lundi 4 juin 2007

S'il n'en reste qu'un: à Paris (en)

La version française prochainement.

Sur Chowhound, le site de ceux qui vivent pour manger, (et je ne leur jetterai pas la pierre), beaucoup de gourmands demandent: je viens à Paris, qu'est-ce qui est le top du top? J'essaye toujours de venir en aide aux gens qui sont en très grande détresse, alors j'ai écrit ça (et aussi ça)

See how hard the life of the French food-lover is? Some people mock the Michelin and the self-centerred gastronomic views of the French, but a lifetime is hardly enough to have the full French experience. Not to mention other great foods.

I think all would agree that all three-star restaurants are amazing. Which is why we reviewers try to give a sense of the specificity of the place rather than a blunt listing. There is a restaurant for each mood.

L'Ambroisie, Gagnaire and l'Arpège are generally acknowledged as the three best foods.

Gagnaire will blow your mind and you might be unable to remember what you ate there in detail, because each course is made of five different plates at least and often offers never-heard of combinations such as asparagus with passion fruit (yes, I do remember this one). The setting is contemporary and cosy, soft light and there is a dedicated smoking-room and perfect cigars (more georgous Gagnaire pictures chez Pim).
(One of many dessert plates at Gagnaire's, photo Chuck)

L'Ambroisie offers absolute classicism in a 18th century setting. There is something intimidating about the place. But it is also mind blowing, in a way opposite to Gagnaire. There are no more than three flavours per dish, and there is no degustation menu, and almost no extra (one mise en bouche and a few mignardises on the side of the dessert). Pacaud is the chef that chefs prefer, he comes very close to perfection. But this is it -- there's nothing party-like about the place, beyond the orgasmic food. I personnally remember feeling like purring on a dish of strawberries with ice-cream -- to name but one.
(L'Ambroisie's tourte de canard sauvage -- photo Gastroville)

You can have a sense of both Pacaud and Gagnaire by watching the DVDs that were made about them -- a small investment compared to the price of the meal ("L'Ambroisie" and "L'invention de la cuisine").

With Passard at l'Arpège, you will have the same quality of products, cooking and seasoning that you get from Pacaud, in a very contemporary setting (see his website for an idea of the setting http://www.alainpassard.com/ ), with a very minimalist, virtuoso cuisine focused on vegetables and fish. He does, however, the best chicken: it is slowly grilled, turned every few minutes for two and a half hour. Another example is the Gratin d'oignons, which is just that (gratinée onions, pepper, parmiggiano) and charged ca 80€ if I remember correctly. It is positively delicious. Perfect cooking is Passard's gig, and it is impressive. Prices of the wine list are even crazier than they are in the two others (more reasonable wine prices in particular at Taillevent, whose cellar has been around for decades and is masterly managed).
(L'Arpège vegetable couscous, photo MobyP)

As far as Savoy goes, the food maybe a touch less sublime than in the two others, but the experience is one of total "art-de-vivre" -- and everything is delicious. The Savoy room is contemporary, with lots of contemporary and African art. It is made with Wenge wood and leather, has no window. Soft light and a team that is here for your pleasure. You will be offered extras, sweets, nice attentions all the time, without feeling that this is too much food. You'll have serious if you want serious ambience, joker if you prefer. It is also very jet-setty, with lots of politicians, pop stars, actors, etc. But you usually do not feel less important because they are here, which is alas not the case in all restaurants.

Also, lunch menu (which you need to reserve specifically, only one table per day) offers good value at Savoy (100€ for a full meal, from the Carte). This is noteworthy because we are talking for all four restaurants of 600+€ checks for two.

I will give a more detailed impression about lunch menu at Guy Savoy after I go there later this week -- stay tuned.

4 commentaires:

Steve Plotnicki a dit…

A good analysis. But I wonder why people always say that Pacaud is the "chefs chef?" Amateur chefs who are still struggling to cook in the style of the nouvelle cuisine chefs at home might feel that way but of the working chefs I know, and I know plenty of them, I can't think of any who are at all interested in his food or his cooking technique. In fact I can't recall ever hearing a young chef tell me that they wanted to go stage at L'Ambroisie. And that isn't to say that his food isn't good because it can be delicious. But I always find it odd that people go out of their way to spin the restaurant this way. Why can't we just be honest about his cooking and say that he is the last great nouvelle cuisine chef still standing who still cooks with great intensity, and it's a good choice if you happen to like that style of cuisine?

Julot-les-pinceaux a dit…

Well, I believe you are right to say that Pacaud is stuck in the time of Peyrot, Guérard, Loiseau and Chapel, and there's nothing wrong with saying it. And there are worse places to be stuck in.

I also believe that, as you suggest yourself, it is not only a matter of personal taste that Pacaud objectively offers the most intense cooking of its kind.

This is why I believe that despising its remarkable mastering of his techniques is a mistake. You wrote on several occasions that you found your Ambroisie experiences boring, despite the intensity. I shared this experience a few times, not always, and I do not believe it is related to the techniques Pacaud uses, but to his personality, also reflected in the setting of the restaurant, as you rightly point out. The video tells volumes about that.

Same techniques are used at Loiseau, at Haeberlin's, at Guérard, to name but a few, and I don't believe anyone finds those places as boring (for you) or as sad (for me) as Pacaud's.

No doubt that Gagnaire, Adria or Blumenthal are not interested in Pacaud's technique. Besides, Pacaud is not about techniques, but about execution, maniac attention to details, obsession of freshness and perfection.

As far as the chef's chef issue is concerned, the following chefs told me, one way or another: "Pacaud is the best"; Loiseau, Senderens, Guichard (Jamin), Peyrot. Some said "save me".

Again, none of those belong to the current creative wave. But Pacaud, Guérard or Senderens' styles are building blocks of modern cuisine.

To take but one example, they initiated separate cooking of superlative products, which I know you appreciate a lot. Now those do not only have historical value -- they are pretty damn good.

I wish I was served Pacaud's cuisine in, say, Fréchon's restaurant, for he is such a joyous folk. (some of his dishes, some day, almost reach Pacaud's level, and those are the high times of the Bristol).

Steve Plotnicki a dit…

I don't despise the mastering of technique, it's just that masterful technque alone can not overcome the lack of imagination in his cuisine. Chefs on the contemporary side of the equation often suffer from the opposite problem as their cuisine contains a lot of innovation which lacking any real focus on expressing ingredients. The best restaurants manage to provide a good balance, and as far as I'm concerned, the concept of technique includes the concept of innovation. There are some classic restaurants who are always modernizing their cuisine so they can stay relevant, like the way Troisgros reengineers the Salmon in Sorrel Sauce every so often to keep it from becoming an ancient relic. I am sure that I would enjoy L'Ambroisie much more if Pacaud cared about those things. But your comment about Pacaud's personality causing the situation has piqued my interest and I would love to hear you expound on that topic.

Julot-les-pinceaux a dit…

Well, please see the "Souvenirs d'Ambroisie" comment for said expansion.