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Pierre Gagnaire - Rio Yeti report

There... I did it... will you stop taunting me with all your 3 Michelin stars recommendations Chowhound ? I'm not a virgin anymore, I broke the piggy bank, I ate the most expensive piggy in my life, and now I'm ruined. I don't mean because I spent so much, but because now I know what it's like to have nearly perfect maestro food served to you, and because my pretentious, snobbish, picky palate, which is already despised and mocked by all my friends, has just become even more pretentious, snobbish and picky...

Pierre Gagnaire, the restaurant, was not at all what I expected. For some reason I had imagined a very bright white space with very modern contemporary art on the walls, all based on a picture I saw somewhere in the depth of my imagination; instead the place is warm, cosy, with dim lights, modern but not screaming for attention, with very comfortable low seating chairs, and a few etchings and lithographs on the walls of modern art (I couldn't see all of them, but we're talking Soulages, Michaux, Sam Francis rather thank Jeff Koons... (thanks for that...)).
Pierre Gagnaire, the food, was not at all what I expected. I knew I wasn't going to elBulli or Alinea, but I really imagined the food to be more whimsical, strange and "avant-garde", instead it was fairly classical with but a few weird pairings. I can't say it disappointed me because great food is great food no manner what label you put on it (fusion, avant garde, modernist, classic...), and this was great indeed.

My girlfriend and I both ordered the "Summer Menu /2/". 6 courses, 3 cheeses, 4 desserts... I asked for a copy of the menu in french, so forgive me if my translations are not on par with the english menu.

- Amuses Bouche.

First we were served a series of amuses bouche in different plates and weird looking spoons. I have to say I did feel a bit rushed when they put all that food in front of us and we still hadn't made up our minds with the menus in our hands, especially since one of the morsel, a light meringue sandwich with crushed raspberry, was advised to eat fast because the air would "melt" the meringue...
Everything was ok, the meringue was indeed incredibly light and delicate, some bread crust (more like a thin slice/stick) dipped in olive oil and rosemary was nice, but nothing really stood out, and nothing seemed to really open up the palate as I am told an amuse bouche is supposed to. The low point was a small bowl of yogurt with apricot jam, beer jelly and a cube of beet, which was really not something you'd want to eat at the beginning of dinner, and even as a dessert would have seemed a bit messy.

- Breads.

3 breads were served (and served again as soon as one was gone from your bowl). A nice and crunchy baguette, slightly overcooked which I didn't mind, but a lot of people like their baguettes "pas trop cuites", and my girlfriend being one of them she wasn't so pleased with it. A really good "plankton bread", with a nice texture and seaweed flavor this bread was my favorite to pair with all the seafood we had this night. And finally a pain au lait, more subtle, more mellow, working better with the mushroom consomme dish and the meat dish.
Of course we were served a delicious herbs butter and a Bordier salted butter. Being my first Bordier experience, I was slightly disappointed by it, my first good olive oil was so much different from all the olive oils I've had it was a night or day experience, but the Bordier butter wasn't that much better than a lot of good french butters (maybe I'm spoiled by the butters you find here...). It was smoother, creamier, with a slightly more milky taste, the salt was really well balanced, and I ate a lot more than I should have... Ok it was bloody excellent butter... but it was still "just" butter.

- Cigale de mer (spiny lobster, slipper lobster, rock lobster, anyone...?), Morgane green beans, nettle pulp ; natural hake mousseline.
- Black olive infusion, rhubarb fondue, kabu turnip and frozen burrata.
- Cucumber granité with tagette (a flower, I think), summer shellfish with carrots.

Each cold dish was served at the same time on different plates. The Cigale was good, refreshing, slightly sweet, with a great texture. The black olive infusion, was really bright and vibrant, I can't say I see the point of frozen burrata, regular burrata is already delicious, but the different textures of the liquid infusion with the soft fondue, the crunchy turnip and the icy burrata really worked well together.
The granité was also very fresh, with delicate tastes harmonizing subtly.
This "appetizer" was what the amuses should have been: fresh, not to pungent but vivid, opening up the palate for what was to come in a delicious way.

- Girolles, young broccoli and zucchini flower, culatello and a colonnata veil; mushroom consommé.
- Pea ice cream with lemon balm, semi-dried melon.

The consommé with girolles, broccoli and zuchinni flower was really really good. It was frustrating that the consommé was so shallow, we wanted a whole bowl of it ! The mushroom aromas were delicate, mellow and slightly salty, contrasting well with the more creamy and sweet pea ice cream.

- Grilled julienne of sole: fava beans, leek, celery and bell pepper strings; thin cuttlefish galette with ink. Miso liebig.

All the different ingredients emphasized on their different textures, the so called galette was an incredibly thin black disk made of the cuttlefish dyed with it's own ink, it rested on top of everything else and added a nice bite to the dish. The liebig miso was nicely pungent and brought everything together. I did feel like the sole was slightly overcooked, but it still was delicious and soft, so who cares.

- Palamos gambas cookie and Mozambique shrimps, salicornes and wild herbs; unctuous green curry and thaï garlic bisque.

This was probably my favorite dish of the evening. The salicornes on the bottom, crowned by a delicate savory cookie, the vessel to a perfectly cooked proud gamba and a few small translucent shrimps. The simple and pure taste of the gamba was sweet and aromatic, it would make the toughest Viking feel like a small girl hugging a teddy bear. The contrast between this, the flaky buttery texture of the cookie and the amazingly pungent, bright, bisque made with the heads of crustaceans (killed by the aforementioned Viking) was... well... perfect. The flavors were bold, in your face, and it felt like the tiniest pinch of extra salt would have sank the (viking) ship, but it didn't, the balance was achieved.

- Red mullet, grouper, squid with a vinegar liqueur; eggplant raviole with Noras. Anchovy jus with the fish's liver.

Again, the textures were swinging like crazy (jazz swinging... not swingers swinging... although...). The ravioles pasta were actually thinly sliced eggplant with the "noras" inside (couldn't find out what noras is, if anyone knows... it felt like a tomato or bell pepper purée). The anchovy jus was very salty, but again not too salty. Small baconny bites were also adding to the fireworks of this dish.

- Sucking pig : roasted with summer aromatics and dressed with a Corsican jus (arbutus honey, muscat, elder tree, green pepper and juniper); rougette lettuce, ratte cream from Ile de Ré. Agria cristallines, Guernica.

Two tiny bones with delicate baby pork flesh, with a slightly sweet jus and a potato (ratte) velvety cream. Spot on. The "cristallines" were two translucent potato chips seating on top, which were ok. And I have no idea what the "Guernica" refers to (in the dish I mean...).

- Cheese course :
- Grated gruyère from the region of Garde over summer white truffles.
- Cocagne fresh sheep, tomato with piment d'Espelette.
- Munster with eau de vie brioche, house-made quetsche (plum) jam.

The grated gruyère had an almost acrid taste, but not in a bad way, and paired beautifully with the truffles which were a lot more delicate and mild than their black counterparts.
The fresh sheep cheese had a few corns adding some crunch, and what is called tomato was actually a tomato coulis reminiscent of gazpacho, very fresh, a great way to brighten up the palate again getting ready for desserts (just in case you're wondering, we were already pretty much full by now...).
The munster brioche was very light, crunchy, with the munster taste discreet, the jam was a great sweet contrast to it.

- Desserts Amuse bouches.

Before we started the "real" desserts" we were brought a series of 8 small dessert bites. Just like the first amuses, I feel this was not necessary. First of all the first dessert arrived before we had a chance to finish the bites, most of them were not that impressive, and there is enough food in the whole menu so extras are not necessarily wanted...
However there was 3 bites which stood out, a simple dark chocolate, a small milk chocolate bowl with oozing caramel inside and a pairing of a milk chocolate and banana disk with a bite of cucumber marinated in calvados.

- Les desserts de Pierre Gagnaire

I am sorry to say that as the menu doesn't describe all the desserts, my memory of all of them is a bit muddled, I'll do my best to describe what stood out.
The first dessert was something (yogurt ?) with a red berries coulis and radish. Although this dessert wasn't memorable (hence the "something"...) I remember being amazed at how well the small radish cubes paired with the berries.
Then a bowl (or more like a cognac glass) of poached melon and apricot with limoncello sorbet was brought. The fruits had incredible texture and taste. I was afraid the limoncello sorbet might be too acidic or sweet (as limoncellos often are), but my fears were put to rest with this balanced and smooth sorbet.
The coffee parfait with cherries and tuile was also a winner. The coffee taste was intense but balanced, and the cherries both fresh and cooked into a coulis were vibrant and pungent, the broken tuile bits adding a nice crunch.
And finally a chocolate cake with mascarpone, red currant and blackberry. By the end of this very long review (my apologies for that) I'm lacking adjectives (or is it creativity ?). I'll just say that this chocolate cake was as every chocolate cake should be, satisfying !

As if we hadn't eaten enough we were offered milk and dark chocolates (of which I took both), and on the way out a cold hibiscus infusion which was exactly what we needed to sort of lighten ourselves a bit on our way back home.

This meal was one of the best meals of my life, a few days later I went to a restaurant that I usually love, and it felt flat... I was fearing this would happen, but I am certainly hoping I just went on a bad day. I need some rest now, I've experienced too much recently from the theatrical and modernist food of é in Las Vegas (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7930...) to the more traditional but no less exceptional omakase at Kaito Sushi in San Diego (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7926...) and now to my first 3 star, Pierre Gagnaire... I feel lucky to be both passionate about food and able to experience these meals, but I need to come back to reality for a while, cook at home, go in small bistros from time to time, oh yeah and work my ass off to be able to afford to go to more great restaurants the sooner the better !!

... I'm doomed...

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  1. Haha. good luck trying to pace yourself on the stars. Joel Robuchon in Vegas was my first 3 star, and after that meal I said to myself that I would have to take it easy and collect stars slowly. I am now something like 30 or 40 stars since that meal with absolutely no ability (or desire) to slow down.

    3 Replies
    1. re: nextguy

      I'm not sure my goal is to "collect" stars as much as collect great food experiences... but yeah it's going to be hard to step back a while...

      1. re: Rio Yeti

        Haha I didn't really mean it in that way. Just that Michelin ratings in cities that they cover are still a reasonable way for me to gauge my expectations. CH reviews are still my first and best indication.

        1. re: nextguy

          Hehe yes, CH first Michelin second ! :)

    2. "Pierre Gagnaire, the food, was not at all what I expected. I knew I wasn't going to elBulli or Alinea, but I really imagined the food to be more whimsical, strange and "avant-garde", instead it was fairly classical with but a few weird pairings."

      That was my first reaction when I ate there last fall.

      Nice review! Now you are trapped!!!

      1 Reply
      1. Reading your experience while reading my menu in English from April this year, l see mostly different items but essentially the same menu. The sole course was the same, others totally different but again the same. Eg, you had suckling pig, l had duck, but what a duck, actually got them to serve it to me twice. What l am trying to say is that while the meal different, the sense of when protein, when vegetable, whether starch or green seemed to follow his successful pattern of wowing you in the same way. Thanks for report, brought back good memories for me.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          I'm glad it did !
          I actually thought about asking for a second on that mushroom consommé, but didn't know if it would have been appropriate... I'm actually glad I didn't because by the end of the meal we were already very full ! (not that a light consommé would have changed much....)

          1. re: Rio Yeti

            I have indeed asked for extra helpings of soup - and other goodies - in starred places. The answer was always oui, with a big smile, as though I had just tickled the waiter.

            You know what they say: You don't ask, you don't get.

        2. It looks like we had very similar experiences. It's nice to see the restaurant is so consistent.

          1 Reply