Tuesday, January 6, 2015

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 4th visit

Time flies. Summer of 2007 marked my inaugural visit to the temple of haute cuisine named L'Ambroisie, situated in the middle of appealing Marais district. This classic restaurant was a splendid 17th century townhouse and it's currently the longest running dining place in Paris with a 3-star Michelin (Chef-patron Bernard Pacaud attained the red guide's highest rating in 1988 and has kept it since). While some think the old-fashioned food at L'Ambroisie is boring, I thought whatever dishes serve here represent one of the highest level of cooking in the world. Bernard Pacaud has perfected his culinary skills of French traditional gastronomy. There was no non-sense; the dishes have consistently been flawlessly executed using seasonal and fresh produce. The result was delicious and intense classical dishes that were neither heavy nor cloying. Forget about deconstructed or molecular stuffs, also do not expect any dish to be split into 3-4 bowls; the masterpiece on the plate was deceptively simple and people should have no issue recognizing the 3 to 5 ingredients used. Yet, in this "minimalist" approach, it's nearly impossible to improve further upon any dishes served to guests. I heard that similar to the case of Michel Bras, Bernard Pacaud is probably semi-retired these days as his son Mathieu Pacaud has become more active in the kitchen and public. Mathieu's name also appears at the bottom of the menu. 

It's widely known that L'Ambroisie is probably the only 3-star restaurant offering no degustation menu option. The a-la carte was nicely divided to about 5 items each in appetizers, fish/seafood, meat/poultry and desserts. It's always good to follow the guidance of Monsieur Pascal, the loyal and professional maitre d'hotel of L'Ambroisie. Unfortunately, I 'rebelled' this time - I did not follow his idea of ordering the famous scallop dish with broccoli and Italian truffle. The reason was simple: I was on a mission to savor all of Pacaud's seasonal lobster dishes. Unlike my previous visit, I was not eating alone this time (finally). Moreover, this fabulous meal was for dinner instead of the usual lunch. Here are the dishes we savored in the middle of November 2014.

Manière de rouget (Prized rock-fish) – The red mullet and its inherently sweet flesh & crispy skin was served with light veal juice and velvety puree of celery, apple and squash; a generous amuse

Blanc-manger d'œuf mollet à la truffe blanche d'Alba, émulsion de cèpes (Half-cooked / simmered egg served with Alba truffle and emulsified of cep) – The perfectly soft-boiled egg had soft but firm white and orange runny yolk; delicious. It's enhanced by the nutty flavor from the mushroom's emulsion. The fragrant cep (both cooked and raw ones) and intoxicating white truffle added some complexity and beautifully complemented the overall flavor. Possibly, I have found an egg dish that's actually better than "L'Arpege egg"

Fricassée de homard au potimarron et châtaignes, sauce à la diable (Mixture of stewed Brittany lobster served with pumpkin puree, chestnuts and 'peppery' sauce) – Finally, Pacaud got the right texture of the tasty blue lobster (quite tender for the tail and rather firm for the claw). The dish in "glowing" color was rich, intense (but not heavy) and complex but balanced. I could taste the variation of sweet, nutty, & slightly spicy flavors altogether. Excellent .. along with lobster + star anise sauce, this was my favorite homard dish at L'Ambroisie

Tourte de canard au foie gras (Pie of wild duck and its liver served with salad and veal juice) – An ethereal game-season pie; the duck (breast, thigh & buttery liver) and veal 'stuffing' were perfectly executed; as expected, they're succulent and flavorful. The salad was essential to reduce the meat's intensity. Last but not least, the airy pie with its crust were flawless and very pleasant. It will be a tall order for someone to improve upon this remarkable "pithivier" 

Reine des reinettes en boule nacrée, sabayon au calvados du Domfrontais (Spherical of 'pearl' sugar served with apple variations, pistachio and apple brandy sabayon) – The latest dessert creation of the restaurant. The sphere was light in both texture and taste; the sweet flowery sorbet was not too heavy and good nutty pistachio taste. Not too bad, but unlikely to be considered among L'Ambroisie's classic in the future

Soufflé chaud au pralin, coulis de mangue au kirsch de Fougerolles (Hot praline souffle served with mango coulis and wild "cherries brandy") – A traditional French dessert with some harmonious sweet flavor variations. This fluffy souffle was light and airy with partly gooey in the center; the taste was just right. The only drawback was probably the lack of ice cream on the side, otherwise this old-fashion dessert was really good 

Tarte fine sablée au cacao amer, crème glacée au moka (Chocolate cake served with mocha ice cream) – A simple yet profound dessert made with only chocolate and sabayon. Bernard Pacaud was truly a genius. His thin crust/ganache and creamy chocolate in the middle were meticulously prepared; as a result, it's wonderful. The mocha ice cream would intensify and add an extra layer of bitter or dark flavor. Personally, I prefer to combine this timeless tart with the rich vanilla ice cream 

I had a half-bottle of red wine - 2010 Domaine Alain Michelot nuits St. Georges 1er cru (pure and full-bodied in the palate with deep nose) and my spouse drank a glass of Billecart-Salmon brut rose. Different from the quiet lunch, L'Ambroise during dinner was very busy, in fact it was surprisingly a bit noisy. It was a full-house, even the third/private room was occupied by a big group. In spite of this situation, the hospitality shown to us was somehow the best one I've ever experienced. Mr. Pascal was, as always, professional, elegant and focused. However, unlike my previous visits, he's more relaxed and much warmer this time. He smiled more often and chat with us in a few occasions; at the end of our meal, he even encouraged us to re-visit during Winter to savor the legendary roasted Bresse chicken with black truffles butter. There was also a younger staff who still recognized me, even though my last visit was more than 4 years ago, and his English has improved tremendously. Perhaps, it's true after all that, L'Ambroisie is the kind of restaurant where diners eat better and feel more comfortable after several visits. The chocolate dessert was actually the complimentary of the house and each of us received a portion. I'm very satisfied with this meal in terms of both food and service; it was without doubt my best experience at L'Ambroisie. This unique French institution, in my not-so humble opinion, is among the greatest restaurant in the world and deserved more than just the 'normal' Michelin 3-star. I will definitely would love to return here in my next visit to Paris as long as the humble and genius Bernard Pacaud is still in the kitchen. For the dishes' pictures, please visit this link: L'Ambroisie in Autumn '14   

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97.5/100 

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