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Dec 9, 2013 09:03 PM

Paying it fwd: Short reviews of a few Paris restaurants

Once more, posting up some reviews as a ‘paying it forward’ to the board, and once more, into the fray with more reviews on my trip to Paris (Cinq, Arpege, Ambroisie, Chez Denise, L’ami Jean, 110 taillevent, Frederic Simonin, Charbon rouge). Bear with me as it is long.

Saturday – Cheese hunt (Marie-anne Cantin). Decided to go down on a cheese hunt and picked out some 4 year old Comte (I think from 2009?) – sublime taste, good length with very nice crystallized texture. I couldn’t resist grabbing some of the La truffe de la marne as they were in season, and I do like that there was a lot of balance, with neither the truffle or the cheese overpowering each other (having said that – it was a bit difficult to chomp that that much cheese without some champagne). Pretty fun.
As we were in the area, next up was the aux merveilleux de Fred. I had read about this on the board and it was truly the find of the trip (at least for me) – these were the best meringues I have ever tasted in my life, it literally dissolves in your mouth, light as air, and leaving behind that cleanness of taste. I bought 15 tiny ones and before I knew it, had ate 5 at one go. These were truly astonishing – so much so that I was really tempted to buy the huge cake and eat it. As an aside, the only problem with the meringues were that they can’t keep beyond a day (understandably so as it collapses), which makes it virtually impossible to bring it home or to save it for later. I only found this out the hard way when 5 of my precious meringues died in their own pool of cream. Very tragic.

Sunday – Lunch at Le Cinq. I know many people have written about them and their great value – but decided to go for the carte, and ordered the lamb shoulder for mains, and the egg dish and the shellfish for the starters. Shellfish was amazing (oysters in 3 ways etc), but the lamb was fantastic. Slightly Arabic tasting, and so so tender, to quote my wife “if I have to stop eating lamb for the rest of my life, let this be the last taste of lamb..” It is that good. I must also say that for some strange reason, the wine at Le Cinq was actually not too bad – I had a decent value bottle of Coche-dury for much less than any of the other restaurants at the rest of the trip. There was also something quite funny – at the end of the meal, as I walked out (more like stumbled out), I was perusing their cognac/fine cart and saw a couple of DRC Fine. The server, being ever so generous said, pick one (and I did), proceeded to pour out a generous portion and gave it to me gratis. Loved it.

Monday – Lunch at Chez Denise. Pretty fun and shoulder to shoulder stuff, we were trying to recover from the heavy meal at Le cinq, but I think this is really not the way to do it at this restaurant. We had the massive pork with lentils as well as the onglet. Onglet was forgettable, but the pork with lentils was the standout dish. Very well executed with the lentils just about balancing out the pork, which was full of flavor and umami. Excellent.

Tuesday – Lunch at L’arpege. I think my wife was a little affected by the board’s discussion about “to arpege or not to arpege” and having been there before, we were a little apprehensive whether they were still “consistent”. It didn’t help that before my trip, another friend of mine was talking about how the standards have truly fallen at arpege, hence it was with some apprehension that we approached l’arpege. This is not a detective story, so I will just say straight up that they were just as good as the first time I have been there. What I really love about them is (i) food execution (ii) generosity (iii) great fun. (In contrast to l’ambroisie, which I will talk about later) – for a lunch tasting set, Passard threw in a lot of other dishes not listed in the menu for free (that would have been in the more expensive degustation). Standout dishes – celery soup with vegetable ravioli, butternut squash veloute, the best ever hay smoked chicken with that right combination of moistness, fat, and flavor that almost made me tear up (I told Passard that Gunther’s in Singapore – his ‘disciple’ – tried to make this same ever dish, but my god, this one is many steps above Gunther’s). I like how his dishes are simple, not overly complicated, but just really fresh. Having said that, there were a few dishes that didn’t cut it for me – notably the beetroot sushi (which to be honest, I was looking at it from a lens of someone who likes to eat sushi, and while his rice is done well, the flavor and the portion of rice didn’t quite work for me as with sushi, there needs to be a balance – and the rich portion was too much and didn’t quite balance against the thin strip of beetroot. I noticed he put quite some soy sauce onto the rice which was a bit … interesting). I don’t know, maybe Passard was in an exceedingly good mood (I counted him out of the kitchen at least 8 times – and all smiles!), but the food certainly reflected a certain joy which I couldn’t quite capture in words.

Wednesday – Dinner at 110 Taillevent. Having had dinner at taillevent before, I wanted to try out 110 given its interesting concept (4 types of wine for each course). It wasn’t as dreaded as some people make it out to be (ie. Full of tourists, commercial etc), and it was actually quite enjoyable. Decided against the set and went carte – trying out their calamari, foie gras and 2 fish dishes for mains. Food was quite decent – but nothing to rave about. Generous portions (quite similar to their big brother) and wine pairings “worked” in so far as they weren’t disjointed, but for some reason (and one could be post arpege?), there was no “wow” factor. It was functional, decent. Would recommend, but reluctantly.

Thursday – Lunch at L’ambroisie. I recall at Le Cinq, my server was telling me that L’ambroisie served fantastic truffles during this season, hence I was raring to go and try some of their famous dishes. Apparently Mathieu Pacaud was away – hence this meal will all be Bernard Pacaud. I must confess I have no idea whether there is any different, but the dishes were simply … sublime. We had the scallop broccoli with white truffle, and the ‘egg’ for starters and for mains, we had the Bresse chicken breast with crayfish and the sole braised with yellow wine and grated truffle, finished with their chocolate tarte. L’ambroisie is difficult – it is not a ‘wow’ type of cuisine – as the dishes are simple, not too many ingredients, not overcooked, and actually quite deceptive. For example, the broccoli dish. For a dish like that not to taste purely of truffles (you need to see the size of the truffles) but to taste of the finest essence of broccoli, yet without overpowering the scallop, is really amazing. I can’t help but harp on how this is real mastery – and I would say, impossible to recreate. In fact, the sole was another incredibly executed dish. Once again, it is very counterintuitive. A fish dish that should taste light, but taste heavy, yet not ‘corrupted’ by the overpowering truffle. I don’t know, but as I left, my first thought was ‘when can I be back?’. Surely a tour-de-force in restraint.

Friday – dinner at Frederic Simonin. We ended up here in part because we wanted to dine at L’atelier Joel Robuchon. This was quite an interesting story – we walked over to l’etoile JR without reservations only to be told that they have started taking reservations and they were full. Amazing. I had wanted to recreate the great fun we had the last time (and I think my wife has a mini-crush on Suga) – and we were gutted to find out it was full for dinner. Next seating will be at 10.30pm which was a good few hours away. Fortunately Francois Benot (the chef patissier of JR, but based at etoile) was kind enough to suggest a restaurant just ‘round the corner’, cooked by his good pal but more importantly cooked food that was actually very good, and asked whether I have heard of them. I confessed to my ignorance, but given such a recommendation by Francois, I couldn’t say no and proceeded to walk over to the 17th to Frederic’s restaurant. (Of course, later I found out that Frederic had worked in JR for a couple of years and that Francois knew him for 25 years - and that was after I had eaten at Frederic and went back to thank Francois for his kind recommendation). Anyway, back to the review – Frederic Simonin was very very good. For dinner, we ordered from carte, his sea urchin and crab for starters, for mains the squid and turbot. I like his bold use of Japanese ingredients – yuzu mainly – and his lightness and his own interpretation of sea urchin. The sea urchin had a certain creaminess (very different from the uni we eat in Japanese restaurants) and flavor that was quite unique. I loved his turbot (it had a texture like chicken and the skin was grilled to have that oiliness that was similar to chicken – but then it opened out became a lot more fish like). My wife was raving about Frederic Simonin and how he didn’t even need to serve the mash potato (in a nod to JR) as his dishes stand on their own. The service, the atmosphere, the food, was a lot better than expected. Would definitely go back.

Saturday – dinner at L’ami Jean. By now, I was exhausted. I was, to be honest, dreading a massive heavy dinner, but given that this is a strong chowhound favorite, I decided to indulge myself. I don’t really have much to add that hasn’t been said about this place (it was quite amusing to see Jego do his clapping and scolding his chefs) but one thing that struck me was how this is *really* shoulder to shoulder dining. This is 2x more cramped than Chez Denise. And it was hot, it was loud, it was just a spectacle. Having said all that, there were 2 standout dishes. First – the squid in squidink with ‘risotto’ – absolutely heavenly and Second – the rice pudding (nothing more needs to be said).

Sunday – dinner at Charbon rouge. My wife actually likes this place – a lot. I don’t know, there is something about this place (I ordered the hen – ha ha – but my wife ordered steak) which I can’t place. It doesn’t do anything extraordinarily good (service/wine/food) but for some reason, I think it was the perfect place to just chill out, no stress, eat loads of meat and move on home.

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  1. Thanks for this good report. Next time, take me with you? I'm not at all sure that I could keep up with your consumption, but could at least have taken care of the 5 lost merveilleux.

    33 Replies
    1. re: mangeur

      L'Ambroisie "the sole braised with yellow wine and grated truffle"

      In Piemonte, we laugh and laugh at something like this dish. Sole and white truffle; what are these cooks thinking!?

      1. re: allende

        It is not mentioned anywhere that it was write truffle. Considering Pacaud's cooking I am nearly sure they were black truffles. They're beginning to be good now.

        1. re: Ptipois

          Spot on. White truffles for the egg and broccoli - black truffle shaving for the sole. Come on - it's Pacaud!

          1. re: coxford

            My bad. I saw "We had the scallop broccoli with white truffle" and immediately thought all the dishes were white.

            So... tell us about the dish. Were the truffles cooked? Were they grated at the end on top of the fish?

            1. re: allende

              A picture of the dish - all caveat though, my wife found it a little too heavy for her..

              1. re: coxford

                @ Ptipois

                Looking at the L'Ambroisie menu on line (and the photo here), Pacaud used shaved white truffles from Alba. As I said, in Piemonte we laugh at a dish like this. Shaved truffles over fish. Never. Over pasta, risotto, fonduta, sunny side up eggs (the best preparation with those incredible orange yolks)... always.

                As I've written here before, it never ceases to amaze me that French chefs, who, in my mind are easily by far the best in the world, totally blow it when they try things Italian (it's like the Italians trying to make pastry; they do it, but very poorly). No Italian soul. In all my years of eating in France, I've never had a great dish of pasta (and I've tried out of curiosity). When French chefs cook risotto, it is a farce. And now we have a chef, at the very very top of the game, serving white truffles from Alba, shaved on sole. Unbelievable!

                Truffle oil served at restaurants. Really an abomination. Shaved white truffles (and who knows how old they are) on sole... sad. Ruins the sole and ruins the truffles.

                1. re: allende

                  Um, I did once have a white truffle on fish dish in Italy and it was delish.... one more shave of the truffle might have made it yucky but my serving was perfectly calibrated. Admittedly, not in the Piedmonte but probably Lombardia... many years ago and the memory of place is blurred.

                  1. re: allende

                    I agree. I am convinced that there are things like Italian food that only taste good in Italy and made by Italians. Don't ask me why, I have no idea.

                    I understand your reservations about the white truffle but I wouldn't completely share them until I'd had a chance to taste the dish.

                    Recently, a famous young Parisian chef (ex-Ducasse boy) whose name I will not reveal served a dish of house-made chestnut-flour taglierini in a porcini sauce. The taglierini were just horrible, they were like eating straw. Then he came to each diner's side and shaved plenty of white Alba truffle on top of the pasta. It was only a waste of truffles: their aroma disappeared almost instantly, eaten up by the coarseness of the pasta, which were so doughy and so rough-tasting that they killed the truffle in a few seconds. Then they just tasted like they had been dotted with sheets of cigarette paper. I wanted to cry.

                    My best experience of white truffle was on a Camille Le Secq dessert at Le Meurice, a few years ago: shaved over a milk-chocolate cannoli filled with white truffle ice cream. That was just wonderful.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      @ Parnassien

                      My restaurant owner friends in Lombardia know nothing about white truffles from Piemonte :)

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        All. You can trust allende completely when it comes to all things Piemontese. His suggestions led us to some positively wonderful restaurants and great dishes on our trip there in November.

                        allende. You can trust Pti completely when it comes all things Parisian.

                        BTW: Parnassien and Parigi know whereof they speak also.

                      2. re: allende

                        my bad - very embarrassingly i can't tell the difference between white or black (or one can think that the addition of truffles didn't really matter to the taste which is your point on how it is an abomination - which was strange because the truffles didn't 'lift' the dish as much as you would think they did)

                        1. re: coxford

                          Black truffles would have been more appropriate in this case. They are more robust and would not be overwhelmed by the dish.

                        2. re: allende

                          " As I said, in Piemonte we laugh at a dish like this. Shaved truffles over fish. "

                          Do you do so while smoking a pipe, rubbing your tummy and winking at each other ?

                          If everyone thought that way, we would still be eating like in the Middle-Ages, and thankfully we aren't. (if we did, you wouldn't be able to eat tomatoes on your traditional Italian dishes...).
                          If everybody thought that way, Ptipois wouldn't have been able to enjoy "white truffle shaved over a milk-chocolate cannoli filled with white truffle ice cream. That was just wonderful."... because to be honest, I'm pretty sure a bunch of Sicilians would also laugh at that dish...

                          Again to quote Ptipois "I understand your reservations about the white truffle but I wouldn't completely share them until I'd had a chance to taste the dish.". Everything is summed up in this sentence. Preconceptions lead to a narrow culinary mind. Being open to things, even though they can sound weird, nontraditional, absurd, can lead to some pretty grotesquely bad dishes, but also to some amazing ones...

                          P.S. : Ptipois, I'll send you the royalties check by the end of the month... ;)

                          1. re: allende

                            IMHO - Passard and Cerutti could prepare excellent risotto
                            L'Arpege's risotto dish was the closest one to Alajmo's saffron risotto (as in the best risotto I've ever had) - even more superior than Cracco's risotto ala Milanese

                            1. re: Bu Pun Su

                              @ Rio Yeti,

                              I agree with you when you quoted Ptipois saying " "I understand your reservations about the white truffle but I wouldn't completely share them until I'd had a chance to taste the dish,” and then your saying “everything is summed up in this sentence.” You’re absolutely correct.

                              That being said, however, the number of dishes that one has to taste in order to find the great dish which goes against the grain and against the conventional wisdom of what makes a great dish, is mind-boggling. The quantity of nonsense that is being presented by chefs is simply staggering. So many chefs who know so little about the basics try to do things which are not only out of their sphere of competence, but these chefs do them only to shock… in most cases to shock a public (including the “foodie” public) that has no clue. This is what the public wants… something new, something shocking because that is what you can talk about to your friends. To be inventive and adventurous are admirable traits for a chef, but to mask, to distort, and to obscure the balance of the ingredients and the ingredients themselves is another. “Purity of dishes” seems almost a quaint notion. Most of these chefs have nothing new to add so they concoct dishes where from a taste standpoint there is no coherence, but where from “something new” there is maximum traction.

                              I’ll give two examples, one favorable, the other not, of what I am saying. One will be in long ago France and one current in my dear Italy. In the early 1970s, one of my partners in Geneva told me to go to a small bistro just outside Paris in Asnieres. The place was called Le Pot-au-Feu. If you had told me what I was going to eat before I went there, I would have told you the place wouldn’t be for me. My partner, however, knew his food and his wine. He knew that the cooking was very special. He knew I would like it and he was right. What a revelation! The simplicity of the dishes, the lightness, and most of all the intensity of the flavors was simply unbelievable and so different from the “great” places of that time. The dishes really were a revelation and subsequently caused a food revolution. So Rio Yeti is right… until you’ve tried a dish, don’t knock it. On the other hand, that night I was eating the food of a genius. A great patissier, Michel Guerard's precision was uncanny, in the combination of the ingredients he used and the incredible taste of the dishes. But Guerard was sound, knew what he was doing (at that time better than anyone I had seen, and that included Troisgros), and produced plates where you knew what you were eating…and it was scrumptious.

                              Unfortunately, that is not the norm today in terms of many restaurants that are looked upon as “the best”, whatever that means. We’re seeing this more and more in Italy. Rather than stay within the confines of what they can cook well (which are many wonderful dishes), Italian chefs are straying far beyond any expertise that they have… and in many cases they don’t have much, certainly not nearly the grounding of French chefs in general. They are doing things to try to emulate Adria whom they see as the great success story. They don’t have a clue about what they are doing, except that it is different and the guides, which only exist to sell guides, eat it up because it is new and sells guides.

                              Not only can’t they get the molecular part (and other new techniques) right, but they are doing nonsense combinations with their basic dishes. Here are a few fish dishes for what passes for Italian cuisine in the “best restaurants” (really not the best except by Michelin standards and Michelin standards in Italy are mediocre and Michelin inspectors in Italy are… well, I won’t get into that). I’ve listed only fish dishes; the pasta and meat dishes are even worse (sorry for the Italian; it doesn’t translate well, but you’ll get the gist). Gli scampi lega una nuvola do limone, polveri di frutta e insalata di cetrioli e ananas (cucumbers and pineapple and other fruit… wow!). Capesante e scampi, cipollotti al limone infuse di mela verde e sedano rape. Ruins the scallops (which in Italy are always mediocre), ruins the scampi (which in Italy can be “the best”, but you have to know where to get them and who is cooking them) and ruins those little green apples. Whether it’s these dishes or branzino in salt with raspberries (I kid you not) or gamberi with caviar and passion fruit, this is what passes for Italian cuisine in some of the most highly rated restaurants (not only by Michelin which means little, but by Gambero Rosso, which means a lot more). Shameful.

                              Now about those white truffles from Piemonte that are all the rage in Paris. Ah, it’s October, November and December so that means white truffles. On everything, even where the truffles don't belong, e.g. as shaved on sole (at least Pacaud knew enough not to cook them). White truffles are best used in a very short period after finding; a few days at most. They deteriorate rapidly which is one reason that abomination of truffle oil is so ubiquitous in places outside of Italy (but now unfortunately in Italy also). But if you’re not going to serve white truffles on pasta, risotto, fonduta or eggs, why serve them in top Paris restaurants? For show? To make a statement that we are the type of restaurant that can charge a hefty supplement for a shaving of white truffles? Exactly why would top Parisian chefs be using an ingredient which is totally foreign to their cuisine. They’ve mastered the art of black truffles (truffles in name only with white; black have entirely different characteristics from white and are used totally differently i.e. you would never cook a white truffle, at least not in Italy), so very very well (something the Italians have tried to do and have failed at miserably).

                              One last thing. As I think Michael Broadbent once said, there is twice as much ’45 (or ’61?) Latour that is still around as was ever produced. There was at least twice as much white truffles from Alba around this year as was found around the Alba area. Many (most?) of the "white truffles from Piemonte" that find their way to Paris (and New York, Hong Kong and Singapore), come from two tiny regions of Italy called Croatia and Slovenia. That’s a fact. They do not taste the same nor do they have the same smell. That’s a fact. But just as many people in Italy, America and France (to say nothing of Asia) drink wine labels rather than the wine in the bottle, and couldn’t tell the difference between one wine and another, most chefs have no idea where the truffles they are using come from and can't tell the difference.

                              1. re: allende

                                I know your note was addressed to Rio, but - It really got me really thinking about it in terms of - what is authenticity and how should ingredients be used and how it should taste. These are very very good comments, and when I reflect on my own eating habits, perhaps I can empathise why you would say that putting white truffles onto fish kills it without having to try it.

                                For example, when in Paris, I would avoid asian food or even asian influenced food - because it annoys me when it is done badly. Hence, when I looked at Ambroisie's menu, the one dish that stood out was the langoustines with curry. Now that dish would be something I would avoid - because I know what curry tastes like (both from India and Southeast Asia), I know how it is cooked and I know what I enjoy. Hence I assumed (without splashing out a hundred euro) to think Pacaud's competency would not be so strong as to be able to cook something against the grain.

                                Similarly, when I tasted Passard's beetroot sushi (pic uploaded) as part of his tasting menu, it totally did not work for me because I automatically took my benchmark from how the japanese do it, and how sushi tastes. But is this an argument to suggest that Passard has no competence in cooking/making sushi or even how rice tastes (ie.putting soy sauce onto rice, too much rice in proportion to his vegetables)? Or is my benchmark too high (ie. assuming all rice needs to taste like uonoma koshihikari rice and hence because I can taste the difference, therefore all chefs who can't have no competence?) or is my worldview too set in stone?

                                I like your wine analogy (not sure if its 45, since thats usually the mouton, while latour is probably the 61) - and thats probably a good analogy. Again, should a good dish be something that makes you happy and judged on its own merit without benchmarking to the best you have ever tasted (ie. a truffle dish benchmarked against the best truffle dish, similarly, any pinot noir tasted benchmarked against a la tache or a leroy musigny?)?

                                1. re: coxford


                                  I too feel a bit confused, especially towards sushi.

                                  Not even mentioning Passard's attempt at doing "an idea of a sushi", what to make of all the sushi in France ?
                                  After I've been to Japan, I weep regularly (ok maybe I'm overdramatizing) when I think of sushi... but I do crave it from time to time, and therefore I do eat it in Paris, from time to time... It has absolutely nothing to do with what I had in Tokyo, but it still gives me pleasure, I must confess.

                                  So what does it mean ?

                                  I don't want to think that I'm just a snob (but who wants to think that about themselves ;) ), because frankly there is absolutely no comparison between the best sushi found in Paris, and the common one found in Tokyo.

                                  It is true that we set our own standards as we discover new dishes and sharpen our palates. But I think the journey should be personal, with an eye on what is "supposed" to be "authentic", but without being a slave to traditional thinking.

                                  To go back to sushi, and try to sum up my thinking about all this. Sushi in japan is better, because the rice is better, well cooked, precisely seasoned, perfectly balanced with the proportion of fish, which itself has a taste of freshness like no other I've tasted. Some parts of this are due to the traditional way of doing things, but not necessarily, for instance Japanese sushi traditionally doesn't use salmon... so what ? Should I dismiss a salmon sushi ? If the rice is as mentioned, the balance obtained, and the fish delicious, why should we constrain our use of this fish ?
                                  Another famous example is Yoshitake who uses red wine vinegar in his rice, instead of the traditional rice wine vinegar... I haven't tasted his sushi, but I'm pretty sure it's pretty awesome, and not because of the "shock value" of doing something different.

                                  There is a difference between what one expects a dish to be, based on personal preference, personal knowledge, and personal understanding of the dish ; and what one expects a dish to be, because it was written in stone by some bearded man who parted the sea in two and was called Escoffier (wait, that's not the same guy ?...).

                                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                                    Thank you - and I loved the sushi analogy.

                                    I agree with you and that is why perhaps this board is so invaluable - leaning towards sharpening of palates and what is new rather than, and indeed it will be tragic, to be a slave of tradition as that immediately closes the door on what is possible.

                                    I mean where is the fun in recommending Jiro/Saito/Sawada all the time?

                                  2. re: coxford

                                    >> For example, when in Paris, I would avoid asian food or even asian influenced food - because it annoys me when it is done badly.

                                    A big, big mistake.

                                    >> Hence, when I looked at Ambroisie's menu, the one dish that stood out was the langoustines with curry. Now that dish would be something I would avoid - because I know what curry tastes like (both from India and Southeast Asia), I know how it is cooked and I know what I enjoy.

                                    And it figures that Pacaud knew what he was doing, since curry powder in this case is a French ingredient.

                                    It dates back to the Compagnie des Indes Orientales and to the French trade posts in India, i.e. the 18th century. Just like the curry powders of later Anglo-Indian heritage, it was developed between French traders and their Indian cooks as a spice mix that soon found its place in French-style preparations back home, and they were called "au curry" preparations, and always creamed.
                                    Later there was also the added influence from the islands (West Indies, La Réunion, Maurice), through the many Indian indentured servants that lived and worked there, in French kitchens among other places.
                                    Hence the presence of curry powders (and ginger, cloves, cinnamon, etc.) in the traditional cooking of coastal South Brittany, which later spread to the cuisine bourgeoise of Paris, hence the "poulet au curry" and other curried dishes. We're talking preindustrial cooking here, not recent developments and fusion stuff.
                                    The French use of those curry powders is also different from the Indian use: the spices are used rather lightly, in creamed sauces, either added at the beginning or towards the end of cooking.
                                    So I would consider a dish of langoustines au curry or anything au curry totally French, especially at L'Ambroisie (Pacaud is from Brittany, by the way).
                                    Traces of the old curry tradition may be found here and there in Brittany, for instance in the Cari Gosse preparation (a taste enhancer rather than a flavoring mix), devised by two pharmacists in Lorient in the early 20th century and still sold at pharmacies.

                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                      Great point - my ignorance is unpardonable (I will order this dish the next time I go to Ambroisie).

                                      I just wish to add that someone commented that there are no weaknesses in Pacaud's menu - but but .. for the price and the decision matrix that one needs before ordering that dish - and to fight off cognitive dissonance (curry in France) is very difficult.

                                      1. re: coxford

                                        I certainly do not deny that. But here is an example that is not food-related: long ago I bought an Yves-Saint-Laurent suit in a second-hand store. It was a fine black-and-white houndstooth and the buttons looked weird: white circled with black. I thought they clashed with the pattern and I told the vendor: I will probably change the buttons. She advised me not to do so, and said:

                                        "You're buying an Yves-Saint-Laurent suit. If there's a detail that puzzles you, just remember that if he put it there, he had a reason for that. Wear it for some time without changing it and you'll probably understand why he did it." And she was absolutely right.

                                      2. re: Ptipois

                                        About curry.

                                        That's really interesting. There is a whole thing in the USA (and probably UK too) about how "curry powder" is a western invention and should therefore be thrown away, as no real curry could come out of a premix powder...

                                        I think this is probably true, when we speak of indian or other asian curries (although I must admit this is far from my field of expertise, not that I consider myself an expert on anything...), but it's interesting to learn this whole history of curry in France, which I'm sure has an equivalent in England. Again, putting in perspective what we call "traditional" or "authentic".

                                        Is there anything really traditional ? A dish that was born in a place, with only the ingredients that were always available in this same place, cooked by locals, and never influenced by the outside world ? (hint: rhetorical question).

                                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                                          Yes, and I do take it as rhetorical too. But traditional only means carried through generations. It is not particularly a sign of quality - there is traditional crap too -, although it is generally agreed that things are carried through time because they are thought to be good.

                                          I am always surprised by this idea of "throwing it away" because it is a Western invention - does not seem like a fair reason to me. It is a product in its own right. Yes, French curry powders and Anglo-Indian curry powders were very probably devised in similar conditions. But I do think the French powders are a little anterior, British curry powders being more of a 19th-century thing.

                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                            This makes me think of the specialty ramen from Hokkaido, with butter and corn. In France we would probably see this as fusion nonsense... in Japan they embraced the new ingredients and made a regional specialty out of it.

                                            That's it ! I'm going to buy some curry powder !

                                            1. re: Rio Yeti

                                              I heart butter corn ramen. You can get it on rue Ste Anne.

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                Really ? I'll have to check it out. Although lately I've been disappointed by the ramen on rue Ste Anne...
                                                I recommend the udon at Sanukiya however.

                                    2. re: allende

                                      Thank you Allende for your precise and well-argued reply.
                                      I definitely feel I understand better what you mean, and it's a whole of a lot more interesting than a sentence like "in Piemonte we laugh at a dish like this.".

                                      You are mostly right about contemporary chefs, and I even agree with you about molecular gastronomy (although I'm known around these parts as a defender of modernist cuisine). I have been to the restaurant "La Famille" in Montmartre, which tries to be molecular, but is simply bad... A spherification is a nice trick, but if the soup served inside wouldn't be good as a plain soup, then the spherification will not mask the lack of technique.

                                      Having said that, I still feel that you judge the books by the covers a little too quickly... I understand where you are coming from, but let me give you another example. When I was in the Alps, I ate at the hotel Les 3 Vallées (in Val Thorens), nothing really fancy, that was just the hotel I was staying at.
                                      They served me a shrimp risotto... with parmigiano ! I know, cheese and seafood ! When I saw the dish, I immediately thought of all the mamas turning in their graves, making a wild noise all around Italy. But the dish was good. It was actually the best dish I had at the place. And this was not Passard, this was not Guerard, this was not even Jean Sulpice of the famous restaurant l'Oxalys (nearby)...

                                      This is just to say that if I agree with you when you speak of weird combinations with fruit (for instance), I'm not on the same page when it comes to what we consider "tradition".

                                      One thing is to shock for the shock value, and one other thing is simply to disregard the status quo of tradition. Because let's be honest, not all tradition is about "something that works so well there is no need to change it"... unfortunately a lot of it is "well, my grandma did it that way, and my mother did it that way, and ... well... I never thought I could question the way it's been done..."

                                      Frankly, I don't see why a "balanced" dish of sole with white truffle couldn't be good. Is there a very big chance that the truffles will overpower the fish ? Absolutely. But in the hands of someone who knows how to balance a dish, it could also be great.

                                      About the last part of your argument, I am definitely not qualified to answer you. Maybe all the white truffle we see in France comes from Eastern Europe... that is shameful, but that is another debate altogether.

                                      Again, thank you for your long and informative reply.

                                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                                        >>> This is just to say that if I agree with you when you speak of weird combinations with fruit (for instance), I'm not on the same page when it comes to what we consider "tradition".

                                        If we really could have access to, say, French traditional, pre-Nouvelle Cuisine cooking as it used to be made (and could still be enjoyed when I was a child, i.e. 1960s-1970s), some preparations would strike us as uncannily exotic, modern and innovative; they would appear as entirely new tastes in relation to what we're used to, since Nouvelle Cuisine was actually a streamroller that sent an infinite number of tastes, flavors, sensations and textures to the garbage cans of history, and now our palette of tastes remains entirely conditioned by Nouvelle Cuisine.

                                        It is no use opposing tradition and modernity when there's nothing left of tradition in what is supposed to be traditional.

                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                          "It is no use opposing tradition and modernity"

                                          If I seemed to be doing that, then I misrepresented my beliefs. I fully agree, but to be honest (and I hope this will not pass as a provocation) I feel "traditionalists" often despise modernity, whereas "modernists" often pay tribute to traditions while trying to move things forward.

                                          Maybe my biased view :)

                                          1. re: Rio Yeti

                                            No no, I was not saying that you were opposing tradition and modernity, I was referring to it as something that is often done without much reflection.

                                            However, this is what I think about these matters, and that sure does apply to food:
                                            Traditionalists on one hand do not "despise modernity", they just have little understanding of the passing of time and what it implies.
                                            But I would say exactly the same of modernists.

                                            Modernity is a thing I simply don't believe in. It is at best a changing notion, at worst an ideology based on a denial of relativity (the very relativity that goes with the very passing of time).
                                            As a trained archaeologist I was accustomed at an early age to mistrust any use of diachronicity in the explanation of art, as well as the very notion of "progress". I still apply that to cooking as to everything else. After all, what we now call "modernist" cooking was created in the 1910s and springs directly from the principles of Marinetti, paired with the evolution of industrial foods - a joint movement towards the "food of the future" that has recently shown its true colors. It is hardly modern. And it is actually not food.
                                            I am convinced that, today, true modernity in cooking means brushing these old shenanigans aside and going back to real food.

                                            1. re: Ptipois


                                              In fact in the art world (except in architecture maybe), describing something as "modernist" is usually meaning "modern for the sake of modernity" with not much substance behind it...
                                              I'm with you in that I don't like "schools of thought", and "crews" of people getting behind a common name or a dogma. Things evolve, change, refine, sometimes in a bad direction, sometimes in a good one... no need for labels, let's just take what's good and put aside what's not.
                                              Of course, my definition of "real food" could be different from yours (and it probably is), but that's not to say that I don't firmly believe that that is the direction we should all be taking.