Posts Tagged ‘star’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On with the FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao!

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

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

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

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Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
Event: Dinner at  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg
When: Friday September 16th 2011,  7PM
Michelin stars: 3
Addr: Schloßstraße 27-29, D-66706 Perl-Nennig/Mosel
Email: info@victors-gourmet.de
URL: http://www.victors-gourmet.de/englisch/gourmet_restaurant/index.php
Chef Bau’s web site:  http://www.christian-bau.de
Phone: 49 (0) 68 66/79-458
Type of cuisine:  Modern French/Cosmopolitan

Overall food rating (by 3 star Michelin standards)10/10 Chef  Bau is a  magician with the exceptional ability of those few who will always set the bar (the precision and depth of  his cooking skills is of prime mention), for others to follow. He is to food what  a virtuoso is to music. An exceptional virtuoso.

Service:   10 /10 They are mostly young, open minded and hard working. Their hard work shows.
Overall Dining experience: 10/10 This is different from the grand Parisian 3 Michelin stars, and yet
it provided, on this dinner, an overall dining experience that is as exciting as the best ones found in France.
Food rating:  Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)

Before going ahead, a quick declaration of respect  to one of the   the world’s most exciting Chefs of our time, El Bulli’s Adria . As we all know, El Bulli has closed its doors (as a restaurant) in July.  I am buying all your books, Chef, and shall practice all your tricks! So that the amazing artist that I saw in you remains present in my mind, the mind of a classic-cuisine gourmand, btw! Proof that even the most traditionalists among us have embraced your cult! Hasta siempre, Jefe! As for those who are looking after the next clone of Adria:  forget clones, folks! Your best souvenirs are ..your best souvenirs.  They perfume your memories till you lose it, and that is it.

Wow, this has been  the shortest but most intense constructive trip I ever had in Europe:  four little days  of culinary congress, meetings, exchanges.  Only a few knows this, but aside from  Sciences, Litterature, Economics and Politics, one of my long time passion has been the research of enhancing flavor combinations in classic food.  Basically, what Jefe Ferran Adria does with progressive cooking at El Bulli , I do the same with classic cuisine. Where the latest cook who has just completed his culinary degree tells you that he is excited to test progressive cuisine because there’s not much  to discover with a simple classic filet mignon, I spend timeless moments in  my kitchen finding the ingredients or best cooking technique to ‘rejuvenate’  that  classic filet mignon.  This is why you won’t fail  to realize that my favourite Chefs mostly happen  —- whether they’ve chosen to partake in the progressive cooking trend or not — to   have a great depth of mastery  in classic cooking.  As soon as I have some time,  I will try to write about those congresses I’ve just talked about (truly interesting for us, gourmands from all around the world).  Then I had to end this European mini tour with —of course —  a bit of self-pampering:  I had either El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) or one of Germany’s top 3 star Michelin tables on my short list of tables I’d be interested to visit since a long time.  Spain is my type of  country. It’s a place where I’ll go back oftently anyways,  it’s even a place where there are big chances that I spend the rest of my life.   So I went  for Germany this time. Destination: Perl.  Perl-Nennig.   My final choice: Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg.

The city of  Perl-Nennig, where Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg  is located,  is  in a geographical area that is famous for its vineyards, castles  and scenic surroundings that I unfortunately did not take time to explore on this visit, but if this is of interest for you, I’d recommend you have a look at Rick Steve‘s article on that region. This trip there was the conclusion of months of been puzzled between Chef Bau‘s restaurant where it is located, and another German 3-star Michelin:  Waldhotel Sonnora‘s restaurant.  Waldhotel Sonnora  was actually my very 1st choice for its more classical cooking,  but since it sounded too remote and way too complicated to get there by train (my only mean of transport during this trip),  I ended opting for Victor Gourmet-Restaurant  Schloss Berg. The thing that attracted me with both 3-star Michelin restaurants is their legendary reputation for consistency.  I have rarely sat at a 3-star Michelin with food consistently good from the 1st amuse bouche to the last mignardise, one of the few exceptions being the last meal at L’Ambroisie in Paris, or the last meals at Joel Robuchon’s Hotel du Parc and Fredy Girardet in 1995 (both are now closed, since) where each dish lived up to what I do expect at this level of dining. A quick personal tip: if you are in Perl Nennig and have hired a car, head to the tiny Luxembourg town of Remich for refuel (it’s at approx 3,4 kms from Nennig). I am sure you don’t need a picture ;p And Remich is a little town I’d recommend that you visit, especially in summer (it’s lively!).

My take on Chef Bau’s  Victor’s Gourmet-Restaurant Schloss Berg:  Known as one of the most brilliant 3-star Michelin Chefs around the globe, Christian Bau has chosen not to create a restaurant empire like many of his peers. Instead, he prefers perfecting his cooking in the kitchen of his triple-starred Michelin stronghold of Perl-Nennig. An aspect that I  value a lot in a Chef’s philosophy (reminder: on top of being completely independent from anything  related to the restaurant world, I do also insist on mostly dining  at restaurants where you have the actual Chef behind his stoves instead of running after popularity contests and leaving his customers to name bearers). He first earned an initial Michelin star in 1998, followed by a second one in 1999, and was awarded his third in 2005. A third Michelin star that he retains since then.

Many, among some of the connoisseurs of world’s finest tables, argue that the only reason Chef Bau’s restaurant is not a worldwide attraction has got to do with its secluded location (the restaurant is located in the remote German’s Saarland  state, a territory bordering France and Luxembourg). In my opinion, the location  is far from being an issue: it is situated at 30 mins drive from the major urban area of Luxembourg-city.  Those connoisseurs did  also express their dissatisfaction over the fact that Chef Bau’s talent  is not recognized by worldwide restaurant listings like the S Pellegrino’s Top 100 world best dining ventures, an observation to which I’ll append my personal  opinion:

If you play attention at that list, you quickly realize that most of the featuring restaurants are ones that did set  themselves apart by their persistent adoption  of a given culinary trend:  for ie, the molecular movement (Fat Duck, El Bulli, Alinea etc), the ‘rise’ of  bosky cuisine (Noma, for ie), the unique progressive touches of Mugaritz or Quique Da Costa,  the unorthodox style of Iñaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand, etc.  But of course, being unique in a daring way does not necessarily mean  being among the best (or does it? I’ll leave this to your discretion), which brings us back to our featuring restaurant review:  Chef Bau is currently not making the headlines of world’s gastronomy perhaps because he is not trying to follow trends for the sake of popularity nor trying to reinvent the wheel, and that did not stop him from being, in facts,  at the very top.  Bau has spent years alongside legendary German Chef Harald Wohlfahrt (perhaps one of the few Chefs that I admire the most, for his amazing food, naturally, but also for one of the most fabulous Chef quotes ‘’Don’t cook out of ambition because this is what your food will taste like’’), prior to his appointment as Chef of Victor’s Gourmet-restaurant Schloss Berg in 1997.

NO PHOTO RESTRICTIONAs/per the house, photo taking is normally forbidden to everyone, normal diners or not. I was fine with that rule, because my point is to experience things the way a normal diner would experience it (this blog sole intent is to share just with close friends and relatives. In the process, I am sharing it with the rest of the web, for just knowledge sharing as the sole motivation). But they told me that on that evening, a bunch of food bloggers and food journalists were paying a visit to them and were allowed to take pics, therefore that restriction was loosened and I could thereore feel free to seize the occasion and take pics of my meal, which I did. I am taking the time to write this because I believe in  ‘honesty” as the first mandatory step of anything we shall aim at.

The  menu:  it is a tasting menu, at the discretion of the Chef,  that they call ‘voyage culinaire” for its international influences.  You can be served   4,  6, 8 or 10 courses , but whatever set of courses you are opting for, they will also offer 8,9 free extra nibbles +  an array of mignardises. And those are outstanding nibbles! This is one of the most affordable 3 Star Michelin tables.

Decor:  Omnipresence of  light warm  tones in an overall decor that is nicely balanced between elements of victorian and contemporary design .  Having myself spent  time studying the influence of colors on a diner’s appetite, that specific aspect naturally caught my attention at this restaurant: whether it  was their intent or not, color psychology is better mastered here than at any other restaurant that comes to mind. A beautiful and smart use of appetizing colors; for ie the light brown  of their wooden floors or the discrete sparse  touches of red  (mini flower pots of gorgeous red roses on the table, on this evening) follow the principle of  the ‘appetizing color’ theme.

Food

I led off with a parade of  bite-size savoury  appetizers that showcased  ingenuity:

As an ie, cornet with   tenderloin, Räucheraalcreme (smoked eel cream ) & chives – finely hand-cut meat to a consistency that’s ideal for tartares, accurate seasoning and mix-ins;  at the art of intensifying taste and flavor, you can’t go wrong when you pair a perfectly conceived beef tartare with the addictive richness of a well composed smoked eel cream. Not to forget  the  elegant and ideal aromatic substitute to onion: the chives. That was naturally eventful and it deserves its full 10/10 marks

-Parmesan crust with yuzu confiture had a  terrific crunchy cheesy appeal marrying perfectly with the yuzu flavor 10/10

The array of  impressive nibbles went on with

– Jabugo Bellota ‘Puro’ (I’m a big fan of this ‘crème de la crème’ well praised ham; the bellota type is truly sublime – As I’ve learned with time, the Spaniards always back buzz with effective accomplishments. Not just blabla and wind just to cash in mileages of advertising non deserved visibility;) atop a flawless and delicious creative risotto-inspired mini ball of rice. 10/10

-Majorcan gamba  with lardo and caviar had an addictive multi-dimensional parade of marine fresh  flavors 10/10

– Crab cracker with hamachi, fennel & apple, green tea biscuit with lobster and kimizu was a show-stopper for its surprising balance of complex  tastes and textures. It showed in terms of “culinary prouesse” the humongous depth of technical mastery of Chef Christian Bau. That depth kept shining throughout the entire meal, a rare occurence at any level of dining. 10/10

-Bio carrot  with yogurt and coriander (the left side photo) was simply startling: I’d not be surprised to learn that  it would be hard  to find a better veloute of carrot than this. The kick of coriander  adding an extra dimension of remarkable tastes. This came along a refined veggie sushi and phenomenal moussy take on carrots 10/10

There was also a plate of 5 creations based on bluefin tuna with Miso, soja and cucumber. It will be hard to put in words the level of impressive successful complexity at play on each of those 5 morsels. Startling! 10/10

Not one single flaw throughout that exposition of superb  mini culinary concoctions. Nine mini courses  before the main dishes arrive, imagine! Generosity is the motto.

The first main course arrived:

A construction around oyster. A succulent lucious and juicy poached oyster was paired with oyster-flavored refined chips, pearl-looking creations  oozing of amazing fresh oysteriness, combava as the citrus enhancer and algae (passe-pierre) for a concerto of pure  palatable amazement . Complex, exciting and so thoughtful 10/10

Sea spider took me by surprise. I expected some kind of tempura sea-spider. The sea spider came as a meaty roll, this was actually reminescent of crab meat imho  but it was sea spider. Part of the appeal of this dish is its clever conceptualization:  you can see   that each item was diligently thought and carefully selected  in relation to the next (I have rarely seen a Chef pairing so flawlessly and excitingly veggies with seafood. It sounds like an easy thing and most of the time it’s a common affair, but the way Chef Bau marries veggies and seafood make them pass as items of the same  species).  The flavour of  the seafood  is maintained in its pure form, its taste as delicate as it should.  He adds lots of  extra textural and taste dimensions to all his dishes (I could count at least 8 different components on that dish) and what turns usually as a big risk in most talented hands  is like a piece of cake for him. To epitomize what I’ve just asserted, a creamy velouté of green veggies poured over this dish tasted like a tantalizing seafood enhancer to the sea spider rather than tasting of some futile veggie cream thrown against seafood. 10/10

The next offering (which I forgot to take a picture of ) was goose liver  from the Landes (au torchon) wrapped by top quality seaweed. I have to admit that I was lucky to have sampled some stunning quality foie gras (duck and sometimes goose as well) in the past (in Quebec, France and in some other countries), but this one has a phenomenal taste that I won’t forget as long as my memory serves me. A modern take on a ragout of mushrooms with a citrusy hint of sudachi (a citrus fruit) complemented the dish. This course  had great finesse with a mouthfeel worthy of superlatives. 10/10

A serving of artichoke from France’s region of Bretagne rose as the epitomy of the perfect artichoke-centric dish: it had jabugo bellota ham , parmesan foam and artichoke root sauce imparting an impressive depth of  enticing flavours to this dish. The care, composition and  cooking mastery  behind this dish were herculean in scope, the presentation immaculate. As with each menu item  that I was served all along this tasting, accurate cooking times were skilfully surveyed and the technique, impeccable. The taste, a pure bliss with each mouthful insisting on the next. 10/10

The next course  exalted by a delicious meaty piece of irreproachable fresh prawn (the Gamberoni was cooked à la plancha and kept its genuine marine flavor). The small green “globes” you see on the picture are made of peas and were packed with unusual exquisite taste.  A cream of Kombuseaweed had impressive taste sensation that stood out in a very distinct way and lightened the dish. Another item that was mingling so well in this successful concerto of tastes and textures was Jasmin rice broth with coconut infusion: it  was a fun and creative take on what looks like rice crispy  but  would then give rice crispy a newly discovered refined state. Here’s a dish that attracts me  towards its creativity.  10/10

A plate of  Atlantic turbot was next.  The fish on its own had perfect flasky consistency and the flesh,  translucent. The exquisite moistness of the fish was superb. It was combined with sweet potato dots, the brilliant addition of a mouth watering gingery sauce, the crunchy nutty dimension of the hazelnuts that was topping the fish.   A sensational culinary creation with ingredients which sourcing is exemplary and perhaps one of my lifetime favourite cosmopolitan dish (there was, once all items were mixed together, a middle Eastern feel to this dish that propulsed me in heaven – literally). Chef Bau count among the exceptional few who can offer some of the most creative and exciting cosmopolitan dishes of our era.  10/10

Bresse-Pigeon from Mieral – This  preparation perfectly accented the natural flavors of the fowl. The pigeon’s meat  retaining its natural ideal dark texture and a meaty juicy  mouthfeel. Delicious pigeon that kept its enjoyable gamey taste vibrant. Another take on this bird also featured on this dish: a perfect pigeon-goose liver flan (you don’t see it on the picture because I ate it way before I thought of taking the picture..Rfaol..) which conception was simply stellar. On the right side of the pic, the little nutty-covered sphere you see was also pigeon’s meat surrounded by hazelnuts (well done). The dots are made of carrot cream (particularly delicious). There was also a jus of smoked tea and spices that — to my surprise — tasted like  the best  match to the meaty fowl. A bit as if I was telling you that a reduction made of smoked tea & spices  &  the meat’s sauce was far tastier and made more sense (in mouth)  than just the meat’s sauce alone. That was the case, here. 10/10

Nebraska beef – This serving  had  lots of flavors imparted into the beef  with the meat  having a  smooth melting texture, cooked equally thoughout,  fully meaty and shining  through pretty well due to non inclusion of  extraneous  ingredients and a judiciousness of the seasoning  that is right on. The sauce is rich and deep, a square of back and short rib (you don’t see it clearly on the picture) was tasty, the Japanese egg plant puree well done, the dots of black garlic adding a nice kick, the overall clever and highly satisfying. 9/10

Champagner Bellini was a collection of sweet creations around peach and  raspberry in various renditions:  sorbet, mousse, a ragout (of peach).  Champagne was additionally poured in the center of the plate. A ravishing dish (really beautiful to espy with its visually pleasant carefully constructed decorative features). Technically, not one single flaw. 9/10

This was the modern and refined take of the kitchen on the theme of a   banana split. The chocolate elements  had the accurate ratio of cream/chocolate and ideal texture (as firm as it should, with a rich  chocolate colour).  The chip of banana was packed with addictive fruity flavor. As with all creations of this kitchen: a lot of work is put in the details, the refinement and the delicious taste. A joyous inspired dessert 9/10

An array of top quality petits fours brought an end to this startling dinner experience. This was  really stunning  food after stunning food and the meal  joins my 1995 dinners at JR and Girardet, 2009 dinner at Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) + 2011 meal at L’Ambroisie in my all time favourite 3 star Michelin dining occurrences

Service: It’s amazing to see such a young staff excelling in professionalism and showing such a genuine desire to please their hosts. I have rarely seen this since the exceptional service of Sidonie (XO Le Restaurant in Montreal) and the one I had in March at Ledoyen in Paris.

Pros: A table of exception where everything is pure exciting perfection. It’s one of those few tables around the world, where I would be tempted to go back again and again. I’ll never be in a position to humanly eat at all existing restaurants in the world, but deep inside of me, if such survey could make sense, this table would get  my vote in the top 5 best restaurants of the globe.  And it’s not even expensive!

Cons: Nothing wrong.

Conclusion: That  was pure genius food. Sure, I love French food and International  cuisine as well so I was seduced, but the real reason I felt for this restaurant lies in Chef Chistian Bau exceptional skills. Many Chefs are scared to go beyond the common boundaries. Or when they do it, it’s usually with inconsistencies. But Chef Bau goes ages ahead, blending an impressive quantity of ingredients with astonishing efficiency.  Bau is a Genius with a big G!

WHAT I THINK MONTHS LATER:  I gathered, from various   emails  received following this review, that some other  restaurants do offer equal cooking performance. When asked what they were, I was in for a surprise: most were tables I  was already familiar with and although offering Modern International cuisine,  those places were in facts not even close to half of the skills showcased by Chef  Bau.   It was interesting to observe that the Chefs at the restaurants that are supposedly at the same height as VGSB would do great with 3 to 5  ingredients,  but would perform poorly as soon as they would get to the count of  6 or  7  ingredients on the plate.  In contrast,  Chef Bau could align 8 to 15  elements with stunning precision and harmony as proven on this reported meal.  A reminder   that  what could look similar at first glance do not necessarily have the same depth of mastery behind them.  To me, that is how I measure the genius of a Chef :  in its ability to offer a  substantial depth of skills  that his peers can’t accomplish as succesfully.    Rest assured that Chef Bau has the skills for others to follow, especially his exceptional precise work of shapes, colors and flavors. I have no clue if he is there all the time behind his kitchen, but when he is cooking, which was the case on that evening, there is no doubt in my mind that he is among the few truely  gifted Chefs of the globe.

L’Ambroisie, Paris

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How I chose a 3* table:

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the side, I was served with their:

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

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

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

The Pamplemousse Ice cream

DESSERT:

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

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

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

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

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

CONS: Nothing that  comes to mind.

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

There is an important distinction between talent and personal touch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing  you this  same amazement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They offer lots of extras:

Several “mises en bouche”

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

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

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

SERVICE

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

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

LOCATION
Off Les Champs Élysées

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

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

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

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

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