Friday, January 19, 2018

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 6th and 7th visit

In the past several years, a visit to Paris usually would include having a meal at L'Ambroisie for me. 2017 was special because somehow I had opportunities to go to Europe more than once and I went to this Paris' longest running three-star restaurant (since 1988) twice! The first one was in the middle of Spring, followed by another visit in early Fall. I think it's official that L'Ambroisie has become my favorite restaurant in Europe, usurping L'Arpege. Prior to 2017, my last two visits here were dinner where the restaurant was full house and busy. Nowadays, whenever possible, I prefer to go for lunch in which the restaurant was quieter and hence I could have better interaction with the staffs. A visit to this temple of haute cuisine was generally predictable but not boring. It was a timeless institution in many aspects such as the (traditional) food served by Bernard Pacaud and his team would be flawless, authentic and pure. The interior of the dining room inside the 17th century townhouse has always been elegant and palace-like. Lastly, the service was friendly and impeccable ... this part actually changed a bit; the staffs were more relaxed and less old-fashioned. They have adapted to the needs of more and more 'casual' foreigners dining at L'Ambroisie.

Spring lunch in May '17

My meal began with kugelhopf which was flavored by paprika and comte cheese - very good. It was warm, fragrant, tasty, kind of crunchy outside and soft in the middle. There were also traditional baguette and brown bread served with high quality butter.

Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce curry (Langoustine tail, covered by thin & crispy sesame tuile, served with spinach and curry sauce) - The restaurant kindly served the small portion of its signature dish as my amuse-bouche. It was as terrific as I could remember eating it for the first time. The plump and sweet langoustine was "partially cooked" (mi-cuit). It was accompanied / contrasted by the bitter and vegetal flavor of the spinach as well as the creamy and somewhat acidic curry sauce. All ingredients worked together in harmony (no produce was overly dominant) - balance of flavors and textures. 'Simple' and delicious!

Chaud-froid d'oeuf mollet au cresson, asperges vertes et caviar golden ("Hot-cold" soft boiled egg coated with watercress and served with green asparagus and golden caviar) - The egg was meticulously cooked where the yolk was perfect (creamy and delicious). The fresh watercress beautifully covered the egg and the green sabayon was mild & distinct. The in-season asparagus delivered pleasant sweetness to accompany the egg. Above all, the refined and pure golden caviar from China tied things together and at the same time elevated the dish's flavors + overall experience. The caviar, generously served, was perfectly round, shiny, delicate, and creamy with the right saltiness. It's not just any random egg dish, but an outstanding one.

Escalopines de bar à l'émincé d'artichaut, nage réduite au caviar golden ("Thinly" sliced Sea bass served with minced artichoke hearts on a bed of 'swimming' caviar sauce) - It was a half-portion and the 2nd time I ate this glorious dish (I hardly ordered an a la carte dish to be repeated anywhere).
The Escalopes de bar was gently cooked until pearlescent; the flesh was glistening and the fish kept its oils generating moist, buttery and flavorful taste. The texture was still flaky while the skin gave some texture contrast. Below the Sea bass, there were the firm & 'crunchy' artichokes, having a bit mixture of sweet and acidic flavors in them - worked in harmony with the fish. Ultimately, the traditional white butter sauce (with fish reduction) below 'seasoned' with the umami golden caviar brought this dish altogether into perfection. The caviar was critical in that they lubricated the produce above them and offered polished and slippery / briny feel in the mouth.
Similar to the earlier appetizer, the caviar was not just an expensive garnish to elevate the dish's price instead it's an integral part with culinary purpose to lift the dish overall experience. Another heavenly dish and very likely to be the best Sea bass dish I've ever had.

Accompanied by: 2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (A mature & refreshing champagne with smoky aroma, creamy texture and deep on the palate - a bit of almond and spice flavors)

Côte de veau glacée au jus, fricassée d'asperges vertes et morilles (Milk-fed Veal fillet glazed by its jus and served with green asparagus fricassee, garlics and morels) - Normally, this dish was for 2 people but Mr. Pascal kindly allowed to have it for one person. The pink fillet meat was uniformly tender, moist and flavorful; it was coated by its thin layer of tasty fat. The jus was savory and intense.
The green asparagus had good taste and texture while the cooked garlic was more essential than expected - it was delicate, a bit sweet with pleasant nutty flavor to balance the veal and its jus. Then, there were numerous in-seasoned and fresh morel mushrooms with incredible flavors (woody, succulent and rather rich). Even after I finished up all the veal, I still had plenty of morels to 'devour' by itself - that's how much morels the kitchen gave, love it!
I didn't know that veal could taste this good - my finest one. Bernard Pacaud never stopped to amaze me and I think I should try other dishes at L'Ambroisie that previously I might have overlooked. Spring is indeed the perfect season for veal, asparagus and morel.

Accompanied by: 2007 Frederic Magnien Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Supple tannin, delicious with good density on the palate, berries and floral aroma, deep and smooth - a good time to drink it)

Blanc-manger au citron, melba fraises des bois (Lemon blanc-manger served with wild strawberries and melba sauce) - The traditional 'blancmange' was milky and smooth but here, Bernard Pacaud utilized the meringue for firmer texture and flavor it with lemon at the bottom for some acidic flavor. It might not be as light and creamy as the normal one but still a delightful interpretation. The strawberries were fresh and sweet; the melba sauce was balanced in its flavor. There were fresh cream and strawberries sorbet inside. Overall, it's an enjoyable fruity dessert in Spring - glad that I could try a new dessert here.

Tarte sablée au cacao amer, glace à la vanille Bourbon (Dark chocolate tart with bitter cocoa powder served with Bourbon vanilla ice cream) - I was grateful and appreciated that in so many occasions, the restaurant gave me this legendary dessert for free (albeit in smaller portion). It was a timeless one indeed ... The top layer was very light in which I could discover 'shades' of flavors such as coffee, bitter cocoa, nutty etc. On the contrary to the soft layers, the kitchen provided thicker and firmer base to steadily hold the sabayon filling. The vanilla ice cream was also superb in that it was more concentrated and perfumed than the normal one yet it's also light. Still, the best dessert at L'Ambroisie and one of the best in Paris.

The food was consistently good and taken seriously even until the end. For the petit-four, the kitchen served chocolate truffles, canele, strawberry tartelette, and doughnut-like madeleine; they were of high quality and really tasty. A great way to end the mea.

Accompanied by: Rhum Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (A Venezuelan rum that was smooth & creamy, rich having caramel & toffee flavors, long finish with a little bit of spice - thank you Christophe for the complimentary digestive)

Autumn lunch in October '17 

I was pleasantly surprised that as soon as we're seated in the middle dining room, the staff brought a plate filled with gougeres - a light and hollow 'puff' served warm and filled with flavorful comte cheese. These gougeres have been missing from L'Ambroisie for quite some times.

Foie gras de canard landais aux épices, poires Curé en condiment (Duck foie gras from Landais served with spices, pears and condiment) - Similar to the last visit, the amuse-bouche was taken from the a la carte menu and this was great since I was unlikely to order duck liver dish in general. The foie gras was quite rich, not cloying but not as buttery as I had expected. The crunchy 'spices' on the side provided some texture contrast while the pear 'puree' would balance the liver's intense flavor. There were also 2 slices of toast on which we could spread this terrine.

Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry (Langoustines in curry sauce served with spinach and thin sesame wafers) - My wife tried this signature dish for the first time and she ordered a small portion. As one could imagine, she loved it - very delicious and tender langoustine tails accompanied by flavorful yet light curry sauce (made of cream, curry and hazelnut butter) and a bed of delicate spinach. I've said much about this legendary dish and enough for now.

Grenobloise de noix de Saint-Jacques aux cèpes, truffe blanche d'Alba (Scallop, from Grenoble, served with cepes [raw, cooked & as sauce], white Alba truffle and chopped walnut) - A new and exquisite dish! 3 plump and lightly cooked scallops were sweet, nutty and firm. These superb shellfishes were integrated and in harmony with the earthy & meaty 'Porcini' mushrooms prepared in many different forms and crunchy walnut. In addition, the already intense and delicious dish was still elevated by the top quality & aromatic Alba truffles (with a hint of garlic aroma) ... ethereal indeed  An outstanding dish with plenty of magnificent ingredients that worked in unison to deliver an outstanding experience: creamy and delicate sauce; rather rich and earthy cooked ceps; fragrant and crunchy porcini & walnut; tasty and succulent scallop as well as delightful bytes of the white truffle. This dish with all of its seasonal ingredients were certainly the best representative of what the Fall season could offer.

Sole drapée de truffe blanche d'Alba, braisée au savagnin et melba de céleri-rave (Sole, covered with white Alba truffle, was braised with white wine sauce and served with celery roots and leaves) - Mr. Pascal, the maitre d', allowed me to split this fish with my spouse - so in the picture, it was the half portion of the dish. The high quality Sole was thick, tender and juicy (without any flan in between). The sauce, made of wine, butter and fresh cream, was divine - piquant but delicious. Furthermore, the Sole was enhanced by the pungent & earthy white truffle as well as fresh & dense celeriac. An outstanding piece of fish!   

Viennoise de suprêmes de pigeon au pain d'épice, salmigondis de carottes à l'anis (Breaded supreme pigeon [from Burgundy] served with gingerbread, carrots and star anise) - The pigeon was perfectly cooked (still pink); it was tender, lean and flavorful. The leg was prepared a la 'wonton' - crunchy outside but tender inside. The jus, mixed with some colorful vegetables such as orange honey & lemongrass, was flavorful and a bit sweet in a pleasant way. It was an underrated dish that happened to be really delicious + beautiful. It had textures contrast in both the pigeon and veggies and plenty of flavor variations.

Throughout this lunch, my wife and I shared a half-bottle of: 2003 Frédéric Magnien Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru. It was delicate & light, supple, soft tannin, spice & herbal finish; 2017 was just about the right time (perfect?) to savor this red Burgundy.

Fromages frais et affinés (Fresh and refined cheese, accompanied by some bread). After some discussion with Laurent, I picked the following:
1. Roquefort - rich, creamy, tangy and sharp
2. Saint Nectaire fermier - grassy smell, fruity, rich in texture
3. Comté (24-month) - deep nutty taste, a bit spicy, subtle sweetness
4. Rocamadour - velvety goat cheese, nutty, and mild
Both the roquefort and st. nectaire were remarkable. It was the first time I ate cheese here and L'Ambroisie actually procured some high quality cheese.

To accompany the cheese, the sommelier gave me a glass of: Madeira Henriques & Henriques 10 years old Sercial (Clean aroma, a bit dry and acidic, long finish, a mix of nuts, wood & vanilla - decent wine pairing)

Tatin de pommes Reinette, sabayon aux noix (Apple 'tart' from the Fall variant served with walnut sabayon and caramel ice cream) - Bernard Pacaud always had a way to interpret and produce any classic dish. The apples were carefully caramelized with a balanced of soft and hard texture. There were a bit tartness derived from the apples, not-so-sweet ice cream, and any "excess" flavor would be absorbed by the pastry. It was good but not exceptional, especially when compared to L'Ambroisie's legendary chocolate cake yet both of us still quite liked it.

Finally, for the mignardise we enjoyed the figs, chocolate raspberry cake, choux with cream & chocolate truffles.

Perfection seemed to be the norm at L'Ambroisie. In both occasions, Bernard Pacaud was in the kitchen. In May, I saw him coming out of the business meeting held in the restaurant's private room at around noon time; Chef Pacaud meant business when he had to lead his brigade. On the way to the kitchen, he recognized my face, then nodded and acknowledged my presence. Given Bernard's shy personality, the busy period and my poor French, a short conversation was not easy sometimes. On the contrary, I was familiar and comfortable with the front staffs such as Mr. Pascal Vetaux (Restaurant director who has been here for about 30 years), Mdm. Danielle Pacaud (the co-owner & hostess), Christophe (the sommelier), Laurent and Joseph. I recalled in my earlier visits, having a meal at L'Ambroisie was like visiting someone's house where the guests had to behave as well. But now, it was like coming to the home of good friends in which I could be myself and felt very comfortable as I pretty much recognized most of the 'old' faces. I used to have the same feeling for L'Arpege, however except for Helene, I barely know any of the front staffs these days. Besides the extraordinary food and top service a la Parisienne, I very much concurred with the chef-patron's philosophy to have only one restaurant, be there daily and not even doing any outside consulting. No wonder, my experiences here have always been consistently awesome. Hope to return here again and again ... Readers are welcome to see the pictures: L'Ambroisie May '17 and L'Ambroisie Oct '17

Food (and Wine): 98.5 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96.5 pts

Overall: 98/100