L'Astrance, Hotel Lion D'Or, Troisgros, Nicolas Le Bec, Phillipe Rochat
Let me start off by offering my apologies. For the past few months I have been in the process of starting up a new business (details to be announced shortly), and I am woefully behind in posting my meals on the site. Even worse, the fall dining season is upon us and I've just returned from a week in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest. So before I fall so far behind that the reviews lose their relevancy, I thought that a summary of my meals, one for Europe and another one for the U.S., would be the best way to update the site and make everyone happy. Some of these meals go back as far as the 3rd week of January and run through the beginning of May. The meals are listed chronologically and the photos are posted below the reviews. In addition I have updated the photo galleries with nearly 30 new photos of chefs and dishes. Enjoy!
L'Astrance - A restaurant I never quite warmed up to. There was always a disconnect between how others felt about the restaurant and how I felt about it. Not that I thought it was bad, but I always found Pascal Barbot's cuisine to be overly simplistic. But then a chef friend of mine told me that a recent meal was terrific, so I figured I would give it one more try and I booked a lunch at the restaurant. Well his advice turned out to be spot on as Barbot wowed us with a number of dishes. A gateau of foie gras and mushrooms, which is quickly becoming his signature dish, was delicate and delicious even though it was a tad cold which slightly muffled the flavor of the foie. Then a gorgeous pair of Britanny sea scallops were served in a buckwheat emulsion with braised spinach. Look at those plump beauties! Best of all was a celery soup served with black truffle puree and parmesan mousse. Just a stunning dish and one of the best I've had this year. And Barbot's pairing of miso with red wine sauce, served on 45 day old baby Pyrenees lamb with leeks and black truffle, was an astounding feat of culinary magic as miso and red wine mix about as well as oil and water. A restaurant that deserves to have a feature review of its own. A-
Grand Hotel Lion D'Or - Your basic high quality bourgeoise meal that can often be found in the French countryside. Deserving of two Michelin stars, not three, we came for the truffle menu but they weren't offering one that evening. But there were a sufficient number of dishes on the carte that had truffles and we ordered them all in the process of organizing our own tasting menu. Highlights were an exceptionally rich and creamy chestnut soup topped with truffles, with a plate of foie foie gras, chestnuts, truffles and mache on the side. Delicious and truly decadent in a good way. A dish with a potato waffle, bone marrow, chervil and truffles was also very good. Only in France can you follow a rich foie gras dish with one that features bone marrow and feel good about yourself. Then we broke away from truffles with a delicious pigeon stuffed with forcemeat and innards and wrapped in caul fat. They even served an interesting dessert of a flan of pears bathed in a sweet curry sauce with vanilla ice cream. Superb list of wines from the Loire Valley and we drank a magnum of 1988 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de Dioterie that was terrific. Not a place I would run back to but worth stopping at if you're in the area. Actually it might be worth travelling out of one's way just to drink through the magnums of Chinon on the list. B+
Troisgros - If one could create a scale that measured restaurants, and the scale was based on combining the quality of their cooking, the setting, and the quality and pricing of the wine list, I would quickly tell you that Troisgros is the best restaurant in the world. Fortunately for me, I have gotten to eat at the restaurant on an annual basis in conjunction with my attending the Marche au Vin in nearby Ampuis each January. Throw in a few visits on holidays and what you have is a love affair with a restaurant. But this year they let me down. As luck would have it, Michel Troisgros was in Japan on the night we were there and the kitchen wasn't haven't much luck reproducing his cuisine acidulee without him being in the kitchen. In fact the meal was so ordinary that I am having trouble recalling what we ate without looking at the photos. That is a tell for someone like me who has a photographic taste memory when the food is good. In fact I almost feel like I shouldn't post the photos but what the heck. At least the amuse of souffle potatoes with shaved truffles was superb. But Gillardeau oysters wrapped in thinly sliced beets and served in a beet gelee didn't seem to be balanced correctly. Then a roasted and flambeed blue lobster with herb butter was tasty but on the ordinary side. I've had better versions of their veal chop coated with a grain mustard crust. It was just one of those nights when the room didn't have any energy. I hope they do better when I visit after the new year. C
Nicolas Le Bec - Having been named Gault Millau's chef of the year when he was cooking at Lyon's Cour des Loges hotel, I was eager to try Nicolas Le Bec's new restaurant which is just off the Place Bellecour in the heart of the city center. The restaurant occupies what is a large space for a fine dining restaurant in France, and reminded me of what I lovingly describe as the "upper middle" in the U.S. Well sometimes you can judge a book by its cover as the quality of the cooking was more like Gotham Bar & Grill than a starred restaurant in France. Successes were a scallop in a sublime verveine broth with braised grapes and a sweet and sour clementine confit. Unfortunately the dish was served in a scallop shell and placed atop a bed of salt and every time you tried to slice the scallop, the shell went sloshing from one side of the plate to the other. One wonders if chefs ever try their own dishes after they are plated. But the sloshing wasn't the only issue with the dish. The verveine bouillon was so good that it hardly needed any other ingredients to make it a course. In fact if it was served as a soup (in a proper bowl of course) with thin slices of scallop, it would have been divine. Also on the plus side was an exceptional tranch of turbot in an inufsion of morille brunes with squid and dried figues. It was the single best piece of fish on the trip and the dish was perfectly assembled as well as perfectly balanced.
But the down side of the meal was so bad that it prevents me from recommending the restaurant. The rest of the dishes were terrible with the worst being foie gras with quince, cassis and hibiscus sauce, It was cloyingly sweet to the point of not being able to properly taste the foie. I mean look at that picture. It looks like a dish of sweet and sour pork in an old fashioned Cantonese restaurant. Cabbage stuffed with minced pork, which was formed around a truffle, which was topped with fried lettuce and then a shaved truffle before being drenched in a disgustingly overreduced and salty demi-glace, was a disaster and reminded me of the Calvin Trillin joke about restaurants trying to look important by stuffing food with other foods, and then stuffing the stuffed food with something else. I look forward to not returning. D+
Phillipe Rochat - If one could measure disappointment relative to expectations, than Phillip Rochat's restaurant in Crissier was probably the greatest culinary letdown of my life. I have been wanting to eat there for years, having missed eating at the restaurant when the great Girardet was at the helm. But to a person, everyone told me that Rochat was a great chef and the restaurant was among the best in the world. What I found was exactly the opposite. A nouvelle cuisine restaurant stuck in a time warp where the boundaries are drawn using lines made out of overreduced veal demi-glace. As always I prefer to start with the positive which arrived in the form of a tranch of foie gras topped with dried cherries from the Swiss town of Aarburg and then paired with Marc de Savoie gelee. The dish was perfectly balanced and the dried cherries had just the right amount of squoosh to them if you know what I mean, as well as being a hair tart which went perfectly with the very high quality foie. But the rest of the meal was amazingly poor. Scallops topped with artichokes, endive and lemon sorbet was an atrocity. And a reasonably good shrimp from the Gulf of Tarante was overpowered by a curry and mustard grain sauce which would have been a good match for a Siikh kebab but which completely ruined the shrimp. But the restaurant hit bottom when the sauce that coated the pig's trotters, which were stuffed into caul fat, was so salty and viscous frrom being overreduced that Rochat could out it in a can and sell it as an alternative to Quaker 10/40 motor oil. D
Next week part 2 - Gaig, Tom Aikens, L'Arnsbourg, Buerhiesel, Le Cerf and Le Meurice