Archive | June, 2014

Ledoyen | Paris | Jun ’14 | “last order”

27 Jun
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Address: 1 Avenue Dutuit, 75008 Paris, France
  • Phone: +33 1 53 05 10 00
  • Price per pax (after tax + tip, some champagne): €290 ($395 at 1 EUR = 1.36 USD)
  • Course Progression: snacks – bread service – 1 amuse – 3 mains – 1 cheese – mignardises (1st round) – 3 desserts – mignardises (2nd round)
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 160 minutes
  • Chef: Christian Le Squer [wiki-biography]
  • Style: Classical with Modernist Touches
  • Michelin Stars: 3

 

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[Edit (Jan ’15): we need not have feared, Chef Le Squer has moved to 2* Le Cinq and is producing all of his signature hits there].

Farewell, Christian Le Squer and your wonderful Ledoyen. We stepped into Ledoyen without knowing it would be our last meal at the place, in its current incarnation. The reason for that last meal, is that head chef Christian Le Squer is quitting Ledoyen, and his last service will be on June 30th. For 15 years he has headed Ledoyen, and for 12 of the 15 years of his tenure Ledoyen has been a 3-star restaurant. Only this year in 2014, has he been awarded 5 toques from Gault-Millau. But what a meal we had there: we encountered a restaurant performing at the top of its game.

[Le Squer will be replaced by Yannick Alleno (lately in charge of the 3* Le Meurice in Paris before quitting to start his own company, and having Le Meurice taken over by Alain Ducasse). Le Squer plans to cook in his 1* restaurant etc… in the 16th arrondisement until the end of 2014, until which he will try to crown another venture with 3 stars.]

One regret is that I’ll not get to taste the spaghetti dish at Ledoyen. Here’s a picture from Luxeat. That is one of the stunning dishes of world cuisine. It was out, because Le Squer doesn’t do them with non-aromatic mushrooms – only morels, or white truffles, or black truffles. (the black truffles are the one recommended by the maitre d’) I will have to find them at Le Squer’s next venture.

I found the blend of modernist and classical touches here delightful (though the modernist touches on the amuse were a bit weaker than the classical dishes). There is very little new I can say that a lot of other bloggers have said besides [e.g. Andy Hayler, Ulterior Epicure], the classics menu was perfect in execution, and perfect in conception. Ledoyen’s classics menu is perhaps one of the touchpoints for a gastronomic education. A second regret is that I won’t get to try Le Squer’s modernist menu.

Might I also repeat how much I enjoy haute-cuisine in Paris? It is not just the divine food, it is the history of the dining spaces I eat in – a couple of days ago, we sat in the room of the old L’Archestrate, and the previous day, we sat in the quarter-century-old setting of L’Ambroisie. Today, the two-century-old Ledoyen. One might succumb to Stendhal syndrome…


HISTORY

During the late 18th century, it was a haunt of Louis de Saint-Just and Maximilien Robespierre and they dined there on 26 July 1794, two days before their execution. Napoleon and Joséphine de Beauharnais reportedly met at the restaurant and the restaurant was also a favourite of artists and writers such as Danton, Marat, Degas, Monet, Zola, Flaubert and Guy de Maupassant. A mid-19th-century account states that the restaurant was also the breakfast place of duellists, who, after shooting at each other in the Bois de Boulogne, reconciled over breakfast at Ledoyen. – Wikipedia

In mid-1999:

“Yes, there had been early warning signs of turmoil in the haute cuisine. First came news that Mme. Ghislaine Arabian, the highest-ranking woman chef in France, had been forced to leave her ill-starred two-star kitchen at Ledoyen in the park of the Champs-Élysées after she angrily fired one of her young cooks on camera during the making of a television documentary.” – Jeffrey Steingarten, “Is Paris Learning?”, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate.

The Breton Christian Le Squer took over the kitchen right after Mme. Arabian in 1999, and Ledoyen held its two-star rating, and elevated to its third star in 2002.


CLASSICS MENU

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  • Amuse
    • Spherified rosewater (3.5/5) – subtle, not sweet let alone cloyingly sweet which is a credit to the kitchen, good taste
    • Spherified olives (4.25/5) – recalling el Bulli? Good olive flavor
    • Poppy seeds and lettuce roll (3.25/5)
    • Foie, cherry, crab mousse (?) (4.5/5)

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Salty crackers. Squid crackers.

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Olive; whole wheat; baguette; Bordier butter

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  • Amuse: Fresh melon, verbena, almond jelly, sprinkling of fresh almonds (3.5/5)
    • A bit lacklustre. From what I remember, the sweet melon dominated.

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  • Grosses Langoustines Bretonnes, émulsion d’Agrumes (5/5)
    • One in the shell, one within a breaded and fried dumpling. Acidulated olive oil + vinaigrette
    • The langoustines were sweet and firm in both, the kitchen able to get the great texture in very different preparations. It paired brilliantly with the acidulated foam.

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  • Blanc de Turbot de Ligne juste Braisé, Pommes Rattes Truffées (5/5)
    • A rectangle of turbot, with just-mashed potato, and a truffle-butter sauce.
    • The mashed potato chunks, not really mashed potatoes in the puree sense we have come to know it, but chunks of potato that have been mashed, were swimming in a most decadent truffle butter sauce, beneath a foam. On top, a conceit of plating, stripes of black truffle bits. The turbot was two filets stacked on each other, though right at the start, so it wasn’t evident when I cut it.
    • Since we weren’t in black truffle season, the truffles used were frozen. This decreased the truffle aroma, but increased the evident decadence of the butter sauce with turbot, which had its gelatinous texture well brought out. This was clearly a perfected dish.
    • Truffles: Ledoyen under Christian Le Squer may have been a winter play
    • A video of Le Squer making the dish: http://www.francechef.tv/recette-blanc_de_turbot_juste_braise_emulsion_de_pomme_ratte_truffee.html

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  • Ris de Veau en Brochette de Bois de Citronnelle Rissolée, Jus d’Herbes (5/5)
    • A whole lobe of sweetbread, skewered by lemongrass, roasted, and sitting on a bed of beans. The sauce was made of 9 different herbs, very good
    • The sweetbread had a soft creamy texture, the generous portions allowing me to savor each bite – the texture of this lobe was reminiscent of another roasted-but-soft-inside ingredient, foie. Their two soft textures explain why they are so prized. A sweet glaze outside, the inner lemongrass skewers giving the sweetbreads a vague Thai flavor. Fantastic

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  • Les Fromages (5/5)
    • Eaten in order from clockwise from 12 o’clock:
    • The maitre d’, going off my three choices of St Felicien, Mimolette and Beaufort, rounded it off with the Banon. Nothing to say, except that the cheese mini-tasting sequence was absolutely superb, each cheese playing off the other (5/5). The Banon in particular was a welcome palate-cleanser in between the sweet-potato-ish Mimolette and the salted-egg Beaufort. This may be the very greatest cheesecart I’ve ever tasted.
    • Saint-Félicien (5/5) – seeking something close to my beloved Saint-Marcellin, I got a superb Saint-Félicien
    • 46 month old Mimolette (5/5) – from North of France. A hard cheese, its sweetness resembling a sweet potato
    • Banon goat cheese (4.5/5)
    • 24 month old Beaufort (5/5) – sweet, salty, starchy, with the mouthfeel of salted egg, a truly marvelous cheese, which contrasts completely with the creamy textures of younger Beauforts. Unique.

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  • Mignardises 1:
    • Spherified pineapple (4/5)
    • Pistachio macaron (4.5/5)
    • Raspberry stuffed in strawberry (4/5)
    • Passionfruit pastry (4.5/5)

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  • Yeast ice cream / White caramel film / Meringue / Silver Leaf (5/5)
    • “Chef wants you to have this, in order to ‘shock the palate’ “. The yeasty flavor (which yeast? what proportions, if a mixture?) was pronounced, capturing a hearty, bready flavor. For such a thin film, the caramel flavor came through strongly.

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  • Croquant de Pamplemousse cuit et cru (5/5)
    • One of the best no chocolate/ no cream desserts I have tasted.
    • From bottom up, 4 layers of grapefruit celebration, in increasing order of abstraction away from the fruit:
    • First a sweet confit grapefruit skin to form a fruit leather base, to capture some of the bitter tastes of the fruit
    • Second fresh grapefruit, to give the tastes of the original fruit
    • Third sorbet, to refresh the palate, and give a cool temperature mouthfeel.
    • Fourth a grapefruit sugar glass to give a crunchy texture.

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  • Chocolat / Framboise, Cacao légèrement Fumé (5/5)
    • A perfect classic chocolate/ raspberry combination, a classical bookend to the meal as the amuses were modernist.

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  • Mignardises 2:
    • Chocolates and Caramels (5/5)
    • Kouign Amann (5/5)
      • A very strong end to the meal.
      • We had feared the kouign amann was soggy from the caramel, but it was perfectly crisp.

 

PHOTOS OF OTHER DISHES

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Homard au Naturel en Gelée de Sucs de Carapace

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Daurade Royale Snackée, Câpres et Tomates Acidulées

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Grillade de Pigeon, Fleurs de Navets

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Fouetté de Chocolat Blanc en Crumble Acidulé

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Givré de Citron Vert, Fruits du Marché


OTHER NOTABLE LINKS:

  • Ledoyen (December 2012): Gastromondiale:
    • ON THE LANGOUSTINES: “This is a house classic. I have eaten this dish at least ten times and, if I could, I would eat it every day.  The langoustine quality here is a close second to what I can find in the great seafood temples of Spain (Galician langoustines) or in La Taupiniere in Brittany (another victim of the Michelin guide’s palette challenged inspectors). Probably they are fresh frozen and sent to Paris immediately. But they are still succulent and sweet, although a bit less firm compared to langoustines that have not seen any ice.  LeSquer prepares a brilliant mousse-like olive oil-agrumes infusion with the two large langoustines, one encased with kataifi and deep fried, and the other appropriately cooked a la plancha, as they do in Spain.”
    • ON THE SWEETBREADS: “This is always a masterpiece, a 20/20 dish.  It is light, creamy, and intense and excellent quality.  The whole lobe of milk-fed veal sits on a lemongrass or citronelle stick.  The lobe is glazed with jus, crispy dried sweetbread crumbs and lemon peel. Salfsify sticks are cut in a rectangular shape and braised with butter. The herbal sauce is rich, complex and refreshing (due to the agrumes jus and raspberry vinegar used in deglazing). The sweetbread is crisp outside, but very juicy inside. This is an exceptional, 20/20 dish.”

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L’Ambroisie | Paris | Jun ’14 | “timeless. …?”

20 Jun
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Address: 9 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris, France
  • Phone:+33 1 42 78 51 45
  • Price per pax (after tax + tip, a bottle split among three): €430 ($585 at 1 EUR = 1.36 USD)
  • Typical Course Progression: Amuse 1 – Amuse 2 – Starter- Main – Optional Cheese – Dessert – Mignardises
  • Value: 2/5
  • Dining Time: 180 minutes
  • Chef: Bernard Pacaud / Mathieu Pacaud
  • Style: Nouvelle-cuisine
  • Michelin Stars: 3

 

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It seems timeless, as if it has existed at the beautiful Place des Vosges forever. But that is an illusion. 27 years ago in December 1987, Bernard and Daniele Pacaud moved the then-2* L’Ambroisie to an old silversmith’s shop, at the Place des Vosges. In the 1988 Michelin Guide, 2* L’Ambroisie was elevated to three Michelin stars, a rating it has kept until today.

We were greeted and ushered into the first dining room by Madame Pacaud. It was cosy, and the lighting came from a Baroque chandelier above our heads. A candle was lighted, an arrangement of fresh flowers. “This might be the most romantic dining room in Paris”. And on the table, salt and pepper shakers (I rarely, if ever, see them at haute-cuisine establishments). That said to me, the diner’s enjoyment is paramount.

Just as rare: No tasting menu. Starter, main course, dessert.

I wanted to dine at L’Ambroisie, precisely because of that gesture; a throwback to an earlier age. Until now, my dining experiences at restaurants considered to be at the top end; restaurants capable of creating transcendental meals, were limited to restaurants with a short history, about 10-20 years at the most. In the United States, the 3* restaurants are unfailingly young (The French Laundry, the Daniel of Daniel Boulud [from Le Cirque], and the Le Bernardin of Gilbert Le Coze, being the three oldest 3*’s in the United States). The other seven (Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Brooklyn Fare, Jean-Georges, Masa, Alinea, Meadowood) are considerably younger.

What other restaurants are like L’Ambroisie? Such a combination of (A) storied history and (B) a preserved cooking style exist only at a handful of restaurants, and (C) at the 3* level is truly, truly rare: Paul Bocuse in Lyon, and Jiro’s sushi outlet in Tokyo are the only other top restaurants that immediately come to my mind. Troisgros, birthplace of nouvelle-cuisine, seems to be experimenting in an Asian fusion style in its third-generation.

I wanted to experience nouvelle cuisine: as in its heyday in the 80s and 90s, when it was still considered the state-of-the-art. How was the food? Intense. Perfection, or very close to it, with every dish. Each dish seemed a minimalist masterpiece to the eye, comprising four or five principal ingredients. It had all the intensity of the best of classical French haute-cuisine, with none of the heaviness. Many of these dishes deserve to be painted and hung as portraits.

And I think it is at L’Ambroisie that I have found the surest hand for caviar. By that I mean, the caviar isn’t fetish-ised and the show-stopper everytime it is served. It is a very sure chef who can relegate the caviar to the supporting role for an asparagus and egg dish, or the supporting role for a line-caught sea-bass with young artichokes. And yet the instinct is precise, and the caviar plays a first-class supporting-role. I am glad to have caught the Pacauds’ cooking (Bernard Pacaud, or his son Mathieu Pacaud who is taking over). To me, L’Ambroisie is the ultimate French haute-cuisine experience.

The food seems timeless. But not events off-table: Surprisingly, L’Ambroisie is going to open a second branch in a Macau casino. It is assured that “the Pacauds will be regularly cooking at the Macau restaurant”. To ensure quality, they need to put a senior chef (perhaps even one of the Pacauds?) in Macau. Will this harm the L’Ambroisie flagship in Paris? One hopes not. But in this corner of the Place des Vosges, it seems even the masters of nouvelle cuisine have been touched by the nouveau riche.

Rating: 20/20

(We switched plates so that we could each try as much of the L’Ambroisie menu as possible. My impressions follow)


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  • Amuse: Choux, Quenelle of cream and caviar, Ginger on top (5/5)
    • Top class. The caviar (well-distributed in the quenelle) paired perfectly with a very light cream. Excellent choux. Elevated by the globules of fish oil from the caviar. A little ginger spiced it out. I don’t think I can tire of such a great combination of choux-cream-caviar

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  • Amuse: Ravigote d’écrevisses aux petits pois, émulsion à la coriandre (5/5) [sic?]
    • Crayfish and green peas, with a fava-fennel soup. Anise-like flavors. A sweet cream soup (veloute?) from fava and fennel, with aforementioned light anise flavors, made for a refreshing bite. Needless to say the crayfish was of first-class sweetness, texture and colour, the peas juicy.

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  • Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (5/5)
    • A L’Ambroisie house signature, these sweet langoustines were done to a texture soft to the front bite,  and yet maintained some resistance to the back bite. Covered with a sesame crisp, just done vegetables, and a curry sauce.
    • A superb flavor combination, especially the delicate curry sauce which did complemented the langoustines superbly.

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  • Chaud-froid d’oeuf mollet au cresson, asperges vertes et caviar golden (5/5)
    • Say what you like about L’Ambroisie and its prices, they are generous with the caviar. When they put a spoonful of caviar, they put a spoon-FULL of caviar. Also I noticed that they don’t use mother-of-pearl unlike most other restaurants. I have heard that L’Ambroisie sources its caviar from both Iran and China. I didn’t inquire, but this was top class stuff. Delicious and decadent, firm globules of rounded salinity.
    • The hot-cold boiled egg, which is boiled to ensure a solid white but runny yolk, and cooled down to ensure the yolk stops cooking, is perched on pieces of asparagus with watercress puree, and a heap of caviar. This was possibly the best asparagus dish of the entire trip, acquiring the salt from the caviar.
    • By the side, an egg with (I believe) watercress sauce, with another spoon of caviar. Superb.

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  • Marjolaine de foie gras au pain d’épices, cristallines de rhubarbe (4.75/5)
    • A foie gras “marjorlaine cake” (multilayered cake) with crystallised rhubarb, and gingerbread as its constituent layers. Lemon confit (preserved lemon) and fresh strawberries.
    • Foie gras terrines can be overwhelming unless intelligently paired with sour fruit, since it is of a uniform buttery texture. Here, the biscuit from gingerbread and crystallised rhubarb gave variation to the texture of the terrine. It was a delight to eat, with none of feelings of satiety that can result. Further, the lemon confit and strawberries had sour tastes that cut away from the unctuousness of foie. A really good foie cake.
    • This recalled a great foie terrine I had at Eleven Madison Park in New York, the fruity contrast then coming from umeboshi.

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Fresh flowers

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  • Escalopines de bar à l’émincé d’artichaut, nage réduite au caviar (4.5/5)
    • Another L’Ambroisie house signature. Three pieces of perfectly filleted “bar” (translated as “seabass”) on top of slices of artichoke heart, on a reduction of nage (white-wine, butter, fish broth) and dotted generously with caviar.
    • Luxury ingredients, played with a delicate hand. It was perfect for its conception, reduced and perfected to its ultimate form. It was very good, though the whole dish’s flavor combination did not blow my mind. (except for the nage with caviar). I did not sense, for example, an especial harmony between the bar and the artichokes.
    • One lady going by the name of “lxt” elaborates on the bar:

It is hard in general not to fall in love with this aristocratic and refined fish, whose tender meat seems to be pampered by nature as if only the best of two worlds – hermaphroditic, the fish produces eggs, claiming its female origin, until later in life its ovaries dry up and it switches hormones to produce sperm – can deliver this extraordinary softness and piquant, delicate taste, but when it is a line-caught specimen, delivered the same day and handled with extreme care, sea bass becomes a real treat. The extraordinary preparation of the sea bass at L’Ambroisie secured its fluffy texture – characteristic of extremely fresh fish, the flesh of which generally becomes slightly firmer the day after the catch, which is not always a negative, since its taste still remains superb, providing the fish was stored properly (another advantageous quality of sea bass compared to other no-less-glorious species like turbot, for instance, whose taste and texture deteriorate rapidly with time) — and the skin tightly embraced the flesh so that every cell of its pattern was glittering in the artificial light almost decoratively, while the moist, tender and cushiony meat added a sensual legato to the tableau. –


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  • Viennoise de dos de sole au vin jaune, étuvée de morilles et “demoiselles” (5/5)
    • Spectacular. Dover Sole with an amazing vin jaune sauce. The sauces were really intense, incredible. Asparagus, fantastic. Chanterelles. Who doesn’t love them? A combination of three perfect elements that was executed as precisely and perfectly as conceivable.
    • Side plate: Chanterelles with fresh almonds. The chanterelles were as tasty as the fresh almonds were crisp. I’m sure I’m not alone in loving the baby-delicate, slightly-vegetal crunch of fresh almonds. These were perfect. (5/5)

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  • Navarin de homard et pommes de terre nouvelles de Noirmoutier au romarin (4.25/5)
    • Bisque-ish sauce, great new potatoes, fantastic lobster. I did not however glimpse the X-factor in this dish.

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  • Côte de veau glacée au jus, meunière d’asperges vertes au vieux comté (5/5)
    • A side of milk-fed veal, with a tremendously perfect jus, asparagus and an old Comte covering on top of the asparagus. The asparagus was perfect. The veal, too, had an amazing melt in the mouth texture I did not know was possible from veal, recalling a meatier otoro. The veal as with all young animals lacking in taste in order to produce a great texture, needed the jus to unify taste and texture.
    • The savory dark, sticky jus, was almost bitter in its intensity and darkness. Perfect.
    • With another side of girolle (chanterelle) mushrooms.

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  • Assortiment de desserts et pâtisseries:

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  • Parfait glacé à la réglisse et framboises (5/5)
    • A raspberry-licorice sorbet. Refreshing.

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  • Dacquoise au praliné, giboulée de fraises de jardin (5/5)
    • A tremendous dacquoise (a cake made with layering nut-flavored meringues with cream). Here the meringues sandwiched a hazelnut cream. The meringues were light, and contrasted beautifully with the cream. It was every bit the equal of the legendary chocolate tart, the two were like yin (chocolate) and yang (hazelnut)

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  • Tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon (5/5)
    • The legendary L’Ambroisie chocolate tart – the chocolate as light as air, melting on the tongue like a cloud, it was perfect with a vanilla ice cream. A classic, intense combination.
    • Both tarts were tremendous.

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  • Gaufrettes légères au mascarpone, melba de fraises des bois (4.5/5)
    • A really good strawberries and cream –  marscapone, wild strawberries, wafers. Refreshing.

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Mignardises: Chocolates, hazelnut sponge, rum raisin…


Other Notable Write-ups:

  • L’Ambroisie (2004): Vedat Milor (Gastromondiale) Write-up on e-Gullet: http://forums.egullet.org/topic/57414-french-haute-cuisine-dead-or-alive/
    • There is an extended disquisition by a learned lady named “lxt”: Perhaps it is just an old habit of mine to attempt to characterize all establishments through a prism of current and historical stylistic influences, interweaving threads of commonality among the arts, music, and food, or perhaps style is what defines any creation, and it, or rather its presence is not only a hallmark, an imprint of imagination, but a clear representation of a personal expression and philosophy, but I’m not generally settled until I identify a chef’s style. For instance, Passard is the most vivid representative of Minimalism in food, while his former student Barbot (L’Astrance) is primitivist. While Berasategui’s cuisine gives the impression of a French contemporary influence with his overuse of quiet, cautious flavors, Gagnaire’s contemporary style is more vocal and is closer to Glen Brown’s approach (not Kandinsky’s, as Beaugé suggested in Francois Simon’s “Pierre Gagnaire: Reflections on Culinary Artistry” nor is it minimalist as stated in the same book) in how he treats “savage” recipes and ingredients (the beef aspic dish), eliminating the element of “rough brushstrokes” while introducing a gracious refinement of “lines,” and in how both of them use the historical context (e.g. Gagnaire’s classic turbot in buttery cream turned modernistic with a spike of African melegueta pepper). Piege seemed to be struggling to stray away from the Baroque of Ducasse’s style on my visit to Les Ambassadeurs, and Senderens (Lucas Carton), the father of minimalism, aside from an occasional tiredness, maintains some elements of restrained Art Nouveau, just like the décor of the restaurant itself.  L’Ambroisie, however, seemed to be the hardest one to “file” not due to its lack of style – to the contrary, there was something very personal and expressive in Pacaud’s cooking – but because it didn’t seem to fall under any of the existing categories of predefined stylistic formulations. His cuisine doesn’t posses that indefinable “animalism” that cannot be resolved intellectually because it is addressed not to our intelligence but to our senses only, nor does it rely on a theme and thirty variations, with set forms and complicated constructions built on key relations and symbolism, nourishing our curiosity more than our senses. Neither conservative (with classical grandeur and heaviness of individual dishes) nor avant-garde (gathering together smaller, interlocking units [dishes] of shorter breath while corresponding more closely to the overall tasting flow), with a good instinct to weave all components of an individual dish into an enjoyable unity, his style seemed to represent a work of “realism” composed by a romantic whose imagination and invention were accompanied by the supervision of an alert critical mind. 
  • L’Ambroisie (2005): Vedat Milor write-up on Gastromondiale (copied from the eGullet forum?): http://www.gastromondiale.com/2008/09/lambroisie—-paris.html
    • I especially liked this passage: “Arguably, to call this tiny place located in one of my favorite squares on earth, the regal Place des Vosges, a “restaurant” is misleading. In fact, L’Ambroisie is rather an institution which is quintessentially French, and one that can only be found in Paris. Like all institutions grounded in historical traditions, L’Ambroisie has its set of unwritten rules and codes of behavior. One salient rule is that customers at L’Ambroisie are perceived less as passive recipients of gastronomic delights whose needs have to be pampered at all costs, but rather as potential partners and friends of a culinary institution who will internalize the culture over repeated visits. It is therefore the client who should adjust his expectations to suit the mores/norms of the restaurant and not the other way around. To some, especially some non-French more steeped in individualist traditions, this attitude is seen as elitist and nationalist, and their first visit to L’Ambroise (if they have managed to get a reservation) is often the last one. Yet for others, the type of classic traditions that this restaurant epitomizes and stands for are perceived as a magical escape from the dictates of modern fads and realities of the marketplace, and they appreciate the type of professionalism and perfectionism that is expressed in this institution. Thus for many people, including this writer, the first visit to L’Ambroisie is the beginning of a journey whose rewards increase with each repeated visit and whose pleasures, both culinary and intellectual, may be savored long after the end of your meal.”
  • L’Ambroisie (2010): Some very nice photos from Adam Goldberg: http://www.alifewortheating.com/paris/lambroisie-revisited-paris
  • L’Ambroisie (2012): A review from Vedat Milor on the cooking of son Mathieu Pacaud: http://www.gastromondiale.com/2013/01/lambroisie-and-ledoyen-close-to-perfection.html
    • “Chances are that, just like a lucky man who can bed a different lady every night for 30 consecutive days and then will even forget their names, if you are privileged enough to dine in 30  three star restaurants in a given year, you will no longer remember what you ate where.  To continue with the above analogy, the first few experiences will be enchanting, but then you will grow tired and feel the need to settle…Well, not to settle with one, but with a few… With those with true character and identity. L’Ambroisie and Ledoyen are among my two favorites, not only in Paris, but possibly in the world, among three star restaurants. I can enumerate the three reasons. 1.   In general, these restaurants serve great ingredients, better ingredients than what I can buy in the best local markets in the States. Ingredients.  I have seen frozen fish, canned seafood, and average quality meat in many three star restaurants (even great technique cannot hide the flaws).  I am not saying that all ingredients are the best of the available category in L’Ambroisie and Ledoyen, but I insist that they achieve a very high level on average. 2. These restaurants do not bombard me with 20+ courses and fill my blood with sugar at the end of the meal.  After the amuse, I get a few courses, maybe four, and I can remember them and salivate for months after the meal. I believe it is much more difficult to turn a duck breast into a memorable dish than to serve corn mousse, jellified espelette peppers, argan oil, powderized feta, and crystallized geranium in a cornet. 3. The meal has a true identity. I understand fully that it is French haute cuisine, inspired by classical dishes, rooted in a culinary tradition, with some twists.”
  • L’Ambroisie (2013): Good photos from Luxeat: http://www.luxeat.com/blog/lambroisie/

L’Arpège | Paris | Jun ’14 | “sunlight past the arras”

19 Jun
  • Rating: 18.5/20
  • Address: 84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
  • Phone: +33 1 47 05 09 06
  • Price per pax (after tax + tip, two half-bottles split among three): €380 ($518 at 1 EUR = 1.36 USD)
  • Courses: (14 main / 17 total): 2 amuses / 12 savory / 1 cheese / 1 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $37
  • Value: 1.5/5
  • Dining Time: 240 minutes
  • Chef: Alain Passard
  • Style: Vegetable-Focused
  • Michelin Stars: 3

 

2014-06-02 10.57.26 2014-06-02 11.02.56

I was back. 2 years after a life-changing meal at L’Arpege (my first) in the winter of 2012, where I was served a marvellous parade of dishes (a perfectly executed salad, Cevennes onion gratin, vegetable ravioli, Harlequin Gardener with vegetable sausage, and a superb millefeuille) I returned to the minimalist dining room, with the triptych to Bacchus hanging over the dining room. It was as minimalist as I had remembered it, laminated wood, functional rather than luxurious chairs, and simple table arrangements. The colours, would come not from the decor, but the vegetal stars gracing our plates. And what colour!

One of the pleasures of dining out, is that each great restaurant is unique in its own way. We had dined the previous week at The Fat Duck, where the greatness of the restaurant was in the sheer amount of thought that went into every little detail of the dish, from theoretical construction to the actual assembly and cooking of the dish. (see The Fat Duck Head Chef Jonny Lake talking about how they conceptualised the magnificent Lamb dish, to see what I am talking about). Alain Passard gives each of his dishes equal thought, tasting and refining his raw vegetable products from his farms before serving them. (See the graphic novella: In the Kitchen with Alain Passard) But where at The Fat Duck, portions are measured to scientific accuracy and dishes refined and re-refined in an R&D lab months before they go on the tasting menu, Passard’s improvisational cooking style draws from his love of music, and he is much more willing to let the testimony of his ingredients speak for themselves.

I had also dined at 1* Hedone in London the previous week, and though I found the ingredients impeccable, I found myself enjoying the minimalism at L’Arpege more than at Hedone. The two both prize the testimony of the ingredient, the voice of the ingredient above all else. So why did I enjoy the minimalism at L’Arpege more? I can only think that it is an intellectual response to a great chef’s vision. Passard’s vision of a vegetable cuisine, with vegetable sausages, top-class ravioli, the revaluation of beetroot in his sushi (improved over the winter version, which had an unnecessary dab of wasabi, now gone) – is compelling, above even a chef that demonstrates catholic knowledge over the provenance of a wide range of ingredients. Restriction of the option-space of ingredients to just vegetables, gives the chef that much more to do, to transform and subvert our expectations. And Passard is a great chef, one whose skills are well-suited to the task. In the end though, it is a matter of taste whether one would better enjoy a first-rate meal of the stereotypical ingredients – amuse, vegetables, seafood, red meat, dessert – or if one would better enjoy a first-rate meal that up-ends and subverts those expectations.

And yet L’Arpege is not perfect. Part of the reason I enjoyed it less than in winter two years ago: many of the tropes and gestures from my winter meal were repeated. Beetroot sushi was repeated, as well as the veloute, and the ravioli, with the Harlequin gardener, roast chicken, millefeuille. As it was only my second meal at L’Arpege, I had been hoping to try a broader range of Passard’s cooking. Perhaps I should have ordered the vegetable tasting option, or gone carte blanche, instead of the grand menu. A second possible reason: I found the grand menu very similar (in that only one dish was completely changed – the blue lobster substituted for the potatoes) from the lunch tasting menu. For €200 Euros more (€140 vs €340), it left me feeling a bit short-changed. If there is a better way to ensure that lunch patrons don’t order your grand tasting menu at lunch, I’d like to hear it. Perhaps that is the point – the grand menu being for tourists rather than locals, who know the ins-and-outs of navigating a meal at L’Arpege.

Was it still a first-rate meal? Yes. Was it worth the money plonked down this time? I am on the fence on this one, for both the considerable repetition, and the feeling of €200 misspent. I have heard meals at L’Arpège being described as expensive gambles. When a Passard meal comes off, it is truly magnificent, an eighth wonder of the world. When it doesn’t, it falls to earth with a resounding thud. Among my friends who have had the fortune to dine at L’Arpege, I have noticed two contrasting reactions – no one sits on the fence – the first, if fortune smiles, being that one is a convert to Passard’s vision. The second, if ill-starred, is that one forswears off L’Arpege. Having had both experiences, I now understand both points of view. The arras is drawn, I now look forward to a third meal at L’Arpege  with both the hope of transcendence, and the knowledge that I might yet be disappointed.

Rating: 18.5/20


Les jardins en Juin (grand tasting)

(All listed dish descriptions in French, non-listed dish descriptions in English)

2014-06-02 11.05.16 2014-06-02 11.05.301. Mint/carrot puff pastry (4/5)

    • A nice, immediate amuse, served seconds after we were seated at the table

2014-06-02 11.07.082. Vegetable tartlets: Beetroot/Green Peas/Purple Potato (4/5)

    • An amusing permutation carousel of vegetable tartlets: (A) Green pea puree topped with a piece of potato (B) purple potato puree with green pea on top (C) Beetroot puree with a green bean on top.

2014-06-02 11.12.16 2014-06-02 11.23.29 2014-06-02 11.28.10 2014-06-02 11.28.16Country Bread

    • With Jean-Yves Bordier butter (5/5). Salty, real depth of flavor.

2014-06-02 11.37.40 2014-06-02 11.37.543. Sushi de betterave au geranium (4.5/5)

    • moutarde d’Orleans
    • This version was better than the one I had two years ago, which then had wasabi overpowering the sweet beetroot. Here the wasabi had vanished, and was replaced by a pleasing geranium oil, which gave it a appetising floral fragrance to accompany to smooth sweetness of the beetroot.

2014-06-02 11.42.30 2014-06-02 11.42.334. Chaud froid d’oeuf au sirop d’érable (4.75/5)

    • 4 épices & vinaigre de Xeres
    • The L’Arpege egg, which I had personally made, with David Kinch’s Manresa recipe
    • I had also tried it (the Arpege egg) at Manresa a couple of months earlier, in April 2014. There it is lighter, the maple syrup goes padfooted on the sherry vinegar cream, (5-6 drops in the Manresa drizzle). At L’Arpege, the maple syrup found its way into the poached egg yolk – which was sweetened. Perhaps the syrup was whipped straight into the egg yolk this time?
    • As I mentioned on my Manresa write-up, I prefer to add more maple syrup to accentuate the sweet-sour contrast with cold sour sherry-vinegar cream. Here the contrast was sweet-warm (syrup-egg, somehow mixed) vs cold-sour (sherry vinegar cream), with chives, 4-spice, salt, as supporting cast.
    • In “It Must’ve Been Something I Ate”, the food critic Jeffrey Steingarten details the quatre-epices:

“This common French combination of four spices, used especially in charcuterie, typically includes black or white pepper, nutmeg, cloves or cinnamon, and ginger, and is sold already prepared in bottles. Passard makes his own, using white pepper [Sarawak?] and going heavy on the ginger. To follow him, use a (clean) electric coffee grinder, the kind with a whirling horizontal blade, to pulverize 2 tablespoons white peppercorns. Add 1/4 teaspoon ground clove, 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons powdered ginger, and grind them all together until the mixture is extremely fine.”

2014-06-02 11.43.15 2014-06-02 11.47.45 2014-06-02 11.47.565. Fines ravioles potageres multicolores (5/5)

    • consomme printanier
    • A stunning smoky, green bean consomme that tasted intensely of the bean itself, with 4 types of ravioli: carrot-rose, turnip-basil, asparagus-vervain (AKA asparagus-verbena), and pois-gourmand-ail (AKA pea-garlic). Each primary vegetable (carrot, turnip, asparagus, pea) was perfectly paired with the secondary herb (rose, basil, verbena, garlic). Spectacular. 5 elements – consomme, and 4 raviolis of different pairings, yet a complete garden of flavors. To me, this is a dish one cannot tire of.

2014-06-02 11.57.22 2014-06-02 11.57.17 2014-06-02 11.57.126. Couleur, saveur et parfum des jardins (4.75/5)

    • creation ephemere
    • Purple turnip, rhubarb, purple basil. Pairing ingredients with similar colour profiles, or chromatic cooking. Here the sour rhubarb offset the sweeter purple turnip. The surprise of the dish was an intense purple sauce, right at the very bottom of the bowl. Where had it appeared from? It was intensely sweet, like root-vegetable candy. The pairing with the last bite of rhubarb was sublime.
    • Jeffrey Steingartenin It Must’ve Been Something I Ate details the probable origins of that purple sauce – a version of jus de legumes, probably made from reducing the jus de navet (turnip) and adding honey –

“Jus de legumes can mean a variety of things; at L’Arpege, it is light and sweet, and relies mainly on the wealth of vegetable juices left over from preparing various dishes. Here we must start from scratch. To make 2 1/2 cups of jus, enough for both recipes: In a 4-quart saucepan put 10 cups of roughly chopped vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, black radishes, turnips, leeks, rutabaga, and in the winter, celery root). Cover with cold water, about 6 cups. Add 2 tablespoons of salted butter. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 40 minutes. Strain the liquid and reduce it by about half to 2 1/2 cups. Taste it and smile. Add any pan juices left over from cooking the red onion and the celery root”.

2014-06-02 12.09.037. Asperge blanche de la vallee de la Sarthe (4.25/5)

    • geranium & oseille large de Belleville
    • Roasted white asparagus, sorrel, and bay leaf oil. Juicy white stalks, really top class white asparagus. I however did not find the accompaniments of bay leaf oil and sorrel to add much aroma to this dish, and there was a pickled leaf (bay leaf? seaweed?) the slight sourness of which was out of place in the dish.

2014-06-02 12.23.03 2014-06-02 12.23.13 2014-06-02 12.23.248. Bouquet de homard breton acidule au miel (3.75/5)

    • transparence de navet nouveau
    • Sweet and sour sauce, made of honey, lime, sherry vinegar, with carpaccio of turnip, and Breton lobster (AKA homard bleu, blue lobster) underneath
    • a €200 dish (this was the one completely changed dish from the €140 lunch tasting menu). So how was it? The sweet and sour sauce was truly superb, tasting complex. But I was not taken with the cold chunks of lobster, underneath the tender slices of turnip. It resembled a cold preparation of sweet-and-sour seafood salad from a Chinese banquet, and I failed to detect the quality differential in the Breton lobster that would elevate this dish.
    • A massive disappointment.
    • http://www.finisterebrittany.com/discover/breton-lobster

2014-06-02 12.30.31

The displayed monkfish

2014-06-02 12.37.26 2014-06-02 12.37.429. Asparagus-onion veloute (4/5)

    • Smoked ham whipped cream, cold
    • Veloute good in sweetness, offset by smoked ham cream.

2014-06-02 12.44.02 2014-06-02 12.43.2510. Tuna tartare, vervaine, fava beans (3.5/5)

    • Tastes of soy sauce, without further perceptible modification, which was an Asian touch that seemed perfunctory. Solid, though not mindblowing.

2014-06-02 12.48.41

I really like crusty ends, and thanks to maitre d’ Hélène Cousin for noticing that.

2014-06-02 12.52.20

 

He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms…

2014-06-02 13.02.2111. Peche cotiere du Golfe du Morbihan au <<Cotes du Jura>> (4.75/5)

    • pommes de terre nouvelles
    • grilled monkfish from Brittany, which was a classic. New potatoes, which had a nice sweetness, along with springy monkfish, cabbage, spinach, and a vin jaune sauce. Very classic, and executed beautifully.

2014-06-02 13.03.52 2014-06-02 13.15.58 2014-06-02 13.16.01 2014-06-02 13.16.2812. Jardiniere Arlequin & merguez vegetale a l’harissa (4.25/5)

    • fenouil selma, courgette fleur, trilogie de carottes, artichaut violet…
    • I was served almost the same dish at my last meal here, and there the winter vegetables, bursting with sugar, sung with a true harmony of flavors. Here the vegetable sausage was a bit rougher and drier than I remembered. The vegetables seemed a bit less flavorful. To be honest, if I wasn’t served a sublime version two years ago, I wouldn’t have known what the fuss about this dish was all about.

2014-06-02 13.39.48 2014-06-02 13.39.1713. Vegetable minestrone, chorizo, parmesan (4/5)

    • I think my personal joy of a L’Arpege meal is just being able to take in the sweetness and unreal quality of the produce from Passard’s farms. A real sweetness in the carrots, and peas- peas that are perhaps less juicy that those at Manresa in California or Etxebarri in Basque country, but so giving to the bite, and the two halves sliding off each other so easily. Very tender, excellent produce.

2014-06-02 13.48.1114. Grande rotisserie d’heritage Louise Passard (4/5)

    • eleveurs de nos regions
    • Chicken, fig-leaf oil, potato gnocchi
    • Good. Passard likes to cook his chicken more than other chefs, and this was a bit tougher than I would like. But it was more tender than the winter version.

2014-06-02 13.48.40 2014-06-02 14.07.18 2014-06-02 14.09.08 2014-06-02 14.11.3915. Le plateau d’Helene

    • ses fantaisies
    • The cheese cart: Bernard Antony 48 month Comte (5/5), Camembert from Normandy, Banon cheese from Provence, dry goat cheese from Savoy, Bonde en Gratin.
    • What is there about the Bernard Antony Comte that hasn’t been said? Nothing. But I’ll say it again: a dry, nutty, textured shavings of a scarcely-sandy, sweet, cheese. Every bite reveals a food complete in itself. May it repose, self-satisfied. Masterpiece (5/5).

2014-06-02 14.23.35 2014-06-02 14.24.43 2014-06-02 14.28.3316. Millefeuille rhubarbe <<vintage>> a l’angelique officinale (5/5)

    • sirop rose
    • Thank the Gods Passard among the top Paris chefs still prepares his millefeuille (I could not find it on the menu at L’Ambroisie or Ledoyen). It is perfect. The flaky pastry cuts beautifully, and with an audible crunch. Rhubarb millefeuille with sour cherries, and then paired off with an intensely floral rose ice cream, which brought to mind the intensely floral geranium oil in the beetroot sushi that our meal started off with.

2014-06-02 14.41.19Fresh Strawberries

2014-06-02 14.23.59 2014-06-02 14.37.42 2014-06-02 14.34.1617. Sucreries

    • macaron, nougat, tuile, bouquet de roses®, pop-corn…
    • Angelique (sinensis? danggui?) caramel was very interesting – the bitter herbal taste going well with the sweet stickiness of caramel; choux, sweet, macaron, and the mini bouquet of roses tart.

 

Other Notable Write-ups:

  • L’Arpège (2004): A trip report to Arpege by the most delightful “lxt”, who has a most distinguished palate, an impressive knowledge of caviar, and an unfortunate run-in with L’Arpege’s dungeon room (http://mouthfulsfood.com/forums/index.php/topic/1088-arpege/)
    • On the dungeon room: “I turned abruptly, so that the courteous distance between the hostess and me was slightly reduced, and politely inquired whether it was possible to be seated upstairs. “Since you made a reservation at the last minute, this is all we can do,” followed the firm response from the slim, fragile-looking young woman who seemed not to be inclined to change her mind. Our insistence that we indeed cared enough to make a reservation two months in advance by both mail and phone and were forced to reschedule due to special circumstances didn’t seem to soften her heart, and we were seated in the dungeon at the farthest table from the entrance with a promise, however, to be moved upstairs in case any of the more privileged diners wouldn’t object to dining downstairs or would finish their dinner early.After the hostess disappeared and we were left alone for a short while, I was stunned to recognize the smell of mold, of a basement, of an old building flooded for a long time: a smell of rot and age that would undoubtedly interfere with the appreciation of food, since when the nose fails, 80% of the ability to taste is lost. The thought crossed my mind that the disparity in comfort between good tables and bad tables – that is, the difference between the upper and lower rooms – while offset by genuine chords of compassionate sighs from the staff, was so much more extreme than at similar establishments, that perhaps it should place on Arpège the obligation to inform a diner in advance of his seating assignment.“Do you sense the smell of …” I started saying, lifting my eyes up at my consort to find out whether he detected an unpleasant odor as well, and stopped in the middle of the sentence with a chill running through my body as I saw him turning pale with a dew of cold sweat on his forehead, taking me back to the recent past in a momentary flash and a sudden burst of memory where I was terrified watching a neuro-surgeon, who happened to be on the same plane with us, gently chuckle, mumbling “It’s always big men who faint,” while taking my husband’s blood pressure.We were very apologetic on our way out. “The last thing we all want is me passing out in your restaurant,” laughingly added my consort halfway out, but… apparently this last argument was quite convincing, and a cozy table in the main room across from the entrance was kindly offered and accepted.”
    • On caviar quality: “Caviar osciètre royal d’Iran (nouvelle pêche).
      When a bowl of white, thick and smooth, creamy and lightly frothed Jerusalem artichoke velouté, whose gentle flow was disturbed only by the dark beads of the scoop of Iranian Royal Caviar in the center, was placed in front of me, before I attempted to unravel the flavors of this pictorial dish and examine the quality of the caviar, a reminiscence of the first time I tried beluga – the world-class 000 malossol caviar (from Astrakhan, aged for two months), with large (about 3 millimeters in diameter) beads, leaving an unforgettable sensation as little black pearls popped lightly when pressed against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, releasing, just like good butter, a soft, rich and exquisitely delicate flavor with a hint of sweetness, a slightly nutty flavor and a clean, smooth finish – brought back a pleasant feeling.With current problems relating to overfishing in the Caspian Sea and trade restrictions on Russian sturgeon, I hardly expected to see beluga on the menu, though the price of the dish prompted high expectations, but I anticipated finding excellent quality osetra and was surprised and disappointed after examining it.Iranian caviar has several disadvantages compared to Russian (specifically, along the Volga, “the mother of sturgeon rivers” –Inga Saffron) that may affect the quality and taste, in my opinion: 1) Osetra from the cooler waters of the southwest shores (the coast of Iran in the Caspian Sea) doesn’t develop the complexity of flavors, ranging from fruity to nutty, lingering pleasantly in the mouth, for which it is praised. 2) There is a fine art to producing top-quality caviar that varies from fish to fish, applied depending on whether the eggs are perfectly ripe, immature or too mature, requiring different curing techniques to bring out the best in the roe. These skills were mastered over the centuries in Russia and were passed from generation to generation assuring the high level of integrity of the product, whereas the consumption of both sturgeon and its roe and even touching the fish were not allowed by Islam, since sturgeon doesn’t have scales, so that Iranian participation in the caviar trade has really been only a 20th-century phenomenon.The dark-gray-to-brown color of the beads on my plate, indicating a stronger flavor (lighter, golden color osetra is more delicate), their medium size, uniformity and shine were very attractive, and I anticipated a little burst as I put several pearls in my mouth only to be disappointed by a sluggish, soggy result lacking the distinctive “pop,” and sadly, a very salty, straightforward flavor, which is an indication of inferior quality.Lightly salting caviar, as with Russian Malossol, is the desired treatment for the best eggs, allowing no more than 3% salt in relation to the egg weight; lesser grades can have up to 10%. Mixing salt with borax (an old method utilized in Russia to simulate the 16th century approach where caviar was penetrated by borax from the soil, near the Caspian Sea, in which bags with caviar were buried to age), results in caviar with a more rounded, sweeter flavor. There were none of these characteristics in the caviar at Arpège. In fact, it tasted as if it were pasteurized, which sometimes is done after curing and packing to prolong caviar’s shelf life, but which permanently alters the eggs’ delicate protein, resulting in sogginess.“Passard should change his supplier, but this dish is excellent,” said my consort, referring to the caviar, as he mixed it thoroughly with the velouté, and took a spoonful of the gently warm mixture. Indeed, despite the name of the dish, caviar was not the central element in this composition. The suave, rich velouté (slightly warmer than room temperature) was so intense in its gentle flavor that it was as if the last drop of life had been drawn out of the vegetable, revitalizing the creamy liquid and permeating it with a subtle, softly sweet and precise flavor. As the caviar beads spread out in the liquid and contributed their salty intonations, the sweetness seemed to blend naturally with the salt without being suppressed. It was a nice progression of flavors from slightly sweet to salty-sweet, with a gentle amalgamation of all components giving the dish its very structure, which didn’t shock, just pleased. Though the title, accenting a less-than-perfect component, was misleading, the ultimate result of the whole dish seemed to transcend the ingredients.”
    • On the same thread, a poster named Orik compares Passard’s vegetable cuisine with his cuisine in the 90s: “lxt,I don’t have my summary of the last meal at Arpege in front of me, but vegetables vs. meat is not a primary concern. I can only remember having eaten a few meat dishes at the 1990s Arpege (wild hare once, a couple of amazingly good duck preparations and the pigeon, never beef, pork or lamb). Their seared foie gras was not an interesting dish – scallops, lobster and fish, truffles and vegetables were always the stars.The notes from our last meal there are not in front of me, but let me see if I can recall:1. Luxury ingredients – the menu still features homard breton and caviar, so there is no real movement away from these ingredients. However, the lobster in yellow wine used to include truffle shavings (otherwise it was identical) and sell for half its current price. Also, there was previously a wonderful truffle and parmesan soup, in our last visit this was replaced with caramelized onion gratin. I’m not going to argue with anyone claiming that an onion can bring him or her the same pleasure as truffles and parmesan – this is a subjective matter, but it surely brings pleasure to the restaurant’s accountant, as both dishes sell for about the same price.2. Quality of ingredients, complexity of preparation – also in our last visit, we ordered a mushroom soup. Sivan tasted it and said “well, this is most certainly a very plain mushroom soup”. The following day we saw passard offering the same soup at some sort of a food event, together with the recipe – champignons, stock, cream… Nothing different from how you would have prepared cream of mushroom. 64 Euros, I think (or was it 48? ridiculous, in any event).3. Wine prices – the restaurant can do as it pleases, but there are some cases where prices in Euro are not much lower than they were in Francs…

      4. Boredom – the egg, both lobster preparation, a couple of variations on the caviar theme (sometimes it’s with avocado), a very large whole roasted bass, when available, even a slightly modified version of the scallop dish (I think the cabbage was only present in the lobster with yellow wine before) have been on the menu for many years. If you look at the cuisine of the 1990 [sic] and the current cuisine, you’ll see just how much of the supposed change is purely marketing and cost cutting.

      5. Cheese service – used to be exceptional, has become miserable, but this isn’t unique to Arpege.

      In short, from a relatively casual 3 star, serving innovative cuisine at very low prices (I actually have a check for 2800 FF including 1000 FF for wine), Arpege has become one of the most expensive restaurants in France, yet its cuisine, service and decor did not evolve significantly. Still a destination for someone who hasn’t tried Passard’s cuisine. Fortunately we were never seated in the basement 😉 “

  • L’Arpège (2006): A review from Vedat Milor. http://www.gastromondiale.com/2008/10/arpege.html
    • “Is Alain Passard a near magician who can cook with his left hand, so to speak, and still concoct absolutely perfect dishes?  Probably. Few can compete with him to create such elegant and amazingly harmonious dishes, which look simple on the plate but reveal so much intensity and complexity with each bite without losing focus.  His Fin gazpacho a la moutarde onctueuse d’Orleans,  Homard des Iles Chaussey “Arpege”, and Turbot de Bretagne  are all culinary masterpieces. They are masterpieces because the raw materials are perfect or near perfect (somehow the lobster meat had perfect texture but lacked the sweetness we associate with great blue lobster), the balance between acidity, nuttiness and sweetness in each dish is optimum, and all of these dishes are original and express the inimitable style of a great chef in bringing out the full range of flavors hidden in his ingredients without torturing them or subjecting them to senseless experiments with texture, as many Passard  imitators do. In fact, when he prepares a risotto du potager with various root and other vegetables from his garden, one feels that all our preconceived notions about luxury and “grand dining” can be laid to rest for a while. Sometimes the most simple (but not simplistic) is also the most decadent.”

The Fat Duck | Bray, Berkshire | May ’14 | “the complete restaurant”

18 Jun
  • Rating: 20/20
  • Address: High St, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ, United Kingdom
  • Phone: +44 1628 580333
  • Price (after tax + tip, a glass of champagne): £240 ($407 at 1 GBP = 1.69 USD)
  • Courses: (11 main / 15 total): 2 amuses / 8 main / 3 dessert / 3 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $37
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 240 minutes
  • Chef: Jonny Lake
  • Style: Modernist
  • Michelin Stars: 3

2014-05-29 12.03.12

And so it came to pass that we stood outside a non-descript door, after being delivered by taxi to the little village of Bray (home to two 3-Michelin-starred restaurants), waiting to enter the dining room within. The Fat Duck was the first restaurant on an eating tour of Europe. We would be starting off on a tremendous high.

The Fat Duck is perhaps the most complete modernist restaurant that I have ever dined in. I can remember no other restaurants that makes use of many modernist techniques, that at the same time so emphasise the taste and gastronomic merits of what they are serving. Just because a technique is interesting, does not mean that it is ready for prime-time at the Fat Duck. Everything was delicious, and with independent gastronomic merit. The dishes there, without exception, are all intensely memorable and will sear themselves into your memory.

At nowhere else have the aesthetics been as polished as the Fat Duck. From the very first bite, a sparkly crimson golfball of aerated beetroot with horseradish cream, the dishes announce themselves as art pieces. I swirled around a disappearing golden fob-watch to make mock turtle soup. I beheld a bed of moss as it started smoking and steaming. The last two desserts were veritable masterpieces, the first a completely fleshed out egg dessert that was the Platonic Form of everything the cracked egg dessert at Atera aspires to. In lifelikeness, it was uncanny. The second, Botrytis Cinerea, is one of the best desserts I can ever remember eating in my life. It takes a tremendously confident kitchen to believe that they can develop a dessert that can represent the complex Chateau d’Yquem, one of the greatest foodstuffs on Earth – but the Fat Duck believed it, and they have done it. That dessert is a feast for both the palate, which enjoys each individually-crafted element on the plate, and the intellect, as it ponders the deconstruction of the wine. It reminded me of a painting I once saw where two lovers were kissing, but the optical illusion was that if one took a wider view it became a skull, using perspective tricks to achieve “memento mori”. Here the developed flavors of the final product (wine and yeast), were encapsulated back in the evocation of colourful grape globules. Food as the highest art possible.

And yet – the meal was 100% delicious. The unctuous taste of top quality foie, a hearty snail porridge, and a marvellous salmon liquorice preceded the tour-de-force of an exploration in the different textures of lamb, a deconstruction of the lamb kebab. The Fat Duck is truly rare restaurant – one that is fully developed in the craft of cooking a delicious meal, and is also one that fully developed in having the conceptual understanding and empiricist outlook of food scientists, and yet at the same time fully developed in having an artistic soul. One is tempted to call it – complete.

Rating: 20/20

Other Notable write-ups:


2014-05-29 12.04.40 2014-05-29 12.14.00 2014-05-29 12.14.05 2014-05-29 12.33.32 2014-05-29 12.36.19 2014-05-29 12.36.271. Amuse: Aerated Beetroot with Horseradish Cream (4.75/5)

    • Intense beetroot taste, that just disappeared like a cloud on the tongue in a matter of seconds, but the horseradish kick reminded this diner that what I had tasted did exist. Perfectly spherical, like a really solid red golf ball.
    • A good flavor pairing, using a (centrifuge?) machine to concentrate the beetroot juice for 12-14h at 40-50 degrees Celsius, in order to get such intensity of flavors

2014-05-29 12.37.05 2014-05-29 12.38.43 2014-05-29 12.40.172. NITRO POACHED APERITIFS (3.5/5)

    • Vodka and Lime Sour, Campari Soda, Tequila and Grapefruit
    • We could choose the cocktail flavor we wanted. I chose Tequila and Grapefruit. With all the ceremony of a Tibetan monk, our server discharged the cocktail-meringue contents of the 3 corresponding ISI-whip containers into a bucket of liquid nitrogen, and then peeled the citrus in the direction of the resulting “ice-meringue”, setting the essential oils into a brief flicker of fire by the candle. The visual effects were superb, but the taste predominated in citrus (grapefruit) for mine, the alcohol (tequila) not really perceptible.

2014-05-29 12.42.19 2014-05-29 12.43.16 2014-05-29 12.46.11 2014-05-29 12.46.19 2014-05-29 12.46.33 2014-05-29 12.46.383. RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO (4.25/5)

2014-05-29 12.51.42 2014-05-29 12.51.51 2014-05-29 12.52.04 2014-05-29 12.52.12 2014-05-29 12.52.19 2014-05-29 12.52.27 2014-05-29 12.53.29 2014-05-29 12.53.44 2014-05-29 12.54.15 2014-05-29 12.55.064. JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM (4.75/5)

    • Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
    • A dish in three steps: 1. Truffle toast. 2. Crayfish cream with jelly of quail. 3. Oak moss film in plastic capsules, on a bed of moss. To be put on the tongue.
    • The bed of moss (with dry ice underneath) was then watered to release a truffle scent. The sublime part of the dish was a joke on the oak, for truffles grow on oaks. Since we were well out of truffle season (June) I believe frozen truffles were used. The crayfish fish cream itself was absolutely superb (5/5), having great crayfish flavor, and reminding me of a delightful fried prawn-roll from Singapore called the ngor-hiang, which at its best (stuffed with top quality prawn) has a similar flavor. The intensity of flavor from the crayfish and the secondary flavor of liver, were intense and classically-heavy, evoking classical French cooking (and Heston’s inspiration Alain Chapel).

2014-05-29 12.58.40 2014-05-29 13.02.35 2014-05-29 13.02.50 2014-05-29 13.03.04 2014-05-29 13.08.54 2014-05-29 13.09.185. SNAIL PORRIDGE (4.75/5)

    • Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel
    • Another Fat Duck signature. Snails, from the firm Escargot Anglais, from Hereford – were soft, and flavorful. It was really a complete dish – savory ribbons of iberico bellota, with shaved fennel providing a vegetable crunch, and the pliant but firm texture of snails, which has its textural merits in not having the springiness of shellfish, along with a hearty parsley porridge. I loved it.
    • A video of Heston cooking the snail porridge: http://vimeo.com/54136084

2014-05-29 13.09.57

Nice

2014-05-29 13.21.486. ROAST FOIE GRAS (4.75/5)

    • Barberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit
    • Foie from the Loire valley, unctuous and creamy, fatty moist and with geometric integrity, were very good in the fatty-class of foie gras (I recently became aware of a different school of thought of foie from farmer Eduardo Sousa, that it should evoke liver-ish notes as well, in Dan Barber’s The Third Plate) – that paired very well with the sweet seafood in the crab tuile.
    • Red Rhubarb puree, kombu seaweed film underneath

2014-05-29 13.35.57 2014-05-29 13.37.42 2014-05-29 13.38.10 2014-05-29 13.40.29 2014-05-29 13.40.41 2014-05-29 13.41.21 2014-05-29 13.41.33 2014-05-29 13.41.38 2014-05-29 13.41.44 2014-05-29 13.41.49 2014-05-29 13.41.53 2014-05-29 13.42.03 2014-05-29 13.42.09 2014-05-29 13.42.25 2014-05-29 13.42.31 2014-05-29 13.43.007. MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (C. 1892) (5/5)

    • Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
    • Another multi-step dining dish. A pocket watch containing dehydrated beef-mushroom-stock and papered over with edible gold leaf, is swirled in a teapot, and the resulting mixture poured over custard, with ham and bone marrow, truffle (?), sherry vinegar, cucumber, and ketchup in the final “Mock Turtle” soup.
    • The toast sandwiches, were sandwiches of toast. The filling was toast, with truffle, and some mayonnaise and mustard. They were very good.
    • It was completely fantastical, and the connection between the historical mock turtle soup (calves head and feet) with the beef bouillon in the Pocket Watch was a delightful bit of whimsy.
    • Here’s another description of the dish: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/good-eating/mock-turtle-soup-at-the-fat-duck/

2014-05-29 13.43.35 2014-05-29 14.00.16 2014-05-29 14.00.26 2014-05-29 14.05.48 2014-05-29 14.05.59 2014-05-29 14.06.188. “SOUND OF THE SEA” (5/5)

    • Heston Blumenthal has been one of the vanguard chefs in exploring the effects of other senses (such as hearing) on the effects of taste. He famously noticed that one tasted his scrambled egg and bacon ice cream differently if it was described as “ice-cream”, vs a “cold custard”.
    • Here the sound of waves were piped into our ears through slightly antiquated (!) iPod speakers (I did not know they still existed, 10 years on!), with a tapioca and sardine sand. Mackerel, abalone, yellowtail. With seaweeds of all kinds. (My favorite of the seaweeds was a Japanese one dubbed the jellybean)
    • The seafood was top class, but what really made the dish was the soil, which was good enough to eat on its own. The evocation of the seaside was sublime, provoking a response to its recreation of a beach.
    • This was more successful than a version I had at Arzak, a couple of weeks later.

2014-05-29 14.08.54

Jellybean

2014-05-29 14.13.14

 

2014-05-29 14.26.04 2014-05-29 14.26.11 2014-05-29 14.26.299. SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL (5/5)

    • Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe
    • I am generally a doubter of sous-vide cooking, except for certain ingredients (mussels), because it tends to give an unappetisingly uniform texture to the meat. However here, because of the contrast of textures with the licorice gel and trout roe, and the robust protein-y taste of the salmon, it was completely successful. The time-consuming removal of individual vesicles of fresh pink grapefruit gave a sweetness floral smell to the dish that was not bitter.
    • I marked the salmon as being of high quality. It was from Hereford, Scotland, poached at 40 degrees celsius. I also noted that only the asparagus tops were not de-skinned, the parts below the tip being denuded of its skin.

2014-05-29 14.28.12

A closer look

2014-05-29 14.47.36 2014-05-29 14.47.50 2014-05-29 14.47.55 2014-05-29 14.48.18 2014-05-29 14.48.3010. LAMB WITH CUCUMBER (C. 1805) (5/5)

    • Green Pepper and Caviar Oil
    • A comparatively new dish for the Fat Duck, at one month old, this was a deconstructed lamb kebab. (another low-end food that is being reimagined by high-end chefs, I had a version last year at Per Se as well: kennethtiongeats.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/per-se-extended-tasting-new-york-dec-13-american-opulence/)
    • Main plate: Green pepper+cucumber juice and caviar oil dabs on the main dish, seared cucumber with caraway, oyster leaf. Cumin on the lamb. Fish-stock+mint butter = nage fluid gel. This was fantastic: Cumin on the lamb successfully evoked a kebab, and the green pepper oil and seared cucumbers with carraway seeds, brought to mind its typical accompaniments, and the caviar oil gave it a salty, luxurious touch. (5/5)
    • Second plate: Three cubes of lamb (tongue, heart, scrag [back of neck]), with a quinoa crisp on top of acidulated onions. This showcased the different textures of the lamb. Fantastic.
    • Third plate: Lamb consomme jelly with mint flavors and borage flower. Stunning.
    • If the Fat Duck’s only new dishes are such insanely well-crafted dishes and reimaginings, then I think a conservative bias towards their tasting menu (they rarely change the dishes on the tasting menu) is well-justified. A stunning dish from start to finish, with all three plates being knockouts.
    • A video of head chef Jonny Lake creating the dish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRGyGjQTDE8

2014-05-29 15.10.5011. HOT & ICED TEA (4/5)

    • Hot and cold iced tea, separated by a divider, once separated, will be hot at the top, and cold at the bottom. The taste was uniformly of iced lemon tea. A very neat trick.
    • Video of Heston Blumenthal making the dish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7i4F6vqOlc

2014-05-29 15.17.33 2014-05-29 15.17.55 2014-05-29 15.17.59 2014-05-29 15.19.4312. EGGS IN VERJUS (C. 1726), VERJUS IN EGG (C. 2013) (5/5)

    • A fully thought-out egg dessert, a feast for the eyes. A golden nest coloured with special cocoa powders, with verjus within the egg shell, which had to be cracked. The eggshell was made from two types of chocolate.
    • The verjus in the egg was dominating in sourness.

2014-05-29 15.28.40 2014-05-29 15.29.05 2014-05-29 15.29.0913. BOTRYTIS CINEREA (5/5)

    • One of the greatest desserts in the world. The fungus botrytis cinerea creates the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Originally developed by the kitchen for a Chateau d’Yquem tasting, this was a cornucopia of flavors and textures to evoke the Chateau d’Yquem wine. Deconstructed: An frosty wine ball, a creamy yeasty meringue, fantastic raisins, golden chocolate, gums… Each individual grape of the dish had its own flavor, together they sang in harmony like a dish sprung from heaven itself. It was a true pleasure to have witnessed and tasted this dish for myself.
    • Worth the price of admission to the Fat Duck for this dish alone.

Ninth course: Botrytis Cinerea. A new Fat Duck dessert that has been on the menu since October 2012. The various elements of this dessert represent the (deconstructed) flavours of Chateau d’Yquem. Each ‘grape’ on the plate had a different texture and flavour, from simple and elegant to very intense and complex. I will mention only a few: a transparent blown sugar grape with a delicious creamy citrus fromage blanc filling – a milk chocolate grape with an absolutely marvellous feuillantine, pear caramel and popping candy filling – a lovely, refreshing and citrus sorbet grape – a peach wine gum grape and edible soil made from crystallised chocolate, d’Yquem soaked raisins, Roquefort powder and vanilla salt. Apart from the grapes, there was a ‘churros’ stalk dusted with fenugreek-cinnamon, some Roquefort powder and grape gel. All these elements provided a wonderful harmony between sweet and savoury flavours. An impressive dish that shows an tremendous amount of skill and technique and that captures the flavours of Château d’Yquem ‘s Botrytis Cinerea infected grapes perfectly. You can’t stop smiling when you’re eating this dish. A true masterpiece. – Elizabeth Auerbach

2014-05-29 15.48.14 2014-05-29 15.48.26 2014-05-29 15.52.31 2014-05-29 15.53.0214. WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS (5/5)

    • The “E”, seems a concession to the American Jack Daniels. It melted in the mouth with the heat of the tongue. Superb. I note the Oban 14 as having a backkick. Delicious, and an alcoholic treat. Laphroaig tasted as smoky (i.e. phenolic) as I remembered when I visited Islay two years ago. It was cheekily presented the way most beginner whisky tours (e.g. Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh) present the standard whiskies of Scotland.
    • I wonder if the kitchen makes a (much) stronger version of themselves for personal consumption. If this was available for personal purchase, this would be my preferred way of getting my ration of eau de vie.
    • Here’s a recipe: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/promotions/dine-home-heston/10616385/whisky-gums-heston.html

2014-05-29 15.56.36 2014-05-29 15.57.43 2014-05-29 15.58.04 2014-05-29 15.58.32 2014-05-29 15.59.34 2014-05-29 16.00.01 2014-05-29 16.00.1715. “LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP” (5/5)

    • Caramel with edible wrapper; Aerated Chocolate, and the white chocolate Queen of Hearts with a fruit filling.

2014-05-29 16.05.56

the end… unfortunately.

 

Double review of Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, April ’14) and Hedone (London, May ’14)

8 Jun
  • Atelier Crenn rating: 17/20
  • Hedone rating: 16/20

MODERNISM

I visited the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona recently for the first time, and happened to look upon the Josep M Subirachs’ Passion Edificio, and was especially struck by the sculpture of Christ hanging by the wrists. The difference is that this Christ was hanging only by his hands from a cross horizontally suspended from the front of the church, instead of being vertically planted into the ground. Subirach’s atypical sculpture emphasised one element of the grotesque brutality of crucifixion – the downward pressure of gravity on hands – out of a few other choices, the flayed skin from the condemned’s back, the nails being driven through the hands to create the stigmata (usually the emphasis).

This highly personal idiosyncracy, is what I consider the touchstone of modernism in the arts. To me, Modernism is an individualist ethos, not a style. I much prefer this highly stylised sort of sculpture over the strict requirements of Renaissance photorealism began to be relaxed for the painters, with the perfection of perspectival rules, most of which leaves me cold. It seems to me that much of the painter’s energy was engaged in portraiture as ur-photography for the nobility, so that art from those centuries tend to be either functional portraits that were intended as ur-photos, or second-rate allegorical scenes.

Modernism could thus be equivalent to the maxim of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. And in the splintering, we find very few schools with many people working within a strictly defined aesthetic, as the photorealistic Renaissance school. The radical cubist portraiture of Picasso (Ambrose Vollard, man with guitar) may be allied with the cubist landscapes of Braque, but one generally finds not that many major cubist styles that Picasso had not done (he was legendarily prolific with 50,000+ paintings; and in the 30s, he painted luminously round portraits of his mistress, and in his 50s he created a much more fluid subject-cubism with surrealist backdrops, I recall a picture of a convoluted sea monster on a beach, which name temporarily escapes me). Why is Gaudi’s interpretation of Christ hanging from the “ceiling” by the wrists successful? What makes it successful (and surprising) is a long history of Christ crucifixion depictions, such that the viewer always has that reference point of a vertical cross. And that reference point is a pillar of strength in modernist interpretations, because it gives another data point to dazzle the diner (see, the Atera cracked-egg dessert, or the Alinea balloon).

And so too is modernism in food, if the increasing amount of personalisation outside of the French-haute cuisine style can be analogised with the increasingly personalised styles at the dawn of modernism in the early 20th century. When Ferran Adria calls his style of food “techno-emotional”, it is not the direct style of food that other chefs imitate (who explicitly calls his/her food “techno-emotional”?) but the ethos of changing the menu every year to something completely different, committed to providing the diner with new dishes and new sensations no matter what the cost. In this sense el Bulli seems similar to the practice of the unclassifiable Picasso (who was more than a cubist, producing some first-rate Blue-period pictures). This seems the real legacy of modernism in food, an ethic of constant and personal exploration.


ON ATELIER CRENN

On top of the substratum of the chef’s ethic (of ceaseless exploration of new flavor possibilities, of organic, of loca-vore, which is the internalised ethic of almost all of the top chefs in the US) is style. Here Chef Dominique Crenn, to extend the analogy of early modernist art, seems to be a cross between a surrealist and a abstract painter. This is not a merely visual analogy, this style extends to the flavor combinations she produces as well. Atelier Crenn may well be the most imaginative restaurant I had the chance to visit in the US this year (more than Alinea, or Atera; who else could think of an all-encompassing dessert from the life of bees, or create a vegetable pin-cushion using a vinegar meringue, or a Dali-esque composition involving Birth?), but there is something missing about the harmony of the tastes sometimes. Atelier Crenn is still a work in progress, and of the 5 fine-dining meals I had in the Bay Area in April, it was perhaps the weakest. But it is also one of two meals (with Manresa) that satisfied the intellectual and artistic senses the most. There is no doubt that Chef Crenn is a true artist, my hope for my next visit is that the pleasures of tongue will match the pleasure she conjures for the eyes.

In my first fine-dining visit to California (Atelier Crenn, Saison, Benu, Manresa, Meadowood), I found that the old stereotype about Californian cooking, where ingredient-simplicity rules (under the influence of Alice Waters from Chez Panisse), is simply not valid. Chefs there are taking great risks with modifying the ingredients. If Atelier Crenn is abstract surrealism, then one can analogise Californian-naturalism a la Waters, with Renaissance realism in art history. Modernism’s personal expression makes it prone to going out of fashion, as adhesion to an artist’s personal aesthetics can easily change, but it generates greater loyalty than a widely-accepted dogma as Californian naturalism, or Renaissance realism. That is the evangelist-mass-adopter distinction found in Silicon Valley business thinking. But like Renaissance realism is a second-rate artistic school for me, pure naturalism when it comes to ingredients, seeking to transform them as minimally as possible, seems a second-rate cooking philosophy. Pure naturalism cannot produce truly great dishes. While I have never found a formula for the great dishes I have liked, I don’t remember ever thinking a very simply cooked dish was truly great – there are usually just too many jagged edges in the ingredient pairings, that must be smoothed down by the chef to ensure a harmonious interlocking taste profile. It is necessary for a chef to have the leeway to transform the ingredients.


ON HEDONE

Mikael Jonsson of Hedone is a man who has surely has opinions on Californian cuisine. Formerly co-writing the influential  Gastroville blog with Vedar Milor (now writing as Gastromondiale), he opened Hedone in London in 2011, and seems to have taken down the restaurant reviews he formerly wrote on Gastroville. Hedone is a restaurant that specialises in ingredients sourcing. Indeed, ingredients seem to have been the focus of the Gastroville and Gastromondiale blogs. The restaurant is pegged by Mr Andy Hayler (a hugely influential critic and blogger who has been to every 3* restaurant in the world), as serving food between the 2*-3* level. When I visited in late May, the impeccably sourced ingredients, were half-the-time minimally transformed. This created an association in my mind between Hedone and my trip to California. Here, in London, of all places, I had found a restaurant that seemed in tune with the stereotypical Californian naturalist philosophy, minimally transforming ingredients a la Waters.

That half of the Hedone menu (Dorset seabass, Scottish hand-dived scallop, asparagus, pork, lamb) reminded me heavily of that ingredients-first philosophy. While I enjoyed that half of the menu, I also found there to be limits on how nice a pure-ingredient dish could be. Perhaps the best of those was the Scottish hand-dived scallop, which had a crunchiness that was really superb. So it was all the more disappointing when the oyster, and lamb (the last main) were comparatively devoid of taste. When Hedone’s ingredient dishes work, they are very good though not great dishes. I remember the texture of the scallops, but not as well the mint, lime, cucumber flavors that came with it. So too the sea bass, where the bass was good but the accompaniments more forgettable. But sometimes the cult of the ingredient-dish can puzzle with its intimations of the Eleusinian mysteries – the bland lamb (very good, I’m sure) and nice pork (pleasant) not really showcasing any added delta in performance from superior ingredients.

One commonality of both my Atelier Crenn and Hedone meals was that the last mains (guinea fowl, AC; lamb, Hedone) were disappointing, which lowers the score of both restaurants. The last main is the crescendo, which all courses build up to. More care must be paid by both restaurants to the last main.

The more modernist touches on display at Hedone were pleasant but paid less attention to the texture of the dish than I would like (I liked the taste of a cuttlefish confit, but had to basically saw my way through a thin slice of cuttlefish; a Parmesan ravioli was a bit rough). Where Hedone really shines are the desserts – a chocolate fondant and Gariguette strawberries are truly memorable creations.

Hedone reminds me of Saison, though much less polished. What I think separates the two is that there a consistent cooking philosophy across the plate at Saison: transformation by fire. I did not as much perceive the individual style of Mikael Jonsson in his cooking, beyond the testimony of his ingredients themselves. I do genuinely wonder if Hedone will develop a signature style as Mr Jonsson matures as a chef, given his own ideological commitments to clarity of ingredient tastes set out in his Gastroville blog.

Which provokes the amusing thought-experiment. What if the two restaurants switched places? It almost seems as if Hedone and Mikael Jonsson are spiritual successors to the ingredient-first philosophies of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. That we should eat the very best local ingredients in fine-dining, is now a global ethos that has transcended France and Alice Waters’ California. And Atelier Crenn being particularly modernist-process-driven, is a restaurant that could really exist anywhere in the world today.


ATELIER CRENN (San Francisco, April 2014)

  • Address: 3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123, United States
  • Rating: 17/20
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Price I paid (after tax and tip, ex. drink): $260 ($195 base menu price)
  • Chef: Dominique Crenn (ex. Luce (SF))
  • Michelin Stars: 2

*Note: Menu and dish descriptions are a poem written by Dominique Crenn herself.

EDIT: Here is a video of most of the dishes, being prepared by the kitchen.

2014-04-23 23.55.48 2014-04-24 00.11.581. Spring has come with its cool breeze (4.25/5)

    • Kir Breton, creme de cassis jelly within
    • Cider suspension with the creme de cassis jelly, within a cocoa butter shell.
    • Fruity, dominating liqueur. Very enjoyable.

2014-04-24 00.13.22 2014-04-24 00.14.23 2014-04-24 00.17.20 2014-04-24 00.17.312. Mellow serenades of colors licorice and orange (4.25/5)

    • Uni custard, with caviar from Sacramento Delta. Smoked potato gelee, licorice consomme. Interesting.

2014-04-24 00.17.383. Under the midnight glow I can taste the sweetness of the sea (4/5)

    • Kusshi oyster poached with black garlic, seaweed

2014-04-24 00.22.51Crackers

    • bitter tasting, almost like cordyceps

2014-04-24 00.27.01 2014-04-24 00.27.124. Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land (5/5)

    • This was the most memorable dish of the night. Squid like a noodle. Ham (Californian Berkshire ham hock, belying the description which foreshadowed Iberico) and truffle (Perigord, from Tasmania, Australia) consomme,
    • Lardo, aioli. potato chip.
    • Complex broth. Salty squid noodles. A complex bite, where the ham and truffles did most of the heavy lifting, with good squid texture approximating noodles. A surrealist ramen.

2014-04-24 00.34.47 2014-04-24 00.35.055. A gentle smell, oceanic, of yummy feeling (4.5/5)

2014-04-24 00.43.276.As the shell was found, its natural beauty made no noise (4/5)

    • Abalone, sundried tomato jelly, crispy yuba, yuzu foam, yuzu leaves
    • Quite good. Did not rise above the yuzu-and-seafood theme. (see also, Brooklyn Fare)

2014-04-24 00.49.31 2014-04-24 00.49.36 2014-04-24 00.49.547. The half moon, silky and smooth (4/5)

    • Chef Crenn’s take on French onion soup. Broth of roasted charred onion. Dumpling comte + black truffle, shiso, lemon balm. Apple vinegar jelly.
    • Quite sour.

2014-04-24 00.57.178. I refreshed as I gazed at your smooth green coat (4.5/5, functional dish)

    • Shiso + green pea sorbet, pickled green strawberry. Rice wine vinegar ice.
    • Very refreshing and successful palate cleanser. I especially liked the shiso and green strawberry, but I did not have a strong impression from the rice wine vinegar rice (would have given 5/5 if I had)

2014-04-24 01.01.379. Elegantly sitting on branches (4.75/5)

    • Carrot jerky from branches (a bit of a trope, see my meal at Borago, and Ruth Reichl’s report of her 2014 meal at Alinea LINK).
    • Carrot had a really intense candy flavor, salted, and with the right dash of cayenne pepper. A delight.

2014-04-24 01.05.4510. Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories (4.25/5)

    • Pumpkin, sunflower, flaxseed, cooked in different ways. Smoked buckwheat, Liquid nitrogen white balls of smoked sturgeon pearls. Dashi. Yuzu, fermented chilli, steelhead trout roe. bottarga of sturgeon roe
    • Surely the most complex dish of the night. I could not really draw out a “childhood memory” from this dish, but it was good. I was not sure what the smoked sturgeon pearls added to the dish though.

2014-04-24 01.12.2311. Feeling of black sand under my toes, I dreamed of (4.75/5)

    • Grade A1 wagyu cured. Apple puree, onion gelee. Soil of rye + squid ink. Horseradish puree. Onion gelee.
    • Another successful dish. While at first glance one might decry the use of A1 wagyu in this dish (as opposed to a higher grade), this gave it a firm, striated consistency, and it is difficulty to see how it would have worked with oilier grades of wagyu. Hammy.

2014-04-24 01.16.15 2014-04-24 01.20.51 2014-04-24 01.21.02Housemade brioche (5/5)

    • A+, buttery and flakey.

2014-04-24 01.22.5112. .These creatures, who move with a slow, vague wavering of claws (3.75/5)

    • Lobster bisque, phytoplankton dumpling, bone marrow, sea grapes, pickled onions, dashi gelee covering the lobster bisque, gelee of lobster brain.
    • A statement is being made about bottom feeders (Dan Barber, in his newest book the Third Plate, highlights the chef Angel Leon of Aponiente, who cooked phytoplankton bread to highlight the lower phytotrophic levels of the marine food chain). I appreciate the cooking with phytoplankton, but the taste of Main lobster bisque was too one-dimensional (cream, mostly) and that overwhelmed the complexity of this dish

2014-04-24 01.35.1615.Walking deep in the woods, as the earth might have something to spare (3.75/5)

    • Pine-scented meringue, pumpernickel, basil, hen of the woods, shaved hazelnut
    • The pine, hazelnut and hen of woods (AKA maitake) (lightly roasted) gave an earthy smell to the dish. However the taste was too one dimensional (salt predominating) and it was also very dry.

2014-04-24 01.42.08 2014-04-24 01.44.0216.Birth which gives its morning mystery (4.25/5)

    • Duck consomme, meant to be drunk with a chocolate branch, duck and corn eggs, nested corn silk. wild rice, pear, apple, vanilla puree.
    • “Birth” – another conceptual dish which leaves me with no doubt that Chef Crenn is an artist’s chef. One might draw the comparison to a surrealist Dali painting of Birth – the surreal imagery of a nest on a highly fluid and stylised branch; and the taste of chocolate and duck consomme, which is a surreal pairing, reinforces this impression. It was impressive to look at, and good in conception. However it is not purely delicious, rather contrasting in flavor.

2014-04-24 01.51.2817.Where birds sing and are causing ripples in the nearby water (3.25/5)

    • Guinea fowl, pintade, with nori seaweed butter, and lemon, preserved cabbage.
    • Tough texture.

2014-04-24 01.56.58 2014-04-24 01.57.0318.Dotting the fragrant flora (4/5)

    • Vinegar meringue (Spanish banyoules vinegar)
    • Fresh salad.
    • A very unique and creative presentation

2014-04-24 02.00.30 2014-04-24 02.02.06 2014-04-24 02.02.2019.Spring has come and is full of sweet surprises::: (this line of the poem refers to the following entire sequence of desserts)

A stick of sugarcane with -lemongrass, in the vial: chia seed; shiso; finger lime; guava juice. (4.25/5)

    • refreshing

2014-04-24 02.06.29 2014-04-24 02.06.43Essence of the Bay Area (4.25/5)

    • Eucalyptus-menthold popsicle
    • Eucalyptus is an invasive species throughout the Bay Area
    • The revaluation of ingredient values is on.

2014-04-24 02.12.16 2014-04-24 02.12.36 2014-04-24 02.12.46Honeycomb (4.5/5)

    • Chamomile-honey cake; Beeswax sorbet; white choc cremeux; pistachio/pear; honey meringue. Wax mold using bubble wrap. Caramel of beeswax and bees pollen.
    • Full marks for imagination, a tour-de-force of the bee, but the use of pollen in the beeswax sorbet did irritate my palate a bit.

2014-04-24 02.20.12 2014-04-24 02.20.24 2014-04-24 02.20.36

2014-04-24 02.24.24

2014-04-24 02.23.182014-04-24 02.24.35 2014-04-24 02.25.41 2014-04-24 02.28.27

 Mignardises (5/5)

    • Passionfruit Marshmallow “kiss”.
    • Ginger.
    • Nougat of  mango + brazil nut + macadamia
    • Citrus macaron
    • Toffee + cocoa nibs
    • Quinoa + milk chocolate + sesame
    • Roasted macadamia + dark chocolate ganache + star anise
    • Coffee bonbon.

 HEDONE (London, May 2014)

  • Address: 301-303 Chiswick High Rd, London W4 4HH, United Kingdom
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value for money: 2/5
  • Price I paid (after tax and tip, and two drinks): 120 pounds, or $210 (1 GBP = 1.6805 USD)
  • Chef: Mikael Jonsson (ex-writer at Gastroville)
  • Michelin Stars: 1

2014-05-30 22.26.52

2014-05-30 22.26.47

 

2014-05-30 18.37.04 2014-05-30 18.49.25

Mojito

2014-05-30 18.56.07 2014-05-30 18.56.171. Beetroot cream, smoked eel (4.25/5)

    • pleasant combination

2014-05-30 18.57.372.Rye crisp with cheese (3.75/5)

    • a musty cheese

2014-05-30 19.02.393.Buckwheat crisp, bone marrow, sturgeon caviar (4.25/5)

2014-05-30 19.08.51 2014-05-30 19.09.034. Poached oyster (Dorset), granny smith apple jelly, elderflowers, pickled shallot (3.25/5)

    • poached very well, though largely tasteless.

2014-05-30 19.14.26 2014-05-30 19.14.315.Umami flan, bread consomme, bread croutons (4/5)

    • umami from katsuobushi, fish stock, and white egg. not bad

2014-05-30 19.17.12 2014-05-30 19.17.30 2014-05-30 19.17.46 2014-05-30 19.18.07 2014-05-30 19.20.416.Baguettes (5/5)

    • I was looking forward to trying this bread, learnt from French master baker Alex Croquet. It did not disappoint. With a marvellously irregular crust and complex toasty flavors, I was very impressed with the bread.

2014-05-30 19.26.267.Scottish hand dived scallop, mint, lime, cucumber (4.5/5)

    • strong integrity of scallop texture, crunchy, in a way I’ve never had before. World-class scallops
    • Well accompanied with mint, lime, cucumber flavors. This was a hallmark let-ingredients-speak-for-themselves dish.

2014-05-30 19.42.028.English green asparagus, pistachio, avocado, wild garlic (4/5)

    • Asparagus veolute, garlic leaves, pistachio puree, raw avocado, nasturtium
    • Sweet and juicy asparagus spears.

2014-05-30 19.54.22 2014-05-30 19.54.27 2014-05-30 19.54.389.Pan fried sea bass (Dorset), fennel chips, black olive sauce (4.25/5)

    • Really nice pan-fried sea bass, though the accompaniments (black olive esp.) were a bit puzzling.

2014-05-30 20.19.29 2014-05-30 20.23.08 2014-05-30 20.23.1610.Cuttlefish (4.25/5)

    • Smoked, pan-fried cuttlefish leg, Mandarin Sicilian tomatoes, sheet of thin cuttlefish with ink
    • Not bad in taste, though the sheet of thin cuttlefish was nigh un-cuttable with my knife. I spent maybe 10 seconds sawing through that piece.

2014-05-30 20.46.19 2014-05-30 20.47.4711.Liquid Parmesan ravioli, onion consomme, mild horseradish, smoked guanciale (4.25/5)

    • Light horseradish foam. I enjoyed the Roscoff onion consomme, with sweet flavors, but the ravioli was a bit rough in texture. The onion and parmesan were the two dominant tastes
    • it was less accomplished than a smooth quail egg Ravioli I had at Schwa (Chicago) in March.

2014-05-30 20.58.1812.Suckling pork rack, garden pea, morels, red pepper (4/5)

    • very good crisp skin, garden pea was in two forms, pureed and regular. morels with smoked paprika and lime juice.

2014-05-30 21.12.3713.Rack of Bourbonnais lamb, Petit Violet artichoke, rosemary and rocket infusion (2.75/5)

    • A disappointing let down at the crescendo. A cut of lamb whose tendon-ous texture I would not have minded one bit if it had profound flavor, was mostly flavorless and bland except on the outside.

2014-05-30 21.36.51 2014-05-30 21.36.56 2014-05-30 21.37.1014.Gariguette strawberries, hibiscus, coconut (4.5/5)

    • Hedone has first class desserts. Here two discs of Hibiscus gelatin with coconut sorbet and dried strawberry meringue. The Gariguettes were sweet enough to not die of comparative tartness in a contrasting mouthful with the sweet meringue and coconut sorbet.

2014-05-30 21.53.11 2014-05-30 21.53.1815. Warm chocolate, powdered raspberry, passion fruit jelly, Madagascar vanilla ice cream (4.5/5)

    • Warm chocolate fondant below a chocolate disc with raspberry powder, and vanilla ice cream on top. Classic and enjoyable.

2014-05-30 22.11.05 2014-05-30 22.11.4416.Mignardises

    • Black sesame macaron, green tea bon bon

2014-05-30 22.22.49