Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pavillon Ledoyen Yannick Alleno

Pavillon Ledoyen, a legendary Parisian dining institution, has been identical with high quality French gastronomy. Since the beginning of 21st century, Ledoyen has become one of 3-star Michelin restaurants at the city of light - thanks to the uber chef Christian Le Squer. In 2014, there was an interesting "swap" involving this establishment: Le Squer left Ledoyen to become the executive chef of Four Seasons George V whose main purpose was to carry Le Cinq to re-gain Michelin's highest honor (as expected, he did it this year); Yannick Alleno, a French top chef who felt burnt out having to run a major hotel Le Meurice for a decade, came to the rescue as well as proved himself that he still "had it" when he had reclaimed the 3-star awards last year. Personally, I am very happy that Chef Alleno and Chef Le Squer to be around again in Paris. Both of them also successfully run fine dining restaurants. In light of the recent trend of bistronomy, I found it would be "wasteful" if these elite chefs do not defend the dignity of French cuisine at the highest level.

The 2 main reasons why I re-visited Pavillon Ledoyen were: Yannick Alleno and my parents. I had a very good meal during Chef Alleno's tenure at Le Meurice nearly 8 years ago and felt disappointed when knowing he no longer led any gastronomy restaurant after leaving the hotel. Now that the "Prince of the Palaces" has returned to Paris, albeit not in a hotel's palace, I was convinced that I had another chance to savor Alleno's creations. For my parents' case, they do not come to Paris as often as I do. They prefer going to new places whereas my trip is often dictated by food. Based on that, my parents were inclined to dine at restaurants they've never been before. Moreover, my mother loves European historical building with its classical interior design. Therefore, Ledoyen seemed to be a logical choice and it certainly did not disappoint. This Europe trip was part of my treat for their 40th wedding anniversary, so I should select the 'best' dishes. Our meal was for lunch and since my father and mother would be in Paris for a couple of days only, they strongly would rather the meal lasted 2-3 hours max. As I observed the lunch menu, the dishes did not look that appetizing. It meant a la carte was the way to go because the degustation menu would take at least 3 hours.

Our meal began with satisfying amuse-bouche:
-Cabbage jelly and mushroom served inside cabbage leaves: the cabbage's flavor was quite strong
-Onion consomme and cracker with comte chip: another rather intense item displaying texture and temperature contrast
-Chestnut marshmallow: for balance, this one was light & smooth
-Roll of cream cheese and smoked eel: decent; crunchy outside and soft inside

Tarte friande de Langoustine au Caviar: Langoustine tart topped with Oscietra caviar and gold leaves - I share this appetizer with my mother and it was outstanding! The tart was crisp & light enclosing the Dublin bay prawn in 'pate' form that was buttery and very tasty yet not overwhelming. The sauce was creamy with some crustacean clean flavor; it was elevated by the luxurious and briny top quality caviar. The leaves provided pretty decor but not so much on the palate. In short, it's simply perfect! Stunning and balanced ...

Accompanied by wine: 2009 Domaine Trimbach Riesling Cuvee "Frederic Emile", Alsace - Excellent Riesling especially to be consumed this year onwards. It was compact, full-bodied with mineral flavors and lime/zesty finish. It also had the flavor of apple and honeycomb. This white wine paired well with our caviar langoustine appetizer 

Blue lobster fricassee served with Safi capers, cabbage leaves and coral sauce - It's my mother's main course. I tried a bit of it. The lobster was tender and tasty while the sauce was lighter but still flavorful. In this dish, Chef Alleno drew inspiration from the east + south of France. I kinda like it, but not blown away. My mom had no problem to finish it all up though

Wagyu beef Gunma grade 4 "en aiguillettes" iodized "onigiris"; served with sea urchin and confit smoked eel, celery cooked in a clay crust served "à la cuillère" - It's my father's main course. My dad shared a little portion of this dish with us. I was impressed with the kitchen's ability to produce a wonderful well-done meat (he's unable to eat pink or 'bloody' steak); it's also nicely seasoned and cooked. The wagyu was still very tender and a bit oily - the amount of meat vs fat was balanced. The uni and smoked unagi would make the overall flavor even richer; to bring it down, you can savor the 'mashed' celery. A very good dish ... For my father, it's probably one of the best things he ate during this Europe trip.

Roasted milk-fed lamb served with home-made truffle pasta and nutmeg cream, tangy apple and slow cooked lamb shoulder - It's my main course. While my parents' main courseswere sublime, still I liked mine the most. Every elements here were simply awesome. The Limousin lamb was perfectly executed resulting in juicy meat and some crisp skin. The pasta was al-dente; it would nicely absorbed the cream as well as interacted with the truffle to elevate the already great roasted lamb. There's hardly any trace of unpleasant lamb's smell instead the black truffle aroma had stronger presence. It's a scrumptious dish: delicious lamb with flavorful sauce and not cloying at all

Accompanied by wine: 2013 Vacqueyras Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux, "Cuvee de Lopy" - This red wine had a mixture of Grenache and Syrah. The color was opaque black ruby; it offered the flavor combinations of black raspberries & licorice with gentle tannin. I think it needs more time to mature but it went quite well with the lamb dish

When it comes to the sweet tooth indulgence, except for the last items, I found Alleno's desserts were not on par with his entree + plat principal. For the pre-desserts, we had:
-Pear and vanilla sorbet as palate cleanser
-A glass of Tonka bean liquid: bitter and 'unusual'
-Jelly-like & sweet baked pineapple covered with almond
-Chocolate 'rolls': crispy  

Crystallized chocolate leaf served with milk flavored and hazelnut extraction - This was 65% of (dark) Caribbean chocolate. The leaf and the base was pure (crunchy) chocolate and somewhat bitter & strong. It's 'necessary' as the milk, mousse and the sorbet were more on the sweet sides with some fruity flavor coming of the lemon gel. Alright but nothing memorable

Roasted mango meringue served with pepper vinegar - In addition to chocolate-based dessert, it's ideal to also have a fruit-based sweets. The mango had a mixture of sweet and sour flavor while the 'sauce' was more intensely sour. The sugary meringue was, as expected, (really) sweet. A good dessert was a pleasure in and of itself. However, at Ledoyen, they acted more as palate cleanser with some pleasant flavors ... at least for me

Lastly, the petit-fours (the finest part from the pastry kitchen):
Beer creme brulee: Sublime and really delicious! The buttery crust was superb; the caramelized cream was even better and not cloying. I ate about half of them
Chocolate truffles: Soft and pure chocolate flavor in cube forms. It's bitter in a good way and hardly any hint of milk. Cocoa lovers should like this a lot

The food was superb overall in particular I really love the langoustine tart with caviar although during our lunch, Yannick Alleno himself was not present. Most credit that day probably should go to the gifted chef de cuisine, Nicolas Le Tirrand. The kitchen team was capable of creating innovative, interesting, and intricate dishes that were also delicious. From our meal, I can say that Yannick's prime talent lies in redefining traditional cooking: examining and understanding the French culinary tradition and at the same time giving new interpretation by pushing its boundaries to a new level that's unique to his own style.  As his own boss and someone who's very passionate about food, the current situation at Ledoyen is ideal; it gives Chef Alleno (along with his proficient team) plenty of liberty to create and play with different produce to generate surprising arts on the plate. It seemed to be his goal as well - to bring back French cuisine to the fore front of world gastronomy. This was the kind of opportunity he hardly had when working at a huge palace hotel. For the dessert part, I had to admit that Camille Lesecq (Alleno's pastry chef at Le Meurice) was arguably better than Ledoyen's Damien Cassart, who used to work at Le Louis XV.

The service was generally attentive, friendly and not obtrusive. Water was consistently refilled, napkin was replaced whenever you left to the restroom and staffs tried to put guests at ease despite the rather formal ambiance. Like the chef patron, the restaurant director Frederic Pedrono was not supervising his team but it did not lower the Ledoyen's hospitality standard. Perhaps this happened because the restaurant was relatively quiet - only half full and most guests were local business people. The assistant's sommelier recommendation for my wine by the glasses was spot on. We drank no champagne and the staffs never pushed it either, professional! Last but not least, the main dining room's decor was less formal under Yannick Alleno but still graceful and looked opulent. The big tables covered with white linen were accompanied by comfortable willow green chairs. For the fans of the old style, Ledoyen still keeps the old paintings and stone carvings intact at the first level and around the stair case on the way to the upper level. During the lunch and on a sunny day, the natural light was very pleasant and guests could also enjoy the trees/garden from the quiet dining room as this temple of haute cuisine was hidden behind a museum. The whole dining experience was uniquely Parisian indeed and I was glad that my parents also liked it. For picture, please check this link: Ledoyen Mar '16

Just incase anybody is interested in the pictures of my meal with Chef Alleno at Le Meurice and see some differences: Le Meurice Sep '08  

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 95.5/100

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Geranium Rasmus Kofoed

In the past 5-7 years, the popularity of Nordic cuisine has skyrocketed to an unprecedented level especially thanks to Noma which has become the new El Bulli. Not only in Denmark, but also in most of Scandinavian regions; suddenly, they became the "hottest" destinations for foodies who are looking for new adventures. I'm more of an old-school person who usually goes to Western Europe countries, in particular France/Paris, for my dining destinations. However, for this trip, I accompanied my parents to places they would like to visit such as a couple of Eastern Europe places as well as Scandinavian countries. They're not a big fan of fine dining in which dinner often lasts more than 3 hours. However, I managed to persuade them to visit some top restaurants during this holiday. One of those places was Geranium that along with Maaemo was the only recipient of Michelin's highest honors in its 2016 Nordic guide. To avoid lukewarm guests, Geranium applied a ticketing system for the reservation. In this method, guests had to pay about 30% of the degustation menu price to have their bookings confirmed (after the meal, we would pay only the difference plus the beverages). It might not be pleasant but I thought it's fair since it would discourage people who're not willing to commit in advance.     

Geranium was established by Rasmus Kofoed and Søren Ledet (a former cook himself and the current head sommelier). Note that: both owners were not around during our meal. Chef Kofoed is famous mainly due to his impressive accomplishments in Bocuse d'Ors competition, the equivalent of Olympic for culinary talents. He's the only person who ever won all 3 different medals, including the elusive gold in 2011. Within 2 years of running Geranium at the current location, Rasmus managed to collect 2 Michelin star. He received the 3rd one four years later. With such remarkable backgrounds, preparing classical 'French-style' cuisine was probably never a problem for Rasmus. For his own beloved restaurant, he opted to prepare and cook contemporary Nordic cuisine whose emphasize was the use of local, seasonal & fresh ingredients particularly vegetables and fish/seafood. As far as the food was concerned, the delicious taste of the dishes was as essential as their aesthetic presentation in order to create unforgettable experiences for (all) our senses. There were plenty of playful and unusual variations, so please come with an open mind. Geranium only offered 1 kind of tasting menu consisted of 17 (relatively small) courses. Guests were encouraged to state their allergy and diet when confirming their reservations; these would be discussed one more time upon seated at the table. For the drinks, I decided to try the restaurant's unique juice pairing.   

The Geranium Spring Universe


Cep mushroom soup - A strong, focused in flavor and clean soup; it's delicious though it might be 'out of season' in the early Spring. The kitchen preserved this Autumn mushroom
Jerusalem Artichoke leaves served with Walnut oil and Rye vinegar - The artichoke chips were alright but the walnut mayo made the overall taste better; the rye provided mild acidity
Tomato water served with Ham fat and Aromatic herbs - A sophisticated dish with texture and flavor contrast. The 'water' had jelly-like texture; it was refreshing and balanced (between the taste of 'lard' and tomato)
Accompanied by juice: Sea Buckthorn (citrus and a bit sweet, like cranberry)

King Crab served with Milk & Juice from fermented Carrots and Sea Buckthorn - It was interesting. The plain crab was covered by tart flavors of the berry and carrot; generally, it's quite palatable
Charred Potato served in aroma from Bark and Sheep's butter - The appearance was fascinating. The "black" potato was smoky and pleasant outside but soft & refine on the inside. It went really well with the creamy & 'sweet' butter; the potato's taste would linger for some times ...
Accompanied by juice: Green Apple and Elder flower 

"Dillstone" horseradish served with Frozen juice from Dill and pickled cucumber - My favorite item from the appetizers selection. It had everything: playful presentation, smart interplay and some positive surprised elements. The 'stone' was actually a Trout (sashimi) covered by mildly sweet & aromatic dill. To enhance the experience, it's recommended to combine it with the sour granite as well as the horseradish sauce. Interesting and delicious at the same time
"Razor Clam" served with Sour cream and Parsley - Another witty presentation from the Geranium kitchen. The shell (painted with squid ink) was edible. Inside the shell was a mixture of razor clam, sour cream and (small amount of) parsley - it was surprisingly rich; more parsley to 'tone down' the flavors would be better for my taste
Accompanied by juice: Gooseberry, Tarragon and Sunflower seeds

Dishes ("Main Courses")

Oyster and Lumpfish roe plus Dried Oyster soup served with local smoked cheese - It was better than I expected. The fresh oyster was precisely cooked: creamy despite distinct sea flavor. The smoky cheese smartly covered this issue. Together, they made a tasty dish whereas the "red caviar" was rather smooth and not too salty. It's more fascinating than being delicious
Salted Hake served with Parsley stems and Finnish caviar in buttermilk - A magnificent dish! Arguably, the best thing I ate during this dinner. Everything was pretty much perfect. The Hake (before the sauce was poured) was meticulously cut into circular shape, simply beautiful! The succulent fish was not only looked good, but also tasted amazing. Everything (the buttermilk, caviar and even the scales) worked harmoniously - crunchy, creamy, not too salty etc. I could easily have another round of this dish - a masterpiece art by Rasmus Kofoed
Accompanied by juice: Elderberries and Apple

Old grains and Gluten free bread served warm with Crispy grains and Seeds - There was also butter with sorrel. The portions were small and delivered as part of the middle-course. My favorite was the one with with crispy grain (emmer & spelt) - moist and delightful. I ate 3-4 breads in total; oh the butter was very good too - flavorful and light
Quail egg and Melted Pork fat served with Leeks, Salted Ramson and Melted "Vesterhavs" cheese - The most distinguished flavors were the lards and the cheese. There were plenty of local veggies while some flowers tasted like garlic. Detailed preparations and decent
Scallop served with Söl (Icelandic seaweed) and Sour Berries - Another stunning dish! The plump Norwegian scallop's quality was superb and it was also flawlessly cooked resulting in a truly delicious morsel. The sol brought an 'extra' dimension to the dish while the berry sauce nicely balanced the sweet & juicy scallop. Bravo!
Accompanied by juice: Black Currant and Juniper

Grilled Duck hearts served with Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunflower seeds and Truffle - The rustic & relatively modest duck heart was actually tender and quite meaty without any trace of strong offal characteristic. It's not bad ... The clear 'soup' (made of duck's feet jus) was richer than I initially thought while the rests gave some crunchy textures in contrast to the grilled heart
Pork served with Pear and Pickled pine - Additionally, to enrich the experience, there were cucumber, garlic confit and lemon thyme. The pork neck was executed perfectly; its meat was indeed tender but not too flavorful. The sauce would improve the pork's flavor and it's made of the pork jus + pine. The poached pear was a good element to tone down any strong flavor. It was satisfying and I liked it more than the grilled heart from the previous dish  
Accompanied by juice: Cloud berry and Pine

Desserts and Sweets

Ice Cream made from Beeswax, Pollen and Honey with cloud berries - It was sweet and creamy. To fully experience it (to taste some acidic flavor), you should dig the berries at the bottom
Dried Apples served with Elderberries, Beetroot, Apple cider and Sheep's yogurt - It was pretty with minimal sweetness (from the white chocolate cream) - pleasant
"Naked Tree" served with Dark beer, Prune and Smoked Beech wood cream - Another artistic presentation - a reflection of its surrounding nature. The cream was rather sweet while the beer ice cream had some bitter flavor - working along well together. Overall, it's a fine dessert
Accompanied by juice: Prune and Pilsner malt

Sweets: Caramel served with Aromatic seeds and Rose hip tea; Cake with Pumpkin seed oil; Chocolate with Oats and Sea buckthorn; Green egg with Pine

For a fine dining establishment, Geranium's location is indeed unusual. It is situated on the 8th floor of a building that's part of a football stadium. However, the restaurant is beautifully designed featuring Danish characteristics such as: minimalist decor, modern furniture made from local wood, and plenty of white & neutral colors. There are lots of windows through which guests could see natural greenery. The view should be much better during lunch; I imagine we could also enjoy the forest and blue sky in a sunny day. Geranium applied an open kitchen concept (though I observed most of the cooking done behind it; they're more like stations for final plating) where diners could see many chefs in action live! It seemed to be a policy of the chef-patron Rasmus Kofoed that 2-3 chefs had to visit each table to present and explain some dishes to their guests. A nice gesture that elevated the unique experience at Geranium. The service was efficient, courteous and rather relaxed; our main 'assigned waitress' delivered the finest hospitality despite having worked at this restaurants only for a few weeks. By the way, she's French. Any questions were welcomed and she did everything she could to properly answer any of our inquiries. The rests of the dining room staffs did decent jobs as well but not as refined as her.  

Overall, it was a wonderful meal and unforgettable experience. I might be blown away by at most 1/4 of the presented dishes, however, in the bigger picture I could see the passion of the Chef Kofoed and his team to always try to create something different including breaking boundaries to reach to the next level, the way skilled artist's aim for his/her next masterpiece. Anybody who wants to have a superb Nordic cuisine meal, Geranium is certainly among the top place that will be able to deliver such fabulous experience. Picture of the dishes: Geranium Mar '16

Food: 95 pts

Service: 94 pts

Overall: 94.5/100