Sunday, July 31, 2016

Restaurant Frantzén Stockholm

If any of you have had any meals at restaurants bearing 2-star Michelin or more, except for the case of Japan, it's almost certain that the dining room would be quite large and rather opulent. I did not do thorough research about Frantzén that as my parents and I entered the restaurant, I found the dining room to be unexpectedly small (in particular, size-wise when compared to Geranium, in which we had dinner at on the previous night): including the kitchen, the total area was probably no more than 60 m2 while its capacity could cover approximately 20 diners. However given its reputation plus a word of 'encouragement' from our taxi driver that this place at Gamla stan had been the best restaurant in Stockholm, I approached this meal with confidence. Since there were 3 of us, we were seated at the dining table - the chairs were just nice and the round table was covered by crisp white linens, the usual standard of an elite restaurant. In addition to a few tables, there was a counter seated 6-7 guests directly facing the (open) kitchen where one could see chefs prepared the dishes live. Chef Björn Frantzén believes that there should be no or very minimal borders between the dining room and the kitchen. Thus, consistent to the philosophy, in Frantzen, all staffs (chefs, waiters and sommeliers) would wear the same uniforms. Some chefs would also serve and explain certain dishes to diners including doing the a la minute plating. This way, chef Frantzen and his team were able to directly monitor the progress of every group and cook the dishes accordingly at the right pace. 

Restaurant Frantzén offered one degustation menu only, so guests are not only welcome but also encouraged to share their dietary concerns when making the reservation; these would be re-confirmed before the meal started. There were options to pair the food with wine selection or juices. I chose neither and opted to drink 2 glasses of wine: a glass of fresh and crisp Sauvignon blanc from Loire valley as well as a glass of relatively young red Burgundy of Domaine de la Grand' cour. My father selected the juice pairing which the matching I thought was not as good as the one I had at Geranium. As far as the food's concerned, we had an exquisite meal taking place during the last day of the week, prior to the long Passover weekend break - in short, we're quite lucky secure the reservation. It was a full house affair; advance reservation is a must to have a meal here. Our tasting menu were ...

Deep fried potatoes served with sour cream and fish roes - A very good opening that highlighted texture contrasts. It combined crunchy and earthy fried potato with light cream and salty 'tobiko' 
Chawanmushi: Cauliflower, king crab and truffle - The egg custard was warm, tasty & silky. The sweet Norwegian crab added a new dimension, moreover, this dish was enhanced by an effective use of pungent black truffle. Nice! 
Seared live Scallop in "dashi" with finger lime and spruce tips - The Norwegian scallop, seared on one side only, was superb and perfectly cooked. It was pure, naturally tasty and sweet; accompanied by pine olive, aromatic spruce and sweet powder. Excellent! After that, we were given a small bowl of Japanese dashi: it's refreshing and made of the usual authentic ingredients such as seaweed, kelp etc. My parents really liked this dish

Deep fried Langoustine with dried rice and clarified butter mayonnaise - Another excellent food. The langoustine tail, sourced from West of Norway, was deep fried for a short time. This way, the big prawn still maintained its pleasant texture and allowed its delicious flavor to shine. Instead of regular sushi rice, Chef Frantzen used dried rice to make it 'crispier'. Since the langoustine was already flavorful, I believe it's best to apply only a small amount of butter mayo (flavored with a mixture of lemon and dried herbs) ... Unless you love this 'sauce' very much 
Oscietra Caviar "gold" with fermented yellow split peas, rendered bacon & smetana - The 'golden' caviar was from China but the quality was not inferior at all. I quite enjoyed this course though I found the fresh cream/smetana, bacon and peas were somewhat too rich and intense that they slightly dominated the caviar

Cod served with sprouted walnut, champignon de paris and whipped vin jaune - A fresh and refined piece of fish; the caramelized Cod loin was soft, light and clean in the palate. The sauce (made of fermented mushrooms, Jura wine and butter) complemented the sea creature nicely. The earthy champignon provided a contrast of the earth vs the sea. My father's favorite item of the night 
French toast "grande tradition" with black truffle and 100 year-old vinegar - It was ethereal ... A feast of all senses. The Umbria black truffles, served generously, gave the right amount of pungent smells as well as distinct flavor. Underneath the black diamonds was a french toast with onion, parmesan cream and a little bit of strong vinegar from Modena. I finished it in 2 bytes and also consumed another half of my mother's. One of my best dishes during this dinner 
Onion soup served with almonds and liquorice cream - A soft and creamy soup displaying several layers of goodness; delicious indeed and perhaps looked underrated   

Satio tempestas (homage Lars feddeck and Jan anderson) - A signature dish of Frantzen and probably the only one that appears all year long but the content was very seasonal (changes weekly or sometimes even daily) supplied by the local forest and the restaurant's two gardens. This time, there were 46 ingredients and some of them: Deep fried artichokes, red beet, poached pumpkin, orange/yellow carrot, pickled apple, roasted onion, raw nasturtium, pickled dill etc. For the 'dressings', I could taste a combination for fresh cream and herbs sauce. These things created magnificent interplay of color, textures, flavor and temperatures. As its name suggest, it was a dish that brought satisfaction in our palates based on seasonal vegetables served. Every byte was different and it's tasty
Grilled bread - An iconic bread of the restaurant, made from 14-year old sourdough. The bread was good, but even better was to pair it together with the smoked brown butter emulsion - stunning! The best bread during our Euro trip this year and I nearly consumed half of it. Had Frantzén served it at the beginning, I would've overeaten this bread and possibly less enjoyed the tasting menu

Duck with caramelized lemon, liver, cinnamon and dates - A well executed duck (from Loire valley); the meat was quite delicate and tasty. The liver was creamy and rich. The lemon, cinnamon and dates balance the flavorful duck. A decent one ...
Swedish beef served with fermented pumpkin, rowan berry capers and carrot "hot sauce" - This second meat dish was even better. The 5-year old local beef was perfectly cooked in medium rare resulting in a tender, juicy and scrumptious piece of meat. The sauce gave some interesting variation but not very critical to the overall enjoyment as the beef was simply delicious! 

Smoked ice cream with roasted nuts, tar syrup and salted fudge with cloves - This dessert was quite good except it was a bit too sweet/rich to my liking (especially the toffee 'sauce'). Ice cream + chocolate with something crunchy & sweet after any main course were usually enjoyable
Frozen yuzu with mandarin 'confit', green tea meringue and sea buckthorn oil - Beautiful presentation. Inside was a soft sponge cake in contrast to the crisp 'white pikes' outside. It's good to finally have a refreshing and more acidic stuff to bring down the previous dish's sweetness
Bento box with "fika" - Lots of sweets. I settled with: bitter chocolate with berry ganache, toffee with hazelnut (gold), ginger marmalade, almond chocolate, goat cheese fudge and buckwheat canele. It should be nice to savor these with a cup of (strong) coffee. There were also freshly baked sugar coated madeleines; they were warm, well executed and good

The hospitality at Restaurant Frantzén was impeccable. Staffs took pride in what they're doing and they all seemed to be happy serving the customers. As they were dressed in the same way, you're welcome to talk to everyone and they generally were very knowledgeable and professional. Our main lady maitre d' could not be friendlier and more helpful during the whole evening. She's unpretentious and able to address all of our questions and concerns as well as adapted her style to make sure we're very comfortable and had a great time. She said it's normal these days to have guests visiting Frantzen from around the globe and the establishment took enormous pride for it. That's why it was extremely important that every guest would be satisfied at the end of the meal. I wish I had remember her name to give some recognition of great service rendered.

Frantzén team delivered the most immaculate service among the top restaurants we visited during our Euro trip this year. Besides the service, ultimately, the main star had to be the food. Björn Frantzén masterfully served us an array of delicious dishes one after another. He 'easily' blended French technique with Japanese influence and used fresh & high quality ingredients, mainly sourced locally and from Scandinavia area. Freshness was not merely a cheap talk here; Chef Frantzén's open kitchen concept made it possible to prepare & cook everything closely to his guests. Therefore, the short distance and time from the chefs' hands to the guests' mouth would make the dishes be consumed optimally. It was common to observe some life seafood to be slaughtered on the spot. Another aspect of Frantzen's expertise was flavor combinations. Sometimes, the ingredients mentioned in the description might not be immediately obvious because they often generated subtle taste or gave some depth to the main ingredients' flavor. Given the head chef's adventurous nature and intelligence, it's unlikely that diners would be bored to have a meal here even for a repeated visit. I don't know when, but I really hope this will not be my only meal at Frantzén. Next time, I can expect to enjoy the tasting menu at a much better and comfortable dining room. Here are the picture of the dishes: Frantzen Mar '16

Food: 96 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 96/100

Saturday, July 9, 2016

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 5th visit

L'Ambroisie is certainly one of the finest restaurants in the world, yet at the same time it's possibly one of the least publicized fine dining places - thanks to Bernard Pacaud's rather shy personality; he loves staying in the kitchen all the time and could not care less about any media attention. For Chef Pacaud to show up at his own dining room and greet guests, it would be a rare occasion. He would rather observe the situation from a distance. However, for true foodies who're fond of French cuisine, L'Ambroisie is a must-visit place. My meal at this Parisian institution last March almost failed to materialize when I learned that L'Ambroisie had undergone some renovation since early February and they could not confirm when it would be completed. They just told my hotel concierge to contact them again in early March. Since we only had 3 days in the city of light, our chance initially was quite slim. I didn't mind not going there, but I really wanted my parents to finally experience a meal at this legendary gastronomic temple. At the end, we were fortunate that the restaurant just re-opened in the same week we're in Paris. The only downside, there was a slight paint's smell but the rest of the diners did not seem to be bothered by it.

After several visits, it's an unwritten rule that "regulars" would be seated in the 2nd dining room (the room was bigger than the front one). This time they placed us there again, right in the center with a surprisingly big & comfortable dining table by L'Ambroisie's standard. As I perused the menu, the staff served us high quality of Alsace's specialty - Kougelhoph with onion & olive while my mother enjoyed her Billecart-salmon brut rose. We were in the 'transition' time; I was told that this was the last week of black truffle (not much Perigord truffle left) but the aspragus and morel were not in season yet. In addition, I expected to see Bresse chicken with black truffle butter but they only had a supreme chicken in "demi-deuil" which Monsieur Pascal, the restaurant director, somehow did not recommend me to order it. As I happened to have eaten about half of the dishes on the menu, I decided to try as many new dishes as possible this time.    

Amuse-bouche: Velouté de butternut, Royale de foie gras (Soup of butternut squash served with duck liver and black truffle) - A creamy and velvety layered of butternut soup enriched by buttery & fatty foie gras; the black truffle intensified the overall flavor of this rich dish - a typical 'rather heavy' winter dish nevertheless very good


Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (Large langoustine, sandwiched in between sesame wafers, served with spinach and curry sauce) - Both of my parents had this as their appetizers and they loved it.
I ate this signature dish of L'Ambroisie during my first visit 9-10 years ago, so it's been a while. I got a couple of bytes from my mother and it was still amazing. The Dublin bay prawn was tender, sweet with excellent texture. The curry sauce was refined and delicate yet really smooth, complemented the langoustine perfectly. The spinach as well as crisp tuiles were nice additional elements

Huitres "spéciales" chaudes au caviar, sabayon au cresson (Cooked warm oysters served with caviar and watercress sabayon) - The poached oyster was plump, tender and still maintained its natural flavor. It was enhanced by rather strong watercress 'sauce' and plenty of salty & luxurious caviar. These three ingredients ideally complimented each other. Another awesome dish but given how much I ate that night, 4 pieces of this appetizer should be more suitable for me

Etuvée de noix de Saint-Jacques en parisienne de légumes à la truffe fraîche ("Smothered" Scallops served with Paris vegetables and fresh black truffle) - My 2nd appetizer. The thick and high quality scallops were barely heated, thus they retained their sweet & delicious taste and the pleasant texture. The silky sea creatures was contrasted and/or combined with grainy and earthy veloute consisting of leeks and potatoes (I ate similar dish before but served with sabayon veloute).
I truly enjoyed the concentrated Perigord truffle's fragrance and flavor here - from the shaved raw truffle and its heated form in the veloute. Each byte of scallop, vegetable 'soup' and truffle was a joy since their ethereal flavors would linger in my palate

Main courses:

Noix de ris de veau à la “financière”, ravioles de ricotta à la sauge (Braised veal sweetbread served with ricotta ravioli and sage) - The "financiere" sauce was a mixture of Madeira wine, tomato, onion, olive and ginger. I was a bit pessimist with its presentation and taste at first, but the doubt was quickly gone after my first byte. It was really delicious; succulent sweetbread mixed with flavorful sauce that's rich but not heavy. A small bowl of ricotta ravioli (creamy and mild cheese) balanced the overall taste. I hardly ordered ris de veau, but I was glad I followed Pascal's recommendation (the maitre d'hotel). I struggled a bit to finish up the last 10-15% of the dish because of what I ate earlier. However, I managed to clean up the plate eventually but the last few bytes had 'diminishing' enjoyment given how large the portion of this dish. 

Dos de sole braisé au vin jaune, effeuillée de choux de Bruxelles et truffe fraîche (The back part of a Sole braised in yellow wine sauce and served with Brussels sprouts & black truffle) - It was my father's main course.
He shared a bit of this Sole filet with me. The meat was thick and juicy with fantastic wine sauce; the sprout was also tasty. The pungent black truffle was 'useful' as I consumed the fish but not quite in harmony with the sole itself when I chewed them together. Probably, if somehow the sauce had a little cooked truffle in it, the transition would've been smoother. My dad had no issue eating the fish with the divine sauce as well as the sprout but didn't finish the truffle (he generally was not a fan of western luxurious ingredients such as caviar and truffle) and the sole flan

Fricassée de homard sauce civet, purée de pois Saint-Germain (Lobster fricassee in stew sauce served with Saint-Germain-style mashed peas) - It was my mother's main course.
I ate this dish before and had plenty of calf sweetbread on my plate, so I didn't try it this time. She told me it was delicious, a bit firm and sweet but she didn't really enjoy the peas or at least did not finish them. It was the most popular dish of the night, I observed no fewer than 5 of these dishes served to L'Ambroisie's diners


Tarte fine sablée au chocolat, crème glacée à la vanille bourbon (Chocolate 'crumble' tart served with bourbon vanilla ice cream) - My parents shared this legendary dessert and the restaurant gave me a half portion as well. The most frequent dish I ate at this restaurant and it's consistently fantastic. The tart was astonishingly light/airy with rich & intense chocolate flavor; it was in harmony with the immaculate vanilla ice cream. My parents liked it a lot

Arlettes caramélisées, crème de citron foisonnée et cristallines d'agrumes (Caramelized crispy "puff-pastry" served with lemon cream and crystallized citrus) - This dessert displayed some contrast in textures (dry fruit, smooth cream and crisp arlette) and in flavors (bitter, sour and a bit sweet). It was not my best dessert here, but I selected it anyway as it's the only one from the menu that I have not tried before

Assortiment de desserts et pâtisseries: Small desserts and pastries. I enjoyed all of them: canele, fruit tart and dark chocolate

After the renovation, not much has changed. The dining room was still elegant and luxurious in traditional design. The baroque chandeliers as well as opulent tapestries were still there including the feeling of visiting an old friend's luxurious private home. The cozy home part was even more real as I've been here more often in which staffs became more familiar with me. It was possible because L'Ambroisie's front of the house team hardly changed in the past 5-6 years: maitre d' Pascal, the sommelier Joseph, staff Laurent and a few others with whom I had some interactions were still with the restaurant. Even, madame Daniele Pacaud stopped by in our table for 5-10 minutes to have some talk with me - an unprecedented event, in the past we just exchanged some smiles and bonjour/mercy. Referring to my first visit where the service was rather rigid and formal, I've never imagined I would one day love the service here almost as much as its food. After 10 PM, the renowned Bernard Pacaud showed up and hanged around near the entrance in his light-colored sweater. He would only talk to his old friends or response to some guests who recognized him as the chef-owner. Thanks to Mathieu Pacaud now running full time as the chef-patron of Hexagone + Histoires, Bernard was back to lead L'Ambroisie again. In fact, I'm confident that in all my visits here, Chef Pacaud senior was always in the kitchen.

Although it might not rank as the best meal I've ever had here, the standard was nevertheless very high (a convincing 3-star level in my notes since the food scored was 97 points or better). The ingredients were, as always, luxurious and of high quality, the execution was flawless and very difficult to improve upon, and the variation of produce used on the plate was nearly perfect. Dishes were simple and excellent but almost impossible to imitate. Similar to my last visit, during dinner the restaurant was fully booked and busy. Despite that, the service was impeccable and discreet with great attention to details. Monsieur Pascal, in particular, was very aware of the situation; he anticipated the guests' needs, acted fast yet calm. The dishes that I really wanted to eat here, I already fulfilled most of them in the past. I may not have any urgent needs to come here again in the future. However, I probably do come here again simply because I feel comfortable at this fine French establishment in the same way I love L'Arpege. Lastly, who knows how much longer Bernard Pacaud would keep on working. It would be a privilege if Chef Pacaud would continue his passion until Paul Bocuse's age. For the dishes' pictures, please visit this link: L'Ambroisie Mar '16

Food: 97 pts

Service: 96 pts

Overall: 96.5/100