The English version is here.
Il y a encore à Paris un restaurant étoilé où on peut manger des quenelles truffées dans une soupe d'asperges, où le chef fait une omelette, et où il y a un chariot de desserts avec Saint-Honoré ET Paris-Brest. Gérard Besson est un chef classique impeccable, un MOF au classicisme unique -- je ne lui connais pas de concurrent à Paris.
Le menu du déjeuner est une belle affaire. Cette saison, Gérard Besson avait les seules bonnes truffes que j'ai rencontrées. Besson est un initié de la truffe: il sait où les trouver, comment les négocier, comment les choisir. Oh, et il sait aussi les cuire, et qu'il y a différentes façon de le faire, ainsi que le suggère la page entière de son menu dédié au diamant noir. C'est de la truffe qui embaume la pièce. Certains soirs d'hiver quand le restaurant est plein de clients et de truffes, il paraît que certaines femmes s'en trouvent mal.
C'est une cuisine à l'ancienne, mais pas celle de Rostang ou d'Escoffier. C'est avec Bocuse que la parenté est la plus apparente, ancrée dans les recettes et les alliances classiques, mais simplifiées, épurées. Ptipois, à qui je vole sans vergogne la moitié de mes idées (et l'autre moitié de ma femme), avait un pigeon qui, aux standard modernes, était surcuit. Mais, dans cette recette avec le foie gras, il n'aurait pas pu être meilleur s'il avait été rosé, comme on l'aime et l'attend de nos jours.
Ce plat de rouget était une célébration du printemps, févettes, menthe, salade et olive. C'est d'abord un des plats les plus simplement beaux qu'on m'ait jamais servis, et j'espère que la photo vous en donne une vague idée. Je ne pouvais m'empêcher de penser au choc que ce genre de recette a dû être au temps des frère Troisgros et de Bocuse, quand on réinventait la cuisine traditionelle tout en la respectant scrupuleusement, mettant les ingrédients au premier plan comme jamais.
C'est un vrai endroit de gourmands. Il ne faut pas venir ici pour l'innovation. Mais si vous aimez la truffe et le gibier, si vous croyez que les grands classiques, basés sur les ingrédients de saison, une exécution parfaite et, oui, un peu de tradition, ont encore de l'avenir; alors Gérard Besson est pour vous. A la table d'à côté, un célèbre grand gourmand, beurré comme un petit Lu, avait l'air d'apprécier autant que nous les petites cailles que le chef avait fait venir spécialement de la Dombe pour sa tablée de jouisseurs contents. L'odeur de ces cailles... j'aurais voulu faire partie de leur société pas si secrète.
J'oubliais de vous parler du lapin en feuilletage. J'aurais dû...
mardi 20 mai 2008
mercredi 14 mai 2008
When in Paris, there are two ways of tasting Robuchon branded-food: one is the most famous Atelier, which I reviewed a few months ago. The other is the more discreet and conventional La Table, in the 16th. It is more conventional because, as the name suggests, there are tables. And you can get a reservation. And there is service. Some pretty excellent service, actually. I think what impressed me most is when they brought an extra pair of spoons, having noticed that we were tasting each other's courses. Oh, and also, they don't rush you out by sending you everything you have ordered at the same time.
Another significant appeal of La Table is the best of all Robuchon traditions: a very affordable lunch menu, including wine, water and coffee (and service of course) at 55 euro. Because I would do anything for you, I volunteered to try. It started with a very well done amuse of foie gras mousse, porto reduction, and parmesan mousse. It's testament to their style: great ingredients first, simple but subtle preparations -- back to basics.
Then there was a soup of green peas with three goat cheese raviolis inside. The dough of the ravioli was so thin that it was barely noticeable, so the course was really pea and cheese. It's an interesting pairing, underlining the light acidity of the cheese, playing on a contrast of temperature as well. But it is mostly interesting because of the perfect soup, a "velouté" they call it, and velouté it is, incredibly onctuous. Indeed they do it as should be, meaning that they actually peel the peas one by one. And they blend it over and over again. And they have some very nice crème fraîche, that can't hurt. In any case, it is a demonstration that was is precious about haute cuisine is the skill and the labour more than the ingredients themselves. In general, this menu is a brilliant demonstration that top cuisine doesn't need expensive ingredients. So much so that, quite frankly, I'm not sure I even want to try their "regular" fine dining, lobster and veal chop and all.
Then came an absolut Robuchon classic, the Merlan frit Colbert. It's just that great and simple -- hardly different from l'Atelier, though maybe even lighter. The fish flesh is melty and almost immaterial, the very thin crumb only protect the flesh, seasons it and, of course, crisps. Fried parsley is on the side is not lighter than air but lighter than thin paper. And the infamous Robuchon purée came on the side, as with each Robuchon course these days. There again, it felt less ridiculously buttery than at l'Atelier, where, as I wrote, it is more a sauce than a side.
My codiner, I should mention, has a codfish course that was very perfect as well, and that felt so healty that I suspect that eating it can replace fitness.
Dessert was a textbook clafoutis, not unlike the one at Jamin back in the days. One often associate clafoutis memories with guilty child memories, a rich sweet. But the Robuchon version is not too sweet, not heavy, just onctuous. Of course the cherries have their stones in, which is also part of the pleasure. Just yum.
Okay, okay, I confess: I added some extras that are a big charm of the Robuchon places, where you can order tasting portions of great recipes. There was a funny artichoke/langoustine dish, with cute little langoustines that made the same irresistible impression as baby vegetables, if you know what I mean. On an artichoke mousse, there were tomato and sweet pepper dices, squid and the langoustines. There again, very fresh, very healthy, though I am not entirely sure that it is the best way to put this seafood forward. It's more like a sophisticated version of shrimp cocktail.
And there was also the sweetbread -- because the one at l'Atelier is the best in town, I would not go to a Robuchon place without having some. The recipe, on laurel and with Romaine, is the same at both places. But the one at la Table is more brown and caramelised, while the one at l'Atelier is almost white and so melty that it is almost creamy. It is nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable.
So: l'Atelier, or la Table? Well, La table's cooking is lighter, gentler and more consistent. But l'Atelier, quite frankly, still has some wows like their sweetbread. Both are excellent choices, but in different circumstances: La Table is, as you would have guessed, for a real meal. L'Atelier, really, is good for high end snacking before or after theatre or concert (plus, those are the only times where you might get a seat). L'Atelier really does not do the work of offering fine dining experience, but only some teasers to the food component of it. But all in all, la Table is a place where I plan to go regularly, especially for lunch.
dimanche 4 mai 2008
Great chefs make great meals. There are plenty of criteria which critics and food writers would like to use, ingredients, technique, style... but in the end it just comes down to this simple truth.
This 11th century castle is located close to the French and Luxembourg borders. It is also very close to an ugly modern casino – so close it actually touches it.
The young Christian Bau was born in the Black Forest, where he finished his training in the n°1 German restaurant, the Schwarzwaldstube of Harald Wohlfahrt. Like in any great and early success, his story is a combination of talent and luck – the owner of the Casino was looking to build a high end hotel-restaurant in the castle, Bau was a souschef at Wohlfahrt but his best friend was in the neighbourhood and teh Baus were visiting for the holidays. Long story short, the restaurant is built for them, and they end up with the third Michelin star in 2007.
I’d like to tell you that the restaurant has life-changing ingredients. Or it using never heard before techniques. Or that its style is redefining what a restaurant is. Ingredients were very good, techniques well mastered of course. Not all third Michelin stars come without reason. Yet all I can tell you is my meal at Christian Bau was wonderful.
It was a long tasting menu, but superiorly balanced. I’m a big skeptic about big tasting menus in general. Most of the time it is way too much food, and it is a roller coaster. There are plenty of little bites, some are good and you’re frustrated you can’t have more. All the more so since some are unpleasant and you’re sorry you had to use stomach space for them. In the end, they’re often exactly what they say they are: tasting samples so that next time you know what you like and you can have a good meal. Hopefully.
Bau’s meal was a perfect party. Every course was very good, some excellent, and it always felt like you had exactly enough. I did not feel frustrated at not having more, neither did I feel to full to enjoy the end of the meal.
Two things in particular made the meal party-like. First, as you can judge from the pictures, there’s a kind of stylistic melting-pot involved – you can see it in courses as well as in china and plating. For the foie gras course for example, there was a soup served in Chinese-like china, a minimalistic foie gras sorbet, and a very 1990s cake of foie gras and mango. One course looked like l’Astrance, one like Gagnaire, one like Wohlfahrt. There was generosity and there was minimalistic precision, as well as wild inspiration here and there.
Then dishes just looked georgous and party-like. See that dessert table, with one all-vanilla dessert on the front and a chocolate-passion fruit one on the side. It’s like some sort of culinary confetti. Before I actually went to Rochat, alas, I was imagining that his food would taste like Bau’s, because it looked so good. Both look like infinite skill and precision are used to make the dish look good while clearly expressing the ingredient as what they are. No square sweetbread or Euclidian plating here, but also not ingredients prosaically laid in the plate.
The meal had several highlights, but let me mention some: I particularly loved the simplicity of the pre-amuses of gressini just wrapped in high quality lardo. The idea is rustic and simple simplicity. But the execution shows great precision, a perfect match of the grissini and the lardo, balance of saltiness and texture in particular. The lardo was sliced recently so it does not sweat, and the grissini is not wet from the lardo.
A starter of crab, scallop and citrus looked bland but was very artful taste wise. When you first bit it, the citrus and the seaweed are overwhelming and you thing that crab and scallops will only play texture, that their taste will be hidden. But after the first strike of citrus, the iodine and sweetness of the crab and scallop actually kicked in, like the sea would retire and reveal the seafood. The rice vinegar played an interesting transition between the first and second phase.
One very simple main, but very efficient, was the sweetbread and gambas. Both are rosemary roasted on rosemary sticks, both under a rosemary foam, both with a juice of veal breast (that’s right, not your common veal juice – this one has a richer texture and a sweeter taste). This is a puzzling dish, because it is so simple and it works. The seafood is the one with the intense taste, while the sweetbread brings meltiness. They don’t work so well if you mix them in one bite, but if you separate the bites, there is a “long distance relationship” going on with the two main ingredients – same preparation of different ingredients with different effects.
The preparation of the big sole was very exciting too, and I also don’t really know why. The sole was cooked at low-temperature, had a Parmesan crust, and was lying on artichokes and on parmesan raviolis. The sauce was very liquid, based on Bellota and olive oil – and was slightly reminded by a tiny roll of Bellota on top of the fish. As you can see, this was a big nice sole, which sure helps. On the whole there the fish and its sides were great matches for one another.
I should also mention that his a very tiny dining room, ten tables top, whose architecture reminds of the age of the castle. A young and pretty woman is in charge of wine pleasures, and as you would expect from the location, they are specialists of these wonderful Mosel valley Rieslings, which are also so easy to pair.
All in all, I just can’t tell you what’s so great with Bau. You’ll have to go. Looking at the pictures, you may share my point that it's hard to see why this would a restaurant worth a trip. Yet it is. The good occasion is a special, celebratory meal, because that is how this cooking is intended.