Thursday, November 4, 2010

Joel Robuchon Mansion

Joel Robuchon is the name that should be familiar to chefs cooking serious foods as well as people loving gastronomy. When he retired in 1996, it took him only 5 years before making a come back. It might be surprising that among all places, he opened his fine dining restaurant in Macau with the strong support from the Ho's family. Then, come big waves of all Robuchon's dining places in Tokyo beginning in 2003. And ultimately, Gamal Aziz, MGM Grand President, managed to persuade Robuchon to open another fine dining restaurant in Las Vegas two years later. Well, apparently this will not be the last one, as there will be other Joel Robuchon restaurants opening early 2011 in Singapore. I have been to both: the Macau's Galera and the Tokyo's Chateau - love the later one but not really the early one. So, the Mansion in Las Vegas will be my final judge about Joel Robuchon's cuisine.

Normally, there are a long and short degustation menu in addition to the a la carte menu at Joel Robuchon's fine dining restaurant. However, due to the economy crisis that affect nearly all industries, Robuchon took a quick step introducing several set menu priced as cheap as USD 89 for a main course and a dessert. The a la carte dish is always ridiculously expensive, for instance: soft egg with salmon and caviar ($235) or kobe beef with rock salt ($215) - it's even more than London/Parisian haute cuisine price. To give a fair chance in comparison with Robuchon Macau and Tokyo, I ordered its full tasting menu for Spring - 22 May 2009 - and let's discuss each dish one by one.

Le Caviar Oscietre en fine gelee de corail anisée, servie en surprise (Osetra Caviar on a coral gelee served as a surprise) - Robuchon is a master of creating caviar-based dish and this is without exception. Ample briny and crisp caviar on top, the surprise is below - fresh dungeness crab layered in fennel cream. A beautiful and balanced combination of crab's sweetness, caviar's saltiness plus some exploration of contrast in textures

La Tomate en salade, huile d’olive au basilic, tomate et mozzarella en gelee (Salad of tomato, basil infused olive oil, tomato gelee topped with mozzarella) - An imported tomato from Japan is rather sour tonight; the tomato gelee is executed in high precision and pleasing to the eyes. A refreshing dish

Les Asperges un blanc-manger aux substances d’agrumes, brouillarde cremeuse dans une voilette de pain dore, royale tremblotante de morille au vin d’Arbois (Pana cota with citrus oil, scrambled egg in golden toast, morel royale with yellow wine) - Asparagus with pana cota is alright; I like the creamy egg eaten together with the asparagus and the toast crust; lastly "the soup" has fragrant aroma, but the morels' flavor is not as intense as I want it to be

La Grenouille la cuisse en fritot à la purée aillée et au coulis de persil (Crispy frog leg, garlic and parsley puree) - One of Robuchon's famous dish. The frog leg is tasty by itself, the fried shell is crisp while the parsley sauce adds different flavor

Noix de Saint-Jacques a la plancha, condiment au kumquat et au caviar (Sea scallop a la plancha with a sauce of kumquat and caviar) - A butter poached of diver scallop is sweet and almost flawless. The kitchen enhances it with the buttery kumquat sauce and a dollop of Iranian caviar. It's about as good as my scallop dish (with fregola pasta) in Chateau Robuchon

La langoustine truffée et cuite en ravioli a l’emince de chou vert (Truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage) - A perfectly cooked langoustine (meaty and succulent) is delicious with truffle's pungent smell and creamy & sweet sauce. The cabbage balances the prawn's rich flavor. This dish is consistently good!

L'oursin a la puree de pomme de terre au café torrefie (Uni on mashed potato with roasted coffee beans) - An intelligent combination of ingredients that nicely complement one another. The uni is creamy and sweet, with buttery potato that thankfully not really sinful this time

Le homard rôti au curry et fines graines de chou-fleur (Roasted lobster on cauliflower with green curry) - The typical blue lobster taste is there except it's rather overdone for me. Decent contrast from the cauliflower

Les Petit Pois en fin veloute rafraichi a la menthe poivree sur un voile d’oignon doux (Light pea veloute with peppermint on top of delicate onion cloud) - It's a surprisingly complex dish ... warm pea veloute is mixed with bacon's strong flavor while balanced with some mint sensation - interesting

Le Bar poele a la citronelle avec une etuvee de jeunes poireaux (Pan-fried sea bass with a lemon grass foam and stewed baby leeks) - A tender, flaky and delicious piece of Brittany sea bass prepared with Asian twist. The lemon grass and citrus produce slight contrast and generate piquant flavor. This is much better than bar with red wine sauce I had in Tokyo

Le Boeuf de Kobe, noix d’entrecote eminceem epinards au wasabet poivrons arlequins (Kobe beef ribeye, spiced spinach and crispy vegetables) - The marbled beef (A4) us prepared in Asian style with many different vegetables. The kobe beef was delicious and melted in my mouth, this entree was rather light which is nice after eating more than 10 courses

Les Racines Maraicheres couleurs de saison melees d’une semoule de ble perfume a l’huile d’Argan (Spring root vegetables stew with Argan oil couscous) - This seems to be a new regular dish at any Robuchon's fine dining tasting menu, except the vegetables vary according to the season. The rare argan oil match well with the several different crispy veggies - oh, it's also somewhat intense

Le Fraise confite au sirop de citron vert, rafraichi au sorbet Tequila (Strawberry compote infused with lime, tequila sorbet) - As expected that fresh dessert to cleanse the palate would come first. It displays a flair of the stewed strawberry's sweetness and the lime & tequila sorbet's sourness - not bad

Le Chocolat aux noix de Pecan, onctuosite au gianduja (Nyangbo chocolate cake, light gianduja cream) - Beautiful presentation accompanied by wonderful flavor in the palate. The chocolate is both bitter and sweet mixed well with some gianduja (aka refined version of nutella) intensity. A good ending ...

Similar to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon concept, chef Robuchon would like to make his 3 top establishments to serve almost exactly the same menu and dishes; they are indeed very much consistent. Some of the dishes I have were in fact the same as the one I had in Tokyo such as langoustine ravioli, lobster and sea urchin. As I checked Robuchon Galera's menu at that time, more than 75% of the items are the same as the one I had here. The meal itself is very pleasant in general. The caviar surprised with fennel and crab is excellent; the langoustine ravioli creamy sauce is delicious while the poached scallop is divine. Some weaknesses - the lobster is overcooked for my taste while 3 different asparagus preparation is nothing to be particularly memorable. The main difference I felt was that Robuchon LV long tasting menu excludes les fromages (one had to pay $30 extra) whereas Tokyo and Macau counterpart would give you for free. To save my wallet, I only drank 2 glasses of wine: Far Niente Chardonnay Estate Bottled 2007 (clean and creamy, layered with apple pear and having a long toasty finish) and Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (complex yet precise, dry and firm integrating lush black cherry with intense taste and long finish).

As one can see, nothing is spared in decorating the dining room of Joel Robuchon restaurant. Pierre-Yves Rochon, a famous designer doing Four Seasons George V, was called to create a luxurious dining room that would remind diners of Paris in the 1930s. The first thing that most diners will notice is a dramatic black and white marble floor at the foyer that will bring guests entering the main dining room whose ceiling is more than 5 meter high. Then, there are turquoise and white Irish linens, turquoise water goblets and unique electric battery powered candles added a bit of fancy to the otherwise formal atmosphere. Despite providing over the top decor, there is a small fundamental issue - space; accommodating approximately the same number of guests, the dining room area here is only about half of the size of Chateau Robuchon. I could not help to fell a bit crammed. Moreover, I could clearly hear a conversation of a dating couple sitting next to me. It should not happen in the 3-star place generally. The service is like one would expect - polite, attentive and professional. The dining room and kitchen staffs were quite flexible when I requested to modify 2-3 dishes from the long degustation menu. While I enjoyed the hospitality provided, no maitre d' or waiter was particularly stand out (including the restaurant manager). Lastly, if I were picky and had to choose which Robuchon restaurant cooks the best food, it will be the one handled by Alain Verzeroli - perhaps his background leading Petrus HK and working for L'Arpege & Taillevent gave him more finesee. On the other hand, Jamin-alumnus Claude Le Tohic, like other Meilleur Ouvrier de France winners including Eric Frechon and Michel Roth, tends to cook in orthodox and monotone ways hence may lack creativity. It will be interesting to see how the current Robuchon Mansion no 2, Tomonori Danzaki doing as he will be chef de cuisine of Robuchon's 4th fine dining establishment starting in Spring 2011.

Please click here if you want to see the dishes I have,

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pavillon Ledoyen Christian Le Squer

While it is true that I’ve been to more than 30 3-star Michelin establishments in the past 3-4 years, there are only five or fewer of these restaurants that I visited more than once on separate trips and Pavillon Ledoyen, tucked away in the quiet gardens flanking the Champs-Elysees and dwarfed by the Petit Palais, is one of them. If I may add, the true three star places serving exceptional cuisine are not only worth a special journey for the first time, but also worth a unique trip to return to. Ledoyen, built in 1792 and named after its founder Doyen, is one of Parisian’s oldest restaurants. Although this place is historically rich, it was not until the arrival of a genius Breton chef – Christian Le Squer – that Ledoyen enjoys its status as one of France’s temple of haute cuisines; to be more precise, 2002 was the year when Chef Le Squer was awarded Michelin’s highest accolade putting him equal to the other Parisian legends such as Alain Passard, Bernard Pacaud etc.

Feb ’10 marked my second visit to Ledoyen (previously was in Jun ‘07) and Paris was still in the deep winter: a little snow accompanied by strong wind chill – my first winter in the last 2-3 years. As far as Ledoyen’s dining room and décor are concerned, nothing much has changed – everything is still as beautiful and grandeur as it was three years ago. As I stepped into the main entrance, one could not hide the feeling of entering Napoleon’s opulent mansion; in addition to the gracious hosts, Christian Le Squer was standing to greet the guests as well. Then, I was escorted to the long and formal salon at the second floor via grand staircase. In contrast to the noisy traffic and cold wind outside, the dining room was warm and cozy as I was seated on a solid mahogany armchair. The historical monument style room still has its contemporary décor intact: the floor to ceiling windows are decorated with carnelian curtains and beige blinds, the large dining table in discreet distance is double-covered with white damask over burgundy cloth, and the little handbag stools are always there.

Sitting down in a homey and romantic salon, zipping a glass of champagne and browsing Ledoyen’s extensive menu containing many mouth watering dishes, to me that’s the ultimate experience of French gastronomy and nothing beats that feeling/moment. Although it is not as grand as Le Meurice’s or ADPA’s, somehow I feel more comfortable and enjoy Ledoyen’s nostalgic dining room better. I opened my meal with similar hors d'œuvre as last time such as foie gras macaron and bourbon jelly; I sampled cereal brioche and classical baguette only this time (skipping the speck roll and squid ink bread). After that, comes an amuse-bouche: warm and fresh whelk served with light mayonnaise and jelly olive oil – a good start. After savoring Chef Le Squer’s classical dishes before, this time I decided to go for his a la carte creations.

Oursins de ruche au gout iodé/végétal (Purple rock sea urchins in iodized/vegetable taste) – The sea urchin served in 2 ways: the hot one served with cauliflower cream/foam and urchin jus; the cold urchin sabayon served with avocado mousse). The tasty and pristine Brittany sea urchins are better than the ones from Santa Barbara, but still slightly inferior to the Hokkaido version

Pistache de homard bleu, pommes paille (Blue lobster served with pistachio ice cream and fried potato sticks) – The sauce is a combination of hazelnut oil, Jura yellow wine and lobster jus. An interesting dish: simple yet complex. The pistachio focus on its natural taste - a bit salty, hardly any sweetness presence. The lobster is firm and in excellent condition; I wish it had stronger flavor. Mix the lobster with many secondary elements to get the most out of this wonderful dish

Accompanied by wine: Champagne Deutz “Amour de Deutz” 1999 – Bright gold with complex displays scents of orange, tarragon and sweet butter. An impressively balanced and lush champagne delivering solid mineral with orange note finishing; an enjoyable way to start your meal and match quite well with the sea urchin

Noix de Saint Jacques en coquille lutée/senteurs des bois (Sea scallop in its shell served with wild woods vegetables: salsify, tomato, turnip and black truffle) – A sublime dish. The barely steamed scallop is divine and fragrant; quite soft in texture and not that sweet. Like the lobster, the scallop's flavor also comes from its juice and vegetables (the supporting elements). The black truffle was not as strong as I had expected

Jambon blanc/truffe/spaghetti au parmesan (Spaghetti served with lightly smoked ham, black truffle, cep mushroom and parmesan cheese) - A technically impeccable dish of a rectangle spaghetti box cooked al dente. Not only look stunning, but also taste delicious. The sauce is classically French - heavy sauce prepared rigorously. Overall, it's a rustic dish with modern presentation ... pleasant in both eyes and palates

Accompanied by wine: Meursault “Les Tessons” Domaine Michel Bouzereau 2007 – Pure and clear white Burgundy with an elegant apple blossom fragrant. A lively and complex Chardonnay with compelling detail in the mouth (a bit too young and too dry). Meticulous wine fitting to the detailed pasta dish

Le Grand Dessert Ledoyen - Five Sweet Delicacies

Levure glacée, râpé de chocolat blanc et d’amande (Yeast-leavened ice cream, white chocolate and crumbs of almond) - The dessert is naturally sweet and refreshing, light and creamy. The ice cream tasted in between yoghurt and milk. Le Squer's innovative representation of a classic dish

Omelette Norvégienne dorée de meringue fume (Meringue of Norwegian omelet prepared until golden served with caramel, chocolate biscuit and rum) - Relatively heavy and rich dessert in beautiful presentation. The "egginess" is balanced with an alcohol flavor at the bottom ... only OK for me

Givré de Litchi en Eau de Rose (Lychee sorbet/meringue served in its skin served with rose syrup, sugared blades and pomegranate seeds) - A nice combination of fresh water from lychee and rose with meringue's sweetness. There's a slight of pomegranate's sour flavor, somehow I enjoy it ...

Croquant de pamplemousse cuit et cru au citron vert (Cooked and raw grapefruit marinated in lime served with pineapple sorbet, and cold caramel on top with honey and spices) - Ledoyen classic dessert exhibiting the sweetness and bitterness of the grapefruit combined with citrus acidity and caramel crunchiness. A beautiful combination except I felt that it's been idled in the kitchen for sometimes before being served to my table - the sorbet began to melt; the green and yellow 'dots' were already sticked to the plate

Finger de Chocolat / Pralin Citronné (Finger chocolate served with praline biscuit, lemon and banana sorbet) - The last dessert was usually not easy to swallow ... there were many flavors out of it: the bitter chocolate (like it), rich praline and fruity sour taste. It's enough as I was really full at this point

Accompanied by wine: Ruster Eiswein Domaine Landauer 2008 – I don't know if Austrian sweet wines can be this nice; good pairing with fruit-based or not-too-sweet desserts. It sparkles bright, well balanced, very fruity in the nose with some notes of apricot and citrus.

After the last dessert, there were still plenty of mignardises that I failed to finish. Some of the petit fours I remembered having were a Breton cake known as kouign amann (rich in butter and caramelized sugar), pistachio macaroons, ginger bread and pina colada tart. And lastly, a cup of espresso was served to conclude my meal on a cold and windy night. This was indeed an incredible meal from every possible aspect – scrumptious dishes with beautiful combinations of flavors, impeccable service by passionate and caring staffs, a romantic and historic dining room in attractive leafy setting, wonderful wines even the ones served by the glass. A special credit must be given to my captain (sadly, I did not ask for his name) – a young, efficient and diligent gentleman from Belgium serving my dinner on 11 Feb ‘10. Additionally, he was also flexible, hospitable and amusing; also a foodie – possibly one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Patrick Simiand, the restaurant manager, is an easy going person who’s open to discuss about any subjects; he can be quiet and serious leading his team, yet he’s approachable and can be chatty once you let down your own guard. He shared how the business had been difficult since the economic meltdown, even this year, though better, still looked very challenging. I noticed there were around 15 diners only in that evening; relatively quiet for Thursday night dinner in Paris.

Both Ledoyen and Christian Le Squer are probably one of the most underrated restaurants and chefs among the ones at the 3-star level. Christian Le Squer is an intelligent chef who is very bold to deliver classical dishes and make them more amenable to the current foodies’ palates by adding contemporary touch without compromising the dish intrinsic complexity. The famous example will be his classic langoustine served with citrus emulsion – daring, looked simple but in perfect harmony. All the dishes are prepared with the best products one could possibly imagine and executed with high precision and near perfection as if the chef put his own soul into them. I guess I’m fortunate enough enjoy many of these master pieces on the plates after having been perfected through the numerous years of hard work; every detail matters and nothing seems superfluous at Ledoyen. What amazed me even more is that for a mature chef like Le Squer, his cuisine is still evolving and improving. This meal is even better than 3 years ago; I suppose the best is yet to come and I will be more than happy to follow his future adventure and imagination presented at this gem of historical institution. Not all 3-star places created equal; it’s widely known that even among worlds best restaurants receiving Michelin’s highest honor, there are a few considered as “4-star” establishments in Paris (L’Arpege, L’Ambroisie and Pierre Gagnaire). I think it’s time for Ledoyen to be considered in this elite group. If you want to enjoy both haute cuisine and history together, I could not imagine a better place than Pavillon Ledoyen. For the pictures, please check the following link
My meal at Ledoyen in 2007 (pictures):

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée - 2nd visit

My meal at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (ADPA) in the early Spring 2006 ranked among the best I’ve ever had, easily at the top 3 or 5. It was not a difficult choice when I decided to return here in the Fall 2008. I arrived closed to 8:00 PM and was seated in the middle side of the spacious dining room. The restaurant was more than half-filled by the time I got there. The décor and interiors are nothing less than best: Jaune de Chrome/Bernardaud’s China, Andrew Hartley’s Carpets, Christofle and Béard’s Flatware just to name a few. In short, the dining room designed by Patrick Jouin is indeed magical, perhaps only the magnificent décor at Le Meurice’s elegant dining room can top this.

I only started the meal with still water, yup that simple. As I browsed the menu, several fabulous small appetizers were already served such as the airy and crunchy spinach feuilletes, Colonnata lard and even the famous Lucien Tendret-crushed pate served in small portion. Generally, I ordered the best that the restaurant could offer to its patrons, but this time was different. ADPA’s collection menu was very similar to my meal before (e.g. the coconut curry sauce was served for Breton lobster instead of seared scallops); hence I opted for the ‘cheaper’ degustation menu this time - Plaisirs de Table. While many perceive Ducasse’s food to be superficial and boring, I actually love his cuisine. His cooking, usually involving only two or three seasonal elements, is comfortable and easy-to-read, yet authentic. Equally important is that such meal was only made possible under the leadership of the Head Chef – Christophe Moret, a highly skillful chef who consistently delivers and interprets Ducasse’s imagination. I believe Moret rightfully deserves more credit and attention than what he has received right up to now.

Menu Pleasures of the Table

Caviar Osciètre d’Iran, langoustines rafraîchies, nage réduite, bouillon perfumé (Brittany langoustines served with court-bouillon reduction and Osetra caviar from Iran) - One of the restaurant's classics; both the langoustines' (firm texture) and bouillon's (fragrant) flavor were light and balance. The only 'explosion' taste came from the fine caviar - a bonus dish as I did not order Menu Collection

Araignée de mer décortiquée en chaud et froid, émulsion coraillée (Spider crab served hot and cold in coral emulsion) - An interesting dish: great technique and beautiful presentation, focusing on the temperature contrast and crab's versatility. The hot part served with tomato cream and a coat of foam while the cold one is more like salad served with avocado and vegetable jellies.

Sole de petit bateau, marinière de coquillages, suc de persil (Dover sole served with clams/cockles and prawns in parsley sauce) - The sole as the main ingredient has good texture; the supporting elements such as: the exotic goose barnacles and prawns also shine. Combined with delicate parsley sauce, the mixture of these sea creatures produces satisfying savor to the palate.
Accompanied by wine: 2006 SANTENAY Champs Claude Domaine Lucien Muzard

Foie gras de canard des Landes, en fins ravioli, consommé aromatique (The ravioli of Landes duck liver served in aromatic clear soup with cepe mushrooms) - Another generous gift from the kitchen: the luscious foie gras served in strong truffle consomme; the fine cepe mushrooms balance the dish. The white truffle was weak as it's a bit too early for the season

Veau fermier clouté et rillons confits à la florentine (Free-range veal studded with lard and caramel in its juice and creamed spinach) - Veal prepared in 2 ways: the one with colonnata was a bit too firm to my taste; the other one (caramelized), on the contrary, is sweet and tender. The onions and carrots on sides are also tasty - an excellent dish, my favorite for this meal
Accompanied by wine: 1990 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Château Mont-Redon

Fromages affinés pour vous (Cheeses refined for you) - I had Fourme d'Ambert, strong cow's milk blue cheese; 4-year old Comte, good texture with a hint of sweetness; Abbaye de Citeaux (I forgot the last one). In ADPA, the cheese is also served with divine Olive brioche and salad (with cepes this time)

Barre choco/framboise, soufflé fort en chocolat (Chocolate raspberry ganache served with chocolate souffle) - The chocolate souffle is rather dense and thick, the sour sorbet is refreshing after a heavy meal. Above all, the chocolate 'bar' is delicious and rich, yet not overwhelmed
Accompanied by wine: 2006 ROSTEAU Délices Château de la Gardine

As expected, the dessert will be accompanied with a variety of confectioneries and candies. I had chocolate and coffee macarons, bugnes and other pastries followed by different kind of chocolates, marshmallow and nougat as I ended my meal with an infusion of Verveine and Mélisse tea served with Australian honey. I was really full and literally struggling to enjoy these mignardises towards the end. Previously, except for champagne and dessert wine, the restaurant does not provide any wine by the glass. I guess ADPA tried to adapt to the customer's demand with not so deep pocket, such as myself. The sommelier's choices were not bad at all. For instance, my white Burgundy's richness and complexity worked quite well with both the crab and sole. The full-bodied red from Southern Rhone Valley I had was fully mature and it complemented my veal nicely.

A great meal here is more than good food; the overall experience matters. In the industry, Alain Ducasse would describe himself as “A merchant of happiness and pleasure”. I could not agree more with such claim based on my experience here, at the Essex House as well as at Le Louis XV. In addition to chairs made of Corian and Bresse poultry, the attentive and impeccable service lead by Denis Courtiade, possibly the best Dining Room Manager among 3-star establishments, link everything so smoothly that it actually possible to create a ‘perfect’ dining experience. My maitre d’ was friendly and attentive without being obtrusive. In fact, nearly all staffs were warm and convivial; there’s no such thing as only Mr. A took care of my table, even Denis himself served and stopped by to my and other guest tables in several occasions. Inside the couture uniform designed by George Geghaly lays a brigade who put their souls into hospitality - the team executed the service effortlessly and ensured guest to be at ease all the time. I know that I will have a good time dining here and it did not disappoint. The food I ate this time was tasty, though it was not as delicious as the one I had 2 years earlier. The service, nevertheless, was as good as it gets. Follow the link below for the dishes' pictures,

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 97 pts

Overall: 96.5/100