Wednesday, November 9, 2016

L'Ami Louis, Paris

L'Ami Louis opened in 1924 and still looks like nothing has changed ever since. Located in a quiet street (rue Verbois) in the 3rd arrondissement, you can easily reach it from everywhere in Paris with the metro. 

Once owned by the chef Antoine Magnin, a well known rotisseur, now has past to Louis Gadby and Thierry de la Brosse. Gault Millau praised Magnin for his meat and poultry, the latter as some of the best served in the city. Le Figaro in 2011 in one of its best-of articles named this poulet roti as the best in the city too, followed in the second place by Le Relais Plaza. Many were also the famous costumers, with Jacques Chirac as a regular, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Francis Ford Coppola, Jenifer Aniston, Alice Waters, R.W Apple. Jr and so on.  

Getting out of the metro, we went straight ahead to where the bistrot was supposed to be in our heads by a few moments of looking at the city map. After about 10 minutes we found rue Verbois, and started walking on one side of the narrow road. Not being able to locate the restaurant we started wondering if we took the right direction, suddenly thought the air started smelling roast chicken verifying we were right and then Voila, L' Ami Louis.

The small bistrot has about 12 tables, wooden lacquered walls with some round mirrors , a kitchen at the back, a bit visible by some tables, saumon tablecloths and red cheque curtains.  Specialized in French cuisine you will find foie gras, lamb, huge steaks, snails and some game. By far the most well know plate of the restaurant is the poulet roti.

As we sat down we were offered some bread, pieces of toasted baguettes and amazing butter. A waiter then left the wine book at our table. The selection was huge with half bottles starting at about 40 euros, moving to over 5000 euros for some Grand Crus while wine by glass started at 15 euros per glass. We opted for a half bottle of La Sirene de Giscours from the famous chateau of Margaux, the Chateau Giscours. A pretty good medium body wine, medium tannin with red fruit aromas. 

Poulet roti entier, a whole roast chicken. Not just your everyday chicken but a coucou de Rennes. This is an ancient Breton breed, known for its unparalleled meat quality and flavor. Because of the way these chickens grow, very slowly (they need almost 4 months before being able to be cooked) and the vast space, they have nothing to do with commercially raised chickens. A coucou de Rennes will set you back about 30 to 35 euros in the market. 

The chicken came hot in a Staub cocotte cooked in a wood-fired stove, coated in butter, then finished in goose fat before being cooked in a rotisserie at very high heat. The waiter plated a breast in each plate with some of the watercress and then poured gravy on top. In the meantime a mountain of matchstick potatos arrived. The meat was flavorful, well cooked, succulent with nice crispy skin. The thin french fries were not to my liking as they were so crispy, it was more like eating chips rather than fries.  

After we finished, the waiter come back and plated the legs. Those were huge, still juicy and tender but you could tell this chicken had run some kilometers by their anatomy and colour. 

All in all that was an interesting eating experience but one of these that I wouldn't repeat. The food was nice and the setting a look back to the previous century but nothing so special to justify the exorbitant prices. The service was also indulgently controversial. Then again this place was full, no empty tables, people waited to be seated and we had to wait more than 15 minutes too, after our reservation time. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris (***)

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee is the main gastronomical restaurant of the homonym hotel, while also Ducasse's flagship in Paris. It currently holds 3 Michelin stars. 

Plaza Athenee the palatial hotel opened in 1913 in the Golden triangle,( the neighborhood inside the 3 top Parisian Avenue, The Champs Elysees, George V and Montaigne,  now being one of the best hotels in Paris. There are several restaurants and bars inside the hotel, all under Alain Ducasse's oversee. There is Le Relais Plaza, La Galerie, Le Cour Jardin, le bar du Plaza Athenee and La Terasse Montaigne. 

Until its closure for renovation the chef de cuisine was Christophe Saintagne now working at Le Meurice, the other Parisian Hotel under Ducasse. The restaurant reopened in September 2014 getting 2 Michelin stars immediately after and a third one in 2016. The head chef now is Romain Meder, with a new approach to fine dining, based in the trilogy of fish-cereal-vegetables. 

The dining room designed by Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, a marriage between the classical and the ultra modern, is jaw dropping. 

The restaurant is open for lunch from Tuesday to Friday and dinner from Monday to Friday. Breakfast is served either in La Galerie or the main dining room of Plaza Athenee in weekdays and weekends and that's what we went for. 

For breakfast there are 3 set menus available and the a la carte option. The first, Le Continental, set menu includes , fresh fruit juice, hot drinks, bread, viennoiseries, honey, jams and praline with Bordier butter. L'Americain has also an eggs dish, yogurt and cereal or fruit salad with a supplement of 8 euros. Then there is Le Plaza menu with Champagne, smoked salmon and hamon iberico bellota.

Croissant, pain au chocolat, raspberry brioche, hazelnut chocolate brioche, Viennese bread, country bread, fruit bread, baguette and kouign amann. 

Fluffy croissant.  

Hot chocolate from la manufacture Alain Ducasse. A whole carafe of hot chocolate arrived at our table and an additional one with milk to add to our taste.   

Jams, marmalade, honey and chocolate praline spread from la manufacture Alain Ducasse. 

Eggs can be plain or garnished, scrabbled, sunny side up, omelette, soft boiled or poached. With an 8 euro supplement we went for Eggs Benedict. They were made with ham or smoked salmon and black truffle. 

After the hollandaise was added. 

Cereal, strawberry yogurt and M.Bordier butter. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

L'Arpege, Paris (***)

Arpege or arpeggio, means a broken chord, or a chord broken into a sequence of notes. You may also have heard the word from Lanvin's fragrance introduced quite a lot of time ago in 1927. 

Arpege, the restaurant of Alain Passard opened in 1986 where his own master Alain Senderens used to have the Archestrate. The name was chosen as a tribute to music, his second passion. It is located in a quiet street near Invalides in rive gauche. The minimalistic exterior in grey colours has some tall windows to bring the light indoors while keeping the diners sound isolated from the outside world. 

The interior design, quoted by their website, is a reference to the Bacchanalia rhythm with waved one piece walls and Lalique crystals. Tables are a bit too close with leather comfortable chairs, white linen tablecloths and vegetables on top as decorative elements. Ours had a pumpkin. 

Alain Passard has a long cooking career full of Michelin stars, starting from « Duc d’Enghien » at the Casino of Enghien where he obtained 2 Michelin stars, then at the Carlton in Brussels with also 2 stars. At this time he perfected dishes like the carpaccio of langoustines and the chaud-frois egg that is still served today. 

With the opening of L'Arpege we gained a Michelin star just a year after, while only a decade upon opening he had 3 Michelin stars kept till today and a very high 19 out of 20 in the Gault Millau guide. All these years Passard was famous as a rotisseur. In 2001 though he turned to vegetables with the first vegetable garden in Fillé sur Sarthe and a second in Buis-sur-Damville, where 9 gardeners work while two donkeys, two foals, as well as cows, chickens, and a goat help to the well being of the gardens making it a more complete eco system. Of course all products are bio, with nothing artificial in the growing process.  

The restaurant is open from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner all year long. There is a lunch menu available only for... lunch,  an a la carte menu, a vegetable tasting menu and a big degustation menu. Reservations can either be made by telephone or by email. I would suggest that you give them a call for a prompt reply as they didn't even answer for more than a week to my booking request via the form of their website. 

We opted for the surprise lunch menu. Be aware, this smaller menu is still huge, even for  appetites like ours. 

As soon as we sat down we were offered Evian water (9 euros per bottle), bread and butter. Country bread with nice crust and fluffy texture inside had superb flavor. Salted butter from Bordier of St.Malo was also very good. A trio of tartelettes was then brought to our table.

Thin fried potato with either, beetroot, figs, sweetpotato, radish cream, all very tasty. 

The famous egg also followed in hot and cold. The running slightly cooked egg yolk that was simmered to the bottom of the egg after being seperated from the egg white, with creme fraiche, sherry vinegar and Canadian maple syrup was quite good. 

We chose some Riesling with our meal. Next, vegetable sushi, steamed sticky al dente rice with vinegar, mustard and a slice of beetroot. A nicely executed dish, the rice stunning, the mustard giving another dimension to the flavor. 

A metal pot with an amazing tomato (last tomatos of the season) broth had three different delicate raviolis. Filled with vegetables, beetroot, cabbage, Brussels sprout all were very flavorful. 

A cabbage leaf filled with chopped red cabbage in a parmesan creme fraiche sauce was interesting.

Pumpkin veloute served hot, with cold Chantilly was intense , flavorful and silky textured. I would like it more without the Chantilly though. 

Beetroot and cabbage ball on tomato sauce. 

Beetroot and pumpkin puree. 

Beetroot tartare with mayonnaise, cherry tomatos, beetroot leaves and Parmesan was refreshing.

Vegetables fricassee with red wine reduction. The sauce was overpowering and tannic, we found it unpleasant to eat this dish. 

Then finally a non vegetable dish, a vegetable burger. Paired with mussels, beetroot puree, fried potatos, a bun with a chopped vegetables patty, mozzarella, tomato and a quail egg. This was tasty, the mussels fresh, with the flavor of the sea, although the burger was a bit greasy. 

The first proper meat course, a disc of leek filled with minced meat, chicken in a potato veloute soup. The soup was very good, but the meat structure was overcooked, a bit burned, and greasy. Not the refinement you would expect from a 3 Michelin star restaurant. It gave me the impression that this was made with leftovers while also being reheated. 

The last savory dish was roast chicken with white sauce and vegetables. The Tagliatelles look alike, are actually celeri. The chicken succulent with crispy skin and nice flavor, but a bit undercooked. A let down if you consider it is one of the signature dishes of Arpege. 

A small hazelnut souffle was light, fluffy and flavorful. 

A few mignardises followed before a second dessert. All were great. 

Apple rose tarte. A signature dessert of Alain Passard.

Service was impeccable. Fast and effective while also friendly and professional.

Generally this was not a bad meal, the ingredients were good, most preparations skillfully made, but the refinement and wow factor of a restaurant priced and praised at this point was missing. This was miles away from the Epicure we visited the next day which left us speechless. We didn't see Monsieur Passard that day, and it looked as he was not there. Eric Frechon was also not present at Epicure during our meal but the restaurant was working like a Patek Philippe watch. I didn't regret going to L'Arpege which was on my list for many years now, I just feel like I didn't see what Passard truly can do.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Epicure, Le Bristol Paris (***)

In a world where all cars would be Chirons and all planes Concordes, all restaurants should be like Epicure.

Epicure is the fine dining restaurant of the famous hotel Le Bristol in the shopping district of Paris, the Faubourg Saint Honore. Le Bristol once the American Embassy in Paris, opened in 1925 with prospects of being the best hotel in the world, named after the famed traveller Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol. 53 years later it was bought by the German industrial Oetker group. The hotel was then expanded, acquiring 60 more rooms and a swimming pool designed by Professor Pinnau. architect of Onassis's yacht Christina. About a decade ago the hotel expanded even more with a building in avenue Matignon.

Le Bristol has 2 restaurants and 2 cafes. On top, is the 3 Michelin stars one called Epicure. Then there is 114 Faubourg with one Michelin star, cafe Antonia and Le jardin Francais. The reason of my visit was the first. It has been many years that I wanted to try Eric Frechon's cooking (he is the head chef of Epicure and Le Bristol). I firstly saw monsieur Frechon more than a decade ago cooking for Hlias Mamalakis and his TV show, later that he was (or still is) the consultant chef of the great Greek restaurant Spondi in Athens. You can see my 2 meals in Spondi here and here. After my meal I can see the relation and influences between the two restaurants. Arnault Bignon once worked in Epicure as the sous chef, and later left for Spondi where he gained 2 stars before he left for London and the 2 star Greenhouse. 

The 50 year old chef, has been trained and worked in many big restaurants, starting from La Grande Cascade, then to Taillevent, to ‘Le Byblos Andaluz’ in Malaga, before returning again to paris at La tour d argent, the hotel de Crillon and finaly till today at the hotel Le bristol, the place where he earned his 3 michelin stars. He also earned the big title of ''Meilleur ouvrier de France'' in 1993.

Entering the hotel you definitely get amazed by the decor. Everything is so tasteful and classy. Entering the Epicure dining room you get double amazed. This has to be one the best (if not THE best) dining rooms on the planet. Marble floor, a fireplace, white colours and a view to the amazing courtyard. The attention to detail is huge. Everything is white with some red and gold touches making the room seem very vibrant and bright.

The restaurant is open 7 days a week with a lunch menu available every day (weekdays and weekends) for lunch, the a la carte menu and a degustation menu with some of Eric Frechon's classics which are presented in the menu with a feather symbol. Which are these dishes? The famous pasta dish filled with foie gras and truffle in Parmesan sauce, the chicken cooked in a bladder, the red mullet and some more. 

As soon as we sat at our table, we were offered the amuse bouche. From left to right, smoked eel, eel gel, beetroot  and curry sauce. macaron with green apple and foie gras ganache, and a tapioca chip coloured with parsley, hazelnut, and hazelnut praline. All were amazing.

The best amuse bouche was by far this utterly amazing round bread cooked in a ceramic boll with pancetta and tomato. It was cooked with fat, maybe olive oil, maybe butter or lard. The aromas filled the whole table and made our appetite even bigger. 

Next a mushroom amuse bouche, dried with creme fraiche, and croutons , powerful taste and flavorful. Bread and butter was also served alongside. The bread basket as you can see has several different types of bread. We chose baguette, one with olives and one with pancetta. All were superb. They actually make their own bread in house for the Epicure and the whole hotel and this is something I always admire.

To the starters, Hare soup with chestnut spaghettis, ravioles stuffed with foie gras and black truffle, was very creamy and very rich with a bit gamey taste from the candied hare pieces. I liked it a lot. This to my mind would be a perfect Christmas dish. 

Octopus, grilled with coco beans from Paimpol, broth of chorizo and nasturtium flowers. The octopus was perfectly cooked, melting in your mouth while the broth was powerful and full of aromas. Another great dish.

On to the main courses. wild duck roasted with spicy honey, roast juice, thin slice of turnip with orange juice, date and lemon.The duck, breast and leg, was medium rare cooked, very tender in a version that reminded me of the classic duck a l orange. You can see the amazing presentation.

Sea scallops , cooked a la plancha, with Jerusalem artichoke pureed and black truffle juice. The scallops were cooked to perfection. 

Whole view of the table for the main course. See the attention to detail? The plate with the duck has duck prints on it while the scallops plate has a fish bone engraved. 

Next, the cheese course. Cheese was in excellent condition, from Bertrand Anthony and Marie-Anne Cantin, the famous master cheese makers. I had 36month old Comte (perfect), a cow blue cheese, mimolette and a strong garlic and pepper flavored goat cheese. All were great. They offered candied fruits alongside and an excellent raisins and nuts brown bread. 

A pre dessert, of pear, pear sorbet, crunchy biscuit and red fruits was awesome.

Priceless Nyangbo, liquid cocoa, thin tile wafers and gold golden sorbet. One of the prettiest desserts on plate I have ever seen, a true masterpiece. The chocolate sphere with perfectly shaped circle holes on it was placed on a different plate. The wafer had light chocolate creme with liquid chocolate inside. The sorbet was velvety. 

And if you wonder how this dessert looks like inside.

Even better in taste was the ''Manjari'' chocolate, iced and creamy , infused with tea, chocolate streusel and nectar of blackberry from ''Mont Velay''. This was a nicely presented dessert, big portioned and reminded me of a black forest gateau. 

After dessert we had a sphere of lemon and tea, flavorful and acidic, pretty refreshing. By that time we were full but they also offered chocolates, orangetes, macarons and marshmallows, so we couldn't resist, again all made in house by the restaurant. The macarons had a thin crispy shell and rich ganache. The pistachio one was amazing.

Service was as you would expect impeccable. There is huge attention to detail in every aspect. From the time of reservation, which you can do via email that they answer promptly and comprehensive to the end of the meal everything was spot on. I m sitting here days after my meal trying to find something, anything, that I didn't find to my liking even in the tiniest bit, just for the sake of the writing and I really cant. 

This is a great restaurant, so if you go to Paris and you want to have a fine dining experience look no further. There is a reason this restaurant was (and practically still is) number 1 of over 13.700 restaurants listed for Paris in Tripadvisor. This is no1 for me in the city and in the best 3 meals of my life with Le Louis XV  in Monaco and L'Auberge du pont de Collonges in Lyon.