Friday, February 27, 2009

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 1st visit

L’Ambroisie, along with Le Louis XV, is the 3-star restaurant that I always really want to go. So many people talk about the perfection that the establishment could offer, from the food and wine to service and decoration. Tuesday, June 5th, 2007, in the beautiful and sunny day, I had a reservation at the restaurant for 1 PM. I came about 45 minutes earlier since I would like to take a short walk as well as enjoy the gorgeous weather along arguably Parisian’s most beautiful square – Place des Vosges in the Marais quartier. About 12:45 PM, I entered the restaurant and was greeted with smile by a middle-aged lady (I assumed she’s Madame Danielle Pacaud). As requested, they put me in the front dining room. L’Ambroisie’s interior design features a spectacular and romantic décor a la Chateau de Versailles illuminated by some candlelight. Unlike the luxurious institution of Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, L’Ambroisie, occupies one of the historic town houses, gives the feel of a private home in which the furnishings is similar to an Italian palace with crystal glasses, polished marble floors, some tapestries and oil paintings. The harmony created in the dining room is actually also reflected in the balance of Bernard Pacaud’s cooking.

Bernard Pacaud, one of the most talented chefs in France, is known to be very particular about the ingredients, he would not settle less than the best produce of every season. For him, the ingredient is the real star, not his cooking technique – even though I think he’s too humble when he stated it. The food at L’Ambroise is truly classical as if diners were brought back to the past to indulge the traditional haute cuisine a la Français served into perfection. Do not expect any extravagant degustation menu here; everything is in à la carte menu. As soon as I sat down, I was offered 3 big portions of Gougères – it’s fluffy, warm and has a high quality of gruyère cheese (it would be perfect should the cheese is melted inside). For me, eating good French food must begin with a glass of champagne. I chose a glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, excellent and fragrant champagne! The taste is rich, yeasty blend and creamy, while being delicate and soft in texture. It also has a little touch of hazelnuts with clean and zesty finish. This was indeed an awesome aperitif before a meal. This was my first visit to the restaurant, and as recommended by many people, I decided to leave the show in the hand of Monsieur Pascal, the maitre d’ for the food and Monsieur Pierre LeMoullac, the sommelier for the wine. Both were very grateful when I let them guide me for this journey.

Royale de romaine (Royal of Roman) - A warm mousse of peas served with cheese and duck liver. The taste blends nicely and the foie gras is not cloying … a simple and nice amuse-bouche, even though not over the top

Feuillantine de queues de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce curry (Langoustines tails served on a bed of spinach with sesame wafers and a light curry sauce) - The Brittany langoustine is sweet, flavorful and quite soft perfectly paired with an Indian-style curry while the wafer as well as the low-temperature cooked spinach add another dimension of the dish. One of the best cooked langoustine dishes I’ve ever tasted

Dos de sole en croûte de moutarde, viennoise d’asperges vertes (Sole’s meatiest portion served in crust of mustard with Viennese green asparagus) - A very generous portion of sole whose structure is firm, but like other sole in general - the meat’s taste is rather weak. The light mustard sauce (not too spicy) only helps a bit while the Robert Blanc asparagus is very good

Navarin de homard et pommes de terre nouvelles au romarin (Lobster in its juice served with new potatoes and rosemary) - By nature, the blue lobster is already flavourful, the sauce is a typical wonderful French-style sauce: flavorful, light, precise and balanced. The new/baby potatoes are not as impressive as I expected, nevertheless it’s still a perfect dish for me

Tarte fine sablée au chocolat, glace à la vanilla (Delicate crust of bitter chocolate tart served with vanilla ice cream) - Arguably my favorite chocolate desserts (along with Can Fabes’ festival of chocolates) - the cake/tart is ethereal along with a sweet and soft vanilla ice cream. On the one hand, the chocolate is intense but at the same time the layer below is light and sublime. A must-try dessert for all first-time visitor of this establishment

Assortiment de desserts et pâtisseries (Assortment of desserts and pastries) – They consist of great madeleines and cheese cream-puffs, the wafer is sweet, and the numerous chocolate biscuits do not disappoint

The wine list at L’Ambroisie is fairly average, in fact relatively short, compare to the other 3-star establishments in Paris. The selection here is focus on mature and top qualities of Bordeaux and Burgundy, monsieur LeMoullac does not really fancy any aggressive wines. For the appetizers and main courses, I drank a half-bottle of 2001 Meursault les Tilles Michelot Mère et Fille, a very good white burgundy that’s producing a harmonious taste while for the desserts I had a glass of 1980 Rivesaltes Mis en Bouteille Cuvée Jean-Paul Lespinasse. The service here was formal and a bit stiff, the attitude of the waiters seemed like French nationalist. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed in the beginning since I don’t get used to it. But as the meal flowed, things got better. I find that besides monsieur Pascal, the rests of the staffs do not really speak fluent English. I am not sure if this was the main reason why the overall service here was not as good as the other Parisian top restaurants.

Bernard Pacaud certainly does not like publication or any other media attention. Before coming to this place, I’ve never seen the face of the L’Ambroisie’s master. In fact I almost missed him while dining there. Fortunately, I had a chance to take a picture with chef Pacaud at the end of my meal. He only wore a plain gray shirt along with simple black trousers; people would hardly expect him to be one of the best chefs in the world. Pacaud prefers the blistering noise and smokes of the kitchen to the applause and public appreciation from the guests, media or even his fellow chefs – I could not find any of his pictures either at Paul Bocuse. Regarding his cooking style, I could say that chef Pacaud really emphasizes harmony in the dishes with flawless execution. He does not like any intensity of certain tastes and/or smells, it could be seen where the sauce of every single dish is relatively light – one can hardly taste any butter or cream. In addition, his humble characteristic is also reflected at the Sole dish where simplicity and modesty guided the creation of it. Ultimately, L’Ambroisie offers both luxury and down to earth ingredients in which the qualities are never compromised. This time I was eating all by myself, perhaps one day I could share this magnificent experience with my other-half in this beautiful Parisian grandes tables located in probably city of light’s most romantic square - Place des Vosges with its lovely green gardens. Below is the link of the pictures of my experience, Ambroisie Paris 2007

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 96/100

Thursday, February 12, 2009

L'Arpege Alain Passard - 3rd & 4th visit

It is widely known that Alain Passard is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world, and his baby - L'Arpege, not surprisingly, becomes one the world's top restaurants (as well as the most expensive). For me, it is an easy choice whether I should dine here everytime I come to Paris. I tasted Passard's food at the end of Spring 2 years ago and at the beginning of last summer. This time, early in the Fall 2008, I returned to my favorite dining place - not only once, but twice (one of them was during my birthday). The restaurant is as lovely as ever. The dining room is small yet modern; understated yet beautiful. There are Art Deco styles with French Lalique design windows; the lightning is low and romantic during dinner while at the lunch time, the restaurant receives generous amount of sunlight but still pleasant. I realized there is quite a significant change in the dining room team; Laurent Lapaire already left and now Helene Cousin leads the team with the help of another female maitre d'hotel, Nadia. Even though many of the staffs are still young, they are professional, efficient and vigilant. Perhaps, due to a rumour about the inconsistency service at L'Arpege that might have caused the restaurant its 3-star Michelin, Chef Passard decided to change more than half of the team. Based on my previous visits, I never experienced any short fall with the service at this place. In fact, I loved it. They made me feel at home; the service is personalized and flexible even they promised that I will always have a place here whenever I visit Paris.

Again, things here are as good as they're ever be. I began my sumptuous meal by having an aperitif - a glass of Billecart-Salmon Champagne. Then, come an artisan country bread made from a sourdough accompanied by salty butter from St. Malo. For hors d'oeuvre, I had a mixture of fresh vegetables on chips such as: carrot, mustard, beetroot and apple. After that, here come the real deal - for the dinner, I had a magnificent ten-course tasting menu and for the lunch a week later, I had a wonderful carte-blanche as recommended by the L'Arpege's former restaurant manager. Below are the dishes I had (A few of them are repeated, so I will not mention them twice)

Menu Cuisine Choisie

1st meal (Dinner)

Œuf à la coque quatre épices (A coddled egg yolk served in its shell and mixed with four spices - sour cream, maple syrup, clove and sherry vinegar) - Simple yet complex, and it's still delicious as usual. The egg is rich and smooth, probably this is the best amuse-bouche ever

Tomate naturelle à la moutarde d’Orléans onctueuse crème glacée (Natural tomato gazpacho served with Orleans’ mustard ice cream) - The combination of tomato puree (fresh & a bit sour) with mustard 'ice cream' (strong & a little spicy) may not be intuitive, yet they work amazingly well together

Homard de l’archipel de Chausey conjugaison (Chausey island’s lobster served cold with turnips, sherry vinegar and honey sauce) - The lobster here is prepared tender in texture and absolutely stunning. It shows the contrast of honey's sweetness and vinegar's sourness, yet they're balanced ... about as good as the legendary lobster cooked with vin jaune

Risotto (collection légumière) au parmigiano reggiano fleuri aux herbes (Creamy rice in granular parmesan cheese served with onion emulsion, vegetable and herb collections - leeks and green peas) - To create a great sensation, you should combine all the elements. The risotto is white, but delectable and rich. The flavor of the broth & parmesan are subtle, while the peas are sweet. Equal to the Calandre's saffron risotto as the best I've ever had

Robes des champs multicolores (Arlequin) carotte purple haze, chou rave bleu azur, radis sora, courgette black beauty … (Multicolor vegetables from the chef’s garden: carrots, kohlrabi, radish, zucchini and beetroot served with semolina, argon oil and sweet onion emulsion) - The vegetables are cooked in different length of time. They're all fresh, pure with deep flavor. The autumn veggies are rather hard and crunchy, also ... colorful and beautiful

Pêche côtière estampillée dorée sur écailles sole de l’Ĭle d’Yeu (Line caught Sole from Yeu Island served with yellow wine sauce) - A long strip of Sole in precise thickness. The fish itself is already delicious and firm plus the warm and fragrant wine sauce, even better than Ducasse's version. The smoked potatoes and herbs puree are also good. It's almost as good as Passard's famous Turbot or Monkfish

Ris de veau de Corrèze au bois de réglisse grillade (Grill veal Sweetbread from Correze region served with licorice, celery and leek) - Passard never stops to amaze me. The wonderfully cooked sweetbread is delicate and balance, crunchy and creamy at the same time. The buttery juice and peas extraction are also nice. Try to combine all elements together. I like this sweetbread better than Le Bristol's

Fromage de Bernard Antony affineur (Assorted cheeses of Bernard Antony) - I don't bother to try other cheese but the 48-month old comte. This the 1st time I have it shaved & it is insanely good. The comte is purely creamy and fresh. Hands down as the best cheese in the world!

Fruits rouges et noirs du jardin framboise (Red and black fruit from the garden - raspberries served with hibiscus syrup) - The raspberries are good as expected, but I do not particularly like the China rose syrup, it's a bit too intense. Serving the fruit with olive oil or mascarpone should be better ...

Tarte aux pommes Bouquet de Roses création Hiver 2008 (Apple tart prepared in the bouquet of roses shape) - An excellent dessert. It's just very right, neither too soft nor too crisp. The crust is flaky yet tender, and the apple is sweet yet sour. This is even much better when you add the yummy caramel, at the same time it never dominates the apple tart

Vanilla Souffle served with honey, chocolate and sugar powder - Not in the menu, but this bonus dessert is just perfect - not heavy and hardly eggy with correct sweetness, no element is too dominant. I could have a second helping actually ...

Sucrerie 3 macarons du jardin (Sweets and three different flavors of macaroons) - Petit four a la L'Arpege. The macaroons' flavors are tomato, basil and rhubarb. There's also a mini apple tart, sweet lemon grass biscuit and jelly in veggie flavor with sesame

2nd meal (Lunch)

Melon and mozzarella cheese served with sesame, olive oil and balsamic vinegar - A fresh mixture of melon's sweetness with semi-soft cheese plus the fragrance of the oil & sesame. It's simple yet sensational when you combine them all the elements

Sweet onion and peas served with the emulsion of peas and parmesan cheese - The peas, while, are sweet and good, they're a bit too dominant here. I could hardly taste the onion or parmesan flavor

Fines ravioles potagères (belle saison) consommé vegetal (Vegetables ravioli served in clear soup) - The tasty soup is a tomato and basil consomme. The 3 different raviolis are having onion, basilic and red onion inside

Yellow beetroot carpaccio served with walnuts, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - The beetroot is sweet and refreshing, work well with some acidity from the vinegar and oil, lastly the walnut gave some crisp taste and feeling. Another simple but thoughtful dish

Aiguillettes de homard de Chausey savagnin (A long slice of Chausey island lobster served with savagnin grape sauce from the Jura) - A succulent and slightly firm lobster with deliciously sweet and buttery sauce are simply incredible. Previously, the side dish is sour sorrel which I like better than green beans

Oignon doux de Florence au citron de Menton mesclun de Sylvain (Florence sweet onion served with lemon and green salad) - The fragrant onion is almost as sweet as honey, mixed with parmesan cheese and some black pepper. I prefer when the onion is crispier, like my 1st visit here

Volaille de Pays (Grande Tradition) à la casserole poulet du Haut-Maine (Free range of Haut-Maine chicken cooked with hay and wine in a casserole) - A juicy and scrumptious chicken ... yummy. An example of old-style and rustic preparation, the skin with thin layer of fat is not so crispy, but very tasty nevertheless. The leek does not enhance the chicken, a variation of garden vegetables should be better

Selection of fresh goat cheese at L'Arpege - My cheese: Tomme de Chevre (slightly salty), Anneau du Vic-Bilh (balance between salty and sour), Chevre de Corse (strong one). I forgot the other 2 goat cheese names

Millefeuille (caprice d’enfant) goûter croustillant (Crispy puff pastry in thousand of layers filled with sweet cream) - One of the best desserts I've ever had.The layers of pastry are extremely thin and as light as air. It is dynamic by itself: crispy, colorful and flaky in texture, at the same time the sweet cream and caramel work in harmony

The wine list is quite extensive, with emphasis on Burgundy and Bordeaux wines. However, the mark up price is, honestly, exorbitant. I always have the wine by the glass here, the choices are usually good in terms of matching with the food. The new head sommelier is Steeve Jicquel, he has similar personalities as his predecessor, Stephane Thivat - fun, easy going and friendly. For dinner, I had few glasses of wines: an aromatic dry white wine from 2001 Leon Beyer Cuvee des Comtes d'Eguisheim (yellow-gold color and austere in flavor), a rich and dry white Burgundy from 2002 Bernard Morey Saint Aubin and a sweet dessert wine with a bit of spice from 2002 Alsace Riesling SGN Vincent Sipp. Whereas, for lunch, I consumed less wines: a dry and buttery Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker Alsace as well as a refreshing Domaine de l'Hortus blanc Val de Montferrand. Not only the wine, the tea and coffee collection are not bad at all. I enjoyed my infusion of mint and sage tea as well as a cup of Ethiopian espresso.

The restaurant was full in both occassions, including the "cave" at the basement. For the dinner, I had the honor to be seated at the "chef's table" - a single table below the picture of Passard's grand mother - Louise Passard. Personally, I like the atmosphere during lunch which is very laid back, and it was a nice, cooling, and sunny day - a perfect companion for my birthday (It was a bit drizzled in the late afternoon though). The price tag for all of these? It does not come cheap of course, but there was a pleasant surprised ... they only charged me less than half of the normal degustation menu for the carte blanche meal. I am not sure whether it's due to my birthday or I was already treated as a friend of the chef; it is known that the regulars at l'Arpege usually paid a lot less than common clients. I hope I was considered as the latter one, let's see when I come back again. Nowadays, chef Passard often visits the dining room and has some conversation with the guests - either at the beginning or the end of meal. Once, he sat down, and enjoyed his own lunch - a few langoustines with some vegetables - and a glass of wine. Thus, another memorable meal at l'Arpege. The amazing thing about this place is that even when I put high expectation, they almost always deliver (A few even better than what I've imagined). My meal here in Autumn is ranked as the best meal in 2008. For the pictures, please check the following link - L'Arpege 3rd and 4th visit

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 98 pts

Overall: 98/100