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,

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 96/100

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