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

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