Thursday, July 26, 2018

Epicure Éric Fréchon

My official review for Epicure, the flagship restaurant of Hôtel Le Bristol, has been long overdue. This restaurant is actually somewhat special for me since it was the first gastronomy dining place I ever visited in Europe. It was a lunch in the Easter Monday of 2006 when it still held 2-star and used separate dining rooms depending on the season. I ate at its Winter dining room whose decor was very classic and French displaying old-style luxury. My degustation menu was enjoyable though it was not in my top 5 among Paris finest restaurants, even after re-visited in 2010 when finally Éric Fréchon gained his 3rd Michelin star one year earlier. In 2011, Hotel Le Bristol completed the EUR 300+ million transformative renovation including its signature restaurant. A few years later, I noticed people began to discuss more and very favorably towards Epicure such as it become the top Paris restaurant according to Tripadvisor and received several awards as the best hotel restaurant in the world. However, it was not until early Autumn of 2017, I eventually made a return to this temple of gastronomy.

After the Le Bristol upgrading work, Epicure occupied one permanent space that was its Summer dining room. It was the first time I entered this place last year. Unlike the past Winter venue, the interior design here was more modern but still very elegant and timeless. It featured marble fireplace, beige marble floors with onyx, oil paintings, tall drapes and a few bronze chandeliers. I was seated at the spacious red sofa while most of the tables were paired with the tartan-patterned chairs. Nearly all of the tables overlooking the expansive views of the hotel big & beautiful garden as well as outdoor terrace. I liked this dining room better than the old one; it was grand (seated about 40 people) yet felt intimate and exclusive at the same time.  One thing does not change here was that all gentlemen was required to wear a jacket. The restaurant happily lent the guest if he happened to forget not wearing one. Personally, I was in favor of this old school custom. As far as the food's concerned, I have learnt that the secret of many top French gastronomy restaurant best dishes coming from the a la carte menu albeit they're generally more expensive. One more thing, I happened to dine at Epicure twice in the past 8 months - for the 2nd visit, "thanks" to the SNCF French rail strikes that prevented me from going to Reims. There were not that many choices among multiple star restaurants in the city of light opening on Sunday. 

AUTUMN Lunch in October 2017

Artichauts de Provence, rôti à l’huile d’olive et truffes blanches d’Alba, poudre d’œuf haché et chips d’artichauts aux noisettes (Artichokes from Provence roasted with olive oil, served with white truffle from Alba, egg powder and artichoke crisps with hazelnuts - small portion) - A generous gift from the kitchen to everyone on that day. The artichokes (leaves & hearts) were light with distinct taste & aroma. They were enhanced by the luxurious Alba truffle, crispy chips, nutty hazelnut and mild egg. It was precise and balanced 

Caviar de Sologne et mousseline de pomme de terre ratte fumée au haddock, croustillant de sarrasin aigrelette (Caviar from Sologne served with "ratte" potatoes mousseline smoked with haddock and buckwheat crisp with a slightly sour dressing - demi portion) - One of Eric Frechon's signature dishes available all year long. The smoked haddock was infused to the ratte potatoes to give the mousse sophisticated taste so that when consumed together with the caviar, the firm texture and intensity of the Sologne caviar would shine. There were mild nutty finish flavor with light mousse and soured cream taste (from the stick) in the background. As long as the caviar was still around, it was a fantastic appetizer ..

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses (some acidity, medium finish, blend of cassis & dark berries, full body with a nice balance)

Noix de coquilles Saint-Jacques, gnocchis de pomme de terre à la truffe blanche d'Alba, jus de cresson de fontaine au beurre noisette (Sea Scallops served with potatoes gnocchi with white truffle from Alba and watercress juice with brown butter - demi portion) - The perfectly seared scallops were tender and sweet. They went along well with the rather soft gnocchi whose flavors mainly derived from the nutritious watercress sauce. The powerful Alba truffle (in aroma and taste) gave extra punch to this wonderful and classic Autumn dish at Epicure. I wish there had been more shaved truffles on this dish ...

Homard bleu rôti en coque, sauté de légumes du Sud à l'huile d'olive, encornet, chorizo, anchois, piment doux et basilic (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell served with sauteed Southern vegetables with olive oil, squids, chorizo, anchovies, sweet peppers and basil) - The plating of the dish was beautiful. When asked, Chef Frechon said it was the first time he created a lobster dish without any 'sauce'. The Brittany lobster was cooked until firm; a few was stuffed with the chewy squid. The highlight was the natural delicious flavor of the lobster however I was not too fond of the unusual taste from the side dishes + their seasonings. I don't find these combinations really helped elevate the awesome roasted lobster

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Domaine M. Chapoutier Hermitag Chante-Alouette (dark yellow, tropical fruits nose, medium body, decent acidity, medium finish and quite rich on the palate)    

Citron de Menton givré au limoncello et citron confit, aux saveurs de poires (Lemon from Menton frosted with Limoncello, served with pear and preserved lemon) - A special dessert at Epicure created by its legendary pastry chef, Laurent Jeannin. This frosted lemon was truly fragrant; every spoon I put in my mouth, my nose also enjoyed the aromatic lemon scent. The "lemon meringue", covered by limoncello, was pretty, delicate with pleasant acidity. When the 'lemon was broken', there were some cold pear, lemon and a little herbal taste. In addition, it was fun to savor a few different textures - soft snow & jelly - altogether in cold temperature. An excellent dessert!

SPRING Lunch in May 2018

Homard Bleu rôti au beurre demi-sel, jus des têtes pressées, polenta moelleuse aux asperges vertes et truffe noire (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell with salted butter, juice of pressed heads, creamy polenta with green asparagus and black truffle) - The 'homard breton' was perfectly cooked (turned beautifully red) and meaty / delightfully firm with succulent flavor. The tasty sauce was the jus from the lobster head. It was accompanied by crisp green asparagus, asparagus mousseline with mild black truffle flavors. It was a pure indulgence from start to finish - no wonder this dish was considered as Eric Frechon's specialty 

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Sancerre Domaine Gerard Boulay "Clos de Beaujeu" (pale lime color, fresh citrus and floral in both nose and palate, good minerality, medium body, long finish and clean - nice for the sunny day)

Carre D'Agneau de Lait doré au sautoir à l'ail et fleur de thym, chips de basilic, condiment d'épinard au citron confit et anchois (Rack of milk-fed Lamb pan-fried with garlic and thyme flower, basil chips, condiment of spinach with candied lemon and anchovies) - The well-seasoned and precisely cooked Aveyron lamb was really juicy, delicious and melt-in-the-mouth. Beginning from the skin, it was slightly broiled until brown / a bit crunchy, then there was small but heavenly lamb's fat; comes to the meat, it's simply tender and flavorful. Eat with your hand to "clean up" the lamb (except the rack, of course). The only down side ... small size and 'too' few pieces
The light potato souffles with spinach anchovy inside were lovely, mildly salty with earthy potato flavors. The side dishes of lemon, spinach condiment and a little cheese were in harmony with the lamb rack and its intense jus. One of the tastiest lamb I've ever had and this was done when Chef Frechon was not in the kitchen!

Accompanied by wine:
-2011 Margaux, Chateau des Eyrins (deep ruby color and dense, currant scent, dark berry flavor and earthy. Not the best red for this lamb dish, but enjoyable to drink by itself). I did not quite like it, but the assistant sommelier was kind enough to comp. this glass, thus I ordered the 2nd one
-2013 Champin Le Seigneur Côte-Rôtie, Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin (bright purple, refreshing, soft yet deep & complex, velvety tannins with oak finish). A great pairing for the flavorful and not-so-intense lamb

Cerises "Burlat" en sucre soufflé, crème de pistache de Sicile, giboulée de cerises flambées au kirsch (Burlat Cherries blown in sugar, flambéed with kirsch, and served with pistachio cream from Sicily) - It was a fabulous dessert! The sweet red cherries were soaked with kirsch, then flambeed. In addition, there was a rich & creamy cherry sorbet as well as crunchy crust pistachio nuts on the sides. The "huge cherry" was a big blown sugar of burlat cherries filled with cool, tasty and nutty of superb Sicilian pistachio. The interplay of texture and temperature contrasts were wonderful. All elements were in harmony and the overall impression of the flavors was intense yet still light at the same time - impressive!

I thought the cooking of Éric Fréchon has improved since my last visit 7-8 years ago. Dishes' seasoning and execution were very precise. The technical aspects were excellent, for instance the sauce reduction was flawless and the food was clearly structured. These occurred in both meals, therefore the consistency of the refined food in all aspects was very high. Note that during my '18 visit, Vincent Perrin (chef de cuisine) led the kitchen as Sunday was Chef Frechon's off day. Epicure was a Wine spectator's Grand award winners; it's of no surprise that the wine list here was abundant in particular with the French selection. The wine by the glasses was also quite a lot; even better was the wine service. When I 'wrongfully' selected a red Bordeaux that did not perfectly match my lamb dish, the assistant sommelier recognized this from my face expression. He kindly offered me a better option - the red Burgundy - while still allowed me to keep the initial red free of charge.

Epicure is blessed with tremendous resources. There are nearly 40 people (one of them is MOF Franck Leroy, Eric Frechon's right hand man) working in the kitchen while the dining room's service team was staffed by more than 20 people. With 1 waiter serving 2 guests ratio, the service was exceptional and efficient. During my first visit, per my request I could finish my meal slightly over 2 hours but never felt rush and the pacing was just right. The staffs were cordial and knowledgeable; they easily adjust their manners according to the clients' cultures. Overall, they moved around beautifully as if it's choreographed. For my 2 visits, I was served by nearly different teams. Although I might slightly prefer the "first team" (Remi, Matthieu and Thomas), the "second team" (Stephane and Alicia) also delivered a great service. It was very difficult to find faults at Epicure. Things guest's not happy with were probably more about different tastes instead of the restaurant failed to deliver something. Delicious food and elegant presentation, matching wine pairing with plenty of selection, terrific service and everlasting ambiance were the strong traits of the superb high-end French restaurant. I hope Eric Frechon could become the (last) defender of French cuisine and its tradition as long as possible.

For the pictures that would include nibbles, amuse-bouches and petit fours, please check out the following links: Epicure Oct '17 and Epicure May '18

Food (and Wine): 95.5 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94.5 pts

Overall: 95/100


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cheval Blanc Peter Knogl

Switzerland is a developed country known for its high quality stuffs in many aspects - competitive & efficient, world class infrastructure, top notch education and health care etc. Logically, it should be  like Germany in terms of the food too with ten or more 3-star establishments or at least half of them. In reality, there were only 3 of them and the latest one was Cheval Blanc which received the red guide book highest honor in the 2016 edition of the Switzerland Guide. It's been a 'trend' that more and more of top dining places are located in the hotel. Cheval Blanc is the flagship restaurant of the hotel Les trois rois (a member of Swiss deluxe hotels). The fate of the restaurant turned around in 2007 since the arrival of the gifted chef de cuisine named Peter Knogl, the son of a Bavarian farmer. Chef Knogl cut his teeth in Munich and Aschau im Chiemgau under the tutelage of the German-Italian chef Heinz Winkler. He patiently and slowly rose in the kitchen's position. There, he learned a lot about using only the finest produce, discipline, develop his style in which the ingredients should not change their taste.

I went to Cheval Blanc for lunch with my spouse during the early Autumn. The restaurant was located on the ground floor. As we entered the hotel, we could easily recognized the hostess and she escorted us to the main dining room. We were the first guests to arrive so we had the time to admire the Cheval Blanc's interiors by ourselves. The lavish dining room was not overly large with a very high ceiling; there were only 10 tables or so that could cover about 30 people. The dark wooden floor was partially covered with carpet; it was complemented by several classic crystal chandeliers, white and tall candles at each table and fine paintings on the wall. The large purple drapes (the chairs were covered in purple color too) were opened to allow natural lights entering the restaurant while at the same time, guests could enjoy the view of the Rhine river. Consistent to the grand hotel, the Cheval Blanc dining room also radiated an old-style luxury. As far as the food's concerned, both of us ordered the full tasting menu while I also added some dishes from the a la carte menu. The bread, baked daily in house, was good especially I liked the olive and tomato bread.   

Le Menu des Rois (+ a few extra dishes*)

Amuse-bouches for Culinary introductions

Huîtres creuses / ponzu / pomme vert (Crinkled-shelled Oyster with ponzu and green apple) - The briny and juicy oyster was complemented by soy-flavor & sweet ponzu as well as sharp green apple. A tasty, balanced and refreshing amuse-bouche.
Macaron / foie / orange / Garam masala (Duck liver in macaron shape with orange puree and garam masala spice) - The foie gras was flavorful; it went well together with delicate & 'warm' masala and rather acidic orange. One small byte but full of enjoyment.

Espuma jalapeno / Carabinero (Jalapeno mousse with Scarlet shrimp) - The subtle peppery jalapeno foam was beautifully combined with fresh and 'sweet' carabinero - neither element was too dominant, just nice! 
Textures de champignons / Pata negra (Mushrooms in different textures with Iberian ham) - The mushroom cream was intense and earthy in contrast to crisp tuile as the base and subtle marinated mushroom. The pata negra crunch was savory and smooth - generated some texture differences; another tasty nibble.

Foie gras de canard, confit de figues, gelée de thé Earl Grey et cassis (Duck foie gras served with fig confit, jelly of Earl Grey tea and cassis) - Creative duck liver dish in a small portion is always good. The foie gras was smooth and delicious; it was balanced by the sweet fig confit and slightly acidic cassis. Spread this delicate foie gras on the light brioche to fully enjoy this tasty appetizer. The preparation might be different, but there's almost always a foie gras dish on the menu.

Noix de Saint Jacques, carotte et Vadouvan (Scallops served with carrot and Vadouvan) - The lightly cooked scallop was of outstanding quality: plump, tender and naturally sweet. It was accompanied by fresh carrot and seasoned with vadouvan (fermented spices) having interesting + complex taste & aroma. A very good classical dish with modern touch.

*Hamachi Japonais, radis, avocat et miso (Japanese Hamachi served with radish, avocado and miso) - I didn't usually like a cold appetizer, but this one was different. The carefully seasoned and fresh Japanese yellowtail kingfish was moist, clean & buttery. It was beautifully enhanced by the crisp radish, nutty avocado & savory miso. The combination of the sides produced plenty of vibrant flavors with pleasant texture contrasts - really refreshing! 

*Ravioli au jaune d'œuf, épinards à la crème et truffe blanche d'Alba (Egg yolk ravioli served with spinach cream and white Alba truffle) - Obviously a very Italian recipe; egg yolk with shaved white truffle were delightful. The runny orange yolk inside the thin pasta was in harmony with the warm & creamy spinach. The Alba truffle was truly an indulgence - pungent, earthy and delicious - brought this simple ravioli dish to the next level. Glad that I ordered this extra dish ..

Filet de Rouget, écailles croustillantes, safran, ail noir et vinaigrette de tomates (Filet of Red Mullet and its crispy scales served with saffron, black garlic and vinaigrette of tomatoes) - The red Mullet flesh was juicy, a bit firm and nicely absorbed the saffron sauce and vinaigrette; the scales were enjoyably crunchy whereas the garlic's cream and aroma gave this dish an extra 'dimension' - a terrific dish with Asian influences.

*Ris de veau rôti, yuzu, poivre et crème de champignons (Roasted Sweetbread served with yuzu, pepper and cream of mushrooms) - The sweetbread was cooked until golden and a bit crispy on the outside; the result was a tender texture with mild flavor. It was enhanced by a sauce made of veal jus and yuzu. There were shiitake mushroom and 'bok choy' on the sides - a very decent dish with some acidic notes. I picked this because ris de veau was one of Chef Knogl's favorite ingredients.

Selle de Chevreuil de la Styrie, mousseline de céleri et sauce Rouennaise (Styrian saddle of Venison served with mousseline of celery and Rouennaise sauce) - The thick Austrian venison was slightly firm but still smooth, earthy and a bit gamey yet tasty. The celery mousse would carefully tone down the richness from the concentrated Rouennaise sauce. Overall, a solid (red) meat course.

Chariot de fromage frais et affiné de Maître Antony à Ferrette (Selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maître Antony in Ferrette) - I had Saint-Nectaire (fruity aroma and slightly sweet), a cheese from Bernese Jura (from raw milk with a hint of nutty flavor),  Tamie (soft, creamy with robust taste) and Abbaye cheese from Pyrenees (firm and mild). The cheese was accompanied by dark & rye bread - a decent cheese variety.

Poire, nougat et cacahuètes (Pear, nougat and peanuts) - Fruity, soft and fresh ice cream was combined with something sweet and thick (nougat) as well as nutty and crunch (peanuts). Easy to eat dessert and enjoyable especially after some intense red meat.

*Café, muscovado et framboise (Coffee, moscovado and raspberry) -  The Mauritius sugar was probably the most interesting one - unrefined, complex and rich. It was brought together with some aromatic and bitter coffee mousse as well as tart, fresh and rather sweet raspberry sorbet. Although not spectacular, it was a good and fun dessert.

The petit fours were superb especially the mousse on a spoon (mango with passion fruit and lemongrass) and some chocolate truffles (yuzu, caramel and dark). Our degustation menu was accompanied by half-bottle of a local red wine: 2013 Vinattieri Ticinesi Ligornetto Merlot - Medium body & acidity, balanced, fruity (cherries, plum and blackberries), a bit spicy with medium finish. A nice local merlot that went reasonably well particularly with my venison and sweetbread. Overall, the service at Cheval Blanc was good but somewhat uneven at times. For example, the sommelier (might be the assistant) seemed to be confused and not too focused during our lunch; in a couple of occasions, our glasses were not refilled when the volume was low and once when he poured, it dripped a bit on the outer surface of the glass. Then, there was another waiter who claimed that he used to work at one of Alain Ducasse gastronomy restaurants ... from the body language and communication, this full-size man lacked finesse and elegance usually shown by the staffs at any Ducasse fine dining places. I went to the restrooms twice and both times, my napkin was never replaced with a new one. On the other hand, there were 2 charming gentlemen, who also often took care of our table, delivering excellent service with good sense of humor and not overly formal but very professional. Furthermore, they displayed genuine interests to the guests without being obtrusive. Near the end of our lunch, Peter Knogl came out and greeted every table, spent sometimes with the guests without being rush to return to the kitchen. 

With this meal, I managed to complete all of the Switzerland's 3-star restaurants within one week. If I had to pick one place in this land of milk and honey, in terms of the food only, Cheval Blanc was actually my favorite dining place (marginally better than Restaurant Crissier). Peter Knogl's classical style generally fit my taste well. Not only that, he also modernized his cuisine a bit by adding some international flavors such as some Asian influences or mild Mediterranean. His cooking was all about the perfect balance among finest ingredients, authentic inherent flavors of the produce, and elegant skills + technical finesse ... all of these culminating to delicious dishes with astounding sauce. It's never about following the latest food trend in instagram. "Simple" and consistently (nearly) perfect! Ideally, it would not be the only time I savored Chef Knogl's creations. For pictures, you can see at this link: Cheval Blanc Oct '17    

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 95/100


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ta Vie Hideaki Sato

Ta Vie, from its inception in mid 2015, has become the talk of the town. It should be no surprised because Ta Vie's head chef and part owner was the former chef de cuisine of Tenku Ryugin (2-star) named Hideaki Sato. Ta Vie's name was translated as "Your Life" in French and "Journey" in Japanese. It's Chef Sato's intention from the beginning that his restaurant will be the place for the people to interact while enjoying the journey and exploration of his creations, mainly using Asian high quality products. Ta Vie is probably different than many other fine dining restaurants owing to Sato-san's strong background in both Western (French & Italian) and Japanese cuisine. In addition, he was also skillful in baking bread, making pastry as well as a qualified sommelier. Thus, Hideaki Sato is the main 'brain and muscle' of Ta Vie. The attention to details was applicable in all aspects. For instance, there was a bottle of Azumino mineral water (soft, mild and natural) from Japan with ta vie's label. Furthermore, the homemade sourdough bread (soft inside with good crust outside) and churned butter (pleasant) were made daily in the kitchen. With regards to the main attraction, there was only one degustation menu but, of course, guests were encouraged to share their dietary restrictions upon making the reservation (if any).

Tasting menu featuring Asian produce

Caesar salad topped with Hotaru squid served with Hotaru squid caesar dressing - Hotaru Ika is one way to say that "It's Spring". The Firefly squid was tender and bursting inside with an oceanic & acquired taste. This concentrated umami flavor (also from the dressing) was a good combination for the crisp romaine lettuce, fresh mountain vegetables, parmesan cheese and some croutons. An interesting and tasty dish; quite a strong beginning I would say

"Clam chowder" served with whelk "Matsubu" twist clam and peas with chef's twist - Another unique interpretation of a famous dish by Hideaki Sato. The hot clam soup was light (not too intense); this way, the ingredients inside could shine such as the crunchy and sweet Tsubugai, earthy green peas, and fresh Spring vegetables. You will not feel heavy at all ...

Homemade pasta with "Aonori" sauce and Hokkaido Uni - It was an extra dish from the kitchen and one of Chef Sato's specialties. My main issue here was the texture of the pasta and it seemed deliberate that it's made to be uncharacteristically soft instead of al dente. However, the green seaweed sauce and creamy (Bafun) sea urchin was well-absorbed by the pasta, thus make this dish flavorful. Overall, I still enjoyed this delicate creation

White strawberry and Chioggia beetroot served with fruits tomato tossed with Thai basil and Burrata cheese - This 'intermezzo' was surprisingly tasty - juicy & aromatic pineberries, rather sweet and earthy Italian beetroot, fresh and savory tomato - were good combinations, The soft & milky burrata with aromatic basil + balsamic vinegar acted as the "sauce" for these fruits. Awesome!

"Civet" braised abalone covered with "Abalone shell" - The abalone 'shell' was edible and tasted like crackers. The awabi and shiitake were nicely intertwined in their meaty texture and a contrast of earthy & sea flavors. The caramelized onions and brown sauce (prepared with cognac & madeira) provided more depth to the dish's overall flavor - a winning creation

Japanese langoustine with pork tail, Yunnan ham and langoustine broth - I think it's the first time I consumed Tenaga-ebi; the size was large with elegant flavor and firm texture. The perfectly cooked langoustine was enhanced by the broth to make its flavor more complex yet still balanced. On the side, this langoustine was accompanied by a cabbage dumpling filled with pork tail as well as Yunnan ham to enrich the taste; the 'chicken consomme' also contained some flavor from the long-armed prawn. One of my favorite dishes for the dinner

Beef tongue stew served with onion nouveau and fresh Yunnan morel - The beef tongue was actually thick and carefully cooked with Chinese yellow wine. The back part was tender & fatty (hence more delicious) while the front part was meaty / crisp. The Yunnan morel, having sponge-like texture, was decent though the taste was not as intense as its French counterpart. The best part here was the sauce - a perfect old school French saucing resulting in rich and delightful flavor

Almond ice cream with meringue Served with fresh strawberries & scent of Sakura blossom; covered with fragile candy glass - A beautiful dessert for Spring. It was the feast for the senses: cool plating, pleasant & refreshing scent, soft vs hard texture contrast, a few flavors worked altogether - sour, sweet, nutty. Enjoyable ..

Caramelized French toast served with black truffle toffee, golden Oolong tea ice cream with salted egg yolk - I found these dessert had different degree of flavor intensity. The french toast, topped with shaved cashew nuts, was probably the best one - soft & tasty. The black truffle toffee was very strong with predominantly truffle flavor; on the contrary, the oolong ice cream was delicate with a hint of grated yolk (to reduce any cloying taste). It was quite good

After the dessert, I opted for a tea (pandan, mint and lemongrass) as my digestive, accompanied by light mulberry jelly. For the drinks, I had a combination of cold Hakurakusei sake (subtle & delicate with nice aroma) in carafe and 3 glasses of tea tasting, served chilled, consisted of Yunnan Pu'er, Yame Gyokuro and Jinxuan Ginseng. They were interesting and satisfying in general. Ta Vie is located in the 2nd level of a boutique hotel Pottinger at Central. The atmosphere was intimate, charming and quiet. The dining room tended to be dark combining Asian and European styles. It may not be as luxurious as the like of Caprice or Amber nevertheless well-designed with spacious tables and comfortable sofa / chairs. Ms. Hiromi Takano, Hideaki Sato's wife, is the restaurant manager - the same role she had at Tenku Ryugin. Under her leadership, the service was well-paced and efficient. She and another female staff were friendly, passionate and knowledgeable. Overall, it was a very good diningg experience - innovative and delicious food, solid drink selection, discrete and amiable service, elegant dining room. A return here is probable; preferably in different season so that I can try Chef Sato's different creations. The pictures of the dishes can be found at Ta Vie Mar '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94/100

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

De Librije Jonnie Boer

Benelux region has been relatively quiet regarding world class restaurants when compared to other countries in Europe such as France, Spain or Germany. In the mid 00's, Oud Sluis put Netherlands on the map and became the talk among (serious) foodies. Little did we know that a couple of years earlier - in 2004 to be exact, a restaurant named De Librije, located in the beautiful small town of Zwolle, was awarded 3-star Michelin. Early in 2015, De Librije dining place was relocated to the current historic building - a former prison for more than 200 years. The restaurant was at the basement while the boutique hotel under the same name occupied the higher floors. Slowly but surely, De Librije (owned and run by the venerable couple in the gastronomy industry - Jonnie and Thérèse Boer) has become the most iconic and influential restaurants in the country particularly in the past 5 years or so. It was very common to find people who would dine here once / twice annually for several years. After sometimes, finally I had the opportunity to visit De Librije (my maiden visit) for lunch with my wife in the early Autumn 2017.

After we had been greeted upon entering De Librije, the hostess escorted us to the striking salon. The first impression was the bright colors sofa, cushions, grey walls and floors as well as some modern artworks. After that, we moved to another salon in which we were served several canapes. Then, chef patron Jonnie Boer would come and explained the menu. Several minutes later, he returned and took our orders. My spouse and I shared as many different dishes as possible so that we could share. Based on the order of arrivals, the staff brought guests to their respective tables in the huge courtyard with really high ceilings. It was divided into 2 parts: the main dining room accommodating 30+ guests to enjoy their meals and another part was used for the plating of the dishes, putting wines that would be used for the pairings; there were private tables near the kitchen. The interior, mainly designed by Eric Kuster, displayed impressive glass ceilings, some big & live plants as well as strong iron structures. The big tables covered by white linens were well-spaced and the chairs were leather covered. It was a sunny day with lots of natural lights yet the room felt cooling. A beautiful dining room setting as if guests dined outdoor in the nature. Talking about the food, some of the best amuse-bouche of the day were veal tartare with herring caviar (pretty and delicious) and passion fruits with trout roes (refreshing and clean).

Degustation menu
M would refer to my dish; W would refer to my wife's dish; no info meant we had the same dish. I ordered a longer tasting menu by the way

M / Noordzeekrab, kippenlever, kalfshart (North sea brown crab with chicken liver, smoked celeriac and veal’s heart) - An unusual combination that worked well. There were extensive flavors from the mild & tender crab (seafood), velvety liver (poultry) as well as moist heart (beef); all of these produce was brought together beautifully by the smoky juice, olive oil and peppery spices. A solid start ..

W / Ganzenlever, spruit, rookaal, mandarijn (Goose liver, mandarin, Brussels sprouts and eel) - Similar to my first dish, my wife's also had eclectic flavors variations from the land and the sea. The foie gras was smooth while the local eel was light with pleasant texture.  They were in harmony with the refreshing yuzu sauce and nutty & rounded taste from the sprouts. A very good opening ..

M / Noordzeekreeftjes limoenblad, tomaat en eierdooier (North Sea Lobster with lime leaf, tomato, kombucha and cured egg yolk) - It's one of the classic dishes at De Librije. The Langoustine was actually 'fermented' / soaked for a few hours in water, ginger & sugar blend. As a result, the translucent big prawn was very flavorful. It was even enhanced by the turnip, seaweed juice and grated of salted yolks. 

Accompanied by wine: Albarano Spain (fresh & dry, peach & apple flavor, nutty with medium finish - good pairing with the seafood)  

River Trout with lovage, almonds, and sherry - The local Trout was tender with subtle / clean flavor. The white sauce (a mix of lovage, coconut and almond juice) and bright roes improved the dish's overall enjoyment. There were some texture differences especially when including the raw and cooked mushrooms. A nice and elegant surprised dish from the kitchen.  

M / Rivierbaars "kruudmoes" (River Perch “Kruudmoes”) - Jonnie Boer elevated the humble kruudmoes (a combination of buttermilk, bacon, barley etc.) to the gastronomy level. His version was refined and sophisticated yet still faithful to its origin. This perfectly complemented the freshwater Perch which was lovely, tasty and rather firm. It looked complex, but all elements (smoked sausage, thick white sauce) worked harmoniously. I didn't expect to be this good.

W / Gul, blauwe kaas, sparrentop, tulp (Young cod, blue cheese, spruce tip, and tulip) - A more 'feminine' dish for my spouse. The fresh Cod was soft with mild flavor. It was accompanied by the (thankfully) light blue cheese, delicate and lemony spruce tips as well as tender tulip. It was good but I wish the flavor had been more robust - rather pale in comparison to the pike Perch.

M / Zeeduivel verzuurde paprika en aubergine (Monkfish with soured pepper and eggplant) - The Monkfish's quality was superb; it was perfectly cooked and succulent. The dish was carefully balanced by the fermented bell pepper, butter sauce and onions. A well-deserved classic dish.

Accompanied by wine: Contraste Portugal (fresh & fruity white wine, nice acidity with good finish) 

Milk cow with eel, mushrooms and baharat - Strips of the dry-aged (6-8 weeks) were carefully seared, one-side only, on the hot rocks. Yes, the other side was indeed still raw. It was the 2nd surprise dish for us. The rib eye was served on the cow's shoulder plate, dusted by the cep's powder and a blend of middle eastern spices (sweet & smoky). The beef was, as expected, luscious and tender. The sides of potato crisp, smoked eel and acidic sorrel enhanced the overall experience.

M / Ree, sauce royal, doperwt (Venison with sauce royale and green peas) - The carefully executed venison (medallion + its leg) was really tender / soft with deep flavor. It was enriched by the elegant & deep brown royale sauce. In contrast, the kitchen provided the fermented peas that nicely 'neutralized' any gamey flavor - a refined dish.

W / Boerenduif, baharat, rode kool (Farmers pigeon with baharat and red cabbage) - The breast part was carefully sliced and served with its jus; they were tasty - the best part. The leg was glazed with bbq sauce while the cabbage and pigeon's heart were alright.
 
Accompanied by wine: red wine Kepos Toscana (medium body, little oak, soft tannin, round)

M / Ganzenlever, lychee, abrikoospit (Foie gras, litchi, and apricot seed) - It was a good example that De Librije's pastry chef was talented. Duck liver as a dessert? The first time I encountered it. This 'sweet' lychee with floral perfume + some aromatic vinegar turned out was capable of cutting through the poached foie gras's rich flavor. The apricot seed gave some bitter sweet and nutty flavor to the dish - smart & interesting.

W / Thai combined with Holland dessert - I don't know how to properly describe this dessert. The 3 separate bowls & plate were enjoyable by itself as well as when you combined them. There were root, ginger with some interesting spice variations such as turmeric & lemongrass. Then, my favorite part was the sticky rice with carrots and banana in coconut soup. Lastly, pandan with kaffir lime & macadamia. We're not blown away nevertheless it was playful and fun.

M / Beetroot rose with lovage - The beets were earthy and a bit sweet. The lovage's ice cream had distinct flavors that worked quite well with the blueberries and liquorice. The presentation was pretty but the taste was only Ok. My wife's 2nd dessert was better ..

W / Compleet losgeslagen Appeltaart volgens recept van Jonnies moeder (Deconstructed apple pie according to the recipe of Jonnie’s mother) - To enjoy and taste this sweet, ideally we would put together a bit of everything - good vanilla ice cream & jelly, solid chocolate, sour & sharp apples - all elements complemented each other. This way, we would re-create our own apple pie; awesome.

Accompanied by wine: sweet wine Anjou (young, lively & fruity aromas, acidic - lovely chenin blanc grape variety)

After the desserts, the pastry kitchen served some mignardises such as Jasmine tea sorbet with grapefruit (refreshing) and Dehydrated orange, black mint and mascarpone (creamy & a bit salty).  Honestly, it was a stunning meal. The last time I was this impressed when visiting a restaurant outside France / Japan for the first time was my lunch at the Fat Duck, nearly 4 years ago. Jonnie Boer was incredibly talented and certainly among Europe's finest chefs. His cooking was sublime and creative; his dishes were innovative and exciting. Everything coming from the kitchen seemed natural and effortless following Chef Boer's instinct and passion. The commitment to source locally has always been his philosophy even when it was not fashionable years ago or when obtaining overseas luxury ingredients was just a phone call away. All of the dishes at De Librije may not always be changed each season, but the cooking would evolve continuously and it's been Jonnie's habit to keep reinventing himself. Bravo chef!

Therese Boer's roles to ensure memorable overall experience were also significant. She's leading from the 2 fronts: as the head Sommelier and as the Lady of the house - she excelled in both areas. Compared to the fine dining in France or Scandinavia, a meal here provided really good values. The same also applied to the wine. De Librije did not push for high end / expensive wines for the pairing, yet without even fully realizing their brand and origin, most of the wines offered went harmoniously with Jonnie Boer's cooking. If one preferred drinking French top wines, the selection was also enormous. Along with Stefan de Wilde, the charming restaurant manager, Therese led the waiting staffs deliver attentive and friendly service in a relax and fun manner. The service was efficient and smiles / laughter could easily be found everywhere. Our lunch was indeed exceptional. I hope this would not be my only meal here. Probably, I would include a hotel stay in the future. The pictures of our lunch can be found here: De Librije Oct '17 

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97/100

Friday, April 6, 2018

Le Grand Restaurant Paris

Once upon a time, Alain Ducasse had a very capable right hand man (besides Franck Cerutti) that some might have argued that he could be better than Ducasse himself and his named is Jean-François Piège. Jean-François Piège had been working at the flagship of Alain Ducasse restaurants in Monaco and Paris for more than a decade before he became the Executive Chef of Hotel de Crillon in particular in charge of Les Ambassadeurs. After he left Le Crillon in 2009, he was free to venture on his own. His status as a celebrity chef was more and more apparent. He showed up in many magazines and television shows in addition to running some restaurants including a gastronomy restaurant at Thoumieux. Eventually in late Summer of 2015, chef Piège opened and ran his own restaurant called "Le Grand Restaurant". Awards kept coming ever since including a 2-star Michelin and chef of the year awards from Pudlo and Champerard. It's quite obvious that the red guide highest accolade would be his main objective for this restaurant.

Due to my earlier commitment and rain, I arrived kinda late (nearly 9:30 PM) at Le Grand Restaurant. Contrary to its name, Le Grand Restaurant was actually a small and stylish restaurant with only 25-cover. It was hidden in the small side street, not too far from the Elysee Palace. The restaurant's unique feature near the entrance was its glass window showing the open kitchen with plenty of the staffs in plain white. As I entered the restaurant, not only the maitre d' greeted me, but also many of the Jean-François Piège's kitchen team. However, the dining room was (very) low-lit in contrast to the bright open kitchen made from solid black and white marble. I could not appreciate the dining room's elegant design until after everyone left. The most striking aspect was clearly the dramatic & majestic black and white ceiling, followed by the sparkle of Baccarat lights as well as thick carpet whose pattern was similar to the dining room's glass ceiling. This refined decor with comfortable and cozy atmosphere was done by Gulla Jonsdottir, an Icelandic interior designer.  

For the food, I selected the degustation menu - 3 courses plus cheese & dessert - accompanied by (surprisingly generous) wine pairing. The meal started with some bread with butter and a few nibbles such as crispy beef with pickled jelly, parfait bread with olive and parmesan, pigeon egg with red wine etc. Then followed by the "real stuffs" ...

Mes Cuissons Mijote Moderne (Chef's Tasting Menu)
 
Caviar Daurenki Tsar Impérial servi sur une pomme soufflée croquante, crème foisonnée d'extraits de crustacés en chaud et froid, bouillon toasté 
(Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar part 1 served on top of an egg-shaped potato souffle with some potato cream inside) - The potato souffle was crisp and light with velvety potato & shellfish cream inside. It went very well with a dollop of caviar (carefully prepared with vodka and lemon) which was briny & buttery with nutty flavor. A "pop" of this firm & farmed Daurenki caviar met with delicate potato were simply stunning. To avoid any mess, I recommend to consume it in one byte
(Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar part 2 served with crusted cream of hot and cold shellfish / langoustine extracts jelly) - The shellfish emulsion was complex and smooth in contrast to the caviar's richness and texture; a lovely combination

Accompanied by wine: Chablis Premier Cru 2014 (floral aroma, golden color, crisp, good minerality and lively palate)

Langoustines de belle taille cuites dans du beurre noisette, marinière liée de fleurs de capucines, fines feuilles des pinces soufflées (Large size Langoustine cooked in hazelnut butter with mariniere sauce, white wine mixed with onions, herbs etc., and nasturtium flowers) - Paris is the heaven of exceptional langoustine dishes. Here, the succulent, fresh and sweet big scampi were perfectly executed - superb! It was enhanced by the delicious & balanced green buttery sauce and perfumed by the capucine's leaves and flowers. There were finely chopped young mango below that nicely absorbed the sauce and acted as "rice" to give some texture contrast. Langoustine seemed to be Chef Piege's specialty, so try to order one whenever you eat at his restaurant

Accompanied by wine: Meursault 2013 (medium acidity and minerality, fruity, subtle finish)

Grillotee sur des coques de noix, Ris de veau de lait, cepes de pin au four, excudat de cuisson infuse des aiguilles (The veal, slowly grilled over walnut shells, was served with baked pine mushrooms, walnut and mashed potatoes) - The veal was prepared in 2 forms: soft sweetbread and tender rack / 'steak' - both were divine and flavorful. The veal was also lacquered with the walnut to gave the meat some smoky and nutty taste. The dish also came with caramelized veal's jus, cepes mousseline and walnut highlighting the Autumn's flavors - a very satisfying main course

Accompanied by wine: the sommelier kindly gave me 2 different wines for tasting
-Chorey-Les-Beaune 2014 Burgundy (medium body, plenty of acidity, bright red, medium tannin, a bit too young but a decent pairing for the veal)
-Bandol 2008 Provence (dark berries & some spices, full body, soft tannin, bright acidity, smooth with medium length; liked this more than the pinot noir)

Brie de Meaux fondant - The cheese (a combination of brie and mont d'or) was processed in certain ways and served with refined celery. The cheese's taste and smell were rather weak and the celery yielded interesting flavor variation. The normal & regular cheese, served at multi-level wooden platforms, would probably be better than this one

Accompanied by wine: I forgot the detail but it was a wine from Loire Valley having creamy texture

Blanc-manger coulant - It was definitely the finest and most delicious blanc-manger I've ever eaten. It was pristine and chilled with very soft texture; inside, it had a runny & smooth vanilla cream and at the top, there was a thin & crisp yellowish caramel disc. I didn't notice any unpleasant 'eggy' smell or taste here. It was simply perfect and showcased Chef Piege's artistry workmanship. Bravo! This pre-dessert was even better than my real dessert next

Millefeuille vanille, rhubarbe au four et givree (Vanilla Napoleon, thousand layers puff pastry, served with baked and frosted rhubarb) - The aromatic millefuille was relatively thick with minimal vanilla cream hence failing to tame the rhubarb's sour taste. Except with the help of smooth vanilla ice cream, I only experienced sourness from the mille-feuille; flavor-wise, it was not as tasty as I initially had expected though the texture was good

Accompanied by wine: Muscat 2016 (naturally sweet and aromatic, a good pairing for the rhubarb)

In addition to the usual petit four, the pastry team provided this caramelized pumpkin with hay ice cream. The coarse pumpkin was sweet and flavorful, in contrast to the delicate and lightly tart hay ice cream. The food might not be perfect, but Jean-François Piège pushed his creativity and often the boundary of creating modern French cuisine with some flair. Dishes were generally pure / not pretentious, harmonious, and delicious with careful attention to details. I could sense that chef
Piège devoted lots of energy and emotion in creating every dish. The service was competent with fine pace (never felt rushed in spite of my late arrival) and the atmosphere was relaxed. The front staffs were a bit 'calculative' yet gracious, friendly and worked efficiently although I never noticed they spent a lot of times chatting with the guests - many of them were locals celebrating special occasions. I look forward to finding out what Le Grand Restaurant will deliver in the next few years. I think 3-star it's not impossible for the chef-owner, latest when Jean-François Piège is in his early 50's. Here are the pictures of my meals: Grand Restaurant Oct '17

For nostalgia's sake, these were Chef Piège's creations I savored during his days at Le Crillon: les ambassadeurs 2007

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 93.5/100

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pierre Gagnaire Paris - 5th visit

Pierre Gagnaire, nowadays, is a celebrated French chef whose empire has included more than a dozen restaurants across three continents. His success story started in Saint-Étienne, a city in the east-central France, when in 1993 Gagnaire's restaurant received 3-star Michelin. Since economically challenging to run a gastronomy restaurant in a small town, Pierre Gagnaire decided to move his eponymous dining place to the capital and once again awarded 3-star in 1998; he has held it until now. Although he is currently a 'celebrity' chef, Pierre Gagnaire loves being in the kitchen and gets his hands dirty preparing dishes for the guests. Many people truly respect this attitude, even his peers voted Gagnaire as the World's best chef in 2015 via a poll of Le Chef magazine. Pierre Gagnaire's creations are unique in that they're intellectual, experimental and poetic at the same time. While more and more chefs tried to simplify their dishes using a few ingredients, on the contrary, Gagnaire loves combining several products to generate maximum flavors and creative textures in a single dish. Those who are open-minded and love novelty usually will enjoy and appreciate Chef Gagnaire's work. Often, his food has been perceived to operate at "higher levels" as many of the dishes are deeply personal and guided by his intuition and passion. My meals at Pierre Gagnaire's flagship restaurants have always been fun and adventurous.

Pierre Gagnaire Paris is located on the ground floor of hotel Balzac but it has its own entrance. The only thing that they shared was the restrooms. As you enters the main door, you would walk past the bar area before reaching the main dining room at the lower level. The decor has been very similar ever since I visited this place in 2007 - the dining room was dominated by wood color with plenty of torn pages attached to the walls and the floor was covered by carpet. The lighting was soft but during lunch time, it was fine due to some natural lights from the windows near the street. Tables, covered by superior white linens, are large and the distance between them were generous except the ones at the back / mezzanine level. Pierre Gagnaire was one of the few restaurants in which I preferred having the full a la carte dishes to the tasting menu (for those who like degustation menu, please do so - it's also very good). This time, I actually ordered 2 main courses from the seafood section with no entree since I really want to try the langoustine. The meal would start with an array of nibbles and bread (classic baguette, milk roll and seaweed). Then, the rests were as follow:

Cocktail de poche

Moules de bouchot et oignons grelots au vinaigre sanbaizu, cristes marines - Farm mussels and small onions flavored with Sanbaizu vinegar and sea fennel.
Infusion Tiké: sardine laquée, maquereau au sel, pointe de rhubarbe et énoki - Infusion Tike with lacquered sardine, salted mackerel, a hint of rhubarb and enoki mushrooms.
Toutes petites perches du lac Léman meunière, cresson et oreilles de judas - Small perches from the Geneva lake, watercress and oreille de judas mushrooms.
Mousseline de foie blond, sablé d’aubergine; mousse de carotte - Liver mousseline with eggplant shortbread and carrot mousse.
Perle Noire: pâte de pois chiches, jus de poivron vert au poivre vert - Perle noire of chickpea paste, green sweet pepper juice spiced with green pepper.

To comprehend and explain Gagnaire's food was challenging, even for the restaurant's staffs. There were so many elements and a reflection of the latest seasonal ingredients. The items were stimulating and imaginative, and at the same time tasty thankfully. The amuse bouche showcased plenty of flavor and texture contrasts. Some were intense and aromatic; satisfying opening but the better items were coming from the a la carte dishes.

La Pêche (Fishing)

LANGOUSTINE

Part 1
Grosse langoustine croustillante 1982 – condiment Dundee-Peeky (Crunchy large Langoustine, from the 1982 recipe, with seasoning of Dundee Peeky) - It was arguably the most perfect big prawn 'tempura' I've ever had. The crisp "batter" was so light / thin that it barely interfered with the delicate texture + delicious & sweet flavor of the very large langoustine. It was a stunning piece of giant prawn.

Side dishes:
Pommes soufflées au sumac (Souffled potatoes with sumac powder) - The airy & light potato souffles were very good; they're mixed with versatile sumac powder (tangy & slightly tart). An awesome condiment for the langoustine.
Crème prise, baies de miltomate (Creme prise, miltomate berries) - A thick and tasty cream was paired with the fresh, acidic and fruity berries to accompany the large Dublin bay prawn.

Part 2
De toutes petites saisies au beurre pimenté, flambées au vieux rhum; gelée de cidre fermier sur une galette de blé noir (Small langoustine seared in a spicy butter and flamed with aged rum; served with farm cider jelly on a buckwheat crepe) - The tender and flavorful langoustine was cooked a la minute; the 'green' sauce was rich and sophisticated - a bit spicy, deliciously complex yet all of the elements were in harmony. A dazzling Dublin bay prawn!

Crues | givrées légèrement fumées, navet Buren; miel du maquis corse au citron d’Iran (Raw, frosted and lightly smoked, turnip Buren; served with honey from the Corsican maquis and Iranian black lemon) - The smaller raw prawn was fresh, smooth and very tasty (with pleasant honey smell and flavor) while the turnip & black lemon balanced the dish.

Raviole imprimée d’herbes, salpicon au curry vert (Ravioli with herbs, diced langoustine spiced with green curry) - An unusual preparation for the prawn; light, interesting and aromatic. The "spices" would reduce any intense taste coming from the other langoustine plates. It might not be my favorite langoustine dish nevertheless it's necessary in light of the overall flavors and textures for this a la carte dish.    

TURBOT

Pavé de turbot sauvage poêlé à l’arête – les filets sont levés, assaisonnés de copeaux de Comté et de tomatillo, olives verte de Lucques; bouillon de cepes à l’amontillado (Pan-fried Turbot steak cooked on the bone: the fillets are cut and served with thin slices of Comte cheese, tomatillo and green olives from Lucques; there were also cepe mushrooms bouillon flavored with Amontillado) - Gagnaire is an expert in cooking fish and (again) I ordered a Turbot dish; it was luxurious, generous and incredible. It was less complicated than the langoustine as the main item was a huge and perfectly cooked wild turbot cooked on the bone - meaty and flaky; great flavors and textures. The sauce was earthy as a reflection of the Autumn taste. It was dominated by the flavors of Turbot's delicious jus, tart green olives, woody cepes & dry-sweet amontillado. The chef-patron loves to be innovative and pushing the boundaries, luckily they generally worked well and matched my palate such as what happened to this fish.

Side dishes:
Toast de bardes | gel de citron au cerfeuil (Turbot bards served with gel of lemon and chervil) - The bards were refreshing and naturally sweet; nicely integrated with sour-sweet lemon gel as well as delicate yet fine chervil herbs. A good side dish for the Turbot.
Cocotte de murex et cocos de Paimpol au jus de viandes blanches (Cocotte of murex mollusc and white beans from Paimpol in a white meats juice) - The murex casserole was kinda chewy, in contrast to the starchy and nutty beans. It was decent though hardly influenced / enhanced the main Turbot's flavor.

Accompanied by wine: 2009 Roc d’Anglade Blanc Vin de Pays du Gard (Smooth with fresh and round palate. It had delicate minerals, scents of apple and quince with citrus finish. 2017 was a good time to drink it)

Dessert

SOUFFLE PISTACHE-VANILLES

Soufflé à la pistache de Sicile, crème glacée à la vanille de Tahiti (Souffléed biscuit flavored with pistachio from Sicile and served with Tahiti vanilla ice cream) - The souffle was terrific; it was delectable and fragrant. The top outer part had some crunch while the inside was smooth (yet not eggy) with deep flavor of vanilla and sweet pistachio. This could only mean the egg yolk and milk used were superb. The ice cream was rich and round; the temperature and texture contrasts were lovely. The souffle of 3-star quality was indeed special.

Side dishes:
Loukoum à la vanille de Madagascar, lait de coco et noix (Madagaskar vanilla loukoum with coconut milk and walnuts) - The coconut milk was viscous & nutty while the loukoum was sweet with jelly-like texture.
Galette de sucre à la vanille Tahaa, mousseux of passion fruits (Tahaa vanilla sugar galette with passion fruits mousseux) - The pure vanilla was aromatic & rich but balanced by the sour passion fruit frothy.
Pistachio Baklava, crème au fromage (Pistachio Pavlova and cheesecake cream) - The baklava was not overly sweet with a little acidic cream.

Pierre Gagnaire Paris, once again, has been able to prepare a stunning meal consistently. This was arguably one of the best meals I've ever had here. I think it could be the case because after more than a decade ago, eventually I met Pierre Gagnaire himself again. He's leading by example to his team: busy in the kitchen as well as taking time to approach and greet guests. I was invited to visit the kitchen too - smaller than I had anticipated. The service was impeccable; the best one I've experienced here. Most of the time, I was taken care of by Alexandre who was patient, polite and knowledgeable. The food was well-paced given that I only had 2.5 hours.

Pierre Gagnaire may not be young anymore but he was still energetic with young spirit. He kept producing new and vibrant dishes that usually only came from younger chefs. With the expansion of his vast portfolio, nowadays Thierry Mechinaud (chef de cuisine) regularly leads the flagship restaurant's kitchen. Even Gagnaire's right hand man who's also a MOF recipient, Michel Nave was busy traveling. On the day I had lunch here, Nave was in Shanghai preparing for the opening of Le Comptoir. The 'funny' part, I hardly visited Pierre Gagnaire's other restaurants in Asia or outside Europe despite loving his cooking very much. Since I often come to the city of lights, at least once every 1-2 years, I thought - what's the point of visiting anywhere else but Gagnaire Balzac? For the photos of the above dishes, please check: Pierre Gagnaire Oct '17  

If any of you ever wondered why you could not find the review of my meal at Pierre Gagnaire Paris - 4th visit, don't be surprised because I never wrote any. However, you still could see the pictures of that dinner here: gagnaire paris 2014

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100
  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Hashida Sushi Singapore

Hashida Sushi in Kachidoki Tokyo was the original branch of Hashida Sushi Singapore, now located on the 4th floor of Mandarin Gallery. It might be lesser known in Tokyo when compared to Jiro, Saito or Sawada, but Hashida was supposedly a good sushi-ya too and Tokio Hashida was a senior and respectable (master) chef. Established in 2013, Hashida Sushi quickly rose as one of the prominent sushi-yas in Singapore. I was invited for a business lunch before and it did not disappoint indeed. I had planned to come for dinner, but often I found that Kenjiro Hashida (the son of Tokio-san and often called 'Hatch') was not present on my preferred date. He travels to Japan every 1-2 months, in particular to visit his suppliers. He wanted to make sure that his Singapore restaurant would consistently receive ingredients having high quality and good variety. His menu truly was dependent on the produce he received that week. In early Summer 2017, finally all stars were aligned and I managed to have a dinner and be seated in front of Kenjiro Hashida himself. The restaurant was bigger than many sushi-ya you would normally find in the island. The decor had some mixtures of modern and heritage elements; it was Zen-like with bright light and the counter made of fine cypress wood. Hashida was quite known for its secret sauce. The nikiri and nitsume used the special family recipe dated back to more than 100 years ago ... they were indeed very good. The omakase menu here had a very clear sequence: one would start with an array of appetizers followed by numerous sushi and a small / simple dessert in the end. Here what I had for my dinner:  

Appetizers

Tofu, Uni and Okra - The first course at most gastronomy restaurants usually was something refreshing and easy on the palate to whet our appetite. At Hashida, the chef created green bean tofu (whose texture was balanced between silky and slightly dense) served with creamy uni, sticky lady fingers as well as light tomato 'soup'. Only at the start ... yet the uni already appeared :)
Flatfish maki with gluten-free tofu - The fish 'roll' was mild with fine texture. It was in contrast to the firmer tofu. The sesame miso sauce was delicate and nicely absorbed by the watery winter melon. A good dish with clean flavor

Sashimi - The sashimi for the night consisted of:
Clean & light Hirame (Flounder), tender Mizu Tako (Water Octopus), delicious Chutoro (Medium fatty Tuna) and a bit firm yet sweet Hotate (Scallop) - satisfying selection
Uni with Shiro Ebi - the Uni was actually one of the strength of Hashida Sushi. Hatch-san served the moist and flavorful Murasaki uni (purple Sea urchin) in the whole shell. It was served and enhanced with the sweet white shrimp and balanced by the soup stock jelly. A harmonious dish & full of umami flavors - scrumptious!

Katsuo - The bottom one, the Bonito was smoked and more cooked inside (fragrant and flavorful) while the top piece, the bonito was skin-torched / seared on the outside and still raw inside (fresher but a bit bitter). The Katsuo was balanced by thinly sliced cucumbers, enhanced by garlic and shoyu sauce and accompanied by green yuzu to give a round taste. The fish was really meaty & satisfying
Kinmedai - The Golden eye Snapper, in sashimi form, was warm and served with its rich liver inside chef's special sauce (prepared with sake, mirin, etc.). The texture was neither too soft nor firm. The wasabi and sweet sauce 'improved' the already flavorful Kinmedai

Ayu with Ankimo - There were actually a few things here: the signature Monkfish liver was delicate in texture but robust in taste; the tako was very tender yet light in flavor. The Sweetfish was deboned and wrapped inside deep fried yuba - unusual preparation for ayu, it was decent but a bit 'fishy'. The dish was also served with okahijiki (land seaweed), kinda crispy and peppery. There was also a green sauce made of rhubarb, avocado, buttery dill, and pine nut. Have fun to try and mix a few things together!
Tsubugai - The Whelk, served with its liver sauce, was crunchy and naturally sweet. It was served with fresh eggplant tempura, battered sweet corn and fermented shitake mushroom ice cream (smooth texture but not too keen on its taste)

Mushi Awabi with Seaweed sauce - The Abalone was slowly steamed until they became tender and juicy - pure, simple, delicious. The healthy seaweed sauce could be intense if you put too much of it
Zuwai-gani and Nodoguro - Both the Snow Crab and Black throat Seaperch were carefully steamed in bamboo leaves. The texture was delicate and the taste was clean - quite nice
Saba - The Mackerel was lightly grilled and served with yuzu as well as chef's specialty sauce. The flesh was rare, meaty and fragrant; the secret sauce made the saba tastier

Sushi

Ika (pristine Cuttlefish with lime) - A bit crunchy; the sudachi highlighted the ika's flavor
Tai (Seabream marinated with Kombu seaweed) - Hashida-san used 2 slices of Tai to create this morsel; umami and fatty with good texture
Botan Ebi (Botan prawn) - The large shrimp was glistening with a bit of wasabi inside and brushed with the chef's sauce. It was delicious and almost soft yet held itself well

Kampachi (Amberjack) - clean and rather chewy (Chef cut kampachi into a few thin slices). The neta + shari were not too compact; this made the rice 'sweeter'
Tairagai (Torched Pen Shell with uni-mixed shari) - It was a bit firm, having a light taste, distinctly bitter with subtle sweetness
Akami-zuke (marinated Tuna) - fresh, tasty but a bit acidic due to the 'extra' squeezed sudachi

Kamasu (Aburi baby Barracuda) - a smoky and juicy fish with bold flavors; one of the unique sushi served at Hashida and it looked beautiful .. check out the picture
Nodoguro (Cooked Seaperch) - tender, rich in taste and oil with some smoky flavor; enjoyable
Soup - served with scallop and fish cake; good and rather unexpected to be served at this point
 
Ikura Uni don - Instead of sushi, Hashida-san preferred to present the heavenly Sea urchin and juicy Salmon roes with rice this way. The portion was generous and I could eat this rice bowl again and again ... easily
Anago (Saltwater Eel) - soft & crumble in the mouth, moreover it's pleasantly sweet due to the vintage tsume from the Hashida-san's family

Otoro (very fatty Tuna) - Kenjiro-san prepared this nigiri differently .. he sliced several layers thinly across the grain, this made the amount of Otoro was much more than what one would normally eat. It was really marbled, sublime and very umami. As soon as I chewed it, I would straight find the shari - super smooth, soft and 'oily' otoro. The best piece and the chef saved it for (nearly) last
Kama Toro (Fatty Tuna cheek) - Hashida-san partially grilled the toro, then he put some horseradish (to clean any intense flavor) and bonito flake (to intensify the taste) inside the neta. Again, the amount of Kama Toro was overwhelming, which I didn't mind. This nigiri was so sumptuous that I hardly 'recognized' the shari - divine

Dessert - There were 3 kinds:
Musk melon (sweet but a bit firm), Milk ice cream with honey and Mochi (it had chocolate, strawberry and red bean inside; the outer texture was good and the taste was alright)

It was not a busy evening. I was in the main dining room with 6 other diners.The meal was well-paced and Kenjiro Hashida was quite chatty, funny and sometimes a bit sarcastic, so there's hardly any dull moment despite eating alone and had minimal interaction with other guests. I only had hot ocha for my drink and the waitress was never late to re-fill it. The service staffs were warm, gracious and polished. I heard that Hashida-san trained both the kitchen and the front staffs to ensure a seamless dining experience. Although the core of his sushi was Edomae style, the food here, especially the otsumami, was more contemporary. The chef put extra attention to the presentation yet he still carefully balanced the traditional cooking with some artistic flair; in addition to being delicious. This was the kind of freedom that Hatch did not have when he was working at his father's restaurant in Tokyo. While I may like my meal slightly better at Shoukouwa (under chef Masa), I was puzzled that Hashida Sushi received no Michelin star. In my opinion, it's deserved at least 1-star ... based on my past meals, Hashida was certainly better than Sushi Ichi and on par with Shinji by Kanesaka. Here are the pictures: Hashida Jun '17  


Food: 94 pts

Service: 93 pts

Overall: 93.5/100

Monday, February 12, 2018

L'Hotel de Ville Franck Giovannini

Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville at Crissier, a lovely suburb near Lausanne, has been synonymous with top quality dining place serving French cuisine. Fredy Girardet was the only non-French chef selected by Gault-Millau as chef of the century in 1996. Attaining Michelin's 3-star award was certainly not an issue. Despite his stature, Chef Girardet would spend most of his time in the kitchen managing and supervising his team. The strong tradition continued when Philippe Rochat took over the restaurant, followed by Benoit Violier. Chef Violier's sudden death in early 2016 was shocking and unfortunate especially when one month earlier La Liste had declared l'Hotel de Ville as the world's best restaurant. Franck Giovannini, the right hand man and close friend of Chef Violier, was the most logical choice to lead this historical and elite institution during the transition period. Chef Giovannini has proved himself that he was a worthy successor by successfully maintaining the 3-star award as well as receiving Gault Millau's latest chef of the year award.

I was lucky to have eaten at this place about a decade ago when Chef Rochat was the leader. The la liste award 'encouraged' me to return to this place and it finally took place in Fall 2017. Given that l'Hotel de Ville has managed to retain its prestigious awards, I had no doubt that I would have a wonderful meal. It was a sunny day in October and I was seated (again) in the main dining room that could accommodate up to 25 people. The interior design was fundamentally quite similar to my 1st visit - elegant, spacious and comfortable. The natural light was very pleasant. This restaurant has more than 50 people working at the kitchen and the front team combined. It meant that the ratio of staff to its guest is nearly 1 to 1. The hospitality was, as expected, impeccable. My maitre d' and other staffs were helpful, polished and friendly. In addition, they're also flexible in fulfilling guests' needs. For example, my lunch time was rather limited, hence I was unable to order the big degustation menu. But, I was also not willing to do the surprise menu as there were several dishes I wanted to try. At the end, after a short discussion, I was allowed to design my own tasting menu. My meal looked like as follow,

Oursins violets des pêches Atlantiques cuisinés au Champagne jeunes fenouils croquants à l'Impérial (Atlantic purple Sea urchins lightly cooked in Champagne and served with spicy fennel) - The sea urchin 'veloute' was neither rich nor cloying - a bit weak in flavor compared to its raw form. However, the briny caviar and sweet + perfumy fennel helped elevate the uni. The intention and presentation were great but it was a bit too 'complicated or manipulative' that it lost the oursins' intense & pure flavors

Oeuf en surprise à l'italienne aux Truffes Blanches d'Alba (Italian surprise Egg with white Alba truffles) - It was one of the specialties of Chef Philippe Rochat. The perfectly cooked egg (lightly poached) was hidden under the al dente spaghetti dome. The Alba truffle had the right impact in fragrance and some (deep) flavor in the creamy sauce. Egg + pasta + white truffle with delicious sauce was simply outstanding. I could've easily consumed another portion of this dish

Accompanied by wine: 2016 La Maison de Moulin (with sauvignon blanc grape, from the Vaud vineyard area, generating 'explosive' flavor, fresh, and having a bit of acidic finish)

Ravioles végétales de Bolets et Chanterelles aux flocons de chou-fleur, céleri cuit et cru au Vin Jaune (Wild Porcini and Chanterelle mushroom ravioli powdered with cauliflower flakes and celery served on vin jaune cream) - The earthy raviolis were slightly firm with woody and tasty Fall mushrooms. The crunchy cauliflower and celery interacted well with the ravioli and the delicate soup + "yellow wine" sauce - very pleasant

Belles Noix de Saint-Jacques juste poêlées aux agrumes parfumées à la mélisse (Scallops seized and served with seasonal vegetables and a lemon balm sauce) - The pan-fried scallop was plump, a bit crisp outside and tender + moist + sweet inside. It worked in harmony with the somewhat sour yellow sauce, made of lemongrass and citrus, as well as green seasonal veggie on top. Simple and delightful 

Accompanied by wine: 2016 Petite Arvine Les Cretes (fruity and rather aromatic, some mineral, smooth with balanced taste)

Cœur de Filet de Bœuf des bords du Léman juste grillé au poivre vert, aubergines et courgettes rondes à l’origan (Local tenderloin Beef fillet grilled with green peppercorns and served with aubergines and oregano flavored round courgettes) - Similar to its wine, Switzerland has many high quality local produce (such as this beef) in limited amount that's usually only accessible domestically. The flavorful tenderloin was perfectly executed - still pink, slightly 'beefy' and tender in the middle - while the outside was crispy and kinda salty. The green peppercorn sauce was creamy and delicious. The side dishes like crisp potatoes, zucchini and eggplant went well with the 'steak'

Lièvre à la Royale (Hare a la Royale) - Historically, this restaurant had unique interpretation of this classic dish. The confit of the hare was carefully cooked for 6 hours with red wine, shallots etc until it became soft / very tender. The wild rabbit meat was covered with dried mushroom powder to show texture contrast. The velvety sauce was strong yet not too overpowering. The portion, the lighter preparation and the cooking for this dish were simply perfect for me

Accompanied by wine: 2014 red wine made of Cornalin grapes - I forgot to write down the red wine's name, but the tasting note said it was 'heavy', strong, very fruity. It should be more elegant as it aged and it was an excellent companion for my hare dish

Douillon de Chocolat Pur Caraïbecorsé à l’Arabica, amandes torréfiées légèrement citronnées (Caribbean dark chocolate tube filled with Arabica coffee cream and almonds) - Chocolate-based dessert was always a safe choice when I was not sure which one to order. The dark chocolate was smooth with lovely bitter flavor and good texture. The coffee generated pleasant aromas with delicate flavor while the almond gave some crunchy textures - really solid

Friandises - Mini size of delicacy / confection. Both the small mont blanc and cassis were lovely. In addition, I was also given coconut marshmallow, bailey chocolate and peanut chou. Even the sorbet were well executed and delicious. I had mango-passion (refreshing and could function as a 'palate cleanser') and caramel (flavorful ,smooth with some crunchy peanut)

All of the dishes were carefully executed with great culinary technique and using superb ingredients. They were all pleasure to all of our senses - delicious with attractive presentation. Whether preparing for fish, seafood, meat or sweets, the kitchen delivered high quality and very satisfying dishes consistently. The wine by the glass that I requested specifically to be as local as possible was well-selected and matched relatively well with the food. Chef Franck Giovannini and Madame Brigitte Violier lead the team by example. Chef Giovannini diligently checked all the dishes and greeted guests near the end of the meal. He would be more than happy to listen to any direct feedback from his guests. Mrs. Violier not only greeted her customers upon entering the restaurant, sometimes she would not hesitate to pull chairs, talk to them or clear dishes. L'Hotel de Ville has stood up to its stellar reputation for decades and once again, I witnessed the restaurant's outstanding performance by having another memorable meal. You could check the meal's pictures here: L'Hotel de Ville Oct '17
For some historical comparison, my old meal here under Philippe Rochat - l'hotel de ville 2008 

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 95.5/100

Friday, January 19, 2018

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 6th and 7th visit

In the past several years, a visit to Paris usually would include having a meal at L'Ambroisie for me. 2017 was special because somehow I had opportunities to go to Europe more than once and I went to this Paris' longest running three-star restaurant (since 1988) twice! The first one was in the middle of Spring, followed by another visit in early Fall. I think it's official that L'Ambroisie has become my favorite restaurant in Europe, usurping L'Arpege. Prior to 2017, my last two visits here were dinner where the restaurant was full house and busy. Nowadays, whenever possible, I prefer to go for lunch in which the restaurant was quieter and hence I could have better interaction with the staffs. A visit to this temple of haute cuisine was generally predictable but not boring. It was a timeless institution in many aspects such as the (traditional) food served by Bernard Pacaud and his team would be flawless, authentic and pure. The interior of the dining room inside the 17th century townhouse has always been elegant and palace-like. Lastly, the service was friendly and impeccable ... this part actually changed a bit; the staffs were more relaxed and less old-fashioned. They have adapted to the needs of more and more 'casual' foreigners dining at L'Ambroisie.

Spring lunch in May '17

My meal began with kugelhopf which was flavored by paprika and comte cheese - very good. It was warm, fragrant, tasty, kind of crunchy outside and soft in the middle. There were also traditional baguette and brown bread served with high quality butter.

Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce curry (Langoustine tail, covered by thin & crispy sesame tuile, served with spinach and curry sauce) - The restaurant kindly served the small portion of its signature dish as my amuse-bouche. It was as terrific as I could remember eating it for the first time. The plump and sweet langoustine was "partially cooked" (mi-cuit). It was accompanied / contrasted by the bitter and vegetal flavor of the spinach as well as the creamy and somewhat acidic curry sauce. All ingredients worked together in harmony (no produce was overly dominant) - balance of flavors and textures. 'Simple' and delicious!

Chaud-froid d'oeuf mollet au cresson, asperges vertes et caviar golden ("Hot-cold" soft boiled egg coated with watercress and served with green asparagus and golden caviar) - The egg was meticulously cooked where the yolk was perfect (creamy and delicious). The fresh watercress beautifully covered the egg and the green sabayon was mild & distinct. The in-season asparagus delivered pleasant sweetness to accompany the egg. Above all, the refined and pure golden caviar from China tied things together and at the same time elevated the dish's flavors + overall experience. The caviar, generously served, was perfectly round, shiny, delicate, and creamy with the right saltiness. It's not just any random egg dish, but an outstanding one.

Escalopines de bar à l'émincé d'artichaut, nage réduite au caviar golden ("Thinly" sliced Sea bass served with minced artichoke hearts on a bed of 'swimming' caviar sauce) - It was a half-portion and the 2nd time I ate this glorious dish (I hardly ordered an a la carte dish to be repeated anywhere).
The Escalopes de bar was gently cooked until pearlescent; the flesh was glistening and the fish kept its oils generating moist, buttery and flavorful taste. The texture was still flaky while the skin gave some texture contrast. Below the Sea bass, there were the firm & 'crunchy' artichokes, having a bit mixture of sweet and acidic flavors in them - worked in harmony with the fish. Ultimately, the traditional white butter sauce (with fish reduction) below 'seasoned' with the umami golden caviar brought this dish altogether into perfection. The caviar was critical in that they lubricated the produce above them and offered polished and slippery / briny feel in the mouth.
Similar to the earlier appetizer, the caviar was not just an expensive garnish to elevate the dish's price instead it's an integral part with culinary purpose to lift the dish overall experience. Another heavenly dish and very likely to be the best Sea bass dish I've ever had.

Accompanied by: 2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (A mature & refreshing champagne with smoky aroma, creamy texture and deep on the palate - a bit of almond and spice flavors)

Côte de veau glacée au jus, fricassée d'asperges vertes et morilles (Milk-fed Veal fillet glazed by its jus and served with green asparagus fricassee, garlics and morels) - Normally, this dish was for 2 people but Mr. Pascal kindly allowed to have it for one person. The pink fillet meat was uniformly tender, moist and flavorful; it was coated by its thin layer of tasty fat. The jus was savory and intense.
The green asparagus had good taste and texture while the cooked garlic was more essential than expected - it was delicate, a bit sweet with pleasant nutty flavor to balance the veal and its jus. Then, there were numerous in-seasoned and fresh morel mushrooms with incredible flavors (woody, succulent and rather rich). Even after I finished up all the veal, I still had plenty of morels to 'devour' by itself - that's how much morels the kitchen gave, love it!
I didn't know that veal could taste this good - my finest one. Bernard Pacaud never stopped to amaze me and I think I should try other dishes at L'Ambroisie that previously I might have overlooked. Spring is indeed the perfect season for veal, asparagus and morel.

Accompanied by: 2007 Frederic Magnien Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Supple tannin, delicious with good density on the palate, berries and floral aroma, deep and smooth - a good time to drink it)

Blanc-manger au citron, melba fraises des bois (Lemon blanc-manger served with wild strawberries and melba sauce) - The traditional 'blancmange' was milky and smooth but here, Bernard Pacaud utilized the meringue for firmer texture and flavor it with lemon at the bottom for some acidic flavor. It might not be as light and creamy as the normal one but still a delightful interpretation. The strawberries were fresh and sweet; the melba sauce was balanced in its flavor. There were fresh cream and strawberries sorbet inside. Overall, it's an enjoyable fruity dessert in Spring - glad that I could try a new dessert here.

Tarte sablée au cacao amer, glace à la vanille Bourbon (Dark chocolate tart with bitter cocoa powder served with Bourbon vanilla ice cream) - I was grateful and appreciated that in so many occasions, the restaurant gave me this legendary dessert for free (albeit in smaller portion). It was a timeless one indeed ... The top layer was very light in which I could discover 'shades' of flavors such as coffee, bitter cocoa, nutty etc. On the contrary to the soft layers, the kitchen provided thicker and firmer base to steadily hold the sabayon filling. The vanilla ice cream was also superb in that it was more concentrated and perfumed than the normal one yet it's also light. Still, the best dessert at L'Ambroisie and one of the best in Paris.

The food was consistently good and taken seriously even until the end. For the petit-four, the kitchen served chocolate truffles, canele, strawberry tartelette, and doughnut-like madeleine; they were of high quality and really tasty. A great way to end the mea.

Accompanied by: Rhum Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (A Venezuelan rum that was smooth & creamy, rich having caramel & toffee flavors, long finish with a little bit of spice - thank you Christophe for the complimentary digestive)

Autumn lunch in October '17 

I was pleasantly surprised that as soon as we're seated in the middle dining room, the staff brought a plate filled with gougeres - a light and hollow 'puff' served warm and filled with flavorful comte cheese. These gougeres have been missing from L'Ambroisie for quite some times.

Foie gras de canard landais aux épices, poires Curé en condiment (Duck foie gras from Landais served with spices, pears and condiment) - Similar to the last visit, the amuse-bouche was taken from the a la carte menu and this was great since I was unlikely to order duck liver dish in general. The foie gras was quite rich, not cloying but not as buttery as I had expected. The crunchy 'spices' on the side provided some texture contrast while the pear 'puree' would balance the liver's intense flavor. There were also 2 slices of toast on which we could spread this terrine.

Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (Langoustines in curry sauce served with spinach and thin sesame wafers) - My wife tried this signature dish for the first time and she ordered a small portion. As one could imagine, she loved it - very delicious and tender langoustine tails accompanied by flavorful yet light curry sauce (made of cream, curry and hazelnut butter) and a bed of delicate spinach. I've said much about this legendary dish and enough for now.

Grenobloise de noix de Saint-Jacques aux cèpes, truffe blanche d'Alba (Scallop, from Grenoble, served with cepes [raw, cooked & as sauce], white Alba truffle and chopped walnut) - A new and exquisite dish! 3 plump and lightly cooked scallops were sweet, nutty and firm. These superb shellfishes were integrated and in harmony with the earthy & meaty 'Porcini' mushrooms prepared in many different forms and crunchy walnut. In addition, the already intense and delicious dish was still elevated by the top quality & aromatic Alba truffles (with a hint of garlic aroma) ... ethereal indeed  An outstanding dish with plenty of magnificent ingredients that worked in unison to deliver an outstanding experience: creamy and delicate sauce; rather rich and earthy cooked ceps; fragrant and crunchy porcini & walnut; tasty and succulent scallop as well as delightful bytes of the white truffle. This dish with all of its seasonal ingredients were certainly the best representative of what the Fall season could offer.

Sole drapée de truffe blanche d'Alba, braisée au savagnin et melba de céleri-rave (Sole, covered with white Alba truffle, was braised with white wine sauce and served with celery roots and leaves) - Mr. Pascal, the maitre d', allowed me to split this fish with my spouse - so in the picture, it was the half portion of the dish. The high quality Sole was thick, tender and juicy (without any flan in between). The sauce, made of wine, butter and fresh cream, was divine - piquant but delicious. Furthermore, the Sole was enhanced by the pungent & earthy white truffle as well as fresh & dense celeriac. An outstanding piece of fish!   

Viennoise de suprêmes de pigeon au pain d'épice, salmigondis de carottes à l'anis (Breaded supreme pigeon [from Burgundy] served with gingerbread, carrots and star anise) - The pigeon was perfectly cooked (still pink); it was tender, lean and flavorful. The leg was prepared a la 'wonton' - crunchy outside but tender inside. The jus, mixed with some colorful vegetables such as orange honey & lemongrass, was flavorful and a bit sweet in a pleasant way. It was an underrated dish that happened to be really delicious + beautiful. It had textures contrast in both the pigeon and veggies and plenty of flavor variations.

Throughout this lunch, my wife and I shared a half-bottle of: 2003 Frédéric Magnien Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru. It was delicate & light, supple, soft tannin, spice & herbal finish; 2017 was just about the right time (perfect?) to savor this red Burgundy.

Fromages frais et affinés (Fresh and refined cheese, accompanied by some bread). After some discussion with Laurent, I picked the following:
1. Roquefort - rich, creamy, tangy and sharp
2. Saint Nectaire fermier - grassy smell, fruity, rich in texture
3. Comté (24-month) - deep nutty taste, a bit spicy, subtle sweetness
4. Rocamadour - velvety goat cheese, nutty, and mild
Both the roquefort and st. nectaire were remarkable. It was the first time I ate cheese here and L'Ambroisie actually procured some high quality cheese.

To accompany the cheese, the sommelier gave me a glass of: Madeira Henriques & Henriques 10 years old Sercial (Clean aroma, a bit dry and acidic, long finish, a mix of nuts, wood & vanilla - decent wine pairing)

Tatin de pommes Reinette, sabayon aux noix (Apple 'tart' from the Fall variant served with walnut sabayon and caramel ice cream) - Bernard Pacaud always had a way to interpret and produce any classic dish. The apples were carefully caramelized with a balanced of soft and hard texture. There were a bit tartness derived from the apples, not-so-sweet ice cream, and any "excess" flavor would be absorbed by the pastry. It was good but not exceptional, especially when compared to L'Ambroisie's legendary chocolate cake yet both of us still quite liked it.

Finally, for the mignardise we enjoyed the figs, chocolate raspberry cake, choux with cream & chocolate truffles.

Perfection seemed to be the norm at L'Ambroisie. In both occasions, Bernard Pacaud was in the kitchen. In May, I saw him coming out of the business meeting held in the restaurant's private room at around noon time; Chef Pacaud meant business when he had to lead his brigade. On the way to the kitchen, he recognized my face, then nodded and acknowledged my presence. Given Bernard's shy personality, the busy period and my poor French, a short conversation was not easy sometimes. On the contrary, I was familiar and comfortable with the front staffs such as Mr. Pascal Vetaux (Restaurant director who has been here for about 30 years), Mdm. Danielle Pacaud (the co-owner & hostess), Christophe (the sommelier), Laurent and Joseph. I recalled in my earlier visits, having a meal at L'Ambroisie was like visiting someone's house where the guests had to behave as well. But now, it was like coming to the home of good friends in which I could be myself and felt very comfortable as I pretty much recognized most of the 'old' faces. I used to have the same feeling for L'Arpege, however except for Helene, I barely know any of the front staffs these days. Besides the extraordinary food and top service a la Parisienne, I very much concurred with the chef-patron's philosophy to have only one restaurant, be there daily and not even doing any outside consulting. No wonder, my experiences here have always been consistently awesome. Hope to return here again and again ... Readers are welcome to see the pictures: L'Ambroisie May '17 and L'Ambroisie Oct '17

Food (and Wine): 98.5 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96.5 pts

Overall: 98/100 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

La Vie Thomas Bühner

For a foodie in search of the very best among German restaurants, a visit to Aqua naturally will be followed by having a meal at La Vie, a culinary landmark in the Lower Saxony state. The restaurant was housed in the old building, known as Haus Tenge; it was located in the heart of Osnabrück's historic old town. Contrary to its exterior and surrounding, the interior of la vie had plenty of contemporary elements. The main dining room, covered about 20 people, was well-spaced with elegant brown curtain, large tables, wooden floor and modern arts. The hallway was lined with wooden panels and on the 2nd floor, there was a smaller (private) dining room with colorful chairs and beige walls. In short, the 'simple' decor displayed an understated luxury of the restaurant.

Similar to the building, the cuisine of chef-owner Thomas Bühner also combined the classic and modern elements. He skillfully integrated traditional French cuisine as the foundation with modern technique by exploring various range of textures and flavors to produce avant-garde dishes as well as innovative menu. In addition, Chef Buhner was adventurous and loved using top ingredients from around the globe, often producing European fusion. Despite this, he would ensure that the dishes served at his main restaurant were unmistakably German in its root. His tasting menu (no a la carte here) was well-structured and carefully sequenced. The food here was more than just some wonderful dish by itself but more like a symphony ... though I somehow disrupted it by mixing some "tunes".

My meal began with some nibbles. First, it was consomme of walnut with wakame (seaweed) tea and new leaves - a bit salty but felt healthy; then it's followed by Thin goat cheese with grapes - tangy & light met with juicy & sweet flavors. The bread was of high quality and made from scratch here. There were 2 kinds: Sourdough with cumin had nice crispy crust and soft inside. It was served with deep Spanish olive oil and creamy French butter. Secondly, Focaccia with thyme was aromatic with puffy texture. There were 2 menus you could choose from - Tradition & Qualite, served mainly the classic dishes of La Vie. Another one was Le Grand Chef, served innovative and avant-garde dishes of Thomas Buhner. I selected the later one since it had more dishes. Furthermore, I added a couple of dishes from the chef's specialties ... talking about me being greedy

Le Grand Chef menu with some extras

Wagyu japanisch 30 d dry aged | salad kabeljau consommé (Japanese Wagyu beef, dry aged for 30 days, served with Cod fish, wild herbs salad, and saffron + fish consomme) - The thinly sliced beef, by itself, was pure and creamy (a decent pairing with the salad) while the radiant Cod was delicate and light. The consomme was flavorful but a bit too intense - it complemented the fish better while somewhat too dominant for the wagyu, distracted the wagyu's natural flavor instead of enhance it. Overall, it was still a nice dish

Saint Pierre & King Crab {cresson, chanterelles | wasserkresse, pfifferlinge} (John Dory and king crab served with watercress and chanterelle mushrooms) - The white fish was firm and rather mild in contrast to the tender and 'sweet' red crab. The sea creatures were combined with subtle white Cod fish sauce, earthy / woody mushrooms and their cream, fresh & nutty green peas, peppery but not-so-pungent watercress sauce. Innovative dish with tons of elements in which you could try many different variations. It was interesting & quite delectable though at times not necessarily harmonious

Octopus | wildschwein – emulsion kimchi | apfel (Octopus served with Iberico pork belly and its emulsion, kimchi + apple sauce) - The thick octopus, carefully cooked, had good texture (pleasantly bouncy). The pork was tasty albeit very small. The more concentrate flavor was coming from the dark boar emulsion, then in contrast to it, the kitchen prepared lighter and a bit sour kimchi / apple sauce. A dish with Asian influence that went well ... nice combination and not as complex as the previous dish; like it

Accompanied by wine: 2016 Weingut Manz Weissburgunder (fresh, fruity and quite good balanced)

Spargel weiß | tintenfisch | carbonara style (White asparagus, formed like noddles, served with thin squid underneath, salmon roes and consomme) - The asparagus and the squid showed some texture contrast; the salmon caviar was pleasant, popping with briny yet sweet ocean flavor. The squid broth was rather strong that sometimes it overwhelmed the main ingredients. It's alright

Auster (gillardeau) | kalbsbries portulak | austernsauce (Gillardeau Oyster served with sweetbread, purslane leaves and oyster sauce) - The oyster was excellent - refined, plump, a bit nutty and sweet - truly a premium ingredient. It went along well with the 'pure & simple' sweetbread - creamy texture and mild flavor. The oyster sauce, thankfully not overly salty and strong, brought together the main produces and the many elements on the sides such as leeks, turnip, potato and quince; they made the overall dish to be more delicious. Awesome! A great example of maximum dish (a dish with numerous ingredients) that worked together properly. The flavor and even the plating showed some Chinese influence - not so beautiful ;)

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Testalonga Chenin Blanc El Bandito (white wine from South Africa; light, fresh, floral perfume, and "pure + natural")

Etouffée taube | wacholderrauch karamellisierter kürbissaft (Etouffee Pigeon smoked with juniper smoke and served in caramelized pumpkin sauce) - The Canadian pigeon was pink with thin but crispy skin, hence the carefully seasoned and meticulously cooked meat was succulent, flavorful and juicy. The dish was really delightful. The sauce (pumpkin + pigeon jus) enriched the wonderful bird - simple, generous portion and perfectly executed - love it very much

Filet de bison Canadien {racine de tournesol, ortie, morilles | kerbelwurzel, brennesseln, spitzmorcheln} (Filet of Canadian Bison served with chervil root, stinging nettle and morels) - The bison meat was naturally leaner and less flavorful than beef, but it was still tasty, slightly sweet with no gamey taste. The chervil root was good - some nutty flavor, starchy texture, quite fragrant - a good 'pairing' for the bison. The white sauce (sour cream & soy milk) was decent, neutralize any cloying flavor while the morels were intense. I was told that the presentation showed how German people often ate their veggies + meat + cream altogether. A well-deserved classic from La Vie

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco (nice body, decent complexity in particular in the nose, some acidity and fruity - a good Italian red)

Tonkabohne & edelweiss I geeist  selleriemilch I dill (Tonka bean and white chocolate served with celery milk, green apple, iced, olive oil and dill) - At first, I thought it was a vegetable dessert, in fact looked like salad, since it's predominantly green. I usually was not a fan of white chocolate but I was glad that it's not too sweet here. Tonka bean was a versatile ingredient (great taste and scent); it's pretty much the backbone of the flavor. There were lots of elements with different textures ... When I scoped many different ways, they generated many pleasant taste and "feel". An innovative dessert that worked better than I initially expected

The petit four introduced some unfamiliar flavor combinations. For instance: a macaron of black tea and lemon, chocolates with curry flavor and for fun, there was a gumball machine containing chocolate in yuzu, cherry and passion fruit flavors. Forgot to mention that, the pre-dessert was sweet caramelized soya milk ice cream with grapes and green melon; no sour or acidic taste. The wine served was also sourced from all over the world, consistent with La Vie's approach. The pairing above was satisfying.

The service has been exceptional throughout. I reached Osnabrück by train and was picked up by the restaurant's staff driving Mercedes-Benz S class with the restaurant's logo. The round trip transport was provided for guests dining at la vie. With 4 staffs, including the assistant sommelier, taking care only 10 of us during lunch, they delivered smooth hospitality. The wine and water were topped up promptly, dishes arrived in good pace and for a lone guest like me, I was offered some magazines and the senior staff took time to chat with me. After finishing his cooking class, Thomas Bühner visited each table in the dining room including mine. He even took time to sit in my table and patiently listened and answered my questions. It was a weekend lunch in a small town, probably that's why the atmosphere was relaxed and guests tended to dress down (I was the only one with jacket and tie).

La Vie offered one of the most attractive dining experiences in the country. The kitchen was very ambitious and had unique approach towards contemporary German cuisine. Thomas Buhner was not afraid of creating complex dishes featuring many components (there's hardly any meaningless element) yet they did not lack focus; in fact, they usually worked together harmoniously. Dishes after dishes displayed the ingredients natural flavors, some texture contrasts and the chef's imagination without being pretentious. It's recommended that a foodie visiting Germany should make an effort to detour to this place. You can see the pictures of the food: La Vie May '17  

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 95.5/100