Monday, June 26, 2017

Aqua Sven Elverfeld

The city of Wolfsburg in Germany is almost identical with Volkswagen; after all more than half of its residents working for the company. There are VW factory and a theme park featuring museums, various pavilions of VW car brands such as Audi, Porsche etc. as well as car towers. However, what brought me to this Autostadt (car city) was a 3-star Michelin restaurant named Aqua, located on the ground floor of the Ritz Carlton hotel. Aqua has always been the 'product' of is current executive chef, the talented Sven Elverfeld. He came and opened the restaurant in 2000 and within 8 years, Chef Elverfeld managed to achieve Michelin highest accolade and Aqua became the first 3-star dining place in the Northern Germany region. Prior to Aqua, Sven Elverfeld has been working in numerous countries abroad. With such vast experience and curious approach, Sven developed his distinctive cooking style, that later with a few other chefs, known as the New German school / cuisine. He successfully integrated French + German technique and used mainly local ingredients to re-interpret traditional food and create contemporary dishes with cutting edge flavors. What were they like? I ordered the following degustation menu consisted of 8 courses. In addition to these, there were a few snacks at the beginning and extra sweets after the dessert (not written here; please refer to the photos link below)

Grand Journey menu

Gänseleber & Trauben Ziegenfrischkäse, Walnuss & Eis "Müller-Thurgau Hasennest" (Foie gras & grapes served with Goat cream cheese, walnut and ice cream) - The chilled duck liver was very velvety and luscious without being cloying. The tartness of the grapes offset the richness of the foie gras while the ice cream and cheese also balanced the creamy liver. The crunchy walnut provided some texture contrast to the soft foie gras. Hands down, the best foie gras I ate during this Euro trip and arguably one of the finest duck liver dish I've ever had

Forelle aus der Lüneburger Heide Neubokeler Spargel, Schinken-Velouté, Erbsen and Rhabarber (Trout from Luneburg Heath served with Asparagus from Neubokel, ham veloute, peas and rhubarb) - This freshwater fish was carefully cooked, resulting in a delicate texture and mild taste (somewhat nearly bland). The "stronger" flavors were derived from the salty ham & Trout 'caviar', sweet & starchy peas, and earthy asparagus - the vegetables reminded us that we're in the Spring season. A creative dish to elevate the Trout ..

Atlantik Rochen & Calamaretti Sauce Rouille, Puntarelle (Atlantic Ray and Calamaretti served with Sauce Rouille and puntarelle) - This fish was crisp and firm; the squids were chewy. The squid ink was a bit salty but not overpowering and worked relatively well with the garlicky Rouille sauce having saffron flavor and color which I liked a lot. The green puntarelle generated slight bitter flavor. A dish with interesting color and flavor variations 

Bretonische Seezunge  Pistazien-Haselnussbutter, Schwarzwurzel & schwarzer Sesam (Brittany Sole served with Pistachio-hazelnut butter, salsify and black sesame) - The Sole, whose texture was in between delicate and firm here, was of high quality and delicious due to the rather intense "green butter" sauce. The salsify, having faintly 'oystery flavor' nicely supported the fish flavor in this dish. Black sesame's role to the overall taste was minimal - my favorite fish for this dinner

Gesottene Lammzunge & Lammbries "Bolognese" Fregola, Pancetta & Radicchio (Boiled Lamb tongue and lamb Sweetbread "Bolognese" served with Fregola, pancetta and radicchio) - The presentation was gorgeous, wasn't it? The tongue was boiled to soften its texture and rich taste. Hidden inside the tongue was the tasty lamb ragu, pasta and Italian bacon. There wasn't any foul lamb odor, even the swetbread was tender and moist inside. Again, the kitchen did a magnificent job in interpreting the 'bolognese' flavor - better than I initially expected 

Rehrücken aus der Altmark Spitzkohl, Wildsalami, Senf, Holunder-Kapern & Beeren (Saddle of Venison from Altmark region served with Cabbage, game salami, mustard, elderberry-capers and berries) - Germany apparently has 'longer' hunting season than France and people could still savor wild Venison in May. The venison, slowly cooked at low temperature, was awesome: succulent, delicious and smooth with hardly any hint of musky / pungent flavor. The cabbage, berries and other side dishes worked reasonably well in enhancing the meat though for me, this red deer with its jus was sufficient to make me happy 

Rohmilchkäse vom Wagen (Cheese selection from our trolley with bread on the side) - The cheese at Aqua was solid though the variety not as impressive as the one I usually see in France. The comte was 'only' 24 months nevertheless I was pleased with what I chose - good quality. I picked (forgot the exact name) cheese from Swiss and Spain, goat cheese from Pyrenees and French cheese with herbs

Johannisbeeren mit Fenchelpollen & Burrata Sud vom Johannisbeerholz & Kartoffel (Currants with fennel pollen and Burrata served with Stock from currants wood and potato) - There were plenty of things here without any particular dominant ingredients. Yet, the pastry team work their magic to create a dessert that combined different flavors: sour currant, licorice + buttery sweet fennel pollen, and soft and delicate burrata. Additionally, it had a hint of woody and earthy taste. While it might not be mind blowing, it's still a good dessert - pleasant in my mouth 

Aqua only serves 5 dinner per week for the fortunate approximately 30 people each night. Hence, no wonder, Sven Elverfeld and his team were more than capable of regularly providing an array of high quality, beautiful and detailed dishes; Sven would optimize his ingredients to produce maximum flavors and texture variations. I am very pleased with dinner meal. The only feedback would probably be: there were too many fish dishes albeit from different water and kinds. I declined the full 10-course tasting menu because the additional items would be Mackerel (another fish) & 'merely' sorbet as a palate cleanser.

The dining room was quite huge and with minimalist design. Nearly every table has each own small cupboard nearby containing cutleries; this definitely made the staffs' work more efficiently. The table was big and widely spaced with each other; diners had to speak loud enough to be heard by guests at the other tables. I was seated at the far end of the entrance with pretty landscape can be seen from the full windows featuring outdated factory spaces, water from the artificial lake and the green lawn. The "simple" dining room design allowed diners to focus on the Chef Elverfeld's avant-garde cuisine.    

The hospitality was warmed, fluid and professional led by Jimmy Ledemazel whereas the specific waiting staff for my table was a friendly young German gentleman who spoke fluent English. Despite his youth, he was confident, never late to top up my glass and always around whenever I needed something. The kitchen ensured the dishes, prepared with care and attention, to arrive at steady pace. There's hardly any dull moment waiting. Delicious food and modern cuisine, relaxing and prompt service, spacious and immaculate dining room - Aqua possesses all the important factors to be among the best restaurant in Germany, or even in Europe. The special journey I took to Wolfsburg was indeed worth it. Picture of the dishes: Aqua May '17

Food: 96 pts

Service: 95 pts

Overall: 96/100

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Taillevent Alain Soliveres

Taillevent is a Paris icon and one of the most important landmarks in the history of French haute cuisine. The restaurant was found by Andre Vrinat in 1946 and named after the nickname of a legendary chef from the 14th century called Guillaume Tirel. Taillevent was identical with 3-star michelin especially when Claude Deligne was leading the kitchen while Jean-Claude Vrinat (Andre's son) was often perceived as the finest maitre d'hotel in France, if not the whole Europe. However, things changed fast when in 2007, Taillevent lost its third star and Mr. Vrinat passed away in early 2008 due to lung cancer. In spite of these challenges, Taillevent has been doing relatively well. Under Alain Soliveres (the current chef de cuisine since 2002), it comfortably keeps the 2-star status though everyone here certainly works very hard to reclaim Michelin's highest honor. After more than a decade of indulging and appreciating various gastronomy food around the world (mainly in Europe and Asia), I eventually decided to visit this famous dining institution last month. As I was looking at the menu, the staffs brought in a small plate of Gougeres (Comte cheese-flavored choux pastry). It was a very good nibble, served warmed with light choux and containing pleasant cheese flavor. In less than 10 minutes, I made up my mind and ordered the seasonal tasting menu - it was supposed to be the last week of Morel mushrooms.

Menu Asperges & Morilles

Crispy Langoustine with sweet and sour sauce - The amuse-bouche at Taillevent displayed some Asian influence. It was a tasty Dublin bay prawn with delicate & sweet 'meat'. The sauce, having a hint of spiciness, was fine

Asperges Vertes d'Anjou, Gelée de Verjus et Caviar Osciètre (Green Asparagus from Anjou, served with Verjus jelly and Oscietra Caviar) - The asparagus was crisp yet tender; it's delectable without any bitter flavor. The acidic verjus jelly (acted like a refined vinegar 'sauce') and briny caviar enhanced the overall flavor of the dish. The kitchen truly thoughtfully prepared all elements here and the presentation was exquisite

Accompanied by wine: 2014 Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Blanc Fumé de Pouilly - a dry white wine from Loire Valley. It was fresh, medium-bodied with distinctive smell and a bit complex texture-wise. A good pairing with my vegetable dishes

Asperges Blanches Angevines aux Saveurs Printanières (White Asparagus from Angevine farm, served in Spring seasonal flavors) - The cooked white asparagus was a bit mild and slightly sweet; texture-wise, it was delicate (thus, I like using a meat knife to cut through and eat it). The overall flavor of this dish was intensified by watercress 'sauce', parmesan and some seasonal vegetables

Homard Bleu Sauté a Cru, Morilles Blondes et Coquillages (Blue Lobster in "browned" jus served with yellow Morel mushrooms and Shellfishes) - The lobster and morels were carefully executed resulting in delicious dish. I really liked the meaty and tender lobster's claw. The shellfishes were alright while the mushrooms were 'nutty', meaty and tasty. The sauce, mainly derived from the lobster jus, was stronger than I expected but balanced by fresh herbs juice on the side; very satisfying

Accompanied by wine: 2008 Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly Fume - more complex than the one I drank above, but balanced & buttery. It's full bodied, dry, mineral with acidity

Turbot Sauvage en Tronçon, Asperges Vertes et Morilles Blondes Asperges Vertes et Morilles Blondes à Peine Crèmes (Wild Turbot cooked on the bone served with Green Asparagus and Yellow Morels in a slice of 'cream') - The turbot was perfectly cooked and simply marvelous. Keeping the 'middle' bone and the fat added unique & delicious flavor to the already wonderful fish. The delectable sauce was made of white wine + the fish bone. The morels and asparagus were good but "the king of fish" here just outshone all other ingredients. My favorite dish from the tasting menu!

Faisselle aux Fruits Exotiques, Parfait a la Passion et Citron Vert (Kind of 'strained' Fresh cheese and Exotic fruits served with Passion fruit mousse and caviar Lime) - This dessert has everything and it's a good option especially for the Spring season. Sweet. sour, & fresh flavors; creamy & crisp texture. For maximum enjoyment, consumed a few things together and I had no problem to wipe clean this dessert in a very short time

Petit four - It's often an after-thought as served towards the end, but I had to admit the pastry team took them seriously. Canele, chou cream, mango tart and the chocolate were delicious. They're accompanied by the complimentary Cognac petite champagne from the house. A nice way to end a very good meal

The wine list was very extensive and somewhat daunting, but a few of them was reasonably priced. If you're bored or wine lover, flipping trough the Taillevent's 'carte du vin' was an enjoyable activity by itself. The restaurant's building was apparently a former private mansion of the Duc de Morny. It had a classy entrance. The interior design of the dining room was elegant yet discreet and the ambiance was both restrained and comforting. I was seated at the Lamennais dining room with wooden panels, lush carpets and modern artworks; the natural light was minimal here. Taillevent's 2 main dining rooms were relatively big (they could comfortably accommodate 60+ people). However, since it's pretty quiet during my lunch time, I was seated in the sofa booth that normally would be used for 4 diners. The service, led by Jean-Marie Ancher (a former right hand man of Mr. Vrinat), was polished and smooth in the old school fashion way. Napkins were replaced whenever you left your table and water was constantly refilled. All the front staffs delivering the hospitality were gentlemen. They're competent, respectful and helpful but don't expect to have much engaging conversation. The clientele was diverse; in my dining room, more than half of them did not speak French. Similar to other Parisian top restaurants, wearing a tie was no longer mandatory and a jacket was only encouraged during lunch but required for dinner. Overall, it was a very good meal in many aspects and I wish Taillevent's team all the best in the pursue of regaining the 3rd "macaron". I think they have a chance ... Here are the dishes' photos: Taillevent May '17  

Food: 94 pts

Service: 94 pts

Overall: 94/100