Archive for the ‘restaurants-France’ Category

Chateau les Crayeres, Reims

mai 3, 2010

The Chateau Les Crayeres in Reims is an institution. It used to be the residence of the Pommery family, and now houses one of the finest hotels in France. Since a few months a new chef has taken over: Philippe Mille. Ex-sous-chef of Yannick Alleno at the Meurice and winner of the Bocuse de bronze a little while ago, he is certainly someone who is to be watched. Having spent a day in the Champagne, I decided to have lunch here, whilst sipping Raphael Bereche’s fantastic Reflet d’Antan in his winery. If you already came that far, you might as well enjoy yourself I thought. Plus, there was a bit of time to kill before moving on to Avize, where a few bottles were waiting for me. So, what better thing to do than grab lunch?  The room hasn’t changed from my first visit a year back, and most of the service brigade was still there too, including Philippe Jamesse, the very good and knowledgeable sommelier.

The wine list here is impressive, a few houndred different cuvees from the Champagne are on offer, and the rest of France is not misrepresented neither. Price-wise things are very friendly too: Selosse’s brut Initiale is 110euro, whilst Coche Dury’s Meursault Rougeots from 2005 is around 150. That’s a decent price for such wines, especially in such a grand dining room. Other steals included some of David Leclapart’s wines. I decided to drink a glass of Roederer’s blanc de blancs 2004 with my starter and a glass of Henriot Cuvee des enchanteleurs 1996 with the main course. The Roederer was very fruity, rich, and intense, with a nice freshness that kept things in balance, whilst the Henriot was great. It had exactly the richness I love in some Champagnes. In addition the mousse was very fine, the nose a dream, and the wine as a whole an unexpectedly fine partner with the main I chose.

Whilst perusing the menu, we were served a few nibbles. There was a marinated white fish on a spoon, a foie gras cube, some hot pomme dauphine or something of the sort and a little tube, filled with a kind of ham mousse. These were nice, and pleasant, but not really groundbreaking.

The amuse itself was interesting though, a salad of beef cheek was served with a lemon cream and a cromesquis of cornichon and capers. I liked the beef salad, but unfortunately it was too cold to have much flavour. The mousse on top was too powerful, and if one had a bit of both, the mousse overwhelmed the beef completely. If taken away, the beef was nice though, and not necessarily bad, but still no outburst of joy or so. Nice. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth coming so early after Mille’s take-over…

Here came the starters though. First up a few scallops with artichoke ravioli and foie gras. Technically perfect, this dish was a real 3* plate. The products were of fine quality, the cooking very precise, the ravioli equally well made, and the whole thing lovely. I adored it, and was rather surprised how quickly Mille had settled in. It left me wanting more, and regretting to not have taken the longest menu available. Excellent.

Next up was a risotto with green asparagus and Iberico ham. A generous portion of a very well made risotto was topped with two nice, fat green asparagus and a few slivers of Iberico ham. In general I’m not a big fan of eating risotti in a restaurant, as the Ducasse recipe is more convincing than what many restaurants serve.  Here however, the risotto was great. Creamy, al dente, well seasoned and served with perfect asparagus, it was a very good classic. Hard to fault, and very delightful.

The fish course was a sea bass with shellfish. A fat piece of sea bass came with a creamy shellfish sauce and a few mussels, cockles,…. Another French classic, which is very simplistic in it’s approach, but doesn’t let any mediocrity on the side of the products and execution pass. But, there was no real problem here with either of the two, as the fish was beautiful, cut from a very large wild sea bass, it was cooked to perfection and served in a decent pool of unctuous shellfish jus. Hard to beat if it is as well made as here. Excellent.

Finally the meat came, a pluma of Iberico pig was served with traditional French garnishes: the condiment of a sauce charcutiere. First of all, This was by far the best pluma I’ve had so far. Incredibly juicy, tender and tasty the meat was simply magnificent. Of outrageously good quality, it didn’t really need the garnishes, even if they were very convincing and worked well with it. An outstanding course, one of the best of the year, concerning my experiences so far.

We skipped cheese and went straight to the sweet side of things. An exotic fruit dessert was served. It looked more than pretty, and was refreshing, well made, and interesting. A very good end to the meal.

Overall, if one considers that 3 of these courses cost 68euro, this is very fair value, and the cooking is in safe 2* mode. I must say, that the food on this occasion was much better than when I visited the restaurant a year ago, even if Mille has just taken control of his new kitchen. He seems to rely on a few classics at the moment, but executes these so well, and with some really interesting ideas, that I have absolutely no problem with that at all! I will certainly be back, as there are quite a few things in this region that are worth discovering.

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris

février 9, 2010



I last ate at ADPA in July 2009. It was the third meal, of which I can say that it was absolutely spectacular. Every single time I eat here, I leave dazzled, unbelievably happy, like floating on a very quiet, relaxed, charming cloud… It’s a very amazing feeling, that makes forget everything else. But, don’t think of all that, I was back, and waited for a little food. The glorious food of Christophe Moret, who delivers the most consistently perfect meals I’ve come across. This is a guy, who knows what he is doing. Someone, who really knows it!

Denis Courtiade, one of the best Maitre d’hotel’s, greeted me and I was seated immediately. A glass of Roederer 2003 was very welcome as I perused the menu, although I did not have to make any choices. The chef is cooking, and one better lets him choose here. He really knows my taste by now, and I never interfere with his plans. The sommelier, Laurent Roucayrol, proposed to serve me a few glasses of wine, and I drank very well as usually today. I started off with a couple of glasses of 2007, Puligny Montrachet, Francois Carillon (the brother of the more famous other Carillon, who just started with his first vintage in 2007), which were followed by another very enjoyable wine: A 2004, Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine de Marcoux. For the dessert, I was served the 2008, Dolc Mataro, Alta Alella-Catalunya. The latter wine is quite interesting as it works beautifully with cherries (both nose and taste are incredibly cherry-like), figs and chocolates (the three things I drank it with so far).  Whilst looking through the wine list, I was quite astonished at the incredibly reasonable prices, considering one is in a Parisian 3*.

With the Champagne came a few nibbles. There was a feuillete filled with spinach and truffles, a tomato/truffle sandwich and a little toast with some lardo di Colonnata. They were all delightful. The puff pastry was heavenly, crunchy, airy, light, a pure delight, and the spinach/truffle combination complemented it only too well. The tomato/truffle mix was incredibly good too. A combination I would not have served, this worked, and was a perfect partner for the very enjoyable Roederer. Finally, a crunchy piece of bread and some very, very good lardo aren’t something I will turn down neither. Excellent.

Amuse-I

Amuse-II

I was, more or less, on the menu collection, with a few changes from Christophe Moret, to which I will come shortly. Bread and butter were as good as always, which means excellent, and were refilled directly when needed.

The mise en bouche was a rather substantial adaptation of an Alain Chapel recipe: Langoustines de casier a la nage de Chardonnay. Three medium-sized langoustines came with a few vegetables and a Chardonnay nage. A deceptively simple dish, which looked very old fashioned, this was a truly stunning intro. Let’s start with the quality of the langoustines. These were amazing in every sense of the word. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, they had great flavour and a stunning texture. They matched those, one gets at the Square, which remain the best I’ve eaten so far. The nage was highly interesting, as it had a clear taste of Chardonnay, which was much more present than I would have imagined, but which which went very well with the other elements. An excellent start, I was looking forward to the rest…

Amuse-III

Two very big scallops came in their shells, atop a crème de laitue, and were topped with Beluga caviar. Can it get much more decadent? Certainly, but certainly not much better. The beasts were again of terrific quality (which will be the case during the whole meal), and cooked as well as I have not seen it anywhere else. The caviar here nearly played a supporting role only, as it gave the scallops a very particular, highly enjoyable seasoning. This was very fine caviar, which is always the case here, as far as I can remember. Summing up, this was a stunning, divine dish.

St Jacques

Next up was another decadent, and simple dish: Homard Breton, gnocchi Parmentier truffees. Simple then, a lobster, some gnocchi, and a bit of black truffle, for good measure… The lobster was as perfect as it gets, and worth a trip for only that, but what really struck me here was the incredible fluffiness of the gnocchi. These were so airy, and nearly creamy, that I couldn’t see how one could shape them so precisely. Wow. The truffles cut through the lobster’s very robust taste, where some of the best I’ve come across and simply brilliant too! I didn’t expect, anything of such stunning quality, but was stunned again! A DIVINE dish.

Homard

Volaille de Bresse, sauce Albufera, primeurs de Didier Pil, Tartufi di Alba. The name alone is a legend. A dish created by Alain Chapel, if I’m not mistaken, which Ducasse modernized a little, this must be one of the finest dishes in world. A Bresse chicken’s breast is poached (on the bateau) in a rich chicken stock, then glased in the sauce Albufera, and served with the garnish of a poule au pot and, of course, white truffles. I have already thad this once before, in the kitchen of this same restaurant, but this time, it was even better. The chicken was juicy, tender, incredibly tasty, and just unbelievable with that sauce. It hardly gets any better than this I can assure you, only if one takes a few slivers of truffle on the same fork. The vegetables with that sauce would make a dish on their own, as the sauce is divine. Made with chicken stock, Madeira, Porto, foie gras and cream, it’s rich, decadent, luscious and purely delicious. A legendary dish, that everyone who is seriously interested in food should have tried. At least once. DIVINE.

Poularde

Poularde

After this incredible meal, it was time for cheese. Today the cheese board was in incredible condition, and the comte was stunning, with this incredible texture it has, when it is more than 4 years old, and has been looked after very well. I haven’t had better comte at this restaurant before, and I can’t even say I’ ve had better comte at the Greenhouse before. Otherwise, I was served a little truffled salad, and the fantastic olive bread, which I adore. Excellent, with the Greenhouse the best cheeseboard I know.

salade avec le fromage

Fines feuilles de Chocolat et café crousti/fondants. A long rectangular bar of chocolate in various textures, and temperatures is served with a martini glass filled with coffee granitee, chocolate sorbet and a milk foam, to resemble a cappuccino. This dessert was the fifth I have eaten here, and showed once more, how good the patisserie here is. A dessert can not be better in terms of balance, as the coffee was just strong enough to give the chocolate a slightly stronger outline, but didn’t overdo it. Stunning.

Dessert-I

Dessert II

Petit-fours here always come in great variety and quantity, and are on the same incredibly high level as the desserts. Hence, they are among the finest in the world, and outright fantastic. Today, there were the classic chocolate and coffee macarons, the bugnes, and sugar tartlets. All of them were excellent, period.

La fin, ou presque

Wow. I have eaten here four times now, and every single one of them has been mind-blowing. Products always get completely re-defined here, as I have written in an earlier post, and I must stick to that. Moret sources the absolutely finest, France has to offer (or Iran in the case of the caviar), and serves it in a way, that lets the product shine. The four hours I spent here were brilliant, and the service was as relaxed as it could be in a Parisian 3*, with a friend joining me for dessert on very short notice. I have eaten very well these holidays, and this was the best meal of all of them, without doubt. A truly memorable experience, one that I hope to repeat sooner than later!

La Bigarrade, Paris

février 3, 2010

La Bigarrade is conceptually somewhere between L’Astrance, the “bistronomique” movement and Pierre Gagnaire. There is only one menu here every day, priced at a very friendly €65, hence the resemblance to Barbot’s concept. One doesn’t know what is served until one gets it, which is also similar to what happens at L’Astrance, but what really is different here, is the daily menu change. Whilst a Barbot menu will pretty much always include at least the foie gras/mushroom dish, and a shot as amuse, will follow a certain form, a meal here is never like another. The “bistronomiques” come to mind, as this is a very simple setting, in a not so posh area, with only 18 covers at most. Hence, one should book well in advance, as tables go as quickly as they are freed. Finally, Gagnaire’s influence is most prominent on the plate. Christophe Pele worked with the master, and likes to serve a number of little impressions, working with textures, contrasting flavours, temperatures and colours to make the dining experience a very entertaining and engaging one.

Wine-wise, we tried a very good white Loire wine as an apero, and then drank a fantastic 1997, Andre Beaufort Brut Polisy, which evolved and changed its character throughout the whole meal (for the better that is). Later on, we had a lovely St Joseph, whose producer and vintage I didn’t write down. To finish the evening, we were offered a few glasses of a stunning Greek ice wine. The wine list is not overpriced and features only natural wines, all very well selected as it seems.

Beaufort

To start the meal, and this seems to be the only common thing with all diners, one gets a focaccia with olive oil. This is pleasant, but not really that special. Good.

Amuse

Next up were deep-fried moscardini, or little poulpes, with some grilled lemon. This was already a very enjoyable start. The meat’s texture was firm, and juicy, whilst the coating was deliciously crunchy. Such food just is great to eat, and is very good.

Poulpe

Next up was a little glass filled with herring roe, a granite made out of roquet and a clam. This was very bizarre, as the roquet’s bitterness overpowered the rest by far. Not good.

granite

The following course was excellent though. An oyster was served with dashi jelly, black truffle and a little apple. A stunningly well-balanced, incredibly light dish, that simply worked. Apart from the great products, the interaction between the elements here was remarkable. The bonito’s nearly smoky flavour was given a slightly sweet/sour element by the crunchy apple, and the oyster provided a iodine kick, that made the whole thing come together. The truffle was beautiful, but didn’t cut through these delicate, yet powerful flavours. This was a beautiful marriage with the Champagne, which proved a very good partner throughout the whole meal. Excellent.

Huitre

The next course came, and was another very good one: raw scallops, apple and celery. A simple combination that nearly always works. It was another very light, fresh dish, that just was very enjoyable to eat, as the seasoning was spot on, and the products of very fine quality. Such food: natural, direct, clean, spontaneous is simply great.

St Jacques

The next dish saw the largest langoustine I’ve ever eaten. This monster was perfectly cooked and had a beautiful texture. Not quite as good as those at the Square, ADPA or Hof van Cleve, but certainly much better than one would hope for in a 1* place. The accompanying elements (shallot compote, a little crustacean oil, spinach) worked beautiful, even if they were used like little touches, to add colour here or there. Excellent.

LANGOUSTINE

Moving on, next up was a rouget barbet served wit a shallot condiment and daikon radish. What was intriguing in this, and the subsequent fish courses, was the cooking of the protein. The fish was just seared on both sides, leaving it bleu, something I would never have imagined in France. However, to my great astonishment, it worked. With such good quality, the incredibly short contact with high-heat, and a long resting time resulted in a very pleasing unusual texture of the fish’s meat. Together with the vegetables, this was another great dish.

Rouget

After this came a piece of lotte, which was cooked in a similar way. This type of fish would have been even less suited for such rare cooking I thought, but when I tried it, it worked again. Terrific, the first time I enjoyed a lotte, which tends to be very unpleasant in terms of texture. The burnt garlic condiment was a little reminiscent of Inaki Aizpitarte’s burnt aubergine cream, but went well with the fish and the radicchio, clam salad. Excellent.

Lotte

We now moved on to the St. Joseph and a piece of lamb rack from the Lozere region, served with bottarga, Brussels sprouts and a little jus. Boy, this was another great plate! The lamb worked fantastically with the dried fish roe, which gave the meat a much more complex, rich flavour. Whilst the sprout leaves were more for colour, the little lemon condiment on the side lived things up. A great dish!

Agneau

A little cheese is a must, and was of good quality.

Fromage

The desserts were a little more shaky than the excellent savoury courses. The first set was bizarre. On the far left, one had a sweet broth with flowers, which tasted nearly “empty”, or thin or of not much. There was no distinguishable flavour, nor enough sweetness. In the middle, the little glass was filled with a mango sorbet, truffle and beet puree. The truffle was a preserved one, and thus tasted of absolutely nothing, only adding texture (not a very nice one though) to the cup. Otherwise, this was the best of the bunch, as the passionf-ruit/yoghurt cup was inedible, too sour. Not good.

Legende

However, the next little thing was outright delicious. A dacquoise sandwich housed a little praline, and a vanilla cream. Eaten like a normal sandwich, this was fun, delicious, and comfortable. Very good.

Dacquoise

The next dessert, a Calvados sabayon, served with caramelised apple, was great. The sabayon was fantastic, and had just enough Calvados to be noticed, without becoming penetrant. The apple was just decadent in combination with the sabayon. Excellent.

Sabayon

The last bunch of desserts was a little bizarre again. The little chocolate cake in the front was pretty good, whilst the chocolate sauce with litchi was of a very unpleasant flavour. This was no better than the first dessert.

Choco

The food here tonight was fantastic. Apart from the little appetiser, and the 2 desserts, everything was excellent. Products were of great quality, cooking was highly interesting, unusual, clean, fresh, light, and a pure delight. This spontaneous, sketchy cooking is not only engaging, but also enjoyable for the diner, who gets confronted with combinations that might be questionable, but are at least interesting. I had a hugely enjoyable evening here, and will be very happy to return on a future trip, as this really is a gem in Paris, and Europe. A fantastic experience, which is unbelievably cheap too.

Le Cinq, Paris

janvier 27, 2010

La Maison

Le Cinq, nestled in the legendary hotel Georges V on the avenue that goes by exactly that same name is a very attractive address. First of all, upon entering the hotel, one can hardly miss the beautiful floral decoration created by the brilliant Jeff Leatham, secondly, the room itself is beautifully restored since a few years, thirdly, one has a stunning wine list, and finally one has great service. To add to that, it seems one has a new chef, Eric Briffard, who is chef here since a few months now. A CV like his reads beautifully, and when one gets the chance to eat here, one does their best to try it.

La Salle

The only thing that can work against this plan are the prices. With most starters at around 100euro, and some going to a whopping 175, mains at no less than 100-170euro and desserts at 32, one is in or a ride. However, for the poor students, there is a 78euro lunch deal, which reads very well, and tastes so too, in most parts. Other menus are priced at 168 and 230euro. Wines are pretty pricey, although a glass of Comtes de Champagne 1999 was only 31 euro.

La Table

Service was very good, faultless, although nothing can challenge the service at ADPA for me. The slight difference are the little things, which you can’t really express. However, for a first meal, I was very well looked after. Funny thing was that most of the waiters were much older than in the other 3* I’ve been to.

The meal started with a green tea, and no Champagne (I had eaten a very big meal the previous evening with lots of liquid). With it came a few deep-fried squid, small calamari and shrimp, which were very well deep-fried, although nearly tepid, by the time they reached my table. Very good.

Accras

Next up was an amuse bouche, consisting of a spoon filled with marinated mushrooms and figs which was pretty poor. Next to it sat a piece of eel on a blini and a pumpkin soup with a foam made out of sorrel. The mushrooms were just forgettable, but the eel’s texture was intriguing, very firm, nearly too firm (even for me), but good in a way too, because of the blini’s soft, contrasting texture. The accompanying soup was nice, but not much better than an average pumpkin soup. These were not really memorable, unfortunately, and pretty mediocre.

Amuses

With the next course I had a 2007, J.M. Boillot Chassagne Montrachet, which was a little closed still, but which had a very enjoyable mineral note. It was all I drank, as I had a long dinner to look forward too.

The Tartine de pieds et oreilles de cochon Basque was a divine dish. On a crispy toast came a mix made out of pig’s feet, ears, truffles and foie gras, on which was placed a healthy slice of pan-fried foie. This little marvel was surrounded by a ring of vegetables and winter fruit, which gave the rather heavy dish a slightly sweet and sour note, that lifted things up a little and made the whole dish shine. A truly outstanding dish, that directly put a little smile on my face…DIVINE, OUTSTANDING, anything that might qualify stratospheric pleasure.

Tartine

Unfortunately the rest wasn’t that great. The wait between this starter and the main was a very long one, and somewhere in between it, I was approached with a bouillon de poule, herbes fines et coques. What sounded pretty good was a very thin (both in terms of consistence and taste) chicken broth with a few cockles. It was a very nice gesture, but unfortunately, it needed too much salt or something else to make it tasty. Mediocre.

Bouillon

The main was a Vol au Vent, ris de veau, homard, et volaille. A vey, very classical vol au vent, very far from Piege’s visually attractive renditions of this bourgeois classic, this dish was another one, not getting me that excited. The sweetbread was neither crunchy, nor creamy, and not seasoned enough, and the vegetables were a little overcooked and bizarre (there were a lot of green asparagus on the menu, which Briffard seems to use very early in the season, also last year it seems). The lobster was very well cooked, and seasoned perfectly, but the crete et rognons de coq were much less impressive than those, Moret serves over at the Plaza, or even some I’ve had at Thierry Breton’s bistro in the 10ieme. It still was the finest vol au vent I’ve eaten so far, as the sauce and puff pastry were very good, although less of a revelation than I’d have hoped for. Very good.

Vol au vent

Since I had a dinner to look forward to a few hours later, I skipped cheese, which seemed like a sensible thing at the time, although I regret that now, as I’ve heard more than one good thing about the cheese here. However, I got a pre-dessert consisting of a chocolate fondant, some cassis sauce, and vanilla ice cream. This was fine, but not overly exciting.

Pre-Dessert

The real dessert was perfect for the occasion, as it was a simple Galette des rois with Vanilla ice cream. Being the 6th of January, I jumped on the occasion to try a galette in a place like this. It certainly was a pretty good galette, although I must confess, that Christophe Michalak’s and Pierre Herme’s versions of exactly the same classic are much more convincing. It was a little bizarre to find it not even coated with egg-wash, normally the standard for even the most basic galettes. Apart from that, it was a very good one.

Dessert

The best part about dessert was the cart with the mignardises. This featured very very fine éclairs, canneles, marons glaces, macarons,… All of the sweets I had were excellent, and by far better than the pretty underwhelming dessert. Coffee was good, and 2euro less expensive than in the Hotel’s bar, which was quite funny I thought.

Chariot

All in all, this meal was a rollercoaster ride. There were incredible highs (the pig’s dish, the bread, mignardises) and some pretty mediocre moments too, as the main and dessert can testify. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this meal, be it only for the great pork dish, which will most likely remain one of the best, or most delicious starters of 2010. I won’t be able to say the same about the rest, but that dish was well worth thse 78euro of the lunch menu. I felt that Briffard might have to cook a little less robust, « big » food, if he wants to be part of the very top in Paris. The main course I had today looked a little like some pictures I saw from other dishes: Vegetables cooked in a very classical way, maybe a little too much, cut in very big pieces, and served in quite large quantities. Not that vegetables aren’t good, but when they don’t add that much to the dish, it’s a little bizarre to have that much of them. The usage of green asparagus in very early January was also a little frightening in a place of that calibre. But well, along with little sloppy execution errors, this should not really pose a problem for a man of his stature.

La Merenda, Nice

octobre 29, 2009

La Merenda has been known in Nice for a long time. Before Dominique Le Stanc took over with his wife, another couple served the classics of the cuisine nissarde in this little gem, tucked away in the vieux Nice. The setting is of the most basic. There are no real chairs, no telephone, and credit cards aren’t accepted neither. For those interested in going, you have to actually go there in the morning or a few days earlier to book (as there is not telephone, they take bookings only in person). One doesn’t bother with big wine lists neither here: You can choose between a white or red vin de pays (25euro per bottle) or a Bellet (45euro), which is the only vineyard in France, that is situated in a city. What matters here is the food, and the ambience. And those two points are quite peculiar here.

La Salle

La Salle

First of all, Le Stanc used to run the city’s most highly regarded restaurant, that of the Hotel Negresco. There, he received 2*, but decided to abandon the brigades of the palaces to take over this place. Here, he cooks alone, has a plongeur, and his wife (who is a Husserl, the family that runs Le Cerf in Marlenheim) does the service with a young man who helps out. Simple, effective and most profitable as a business model. Tables are turned once during the evening, and in some cases there are even three seatings, depending on the speed of the diners.

La Table

La Table

But, let’s turn to the food. We started with the obligatory Beignets de fleurs de courgettes. Lightly battered, deep-fried zucchini flowers come without any garnish, nor seasoning. The waiter supplies some fleur de sel and pepper, with which you are advised to season them at your convenience. Not a bad system and definitely not a bad dish. These beignets are among the best I have had. As good as those at the Louis XV, and better than at some less glorious places. They are delightfully crisp, light, tasty and fresh. Le Stanq takes a little ride around the Cours Saleya market every day with his bike to buy his products, whose freshness does transpire in the finished dishes. Outstanding.

Beignets

Beignets

Next up, was a classic, daube de boeuf a la nicoise. A beef stew/ragout, which is normally prepared with orange zest and/or olives came without all of these, and was thus a simple ragout, simmered with carrots and red wine. The only accompanying goodies were some panisses, chickpea fritters that come from the region too. The panisses were great, not quite as perfect as those from the Louis XV, but were very good. The daube itself was less impressive. The problem was a very thin sauce, and some rather dry meat. Now, when I braise meat, it is usually very moist, or juicy, but this was oddly dry at some parts. The sauce could have been reduced for a little while longer, as it was more like a broth than a hearty jus. Taste-wise, the dish was fine, but not remarkable. This was good, but it felt a little disappointing. It seems that Le Stanc took a few shortcuts (not reducing the sauce enough, not monitoring the meat’s cooking and final dryness,…). Good.

Daube

Daube

Dessert was another simple affair. A tarte aux blettes is another classic here, and rightfully so. This typically nicois dessert is made out of swiss chard, pine nuts, raisins, parmesan, sugar, eggs and is then enclosed in some pastry. On the plate it is very good, if unusual, but I greatly enjoy it, whenever I do have a chance to try it. This version was good, but not exceptional, as the dough wasn’t as beautifully crunchy as it could have been.

Tarte aux blettes

Tarte aux blettes

Overall, this meal was pretty good, considering the whole thing cost about 30euro (excluding drinks). The products were not bad, the skill was apparent, but the problem were the details. When I last came here, the food was much better, there were no such shortcomings. To see this is a little frustrating, as one has a great chef here, who does what he enjoys, in a most cosy environment. What was interesting too was the way the business was set up. A dish like the beignets costs him around 1,5euro and doesn’t demand any work. He sells it for 11 and thus makes a handsome profit on that, as he does with the others too. Now, not that I object, but if people complain about prices, they should rather look at simpler restaurants, and not pick on the top restaurants, who have huge costs (products, labour, crockery, china,…). This is definitely a nice place to go for a rather simple meal, if one is in the area. Perfect for dinner after a meal at the Louis XV…coming up next week.

Le Mirazur, Menton

octobre 23, 2009
La Salle

La Salle

My week on the Riviera was nearing its end, and I had made arrangements to return to Le Mirazur, a restaurant my family and I hugely enjoyed two years ago. Amongst the things that struck me back then was the fantastic bread, the very interesting cooking, great service and the stunning view over Menton and the sea. So, when I came back, I had some rather high expectations, which were further raised by Mauro Colagreco’s entrance into to 50 best list, and his nomination as chef of the year by the French Gault Millau guide.

La Table

La Table

The restaurant itself lies a few meters away from the Italian border and benefits of stunning views of the ocean. In addition to this, it does not only have huge windows that let you gaze at the sea, but those who don’t face the sea can still see it, thanks to some equally big mirrors. Crockery and glasses are rather simple, but the chairs have changed from simple beach restaurant-style chairs to something a little more elaborate. Despite a few more changes, the room will not figure among the most beautiful restaurant dining rooms I have seen so far. But, who cares really? We’re all here for the food, no?

La Salle II

La Salle II

Price-wise the menu is on the upper end of 1* restaurants (menus go from about 55 to 100 euro, with a lunch deal for 35 or so). To give you an idea: Tasting menus at a few 2* in Luxembourg and Belgium will not cost you more. But, let’s not complain about prices, in most cases they are a fairly accurate, and these places don’t make a lot of money. The wine list is not really that interesting, but will certainly grow over the years.

To accompany the obligatory glass of Champagne, one is offered a little selection of nibbles. From right to left, there was a cornet of carrots, celery and sesame, a tartelette mentonnaise (a Pissaladiere, with a little Parmesan basically), a spoonful of foie gras with lemon confit and a lemon cream. These were all very good and left me with a desire to find out more. The tarte had very well made pastry and was well seasoned, the foie of very good quality and the cream most interesting. The only rather dull and boring part was the cornet, which didn’t have an interest in the least. Very good.

Canapes

Canapes

The bread made its appearance, and I was eagerly awaiting the stunning almond and cinnamon bread and a very good fougasse, both of which I had still in my memory as being most amazing little creatures. However, the bread this time wasn’t quite as great as I had remembered: First of all, it was stone cold, the country style bread gave the impression to have been a little old and dull (no crust on this one), the fougasse tasted like some American style toast-bread drenched in olive oil and the almond/cinnamon roll was devoid of any buttery crispiness that I had so much anticipated. When I asked, if it was possible to have my bread warmed, I got no real answer and must thus say that this bread was a little disappointing.

Les pains

Les pains

Having seen a number of tables ordering a la carte, I had seen their amuse bouches, I knew what those would be and was rather surprised when they were sold to me as part of the menu carte blanche, the longest (and most expensive) tasting menu, the chef offered that night. I have no problem with paying for more dishes, but when one sells a good number of amuse bouches as regular dishes, I do not enjoy it at all. Anyways, restaurants, who cut short their pre-dinner greetings for tasting menu eaters should state that on the menu, it feels a little odd. In the end, three or four of the courses (out of eleven) would have come with the normal a la carte menu too…

The first course was a shot glass filled with green apple, celery, seaweed and a slightly acidic foam. This was an interesting combination that didn’t particularly impress, nor amaze. It was a palate cleanser and acceptable as such. Good.

Shot

Shot

Next up was a much more interesting combination. A parsnip veloute was served with pistachio oil, pistachios and a coffee flan. This was a most interesting combination, as the bitterness of the coffee complemented the natural sweetness of the parsnips and the richness of the pistachios. A little more of it would not have been pleasant though, as it was a rather singular taste mix. Good.

Panais/cafe

Panais/cafe

Colagreco prides himself with his own garden. In the menu, he explains the great amount of love his gardeners put in to it, in a very nice way (there is also an introduction, a preface of sorts, written by his sister). Like his mentor Alain Passard he employs someone who produces various types of vegetables. This can and often has some pretty positive effects on the product’s quality and the variety, but a rather negative effect on the restaurant’s pricing (after all, economies of scale aren’t really favourable in that context). The next course was based around heirloom beets and balsamic vinegar. Now, this is something one gets in many restaurants all over the world these days, and it seems a little overstretched by now. The beets were fine, but there wasn’t any particularly interesting seasoning, nor was there any other extraordinary feature in this collection of beautiful colours. The only sliver of raw beetroot was cut much too thickly, without seasoning and thus in stark contrast to the overcooked, slightly-mushy, under-seasoned other beets. This dish was beautiful, but didn’t quite deliver taste-wise.

Betteraves

Betteraves

Next up was a very good one, luckily. A simple combination of raw gamberoni di San Remo, finger lime and radishes proved to be most rewarding. The highly regarded gamberoni really are special in both taste and texture, and when presented in such a natural, untouched way, this quality is even more apparent. With the finger lime and slightly crunchy radish, the dish was not only very light, but also highly refreshing and summery. One could argue that it lacked punch, but then, the dish wasn’t going in that direction at all. It was one of the most simple dishes of the menu, and one of the best. Very good.

Gamberoni

Gamberoni

Following this came a dish that was more or less in the same idea as the beetroot one. A  few pieces of (cooked) courgettes were served with murex snails and a broth made out of grilled vegetables. The idea sure is good, but when seasoning isn’t spot on, the dish loses all credibility and attraction. In this case, salt seemed to have been used with great restriction and thus made the whole combination a little bland. In terms of product quality there wasn’t anything to discuss, it was very good food, but the rather dull broth didn’t quite lift the dish to new heights. Furthermore, the murex snails aren’t something that particularly fascinates me: tough, chewy, nearly devoid of any significant taste, they don’t really add anything (positive) to the dish. Another rather mediocre dish.

Courgettes

Courgettes

After having been served frog’s legs beignets a couple of times now, Colagreco served me some poached in butter. Paired with a few different tomato and nettle preparations, this dish took the classic French frog’s leg out of its comfort zone. The legs were great, creamy, tasty and well cooked, as they should be. The accompanying tomato marmelade was fine too, but a few confit cherry tomatoes were a little too acidic and the nettle puree had a overly dominant power, unpleasant flavour, that did overwhelm the subtle frog’s legs. Apart from this (rather big problem), it was a good dish.

Grenouilles

Grenouilles

Next up was a piece of duck foie gras, pan-fried and served with duck/verbena consommé, figs and fresh almonds. This was great dish, with the exception of a under-seasoned broth. The flavours were there, but needed a little strength or kick to live things up. Subtle flavours might have been involved here, but there must at least be enough punch to make these noticeable. The foie was cooked very well, although it was a little « sweaty » (usually a sign for not the freshest or lower quality livers). In combination with the fig and the two almonds it was a most pleasing dish. Very good.

Foie

Foie

Usually, Colagreco serves his fish with a smoked emulsion and a few leaves. This time, I was served a piece of blue-fin tuna with an haricot coco foam. The fillet of tuna was cooked throughout (horribly overcooked), and thus a little tough and less tasty. It was cut from a rather sinewy part of the fillet, which was from ordinary quality. Drowned in a massive pool of very good bean emulsion, the proportions seemed to have gotten out of hand a little on this one. If one had imagined a very nice piece of tuna belly (which was the day’s special) or at least a less cooked fillet with about a third of the foam, it would have made for a very successful dish, but like this it just seemed a little odd. Mediocre. Again, one felt a little ripped-off here, after all tuna didn’t figure on the menu at all, so to send those who let the chef decide what they eat the nastiest piece there is, is a rather bizarre thing.

Thon

Thon

Luckily enough, the next dish nearly saved the evening. A piece of Sisteron lamb, with a nice crunchy fat crust came with Miso-glased aubergines and a date condiment. If one takes away the fact that Pascal Barbot’s Miso-glased aubergine is being copied pretty much all over the place, this was a wonderful dish. The rack of lamb still had the panoufle attached to it and was beautifully crispy on top, with a creamy fatty centre and most tender meat. This really was a fine piece of lamb. In combination with the dates or the black sesame oil, it was a most happy pairing. Conceptually, it was very similar to a dish I had eaten two years earlier and remembered from then. If only a few more of this night’s dishes could have been like this… Excellent.

Agneau

Agneau

After a quick chat to Colagreco (who is about to open a steak house in Beirut, and who was implicated in a beach restaurant this summer!?) I was served my first dessert. A tube of frozen almond mousse was served in a fennel soup with orange sorbet, The combination isn’t unusual in cooking, but it was certainly the first time I stumbled across it in a dessert. I certainly do hope it won’t happen that often anymore, as it was not much more than good (if one is generous). The individual parts (with exception of the great sorbet) were only very lightly sweetened and didn’t really have pleasing tastes. If eaten together, the story looked very different and it seemed much better indeed. Still, it is interesting for a one time experience, but not really something I would travel for again. Good.

Orange sorbet

Orange sorbet

The second dessert was another strange one. A few popcorn pieces were mixed with chocolate truffles, some “chocolate snow” and mate ice cream. I hate writing anything too negative, but this really seemed like someone had thrown all there was left over from the week in a bowl: A bit of popcorn, some truffles, a little ice cream,… The individual parts were good, but this wasn’t a particularly interesting dessert. The “snow” was miles away from what I was served elsewhere (during my Amador internship, they made a fantastic version of this), as it was melting when the plate hit my table and was no more than a rather liquid cream by the time I was ready to start it. The textural combinations were rather odd too, to cut a long story short: Mediocre.

Chocolat

Chocolat

The mignardises were all very good (only the tapioca in the glass a little less so), but nothing worth spending much time with.

Mignardises

Mignardises

Looking back, this meal felt a little weird. I had had very good memories and would have hoped to at least get what I had two years ago both in terms of product quality and cooking. Rather, I got a mix of good and pretty uninspiring dishes, that left me with a puzzled mind. The lamb dish surely was great, but apart from that there was hardly one dish, which was more than good. In a total of about 11, that is not the best of ratios. Some of them seemed bizarre, odd and the products’ quality was not what it could have been, considering the area, and acclaim of the restaurant. The tuna was very poor, the beautiful frog’s legs killed by those overpowering flavours and bizarre tomatoes, the bread was really bad, and various other dishes grossly under-seasoned. Now, that is a list of errors, that is too long for a restaurant, that clearly strives for more than the 1* it holds. The fact that service was rather hectic, overwhelmed and much less charming than last time didn’t help neither. I was also quite astonished at the fact, that they serve three or four courses (out of 11) of the big tasting menu as extras for people on the carte. This is not a way to run a serious restaurant, and I hope for Colagreco that he stops that right away, as one feels a little ripped-off afterwards. He might have more luck with his beach restaurant or the steak house in Beirut?

Le Meurice, Paris

septembre 23, 2009

 

 

La salle

La salle

 

 

When I bought Yannick Alleno’s book a few years ago, I had but one wish: Eat at the Meurice. This wish finally materialised, but the outcome wasn’t exactly the revelation I had expected or hoped for. 

 

La salle

La salle

The first thing that undoubtedly strikes the diners’ eyes in this marble and gold orgy is the grandeur of the room. It is probably Paris’ most impressive dining room. However, Starck’s make-over doesn’t go unnoticed and makes the affair much more friendly, light and hospitable. I must say, that I did enjoy this royal cocoon.

 

 

La salle

La salle

The service brigade was worthy of such a house. I got all I wanted, with tons of smiles and effectiveness. However, the use of the cloche does seem a little out-dated for someone who claims to be  as innovative as Alleno.

This brings us to Alleno who played a big part in the re-decoration process, as he designed the China, presentation plates rings and tableaux, on which the service delivers the dishes. These are now made of some high-tech carbon fibre construction that only weighs a few houndred grams.

 

On your table, you find the chef’s above mentioned own Coquet China, very good glasses and a little flower bouquet.

 

La table

La table

The meal started with a coupe of Bollinger Special Cuvee and a few nibbles. There was a sardine cream with a lemon bavarois in the little spoon, goat’s cheese with tomatoes on the top-left and a ham mousse on the lower part of the slate. The spoon was quite delicious, with rich, creamy sardine taste and a bright, zingy touch, coming through the lemon. This was a very promising first bite, and I thought that I might have more luck with my meal than a few others. However, the next two weren’t quite that good. The goat’s cheese sandwich was hardly worth mentioning, as it was rather forgettable. There wasn’t any noteworthy taste, combination nor texture. Not really great to kick off a meal in a 3*. The ham mousse sandwich (yes, they used crisped bread twice on that little first plate) was good, but not really interesting neither. Excellent for the sardine, mediocre for the rest.

 

Amuse 1

Amuse 1

The amuse bouche was very good. It was a tomato jelly with a few cubes of heirloom tomatoes, a parmesan cream and a deep-fried langoustine. I started with the langoustine, which had spent too much time waiting somewhere before it was delivered to me, and thus was not crunchy anymore. This was merely alright, but I didn’t need it, as the tomato/parmesan combo was very good. Certainly nothing new, but in this case, it was executed in a most convincing way. The flavours were balanced beautifully and the intensity of each element was quite amazing. Very good.

 

Amuse 2

Amuse 2

Bread was very good. A selection of five types (olive; tomato; son (a cereal); mixed grains and bacon) all had good crust, very airy mie and strong flavour. The butter was excellent, especially the “Parisian” version with a ham/butter mix. This was a very good idea and was greatly appreciated.

 

Pains

Pains

 

Les beurres

Les beurres

With the first course, I was served a rather poor and uninspiring Jurançon Sec – Cuvée marie – C. Hours, 2007.

 

The COURGETTE JAUNE DE LA VALLéE D’ ORGEVAL Confite au four et garnie de moules au safran du Gâtinais arrived promptly and seemed quite promising. After all, mussels can be a most delectable thing and a good courgette isn’t anything I despise neither. Here, unfortunately, the dish had a few major problems. First of all, it was not seasoned enough. I had to give it a few healthy pinches of salt, before I tasted something. Then, I found the courgette to be an average specimen, in terms of quality. This wasn’t a particularly tasty courgette, as it was pretty watery. Rather it was one, which you and I can find pretty much anywhere. Thirdly, the proportions did not work for me. There was too much courgette for way too little mussels (which were delicious by the way). The concept of the dish would have been great, had it been done with smaller courgettes and/or more mussels and a little more salt. This was definitely not a 3* dish.  The wine didn’t really work for that dish neither, at least not for me.

 

Courgette jaune

Courgette jaune

The wine for the second course was much more interesting already. I really enjoyed it, despite its young age: Puligny Montrachet – J.M Boillot, 2007.

 

BOUDINS NOIRS DE HOMARD AUX POMMES Jus de carcasse relevé à la moutarde. This sounded promising and I thought it looked good when I saw it arrive too. Lobster meat was mixed with squid ink and eggs to make a marine-black pudding. With it came a little lobster jus and a bit of apple. The dish worked beautifully with the wine. This really was a fine match, but the dish itself wasn’t half as nice as that match. Taste-wise it was good. The lobster flavour was present and made even more interesting by the apples, but the texture of the thing was another story. The lobster meat was mixed so fine that it was more like a Wiener Würstchen rather than a boudin noir (which has bits and pieces in it, as far as I can recall). This made it very similar to your everyday sausage ( in terms of texture that is). With this dish I had the feeling that someone really liked that concept of taking a French classic (boudin noir aux pommes) to another level, but didn’t really get there. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really see that third star shine.

 

Homard

Homard

 

But, things finally started looking up.

 

For the main course, I was served a glass of Saint Joseph – Cuvée du Papy – Dom. Du Monteillet, 2006.

 

morceau d’entrecôte de boeuf* rôtie Jus et condiments d’une sauce Bercy, pomme Anna. Now, this dish was the first real three star dish so far. It took them a little time, but here the wait did pay off. The centre of an entrecote was topped with a onion and bone marrow ragout and came with a gratin made out of parmesan, tomatoes and a few other things. On the side was served a portion of pommes Anna. The most stunning part of this whole meal were, believe it or not, potatoes. This millefeuille of crunchy and creamy potatoes was absolutely mind-blowing. It might not have been worth the price of the meal (objectively at least not), but I will remember this thing if not much more. The jus was another winner. I absolutely loved it and ate every little drop of it. The beef itself was very good. It had great flavour and was nicely cooked. However, it had rested a little too long or wasn’t reheated properly, as the ends were completely dry and lukewarm. It didn’t really matter, as I really loved this dish. It was finally a successful version of a Bistro classic, one that made sense, tasted well and was executed superbly. Excellent.

 

Boeuf

Boeuf

 

Pommes

Pommes

 

 

To prepare the diner for the dessert, one is served a plate of mignardises. Today, there was a glass with a verveine mousse, a strawberry, rolled in apricot jelly and, on the plate, a macaron, a marshmallow and a chocolate filled with red berries. These were all very good and well executed.

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

To not leave me with an empty (wine) glass, the sommelier poured me a Tokaji – Sargà Muskotàly – Château de Sarospatak, 2007. Despite the fact that it was a pitty to drink such a wine at such a tender age, it was quite good and accompanied the dessert very well.

 

Conversation feuilletée à la confiture de mûre Marmelade glacée en coque de chocolat blanc. A lukewarm case of puff pastry served as a pillow for an almond cream, enriched with blackberry jam. Next to it sat a few white-chocolate balls, garnished with crushed blackberries. This was divine. The puff pastry was nearly as good as Pierre Herme’s and made this an absolutely stunning dessert. The fact that it was still lukewarm, as was the delicious filling only made it better and more succulent. The accompanying balls were very good and provided a little tart note, which balanced with the rich pastry and cream. Outstanding.

 

Conversation

Conversation

 

A second dessert was as successful as the first. A chocolate ganache sandwiched a lemon cream and was topped with a lemon-meringue and a few hazelnut crumbles. This was another masterpiece of the very, very talented Camille Lesecq, who really does deserve his mention on the menu. Everything in this plate worked and created a beautiful piece of art, that was yet again excellent.

 

Dessert

Dessert

 

 

With coffee, I was served a pain de Genes, which was very nice, but nothing spectacular neither.

 

Le cafe

Le cafe

 

 

After this meal I didn’t quite know what to make of it.Yes, it did have some strong moments, after all the desserts, beef, bread, service and decor were unquestionably on 3*-level, but there were some problems too. The two starters really didn’t work and were miles away from what you expect in such a temple of gastronomy. They really seemed a little ridiculous and more l’art pour l’art than anything else. 

 

Also, the service, however great it was, had barely cleared my table after the first course, when the second was already waiting to be placed in front of me. That just was way too fast for me, and I guess for others too. I’m not a particularly slow eater, but I do enjoy my fifteen minutes or more between courses, after all I can go to Mc donald’s if I want to be in and out in a few minutes.

However, I will return at some stage, as I am sure that Alleno will get better, once he is over all the prizes he won recently.

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

L’Arnsbourg, Baerenthal

avril 7, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

After my first visit here last year, I had mixed feelings about this place. The fact that it is in the middle of nowhere certainly adds to its charm, as does the very friendly welcome given by the chef’s sister, Cathy Klein. The cooking however, is rather modern, unlike what one might expect in the middle of the Vosges. Not that I dislike modern cuisine, but it was the cooking, or certain little technical mistakes that made me question the 3* attributed to Jean Georges Klein in the MIchelin. This being said, my family had some birthday to celebrate and we set of to Baerenthal, not knowing what feast would expect us there.

 

La salle

La salle

The room is delightfully bright, warm and you have lovely views on the Zinsel flowing by outside. A few words about the service: It was a very friendly brigade, that showed great enthusiasm but somehow there were quite a few mistakes being made here and there. For a very long time there was no bread at all, butter had to be asked for, further bread too, came only after having begged for it. Furthermore, there were mistakes in what was ordered and a few more sloppy mistakes, that just don’t belong into a 3*. Whilst these are small things, they are quite annoying at this level, especially the bread since it seems stingy not to reserve any without the customer asking for it. The sommeliers both were excellent and we chose an excellent Pinot Blanc from Josmeyer and a magnificient Riesling from Hugel.

A menu here always starts with the petits savoureux aperitifs, a succession of small bites that already display the great skill of the kitchen and also the relatively simple preparations Klein serves. First up was a Parmesan sandwich, very similar to Ferran Adria’s, a squid ink macaron and a macaron with cassis and foie gras. All of these were very pleasant displaying clear flavours whilst being texturally interesting.

 

apero 1

apero 1

The following one two bites were a deconstructed bloody Mary (vodka espuma and tomatoe sorbet) and a little sardine and tomatoe tart. The sardine deserves special attention as it was by far the best sardine I’ve had, and that in a fairy-tale like forest in Alsace! The cocktail too, did not disappoint, again making the flavours come out very clearly.

 

apero 2

apero 2

The third installment featured morels, egg, spinach and bread. A runny egg yolk, a few slivers of morels, a morel cream, croutons and some spinach created a  lovely bite of spring. Another prefect little amuse.

 

Apero 3

Apero 3

There was yet one more to come: A series of asparagus tastings, the bottom one with a classic vinaigrette, the second one with a (classic) hollondaise and the third being a ham mousse and asparagus tatar. All of them continued in Klein’s credo of bringing clean flavour in various shapes and textures that might surprise the diner. 

 

Apero 4

Apero 4

There was one last little firework waiting to be discovered. A Gillardeau oyster with passionfruit and Yuzu. This was simply brilliant, as the slight sweetness of the passionfruit and the acidity of the Yuzu gave a great counterpoint to the oyster and created a magical mouthfull.

 

Apero 5

Apero 5

Now, the « real » menu was finally beginning. It did so with a fairly simple dish: Carpaccio de Thon Rouge marine, Gel de Taboule, Granny Smith, Caviar de Finger Lemon, Perles de Feta. In the end it was good quality tuna with a few interesting toppings that created a coherent and pleasing mouthful. Very good, but not really that outstanding. It just couldn’t match the previous dishes’ greatness.

 

Thon rouge

Thon rouge

Next up was a dish that was truly memorable. Emulsion de Pommes de Terre et Truffes. An airy, buttery potatoe espuma was covered with a galette of black truffle and some Maldon sea salt. Simple, very simple, yet so rewarding. Two good friends, one noble, the other common united in the happiest of marriages. This was simply DIVINE with the truffles’ earthiness and the potatoes’ buttery note creating orgasmic pleasure. 

 

Emulsion

Emulsion

Le Pissenlit. This dish, with a simple name was another masterpiece. A few marinated pissenlit shoots (don’t ask me what it’s called in English, in German it’s Loewenzahn), a cream of pigeon liver anda few crisps of strawberry and yoghurt. The interaction the different elements truly displayed what can be done with a « simple » salad. It was another outstanding dish.

 

Le Pissenlit

Le Pissenlit

As main, we had a Poitrine de Canette Rotie, Croquant de Mures au Sesame, Jus reduit a l’Eucalyptus. The other dish I remember positively from last year was a duck breast which was remarkably tender and powerful. This version here was even better, if not the best duck I’ve come across. The jus was great, even though the Eucalyptus didn’t really get noticed by me, nor anyone else. The duck itself: tender, tasty and perfect. I was quite surprised that it was German duck, the first time I find a French restaurant using anything but French poultry. The little blackberries with coated sesame seeds were rather forgettable, but well who cares if the rest is that good. Being in Alsace, there were some more potatoes in the form of a wonderful puree, which Klein serves with pretty much every meat dish here. Wonderful.

 

La canette

La canette

 

 

 

 

As we had ordered some foie gras, which they mistook for the truffle dish (the little mistakes again), we decided to still have it afterwards. The Grillade de Foie Gras de Canard, Rhubarbe a la Plancha, Jus aux Epices was worth the wait. Perfectly cooked foie, seasoned perfectly yet again served with some grilled rhubarb that gave it a very tamed sweetness and tartness. The whole was another simple (this time really) dish that didn’t have anything modern about it, but was simply very gourmand. Excellent.

 

Foie

Foie

Dessert doesn’t come in a simple way, but is another succession of tastings called Invitation a la Decouverte. Some were, I must add, more memorable than others. The first part, a few bites featured only one that struck me: A meringue italienne (for those who want to know what it is, let me know) hiding a piece of marinated pineapple. The rest of these was rather boring, especially the sugar tuiles , which I really don’t understand.

The second part was much better: A rhubarb compote covered with some meringue, toasted brioche ice cream, cactus gel.  This was surprisingly very good and (less surprisingly) refreshing. Very good.

 

Rhubarbe/Cactus/Brioche

Rhubarbe/Cactus/Brioche

The third was all based on aloe vera. There was an aloe vera sorbet, an soup, some cream cheese mousse, tapioca and raspberry crisp. This was another refreshing, light dessert. Very well made again, even if I like tapioca to be cooked a little more « al dente ». Very good.

 

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

That was it. After 5 hours we were done, even though I could have had a few more courses. What can I say? 

The whole atmosphere there is just very comforting, hospitable, relaxed, down to earth (at least for a restaurant of that level). The service has strenghts, but some mistakes showed up too. The food was what really struck me this time. It was far better than last time, more precise, better composed and truly memorable, except for a few little things here and there. To call it molecular cuisine would be unjust. The cooking here certainly does have some modern elements, but there are many dishes that are quite classical. Klein manages to integrate modern techniques, ingredients from all around the world into classical French cooking in a way that not many French chefs can. He somehow creates light, yet indulgent dishes that leave you wanting more. One might be able to compare it to Bras or, in some respect El Bulli, as the trip to the restaurant takes you to a place that really is different and lovely. Arnsbourg is definitely a place to go back to, considering that it’s the cheapest 3* in France that I know of certainly doesn’t hurt. The lunch menu is a mere 60euros, not even the price of a starter in Paris. Another reason for going are the great chefs in the region like Erfort or Bau.