Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pierre Gagnaire Paris - 5th visit

Pierre Gagnaire, nowadays, is a celebrated French chef whose empire has included more than a dozen restaurants across three continents. His success story started in Saint-Étienne, a city in the east-central France, when in 1993 Gagnaire's restaurant received 3-star Michelin. Since economically challenging to run a gastronomy restaurant in a small town, Pierre Gagnaire decided to move his eponymous dining place to the capital and once again awarded 3-star in 1998; he has held it until now. Although he is currently a 'celebrity' chef, Pierre Gagnaire loves being in the kitchen and gets his hands dirty preparing dishes for the guests. Many people truly respect this attitude, even his peers voted Gagnaire as the World's best chef in 2015 via a poll of Le Chef magazine. Pierre Gagnaire's creations are unique in that they're intellectual, experimental and poetic at the same time. While more and more chefs tried to simplify their dishes using a few ingredients, on the contrary, Gagnaire loves combining several products to generate maximum flavors and creative textures in a single dish. Those who are open-minded and love novelty usually will enjoy and appreciate Chef Gagnaire's work. Often, his food has been perceived to operate at "higher levels" as many of the dishes are deeply personal and guided by his intuition and passion. My meals at Pierre Gagnaire's flagship restaurants have always been fun and adventurous.

Pierre Gagnaire Paris is located on the ground floor of hotel Balzac but it has its own entrance. The only thing that they shared was the restrooms. As you enters the main door, you would walk past the bar area before reaching the main dining room at the lower level. The decor has been very similar ever since I visited this place in 2007 - the dining room was dominated by wood color with plenty of torn pages attached to the walls and the floor was covered by carpet. The lighting was soft but during lunch time, it was fine due to some natural lights from the windows near the street. Tables, covered by superior white linens, are large and the distance between them were generous except the ones at the back / mezzanine level. Pierre Gagnaire was one of the few restaurants in which I preferred having the full a la carte dishes to the tasting menu (for those who like degustation menu, please do so - it's also very good). This time, I actually ordered 2 main courses from the seafood section with no entree since I really want to try the langoustine. The meal would start with an array of nibbles and bread (classic baguette, milk roll and seaweed). Then, the rests were as follow:

Cocktail de poche

Moules de bouchot et oignons grelots au vinaigre sanbaizu, cristes marines - Farm mussels and small onions flavored with Sanbaizu vinegar and sea fennel.
Infusion Tiké: sardine laquée, maquereau au sel, pointe de rhubarbe et énoki - Infusion Tike with lacquered sardine, salted mackerel, a hint of rhubarb and enoki mushrooms.
Toutes petites perches du lac Léman meunière, cresson et oreilles de judas - Small perches from the Geneva lake, watercress and oreille de judas mushrooms.
Mousseline de foie blond, sablé d’aubergine; mousse de carotte - Liver mousseline with eggplant shortbread and carrot mousse.
Perle Noire: pâte de pois chiches, jus de poivron vert au poivre vert - Perle noire of chickpea paste, green sweet pepper juice spiced with green pepper.

To comprehend and explain Gagnaire's food was challenging, even for the restaurant's staffs. There were so many elements and a reflection of the latest seasonal ingredients. The items were stimulating and imaginative, and at the same time tasty thankfully. The amuse bouche showcased plenty of flavor and texture contrasts. Some were intense and aromatic; satisfying opening but the better items were coming from the a la carte dishes.

La Pêche (Fishing)


Part 1
Grosse langoustine croustillante 1982 – condiment Dundee-Peeky (Crunchy large Langoustine, from the 1982 recipe, with seasoning of Dundee Peeky) - It was arguably the most perfect big prawn 'tempura' I've ever had. The crisp "batter" was so light / thin that it barely interfered with the delicate texture + delicious & sweet flavor of the very large langoustine. It was a stunning piece of giant prawn.

Side dishes:
Pommes soufflées au sumac (Souffled potatoes with sumac powder) - The airy & light potato souffles were very good; they're mixed with versatile sumac powder (tangy & slightly tart). An awesome condiment for the langoustine.
Crème prise, baies de miltomate (Creme prise, miltomate berries) - A thick and tasty cream was paired with the fresh, acidic and fruity berries to accompany the large Dublin bay prawn.

Part 2
De toutes petites saisies au beurre pimenté, flambées au vieux rhum; gelée de cidre fermier sur une galette de blé noir (Small langoustine seared in a spicy butter and flamed with aged rum; served with farm cider jelly on a buckwheat crepe) - The tender and flavorful langoustine was cooked a la minute; the 'green' sauce was rich and sophisticated - a bit spicy, deliciously complex yet all of the elements were in harmony. A dazzling Dublin bay prawn!

Crues | givrées légèrement fumées, navet Buren; miel du maquis corse au citron d’Iran (Raw, frosted and lightly smoked, turnip Buren; served with honey from the Corsican maquis and Iranian black lemon) - The smaller raw prawn was fresh, smooth and very tasty (with pleasant honey smell and flavor) while the turnip & black lemon balanced the dish.

Raviole imprimée d’herbes, salpicon au curry vert (Ravioli with herbs, diced langoustine spiced with green curry) - An unusual preparation for the prawn; light, interesting and aromatic. The "spices" would reduce any intense taste coming from the other langoustine plates. It might not be my favorite langoustine dish nevertheless it's necessary in light of the overall flavors and textures for this a la carte dish.    


Pavé de turbot sauvage poêlé à l’arête – les filets sont levés, assaisonnés de copeaux de Comté et de tomatillo, olives verte de Lucques; bouillon de cepes à l’amontillado (Pan-fried Turbot steak cooked on the bone: the fillets are cut and served with thin slices of Comte cheese, tomatillo and green olives from Lucques; there were also cepe mushrooms bouillon flavored with Amontillado) - Gagnaire is an expert in cooking fish and (again) I ordered a Turbot dish; it was luxurious, generous and incredible. It was less complicated than the langoustine as the main item was a huge and perfectly cooked wild turbot cooked on the bone - meaty and flaky; great flavors and textures. The sauce was earthy as a reflection of the Autumn taste. It was dominated by the flavors of Turbot's delicious jus, tart green olives, woody cepes & dry-sweet amontillado. The chef-patron loves to be innovative and pushing the boundaries, luckily they generally worked well and matched my palate such as what happened to this fish.

Side dishes:
Toast de bardes | gel de citron au cerfeuil (Turbot bards served with gel of lemon and chervil) - The bards were refreshing and naturally sweet; nicely integrated with sour-sweet lemon gel as well as delicate yet fine chervil herbs. A good side dish for the Turbot.
Cocotte de murex et cocos de Paimpol au jus de viandes blanches (Cocotte of murex mollusc and white beans from Paimpol in a white meats juice) - The murex casserole was kinda chewy, in contrast to the starchy and nutty beans. It was decent though hardly influenced / enhanced the main Turbot's flavor.

Accompanied by wine: 2009 Roc d’Anglade Blanc Vin de Pays du Gard (Smooth with fresh and round palate. It had delicate minerals, scents of apple and quince with citrus finish. 2017 was a good time to drink it)



Soufflé à la pistache de Sicile, crème glacée à la vanille de Tahiti (Souffléed biscuit flavored with pistachio from Sicile and served with Tahiti vanilla ice cream) - The souffle was terrific; it was delectable and fragrant. The top outer part had some crunch while the inside was smooth (yet not eggy) with deep flavor of vanilla and sweet pistachio. This could only mean the egg yolk and milk used were superb. The ice cream was rich and round; the temperature and texture contrasts were lovely. The souffle of 3-star quality was indeed special.

Side dishes:
Loukoum à la vanille de Madagascar, lait de coco et noix (Madagaskar vanilla loukoum with coconut milk and walnuts) - The coconut milk was viscous & nutty while the loukoum was sweet with jelly-like texture.
Galette de sucre à la vanille Tahaa, mousseux of passion fruits (Tahaa vanilla sugar galette with passion fruits mousseux) - The pure vanilla was aromatic & rich but balanced by the sour passion fruit frothy.
Pistachio Baklava, crème au fromage (Pistachio Pavlova and cheesecake cream) - The baklava was not overly sweet with a little acidic cream.

Pierre Gagnaire Paris, once again, has been able to prepare a stunning meal consistently. This was arguably one of the best meals I've ever had here. I think it could be the case because after more than a decade ago, eventually I met Pierre Gagnaire himself again. He's leading by example to his team: busy in the kitchen as well as taking time to approach and greet guests. I was invited to visit the kitchen too - smaller than I had anticipated. The service was impeccable; the best one I've experienced here. Most of the time, I was taken care of by Alexandre who was patient, polite and knowledgeable. The food was well-paced given that I only had 2.5 hours.

Pierre Gagnaire may not be young anymore but he was still energetic with young spirit. He kept producing new and vibrant dishes that usually only came from younger chefs. With the expansion of his vast portfolio, nowadays Thierry Mechinaud (chef de cuisine) regularly leads the flagship restaurant's kitchen. Even Gagnaire's right hand man who's also a MOF recipient, Michel Nave was busy traveling. On the day I had lunch here, Nave was in Shanghai preparing for the opening of Le Comptoir. The 'funny' part, I hardly visited Pierre Gagnaire's other restaurants in Asia or outside Europe despite loving his cooking very much. Since I often come to the city of lights, at least once every 1-2 years, I thought - what's the point of visiting anywhere else but Gagnaire Balzac? For the photos of the above dishes, please check: Pierre Gagnaire Oct '17  

If any of you ever wondered why you could not find the review of my meal at Pierre Gagnaire Paris - 4th visit, don't be surprised because I never wrote any. However, you still could see the pictures of that dinner here: gagnaire paris 2014

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100