable (The sommelière from the Czech Republic also followed  this approach faithfully) since it reminds us that, after all, the most important is that the customer is there to have fun.  The only suggestion I would have is  that the gentleman who served most of our meal needs to be a tad more chatty in his description of his dishes. All in all, they are French, I am French, so communication was naturally flawless.

Decor:  The interior decor is oftently described as understated.  But this place is all about details, so the idea, as Chef Passard has  widely explained to numerous medias, is to  replicate the ambience of a house. Thus, no grand formal luxury,  but the apparent understated warmth of the art-deco inspired  home that Passard has imagined for his guests: pear tree wood panels (designed by Jean-Christophe Plantrou) sparsely adorned with  few of his paintings,  some glass etching works, some retro style chrome-armed chairs, ebene de macassar material (this material is elementary in classifying L’Arpège interior deco as Art deco). Passard replacing the usual flowers on the tables, by vegetables.

Overall food rating (by the highest Classic French 3 star Michelin standards): 8/10**  I was immensely impressed with  the best dishes of this meal which were so inspired  and had such high impact (on my palate) that the lesser items were long forgiven (though, not forgotten…which is the sole reason I am not giving a 10/10 to this meal. Trust me, I am tempted to give that 10, Lol.. but have opted to remain rational)! There are always restaurant meals which finest dishes are  impressive, but this one was  something else.  The heights of this meal, for their  benchmark joyous flavors and superb creativity, will rarely be paralleled. As with any restaurant meal that impresses, I do not know if  L’Arpège can do this all the time. All I know is that the best dishes of this meal I just had, are …. true benchmarks, by any top dining standards and will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right. It is rare that an 8/10 meal delivers dishes far superior to a 10/10 meal (for eg, a flawless high level meal but with no particular heights) and this was one of those rare cases. Soul satisfaction    ***Two months after this meal, I raised the score of my lunch at L’Arpège to a 10/10. It might sound  controversial to assign a perfect score to a meal where many items triggered indifference from my part (the amuse bouches, the ravioles potagères, just to name a few), but at the end of the round, and with hindsight, I was left with a much more important reflection:  even among world’s very best, few Chefs have the  exceptional palate found behind the finest dishes of that meal (referring to the incredible heights of deliciousness of the better dishes that they’ve cooked. And where many would reproduce those simple looking food presentations only to end up with  items of ordinary effect (which happens a lot because many kitchen brigades/cooks simply can’t make the difference between EASY vs SIMPLE), L’Arpège offers plenty of inspired touches to admire  for those with an eye for details.  If such heights would have been the norm I’d play it rough (referring to the lesser dishes), but is is not. It is not the norm. It is NOT! What I like the most with L’Arpège is that they have opted to be different (from the conventional fla fla of luxury dining), NOT  for the sake of just being different because it’s trendy, BUT because they truly are.

ARPEGE, PARISConclusion: I prefer a table that does not rests on its laurels like this one, rather than places where everything is uniformly done well but without soul/inspiration.  The better dishes of this meal were true moments of  divine ‘gourmand’ enjoyment. I’ll also  add this: for me, being creative is doing things the way few are thinking about doing them. The way they have thought their ravioles  (that level of finesse in creating those ravioles  and the thought they did put in working its taste – the fact that I did not like it substracts nothing from the true creativity of that dish — ) has nothing to do with what most ambitious kitchen brigades  would think about doing with a bowl/some pasta/some vegetable and water in their hands. The gazpacho, the corn risotto, the red pepper etc..same thing: easy sounding creations  that tons of kitchen brigades can do, BUT rarely with this level of utter refinement, attention to details, and superlative work of the taste.

For something safe all the way, which is not my thang, this meal (I judge meals, not restaurants) was obviously not perfect. But if for you, the higher highs can potentially …potentially, I wrote…rise to benchmark  levels (the case of  this lunch), then this would be a standard bearing one. My wife argued that despite the benchmark lamb/pigeon and the fact that she highly regards this place as one of world’s finest (especially for its refreshing and successful different approach of French/Cosmopolitan cooking), an 8 over 10 will be an accurate score for  the overall food performance of this lunch.  I think that when your higher highs are far better than restaurants of your rank (which was the case on this lunch), then you deserve a 10/10….but way too many items left me wanting for more on this lunch (lobster, ravioles potageres, arlequin Robe des Champs), which in the end leaves me with the 8/10 as a fair overall score (update November 2013: a score that  has NOT stood the test of time – SEE my addendum, written in red, to the overall score section ) . More importantly, L’Arpège  continues to rank among  the stronger  3 star Michelin destinations around the globe, one of my few favourite.

Added in October 2013 – What I think a month later :   I purposely add this section to all my reviews because there’s of course different stages of the appreciation of a meal.  There is the  ‘right-off the bat’ stage  which is obviously the freshest impressions you have, then of course what you think about it later on. Some people think that you should always wait before  unveiling your thoughts about a meal, which to me is akin to  manipulating reality. It’s one thing to think for a while before making an important decision, but if  talking about the appreciation  of your meal does  require some second thoughts, then I am afraid you are just sharing a portion of the reality. What you’ve read before was my fresh impressions. What you’ll read next is where I stand a month  later: that meal at L’Arpège could be perceived as  a crash or a triumph depending on who you are as a diner. A crash if you think of a restaurant as that robot who’s supposed to  read in your mind and  feed you with the exact bites you want, which I think would be a naïve approach to dining. A triumph if you understand that a meal needs to be judged on the back of the heights it can reach, not in terms of this is good, that is less good and that is a bit better. Then, there’s also this important observation to make: there’s a reason some restaurants deserve their  3 star Michelin rank (needless to stress that for me, this is a strong 3 star when it ‘’touches the sky’’’ as it did on that meal). And that reason is the same that makes  a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Ferrari  all well praised cars: the details!  If for you a Porsche is simply an assemblage or metal, nothing more, then do not bother with it! You are losing your time. Same thing for this meal at L’Arpège: if for you  that Arlequin of legumes is just a take on the couscous, or those ravioles are just interpretations of wonton soups, please do yourself a favor:  stick to the numerous canteens you won’t fail to find on your way.  Leave those to people who can appreciate the details / thoughts that were invested in those dishes. I do not mean to sound  rude by saying so, just pragmatic as you’d want to constructively tell to anyone who can’t properly appreciate a great song in its full nuances to simply stay away from it. Despite how easy as it sounds (upon reading many reports about their cooking), what I was sampling  takes, in facts,  a lot of training, efforts and skills (it’s one thing you not like a dish, it is another thing to trim it down to what it is not) . When this brigade at L’Arpège performs like  it did on this meal (referring to the finest dishes of this meal, obviously), the analogy I’ll consider is one related to sports, the 100 metres race: this brigade powered through the finish line when many of its peers are still at the starting blocks.