Wednesday, August 28, 2019

L'Ambroisie Bernard Pacaud - 8th visit

L'Ambroisie, named after the food of the gods according to the Greek mythology, is arguably the Parisian restaurant I'm most familiar with at the moment. This haute cuisine temple is known to consistently serve traditional French cuisine at a very high level and its location is hidden in the serene and elegant Place des vosges. People walking around the square might easily miss this place as even the Chef-patron Bernard Pacaud did not bother to put the word "restaurant" in front. The menu is very seasonal and one could familiarize himself with what dishes to expect during certain season / month. Here I was in the January's cold Winter once again re-visited my favorite restaurant in the world. Lunch has always been my preferred time as I could see and walk around the square with plenty of natural lights. Furthermore, reservation was easier (on average, only 10 people eating lunch here) with the same menu and the same staffs as dinner. It's also guaranteed that the master chef Pacaud himself would also be cooking in the kitchen. 

After having been warmly greeted by the maitre d', the kitchen brought out black truffle kouglof as the nibble when I perused the menu. The kouglof was nicely done, like any other things created at this restaurant - thin crust at the outside, light & fluffy on the inside, with right flavor. For the bread, I picked the wheat and sesame; good to be consumed with the butter. Possibly for the first time that I did not consume any fish or seafood dishes for my meal at L'Ambroisie. You could see below on what I had ...

Amuse-bouche: Oeuf coque à la truffe (Soft-cooked egg sabayon served in its shell with black truffle and small toasted bread) - The delicate & slightly sweet sabayon was in harmony with the creamy egg yolk and fragrant Winter truffle. Dip the bread in the egg to get different experience or to clean up the yellow "sauce" - a very promising start

Salmigondis de cuisses de grenouilles à la diable, mousseline de persil (Frog legs "stew" served with sauce diable and parsley mousse) - The appetizer was half portion and it consisted of 7-8 small, kinda soft and flavorful frog legs (thanks for the sauce); they're easy to eat with the hand. The parsley gave more balanced taste and there was crunchy biscuit for texture variation. Trying at least a new dish while eating at L'Ambroisie was accomplished ... did not disappoint

Carré d’agneau de Lozère en croûte de poivre gris, salsifis glacés au jus (Rack of Lamb from Lozere covered with the crust of black peppercorn and served with salsify and 'brown sauce') -  I ordered a half portion of lamb dish here about a decade ago in the late Summer. Given my "passion" for lamb, I think it's time to eat another one and this time in full portion.
As far as I could remember, this was better (than last time). The preparation was classic and did not seem complicated with perfect execution. The tender lamb was really delicious with deep flavor; the outer layers of pepper coating, lamb's skin and thin layers of fat were outstanding ... tasty and complex; rather sweet and a little spicy. The jus was light but somewhat intense at the same time. The side dish of salsify was spot on for the season. An amazing lamb dish!

Accompanied by wine: 2009 Frederic Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes (good pinot noir, medium body with fine tannin, cherry & floral aromas, supple in the mouth).
This 1/2 bottle of red wine accompanied me throughout my meal

Feuilleté de truffe ‘’bel humeur’’ (Puff pastry containing Perigord truffle and Foie gras) - A legendary dish during Winter at L'Ambroisie; well-known for it was both extraordinary and expensive. However, it's worth it ... at least for me. Everything was flawless: the puff pastry was buttery & fragrant with the right thickness yet felt light. Late Jan to Feb was the ideal period for remarkable and mature black truffle. The duck liver, sandwiched in between the thick truffles, supported and generated different taste to the dish. Ultimately, the feuillete was cooked with precise temperature and time to produce this ethereal creation.
Through this kind of preparation, Bernard Pacaud was able to release the "powerful" Winter truffle aroma at its best, and at the same time, allowing guests to taste the excellent texture of cooked black truffle with a hint of "spicy" taste. The black truffle sauce (a bit coarse) underneath the pastry ensured that the dish would always be moist when we slowly savoring every heavenly bite from the beginning to the end - splendid!

Frisée niçoise à la crème - (Slightly) bitter green salad of curly endive with light cream dressing and black truffle. Some people might find the truffle pastry to be too rich, then the kitchen provided this simple salad to balance any intense flavor. It was still good even to be consumed on its own

Mont d’Or à la truffe noire (Vacherin Mont d'Or cheese with black truffle) - This seasonal mont d'or was probably one of the best raw milk cheese. Chef Pacaud had his own 'recipe/way' when serving this cheese course every Winter. Generally not a huge fan of cheese, but this gourmet cheese was surprisingly delicious (a sign of good maturity) with unique nutty and earthy taste. The texture was gooey and sticky, meaning we got to eat it with a spoon. The Perigord truffle elevated the cheese even more - it added some complexity and another layer of depth without being overpowering

Palate cleanser: Pineapple and coconut sorbet with some pomegranate - pleasant sweet and sour taste after the savory courses

Tarte fine sablée au cacao amer, crème glacée à la vanille Bourbon (Fine Chocolate tart dusted with bitter cocoa, served with Bourbon and vanilla ice cream) - It was the signature dessert of Bernard Pacaud, which many gourmands concurred as one of the finest (flourless) chocolate sweets of all time. The most incredible part was the sabayon - as light as the air yet really rich and intense. The sable below (sometimes I ate it separately) provided decent 'support'. The slice of this refined dark chocolate tart was accompanied by concentrated vanilla bean ice cream with some notes of smoky bourbon. Chef Pacaud, once again, displayed another sophistication in balancing texture and flavor. Truly a timeless dessert ...

The meal ended with satisfying mignardise such as almond and hazelnut chocolate, madeleine cake. The pace of the meal was excellent. The staffs, as always, were warmed, kind and helpful. It was a slow lunch ... despite known for its formality, the service was more relaxed towards repeat guests. Many staffs have been working with and for Bernard Pacaud for at least a decade, so building a relationship with them was very possible. A few people dressed more casually in the past 5 years or so but for the locals, especially the gentlemen ... they all were wearing jackets.  I liked following this habit, probably because when I started this "hobby/passion" in the mid 00's, jacket and tie were required. This made the overall ambiance and look of the dining room more elegant and classy IMHO.

The 17th-century decoration and furniture inside the tranquil dining room were well-maintained (consistent with the surrounding history and atmosphere). It might not be the most glamorous / luxurious dining room in France, but certainly one of the most elegant and uniquely Parisian. The routine at L'Ambroisie of searching and using the best ingredients, handling and taking care of the produces carefully, preparing and executing them in the best possible way (usually only using 3-4 items in each course), and serving them at the right moment - could hardly be replicated elsewhere, let alone at home. Simplicity with perfect texture, temperature and flavor as well as clear aroma has always been the key success of Bernard Pacaud's food. If I could choose, I hope to discover the Summer creations of Chef Pacaud next time ... it has been a while. The photos of the dishes above are here L'Ambroisie Jan '19 

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97.5/100

Monday, August 12, 2019

Le Cinq Christian Le Squer

Located inside one of the most opulent palace hotels in Paris, Le Cinq has always been a popular restaurant especially among wealthy foreign businessmen and tourists staying inside the Four Seasons hotel. Despite its popularity, even during Philippe Legendre's period as the executive chef and his replacements after, Le Cinq never received the "respect" at the level of Pierre Gagnaire or Guy Savoy. It has always been the ambition of the hotel's owner to have its flagship restaurant to be the city's best with 3-star Michelin (and 5-toque of Gault-Millau). Things changed for the better when Christian Le Squer left Ledoyen and almost immediately recruited by the hotel to lead Le Cinq. He 'only' had to focus his role as the head chef of the V restaurant. About 2 yeas later, all of the dreams above were attained. Given Chef Le Squer's tremendous talent and vast experiences, the achievements were kind of expected. He probably had 30-40 people in his kitchen at his disposal. This actually was my 2nd meal at Le Cinq and was even better than the 1st dinner (Le Cinq Spring 2017). It was remarkable as Christian was not around on that evening and the kitchen was entrusted to Romain Mauduit, chef de cuisine who has been working under Le Squer since 2006. Yet, I did not notice any drop in (food) quality.

The meal took place on a Sunday night when I just arrived in Paris earlier in the evening. After having check-in to the hotel and done a few errands, I reached FS George V hotel nearly 9 o'clock and certainly was the last guest showing up at the restaurant. Given its reputation and top service, the staffs encouraged me to relax, settle down and not too worry about the time. They said I could still order an Epicurean escape (8-course menu) if I wanted to but I declined the kind offer since I did not want to stay until after midnight. Additionally, most of the dishes I loved to try were not available in that current Winter tasting menu. My dinner started with some snacks such as warm & pleasant comte and black truffle 'millefeuille', truffle ball with egg yolk as well as pear with fennel. The amuse-bouche was poached egg with spinach and bechamel sauce, tasted like a healthy food but nothing too special. My order of a la carte dishes of the night were the following, 

Concentré iodé ; extrait de Litchi / Saint Jacques à cru ; tarama givré d’oursins (Iodized flavors of slightly marinated Scallops with lychee and frosted Sea urchins) - Before my 1st official dish arrived, the maitre d' kindly gave this complimentary dish. I often saw this 'cold appetizzer' on the menu. Chilled and tasty scallops with tropical & sweet lychee 'sauce' as well as briny & rather creamy uni. Refreshing and very pleasant ... there were a few crunchy items for the texture contrast. Summer might be a more ideal time to enjoy this dish, but of course I gladly finish these seafood.

Grillade de Noix de Saint-Jacques a l'eau de parmesan / ecorces de racines (Grilled Scallops scented with Parmesan and root vegetables) - 2 remarkably plump and juicy scallops with their inherent sweet flavors were perfectly cooked. The scallops were served with crispy roasted wood of salsify while the tasty sauce containing olive tapenade. The addition of earthy black truffles elevated the already delicious dish to even higher level. Brittany seafood has always been the specialty of Christian Le Squer ...

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Saint-Aubin 1er cru, forgot the domaine (liquorice nose, elegant palate, little oak note .. young wine but already good to drink)

Pièce de Turbot contise à la Truffe macération de cresson / nashi (Grilled fillet of Turbot and Black truffle with watercress and Japanese pear) - The Turbot was actually cooked a la plancha. The quality was superb and it's fatty ... the fish white flesh was tender and flavorful. The smoked mustard and pear generated some interesting contrast. In the Winter, the earthy black truffle certainly improved the aroma of the dish. Simpler than Le Squer's classic turbot with ratte potatoes, but they're equally fantastic - the dinner was so far so (very) good.

Truffe Noire en gros Morceaux en feuilleté brioche (Black Truffle in puff pastry brioche) - The fragrant and buttery brioche was relatively thin. It's prepared flawlessly to wrap the thick & cooked aromatic black truffle as well as delicate 'steamed' foie gras. The Perigord truffle sauce added luxury feeling and extra flavors without being overwhelming. It's outstanding; it's delicious; it's remarkable. Even after having consumed Scallop and Turbot dishes earlier, I managed to clean this up without any difficulties - consistent explosion of flavors from start to finish!
This brioche was the closest to the perfection of Pacaud's truffle puff pastry ... after having missed it during Christian's days at Ledoyen, eventually I got to savor it at Four seasons. Thankful that he decided to still serve this superb dish at Le Cinq. 

Salade d'Hiver truffee (Winter truffle salad) - It was the side dish for the above brioche. The salad was simple, having some vegetables with slightly acidic vinaigrette dressing but ... the truffles were amazing! A mountain of black truffles - never did I served these much shaved truffles - of course, I did not complain. Each byte (almost) guaranteed to have some taste of these black diamonds. Compared to the puff pastry, the truffle here was not as intense. The greens balanced the 'garlicky' mushrooms; it could act as a dish on its own.

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape (medium body and acidity, rich and fruity, cherries aroma, kinda dry; CNDP often paired well with any black truffle dish)

Before the dessert, the kitchen prepared a palate cleanser consisted of verbena, fresh & not so-sweet ice cream, bitter grapefruit, somewhat sour green apple, milk cream and pop corn.

Baies rouges a la pulpe de vegetal rafraichie, chessecake meringue (Refreshed Berries with cheesecake meringue and fresh herbs) - Light cheesecake with parsley powder on top and fresh cream. For a dessert, this one had minimal sweetness with the berries generated most of the flavors. It's interesting but slightly underwhelming - the risk of trying a new sweet rather than ordering one of Le Squer's classics.

Accompanied by wine: Calvados Pays d'Auge (might be by Boulard; quite smooth with rather long finish, subtle caramel & mint, some apple and honey flavors).

The dinner concluded with some petit four, chocolate trolley and kouign-amann (Breton traditional pastry) with caramelized almonds. It was my first meal during this trip to Paris and it was fabulous. When Christian Le Squer left Ledoyen, at first I thought that his superb cooking would be just a distant memory. I was glad that I was mistaken and I could once again savor his flavorful dishes executed at such high level - near perfection. The wine selection did not disappoint. Since I just reached Paris, I just wanted to drink moderately and the (assistant) sommelier's picks were generally spot on.

The dining room at Le Cinq has always been grandiose. Some of the most striking features were lofty ceiling, extravagant oil paintings / tapestries and of course, the stunning flower displays by Jeff Leatham. Furthermore, there were thick carpets, palm trees, and lavish chandeliers. The dining room, in which many tables faced the hotel's big and often decorated terrace, was dominated by gold color tone. In short, the magnificent decor was very French / Parisian. The level of service was not inferior to its interiors. Staffs performed the right balance of being professional and convivial. Many have been around for several years and were empowered by the hotel to always please the guests. Under the leadership of Christian Le Squer, not few French diners would flock and enjoy the chef's haute cuisine creations. I noticed a couple of big tables occupied by local guests: the first one was a table of 6 young Parisian and the second one was a group of more than a dozen of French middle aged people filled in the farthest end of the dining room, hidden behind several huge vases and their bright flowers (the private room, perhaps?).

This Winter foodie trip was nothing short of amazing. I was blessed with five meals in Paris performing at the "absolute" 3-star level and it was one of them. With both Le Cinq and Epicure operating for both lunch and dinner on Sunday, people should not worry of not having an option to enjoy top French cooking. Unless something dramatically changed, Le Cinq is in very good hands for the next 1-2 decades. Readers could find the pictures of this meal here Le Cinq Jan '19

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100