Archive for juillet 2009

The joys of summer

juillet 31, 2009

 

homard breton

homard breton

Summer does have some advanteages. In terms of products, one of my favourite things to eat, blue lobster from Brittany, has its high season. During these months, it is not only reasonably cheap, but also has the best flesh in terms of taste and texture. A few days ago, I just prepared it with a few different salad leaves, avocado cream, almonds and a vinaigrette, which was enriched with some lobster jus. This was simple, yet tasty and I particularly enjoyed the fact that the lobster wasn’t overcooked. This is often a case in restaurants, but I prefer it to be just undercooked, as it retains much more textural interest.

 

Another thing I tried were some very large Danish langoustines, which I pan-fried and marinated (to have two different ideas on one plate) and paired with two fennel preparations and spring onions. A simple langoustine bouillon with piment d’Espelette finished the dish off beautifully. Such products are so good, that one hardly needs to touch them. They would have sufficed with a little lemon juice and Armando Manni olive oil.

 

langoustine

langoustine

Some foie gras poached in red wine, then cooled again was simply served with red and yellow pepper cream, which was a beautiful, if not outstanding. The idea of poaching foie in red wine was interesting, and more successful, when left warm, as the corners turned a little dry after the cooling process.

 

foie

foie

As lobsters were so « cheap » these days, I also did another lobster dish, in two parts at another dinner. The first serving contained the mitts with quinoa, parsley and lobster oil. This was simple, but effective (at least in my humble opinion).

 

homard, quinoa

homard, quinoa

 

 

 

 

The tail was served with grelot onions, small girolles and an almond/milk/thyme paste. This was very good as far as I can say, as this combination always works with lobster, or indeed most things.

 

lobster / girolles

lobster / girolles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publicités

In de Wulf, Dranouter

juillet 25, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

This one is special. Not only because it takes you quite a while to get there and is literally in the middle of nowhere, but also because the cooking of Kobe Desramaults is absolutely stunning. This young chef, who opened In de Wulf not too long ago, is one of the most interesting chefs in Europe at the moment. But, there isn’t only his cooking here. The place, the atmosphere and the fantastic service all add to the charm of this little piece of heaven. The Hotel’s rooms are simple, TV-less and make you feel well, as does the lovely garden. There can hardly be anything more relaxing than sitting in that garden, whilst you eat a breakfast with great cheese, charcuterie, viennoiseries, bread, fruit,… This is to be seen as a complete experience, as you will be in a different world from your arrival until you leave. I can imagine that a similar (if slightly different) idea is behind Michel Bras’ UFO in Laguiole. 

 

La salle

La salle

The main ideas or characteristics of his kitchen are running through the 20 courses without ever getting lost. The focus of his kitchen is the purity and cleanliness of the flavours. Having worked with Sergio Herman, he knows how to treat fish and crustaceans and has a penchant for beautifully arranged plates. What amazed me here is the sourcing of the products and the great respect with which they are treated. Fish comes from day boats in Boulogne and the Schelde, vegetables and herbs from the own or the neighbour’s garden, butter from the village down the road (Dranouter), cheeses mainly from the region and meat from the valleys and salt marshes close by. This closeness to the surrounding area is further put forward by constructing clean, nearly natural dishes, which can seem minimalist in some cases and highly elaborate in others.

 

La maison II

La maison II

The restaurant’s room is dominated by the contrast of dark and bright colours. It is relatively simple, but has some lovely touches here and there, like the bottle cooler and the fantastic light. The view from our table was also lovely, as we were able to see the sun set over the fields.

 

La table

La table

The service was lovely: personal, charming, attentive, interested, well-informed and always there when needed. When I asked for an end piece of the bread, I was directly obliged and it was made sure that I only saw crusts for the rest of the evening. Those things make the difference between very good and fantastic service.

Bread was great, with a fantastic crust and airy mie. The butter from Dranoutier and salted pork fat were equally good.

To start the meal, we had a few glasses of Champagne and a whole procession of amuses started arriving. I know many don’t like the idea of having a large number of small bites before a meal, but I find it to be one of the most interesting parts, as the chef has all the freedom he wants, in order to express his ideas.

We started with whelks and a mayonnaise of them. The airy mayonnaise accompanied the whelks beautifully. This was fresh and clean, very good.

 

Whelks

Whelks

Next up where a few stunning bites: Pig’s trotter, mimolette and rind of porc, honeyvinegar. The trotter cracker was a pure delight. There are few things I like more than those cuts of meat, and if they are treated in such a fantastic way as here, they just stun you. The mimolette cream worked beautifully with it. Outstanding

In the foreground is the cracker, which was topped with a cream made out of honey vinegar. This was greaseless and offered a nice crunch. Very good.

 

Pork

Pork

After this came a marinated herring with green apple, North Sea crab and sorrel. This was a perfect example of Kobe’s cooking. The herring was of top quality, as was the crab. Despite the fact that I don’t like herring, I must say that I did enjoy this plate. The crab and slight sweetness of the apple provided a lovely contrast. One has to mention that this is a nod to Flanders as herring is a speciality in this part of the world. Very good.

 

Herring

Herring

Next up came a piece of heaven. A round of marinated mackerel was topped with a pastille of herbs. This was bursting with freshness and flavour. An absolutely stunning mackerel, which must have been the best I have come across in a restaurant. The combination with the cool, refreshing herb sorbet was simply brilliant. Outstanding.

 

Mackerel

Mackerel

The last of the series came in form of different vegetables, herbs and flowers from the gardens around the restaurant. This came with a granite of herbs and a Keiemtaler (cheese from a valley close by) cream. It reminded me a little of Andoni Luis Aduriz’s flowers and herbs dish, where he combines them with a Emmentaler cream (not quite sure about that anymore). Here the peas and courgette in particular struck me. They were of stunning quality: minuscule, sweet peas nearly raw didn’t need the least bit of seasoning to bring out their flavour. Very good.

 

Herbs, flowers, vegetables

Herbs, flowers, vegetables

The first dish of the actual menu was Langoustine, potato, lettuce, smoked eel. A round of langoustine tartar came with a lettuce foam, smoked eel and potato salad. The langoustines were very fresh and tasty. The lettuce foam however, was a little underwhelming. It didn’t taste of much at all, but when combined with the langoustine, it wasn’t too bad, giving it an airy, light note. The potato salad and smoked eel combo was great. I usually despise any potato salad, but this one was good. Looking back, this was one of the two weakest courses of the menu, but it still was very good.

 

Langoustine

Langoustine

The second was back on the level of the amuses: Peas, rucola, egg yolk and broth of lard. The tiny peas (even smaller than those of the herb dish) where stunning, when combined with the strong lard broth and the melting yolk. It was just a fantastic mouthful, which was very pure and rewarding. This is one of those dishes that would not work without top quality products. It is great to see a vegetable based that is that good. Excellent.

 

Petit pois

Petit pois

The following dish, North Sea squid, dill, star anise, chervil, was the weakest of them all, at least for me. The presentation was gorgeous, the squid well prepared and of good quality, but the whole seemed a little ridiculous. Had it not been for the great broth, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this at all. The small cubes of squid where too small to give you much pleasure. Considering the quality of the other dishes, it didn’t really bother me that this wasn’t quite my thing. Good.

 

Calamars

Calamars

Grilled sole, watercress, millet, mussels and cockles. I can hardly imagine a better sole dish. The fish was cooked perfectly and had the firm flesh I so much love with sole. This is the kind of product quality one dreams of when sitting in a coastal restaurant, only that here the brigade really knows how to cook, making it even more enjoyable. The accompanying millet (toasted and as a salad), mussels and cockles gave it fantastic background. This was a truly great dish, which I won’t forget all too soon. Outstanding

 

Sole

Sole

The Eastern Schelde lobster, mashed potatoes with buttermilk was equally perfect. I absolutely love lobster, and such a fine specimen will not grace your mouth every day. The pieces were expertly cooked (which means not too much, rather mi-cuit), and burst with flavour. The simple association with the buttermilk potato puree was one of those minimalist presentations that work. It was like a match made in heaven, one didn’t need anything else. Any addition would have distracted your attention. This was innovative, simple, accomplished cooking I hope to find more often these days. Divine.

 

Homard

Homard

Eastern Schelde eel, green celery, jus of eel & honeymead. Another of these outstanding local products that was prepared in the most effective, simple way. The eel was absolutely beautiful and didn’t fail to impress. The jus was also of interest, as it was treated a little like a meat jus. It was slightly sweet, powerful, a little acidic and absolutely beautiful. Outstanding.

 

Anguille

Anguille

Next up came a few meat courses, starting with Braised lard of pork’s belly, pickled vegetables, elderberry. A small rectangle of braised, tender, tasty pork’s belly came with a few shavings of pickled slightly acidic vegetables, a bit of crunchy pork skin and a hint of elderberry syrup or broth. This was so good, that I asked for second helpings, which were even better than the first round. The pork was just fantastic, and worked beautifully with the pickled vegetables as these gave it a sour, slightly sweet counterpoint. Outstanding.

 

Lard

Lard

The second met course of the day was Lamb from “ La Vallee au Ble” cooked in hay, broad beens, turnips. A piece of perfectly cooked lamb, which had an interesting (in a very good way) flavour, thanks to the hay, was accompanied by very good broad beens and two turnip preparations. Very good.

 

Agneau

Agneau

The chef had tried a dish that day, which he served us to see what we think of it. It was an onglet of beef cooked in salt with a cream of garlic. Extremely simple but extremely good. I would not go too far if I said that this was easily the best of the meat dishes we had that day. The beef came from the coast, and had remarkable texture and taste. I was surprised by the fact that it wasn’t overly salty, as it lay in salt without any leaf or so to protect it. Again, this was a most simple, but accomplished dish. Considering that it was a first try, I would like to know what this dish would look like, once it’s ready to go on the menu. Outstanding.

 

Onglet

Onglet

As this was my first visit here, I decided to go for both cheese and dessert. The cheeses are matured by Philippe Olivier and are served with four jams and two new types of bread. All of them were very good, although I didn’t take the names, I preferred the stronger ones (on the right) and found the vieille mimolette to be very good.

 

Fromages

Fromages

The Dessert parade, started with Raspberry, fresh cheese, staranise, chervil. This was a mostly iced dessert, which featured a range of textures reaching from relatively hard pastilles, to delicate snow and the creamy (not iced) raspberry mousse. It was refreshing, not too sweet and very enjoyable. Very good.

 

Framboises

Framboises

Rhubarb, rose hip, sweet woodruff was the second of the three. This was already much more interesting. The different elements all worked beautifully together and created a magnificent mix of tastes and textures. As with both of the others, this dessert was on the refreshing, moderately sweet side of things. Excellent.

 

Roses

Roses

The last was Sorrel, lemon balm, mint, green strawberry. This one was interesting. Definitely the first time I ate sorrel in a dessert, but hopefully not the last. The many elements worked together so well, that all one had in the mouth was a harmonious flavour, rather than a whole cacophony. Excellent.

 

Oseille

Oseille

 

Tea and mignardises were equally good and interesting.

The following morning saw a great breakfast with more good products and lovely service. We left more than happy, with only one wish: Return as soon as possible.

 

This was an absolutely lovely stay, one that I hope to repeat more than once in the future. The reasons are numerous, but mainly there is of course Kobe’s cooking. It is exactly what I could see as an alternative to the “molecular” extravaganzas of some Spanish chefs, as it brings one great products in a most natural, nonetheless innovative way. The food was (with the exception of two courses) absolutely stunning, definitely worth a second star (he already holds 18p in the Gault Millau if I’m not mistaken). It will be interesting to come back in a few months and see how this kitchen evolves, as Kobe seems to be someone as passionate and hard working as one could ever hope to find.

 

A few words about the price, the menu (without the onglet) is no more than euro110, a price, I find more than fair for this kind of cooking. Shorter versions start at 70, and lunch is no more than 45. The wine list is fairly priced for such a restaurant, with many bottles at around 25-35euro. However, as the place is still young, the cellar needs to age and develop a little, as most wines are from the last ten vintages. I would recommend anyone who goes here to stay there, as it is a most unique experience. The rooms are priced at 90 (weekdays) and 130euro (weekends, holidays).

 

Le petit dejeuner

Le petit dejeuner

Les Ambassadeurs, Paris

juillet 21, 2009

 

La Salle I

La Salle I

Les Ambassadeurs benefits of a location that is absolutely unique in this world. Right on the place de la Concorder, facing the famous Obelisque, a stone’s throw away from pretty much anything that is in relation with luxury or power in Paris. Since a couple of years, Jean Francois Piege, formerly chef at Alain Ducasse’s Paris restaurant, is in charge of the cooking for  the restaurant, and the rest of the hotel. In the gastronomic restaurant, which holds 2* (MIchelin) and 18/20p in the Gault Millau, he proposes old recipes done with a modern twist. After all, he titles his carte: Histoire de cuisine

 The restaurant is located in the old ball room of the Hotel de Crillon, and as the pictures might suggest, has a bit of an austere atmosphere. Not to say that it isn’t interesting, it certainly is quite spectacular, but it doesn’t have any warmth, nor does it create the feeling of intimacy (due to the countless mirrors on the walls). Compared to equally, if not more opulent rooms like those of Louis XV, ADPA or Ledoyen, one doesn’t feel as good or comfortable here. However, the decor can be as charming or cold as it wants, I came for the food, which I remembered to be fantastic.

 

La salle II

La salle II

The service somehow managed to be nearly as cold as the room. It was a big difference to that of ADPA, where I had dined the day before. Someone was always there, when needed, but there was no interaction, no warm welcome nor did a relaxed atmosphere reign. It was a pretty stiff affair, one that doesn’t make you feel more at ease in that room. 

 

La salle III

La salle III

The table is elegantly dressed, with the glasses being Riedel and Baccarat, the China mostly from Bernardaud and the cutlery from Christofle. A funny little thing is the menu holder. A little socket holds the menu, which is attached to a plexiglass stick. Also, the wine list is the best-designed I have seen so far. It is light, compact and lists an impressive number of nearly exclusively French wines. Prices are equally impressive, but in Paris, one doesn’t expect anything else anymorre these days. 

 

La table

La table

Bread is made in house (2 types) and butter comes from Bordier. The bread has fantastic crust and is absolutely delicious. 

 

les beurres

les beurres

The meal starts, and this hasn’t changed since my visit a year and a half ago, with the famous sur l’idee d’un plateau tele. This amuse bouche is certainly good fun, but a little seasonal change wouldn’t hurt. The first part is a carrot salad, which comes as a lemonade. I do not think that this is a particularly clever idea, as it tasted a little odd. The salad was too acidic, and tasted a little thin. The second part was, something, that I wouldn’t prepare if I was making a TV platter, a royale de foie blonds, ecrevisses with an emulsion of Parmesan. To be fair though, this was a winner, with strong tastes and a delightfully creamy royale. A fantastic combination of flavours that worked beautifully. Following it, the best part of the composition was the cromesquis d’une brandade de morue. A little ball filled with a soup made out of a brandade if then deep-fried and really explodes in your mouth. This is absolute perfection, and was as good as I had remembered it. Moving on, a tube filled with a mousse jambon/cornichons. Fine, but a little under-seasoned for my taste. The last part was much better than last year (in February): A truffle bonbon. This time the truffle had real power and was delicious if spread on the toasted baguette. The whole was a little inconsistent, but generally pretty strong.

 

Plateau

Plateau

The meal started with a spider crab dish. The hot part was based around a royale, a little crab meat and was sauced with a pretty light bisque. On top of it, was thrown a croustillant of peanuts. The royale was certainly very good, as was the crab meat, but the bisque could have been a little stronger. It tasted a little diluted, not to say thin. However it was well seasoned. The only problem with this hot part was the croustillant, which became soggy just after the having touched the bisque. The other, cold, part featured a crab salad with wild fennel and a little salad leaves. This could have been great, if it had not come straight from the fridge. It always startles me how a restaurant as serious as this can’t think of tempering such a vital part of a dish. Overall it was much weaker a dish than Moret’s araignee de mer en chaud et froid. Very good, but could have been excellent if the croustillant would have stayed that way and the cold part wouldn’t have been that cold.

 

Araignee

Araignee

Second course was a Foie gras de canard des Landes en feuille de chou/lard fume; En bouillon coriandre/gingembre. On my previous visit here, the foie was one of the better ones I have eaten. This time however, the story wasn’t quite as rosy as that. The two soups (!?) were radically different, but remained two soups. I can’t see why one would serve foie in two soups, but well. The bacon cream, which came with the mi-cuit foie was delicious. It is just the kind of stuff you long for on a cold winter day, when coming back from the slopes. Considering that it was pretty hot outside, I wasn’t too sure, if this is what people want to eat in summer. The foie in that soup was very good, creamy, with a little resistance to it, well seasoned- all one expects from it. The other version, which contained poached foie gras was a little less successful. The foie was dry on the outside, had no distinct flavour and didn’t really do much. The accompanying bouillon was equally forgettable. It was hardly seasoned, and it must have been the first time in a very long time that I had to reach for the salt on the table. This seemed an odd dish both in terms of construction and in terms of execution (it might have been a bad day or something). Very good for the bacon half, pretty mediocre for the other.

 

Foie (pre saucing)

Foie (pre saucing)

The main course came as quickly as the other courses (after a good 45mins I was already at the 3rd course, not counting the amuse. That is much too quick for a place like this one). Ris de veau moelleux/croustillant/carottes/citron vert/coriandre was  most certainly the stand out dish of the day. This was a serious 3* dish. The sweetbreads were fantastically cooked, of very good quality and worked beautifully with the few garnishes. What struck me most was the absolutely perfect jus. This was packed full of flavour, with a lovely consistency and simply put: fantastic. The carrot emulsion served on the side was very nice, well-seasoned, airy and creamy. One could argue that Piege uses too little vegetables in his cooking, but I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. Excellent.

 

Ris de veau

Ris de veau

Strangely enough, the cheese here was to be the absolute highlight of the meal, It is all supplied by Bernard Antony and is in pristine condition. The 7 cheeses I tried were absolutely beautiful. The comte was « only » aged for 36 months, but already had those crunchy salt crystals, which make these old specimens so special. The camembert was easily the best I have had so far, and will be remembered for a long time. Unlike ADPA, the bread for the cheese course was a little dull. The one type, they offered, had a chewy crust and didn’t really impress me. Outstanding cheese.

 

fromages I

fromages I

 

Fromages II

Fromages II

Dessert is often my favourite part of the meal and I was hoping for a highlight here, as the patissier (Jerome Chaucesse) is a bit of a shooting star in France. The first one was Cerises de pays en foret noire a notre facon. What this really was, was a pretty classical black forest cake, with a new wrapping. The base was a soft chocolate cake filled with a mascarpone cream and studded with poached cherries. The outside was then covered in different “feuilles”. It was very pretty, tasty, well made, but hardly mind-blowing. In a place like this, one could expect a little more innovation or new ideas. Very good.

 

Foret noire

Foret noire

The second one was already much more interesting: Riz Carnaroli facon Imperatrice/ gelee de framboise. A base of milk rice was topped with raspberry jelly, caramel, popped rice and star anise ice cream. This was fantastic. The mix of textures and flavours was expertly balanced and every single item had a distinct role. Excellent.

 

RIz

RIz

The mignardises. Were equally good. Macarons, Chamonix, palmiers, rochers and other goodies were fantastic and disappeared quickly.

 

Eskimo coco

Eskimo coco

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

Mikado

Mikado

 

I left this place with a strange feeling. It must have been the first time that I left a restaurant thinking, I had better not gone in the first place. Why?

The meal had some highlights: The sweetbreads, the rice dessert and cheese. Those were all very good to excellent. However, the rest was pretty forgettable (with the exception of the spider crab). Also, the service got on my nerves. You felt being watched constantly, as those who weren’t doing anything at the moment gathered behind the tables and stood there like a couple of policemen guarding the Elysee palace. Furthermore, they served the meal way too quickly. I had left the place only 2 hours after having come there. At ADPA, where I had eaten one course less, I spent the double of that. It might be question of personal taste, but I like to enjoy my meal, if I go to a place like this. I felt rushed, which doesn’t work in a « temple », where one should forget all notion of time.

The thing is that in a place like this, the whole experience should be considered as a Gesamtkunstwerk. One should leave a restaurant like this feeling as happy as one possibly can. Today, that certainly wasn’t the case.

These things taken aside, what I found really frustrating was the fact, that Piege, who is one of my favourite chefs doesn’t seem to progress at all. All of the dishes I had today (the desserts taken aside) were pretty much the same construction as those one could find a year ago, and even longer ago. The garnishes or condiments changed a little, but it was the exact same pattern. It might be that he is frustrated by not getting the third star, but unlike last time, this meal did not deserve it at all.   

If one judges the food alone, I would say that the 2* are a realistic measure of the cooking here. The foie and black forest dishes just seemed a little lazy, not really worth a third one. The sweetbread, rice dessert and possibly spider crab (if it had been served at the correct temperature) could have merited a third, but the overall was just too inconsistent.

 

La salle IV

La salle IV

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee – III, Paris

juillet 12, 2009

 

La salle I

La salle I

Those of you who read this blog regularly will have spotted that this restaurant is a favourite of mine. The reasons for this are numerous, and will hopefully be elucidated by this article.

 

La salle II

La salle II

The name bears that of Alain Ducasse, but those who are present, who put their everyday labour and soul into it are others.  Christophe Moret, the chef, is one of the technically most brilliant and impressive chefs of our day and does deserve to get more attention. When one talks to him, one clearly sees that there is real passion behind what he is doing. Denis Courtiade, who is as good a Maitre d’Hotel as I have known in this world, leads the service effectively and charmingly. He is present, attentive to the guests’ wishes and does all he can, in order to maximise the guests’ pleasure.

 To make sure that the latter will be assured, the restaurant employs more staff than it can seat customers, which (partially) explains the Parisian prices (Menu prices are at 260euro and 360euro, starters and mains are around 90, desserts 32euro). Also, the room is, as I have mentioned in the other reviews already, a most charming one. It strikes a perfect balance between the classical Parisian, grand opulent décor and the modern touches, which Patrick Jouin introduced here and there. In Paris, this is certainly my favourite dining room.

The table is well dressed, in the finest linen, cutlery, crockery and China. The effort they put into dressing the table is made clear by the absence of a pleat in the table cloth. Look at other restaurant’s tables and you’ll be surprised at how many do not care about such details. 

La table

La table

 Butter comes from Bordier and bread (4 types) is home made. The bread was better today than on previous occasions. This time it not only had perfect mie but also a fantastic crust, which I am a big fan of. 

 

Les beurres

Les beurres

After the bread’s appearance, I was offered spinach feuilletes. These accompanied my glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier in a most delightful way.  The pastry was just better than any puff pastry I had encountered up to now. The spinach inside was creamy and well seasoned, giving it a lovely richness. Very good.

 

Les feuilletes

Les feuilletes

Also served were little toasts topped with shaved Lardo di Colonnata. This Italian lard is some of the finest one can find. It is rubbed with herbs, salt and pepper and then left to cure in caves for various lengths of time. The thin strips I was served here were of very fine quality (obviously!) and melted in your mouth, which is one of the great things about lardo. Very good.

 

Lardo

Lardo

The first real amuse bouche was (as I had already eaten the langoustine with caviar on a previous visit): Grenouille; cuisses en beignet, crème d’oseille. Boy, this was good. Delicious, tender, boned frog legs were housed in a perfectly crispy coating of the beignet. To go with it, a little bit of sorrel and nettle cream was served. I have never been a fan of frog’s legs, but these might have changed my mind. One could hardly start a meal in a better way. Truly fantastic.   

 

Les grenouilles

Les grenouilles

The meal itself started with a Ducasse classic: Pates mi-sechees crèmees,  cretes et rognons de coq. This description doesn’t list all of the present ingredients, as there was a bit of homard bleu, sweetbread and black truffle. The whole dish is based around the pasta, cooked al dente, and generously sauced with a rich cream. Around it are placed masterfully cooked pieces of lobster, crispy sweetbread cylinders and pieces of the coq, whose names I do not know in English. The whole is then sprinkled with a fantastic veal jus. When eating this, one can easily see, why this dish has stood the test of time: Every combination works, gives you different textures, tastes and sensations. The dish, although composed of a large number of elements is in perfect harmony. Not to forget the idea of marrying offal (cretes, rognons de coq, the sweetbread) with the most luxurious of ingredients (lobster and black truffle). This was truly stunning.

 

Coq

Coq

The next course was just as interesting: Bar de ligne, oronges, amandes fraiches. Now, this one didn’t feature on the normal carte and I guess the reason for that is the amanite des cesars (also known as oronge). This mushroom is extremely rare, has a short season and is not known to many. I was fortunate enough, to have been served this fantastic product here, in a dish, no less impressive than the previous ones. The sea bass was unlike any I have had before, cut from a very large fish, it was cooked to perfection, juicy and tasty. Easily the best I have ever encountered. The accompanying fresh almonds and vegetables were sauced with a vinaigrette, to which a rouille had been added. This was another example of how perfect, an apparently simple dish can be. Excellent.

 

Bar

Bar

The main course, a Tendron de veau glace a la Florentine, cepes de Correze was a substantial, but enormously gratifying course to eat in a 3*. Such pieces of meat are (unfortunately) rarely used in restaurants like this. This made it all the more interesting to see what they would do with it here. The result was perfect: Cooked sous-vide, the meat was meltingly tender, whilst (this is only possible by cooking at lower temperatures) it retained a bright pink colour. The glacage with the veal jus made the flavours explode and gave the crust a slightly crispy side. The creamed spinach (classical Florentine garnish) served as a very noble support for the magnificent cepes from the Correze. These mushrooms are amongst my favourite products, and to find them here in such perfect condition was a huge pleasure. The whole dish was just an utmost perfect show of how grand one can make such a simple cut of meat. Outstanding.

 

Veau

Veau

Cheese was next. They use four different affineurs here, among them of course the ever present Bernard Antony, who amongst other things supplies his 4 year old comte. All of the cheeses I had (8) were in outstanding condition. A nice touch was the (underseasoned) salad, that came with it and the very good types of bread. Amongst the three new types, they brought out, one in particular is noteworthy: An olive bread (in the far left on the picture) is about as good as one can make bread. This bread alone would justify ordering the cheese course.

 

Fromages

Fromages

Desserts at Ducasse restaurants are always better than most others one finds, pretty much anywhere in the world. This is even the case in the less grand restaurants like the trendy Spoon or the rustic Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle. Obviously, the desserts in his two flagships are even better, which I was about to experience yet again. Today I chose the Cerises Burlat en declinaison, crème glacee a la pistache. Deceptively simple by appearance, one had to taste it to believe how good it was. The tarte, with a crust as fragile, crunchy and buttery as it could possible be, hid a pistachio cream and the glazed cherries which crowned the whole thing. The accompanying ice cream re-defined what a pistachio ice cream should taste like and what texture it should have. Finally, the confit cherries were great, when combined with ice cream (as they were slightly warm). I just can’t think of a way to make a better dessert than this. It was utmost perfection.

 

Cerises

Cerises

In a place like, one doesn’t leave the diner with nothing to go with tea or coffee. Rather, one is treated with more delicacies. Today, a plate with a Tropezienne made its appearance. This tarte, created in St Tropez in 1955, by a Polish emigre is made of a brioche that is cut in half and then filled with a crème mousseline (half whipped cream, half crème patissiere). Here, they introduced a bitter lemon jam, which gave it a lovely acidity and a slightly bitter note. Otherwhise, it was as outstanding as the preceding elements.

 

Tropezienne

Tropezienne

Also served were a Lyonnais treat, called bugnes, some light fritters, which one dips in apricot marmalade. These are so well made, that no greasy taste, nor grease appears on their surface.

Bugnes

Bugnes

Finally, one gets a selection of some fantastic macarons. They are much simpler than Herme’s, but equally well made. The few, I got today were coffee and chocolate. Perfect.

macarons

macarons

Throughout the meal, a few things struck me. First, there was the service. It was attentive, friendly and charming. Not a single thing went wrong, rather all of them knew very well what they were talking about, were interested in cooking and seemed at ease with what they were doing. They managed to make one feel at ease too, and to make it as uncomplicated as possible. The contrast between the brigade here, and that of the next restaurant I was to visit a day later was frightening.

Also, the wines I was suggested by the sommelier went beautifully with the food. Often, I find, that the wines offered by the glass are less interesting than those one has on the rest of the list. Here that wasn’t the case at all. 

Finally, the clientele itself was interesting. Most of the diners were French, with only a German diner and me being the exception. I can’t remember any restaurant in Paris (2* or 3* that is), in which the quasi-totality of the guests was French. At dinner, I was told, the picture would look a little different though.

It is often said that Ducasse’s restaurants appear to be perfectionist factories, or soul-less. I for once, can’t see this for a few reasons. The chef, be it Moret here or Cerutti and Bardet at Monte Carlo, has a lot of freedom in the composition of the menu. There will always be a few signatures (turbot, spider crab, strawberries) on it, but in the end, a large proportion of the dishes I had this time were creations that aren’t on there constantly. Also, Moret has an interesting style, which certainly isn’t anywhere near the avant garde, but which I would describe as contemporary classical cooking. He uses classical or restrained Asian elements and perfects the respectives techniques by using what modern cooking allows (e.g. vacuum cooking for long braised meats). Second, even if they are pretty close to perfection, I can’t say that there seems to be cold, soul less atmosphere here. The service and kitchen staff work as hard, if not harder, as other 3* staff.  The service was much more personal, than one would imagine from such institutions. Finally, the most important element of any meal is the pleasure one takes out of it. Here, it is unequalled. I left the place as happy as I could ever be.

 

La salle III

La salle III

Gaestehaus Klaus Erfort, Saarbruecken

juillet 6, 2009

 

La salle

La salle

 

Klaus Erfort is one of the very few 3* chefs, who not only own their restaurant, but who also have no incomes besides it. Nonetheless, he manages to survive financially, even in such tough times. Erfort’s cooking is what one could call neo-classical. His plates are centred around perfectly cooked fish or meat and are accompanied by equally well done garnishes and sauces. As the Saarland borders on France, Erfort sources most of his produce from there. His Simmental beef and veal for instance is re-imported, as the whole production is exported to France. His poultry comes from the legendary producer Jean Claude Mieral, who along with Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel strived and still strives towards perfection in the elevage of birds in the Bresse.

 

Le jardin

Le jardin

 

The restaurant itself is located in a beautiful villa dating from the turn of the century and is surrounded by a magnificent park. The rooms are coloured in a bright beige and furnished relatively modernly. They are comfortable and do not distract from the plate. 

Erfort has one unique feature, which only few restaurants of that class have, or indeed use: A spectacular garden and terrace. When the warmer days come, one can enjoy his whole meal on this lovely terrace and gaze into the garden, in which the city seems far, far away. It is quite rare to have a three star serve meals outside, and when it happens, it usually maximises the diner’s pleasure. The only time I experienced so far was at the Louis XV.

 

La table

La table

 

Today, we were having a special deal, available at 59euro per person (only if you are under 30). As this is laughably cheap, one can imagine, that the kitchen can’t show as much of its strengths as it can on the normal tasting menu (160euro, last time I checked).

To start the meal, one is always approached with a procession of delightful little bites. The first to land on the table were a macaron filled with foie gras and smoked eel. This was very well made, although the only thing it shares with a macaron was the shape. This combination is one that I am particularly fond of, so one can’t argue about it. A good start.

DSCN0893

Also, we enjoyed a terrific flammekuechle, an Alsatian institution of a dish. It is composed of bacon, cream and onions, which are laid on bread dough. This little canapé is a bit of a signature here, as I’ve had it during my previous meals too. This was very good and precise as always.

 

Flammekuechle

Flammekuechle

 

 

A poached quail’s egg with parsley, crispy chicken skin and summer truffles was the best of the amuses. The textural variations in this dish were perfectly balanced and the summer truffles surprisingly tasty. Excellent

 

Poached egg

Poached egg

Following this, we were brought a martini glass filled with tomato jelly and some kind of crustacean at the bottom.  The jelly had very deep, intense tomato flavour and was very refreshing. Exactly the kind of amuse one wishes for on a lush summer evening. Very good.

 

Tomate

Tomate

Bread was good, with the focaccia being the best by far. The butter is Echire, which was very pleasant. I didn’t understand why we had to ask for a refill of the bread twice, but it might be that the house doesn’t want people to fill up on the bread, as the food is worth the wait.

 

Pains

Pains

The first course today arrived promptly. The foie gras with pineapple and pepper is a classic of Klaus Erfort and one can easily understand why. First of all, every element on the plate, notably the foie, is prepared expertly and has a distinct role. The liver is perfectly creamy and divinely seasoned. It is wrapped in thin slices of marinated (very sweet) pineapple and topped with a little crisp and almonds. The whole becomes better with every bite one eats which is a rare thing as far as I can tell. It is a picture book perfect dish, which relies on superior product quality and preparation. Excellent.

 

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

The main today was far better than anything I have had at Erfort during my previous meals here. This Mieral pigeon with celery, parsnips and summer truffles was a terrific piece of poultry. Erfort lets the pigeons mature, which boosts their gamey flavour even more, giving them a whole new depth and punch. He then cooks them to perfection by poaching them sous vide. The accompanying summer truffles were surprisingly tasty, the first time I come across specimens that are noteworthy. The jus was equally tasty and flavoursome and combined the elements perfectly. The real star of the dish remained its main protagonist: The pigeon. It was very close those of Herman or Moret which are the best I can recall eating. All in all, this was outstanding.

 

Pigeon

Pigeon

Dessert was also much better than I had remembered. This time we had a play on Mon Cheri, a chocolate Germans enjoy a lot. The original version consists of cherries, dark chocolate and Kirsch, a classical combination, which Erfort turned into an interesting dessert. The two sorbets were yoghurt and cherry, both well made, and tasty. The main piece of the dessert was a chocolate ball, which was made up of chocolate mousse, cherries and a bit of Kirsch. The balance between the alcohol and the other elements was perfect. The addition of a crunchy element gave the ball the textural interest it needed Very good.

 

Dessert

Dessert

The petit fours we were served consisted of a mint sphere, a raspberry tartlet, a passion fruit pate de fruit and a few chocolates. All of them were very enjoyable, whilst the pate de fruit, and tartlet were my favourites. The passion fruit pate was delightfully tart and had a most pleasing texture.

 

petit fours

petit fours

To end the meal, a little ice cream was served. It was a coffee ice cream coated in chocolate and praline. Somehow, these little treats are always a winner, especially if as well made as here. Very good.

 

GLace

GLace

All in all, this meal was terrific: The pigeon was one of the finer specimens I have encountered up to now and definitely was the stand out dish for me. The foie was equally well prepared, although the sweetness seemed a little too much on a starter (this is a matter of personal taste though). The dessert was maybe the weakest part, I simply haven’t encountered a single dessert in Germany that was as good as those in France. The terrace is one of the biggest assets that the restaurant has, and luckily enough, it is used. Often restaurants of this type do not serve an entire meal on their terrace, which is a pity if the weather permits it. The dining experience is just like no other.

It was interesting to see a 3* fully booked on a Tuesday night. Especially, if one takes into consideration, that the Saarland is not the most prosperous region of Germany. After having talked to the chef, I was told that they usually are that full, or close to being fully booked. These days, it just is relatively rare to see a restaurant fully booked. I suppose the relatively low wine and food prices (starters start at 19euro) make up part of that.

 

La salle II

La salle II