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uhockey's thoughts on Paris Restaurants - Part 2 - l'Arpege, Ledoyen, Jean-Francois Piege, Cafe Constant, L'Astrance,

uhockey May 7, 2011 11:40 AM

This thread acts as a continuation of Part 1, found here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/780625

Again, thanks to all the France Hounds for making the trip stellar.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

  1. f
    fishskis May 15, 2011 05:27 PM

    Interesting report. Maybe I am misreading it, but it seems in the detail of each dish, there were many dishes you liked very much; whereas overall, you just didn't love the place. It seems to me that you might not have had an overall connection with the place and its vibe. (Perhaps the water error and the dog just put a bad taste in your mouth that colored your entire experience.(?).

    L'Astrance is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. I have been four (or five?) times, and I will be returning in about a week. The first time I went they had one star, then on subsequent visits, they were ascending quickly. I love everything about this place: the food, the service, the atmosphere. I have never found anything contrived about it.

    Incidentally, I do not think their bread offering comes close to Ledoyen or Savoy or Gagnaire. Also, I do not love the foie gras dish the way other people do, but I do like it. I have had four wonderful meals there, and I did not feel overly stuffed after any one of them; and at each meal I have had at least two or three uniquely prepared, beautiful dishes. I enjoy the relaxed but excellent service, and I like that L'Astrance is different from other 3-stars. It is not grand, it is not formal; it is understated. I also enjoy surrendering myself to the chef and just experiencing the meal as it comes with each new course being a surprise.

    I guess I will see in about a week if my feelings remain unchanged.

    8 Replies
    1. re: fishskis
      uhockey May 15, 2011 05:57 PM

      There were excellent dishes - and there were disasters - and there were things that simply did not make a damned bit of sense.......and to basically be told NO you can't have something we gave to other tables without a reason when I watched them get the exact same menu as us (plus two courses) after the incredibly giving nature of L'Arpege, Guy Savoy, etc.

      If someone else were paying I'd go back. I'd never return on my own dollar. Simply too many other places making better food with better service at an equal or better price.

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

      1. re: uhockey
        PhilD May 16, 2011 04:26 AM

        It is ironic that in your earlier posts to talk about all the extras you received, but when others get the extras (I assume regulars from how you describe them) at L'Astrance then this irritates. I wonder if the diners in those earlier restaurants felt that same as you did here?

        Interestingly I note it was "the table to the right" that ate the menu in synch with you and also didn't receive the other dishes. Sounds like you were both on the same menu.

        I am enjoying your posts but this seems a little out of balance - to me it represents the "swings and roundabouts" of dining at this level. Sometimes I am lucky (or maybe get a good level of rapport with the staff), sometimes I don't, but I never think I am guaranteed the extras and the special courses.

        1. re: PhilD
          uhockey May 16, 2011 04:55 AM

          I have never yet read a single review that did not receive the Pommes. Search the net. Additionally, the "dog table" was speaking strictly English and I'm gathering none were regulars. Additionally, I've read enough about the restaurant to realize we came up TWO courses short of what the "average" person ordering the "Menu L'Astrance" gets.

          What seems to have happened, in reality, is that the folks seated at 8:00 got something the kitchen did not have enough of. Or, perhaps, we simply weren't worthy - despite asking twice.

          The fact is that the meal was unbalanced and frankly overpriced, the service was lackluster and no better than L'Ami Jean or Le Regalade St. Honore (better than L'AOC and Cafe Constant admittedly) and save for the guinea hen dish there was nothing that came close to the top-20 things I ate in Paris list.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          1. re: uhockey
            PhilD May 16, 2011 05:04 AM

            You can be a regular and English, especially since taking your dog to a restaurant is so Parisian (it is illegal in the Uk) so I suspect they were "locals".

          2. re: PhilD
            uhockey May 16, 2011 04:57 AM

            ...and, noting my dining partner......the man could establish a good rapport with a stone - seriously, I've never met someone quite so capable of winning a server's affection......I'll simply say our server had a 'stick-up-his-butt' attitude like no other in the city. He defined the "French Waiter" stereotype despite botching water refills - perhaps the simplest of all things - twice.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          3. re: uhockey
            p
            prashant May 16, 2011 09:36 PM

            I had a similarly conflicting experience at l'Astrance. Some of the dishes were incredible, some of them left me scratching my head in dismay and surprise.

            My wife and I are vegetarians; we reserved two months in advance, and had multiple very pleasant conversations with the staff about our dietary restrictions, so we could only assume that they had ample time to be prepared for our meal. We were pretty surprised, then, when ingredients and condiments were repeated throughout our meal.

            Our meal was 6 courses not including one amuse, a palate cleanser and three desserts. However, black garlic featured prominently in 2/5 savory courses. Japanese cabbage featured prominently in two of the other savory courses. A couple of these dishes were stunningly executed, but the flavors were too strong and distinctive to be repeated over the course of one meal.

            Also, there were citrus notes in pretty much every course. I have read other reviews which also mention that Chef Barbot likes to use a lot of these flavors; it wasn't an issue for me, being a fan of citrus in all it's forms, but it did impart a slightly one-dimensional feeling to the menu.

            Finally, just like uhockey, we were not offered the Pommes. We saw tables on either side of us getting it, and we even asked our server about it, telling him that we had been looking forward to trying this dish. Absolutely no response...

            Despite the excellent wine pairings and some superb dishes [a green asparagus dish with cedrat ravioli, and the best poached egg I've ever tasted, with Parmesan cream, morels and Japanese cabbage being standouts], I would not return again. At this price point, I would much rather return to l'Arpege, le Cinq or Guy Savoy, all of which offered friendlier service, a wider creative range, and, as uhockey has perfectly pointed out, a much more giving nature than l'Astrance.

            1. re: prashant
              uhockey May 17, 2011 03:30 AM

              Add Gagnaire, Ledoyen, Le Pre-Catelan, Michel Rostang, Le Bigarrade to the "more friendly" and at least for the first three "more creative" list, as well.

              Pretty revealing how many people walk out of there feeling not-so-special

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: uhockey
                p
                prashant May 17, 2011 03:35 AM

                I had lunch booked at Gagnaire two days after Astrance. Unfortunately I fell ill and had to cancel. You can imagine how I felt about that especially after the relatively disappointing experience at Astrance!

        2. uhockey May 15, 2011 03:58 PM

          L'Astrance:

          Full text below, photos in the blog.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

          I was stunned – baffled even – the wind entirely removed from my sails; how could such a highly regarded establishment have failed to impress? With the Michelin 3-Star location previously ranking as number two on my list of “must visit” restaurants worldwide I originally thought that perhaps this was simply a case inflated expectations but no matter how I tried I couldn’t create a scenario where this was the case. “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an idiom my friend and dining partner uses to describe restaurants where he feels many ‘pretend’ to understand the hype but where he fails to see what all the fuss is about sprung to mind – and then he said those exact words as we emerged from L’Astrance at the end of dinner on April the 13th, 2011.

          Sure I’d read some mixed things about Chef Barbot’s small restaurant in the 16th – the difficult reservations (less than 180 diners a week,) the casual service (at times even aloof,) the controversially rapid ascent to three stars, and the fact that the chef’s-whimsy menu was oft speckled with duds amongst the brilliance…but honestly they were all risks I was willing to take because I’d heard that when the brilliance shined it was perhaps the brightest in modern East/West and Modern/Classic fusion today…and of courseenlisting the help of a Parisian familiar with the restaurant’s rather obscure did not hurt our chances, either.

          With my sister once again opting to retire early for the evening it was with little effort that I found L’Astrance – as a matter of fact I arrived a full hour early to realize there wasn’t much else to do in the area and as such climbed the large stone staircase at the end of the street to explore the neighborhood until the restaurant opened its doors. Still arriving slightly early for our 8:30pm seating I was greeted at the door by Christophe Rohat and with the reservation confirmed was led to one of the two-tops along the wall – a large well-spaced table with two hand blown glass chargers, a thick white tablecloth, and four stemmed glasses already in waiting. Greeted pleasantly by our server, a young man perhaps of twenty-five, I was offered water and on selecting still was left to browse the room until my friend arrived – a room that would eventually fill to capacity including a trio sitting at a four-top with their Chihuahua (something I’d have never expected even at a Michelin 1-Star in the United States.

          )

          With my friend’s timing impeccable I spent perhaps 10 minutes at the table until he walked in the door at 8:30 sharp and all in all I must say the precise minimalism of L’Astrance is something to behold. With bare floors, goldenrod leather seating, high ceilings and plenty of mirrors the room is fancy without being stuffy and the small flowers in black stone vases add just a touch of softness to the otherwise hard lines, woods, and chrome. With my friend seated it would be a matter of moments before our server would return, confirm his water choice of sparkling, and present us with menus at the wine list. With myself not drinking my friend selected a red and a white to be paired with the appropriate courses and selecting the “menu Astrance” without restrictions we began.

          With the dog table, the table to my left, and the table behind my friend already started and the table to my right receiving courses nearly simultaneously to us the first course of the evening was one of the few I’ve noted to be repeated in the experiences I’ve read from L’Astrance – an amuse of “Brioche with black truffle and parmesan butter and Marzipan wafers with apple gelee.” With the first buttery and savory as the perfume of truffle filled the palate and the second crisp and slightly sour with a smooth linger of almond these were nicely conceived and a welcomed starter.

          With the slate (literally) cleared the next item to arrive at our table – a slightly sourdough flavored brown bread from Poujauran with salty Echire butter and extra fleur de sel – would also arrive with the first mistake of the evening as our server filled my friend’s sparking water with my still – a mistake that would actually happen twice and although harmless went without apology, merely replacement.

          The second amuse of the evening, served shortly after our bread, was a double shot glass with three layers described as “Broccoli Veloute with Mustard Cream and Passion Fruit Foam.” Pairing my favorite vegetable with my least favorite condiment and one of my less preferred fruits I have to admit I did not have high hopes going in and much to my disappointment my fears were realized as nothing in this dish worked for me, not even the broccoli. While it is true that people less put off my mustard may have gotten a little more mileage out of this dish I simply do not see how bitter, acidic, and pudding-thick would ever “work.”

          With an entire slice of bread and butter plus a glass of water cleansing my palate of the previous disaster the first proper course of our meal was Barbot’s most famous – the Parisian Mushroom Galette with Foie Gras, Apple, Hazelnut Oil, Lemon Cream, and Violet – yet despite the gorgeous presentation and large portion I was somewhat underwhelmed by the flavor. Sure the sweet pastry base topped with at least twenty layers of mandolined fungi, two thick layers of creamy foie gras, and a touch of razor thin apple was a textural masterpiece and the very definition of the Chef’s focus on minimally manipulated ingredients, but the flavor was largely just mushroom and a hint of liver with the apple nearly undetectable, especially when paired with either of the sauces – and it was here that I started to worry.

          With the foie gras enjoyed but myself not yet feeling the sense of excitement I’d expected from an entirely spontaneous menu our next course would certainly deliver in the flavor department. Described as “Kombu, Yuzu, Scallop, Oyster, Oyster Leaf, and Crème Fraiche” this frothy soup was parts creamy and parts vegetal, parts briny and parts sweet, and each ingredient was flawless – particularly the nearly raw scallop and lightly poached oyster. Where the dish failed, however, was the manner of its construction – the Kombu an overly reduced paste and the yuzu a large slice, neither of which could be mixed with the other ingredients thus leading to one bite so saline that it could barely be swallowed and another tear-jerkingly tart.

          Already noting Barbot’s affinity for acid and citrus it was no surprise that it would arrive once again in the next dish, but thankfully on this occasion it was done right. Described as “Spinach, Bergamot, Asparagus, Candied nuts, John Dory, Lemon, Curry” I’ll first note that the fish, my favorite, was flawless – slightly crispy on the exterior but moist and textural within while the smooth curry sauce lent a lovely aromatic touch to both it and the snappy curry-dusted asparagus alongside. With each bite of the asparagus slightly different due to the numerous constituents topping it, additional fun bites were found the intensely vegetal quenelle of spinach and a curl of candied lemon around bergamot scented cream.

          Again showing an adept hand with fish and seafood the next dish was the best of the group even though it was once more an exercise in “which ingredient doesn’t belong?” Titled “Mackerel, Miso, Daikon, Meyer Lemon, Sardine, Buckwheat, Leek” and accompanied by a cup of “Smoked Anchovy, Creamy Rocket Veloute, and Frangelico” the answer to the question was Meyer Lemon – an ingredient I’m rather certain is not native to France, and thankfully an ingredient that was easily pushed aside. With the Mackerel actually glazed in Miso before being seared with the scale side down and then coated with buckwheat I can honestly say this was the best Mackerel I’ve ever had – a small portion, but a stunning one. Moving on to the soup – I only wish Barbot had used citrus like he did alcohol because although I have no idea how he thought to pair spicy arugula, fragrant Frangelico, and Anchovy I’m glad he did as each unique flavor seemed to balance the others into something wholly delicious.

          Our fifth proper course of the evening would be the best that we would receive – a dish stated to be Guinea Fowl, Onion stuffing, Vin Jaune, Morel, Cabbage, and Comte sauce. Beginning with two rounds of the buttery smooth fowl – one breast and one leg – with a rich onion, wine, and oyster stuffing beneath the skin the bird itself was phenomenal and the plating a sight to behold. Not to be outdone, resting beneath the protein were a pair of opposites – large earthy morels piped full of a creamy cabbage puree and a roll of cabbage stuffed with chopped morels – both lovely and the whole plate all the better with an ethereal savory comte foam.

          Having watched the earlier tables around us receive their dishes I was excited for the next course – a scarlet game bird that looked to be pigeon…unfortunately that course would never arrive and instead our next plate would be the plate that followed the pigeon for our neighbors – a “Tasting of lamb” with saddle, belly, confit of leg, and kidney plated with a quenelle of eggplant and licorice, green olive, miso, and mushroom jus. A veritable gout attack on a plate following the foie gras, sardines, etc this was actually my first time experiencing lamb kidney and although quite smooth and tasty it was my least preferred of the degustation as all the other portions were shining examples of young lamb done right. With the entirety of the plate quite savory and even the licorice and olive relatively muted it was again here that Barbot showed a great deal of restraint that I wish we’d have seen with the earlier citrus.

          With both myself and my dining partner wondering what would come next and hoping for the pigeon our wishes were unfulfilled as the next course would be the night’s palate cleanser – a tasty and spicy sorbet of Lemongrass, chili pepper, and ginger. Inquiring from our server what the bird course was and what menu it was a part of we were merely told “the menu is different for everyone” and when we persisted and asked if it could be ordered we were simply dismissed with the same answer. Rather annoyed at this point by the intentionally vague answer more fuel was added to the fire as the couple to our left, the dog table, and one other received Barbot’s famous “surprise” dish - Mousse de Pomme de Terre – while my table and the couple to the right were again ignored.

          For dessert, the collection would arrive as a trio – each unique, light, and tasty but only one truly memorable. Beginning first with a flat panna cotta of Rhubarb Compote with Pineapple and Rice Cracker the concept seemed similar to that of a crème brulee without the blowtorch and the sweet fruits balanced nicely beneath the crunchy cracker.

          The second dessert, favored by my friend but largely underwhelming me due to my generally blasé feelings for passion fruit, was Passion Fruit Mousse in a Tart with Green Tea. Another extremely light presentation with the grassy matcha acting to even out the tooth-aching sweet mousse I actually enjoyed the tart – I only wish a different fruit would have been featured as its filling.

          The final dessert, the least composed and most tasty, was Orange and Honey Ice Cream with Pistachio Cream and Shortbread – light and creamy, sweet but balanced by the buttery shortbread – and that Pistachio cream…it was potentially the best pastry cream I tasted in all of Paris.

          Still sore about the pigeon and the mousse I’m rather certain the mood was palpable as the final bites of the meal were delivered rather coolly but with ample description – the first a pairing of Sticky yet delectable Chestnut Honey Madelines and a plate of fresh fruits including Dates, Pineapple, Mango, and Grapes and the second a Jasmine Eggnog served in an eggshell – a flavor I found cloying and my friend compared to the smell of a urinal cake.

          With the bill settled, bag collected, and a copy of the menu requested it was not long before we found ourselves back on the Rue Beethoven just five minutes after 11:00pm. Having already noted my friend’s comments about the Emperor’s New Clothes with regard to not understanding the hype I will expound further and say that I actually DO understand the hype as the food can occasionally be brilliant. What I don’t understand is the restaurant’s attitude – serving whatever it wants to whomever it wants, placing eccentric and contradictory ingredients in places they never belonged – it is like they are unapologetically experimenting at the customer’s expense while treating the diner as though it is a privilege to act as a guinea pig. Who knows – perhaps I caught them on a bad night – but considering my previous three-star experiences both in Paris and Stateside there was simply no excuse for some of the dishes we were served…or the ones we weren’t served. Then again, I guess L’Astrance never offered an excuse and all things considering I imagine it never does – you’re paying for them to do whatever they want.

          12 Replies
          1. re: uhockey
            m
            Maximilien May 15, 2011 05:13 PM

            *gasp*

            I hope you will not end your culinary extravaganza on this sour note!

            Again, a great review.

            Max.

            1. re: Maximilien
              uhockey May 15, 2011 05:26 PM

              There will be one more thread

              Guy Savoy, Le Regalade St. Honore, Josephine Chez Dumonet, Michel Rostang, Le Pre Catelan, and L'AOC

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              1. re: uhockey
                m
                Maximilien May 15, 2011 05:54 PM

                Damn you!!!! (in a good way! :-) )

            2. re: uhockey
              Parigi May 16, 2011 04:41 AM

              Gulp. You are two nice gentlemen. I would have left a tip - of 20 centîmes. Make it 10.

              1. re: uhockey
                j
                jock May 16, 2011 08:58 AM

                We discovered l'Astrance when it first opened and loved our first two visits (before stars). The next two were progressively disappointing. The food became more and more "cutsie" and disconnectedly complex and the attitude more and more "we are hot stuff and don't really care what you think."

                Took it off our list many years ago.

                1. re: jock
                  mangeur May 16, 2011 09:51 AM

                  "We discovered l'Astrance when it first opened and loved our first two visits (before stars). The next two were progressively disappointing."

                  I could have written this. Our early visits were magical. The last one, just before the first star, was a train-wreck. Poor water and wine service, a succession of "why would they think we'd want to eat this" dishes intermingled with "ehh?" palate cleansers and ending with desserts left uneaten. As we stepped back onto the street, my husband's words, "Well, we certainly don't have to come back here!" Even Rohat's warm welcome and cordial good-byes couldn't ameliorate our enormous disappointment.

                  1. re: mangeur
                    j
                    jock May 16, 2011 10:28 AM

                    Used to do the uhockey "thing." Remember one trip that involved 24 stars in 8 days and none of the stars were in Paris. They went from Illhausen to Nice to Chagny. Eat, drive, sleep.

                    I gave up on stars many years ago about the time l'Astrance got their first one. Same thing happened with l'Arpege. It was great in the beginning (didn't the Astrance guys come from Arpege?) then got too convoluted then went all veggie crazy. Notable exception on giving up on stars - Lucas Carton always perfect and Auperge d'ill ditto.

                    Now I am back to basics. Perfect ingredients (limit 3 per dish, 4 tops), perfectly prepared served by pros (only in Paris) with no attitude. My April trip new highlights were; Le Mirior, Dans les Landes and Royal Thai.

                    Favorites that did not disappoint. Quedubon, (fail to understand why this gets no love on this board), Juveniles, Baron Rouge and Fish.

                    Disappointments for one reason or another RSH, good but over rated, Bistronomes, over rated and not so good and Papilles, good but not special anymore and developing attitude.

                    1. re: jock
                      mangeur May 16, 2011 10:56 AM

                      Oooof. We love Les Papilles for its constancy. No, you'll get no surprises there. But attitude? Bertrand is one of the least affected hosts we know, always very warm welcome, the table in the window and sweet service. By far the most humble of the chefs of his vintage.

                      1. re: mangeur
                        j
                        jock May 16, 2011 11:32 AM

                        Used to feel the same way. Was on the must visit list until this April. Service for us was abrupt but ok. His treatment of the table next to us, three charming ladies from London, inappropriate to say the least. He just wasn't nice. Don't know how else to describe it.

                        I am a devoted foodie but that is nothing compared to my passion for wine. I drink great wine at home with friends but look for good wine at reasonable prices when dining out. Always loved Papilles selection and prices but this time there were no inexpensive wines on their shelves. Every other place I went on this trip I was able to find wines that were as good or better for considerably less. Three courses: Cauliflower soup was very good, the duck was tough and the whole plat was not very good, dessert not good not bad just ok.

                        Too many better places that I already know and I am always trying to find new ones. Le Miror blows it away - better food, better wine, better service, better prices.

                    2. re: mangeur
                      uhockey May 16, 2011 10:34 AM

                      ...I wish I'd have seen all these opinions before I went. Most of what I got was "flashes of brilliance" type reviews.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      1. re: uhockey
                        j
                        jock May 16, 2011 10:42 AM

                        not sure i understand ???

                        1. re: uhockey
                          johannabanana May 16, 2011 01:12 PM

                          I know what uhockey means, after weighing up chow discussions on the Paris three stars a couple of months ago and certainly getting the impression that l'Astrance remained well-regarded e.g: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/770574

                          Not that I've eaten there, fortunately! It's a mixed blessing to be able to give a negative opinion from recent experience and maybe some of the commenters haven't actually been to l'Astrance that recently.

                  2. uhockey May 14, 2011 09:34 AM

                    Cafe Constant:

                    Full text below, photos in the blog.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/c...

                    Admittedly the first four days in Paris were an embarrassment of riches averaging nearly four Michelin stars a day without even taking into account a great meal at a new friend’s home, San Pellegrino’s best restaurant in France, and L’Ami Jean. With yet another highly anticipated Three-Star planned for dinner Wednesday afternoon called for something slightly more casual and more so something that didn’t require so much effort or financial resources – criteria that no-reservations/walk-in only Café Constant fit nicely.

                    Having originally planned to visit Chef Constant’s Cafe or Les Cocottes in the event that I could not move up from my #1 spot on the wait list at Jean-Francois Piege the night before it was with little effort that we found the restaurant mere blocks from the Eiffel Tower and having planned our visit appropriately we were met with no line. With outdoor seating full our young waitress quickly identified us as English speakers and asked if we would prefer seating downstairs or in the upper level and with numerous children plainly visible on the ground floor we decided to take our chances upstairs instead – a good choice despite having to navigate the narrow climb as servers descended with plates in hand.

                    Arriving in the small room and hanging our coats on a hook towards the back we were quickly led to a small table in the center – the only open table to be found. A far cry from the spaciousness of many of our previous meals the room at Café Constant actually even more cramped than L’Ami Jean and invariably louder as well. Cozy without being cramped we were next handed menus complete with English translations, explained the chalkboard specials, and asked if a carafe of water would be alright or if we would prefer bottled – the first time such a thing was asked and an offer we gladly accepted.

                    With orders placed and water delivered alongside a crusty but bland baguette (sans butter) it was really only then that I noticed that for the first time in days I could understand the diners at every single adjacent table. Having walked in the door knowing that the restaurant was one of the most English friendly in the city I have to say it did not arrive as a tremendous surprise, but in all reality there was not a French Speaking Native to be heard save for the servers and given their fluency even they could have passed as tourists, albeit very friendly and efficient ones.

                    Chatting amongst ourselves about the plans for the afternoon it would be only moments before our first course would arrive – in this case all for me in the form of an 11€ Foie Gras terrine with buttery warm brioche. Served with a “bon appetite” and topped with only cracked black pepper and fleur de sel there was really no glitz or glamour to this course, just straight up bistro food done well for a price nearly half what one would pay back in the States. Savoring slowly and requesting more brioche I will note that the large slate was slightly cumbersome when the other dishes began to arrive but overall this was trivial when taking into account the lovely sapor of the liver throughout the meal.

                    Arriving perhaps fifteen minutes on the heels of the foie gras our two warm appetizers of the afternoon would be from the menu of daily specials, the first a 13€ bowl of “Creamy Shellfish Bisque” for my sister. Ample in portion and served only modestly warm with a dollop of crème fraiche and caviar the creamy soup was generous with mussels, lobster, and crayfish with hints of spice that proved a nice complement to the otherwise briny potage. While I personally would have favored the soup itself warmer especially as the crème fraiche would only serve to cool it further when mixed in the flavor was quite nice overall.

                    For my warm appetizer I just couldn’t stop myself from ordering more asparagus – especially when its plate-mates were a crispy soft-boiled egg, onions, pork jus, and bacon in milk foam. Served piping hot with the egg just slightly overcooked this veritable breakfast-for-lunch selection was as beautiful to behold as it was to eat. With the asparagus expectedly well prepared and focused by the rendered onions and briny pork it was actually the milk foam that wowed; adding a slightly sweet levity to the otherwise hefty flavors.

                    With our appetizers cleared it would not be long before main courses would arrive – this isn’t to say we felt rushed, but given the energy and popularity of Café Constant this isn’t exactly the sort of spot where you linger. Weighing in at 22€ each the first main course was Sea Bass a la Plancha with Garlic Sweet Potatoes – a rather simplistic preparation with a large filet of the meaty fish draped over the potatoes with a sprig of greenery. Clearly fresh and full of flavor the fish was good, though both Erika and I would have preferred the skin more crisp while the potatoes most certainly were garlicky – almost too much so for my liking, but perfect for my sister who ate them with relish.

                    For my main course I (of course) selected the Duck and Potato Pie with Crispy Apples and Pomegranate Jus – a rather disappointing confit of leg fortunately buoyed by its accoutrements. Beginning with the leg, at first I thought I had been spoiled – that all the fine dining had left me with heightened expectations – but no such luck as the duck was simply greasy, with skin that was not crisp and flavor that bordered on gamey unless matched with the delectable jus. With regard to the apples and potato pie, both were good with the apples actually flash fried like a wonton and the dollop of buttery potatoes sitting atop a proper shredded confit that almost seemed as though it must have come from a different animal as it was parts crispy and entirely what I expected from the leg when it arrived.

                    With plans to visit Pierre Herme later in the day we almost decided to skip dessert until we were presented with the menu and our waitress told us the Rice Pudding was “really really good.” Having already been wowed once by this rustic dish at L’Ami Jean and with a cost of only 7€ I figured “why not?” and ordered one with two spoons that would arrive within five minutes and be forgotten five minutes after we walked out the door. Was it alright? Sure. Was it really really good – certainly not as only the few small bites with caramel had much flavor.

                    With instructions to take the 91€ bill downstairs to pay we collected our coats and descended the stairs to once again find the room full and a small line waiting for seats – clearly Constant is not hurting for business. Asked if we’d be interested in purchasing the Chef’s cookbook prior to our departure we declined and within moments we were back on the street en route for the Rodin Museum. A decent meal at a rather decent price I cannot say I “regret” our visit to Café Constant, but at the same time I understand why it does not come nearly as highly recommended as other restaurants of its ilk – overall it is simply a “safe” place for tourists to enjoy decent quality French Bistro food and while I was indeed a tourist I simply expected more.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: uhockey
                      m
                      Maximilien May 14, 2011 11:41 AM

                      "I simply expected more."

                      It's hard to expect more when you've been eating/feasting in the city's best restaurants for a while!

                      Me think one cannot and should not compare restaurants that are in completely different classes.

                      but good review again.

                      Max.

                      1. re: Maximilien
                        uhockey May 14, 2011 11:46 AM

                        I don't think I was comparing it to Gagnaire - but it was a disappointment and more pricey than L'Ami Jean, Chez Dumonet (w/ a caveat,) L'AOC, and Le Regalade St. Honore - and not as good as any of them.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        1. re: uhockey
                          n
                          Nancy S. May 14, 2011 12:39 PM

                          We occasionally go to Cafe Constant for Sunday dinner. My strategy for Cafe Constant is to order two "entrees" and the profiteroles for dessert. That seems to work. I think the better effort is in the first courses. I do wish the bread were better, though..

                    2. uhockey May 12, 2011 12:30 PM

                      Jean-François Piège

                      Full text below, photos in the blog.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/j...

                      Considering the “15 days in advance at 8:00AM local time” reservation policy, twenty-seats, and one service per four (or sometimes five) nights of the week my dinner on Tuesday evening had everything to do with a fantastic local contact and a bit of luck in the form of a day-of cancellation – located above the bustling Hôtel Thoumieux I’d say it is fair to call Jean-François Piège the toughest ticket in town. Well aware of the nearly instantaneous awarding of 2 Michelin Stars to the tiny jewel box and having heard from a number of people that Piège’s cutting edge cuisine had perhaps been held back during his most recent stint at Les Ambassadeurs I must admit that the eponymous locale this was in my top four “must visits” for the trip and as such both my expectations and excitement were high walking in the door…a door that I walked by twice without even noticing it was there.

                      After finally realizing the small door and narrow carpeted staircase next to Thoumieux was indeed the entry to Jean-François Piège it was a short climb before I found myself in a room bathed in soft white. Chic and sexy with soft lighting and a cocktail-bar-styled hostess stand I presented my name and after a quick browse of the reservation list I was told it would be a few moments before the room was ready. Taking a seat on a plush leopard-print chair (and a second glance at the Scarlett Johansson look-a-like hostess) it was perhaps 5 minutes of listening to the soft overhead euro-pop before I was led to my table directly adjacent to the viewing window style kitchen.

                      With the room bathed in light from an enormous overhead skylight the most striking aspect of its design (save for the kitchen) was the sleek intimacy – a product of the narrow room, white walls, wooden tables, and plush patterned seating options. Invariably trendy but at the same time recalling the 60’s in style, sound, and mannerisms I found the room pleasant but perhaps trying a little too hard. Within moments of my seating I would be greeted by a young man of perhaps twenty five who, along with a slender young woman in a lacey tutu, would act as my server for the evening.

                      With the room now half full and soon to be at capacity I was next presented with the menu and a description of how it works – essentially a list of six ingredients sourced from local markets from which the diner selects one, two, or three at a cost of 70/90/115€ respectively (or 165€ with wine pairings) along with “Les Grignotages, Les Fromages de Xavier, et Les Gourmandises.” With my three ingredients selected I was next asked about allergies and after declining any such issues I opted for the 7€ water service and things began rather quickly. As a note regarding service – it was succinct, helpful, and professional but rather lacking in personality or smiles even when compared to more “serious” spots such as Rostang, Ledoyen, or Le Pré Catelan – a peculiarity to me considering the whimsical nature of the room, platings, and music choices.

                      With a cut tablecloth laid to cover the wood and unique cutlery plus an ornamental apple full of fleur de sel brought with my water the first flavors to arrive would be presented on a sort of rotating flower. Flavor and fun with items described as Creamy Cod Fritter, Chorizo Pizza, Salmon Belly and Avocado Macaroon with Red Onion, Ham and Cornichons with Lemon and Mustard, plus Rutabaga Chips and Dip I really enjoyed each but most of all the spicy deconstructed pizza puff and creamy fritter with hints of sage.

                      With the canapés consumed in short order the next item to arrive at the table was the bread basket – literally, a wire basket filled with bread. Featuring two full baguettes, one salted and soft and the other crunchy and loaded with sesame seeds, plus a rustic sourdough with a lovely crumb all were good, particularly the salted baguette which provided ample mechanism to deliver more of Bordier’s blissful butter.

                      With the outdoor lighting beginning to wane and the small kitchen of five chefs moving in swift silence it would be perhaps twenty minutes between the canapés and the first courses – variable from table to table as the order in which the selections were served was based on chef’s choice. For myself, having neglected lighter ingredients such as Caviar Oscietre, Asperge Vertes de Provence, and Langoustine Vivante, the first course of the evening would be “Turbot Sauvage,” and a large portion of it at that. With the subtle and meaty fish poached in butter and served over a bed of English peas, Lima beans, zucchini, and asparagus it was the sauce that truly stood out – a combination of the pan jus, pork prosciutto, and black truffles – and brought all the flavors together. While not as pure as my previous Parisian experience with Turbot and not as playful as Piège’s other options for the evening I couldn’t have asked for a better opening volley.

                      Moving on to my second course I will note that this was the first of two notable delays at Jean-François Piège – a lag of approximately thirty five minutes that likely would not have felt so excessive if dining with others but was rather off-putting in my case; thankfully what followed was worth the wait. Denoted as “Pigeonneau de Nid” this course was even more substantial than the fish that preceded it in both portion and flavor and overall ranks as one of the top ten plates I enjoyed in Paris. With both breast and leg seared golden on the exterior and red within the already exemplary bird was brought to the next level by a pair of stuffings – the first a textural puree of black olive and brioche and the second a creamy terrine of foie gras. Not to be outdone, the pigeon’s partner on this particular plating was a galette of pommes puree and a crispy potato chip topped with micro-greens that went very nicely with the reduction of port and game jus poured tableside.

                      For my third selection of the meal I was pleased to see the chef had saved the best for last – “Ris Veau de Lait.” Seated next to a “cheese stick” comprised of crystal rice and comte and topped with comte-crisps and earthy morels the milk calf thymus – lightly seared, sweet, and creamy – was one of the largest I’ve ever seen and by far and away the best prepared. With both the cheese and the offal delightful I was additionally pleased by yet another inspired offering from the saucier - a pool of morel beurre blanc sauce abutted by vegetal spinach puree that mellowed the otherwise weighty flavors.

                      With plates cleared and another baguette, this time raisin and walnut, delivered in a fresh basket I was next delivered an enormous block of wood topped with Quince puree and three cheeses from Xavier Fromager - Castillonais, Brillat Savarin, and Bleu de Séverac plus a shot glass of apple juice and house made yogurt. Having never sampled any of these three cheeses in the past I will note that the smooth texture of the Savarin was quite impressive while the Bleu was one of the most pungent I’ve ever tasted even when paired with a smear of the quince.

                      What followed next was another substantial delay, perhaps twenty minutes with the empty block on the table and another ten after it was removed before desserts would arrive. While the small kitchen and variable timing of people finishing each course likely had something to do with this, the primary issue was that of my neighbors who insisted on asking innumerable questions about each plate and wine – an unfortunate burden on such a small staff.

                      With the time now approaching 10:30pm and coffee declined it should be noted that when desserts did arrive it was quite the display – a Gagnaire-esque presentation of five selections with each quite sizable and ornately plated. Amongst the less memorable options were a spicy Bergamot Pot du crème, a selection of Pineapples, Bananas, and Papaya with Lemongrass, and Fresh Strawberries with Chantilly Cream and Mint – each good, none wowing. Fairing better would be a collection of bite sized Pomegranate Beignets served in a porcelain black dove – sweet yet tart, lightly fried – while the star of the desserts was a “free form” vanilla soufflé filled with buttery vanilla bean egg cream and topped with a crispy honey tuille…plus cinnamon crème Anglaise from a small pitcher that I believe was actually intended to be used as a dipping sauce for the beignets.

                      With plates cleared and no mignardises to be served I sat and relaxed for a few moments before requesting the check – a relative bargain at 122€ – and after paying made my way to the street as Dean Martin played overhead. With the Eiffel Tower aglow in the distance as I walked to my metro stop my thoughts of the meal just passed were a jumble as the food and the room were some of my favorite in the city, yet the service and pace were at times so dull that I nearly fell asleep during the five course/four hour experience. All in all I think Jean-François Piège fits a unique niche in the Parisian dining scene and in that single evening he served me two of the ten best things I’ve eaten thus far in 2011 but without improving the service I simply do not see people continuing to deal with the impossible reservation system no matter how good the food or Michelin ranking.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: uhockey
                        t
                        trueblu May 12, 2011 03:06 PM

                        thanks for that report. Both the pigeon and sweetbreads sound wonderful. I wonder, however, would the service mishaps have been so noticeable if you had a dining companion, as you yourself observe. Although I do dine alone (rather less frequently these days), my most memorable meals have tended to involve company -- I think that reflects more on me and human nature in general rather than the chef's abilities. I also believe that most professional reviewers tend not to dine alone, perhaps for similar reasons.

                        tb

                        1. re: trueblu
                          uhockey May 12, 2011 03:57 PM

                          Of my top 10 meals all time less than half were with others. I not only enjoy dining alone, I think I recall the food more fondly as it is the ONLY focus. That said, 4 hours for 5 courses is extremely excessive, IMO. Spent less time at Gagnaire and l'Arpege WITH others.

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                        2. re: uhockey
                          Parigi May 12, 2011 03:22 PM

                          Great report as usual, as we now expect from you. Very interesting assessment.

                        3. uhockey May 9, 2011 06:11 PM

                          Ledoyen:

                          Full text below, photos in the blog.

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

                          To dine in a space nearly as old as your country of origin is a strange thing – to think that those who have preceded you are the men who fill artistic, literary, and historical texts…it would make the space seem significant even if the food was average. But, what if the restaurant was also a Michelin three-star establishment that some have claimed may serve the best food in Paris? On April 12th 2011 I decided discover for myself just “what if” at Ledoyen – the oldest restaurant in Paris. With reservations made by phone well in advance for one person at lunch I’ll admit this was the one 3-Star meal I was most leery of during our trip to Paris largely because I’d heard of chilly service and a stodgy room – rumors I hoped to find false because I’d heard nothing but praise for the product on the table.

                          Hidden in the gardens adjacent to the Champs Elysées and established in 1792 as a formal restaurant Ledoyen exudes the very definition of “les grandes tables du monde” – a place of fine dining with an extensive history rooted in quality and tradition, yet at the same time as I walked up the gravel path to the space it was certainly obvious that some aspects of the space had been modernized in the intervening years to provide a touch of modernity. With a uniformed guard patrolling out front as I approached I was greeted with a smile and “bonjour” as he abandoned his march to hold the door and within two steps of breeching the doorway a tall elderly gentleman greeted me, located my name, and handed my bag off to a young lady before leading me up the staircase as he explained to me a short history of a painting on the wall.

                          Entering the grand dining room – long, spacious, and with enormous bay windows flooding the space with light – I was again handed off, this time to the man who would serve as my captain and within moments I was seated at a handsome two-top with cream linens, monogrammed napkins and a golden charger matching the gilded ornaments of the room. With heavy woods, chandeliers, mirrors, and heavy curtains abound I guess I can understand why some felt the room could use an upgrade, but to me it felt like old luxury befitting a place of such history.

                          With wine declined and still water (7€ per small bottle) from Vittel poured I next received three menus – one for lunch, one a la carte, and one featuring Chef Le Squer’s signature tasting menu. Having originally planned on the tasting I was instantly forced to reconsider when I saw the lunch menu options and after some debate and a pair of questions I actually opted for the lunch menu plus two supplements – a choice that would lead to more courses than the signature tasting and when it was all said and done leave me as the lone diner in the room. With my comfort and capacity (“Monsieur, this will be much food”) assured it would not be long before the experience would begin.

                          For my first taste of Le Squer’s cuisine I was a bit taken aback – sure I’d seen pictures and heard that he dabbles in pairing his classic training with modern technique, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating a molecular gastronomy in a room like Ledoyen. Presented on a pair of black slate blocks the sextet of canapés du jour were described first in French and then in English by a young woman who would act as my primary server throughout the meal and each one clearly sported not only modern flare, but Eastern influence as well. With options including a “Ginger Bubble,” a Veggie Wrap with Sesame, an Asparagus Puff with Nori, an Uni pita, and Crackers flavored with Polenta and Parmesan alongside those made with Sesame and Squid Ink each bite was fun and tasty, but overall it was the Uni Pita that truly stood out – like a pizza-roll stuffed with butter and purple urchin that burst on mastication into a flood of briny flavor.

                          With my love of bread well documented and canapés being enjoyed slowly the next items to arrive at my table would become a serious issue when taking into account my captain’s comment about the size of the meal – to put it another way, the bread service at Ledoyen is without a doubt the best of any restaurant I’ve yet to experience. Featuring a crunchy baguette with an open and airy crumb, yeasty salted olive bread, and a golden roll referred to as cereal brioche – all house-made and all warm – plus a large round of unsalted slightly sweet butter from Bordier it was the sort of bread I simply could not stop eating, particularly the brioche which I’m rather certain I had a piece (or two) of with every course.

                          With canapés finished the next course to arrive would be the afternoon’s amuse bouche and considering Le Squer’s reputation for drawing on products from his native region I was not surprised when the area was cited in describing the course. Again described in French and then translated to English, “Fine raw peas from Brittany over Pea Flan with Onion, Bacon, Marjoram, Milk Foam” was fantastic – the sort of dish that makes an American wonder why even the best produce back home rarely compares. Snappy and sweet meets salty and smooth and all with the mild undertone of marjoram and onions punctuating the experience – an inspired combination that could have easily served as a proper course given its size and complexity.

                          Already glad I’d decided to make the visit my first proper course of the afternoon would be precisely the sort of dish I’d expected from Ledoyen – an eye catching dish pairing top quality ingredients and time-honored techniques with a handful of whimsy. Described as Foie Gras des Landes mi-cuit with chocolate, toffee, vanilla, esplette, and sea salt from the Brittany coast this dish was decadence defined and although offered as an appetizer it could have just as as easily arrived as dessert. Significant in portion and more so in taste I particularly loved the manner in which the crunchy peppered toffee melded the thick layer of creamy liver with the milk chocolate ganache forming a flavor oddly reminiscent of an upscale peanut butter cup with basenotes of smoke and spice.

                          With the plate for course one literally wiped clean to the amusement of my server it would be a short while before my second of the four course lunch menu would arrive, this time “Bresse Chicken in stale bread with Tarragon, Grapefruit, Asparagus and Fine Herb reduction” Again served in ample portion with the bird’s mildly gamey flavor and tender flesh enhanced by the tarragon and herbs packed beneath the buttery crust the other high point of this dish was the inspired pairing of thinly sliced white asparagus and grapefruit – two flavors I’d have never thought to combine, but when used in this setting a pleasant acidic accompaniment to the otherwise classic take on “fried chicken.”

                          While other diners opting for the lunch menu were preparing for cheeses or desserts the parade of savories would march on for myself in the form of a piping hot structure approximately one and a half times the size of a Twinkie. Dubbed by some as “The Macaroni Castle” (Officially titled Jambon / Morilles / Truffe Aux Spaghettis) this dish came highly recommended by no less than three trusted palates and despite its cost being more than the entirety of the lunch tasting it was absolutely worth it. With tender spaghettis standing vertical beneath a molten cheese roof decorated with crisp potatoes, savory ham, gold, and fresh morels this plate was a visual masterpiece, but like many things it was “the inside that counts” – a liquid filling loaded with butter, parmesan, cream, ham, morels, and chunks of black truffle the size of grapes. Beautiful, complex, aromatic, and decadent in every sense of the word – a dish that will forever stand out in my mind as one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

                          With praise flowing forth as I again wiped the plate clean it was the cheese carte that would arrive next, an ornately decorated carte with nearly twenty options from which I selected a 2008 Comte, Aged Livarot, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Brie de Meaux, and a particularly creamy Epoisse to go with the house made Fig and Walnut Bread. With each quite nice it was actually the Alpine goat Pouligny that impressed me the most with its somewhat dry texture and sweet-and-sour balance.

                          With the bread plate and butter no longer present to tempt me what would follow next was the best sort of excess – an over abundance of desserts. Certainly the four course lunch had its two dessert options, but why settle for a single choice when for a mere 9€ you can opt for Le Grande Dessert Tasting Ledoyen – a collection of five – plus four paired petits fours and more? With the parade beginning first with the petits fours as the others were prepared the days selections included Licorice Macaroons with Hibiscus jelly, Pina Colada and Pineapple Lollipops with a Gingerbread base, White Chocolate Sandwiches with Bailey’s and Lime, and Salty Caramel Wontons with Candied Pecans. Much like the canapés this playful collection certainly did not seem to “fit” the classic nature of the room, but by this point I’d more than realized Le Squer was unhindered by such things and I found the Lollipops and Wantons particularly lovely.

                          Preserving one half of the petits fours for later the first course of my dessert tasting to arrive was described as “white on black” and featured Ledoyen’s yeast ice cream covered in edible silver and paired with a light menthol mousse and shards of white chocolate. With the mousse/ice cream combination smooth and nicely balanced while the chocolate served largely as a textural contrast the surprise of this dish was how light it all was – a chilly cloud punctuated with crunch.

                          With the restaurant now approximately half-empty the second dessert of the afternoon would be Ledoyen’s signature, yet despite this status I was somewhat hesitant as I generally don’t prefer grapefruit. Arriving stacked as a pseudo-millefeuille and titled “Croquant de pamplemousse cuit et cru au citron vert” the dessert was undoubtedly attractive and on description featured the fruit in no less than five forms – sections marinated in lime, a gelee with dill, icy sorbet, crunchy candy topped with basil, and grated peel punctuated by honey. An explosive showing of tartness and texture I particularly enjoyed the manner in which the spices balanced the citrus, but all in all it was still grapefruit and while I certainly appreciate the effort and balance it simply was not designed for my palate.

                          The third dessert of the afternoon would arrive perhaps fifteen minutes after the second and this one was much more fitting my sensibilities. Described as “Strawberry, coriander, hibiscus, beurre blanc crème brulee” I personally like to remember this dish as Sophisticated Strawberry Shortcake without the cake. Featuring fraises des bois in a ring surrounding floral pastry cream perched atop the most decadent crème brulee one can imagine at its base the dish was then topped with aromatic coriander foam and smooth strawberry gelato to form a dish where each bite was a little different from the last – it was exquisite.

                          Dessert four would prove to be another intriguing composition – a dish described in English as “pavlova of carrot, orange, and fromage a la creme” but honestly I think something was lost in the translation as the texture was more cheesecake than pavlova. Semantics aside, with two layers of airy cream cheese sandwiching orange puree topped and topped with orange segments soaked in pineapple rum the cake itself was lovely. What set this dish apart, however, was the carrot component – shards of candy similar to that of the white chocolate from earlier and an aromatic froth that tasted as fresh cooked carrots smell.

                          With only two other tables still sporting patrons at this point I was asked if I’d like coffee – an offer I gladly accepted as there was a long day ahead, but prior to the coffee my last dessert would arrive in the form of “Chocolate crunch, caramel, crème fraiche.” In my opinion saving the best for last this decadent plate was geometrically pleasing and texturally wowing with two thick fingers of Valrhona ganache filled with nougat and wafer juxtaposing a layer of thick caramel at the center of the plate and tangy vanilla tinged crème fraiche at one side with chocolate pop-rocks at the other.

                          With plates finally cleared and Chef Le Squer making his way to the dining room to say hello to the seven of us remaining the last bites of the meal would arrive along with the intensely flavored coffee in the form of Chocolate with Rice, Caramel au Beurre Sel, Kouign Aman, and Caramelized Almonds. With the chocolate and caramelized almonds rather unmemorable after such an extravagant meal and the caramels a lovely sweet/salty balance it was invariably the Kouign Aman that stood out – light and buttery, crisp and sweet, and best of all still warm.

                          Still enjoying the mignardises as Le Squer made his rounds mine was the last table he would visit and although our communication was somewhat limited due to the necessity of an interpreter he appeared to be a very humble man and extremely grateful for my compliments of the cuisine. Stating that he was impressed I ate so much and inquiring as to what I liked best he again thanked me before returning to the kitchen stating it was time to begin preparing for dinner service. With the staff ever efficient, smiling, and professional I was asked if there was anything else I’d like and after requesting a copy of the menu I paid my check and was on my way along with the 2011 Ledoyen stamped copy of “Les grandes tables du monde” gifted to me in the lobby when I collected my bag.

                          With the afternoon gorgeous as I made my way towards L’Arc de Triomphe to meet my sister I was left to reflect on the meal I’d just experienced and all things considered it marked my third outstanding experience in three days and in retrospect it was also my third favorite meal in Paris. While the room is certainly aged and the service not as whimsical as that of Pierre Gagnaire or l’Arpege I personally did not find either to be cold or boring but instead classical and befitting a building of such history. Moving beyond this, I found Le Squer’s style and the product on the table to almost serve a bridge between past and present – a classic approach that is not afraid to have a little fun and serious dining with just a touch of whimsy.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: uhockey
                            n
                            Nancy S. May 10, 2011 05:45 AM

                            Fabulous, again. Your writing is so delightful; it's a pleasure to read.

                            1. re: Nancy S.
                              p
                              plafield May 10, 2011 05:06 PM

                              Thanks for the great reporting! I'm so envious of the sheer amount of food you seem to be able to consume, especially bread. I adore good bread but even when I force myself to limit the intake to a few bites of each kind offered, I am always so stuffed near the end of a multi-course meal I can never do justice to the last dessert or the mignardise. And after a meal like the ones you've been reporting, I can't eat again for another 24 hours! I'm impressed at your ability to eat meal after meal of so much rich food!

                              1. re: plafield
                                uhockey May 11, 2011 03:29 AM

                                .....I guess its a gift. Never really thought much about it until others started commenting. Thanks, now I feel like a freak. ;-)

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey
                                  p
                                  plafield May 11, 2011 07:42 PM

                                  I'd happily be that freak. Well, maybe just while in Paris. Otherwise I'd be morbidly obese if I continuously packed away everything I really wanted to eat at all times!

                                  1. re: plafield
                                    uhockey May 12, 2011 03:41 AM

                                    I assure you I don't eat like this at home. And I run daily. To be fair, if it isn't in the blog I made 99% of it myself and it is largely vegetable and lean meats. I can't think of the last time I bought something packaged or "refined" and 90% of my kitchen is one-ingredient items like "broccoli" or "chicken"

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            2. re: uhockey
                              f
                              foggy_town May 11, 2011 08:52 PM

                              Great review! What are part of the prix fixe lunch menu, and what are your supplement?

                              1. re: foggy_town
                                uhockey May 12, 2011 03:39 AM

                                The Macaroni castle was supplemented (90Eu) and the Grande Dessert in place of the standard dessert (an extra 9Eu for 4 extra nearly-full sized desserts)

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            3. Parigi May 8, 2011 03:42 PM

                              Great report.
                              Btw, you and Alain Delon, both of you refer to yourselves in the 3rd person. Why?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Parigi
                                uhockey May 8, 2011 04:15 PM

                                I don't always - but yeah, I catch myself doing it at times. I guess you have to consider the background - 90% of my writing is science based and there the first person is unacceptable.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                              2. m
                                Maximilien May 7, 2011 02:13 PM

                                Another exceptional review and comments.

                                Thanks.

                                Can I be your sister next time ? oh wait, that sounds weird!!! She's a lucky person!! :-)

                                Max.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Maximilien
                                  johannabanana May 7, 2011 08:26 PM

                                  I love the lobster, transparence de navet dish too -- can still remember eating it two years ago. We've always asked for a carafe d'eau at l'Arpege but I do remember souphie mentioning that bottled water comes on the house. So I'm surprised you were charged so much for it.

                                  1. re: johannabanana
                                    DownUnder May 8, 2011 03:04 PM

                                    Another fabulous posting and for those of us who unfortunately will be able to experience only one or two of your gastronomic destinations, these detailed reports are certainly the next best thing. Can't wait for the next instalment.

                                2. uhockey May 7, 2011 11:41 AM

                                  l'Arpege:

                                  Full text below, photos in the blog.

                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

                                  The afternoon following the best meal of my life at Pierre Gagnaire’s eponymous restaurant on Le Rue Balzac my sister and I would find ourselves at another 3-starred eponymous (more or less) locale. Sure the small room located on la rue de Varenne has signage designating the space as l’Arpège but everything from the website to the history to the menu says Alain Passard. A former maître rôtisseur later converted to a disciple of “la cuisine légumière” I’d heard Passard’s story years prior and was instantly intrigued; how could you not be by a man who risked an already sterling reputation, restaurant, and career on such a dramatic change? Having myself undergone a significant renaissance in the way I thought about health, food, and dining in 2001 I’d invariably read more about Passard than any other chef over the last number of years and as such there was no doubt the restaurant would find its way into our itinerary.

                                  Beginning with it’s own 100% natural and organic garden some 250 kilometers Southwest of Paris (and subsequently expanding to two additional farms with 14 farmers planting and harvesting through entirely non-mechanical techniques) the restaurant known by some as the most expensive in Paris and by others as “fussy vegetarian food,” for me represents a panacea – the way food should be cultivated, sourced, farmed, and served. With Passard’s dedication to perfection in his produce noted it should be no surprise that the reservation process was similarly perfect – an E-mail nearly three months in advance booked the table for Monday at noon, a call two days prior confirmed it, and our minimal questions were handled by a reservationist identified as Fleur.

                                  Strolling through the heavily patrolled government district and arriving at l’Arpège nearly ten minutes early we were surprisingly the first guests of the afternoon and after a warm welcome we were given our choice of seats. Electing to sit closest to the wall with the famous Lalique glass tiles our chairs were pulled out for us and within moments our captain, a lovely woman with smiling eyes and a memorable laugh, greeted us warmly. Electing still water (the most expensive of the trip at 7,50€ per bottle) we sat and perused the room for a few moments before menus would arrive – blonde woods, hefty reds, white linens, plenty of sunlight, and centerpieces of preserved spring vegetables – natural and understated, as expected.

                                  With the menu explained and the restaurant slowly filling to capacity we debated our choices for a short while before coming to a consensus – in order to optimize the number of dishes sampled one of us would select the lunch tasting and the other the full dinner tasting. Declining wine and confirming our selections to the captain we were complimented on our strategy and after making selections for the main course and a specific request for dessert the journey began. With each menu numbering ten proper courses I will note that due to our method of ordering and the generosity of the kitchen it actually turned out to be twelve proper courses each consisting of fifteen different plates plus amuses, mignardises, and more.

                                  Starting things off our first taste of Passard’s cuisine was a flurry of “les Tartelettes” – two courses totaling twelve small pastry shells containing a mélange of vegetables including yellow beetroot and chopped garlic, red beetroot with chocolate sauce and sesame, and orange beetroot with parsley, radish and turnip. Clearly intended to show off the variety of his garden’s bounty early in the meal I loved the texture of the buttery pastry – a fainting glint on the tongue that gave way to a burst of nature; the first mild but pungent, the second sweet and smoky, and the last earthy and bitter.

                                  After the second round of tarteletts was cleared our next visitor would be a frequent friend of the table – the bread server…or perhaps I should say the man who continuously replenished my delivery mechanism for the best butter on the planet. Beginning first with the bread, a warm house made Pain de Campagne nearly sourdough in flavor with a crunchy crust and soft crumb – it was excellent…at least I’m pretty sure it was. What muddles the picture was the butter – Bordier of course – but this time a whole level above any of the previous (or subsequent) selections and with a description more elaborate than even the Animal Farm butter at The French Laundry. Reportedly made bi-weekly specifically for Passard the butter was the beyond creamy – almost the texture of a soft cheese but infinitely smooth, packed with the finest sea salt in the world, and so fresh that it sweat…it was a butter so good that when the server went to remove our replenished triangle from the table at the end of the meal I instead asked him for more bread because I couldn’t bear to send it back.

                                  Moving on to our first proper course of the menu – for one of us perhaps the most famous dish in Paris fine dining and for the other another take on a similar concept. Beginning first with the former, for my first course I was served the famous l’Arpège egg, more commonly known as “Oeuf à la coque; quatre épices.” Given my fondness for egg dishes and having already experienced David Kinch’s ode to this famous dish at Manresa nearly a year and a half prior I was appropriately excited when the cut egg from the Loire valley arrived and plunging my spoon deep the first bite brought back a flood of memories – the smooth yolk, the aromatic quatre epices, the sour crème fraîche and acidic vinegar mellowed by the maple syrup – it tasted exactly as my mouth remembered, a balance that lands squarely on every part of the tongue and fills the palate.

                                  For Erika’s first course the afternoon would deliver “Oeuf Parfait Fantaisie,” a lovely dish in its own right though clearly not as famous as its counterpart. With a lightly poached egg anchoring the plate the “parfait” aspect of the dish was provided by creamy parmesan foam kissed with black truffles and freeze dried shrimp while fresh cut parsley and celery added a vegetal finish.

                                  For our second course we would both receive a course that was listed only on my sister’s menu – “Musclun de Sylvain au praline de noisette a l’ancienne – mizuna, moutarde metisse, choho, roquette.” Again highlighting the diversity of Passard’s collection this course was described as a raw green salad featuring ingredients picked less than 8 hours prior and amongst the elements included were a rare variant of Sylvain musclun, feathery mizuna, crisp Japanese Choho, arugula, and Mustard Greens topped with lightly sweetened hazelnut vinaigrette, coarse almonds, sliced heirloom beets, and thinly shredded parmesan. Never one to rave a “simple” salad I will simply say this was as good as a salad can be – each ingredient a prime example and in harmony with its counterparts.

                                  Much as I received Erika’s second course complimentary she would receive my third course on the house – in this case one of Passard’s most famous. Titled “Fines Ravioles Printanieres consommé amber – oignon red baron, chou cabus, oseille large de Belleville, ail thermidrome” each member of this quartet of ultra thin dumplings consisted of a different distinct flavor of finely-diced or pureed vegetables in a clean and clear broth kissed with saffron and ginger. With each pocked melting on the tongue the flavors of the afternoon consisted of red baron onion, green cabbage, Belleville red peppers, and roasted garlic with an aged cheese – each entirely distinct, mildly sweet, and the very essence of their respective ingredients.

                                  For course four our paths would once again differ – this time substantially. For my sister, “Sushi printanier ail frais” was a unique dish and certainly not sushi in the traditional sense. While ruby-red and easily mistaken for tuna at a distance, this dish instead featured nicely prepared and slightly sweet white rice draped with a thin slice of beet accompanied with garlic oil, shaved beetroot and grated horseradish. Visually lovely, texturally impressive, and tasty without being overly spicy, but overall the least wowing dish of the afternoon.

                                  As part of the more expensive tasting (actually more pricey than the entire lunch menu if ordered a la carte) my fourth course would be “Homard <<blue nuit>> de Chausey au miel du jardin <<recolte ete 2010>> transparence de navet globe.” It would also be the best lobster dish I have ever tasted. Reportedly caught the day prior and transferred live to the restaurant prior to being poached in Bordier butter the lobster itself was tender, meaty, and succulent. Having had excellent lobster in the past, what put the tail over the top was the accoutrements – a layered veil of transparent globe turnips and beet root and sugar cane sauce infused with honey and lime. Impressive in both portion and presentation this was a dish where nothing was extraneous – a sum of flavors greater than the whole of its parts. It was incredible.

                                  For the next course we would return to similar dishes once again, this time “Couleur, saveur, parfum et dessin du jardin cueillette ephemere” – roughly translated as Color, flavor, fragrance and designs of the fresh picked garden. A simple dish of orange and green, yet perhaps the dish that captured exactly what l’Arpège was all about in a single plate this pairing of Spinach with Carrot moussline left both of us with out mouths agape. With the spinach steamed and the carrot sieved, both prepared in Bordier and lightly accompanied with olive oil, onion compote, and golden sesame I think Erika summed this up best when she said “This is what happens when you take ideal vegetables and prepare them ideally.” Clearly enjoying this dish a great deal I will note that our server asked if we’d like another serving – an offer we graciously accepted.

                                  Round six would again see our menus diverge though my 6th would end up being Erika’s seventh. Titled Robe des champs <<Arlequin>> a l’huile d’argan – radis rudis, carotte ronde hative de Paris, chou rave noriko, pois mange-tout norli I believe the translation of this dish was something along the lines of unpeeled vegetables in Argan oil and thin vegetable sausages, however the plate was much more elaborate than that. Invariably the brightest of the afternoon’s creations this dish presented a cous-cous crafted entirely of finely diced of vegetables cooked with semolina intermingled with lightly cooked fresh vegetables in nutty Argan oil and perhaps most uniquely a small “sausage” made only of red vegetables with spicy Harissa. Almost a breakfast dish in some ways I loved the way this course fit in the progression of the menu for both of us despite the different timing.

                                  Erika’s sixth dish of the afternoon was another item titled more in spirit than by ingredient – this one “Collection legumiere 2011 image du potager ce matin.” Described as the ‘chef’s whim’ course of the night, this plate featured a shallow saucer of bruleed golden onion gratin with Parmesan and Candied lemon. Shattering just like a crème brulee and clearly sweetened the interior of the plate was creamy and smooth – plenty savory but also just a little tart…to be honest, it could have served as a dessert or palate cleanser as much as it did as a savory.

                                  With a small service glitch (a young man in a blue tie inexplicably came and stole our butter and bread plates after the sixth course) remedied by more butter and more bread the meal would progress next to Erika receiving the Robe des Champs while my seventh dish would deliver another special from the dinner menu, the (120€ ALC) Turbot de la pointe de Bretagne au <<Cotes du Jura>> pommes de terre <<belles du Bois Grioult>> fumes. A classic presentation poached in buttery smoked wine sauce and accompanied by cabbage, potatoes, and fine herbs the dish was clean, restrained, and pristine.

                                  With the afternoon’s roast being paraded around the dining room in whole form our eighth course would bring a surprise – two distinctly different versions of my sister’s main course selection “Peche cotiere de la pointe de Bretagne grille sur ecailles;” for her “avec vin beurre” and for myself “avec the vert matcha.” Another simple but lovely fish the Sole from the Brittany Shore grilled with the scales alongside green cabbage and smoked potatoes was more meaty and less subtle than the Turbot but a sterling example none the less. With her buttery wine sauce similar to that on the Turbot though more sweet and less dry, the grassy green tea sauce accompanying my version was an inspired choice particularly for how it paired with the cabbage and herbs.

                                  For our final savory I’d been given the choice of lamb or duck – the lamb specific to the dinner menu and the duck also my sister’s alternative option to the Sole on the lunch menu. With duck the obviously answer we were once again surprised when course nine arrived with two portions. Listed on the menu as “Rotisserie <<Grand Heritage>> de Louise Passard grand crus du potager” and dating back to his Grandmother’s influence on his previous life as a maître rôtisseur this service presented a Salt roasted strip of rosy Challans Duck breast, confit of thigh, and a bone-in leg alongside confit carrot and onion, orange mousseline, fresh baby leeks and a finishing hibiscus flower sauce added tableside. Yet another dish with plenty of visual pop the duck itself was supple and fresh with a nice layer of fat while the vegetables were all perfect as expected. Was it as good as Gagnaire’s duck? Not quite, but tasty none the less and the bone-in leg paired with the hibiscus sauce was a fantastic pairing.

                                  With our menu going a couple plates longer than the others we’d already seen what was next – La Carte de Fromage – and an enormous one despite a small well-culled selection at that. Featuring only six cheeses on a large wooden block supported by a silver cart the afternoon would deliver 6 month aged Auvergne, St. Nectaire, and a trio of aged soft Goat Cheeses from West France – plus the star of the show, Comte de Garde Exceptionnelle November 2007 by Bernard Antony. With each selection a standard-bearer for its respective genre there is no doubt the other cheeses stand in the shadow of the golden comte which is shaved lightly and melts slowly on the tongue leaving behind an unmistakable aura quite unlike any cheese I’ve ever experienced. Having tasted this same cheese later during our trip in larger slices I’ll simply say that this is one case where size matters and thinner is better given the heft of the flavor.

                                  Again catching a glimpse of the next course while enjoying the prior dish, the dessert of the day for the lunch menu was Passard’s Millefeuille <<caprice d’enfant. >> Constructed as a nearly two and a half foot long log and cut to enormous individual portions tableside this lovely pastry was as light as a feather yet intense and decadent at the same time. Composed of at least ten layers of caramelized puffed pastry interspersed with clouds of hazelnut cream and dusted with powdered sugar there was no lack for sweetness in the plate, yet at the same time it never became overwhelming as the pastry itself was slightly bitter and shattered with the lightest pressure to prove an amiable foil to the cream. While not the absolute best Millefeuille of the trip in taste I enjoyed the texture of this one the most by far.

                                  Arriving shortly on the heels of the Millefeuille would be the afternoon’s collection of Mignardises, a pair of plates; one with more tarts and the other with cookies and candies. Declining the offer for coffee after the bites were described our captain asked if there was anything else we’d like and with a simple request she responded “certainly” and disappeared to the kitchen as we explored the options; Red Onion and Parsley Tarts / Rhubarb, Red Pepper, and Asparagus with Parmesan Macarons / Black Pepper Marshmallows, Honey Cranberry Nougats, and Individual Fleur de Roses. With each selection tasty and unique it was actually the Asparagus Macaron and Parsley Tart that impressed most from the plate – each vegetal yet sweetened in a manner to enhance rather than to distract from the natural flavors. Interestingly we’d be brought a second round of Mignardises at the end of our meal – after our request was fulfilled.

                                  To be honest, had I paid closer attention to the mignardise plate (instead of focusing on the Millefeuille at the time) I’d probably not have even made the request I did – you see, I had not realized the Individual Fleur de Roses to be what they were at first. None the less, having read nothing but praise of Passard’s signature “Tarte aux pommes Bouquet de Roses Caramel au lait” I knew it was something I had to taste during my visit and as such when the captain asked if there was anything else we’d like the Tarte was a logical answer and without question or second thought two of them arrived at the table at no additional charge. Similar in taste to the version on the mignardise plate each Tarte featured seven of the crispy golden “Roses” of apple and cinnamon centered in a dense buttery crust. Topped with a dusting of powdered sugar and encircled by a rich and complex salty caramel it was like an apple dumpling all grown up and every bit worth the special request.

                                  Sitting and chatting as the room slowly emptied we were finally brought “one last treat from the kitchen” along with a second collection of mignardises – a bowl of “bread ice cream.” Said to be made with fresh unpasteurized milk from one of Passard’s farms and the same yeast used to make the lovely bread the melting quenelle was sweet yet savory, a bit sour, and creaminess defined.

                                  With the (admittedly substantial) bill requested and paid we sat and picked at the mignardises for a while before I asked for a copy of the menu and was given a fully jacketed version with the statement “it is too bad chef had to leave early this afternoon or he could have signed it.” Unbothered despite the fact that I’d have liked to have met and thanked Monsieur Passard for such an outstanding meal we next gathered our bags, thanked the staff, and made our way back to the sunny streets of Paris where our conversation would invariably center on what we had just experienced – a meal my sister now considers the best of her life and a meal that affirmed exactly what I had expected walking in the door…that Passard’s vision is an admirable one and that his food, though not fussy or overly complicated, is at times as close to perfection as is possible – the inevitable result of flawless ingredients and considerable talent. Sure such an experience comes at a price, but sometimes you really do get what you pay for and for anyone with the financial means who truly cares about what they eat and where it comes from l’Arpège is a must visit.

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: uhockey
                                    n
                                    nextguy May 7, 2011 01:31 PM

                                    Thanks for the great review. I will be in Paris in 3 weeks and my wife and I struggled to decide between L'Arpege and Gagnaire. We decided on Gagnaire but will be sure to visit L'Arpege on our next visit.

                                    1. re: nextguy
                                      uhockey May 7, 2011 01:45 PM

                                      They are very different experiences in all but the service and the quality of the ingredients- both are pleasant, warm, whimsical, and giving in service and obviously capable of sourcing the very best.

                                      Where they differ - the room, the platings, the complexity - it is hard to say which is "better." For what it is worth, of all the miraculous meals we had in Paris, the four I would rush back to the soonest are Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpege, Ledoyen, and Jean Francois-Piege. The next tier would be Le Cinq, Le Pre Catalan, and Guy Savoy.

                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                      1. re: uhockey
                                        n
                                        nextguy May 7, 2011 02:03 PM

                                        We also had a tough time deciding between lunch at Le Cinq or Ledoyen. They are both similar in price as far as I can tell. I wonder if I should change that reservation...

                                        1. re: nextguy
                                          uhockey May 7, 2011 02:11 PM

                                          Le Cinq is a better "experience." Ledoyen is better food. If going for just the lunch menu, do Le Cinq. If you're willing to go ALC and add things for more money do Ledoyen, IMO.

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                    2. re: uhockey
                                      n
                                      Nancy S. May 7, 2011 01:56 PM

                                      Wow, encore. This meal looks (and sounds, as you describe it) superb. I too adore Bordier butter, which is my favorite as well. My favorite restaurants in London (The Square and The Ledbury) serve it as well, each specially prepared in distinctive shapes. This alone exponentially increases my enjoyment of the meal. And that, paired with M. Antony's 4-year old comte must have been extraordinary. I have had 4-year old comte at Dubois in Paris, which was excellent (as is their 2-year old version), and would be curious to know if you were able to compare. Many thanks again for sharing your experience.

                                      1. re: Nancy S.
                                        uhockey May 7, 2011 02:17 PM

                                        WIth regret we did not make it to Dubois. We did have 4-year at Le Pre-Catelan and 2-year Comte at Savoy, Rostang, and Ledoyen however. There is a distinct difference in the flavors to me with the 2-year being sweeter and more fruity while the older product has more of that buttery/nutty flavor. It is also more creamy on the tongue, imo.

                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                        1. re: uhockey
                                          n
                                          Nancy S. May 7, 2011 04:14 PM

                                          Thanks for replying. Last year we did a side by side tasting of the comte's from Dubois. I agree that there is a distinct difference. And, for this reason, I can't say which I prefer, since both are exceptional for their unique qualities.

                                      2. re: uhockey
                                        Porthos May 8, 2011 05:43 PM

                                        Just wanted to chime in on my Arpege experience which was last Monday. Dinner was excellent. I thought there were 2 misfires though. I found the sweet and sour sauce on the lobster very distracting and not in line with the theme of simplicity and letting the original flavor shine through. I noticed another lobster prep circulating which was lobster simply roasted in the shell. I think I would have enjoyed that prep more. The turbot was beautiful and paraded whole around the dining room. It was cooked well done. I would probably have preferred it medium or medium rare. Aside from that, everything else was wonderful. The single item I keep thinking about was a simple piece of perfectly and ingeniusly smoked potato which accompanied the turbot. It tasted like the potato had been simmering in smoked bacon fat for an hour. I had to ask just to make sure. It wasn't. Unforgettable really. The other interesting item was the avocado and chocolate soufflé. The souffle texture was the best I've had. The avocado was very apparent, interesting, but not my favorite from a pure flavor perspective. The chocolate worked well. A great meal, very pricy, and I agree that my preference is still ever so slightly Gagnaire. The purity of Arpege is undeniable though.

                                        1. re: Porthos
                                          uhockey May 8, 2011 05:55 PM

                                          The potatos were indeed excellent.

                                          Did the souffle come as part of the dinner or was it ordered ALC? How much have the dishes changed in one month's time?

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: uhockey
                                            Porthos May 8, 2011 06:07 PM

                                            Pretty much identical except souffle came after the mignardise. Our millefeuille had rhubarb. For the meat dishes our selection was lamb or the famous straw smoked roasted chicken. Lamb was good, but not nearly as wonderful as the lamb saddle at Chez Louis. Chicken was excellent. The smoking resulted in a subtle almost green tea sweetness of the meat.

                                        2. re: uhockey
                                          buttertart May 10, 2011 12:02 PM

                                          I'm happy to hear that the millefeuille is still as I remember it (from 1993) - as one of, if not the most extraordinary pastries I've ever eaten. I would love to know how the puff pastry is made.

                                          1. re: buttertart
                                            uhockey May 10, 2011 12:11 PM

                                            I imagine if you e-mailed them they would tell you. The website customer service was exemplary.

                                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                            1. re: uhockey
                                              buttertart May 10, 2011 12:14 PM

                                              One can always try. It is simply ravishing. (Was at the end of a perfect lunch, just before they got their 3rd star.)

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