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L’Ambroisie (revisit) & Histoires (Paris, Dec ’16): father and son

8 Jan
My travelling companion and I recently had a two and a half week trip through Europe, where we ate through some of France/Belgium/Holland’s most interesting restaurants. They included:
  1. yam’Tcha in Paris (1*)
  2. Le Cinq in Paris (3*)
  3. Clown Bar in Paris
  4. Ron Gastrobar in Amsterdam (1*)
  5. BAK in Amsterdam
  6. Bord’Eau in Amsterdam (2*)
  7. de Librije in Zwolle (3*)
  8. Quatre Mains in Bruges
  9. Zetjoe in Bruges [the new face of recently closed De Karmeliet (3*)]
  10. L’Ambroisie in Paris (3*)
  11. Histoires in Paris (2*)
Of those, our favorites were probably:
  • de Librije
  • L’Ambroisie
  • Zetjoe
  • Bord’Eau
The most disappointing meals we had were:
  • yam’Tcha
  • Histoires
We planned L’Ambroisie and Histoires as the pair of meals to end the trip. L’Ambroisie is probably the oldest three Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, having kept its rating since 1988, in an era when Michelin nods mean so much more than today. (The ongoing Michelin brand dilution is happening at too rapid a pace, and their new ratings are a joke) It is a restaurant that I think any gourmand who can afford its hefty price tag should try at least once, because it offers a very purified version of French dishes. This is not a common quality today, when most high-end restaurants agonize over offering tasting menus of 6-10 dishes featuring maybe 20-30 ingredients, where almost all dishes of which are pushed out before they’re ready. Where many chefs look to add ingredients, Bernard Pacaud’s dishes are marked by a synergistic backbone of two or three ingredients which define the dish. Extraneous tastes are removed: for example the dish I remember the most from my last visit was the amuse-bouche: crayfish and peas with a light fennel soup. This capability to step into the diner’s shoes, to taste an intriguing combination of some two-three pure flavors, is all-too-rare.
Our dinner at L’Ambroisie reprised the well-worn cliches of its continuous excellence. The most memorable dish of my dinner this time was Dover sole, with vin jaune sauce, Brussel sprouts and the last of season white truffle. The Dover sole cut like butter, but in truth, the fatty fish was a side show to the axis of a tangy vin jaune, the earthy smell of Alba truffles, and the refreshing bitterness of Brussel sprouts. Service was excellent, and I was surprised by a generous additional serving of the chocolate tart (justly world-famous). At the end of it,  I was eagerly anticipating my meal the next day at Chef Pacaud’s son’s restaurant.
The clearest signs of Chef Pacaud’s discerning palate and keen intellect was reflected in a pair of dishes. There is a distinct taste to cooked watercress, which produces a puckering effect in the mouth without being bitter. The taste impression it leaves on the palate is a light puckered savoriness. This is readily apparent to anyone who has had Chinese watercress soup with goji berry and pork broth. Chef Pacaud uses this as the backbone for his signature dish, langoustine with sesame wafer and curry sauce. It would be quite rich, this tangy curry creation, if it were not cut by the hidden mound of cooked watercress at the very bottom, which produces this light puckered savoriness. I tried my companion’s dish of scallops, caviar, and potato, with a raw vegetal sauce. It turned out the raw vegetal sauce was made of watercress as well – with a real vegetal scent that gave enough tension and surprising synergy to the scallop dish that made it sublime. (It is I think, lazy thinking, that lumps all luxury ingredients together, like uni, caviar, scallops, and expects the end result to be more than the sum of the parts, or even the sum of the parts. A great luxury dish requires a unifying element, often a humble ingredient, to truly pull it together).
Mathieu Pacaud, son of Bernard Pacaud, and for 13 years a chef at L’Ambroisie (eventually rising to become co-head Chef with his father) is, as you may be able to tell from a Wikipedia profile which looks PR-agency-written, is much more of an aggressive self-promoter than his father. As I left Paris, he had opened two restaurants – Hexagone (1*), a cocktail bar and restaurant, Histoires (2*), a hidden fine-dining restaurant behind Hexagone, and was in the process of reopening Le Divellec in Paris, a fish bistro, as his third restaurant. He seems to be building a restaurant empire. Nor is he lacking in self-confidence for the prices he charges – the price at Histoires for a set menu was 25% higher than at L’Ambroisie where we had starter-main-dessert – Histoires was the most expensive meal of the trip (and in a trip that includes L’Ambroisie and three other 3* restaurants, that says something!)
When I went to Histoires, my expectations were of dishes of the L’Ambroisie calibre. However, of the dishes there, what was original was not especially sublime, and the sublime touches were not especially original. My dining partner and I agreed that perhaps going to L’Ambroisie the night before had biased us, since the bulk of any of the younger Pacaud’s patient refining would have been on the L’Ambroisie dishes. But with only one exception (a vin jaune sauce pairing with a more intense and boozy vin jaune sabayon) the touches were not as good as at L’Ambroisie. Parisian diners being a discerning bunch probably know this – I know Paris dining has been suffering since the Nov 2015 terror attacks, but at L’Ambroisie I could only spot one empty table for two, at Histoires only 4 out of the 7 tables were filled, and only 1 of those was French speaking. The other 3 (including us) were first-time visitors and tourists. For reference, the other Parisian tables we visited were completely filled – yam’Tcha, Le Cinq, and the Clown Bar. The only half-full restaurant on our trip was Histoires.
I usually review restaurants separately, but given the obvious affinity of the two restaurants it would be illuminating to see the dishes side by side.
L’AMBROISIE RATING: 19.5/20
HISTOIRES RATING: 14.5/20


L’AMBROISIE
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  • Crunchy cheese kugelhopf – really good, I think this was made of Parmesan. A warm bite with a soft centre. (5/5)

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  • Beetroot soup, cream of mustard seeds, foie flan underneath – alright. A bit unrefined in the beetroot soup texture, which was quite grainy and not too harmonious with the foie (4/5)

2016-12-30-05-23-01

  • Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (4.75/5)
    • As above: The clearest signs of Chef Pacaud’s discerning palate and keen intellect was reflected in a pair of dishes. There is a distinct taste to cooked watercress, which produces a puckering effect in the mouth without being bitter. The taste impression it leaves on the palate is a light puckered savoriness. This is readily apparent to anyone who has had Chinese watercress soup with goji berry and pork broth. Chef Pacaud uses this as the backbone for his signature dish, langoustine with sesame wafer and curry sauce. It would be quite rich, this tangy curry creation, if it were not cut by the hidden mound of cooked watercress at the very bottom, which produces this light puckered savoriness. I tried my companion’s dish of scallops, caviar, and potato, with a raw vegetal sauce. It turned out the raw vegetal sauce was made of watercress as well – with a real vegetal scent that gave enough tension and surprising synergy to the scallop dish that made it sublime. (It is I think, lazy thinking, that lumps all luxury ingredients together, like uni, caviar, scallops, and expects the end result to be more than the sum of the parts, or even the sum of the parts. A great luxury dish requires a unifying element, often a humble ingredient, to truly pull it together).

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  • Melba de noix de Saint-Jacques au caviar golden, coulis de cresson
    • I didn’t have a full portion, but from what I tasted, the scallops were real toothy and had serious texture, with a perfectly textured potato cream and watercress sauce. The caviar added the proper salty element. A perfect dish I think

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  • Dos de sole braise au vin jaune, effeuilee de choux de Bruxelles et truffe blanche (5/5)
    • As above:  The most memorable dish of my dinner this time was Dover sole, with vin jaune sauce, Brussel sprouts and the last of season white truffle. The Dover sole cut like butter, but in truth, the fatty fish was a side show to the axis of a tangy vin jaune, the earthy smell of Alba truffles, and the refreshing bitterness of Brussel sprouts

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  • Salmis de supremes de pigeon aux coings, cuisses en pastilla

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  • Pear sorbet with caramel of pear

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  • Boule nacree aux fruits exotiques emulsion neigeuse au Passoa (5/5)
    • A really excellent dish, a refreshing sugar sphere with coconut whipped cream, and peach. Passionfruit was only outside. It helped refresh our palates

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  • Souffle chaud a la nougatine de noix, cafe liegeois

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  • Brioche fine en pain perdu, reine des reinettes caramelisee

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  • Tarte sablee au cacao amer, galce a la vanille Bourbon (5/5)
    • No words – best no-flour chocolate tart anywhere, which a crunchy base

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  • Alcoholic reprise of pear sorbet with caramel
 2016-12-30-07-10-43



HISTOIRES
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  • Mocktail: Cucumber, rosewater, juniper, tonic water

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Amuse bouche 1:

  • Brioche mousseline et creme d’oignons
  • Cornet croustillant a la creme de saumon
  • Langoustines au Caviar Golden
  • Marbre de foie gras de canard (5/5)
  • Of these, I found the foie sandwich amazing, having solid consistency and saltiness. A decadent bite.

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Amuse bouche 2: Scallop, black truffle, watercress sauce, toasted bread emulsion

  • The black truffle, served on warm scallops didn’t release its flavor fully due to the temperature. The ingredients were individually good but as a dish failed to come together. (3.25/5)

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Royales Scampi: Anise Cream and caviar Golden

  • 4/5, but maybe 4.5/5 if you like anise flavors. The scampi had a slight bitter, iodine taste, which paired well with the seawater jelly. Tropezienne sauce, based off of a Provence pastry, was anise flavored. The dominant flavor palette of the dish was sweet. I generally did not like iodine taste of the scampi or the anise flavors of the Tropezienne sauce, but cannot deny someone with a sweet tooth might like it better

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Foie Gras: Red wine decoction with star anise

  • 4/5. A huge hockey puck of foie gras with a fig and star-anise red wine. That is all. Not sure what the chef was thinking here.

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Sole: Root vegetables and caviar Golden

  • This was the sole dish which had an idea that improved over a L’Ambroisie version – the vin jaune was paired with a vin jaune sabayon which was much boozier and sweeter, allowing for a more complex sauce. However the balance of the dish was not as good. The buttery dover sole I had at L’Ambroisie was a conveyance for the axis of Brussel sprouts – vin jaune – white truffle. Arguably the Brussel sprouts harmonized that dish. Here the root vegetables were not discernable, and the dominant notes were Dover sole and vin jaune – a less balanced and much richer combination – which over-satiated me. Overall rating: not perfect, but interesting. 4.75/5

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Blue Lobster: Pumpkin and chestnut, “sauce diable”

  • The firmness of the blue lobster was great. But what was the point of composing a dish of it with meaty hunks of carrot and chestnut, with little sauce to tie it together. A failure of composition. 2.5/5

2016-12-31-06-11-01

Trou Normand: Lemon, vodka tonic

  • We were getting stuffed at this point!

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Chicken from Bresse: Stuffed with black truffle, wild mushrooms

  • Slightly tough. The best part was the roast skin, lightly perfumed with the black truffle mash underneath the skin. Unfortunately the Bresse chicken showed none of its superior characteristics, and the breast was indistinguishable from a supermarket rotisserie chicken – tough, dry, mostly tasteless with the slight sour-neutral taste of pure white protein. In fact the skin did not show off much crispness except in parts. Compared to a roast Belgian Malines chicken served with sherry sauce we had two nights before at Zetjoe in Bruges, this was not in the same galaxy. A mediocre preparation of chicken. (2.5/5) However, the wild mushroom with slices of cheese was good.

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Cheese (hard cheeses)2016-12-31-07-10-172016-12-31-07-09-282016-12-31-07-09-312016-12-31-07-09-442016-12-31-07-09-42

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  • Dessert: Big waltz in seven compositions
    • Wild strawberry, yoghurt sorbet
    • Lemon sorbet
    • Williams pear, Madagascar vanilla
    • Cacao Mont Blanc
    • Blancmange with passionfruit and mango
    • Salted caramel with coffee cream
    • Hazelnut praline and nuts
    • There were many similar themes with our dessert assortment the night before, – where L’Ambroisie had a sugar ball with passionfruit and mango, here it was a springy blancmange. A hazelnut praline with nuts reminded me of a nougatine souffle the night before; the coffee caramel cream jelly in the clear cup reminded me of the caffe Liegeois the night before. However, at this point we were getting full, and felt that there was no real perfect dessert that anchored this assortment. Instead, it just seemed a profusion of passable desserts, like a chef regurgitating his culinary curriculum on the table by “Priori Incantatem”. What makes the L’Ambroisie assortment incomparably better in my view, is that all of them are fucking good, with the emphasis on “fucking good” rather than “dessert assortment”.
 2016-12-31-07-11-16
  • Sweets
Now, I should note for fairness that the other two tourist (American) couples seemed to be enjoying themselves, praising the sommeliers on multiple occasions and holding extended conversations with them – the nature of the Histoires set-up is that you can hear most of the conversations around the room unless you whisper. It may be that Mathieu Pacaud’s food is meant to be wine food, and we didn’t order wine besides a glass of champagne to start. But in that case, I still can’t recommend it to the teetotalling crowd, of which I am an occasional member.
The post-meal damage, as mentioned, was about 25% higher than L’Ambroisie, about 390 euros per person, which made it our most expensive Paris meal by quite some distance. If I’m going to spend this amount on food, I want at least one amazing dish in my meal. Histoires failed to provide that and that’s why it was probably one of the most disappointing meals of the trip. It is still a mystery to me, how a chef of Mathieu Pacaud’s calibre and pedigree could serve such absolutely clunkers as the Blue Lobster and Bresse chicken dish, with little or no synergy between its ingredients, or make such a vacuous show of average desserts, like some cheap prestidigitation. And the hockey puck of foie was just lazy. My dining partner and I concluded that he is still probably trying to find his own style and signature, but honestly, the ardours taken to build a restaurant empire are not promising for near-term culinary development.
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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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2014-06-03 20.28.03

  • 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/