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): http://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157602997465732/#

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100