Friday, November 4, 2011

Pierre Gagnaire Paris - 3rd visit

Haute cuisine has become a big trend in the developed society all around the globe in the past several years. Pioneered by Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, many more celebrity chefs have followed their foot steps to open several restaurants bearing the chef's name. Pierre Gagnaire, a talented and adventurous chef, without exception has also expanded his wings as far as Seoul and Moscow. When he opened Sketch London in 2002 or even Pierre Tokyo and HK in '05/06, I thought this was it. With the recent aggressive expansion, I am curious whether Chef Gagnaire's eponymous restaurant in Paris is still up to its high standard; whether the ranking drops in the restaurant magazine was associated with him not being in the Paris kitchen often enough. However, with 2 wonderful experiences before, I decided to still go ahead and hoped to have another great meal in mid-December 2010. This was indeed a meal to remember.

It was the beginning of winter, but the weather was colder than usual (as a matter of fact, it's about one week before the Europe's blizzard and winter storm). Our hotel was not too far from rue Balzac, hence we chose to walk. We arrived at the restaurant nearly 830 PM and the restaurant was nearly full, diners were split between francophone and english-speaking guests. Actually, this was a good period to enjoy "La Chasse" aka game season. I quite like game stuffs such as partridge, venison or hare but I knew I could not eat them too much (tasting portion should be sufficient). My fiancee never tried any hunting stuffs, I was afraid that she would not like it. Since we prefer to order a la carte dishes, we opted to skip game dishes (it will probably be too heavy for us) as well as white truffle stuffs, the later one was due to our limited budget. Pierre Gagnaire was a master in preparing dishes based on the sea and land elements. Thus, it's a must that we order one fish as well as one meat dish. To start our meal, we split something that was (hopefully) light and refreshing. Prior to these, we had several amuse-bouche. The ones I remembered enjoying were artichoke jelly with spinach and lentil soup with green beans and mushrooms. The ones I expected to be good such as clam & eel with tomato and cucumber turned out to be so-so. These were what we ate,

Les Entrees

Corolle de bar de ligne au sel de Maldon, chair de pamplemousse thaï, aloé-vera et mangue verte; huile d’olive ardente Santa Tea émulsionnée citron confit, fruits de la passion, miel d’arbousier (Corolla of line-fished sea bass with maldon salt, flesh of thai pomelos, aloe vera and green mango; Santa Tea ardente olive oil emulsified with crystallized lemon, passion fruits, Arutus tree honey) - The dish looked simple on picture, but the preparation was complex. It's more like a fresh fish prepared in sashimi-style

Royale d’oursin au vieux malt; coques, amandes et bigorneaux (Royal-style urchin with aged malt; cockles, dog cockles, periwinkles with pearl barley) - The sea whelk tasted mild, the whole dish showed some textures contrast among different ingredients
Galette soufflée de mascarpone, langues et fleurs de capucine (Souffleed mascarpone pancake, urshin tongues and capucine flowers) - Only Pierre Gagnaire can make this kind of 'strange but interesting' dish ... the pancake was soft served with nice urchin

Barquette végétale: kokotchas, tripe de morue et espardeigne (Cod Kokotchas, salt cod tripe and sea cucumber served in a green “barquette” made of vegetables with agar-agar) - A fragrant and excellent dish, probably my favorite in the Marine Garden appetizers. The veggies were fresh, the cod and sea cucumber were very tasty

Coeur de laitue braisé farci d’une brandade sèche, dentelle de châtaigne; velouté vert (Braised heart of lettuce stuffed with a dry “brandade”, chesnut lace; green velvety sauce) - This lettuce salad was alright, not particularly delicious
Infusion de crevette grise, poudre à tabac (Infusion of grey shrimps, cepe mushrooms’ powder) - The soup was rather clear, but rich in taste. The shrimps were nice and sweet

La Mer

Darne de gros turbot rôtie à la casserole ; les filets sont levés et terminés dans un velouté de champignon de Paris cerfeuil, roquette, cébette (Steak of large Turbot roasted in a casserole; the fillets are cooked in a smooth broth of Paris mushrooms chervil, melissa, rocket) - A firm and wonderful piece of turbot's white flesh. The fish by itself is already great, but the sweet and fresh 'green sauce' below made this dish even more flavorful. About as good as roast turbot with butter sauce I ate at l'Arpege

Anémone de mer traitée meunière, champignons boutons à la maniguette (Sauteed sea “Anemone” meuniere, button mushrooms with maniguette spice) - To balance the rather sweet green broth from the turbot, here comes the mushrooms side dish with garlic. It's earthy, but the spice was a bit too salty
Pâte d’agrumes aux câpres la Nicchia (Paste of citrus fruits flavored with Nicchia capers) - The acidic part of the side dish, not bad

Tarte Rouge: une duxelle; oignon, piquillos et poivron; gelée de piment d’Espelette (Red tart: sweet red peppers, onion, pepper, Espelette chilli pepper gelee) - Peppers combination that is able to extract some sweet, fresh and a little sour tastes. A good distraction from the turbot's rich flavor, even this was good enough as a dish on its own at any tasting menu

Accompanied by wine: 2007 Domaine Cauhape Jurancon Sec La Canopee (the white wine from the Aquitaine region)

La Terre

Selle d’agneau de Lozère frottée d’origan, cuisinée à plat; crêpe de pois chiche, humus et ris caramelizes. Beurre de cuisson lié de tamarin (Saddle of Lozere lamb rubbed with oregano; chickpeas pancake, caramelized humus and sweetbread. Butter sauce thickened with tamarind) - Is this what someone would call culinary perfection? When I ate the tender and pink lamb loin, it seemed so ethereal. If you like your juicy lamb richer, the thick brown sauce could help you. With this, I could simply 'ignored' other 'side' dishes. As good if not better than Passard's T-bone lamb (my fav. lamb thus far). It's official that I like Lozere lamb better than its Aubrac counterpart

Bourse d’ail noir au chou pommé (Green cabbage leave stuffed with black garlic on a cabbage compote) - A kind of salad, sorry that I could hardly remember anything about it
Blette paquet au Roquefort, caillé de brebis au céleri doré (Small parcels of white beets with Roquefort cheese, curdled ewe’s milk with celery) - It was decent with strong cheese flavor

Grosse carabinieros saisie à la plaque, harissa Maison (Big carabinieros shrimps cooked a la plancha, home-made Harissa) - This prawn seemed to be out of nowhere, nevertheless it's a fat and tasty prawn (fresh and sweet). However, the lamb was so good that the shrimp was out shined
Shiso, riz noir vénéré aux baies de sureau (Shiso, black rice with elderberries) - The rice with versatile perilla could elevate the already delicious and rich Lozere lamb dish

Accompanied by wine: 2008 Andre Perret Saint-Joseph (the red wine from the Syrah variety)

After eating the appetizers, my fiancee happened to be really sleepy (due to jet lag). We're supposed to share our dishes, but what happened was that I ended up consuming 80% of the main courses. I was more than happy to do so since both the turbot steak and the saddle of lamb were really scrumptious. But, consequently I did not have any space left for sweets as I was very full, though I longed to savor Chef Gagnaire's Le Grand Dessert. Gagnaire Paris remains one of the must-go dining places in the French capital and truly worth its 3-star accolade. As one of the world's most dynamic chef, Gagnaire's food is revolutionary yet rooted in French cuisine strong tradition - this was faithful to his cooking philosophy = 'facing tomorrow but respectful of yesterday' aka "tourné vers demain mais soucieux d'hier".

Some foodies said that no one prepared fish better than Pierre Gagnaire. This was probably true based on my tasty Bar de ligne (from 1st meal) and Turbot. After 3 visits, however, I was more impressed with the Chef's ability to cook wonderful meat items. The beef's shoulder and lamb loin were prepared with high precision as well as perfect execution resulting in unforgettable dishes. In his early 60s, Gagnaire's roasting skills seems to get better and better - perhaps on the next visit, I should try the duck or sweetbread. His imagination and spirit do not grow weary. Additionally, one will hardly eat the same dish here. For example, I ate "Parfum de Terre" a la carte a couple of years ago. I saw it again this time, yet none of the dishes was repeating what I previously had. Another positive aspect of Gagnaire Paris was: consistency. I've been dining here when Gagnaire was leading the kitchen, this time was under Michel Nave, who has been working with Gagnaire for more than 20 years, and when neither was available (led by Chef Thierry - the no 3 guy). In all those visits, the food was consistently good and of high quality (the 2nd meal was maybe slightly inferior compared the other 2 visits). I don't feel the need to discuss the service and ambiance further since they're good as always :) Please visit this link for the pictures,

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 96/100