Paris and Le Chateaubriand Report
Just spent a week in Paris, and thanks to this board (in particular, "Souphie"), I had some great experiences. Loved La Regalade (as usual) and l'Ami Jean; how do these places offer such amazing food (at these prices)?...Le Cinq was a ridiculously incredible lunch at 78 euros, including a beautiful foie gras first course (no suplement!)...And Guy Savoy and Gagnaire were great; though my main course of Bresse chicken at Guy Savoy was extremely bland, and Gagnaire was a little less spectacular than normal, maybe due to the fact that he was not there(?), but I was still blown away by a couple of things.....However, I did not enjoy Le Chateaubriand (see below)......
I really liked the feel of the classic old space, and I wanted to like the meal, but I did not. The service was painfully slow (and not in a good, relaxed, Parisian way), the portions were oddly small (something I rarely complain about), and I did not enjoy the food at all. They offer a five course dinner prix-fixe at 45 euro; there are no choices on the menu, not even for dessert.
The first course was a small amuse; it was a brulee or a gelee with a few tiny pieces of smoked fish of some sort; both the texture and taste were unpleasant, and I did not finish even it's tiny amuse-like portion.....Second course was a sashimi dish of some sort of white fish, which tasted similar to halibut to me; it was served in a seaweed salad and tasted like the sea; the dish was fresh and light, though 2 out of the 6 pieces of fish were tough and had cartilage or something else texturally unpleasant due to improper prep. I did not really love this dish, and it was under-seasoned, but it was not bad....The third dish was a very small serving of a white fish (Cobillaud?, I think), served with four tiny baby mussels, and a few mini root vegetables. The fish was "tough" and flavorless, one of the mussels had broken shell pieces and/ or sand in it, and the dish on the whole was under-seasoned and generally bland and uninspired....The next course was duck. Once again, the portion was small: a piece of duck breast and literally one bite's worth of foie gras. The duck itself was extremely tough, flavorless, and, again, there was connective tissue which was inedible, so I discarded one third of the already small portion. Additionally, the skin was completely lacking in crispness and flavor. The one bite of foie was tasty.....Desert was a few berries under a giant dollop of whipped cream, with a few tasty pieces of meringue hidden inside; totally uninspired. there is nothing wrong with berries and cream for desert, but I want that to be my choice if I want something light and simple; this is their only offer for their prix fixe menu? Berries and whipped cream? Come on. Even I can do that at home.... There were no additional offerings; no extra amuse, no special bread accompaniment, no mignardise, no madeleines, etc. The bread served was Poilane; which I know has a great reputation, but to me is just good bread which reminds me of simple wheat bread - nothing special.
They seem to be very impressed with themselves at Le Chateaubriand; they should not be. Out of five courses, not one was great, not one was even very good. The food ranged from bad to acceptable. Clearly, the chef is trying to do something purposeful, going for a simple and light style; but giving them the most favorable benefit of the doubt, I just have completely different taste. The food is light to the point of being flavorless. If you are going to attempt simple food, the ingredients and technique better be tops; they were far from that here. After an interminable two and a half hours, I left unsatisfied and hungry (the only time this happened in my two weeks plus in Europe).
I ate at Le Chateaubriand on Thursday night and came away with completely the opposite opinion. I thought this was some of the best, contemporary food we had had in our many visits to the city. It reminded me a lot of "Mugaritz" in San Sebastian that interestingly is another restaurant that divides opinion.
Our service was excellent, from the menu introduction where the server (was it Inaki Aizpitarte himself?) ran through the dishes and asked about allergies to the end and the offer of an extra course of the cheese and dessert. We were also there for about two and a half hours, which I felt, was good for six courses with the pacing working well.
We started with aperitifs, and the explanation of the menu, as the restaurant started to fill up, I sensed they serve the food in waves to groups of tables and I would guess the booking times are staggered to achieve this. The first course, or amuse was small pieces squid, with meltingly soft onions, thyme flowers, and a dab of intense lamb paste (yes lamb paste), this was a very subtle dish but with good flavours. Next, a salad similar to the OP's (Gambas, verdues, eau de concombre), ours had small pieces of prawn carpaccio, crispy prawn legs, samphire, a sea lettuce/mache (?), hazelnuts, and a sauce of cucumber water (plus a mystery green powder on the side). I liked this and found the flavours of the sea really came through. Good fresh ingredients with good texture.
Next a fish (Lieu jaune de ligne, poireaux, lardo di colonatta) dish that really did work, well-judged fish, and a great balance of flavours across the leeks, fish and ham fat, all brought together by a small amount of jus. The meat course was a beef dish (Bavette d’Hugo Limousine, aubergine brulee, faisselle), a precisely cooked piece of rare meat with a very smoky/charcoal like aubergine and vine leaf puree, served with very thinly sliced raw cauliflower, again a flavour combination that worked really well and one which transported us back to Mugaritz’s charcoal veal.
The menu then had a choice of “Fruits rouge, chantilly” or “Brebis Ossau-Iraty ferme Bixartea, membrillo” we had both for a supplement of €7 on the €45 menu. The Brebis was thinly sliced on the meat slicer, and was complimented well by the membrill (quince?) paste. The dessert sounds similar to the OP’s, the cream/foam was more like a mouse and had quite distinct herb undertones (basil?) that lifted the dish. I thought the chunks of meringue and intense red fruits worked well especially with the herbed cream/foam and drew the meal to a good conclusion.
At €52 I thought the menu (€45 plus the cheese) was good value, it is cooking at the leading edge and won’t appeal to all, but for us it fitted into our range of dining experiences. We left very satisfied and quite comfortably full. I don’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Well, these things are certainly very subjective, and are also subject to the variations in menus and execution from night to night. Less subjective, however, is the substandard quality and preparation of some of the key ingredients in my dishes.
I knew before I went that opinions on Le Chateaubriand were decidedly mixed; in fact, the concierge at my hotel told me before I booked it that he had two not so good meals there, and that he heard the same from quite a few others, travelers and Parisiens alike. Many others love the place and have given it high praise.
I do not regret trying Le Chateaubriand even though I did not love my experience there. I would not dissuade others from trying it and deciding for themselves. As for me, I would not likely return.
To try and concile your two views, it's not only a matter of taste: Inaki Aitziparte is not always in the kitchen, and he's not always at his best, so disapointing experiences do happen in this like in any restaurant. Maybe a tad more often than in others, both because of the personality of the chef and because of the heighth of the highs.
While I think very very highly of Aitziparte's talent, I must say that even on good days, I agree with Fishkis that I come out hungry. Luckily there's not shortage of good fries places in the neighbourhood.
The room at Le Cinq is gorgeous, and the service was flawless. Though you can order a la carte from the menu, the prix fixe lunch is 78 euro; they call it the "market menu". Lunch was perfect, and for 78 euro, an incredible value. You have a choice of entree from three or four items and mains from four items, included fish, poultry or meat. You also have a choice of desert from several items.
Shortly after you are seated, you are brought a basket of fried calamari and shrimp. I thought this to be an odd choice. The shrimp and calamari are tasty, but I do not get why they would offer this; it is not particularly light, nor is it particularly unique. Also, I found the portion too large, and it was tempting to keep eating the little guys; though I exercised self control.
The choice of bread was excellent, as were the two butters offered: one "regular", and one seaweed, which I rather enjoyed.
The second amuse (assuming the calamari/shrimp was the first), was a contemporary plate of three separate amuse; I do not recall the detail on these, but they were enjoyable, and it was a nice start to the meal.
My entree was fois gras served over rhubarb and melon, and apricots and some herbs on the side; it was probably the most beautiful foie gras plate I have ever seen, and it was superb, beautifully balanced, and perfectly portioned. (There was also no supplement for this dish).
My main course was a wild caught Striped Bass. It was fantastic. Served with this perfect nutty olive sauce, it almost had a provencal feeling. Accompanied by a beautiful preparation of zucchini flowers and other greens, it was perfect. Again, the portion was substantial, but not too much so. The dish was perfect.
The there was a fantastic pre-desert in a shot glass, for which I cannot recall the details, other than it was great.
Desert was a beautiful chocolate cake with sliver of peach, and a perfectly not too sweet fruit sorbet.
Of course this was followed by a sweets trolley.
This was as good a lunch as I have ever had. And for the money, it was a ridiculous value.
Thank you for taking the time to post your lunch experience at Le Cinq. I was particularly interested in reading about the complimentry basket of fried seafood shortly after being seated. Many many years ago,some top restaurants in France placed a small basket of fried tiny whitefish on the table while the menu is presented. At the same time, we were always asked if we like a glass of champagne or an apertive. It never failed to get us to order couple of glasses. Champagne and fried seafood are great together.
Sorry you didn't enjoy Le Chateaubriand! I loved my dinner there a few months ago and didn't get the sense that anyone was duly or unduly "impressed with themselves"-- neither chef (who was there and said good night and thanks as I left) nor staff. In fact I had excellent, well-timed, friendly service and high-quality, innovative food. Also I wasn't remotely hungry upon leaving but I do not have a large appetite. So I was pleased and left feeling a bit like a princess.
EXCEPT then I went to Le Cinq for lunch for the full-on princess treatment. It was great but my goodness have they lowered the price? I thought lunch was 85E? If it's less than that we're getting into (relative) bargain territory. I loved the calamari and could have gone hog wild with it. The princess in me refrained but the hog...
Thanks for reporting back, fishkis!
I have been reflecting on the very diverse opinions of Le Chateaubriand, and I suspect it is a restaurant that needs a warning attached to protect unsuspecting diners.
It isn't a restaurant for a person who only likes traditional or conservative food, or put another way the cooking is very leading edge and thus can be challenging. It reminds me of Mugaritz and a little of El Bulli. Both these restaurants are challenging and are not to everyones taste. I don't think it is a question of good or bad, but more of an acceptance of the challenges and risks of eating this type of food. You may say that you don't want to go to a restaurant and take the risk, and that is clearly your prerogative, but I like to do this every now and then, as it adds a frisson to my dining experience.
I loved my lunch at Le Cinq, but I loved it for everything that Le Chateaubriand isn't. They are almost the complete opposites in terms of style and substance, some like me will love and appreciate both. Others will be more comfortable in one of the other. I think it is important to recognize this, select accordingly, and set personal expectations correctly.
The food at Le Chateaubriand is subtle with some quite complex flavours, and from our experience we felt the ingredients were all good, so I am very surprised by the OP's comments about sub-standard ingredients. To be frank, I can't see how the ingredients can be good one day and so poor the next. OK the menu is engineered to come in at €45 and this does limit the options a lot. OK lunch at Le Cinq is cheap at €85 (€78 after reduction to VAT?), but remember it is cheap because it subsidised by being part of a big hotel. IIRC some of the cheaper ALC dishes at Le Cinq are €90, so a full ALC is in the €300 to €400 range, and there isn't a "cheap" set menu in the evening. But, even so none of the ingredients in the dishes we had at Le Chateaubriand were flawed. Is it really a case of flawed ingredients or is it different/novel cooking techniques people are not familiar with?
Re-reading both e OP and Mangeur's posts it seems that neither of them like the food early in the meal and as the meal went on they were more and more disappointed, is this a case of once on the slippery slope the dissatisfaction accelerates as the meal goes on, so that minor issues become bigger?
So be warned, it isn't a restaurant for everyone, but many really leading edge restaurants are not. If you want a change to traditional French food it is worth a try and very good value at only €45. If you prefer traditional Le Regalade, CLJ etc will deliver a much more satisfying meal.
Just be clear about my experience at Le Chateaubriand, some things are subjective, others less so. Eating a mussel with broken shells in it, having sashimi with connective tissue, and worst of all, having a very tough piece of duck, the main component of the main course, with ligament or cartilage making much of it inedible are all, objectively, unpleasant things.
As to my taste, it is far from conservative. Gagnaire has been my favorite restaurant since I first tried it several years ago. I went to L'Astrance when it had one star and offered a 65 euro (or was it 70?) "Surprise" menu that blew me away. I went to L'Arnsbourg last year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I appreciate experimentation and attempts at creating something new. But, I simply did not enjoy my meal at Le Chateaubriand. I was struck particularly that not even one course was great. Not even one bite. Had one or two of the courses been great, I could have more easily forgiven the misses. Frankly, it was a consistently mediocre meal. And I really did not see the dynamism of the dishes or the risk taking of the chef.
I do think your comment about progression of the meal was perceptive. I was really turned off by the amuse; I found its texture unpleasant and its taste lacking. But honestly, I really wanted to like this place, but the food prevented this.
Subjectively, I did not enjoy the meal. Objectively, the ingredients and preparation were sub-par. While I genuinely appreciated that they were trying to do something new and different, I simply did not like the food very much. It was not a horrible experience, just one way below my (already tempered) expectations. Of course, every restaurant has an off night; maybe this was one.
I would agree that it is definitely worth a try for anyone that wishes to decide for themselves.
I am just in the middle or reading the book "Shark Fin and Sichuan Pepper" by Fuschia Dunlop and chapter 8 "The Rubber Factor" reminded me of this discussion.
It is a very good book that really gets to the heart of Chinese cuisine, and this chapter deals with "kou gan" (or mouth feel) and discusses how modern chefs like Ferran Adria incorporate this into their cooking. It also discusses how difficult it is for western gourmets who don't have this heritage to appreciate kou gan.
I wonder if part of the problem some of us have with restaurants like Le Chateaubriand (Mugaritz, El Bulli etc) is that we don't really appreciate this element of the food. I know I struggled with some of the flavours and textures when I visited El Bulli. I remember at Chateaubriand the starter was very subtle with quite challenging texture, sort of slimy. I enjoyed it, but still can't make up my mind if the texture was good or bad.
I have often been puzzled why this style of restaurants seem to elicit such binary opinions, as many seem to be in raptures about the food as there are people who think it is bland and unremarkable. Often it is put down to the variability of the kitchen; the chef being away; or, experimental dishes that go wrong. But, I wonder is it simply the experience of the diner? These restaurants actually require a different level of understanding and appreciation. The Chinese are nurtured in the subtleties of food textures from birth, few westerners are. Fuschia says in her book that it took over two years of living and eating in China to get it.
It is tricky to to ask someone if they are an "experienced" enough diner to enjoy a restaurant but maybe it is a factor that needs to be put in play. Restaurants shouldn't just have stars but degrees of difficulty like ski runs, I am certain that would help avoid disappointments.
PS - fishskis, this comment isn't meant to try and justify faults like broken shells in mussels.
From their website it looks like the €85 has dropped to €78 due to the reduction in VAT in restaurants that came in recently. It is confusing because the ALC still has it as €85 whilst the "Light Tasting Menu" has it at €78. I don't believe there are two at such a similar price point.
The other menus at €160 and €230 plus the ALC at €90 plus a dish will also probably have seen price drops due to the tax change.
I couldn't agree more. What is not emphasized in these threads is that one can visit on a lemon of a night at any restaurant at any price point. It could be the creative energy of the chef, the energy or lack thereof in the kitchen, even the front room mix of clients. One visit is not a guage nor one client reliable. As I first wrote, I really wanted to love this place and I may well in the long run.
We visited Le Chateaubriand just before the August closure. Full house Saturday night. Inaki very much in evidence in the front room. This was a meal I was really looking forward to.
From my raw notes we had: Champagne. Pot Touraine blanc. Raw prawns with peach slices in beef bouillon; Calamar with beets and watermelon; Baby monkfish with emulsion and ???; Thin rare beef steak with baby greens, smoked fish and salicorn; Fromages/red wine by the glass; Strawberries with lemongrass whipped cream.
There was nothing to dislike on this menu. The first course should have worked but both prawns and peaches were flavorless. I left most of it, my husband ate the prawns out of mine. I love calamar, but this was tough. Got it down. The baby monkfish was flavorless and not memorable. Got it down. The steak/smoked fish dish/greens and salicorn dish never came together. It was hard to assemble a forkful that reflected the dish. I ate the strawberries and left the lemongrass cream which again should have worked but didn't.
All in all, it was a miserable meal. I was very sad because I really wanted to love this place and the dishes as described by our Inaki-look-alike waiter sounded fabulous. But not this night.
I've let this thread go because my charming ex-eGullet-co-host Felice and I are 180° opposed on this one and I'd hate to lose her friendship, and I respect Souphie/Julot/etc. a lot, but I've written at least 5 reviews and 3 essays on our friend I.A. as he's moved from Le Cafe des Delices (great) to La Famille (edgy) to that Schoolroom place on the Canal St. Martin (goofy and unnecessary) to Transversal (where he served a beet on a plate for $100, I'm exaggerating, but not by much) to Le Chateaubriand (where I hated it; she loved it). So I'm a jaded expert and I agree with all the above, when he's good, he's very, very good and when awful, pack it in, suck it up and pay for for his experiments. So if you're rich, go, it may be good.