Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Upon entering the restaurant through the heavy door, I was escorted to my table located in the center of the restaurant. For most part, the décor at L’Arpege looked familiar to me – it is (still) relatively small and informal in which brown and earth-colored orange dominate the wall. A candle lit at each table as well as the place’s limited cove light make for an austere ambiance; at the back of the restaurant, one could see the portrait of Alain Passard’s grandmother, from whom the chef drew his inspiration. In addition, a watermelon from the chef’s farm is put at every table this time. Unlike the décor, I hardly recognized any L’Arpege’s staffs except for one – Helene; the lady who fried my all-time favorite dessert – crystallized tomato with 12 flavors. Later I found out from Laurent Lapaire, the restaurant manager that half of the L’Arpege’s front team has changed including the former chef sommelier, Stéphane Thivat who currently managed a wine cellar outside Paris. But we know that Passard’s team members usually leave because of bigger opportunities to improve their career – Pascal Barbot and L’Astrance is probably the most famous example. Not only that, even Passard gave his regular customers’ contact lists to help L’Astrance took off faster. Furthermore, the chef’s former apprentices are spread out all over the places including Singapore and Tokyo.
Anyway, let’s get back to the main theme: my 2nd experience at L’Arpege. As soon as I sat down, I was offered an aperitif - this time I had a glass of Champagne Krug Brut Grande Cuvée - balanced and full of finesse, wonderfully creamy and more importantly has a long, lingering finish. In short - simply stunning! After that, while flipping the menu, I indulge myself in Monsieur Bordier’s irresistible salted butter from Saint-Malo spread over in-house freshly baked bread. Upon reading the menu, I “happily” decide to order the degustation menu (combining the elements of earth and sea) even though it would break my bank account. The only dishes that were not changed compared to what I had before are the house specialties – the famous poached egg (Good news: it’s the restaurant official amuse bouche and you no longer need to order the tasting menu anymore in order to taste this dish) and cheese selection by Bernard Antony. Moreover, this time chef Alain Passard was in the kitchen, so it’s normal to expect that I would have a better overall dining experience compared to the first one.
Menu Pleine Terre, Pleine Mer
Jardinière Arlequin à l’huile d’argan (cuisine choisie) à la coriandre (Selection of fresh herbs from the garden – beetroots, couscous, turnips, different kind of carrots - served with Argon oil from Morocco) - Is this supposed to be the star for the night? Well, surprisingly I’m not too impressed. Most of the vegetables are freshly prepared and excellent, especially the carrots - crunchy and sweet - and the Argon oil - light and delectable, but they don’t mixed too well … I prefer to enjoy each vegetable separately as side dishes
Turbot de Bretagne (belle saison) (Slowly cooked Brittany turbot served with butter sauce and fava beans) - I expected much more in L’Arpege than simply some vegetable dishes. Here is the savior: a thin and precisely cut turbot (the whole fish is cooked in low temperature for several hours). The taste is unbelievably delicious, one can taste the tasty meat integrated with the full flavor of the fish’s skin and fat. I could not tell which one is better - this or the monk fish I ate a year before
Aiguillettes de homard des Îles Chausey côtes du Jura (Lobster from the Chausey archipelago braised in the yellow wine foam of the Jura and peppered cabbage leaf) - A perfect dish! The portion is generous; the lobster is ethereal - deliciously sweet and buttery with "tender" structure. In addition, it’s enhanced with the acidic taste from the yellow wine and sorrels. Mamma mia! Another back to back perfect dish - the last time was the monk fish followed by the chicken
Fines ravioles fleuries aux herbes consommé vegetal (Thin vegetables ravioli served in clear soup) - Somehow, it took quite some times for the kitchen to prepare the lamb. That’s why I receive this bonus dish - simple consommé where the vegetables, along with the soup’s salty essence, are right and balanced
T-bone d’agneau de Lozère aux algues et escargots de mer poivre noir Serawak (T-bone of Lozere’s lamb served with sea snails, parsley sauce, potatoes and Sarawak black pepper) - Another perfect dish? Well, almost … the sides part of the lamb’s tender meat served with its crispy skin plus the sinful layer of fat are amazing. The potatoes and parsley sauce are good. The only weakness is that the meat’s part near the T-bone is slightly overcooked hence rather hard; the flavor there was also weakened unfortunately
Fromages de chèvre de Bernard Antony affineur (Goat cheese supplied by Bernard Antony) - I was a bit sad when only goat/sheep cheeses are available for that night (aka no comte at all). However, they actually did not disappoint. I have soft La Gayrie, nearly sweet Chevrotin des Aravis, creamy Laurentine, and buche du Gers
Framboises à l’infusion de l’huile d’olive, le vinaigre et le miel (Raspberries served with olive oil, white vinegar and honey) - I requested this special dessert (the original version is with strawberries, but they’re not in season). The taste is a bit funny since they do not blend together nicely, but one can still enjoy the sweet raspberries
Citronnelle crème brûlée (Rich custard in lemon grass flavor with caramelized sugar on top) - Simple but decadent. The lemon grass custard is smooth, silky and refreshing with clean caramel flavor
Île flottante moka-mélisse caramel lacté (Mocha sorbet floating on a lemon grass sauce and caramel milk) - Another bonus dish from the restaurant - the idea is that the pastry chef try to create harmony between the sweet caramel and blend lemon grass, but the strong mocha sorbet makes the overall flavor slightly too sweet. Refreshing and the portion is big
Dessert de cuisine trios macarons du jardin (Three different vegetable flavors of macaroons) - The tasting menu’s dessert consists of (rhubarb, sorels and veggies mint) macarons; the sweet part comes from chocolate and almond biscuits
Another meal, another feast – that’s how I would describe my 2nd visit at L’Arpege which currently is my favorite restaurant in the world. The cooking of Alain Passard is shockingly simple (home style/peasant technique), but somehow he proficiently is able to transform the simple tastes and textures of the ingredients into memorable dishes. Like many other top notch chefs, Passard always pays the ultimate respect to the finest ingredients; perhaps the ultimate distinct identity of his food is that he sources the vegetables from his own gardens (around Sarthe and Normandy) where he often dirty his own hands just to pick the best available vegetables for the customers. However, I was not really moved by many of the vegetable dishes during this dinner; the only terrific one was the different kinds of carrots (really out of this world). I guess I’m more on the carnivore side. Even though Passard abandoned cooking red meat in 2001, thankfully he still does so sometimes, such as preparing the lamb’s dish for that night. His skill is still fantastic; I think he should not give up cooking red meat. Then, when I brought this issue to Laurent Lapaire, he told me that currently Passard only completely stops cooking beef with the exception of Kobe beef once in a while.
The wine-pairing that I had last year under the guidance of Stéphane Thivat was wonderful, but the cost was too much for me to repeat it again this time. Many people know that the wine’s price mark-up at this restaurant is possibly one of the highest in Paris. Therefore, I did not bother to open the list and settled on a glass white and red wine. The champagne I mentioned before was the best. Other wines I drank were: Domaine Laroche Les Vaillons Premier Cru Chablis 2004; it is fruity and full bodied with mineral structure and very good balance, a lovely choice for the turbot and the lobster. For the lamb, the sommelier suggested: Château la Gordonne Domaine Listel 2002; this still wine is fresh and light; barely sweet which is good since the lamb is palatable. There were 2 sommeliers for the night and they seem to be “equal” in position – neither was the chef sommelier yet; both of them are friendly, have good sense of humor and patiently explain the guests about their recommendations. The service here, as usual, is graceful and rather relaxed with the sole purpose to take care of the guests. Laurent Lapaire, in my humble opinion, is the best among all of the maître d’hôtel I have ever met. He is not only very good in leading his team, but also is superior in directly serving the guests. Speaking superb English and some Japanese, monsieur Lapaire is willing to excitedly go over the dishes in the menu one by one with the customers as well as answer whatever questions one may have. For instance, he took 2 lobsters from the kitchen – one is cooked and another one is still alive – and showed me how the lobster from Îles Chausey was different from the regular blue lobster. This establishment indeed has a wonderful hospitality.
Naturally, some of you may wonder how this experience compared with the first time I visited here. Well, startlingly I would say that the first one was better despite the fact that Alain Passard was not behind the stove (it was an Easter Monday holiday); the sous chef Anthony took care of the kitchen. Food-wise: in my 1st visit, I had many of L’Arpege classic dishes since the restaurant celebrated its 20th anniversary. The main differences were: the appetizers - nothing I had in my 2nd visit that’s as good as Carpaccio de langoustines du Guilvinec, caviar osciètre royal d’Iran or Bavarois d’avocat et caviar osciètre royal d’Iran, huile de pistache. The main courses are about the same level - the first time I adored the monk fish and chicken while this time I loved the turbot and lobster. When it comes to the desserts - Tomato confite farcie aux douze saveurs, sucre à l’orange or Millefeuille pralin simply killed whatever sweets I had this time around. Furthermore, L’Arpege was run out of comte … I could not help but conclude that I was fed slightly better the first time I ate here. Wine-wise: the champagne (1996 Billecart Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois is on a par with Champagne Krug Brut Grande Cuvée) and the Chablis are equally good. It’s just that in my first visit, I drank a terrific 1991 Porto Colheita Niepoort and 2002 Mambourg Grand Cru - Marcel Deiss. As mentioned before, there was not much different regarding the décor except I found that the restaurant “forced” to put 2 additional tables in the middle to accommodate more guests that made the small dining room even more crammed. Consequently, it affected the service a little bit as the staffs could not move as smoothly as they’d like to. Probably, because it’s Friday night and very packed – sometimes they were incapable of responding to customers’ request as fast as they want to; nevertheless the staffs still enthusiastically served the guests without any signs of tiredness. Regardless of the “flaw” above, my 2nd dining at L’Arpege still ranked very high (3rd place according to my notes), only below my 1st encounter here and Alain Ducasse Paris, and thus L’Arpege solidify its position as my numero uno dining destination in the world. Please check the link below for the pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/Andi.Chahyadi.Hermawan/LArpegeParisFrance2ndVisit#
Food (and Wine): 98 pts
Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
L’Avocat dans une infusion juste prise aux herbes et une caillebotte à l’huile d’olive (Avocado purée in a thin herb gelée and olive oil flavored curd cheese) - a fresh, slightly sour and creamy avocado amuse that would ignite one’s appetite
Le Caviar Osciètre petit œuf mollet et friand, flan mœlleux au fumet d’asperges, fines graines de couscous iodé (Crispy soft boiled egg, flan of asparagus, thin couscous and oscetra caviar) - the one with crunchy salmon and quail egg is divine and balance, the one with asparagus, showing contrast between land and sea creatures, needs a bit “more” caviar especially inside, and the last part with couscous is in right texture and temperature with subtle flavor. Once again, Robuchon shows his expertise in caviar dish
La Saint-Jacques la noix poêlée aux fregolas avec une émulsion coralline (Pan seared scallops with fregolas pastas and her emulsion) - The scallop is tasty and juicy, integrated with nice pastas. The emulsion’s intensity is just about right, very good
Thursday, November 20, 2008
L’oeuf, fermier de la Bigottière (Poached egg served with maple syrup and sherry vinegar) - This is very impressive, the best egg dish I’ve ever had - easily top the egg from JG’s NY and even Calandre’s. It’s rich yet smooth; I could taste the balance flavor of sweetness, acidity and a little salt. As I “fish” further, I found the depth and precision of this coddled egg yolk
Gratin d’oignon doux au citron, parmigiano reggiano (Sweet & soft onion gratin served with parmigiano reggiano cheese) - It’s actually possible to create tasty food in haute cuisine without using too expensive ingredients. The onion is truly fragrance and sweetly appetizing, it’s prepared to my likeness – a bit crispy
These 2 appetizers were accompanied by wine: 2002 Verre de Chablis - Rene et Vincent Dauvissat
Lotte de Bretagne à la moutarde d’Orlèans, huile de noisette (Monkfish served with mustard emulsion and oils hazelnut) - Honestly, this is the first time I eat monkfish and it’s really delicious. The sides, such as the slowly-cooked at low temperature spinach and roasted beets with aged balsamic vinegar, truly enhanced the dense and meaty fish, grilled gradually for more than 2 hours. Wow … even better than the lobster!
Antique poulet du Haut-Maine au foin, jardinière (Free range of antique chicken served with garden vegetables) - I thought I could not eat a better poultry than Esnault’s white truffle blue foot chicken (ADNY), well L’Arpege proved me wrong. This is indeed the best one and also the highlight of the night along with avocado caviar and the tomato dessert. The skin is crispy, the meat is juicy and succulent (even the breast meat) combined with wonderful raw and cooked vegetables - here it goes a 20/20 dish
The 3 main courses were accompanied by wine: 2000 Saumur Blanc - Chateau Yvonne
Accompanied by wine: 1991 Porto Colheita Niepoort
Service (and Ambiance): 97 pts
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Alain Ducasse at the Essex House? Check ... Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee? Check ... Le Louis XV? (Finally) check and here is my story. In the beginning of Autumn 2008, at last I managed to dine at a palace in which many consider as the most perfect restaurant in the world - Le Louis XV. It was all started here, 21 years ago, when Alain Ducasse decided to accept the challenge from Societe des Bains de Mer that he would obtain three stars from the Red Guide within four years. He kept his promised and the rest is history. As of now, Alain Ducasse has opened and/or advised more than 20 restaurants globally, stretching from Tokyo to Mauritius. Even after having many restaurants/bistros, various gourmands still proclaim that none of these places can top the one where Ducasse's empires all started.
Le Louis XV is located in the very heart of the Hotel de Paris; its dining room (the terrace) is facing the crowded Place du Casino in which the rich and famous often show off his sports car or her expensive jewellery. I arrived about half-hour earlier since I'd like to walk around Jardins du Casino and Galeries du Metropole. By 730 PM, I entered Hotel de Paris and the legendary restaurant is situated at the right side of the entrance. As expected, they found my name and I was escorted to the most opulent and elegant dining room on this earth. My dream to savor the 3-star Mediterranean cuisine of Alain Ducasse was just about to become a reality in a few minutes. Like any other fine dining place, an aperitif is offered before the journey began. A glass of Champagne Paul Drouet (Cuvee Speciale Alain Ducasee)
The bread selection at Le Louis XV is so impressive that you are as if in the bakery shop (in my opinion, it's even better than Chateau Robuchon's Tokyo and Guy Savoy's Paris in both qualities and quantities). The bread came in a wooden chariot and for 2 days I had tasted: baguette, tomato, olive, organic, country, fig, wheat, semolina, bacon, rye and raisin bread. The bread is accompanied by both salted and unsalted butter supplied by Jean-Yves Bordier. If any of you have followed my review, it is correct if you guessed that I would order the tasting menu (aka Pour les Gourmets for both days, but with completely different dishes). Also, it's due to the fact that the price of a la carte dishes is staggering (€80-90 for each dish). Here what I had,
Day 1 (Dinner)
Amuse Bouche: Crudites dipped in mushroom dressing mixed with olive oil. The crudites include carrot, radish, courgette, celery etc. By the way, these vegetables are one notch above our normal ones ... the Riviera products indeed impressive
Fumet de homard lié d’une purée de châtaignes, paysanne de légumes mijotés (Lobster stock with chestnut purée, simmered vegetables) - The soup is tasty in particular the chesnut whereas the seafood are fine, but not that many of them. I wish it were hotter when it came to my table
Riso aux cèpes de montagne : étuvés, dorés, en copeaux, marjolaine (Riso with cepe mushrooms: braised, roasted, chips, marjoram) - Franck Cerutti is capable of making good Italian cuisine. The rice has nice texture, the serving of mushroom is quite generous and the marjoram contributes to pine & citrus flavors.
Loup de Méditerranée piqué d’olives de Nice, garniture et bouillon d’un minestrone, basilic pilé au mortier (Mediterranean sea bass spiked with olives, Minestrone vegetables and bouillon, ground basil) - The flesh of Mediterranean sea bass has more taste than the one from Atlantic. The crispy skin generates more flavor to the sea bass while the colorful vegetables gave different "colors" to the overall taste. And they're all in harmony (including the rather thick minestrone) - the best fish I've ever had at Ducasse's restaurants. Accompanied by: a glass of Meursault 1999 (Les Tessons) M. Roulot
Veau du Limousin élevé sous la mère en cocotte au jus, petits farcis niçois (Farm veal from Limousin region “en cocotte”, small stuffed vegetables) - The highlight of the night. The veal is tender with light taste (only intensified by its juice), the tomato is quite nice. What makes this is slightly better than the veal prepared by Passard in Singapore is simply the stunning quality of Limousin's veal, not much of the chef's skill. Accompanied by: a glass of Chateau Lestage Simon 2000 Haut-Medoc
Sélection de fromages affinés pour nous (A selection of cheeses perfectly matured) - They're abundant and bought from several different affineurs in France. I had an aging Comte (from Philippe Alleosse) - not bad at all, Abbaye de Citeaux is rich (quite good), Ossau Iraty, Roqueforts - crumbly and moist and the goat cheese - Bondon Cendre. The rasberry jam condiment is nice to neutralize some of the cheese intense's flavor and odor
Le Louis XV au croustillant de pralin (Le Louis XV with a crispy praline) - Arguably one of the best chocolate desserts ... sophisticated, rich yet not cloying. The smooth dark chocolate is refined with a little pastry dough at the bottom supported by the hazelnut's crispiness. Simply stunning!
For the mineral water, I had a bottle of Orezza sparkling water from Corsica France and I closed the meal with a cup of Jamaican blue mountain coffee
Day 2 (Lunch)
Amuse Guele: Fried ravioles with ricotta cheese and mix of herbs (mesclun) - fragrant, crunchy and appetizing
Gamberoni de San Remo saucés de leurs sucs, mille-feuille d’artichauts, tomates et courgettes, jus des têtes acidulé (Gamberoni from San Remo sautéed, artichokes, tomatoes and zucchini, tangy sauce) - the gamberi's taste is complex but more on the sweet side, its texture is firm yet tender in your mouth. The "millefeuille" of vegetable is crisp, good to neutralize the sweet taste from the tangy sauce
Géométrie de pâtes aux herbes mêlées de champignons sylvestres, les dernières amandes (Fresh pasta with herbs and mushrooms, the last almonds) - One of my favorite dishes here. The green (watercress) pasta is fresh with light taste complemented by cepe and sauteed chantrelle mushrooms. Not only that, the addition of almond cream makes this dish simply fabulous! Accompanied by (for the 1st 2 dishes): Champagne Lanson Rose
Sole côtière braisée au vin d’Arbois et petites câpres, artichauts violets, côtes de salade, champignons trompettes (Sole braised with Arbois wine and capers, artichokes, salad and trompette mushrooms) - This sole served in generous portion has firm texture and is more flavorful than the one I had at L'Ambroisie. The salad gives a mixture of some sweet and sour
Agneau de la race des Préalpes piqué de sarriette au feu de bois, laitue braisée, quelques feuilles rôties, tendres gnocchi et girolles (Baby lamb spiked with summer savory and cooked over a log fire, braised and roasted lettuce, gnocchi and chanterrelle mushrooms) - The lambs are actually delectable except they're too much fat attached and the meat is not tender enough to my likeness. The lettuce is very thick, the mushrooms are tasty as always and the "milky" gnocchi could lighten the intense lamb's flavor
Fraises des bois de l’arrière-pays dans leur jus tiède, sorbet au mascarpone (Local “fraises des bois” in their natural juice, Mascarpone sorbet) - An ordinary dessert with extraordinary impact. The wild strawberries and its warm sauce are very refreshing combined with the sweet and cold sorbet creates some wonderful feeling in the afternoon. Accompanied by: Klein Constancia 2002 Vin de Constance
Baba imbibé du rhum de votre choix, accompagné de crème peu fouettée (Rum baba served with your choice of rum, whipped cream) - There is no better place to eat Ducasse's famous rum baba than here - the authentic Monte Carlo Style. The sponge is very tender nicely soaked in strong and spicy rhum (see below). If the rum is somewhat bitter, add the delicious 'sweet' cream which is light and not cloying at all. Accompanied by: Vieux Rhum Agricole Les heritiers Crassous de Medeuil
For the mineral water, I had a bottle of Ty Nant Red and I closed the meal with a cup of Infusion - rosemary and mint tea plus lavender honey
At the end of each meal, the restaurant offers mignardises: coffee macarons (pistachio at the next day), short bread with figs, lemon tart and chocolates (praline, coffee, dark & bitter). They also served some caramel, nougatine, marshmallow and sorbet (I like the pineapple sage flavor) as well as madeleines (good but a bit cold already)
The cooking here is all about the fresh and high quality produce of the Mediterranean area. Alain Ducasse's cooking philosophy is simple: do not manipulate the ingredients, but simply reveal and bring out the products' optimal taste and texture - 60% ingredients and 40% technique. There is no better person to implement this than Franck Cerutti, the (former) chef de cuisine. As a native of Nice, Cerutti is very familiar with the best produce in its surroundings, arguably the finest and most abundant in the world. He only needs 2-3 ingredients for each dish to reveal the food's subtle and aromatic flavor; all of this is executed with great technique and high precision by his team consisting for more than 15 chefs and cooks altogether. Along with Olivier Berger (head chef for pastry), Cerutti was appointed as the executive chef of Hotel de Paris, consequently both of them will no longer be in the Le Louis XV kitchen regularly. Since a few months ago, Pascal Bardet and Damien Cassart were promoted as chef de cuisine and chef patissier of Le Louis XV respectively. I could not comment about the difference since I've never dined here when Cerutti was the man behind the stove. However, after dining here twice this Fall 2008, I can say that the food here is (still) delicious indeed.
The wine cellar at Le Louis XV (combined with Hotel de Paris) is incredible; there are more than 400000 bottles and almost 1000 different wines. Many of the prestigious and rare vintages, however, are for display only. Perhaps only La Tour d'Argent Paris has a better wine collection than Le Louis XV and it's confirmed by the Chef Sommelier, Noel Bajor. For me, I just managed to drink a few glasses of wines (see above) due to limited budget; nevertheless they're all satisfying. In addition to impressive wine cellar, the restaurant also provides more than dozens of different kinds of bottled water, coffees, teas and infusions. You name it, they got it.
The decoration of Le Louis XV is very Versailles. The grand dining room is wrapped in gold with many glasses and big mirrors to reflect light and every detail of its dining room. The high ceiling is beautifully painted; the thick carpet has floral-patterned; and there are portraits of some famous Marquise and Comtesse whom I did not remember their names. At the heart of the room, one can find a huge bouquet of flowers in burgundy color. Every detail counts for Alain Ducasse. During each meal, I believed to use almost sixty pieces of cutlery (mostly in gold), china and glassware - they are the best that money can buy. The distance between one table and another is relatively far; it is the most spacious dining room I've ever been. This place should be able to accomodate more than 70 people at any one time, but they prefer to utilize it for 45-50 diners at most and it's full house for dinner. A cosy ambiance matters as much as the pleasure of our palate here.
The dining room at Le Louis XV could be intimidating to many diners who have never been to palace-like restaurants such as: Le Meurice or Le Bristol. However, thanks to the professional staffs here, led by Michel Lang who is friendly and helpful. The Maitre d'Hotel and his team make sure that every diner would feel comfortable despite the formal dining room. The service is truly impeccable and seemed effortless. There are about 30 staffs who are ready to help, yet they're never obstrusive and very efficient. The only weak point is perhaps that a few of them did not really speak english, but they're always sincere to assist every guest. Similar to my meal at New York and Paris, the culinary experience at Alain Ducasse's top establishment is indeed unforgetable. For the pictures, please check the following link http://picasaweb.google.com/Andi.Chahyadi.Hermawan/LeLouisXVMonteCarloMonaco#
Food (and Wine): 97 pts
Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts