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Pierre Gagnaire: the good and the bad


cabrales
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Don't get me wrong - the first time I ate at Gagnaire it was a memorable meal. Sure it wasn't that every dish was fantastic - there were ebbs and flows - but overall it was coherent and delicious. Last night was different. I am very much a supporter of the experimental and novel in cooking, and I expect to experience that in restaurants like Gagnaire. But I also expect that when it gets to the table, everything served has been fully vetted and is delicious. (This was certainly true of the The Fat Duck.) It is hard to believe that all of the dishes served last night were pleasing to the palate of the master! No matter what, the bottom line for a restaurant like this is consistency and being delicious.

One other thing, apparently now that smoking is banned in restaurants, Parisians have taken to smoking in the bathroom! When my companions went to the ladies room it was smoky and there were ashes in the sink!

Appreciate the encouragement re: Senderens and L'Astrance.

Edited by Frege (log)
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So, anyone else been to Gagnaire of late?  Had this menu?  Is he slipping?

I have been hearing this for some time, here and in personal communications. People who loved the place when he first moved from St Etienne are now disappointed. I stopped going before these reports tho' for other reasons.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I ate the very same menu you had last week and thought it was excellent. Two things that might explain our difference in point of views:

- Gagnaire was actually there (however, you'd expect his second to perform well when the chef isn't here, wouldn't you?)

- although i ate at several 2* and 1* restaurant it was my first three-star experience, and the food quality was just one of the many things that contributed to the overall quality of the meal this evening.

I agree with you that the John Dory was absolutely fabulous. Asparagus ice cream + cucumber, I thought it was OK, kind of a savory "trou normand", but the marine overload of the red mullet+oyster+seashells was maybe a little bit too much, especially at that point of the meal.

The veal, however, I found really excellent: very good meat, perfect cooking, a simple yet very good red pepper sauce... I couldn't ask for anything else.

Cheeses: the camembert "brioche" (more like a "mousse", actually) was quite surprising, as it really retained all the camembert taste with a very different texture. This course also made me discover the "Bleu de Termignon", which I didn't know and really liked a lot.

By the way, anyone knows where one can find Bleu de Termignon in Paris? I went to Quatrehomme and they had some, but I guess it wasn't ripe enough, as it wasn't blue at all, and had nowhere near the power of the one we ate at Gagnaire.

Well, those were just my two cents ; I'm not as experienced as most of the people who post there, so it is very likely I'm a little bit "too" enthusiastic about Gagnaire.

On the contrary, I was kind of disappointed by Ze Kitchen Galerie last month... I hope you won't!

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Yes the veal was good, but not enough to rescue the second half of the meal, I thought. The problem was that the first part made it seem as if it might go down as memorable, the second half undermined it.

To reiterate, at this class of restaurant, consistency throughout the meal is of great importance. Although I don't expect every dish to be among the greatest things I've ever eaten, I do expect there not to be any failures. I don't think this meal met up to that standard.

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I don't think Gagnaire was ever my cup of tea - but I've thought of trying Gaya for lunch. Lower prices - lower expectations - maybe a good meal. Have any of you Gagnaire fans dined at Gaya? Robyn

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There should be the review of Gaya somewhere

If my memory serves me correct, there's rarely any positive review about it even at the much lower prices than Pierre Gagnaire

I noticed in that many of the current's comments from the experts in this forum generally point that the current gastronomy is "declining"

No matter how good the chefs cook, they always point out that the past is better

Is it really the case? Or it's more "psychological" case ... when you talk to your grand parents, more likely they will explain things are much better back then (how come? with many advancement and refinement, r u saying that in many aspects people nowadays go "backwards"?)

Frege, sorry for your bad meal there

I thought Pierre Gagnaire is still one of the ultimate and most genious chefs in the world. Whatever he cooks, for me it's almost always enlightening. He could give all of the recipe details, yet we still fail to make the dish that's closed to the one he cooks in the kitchen. Guy Savoy ... I agree that it's very difficult to go very "wrong" there, but not easy to have a spectacular meal either

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Frege, sorry for your bad meal there

I thought Pierre Gagnaire is still one of the ultimate and most genious chefs in the world. Whatever he cooks, for me it's almost always enlightening. He could give all of the recipe details, yet we still fail to make the dish that's closed to the one he cooks in the kitchen. Guy Savoy ... I agree that it's very difficult to go very "wrong" there, but not easy to have a spectacular meal either

I too admire Gagnaire, and my meal there last year was memorable, in large part because of the culinary imagination it displayed. That was why it was all the more disappointing; at his status, and given the price, we have a right to expect that all dishes have been vetted and that the meal shows significant consistency from dish to dish. I know that Blumenthal comes in for criticism for varying his menu very little if at all, but the advantage is a meal that is consistent from start to finish.

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I don't think Gagnaire was ever my cup of tea - but I've thought of trying Gaya for lunch.  Lower prices - lower expectations - maybe a good meal.  Have any of you Gagnaire fans dined at Gaya?  Robyn

Well I'm an ex-fan and I liked it shortly after it opened and said I'd go back but have only been back once.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I don't think Gagnaire was ever my cup of tea - but I've thought of trying Gaya for lunch.  Lower prices - lower expectations - maybe a good meal.  Have any of you Gagnaire fans dined at Gaya?  Robyn

Well I'm an ex-fan and I liked it shortly after it opened and said I'd go back but have only been back once.

I have eaten at Gaya a few times and Liked it.It's been awhile however.

Stick to seafood dishes and the ones with gagnaire inprint.THey are not wildly inventive,thus easily likable.

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Sounds like two typical Gagnaire meals. He is a genius but it's a place for people who go to three stars every week.

If you have Lucas-Carton experience, you might be disappointed at Senderens, which is considerably less luxurious. That includes the food. Senderens is a genius (a reliable one) and the new restaurant definitely makes you taste what a genius he is, relying on high quality but non luxurious ingredients. Food is great, but it is casual compared to the usual top restaurants, somewhere between bistrot and gastro, more on the gastro side. Personally, I'd much rather have a meal at Senderens than Gagnaire or l'Astrance, that said.

Another thing about Senderens is that, as he decided to lower prices, he still has great, simpler food but the wine pairing he offers just is of insufficient quality. It is still great pairing but not exceptional wines. My advice is to buy good bottles from the wine list. There is a page of 79euros bottles that has only great wines (see here for pics from last week), especially that Riesling Kabinett which is a great match with the langoustines among other things.

I reviewed Senderens here.

I read your review of Senderens, and thought about it with some care, reflecting upon my experience there the other day. You obviously have considerable experience with Senderens' cooking, dating back to Lucas Carton days, and can trace the lineage of his cooking to what he is serving today, and so look past the many negatives of the restaurant as it exists today, in terms of food, ambiance, service, and in comparison to other restaurants world wide operating at this price point. (For instance, I've had superior meals at Providence in LA, Jean-Georges in NY and Cyrus in Sonoma of late.) For me, eating at Senderons for the first time, and without your prior experiences, although some dishes were very good, others were significantly flawed, and the noise level, visuals of the room and the mediocre service all detracted from whatever virtues the food did have. These are not factors to be ignored in a restaurant of this level. Moreover, as a rule, when I dine in a restaurant of this nature, I want to be surrounded primarily by people whose minds are on the food, and not (at least primrily) on their extra-curricular activities to follow. While my meal at Gagnaire was a disappointment, I saw much more in the food there than at Senderpns. Perhaps he still provides enough to brighten the culinary memories of those who loved Lucas Carton, but for those of us without such memories, eating at Senderons leave much to be desired.

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No offense, but judging from your writing, I don't think that's is what it is. I think that it is a matter of preference and expectations. Definitely what you just wrote showed how the very concept of this restaurant today is the opposite of your expectations, esp. as far as the setting and service and attendance are concerned. Those are elements that you could have known without going.

Lucas-Carton also had its detractors. Senderens has a very special style, and if you are not receptive to it, you aren't. In that case it all feels like a bad joke and that's exactly what bad Lucas-Carton reviews were about already.

I've read as many bad reports about Lucas-Carton as I am reading those days about Senderens. As I wrote, I have no pleasure or interest eating at Gagnaire or l'Astrance, which I find in the end vain and self-centered. I don't think it is related either to my memories or to their lack of talent or interest. That's also why in the end I don't think that reviewing is about rating, it's about setting expectations right, finding what's good for you and helping you enjoy it.

As far as the setting is concerned, I agree that it is uncommon, esp. at night and with its red light. It already was before they did the Star Trek/Space Odissey thing, but it sure became even more... surprising.

Service is definitely casual. And as I wrote in a nearby thread, the restaurant needs a user manual. And its very concept is unstable, because Senderens' style requires flawless execution which is made difficult by the conditions in which this kitchen runs. I would not recommend Senderens without all these precautions. Should not have been recommended to you, obviously, because it could have been clear from the beginning that you would not like it and that was nothing like what you are looking for. It remains the only place where that unique style can be tasted and enjoyed, furthermore at cheap cost (not when you pay in dollars but that's not Senderens' fault -- and it remains half the cost of l'Astrance, one third of Gagnaire's).

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Have to agree here. Lucas Carton was definately a restaurant that split people's opinions and which many people did not "get". They could also suffer from "execution" at times (I was there 2 weeks after 9/11 and it was not a good evening). Even at Lucas Carton the noice level was high and you were sitting right next to others. But I actually enjoyed this and often conversed with other tables and gave them suggestions on how to order.

I am finally going to Senderens in about 4 weeks. I do NOT expect it to be anything like Lucas Carton. And that is simply based on what I have read. The ingredients are different, the atmosphere is different, the costs are different. Thinking one will get a LC like experience at Senderens today is like to going to Robochon l'Atelier and expecting to get something similar to Jamin. Its a guaranteed way to be disappointed.

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I don't think Gagnaire was ever my cup of tea - but I've thought of trying Gaya for lunch.  Lower prices - lower expectations - maybe a good meal.  Have any of you Gagnaire fans dined at Gaya?  Robyn

Well I'm an ex-fan and I liked it shortly after it opened and said I'd go back but have only been back once.

I have eaten at Gaya a few times and Liked it.It's been awhile however.

Stick to seafood dishes and the ones with gagnaire inprint.THey are not wildly inventive,thus easily likable.

I have eaten at Gaya quite a few times. To me it is a medium priced fun restaurant rather than a temple to gastronomy. It is a young team, and they show a lot of enthusiasm.

My wife and I always tried to sit at the bar (and definately avoided upstairs), the menu structure is non-traditional so we usually chose a number of dishes and asked the kitchen to split them and serve them sequentialy thus creating our own six course meal.

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It’s interesting to see how times have changed. People walk out of “three star” very, very expensive restaurants and there is disappointment in the food, service and ambiance.

I’m going to date myself, but when you walked out of Alain Chapel in the mid 70s, you thought you’d died and gone to heaven. Everything, everything was perfect. Not even a minor miss. Same with Troisgros, same with La Mere Blanc (when Georges had only two stars), same with Haeberlin, same with even with Guerard (when he was still in Paris).

What has happened to cause the change?

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It’s interesting to see how times have changed. People walk out of “three star” very, very expensive restaurants and there is disappointment in the food, service and ambiance.

I’m going to date myself, but when you walked out of Alain Chapel in the mid 70s, you thought you’d died and gone to heaven. Everything, everything was perfect. Not even a minor miss. Same with Troisgros, same with La Mere Blanc (when Georges had only two stars), same with Haeberlin, same with even with Guerard (when he was still in Paris).

What has happened to cause the change?

Are we simply more educated and thus our expectations are higher? Educated in terms of tastes and experiences, we have a broader base of experiences, travel is easier etc etc. Chefs are now having to cook for a more sophisticated audience. An audience that is more self assured and therefore comfortable in giving their opinions and criticisms.

In order to cater for the more educated palette do chefs need to push the boundaries. And pushing boundaries gets risky with more chance of failure, In the '70's was it such a narrow "cuisine" that practice made perfect?

Has the relative cost of high end dining fallen to our current disposable income and as a result access to this level of cooking become broader? Can we afford to eat more often at top restaurants? Because the experience has become more frequent we are more comfortable in expressing an opinion.

Or maybe it is more simple, the standards have dropped. Are there more 3 stars than there were in the past? Is there enough talent to go around?

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Thanks for the comments about Gaya. I like fish - and thought it sounded like fun.

As for 3 star experiences - I think it is a combination of factors. Like fortedei - I go back a ways in terms of dining in France - to the 1970's - and 1980's. And he is quite right about the dining experiences then. I can't recall how many 3 stars in France I dined at then - certainly more than 6 and fewer than 12 - but they were all amazingly perfect. FWIW - I found lunch at Gordon Ramsay RHR in 2004 to be a similar experience - ditto with Vendome in 2007. So it isn't a question of taste - I think mine has stayed pretty much the same. In part I think it is a matter of expectations - not in terms of getting great food - but of getting something new - and "exciting" - no matter how weird or how bad it tastes. Thirty years ago - and today in more traditional restaurants - the chefs work for years to perfect their signature dishes. They may add or subtract from their menus - but it isn't something that's done on a weekly or monthly basis. A chef didn't mind making the same perfect dish for a decade - and neither did diners. Today - people are willing to pay big money for "experiments" - some of which succeed - and many of which fail (as they apparently do - on a regular basis basis - at a place like Gagnaire). Just to say they've been at restaurant x, y or z. That is their problem.

On my part - I never expected clients to pay for my services in areas I didn't know beans about - and I don't care to spend big dollars (like $750-1000 for 2 people) for "food experiments" (I can experiment at home on my own - thank you very much). I can't speak for why guides like Michelin give 3 stars to places with very uneven food - maybe it's why bond rating agencies gave high credit ratings to lousy securities (to be au courant and make money).

BTW - I can't imagine that Senderens is any funkier than the original L'Archestrate (which was painted a vile shade of purple). Or that the service is any haughtier than it was at Lucas Carton. But - in terms of my experiences - the chef always knew how to cook up a storm. Robyn

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  • 1 month later...

I've already posted this write-up in a separate thread, but I figured it belonged in this Gagnaire-dedicated thread as well...

Pierre Gagnaire

(pictures available here)

Whatever image comes to mind when you hear the word “chef”, odds are that Pierre Gagnaire doesn’t fit it. Maybe you picture that cranky short guy with the tall white toque from Ratatouille. Or maybe a jolly, plump character like this guy. But the man making his rounds in the dining room near the end of our meal fit neither stereotype. He wore a scruffy five-day-old beard and he exuded the grim aura of a battle-hardened war veteran.

If anyone in the room needed a drink, it was him. Clearly the guy wasn’t exactly sipping champagne and listening to Mozart in the kitchen. I figured he had been far too busy fighting instead. Not with his cooks, necessarily, but with the ingredients. Like a mad scientist just emerged from his lab, he had been trying to bend the wackiest food combinations to his will, never totally sure whether the reactions would create explosions or masterpieces.

And that dichotomy is just part of the game with Pierre Gagnaire. A meal here is the truest definition of culinary gambling. Sometimes you win, and occasionally you even hit the jackpot. But almost as often, you lose. Like a frat boy who hemorrhages money “training” for the World Series of Poker, you wonder if you shouldn’t kick the habit and put your time and money into something a little safer. But I was feeling lucky, so I chose to let it ride this time. And I can’t say that I was either surprised or disappointed that the very same meal yielded both the best and worst dishes of my trip to Paris.

Several dishes on the winter tasting menu sounded tempting, but I wasn’t sure I had 245€ worth of confidence in it. Instead we chose the more reasonable Menu du déjeuner at 105€. Looking at the verbose menu description that ran all the way down the page, I wondered whether the meal was three courses or twenty. But it all depends on who is counting, because each course at Pierre Gagnaire is a veritable armada of up to ten plates. We tweaked the menu a bit, with Adam supplementing an additional entrée of langoustines and me requesting Le Grand Dessert de Pierre Gagnaire. The sommelier suggested a bottle of white Burgundy — Domaine J. Confuron-Cotetidot 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Petite Chapelle (145€) — and soon, the first plates arrived…

AUTOUR DES AMUSE-BOUCHES

Tartare Terre et Mer, oeufs de saumon organique et feuille de dorade royale.

Infusion au vadouvan, râpée de radis et petits coquillages au naturel.

Mousseline de Pompadour en persillade, chair d’aubergine à l’origan.

Brochette d’escargots petits gris.

Moutarde de Shiitake en aigre-doux, pain d’épices croquant et champignons de Paris.

Gras de seiche César aux taggiasche ; sorbet d’olive verte de Lucques.

This paragraph on the menu signaled a parade of amuse-bouches before the entrées were even a gleam in our eyes. The first to arrive was a combination of cucumber gelée, spring vegetable-stuffed hearts of palm with sprouts, and a crispy tuile topped with herb “paper” and raspberry confiture. Definitely a refreshing (and in retrospect, gentle) introduction to the meal. The flavors would only escalate from here, I figured.

Next was a small piece of soy-glazed eel served with tiny gingerbread cookies. Sounds crazy, and it was. But the eel had the pleasantly chewy texture of beef jerky, and the sweet spiced gingerbread balanced out the saltiness of the soy. Really tasty.

A long rectangular beet tuile topped with anchovy paste came after that. Alongside it was a roasted peanut cornet filled with peanut cream and a few whole roasted peanuts. Another strange-sounding combination that I thought worked pretty well. The salty peanut flavor was especially good.

The waiter came by with several types of bread, and through a complex nonverbal conversation of bilingual hand gestures he understood that I wanted to try all of them. (It would have been rude to point, after all, and even more rude to stare him down until he left the entire tray at our table.) There was pain au lait; a walnut roll; a rustic white roll; and a thin pistachio crisp. All were very flavorful. The butter that came with it was decent, but a far cry from what we’d had the day before.

Round two of the amuse-bouches started with some beef tartare topped with salmon roe, resting on a translucent slice of sea bream carpaccio. I found this surf-and-turf combination to be unbalanced, with the salty roe drowning out the subtle flavors of the fish and meat. Which is too bad, because the description actually sounded really nice to me.

The lightly jellied vadouvan infusion with grated radish and small raw shellfish got us back on track, though. The clam pieces were a bit bland on their own, but the texture and flavor were both complementary to the subtly spiced infusion. The different texture that resulted from jellying the broth also helped the flavors linger on the tongue a bit longer, which I liked.

The mousseline de Pompadour (no, not that kind of Pompadour) was definitely my favorite amuse-bouche. It was a parsley-flavored mousse whose recipe probably hails from the French commune of the same name between Paris and Toulouse. The texture of the mousseline was thick, but light and almost frothy at the same time. Its fabulous parsley-and-garlic-spiked flavor coated the tongue and lingered long after each bite. Every mouthful that included one of the grilled snails was even better. This hors d’oeuvre took the classic combination of snails, parsley, and garlic and elevated it to something nearly sublime.

Next we had some sweet-and-sour shiitake mushrooms. On the rim of the bowl was a thin gingerbread tuile on a round slice of raw white button mushroom. The mushrooms tasted almost like they’d been lightly pickled, with the acidic flavors outshining the sweetness. But the inherent earthiness of the shiitakes still came through. And while I really liked the tuile layered with the raw mushroom on its own, I’m not sure it added much in combination with the shiitakes aside from a contrasting crispy texture.

The last amuse-bouche was a few strips of cuttlefish with finely chopped taggiasche olives and Lucques olive sorbet. I happen to love the texture of cuttlefish. I also happen to dislike olives most of the time. But luckily, Lucques olives are my favorite variety. The sorbet wasn’t at all icy and it had an almost gummy texture, which was surprising but enjoyable. I also liked the cold sorbet with the room temperature cuttlefish, but the overall flavor combination left me unconvinced.

Finally having worked our way up to the entrées, we all had the Voile de mortadelle, pétoncles noires au citron vert. Jeunes navets, asperges vertes de Mallemort et brunoise de pomme verte. Bouillon d’asperge. It was a “veil” of mortadella, an Italian cold cut that comes from the city of Bologna (just don’t let an Italian hear you call it baloney). There were tiny black scallops (the shell is black, not the scallops themselves) with lime; green and white asparagus; a delicious asparagus broth; young turnips, a few leaves of mizuna, and a brunoise of green apple. Reading the menu description, it sounded too busy with so many different flavors crowding the plate. But my fears were unfounded and the combination worked beautifully. It was meaty, vegetal, buttery, tart, and sweet. And most importantly, it was all harmonious. Frankly, I didn’t understand it and I’d never have come up with the flavor combination myself, but it just worked.

Then came Adam’s brilliant idea for a second entrée:

LES LANGOUSTINES

En tartare à la mangue verte, feuille de nougatine.

Grilleés, beurre fondu relevé de poudre de carcasse.

Poêlée à la coriandre fraîche, Sketch up. Bouillon de santé voilé de farine de maïs.

Juste écrasées à la spatule, servies sur un toast chips au lard ibérique.

En consommé glacé cendré de caroube.

En mousseline ; soja frais et pousses de moutarde.

Langoustine tartare with green mango and a thin crisp of nougatine. The minced mango was tart and slightly bitter, so its flavor was a nice complement to the slight natural sweetness of the raw langoustine. The tenderness of the langoustines suggested that they were incredibly fresh. It almost seemed like cooking something that is already so great raw would be a crime.

Skewers of grilled langoustines with melted butter and seasoned with a powder made from the carcass. Actually now I take back what I said before about it being a crime to cook langoustines this fresh. This very simple cooked preparation highlighted the freshness of the product once again, but this time in a new way. The langoustine pieces were incredibly juicy. They had been given just enough time on the heat to be kissed by the fire, but were thankfully still just shy of being cooked through on the inside so the result was very tender.

Sautéed langoustine with cilantro and diced tomatoes. A lot of people seem to hate cilantro. These people, for instance. But I think it has its place. It definitely added a nice pungency here that lifted the flavors of the buttery langoustine and the sweet and slightly tart tomatoes. My only complaint was that I think the langoustine could have been more easily appreciated in combination with the tomato and cilantro if it weren’t on the skewer. But that, my friends, is called nitpicking.

Healthy broth” with a veil of cornmeal. I had no idea what this was until I Googled it later and found a nearly 200-year-old recipe in The French Cook by Louis Eustache Ude. So I guess now the next time I’ve got six pounds of beef, half of a hen, and a veal knuckle lying around in the fridge, I will know what to do. But on this afternoon I wasn’t really in the mood to analyze every single ounce of food that was set before me. Sometimes you just sip some broth, think to yourself “Hey, this tastes pretty good,” and you move on. This was one of those times.

Very coarsely ground langoustine on toast topped with a slice of Spanish ham. This was beautiful. The paper-thin slice of ham on top was wonderfully fatty but somehow still crispy. Spain’s delicious answer to Italian lardo. You could sandwich anything under that salty pork and it would be pretty good. But the langoustine here (again, just ridiculously tender) was great.

A jellied langoustine consommé with carob powder. This had all the richness of a highly reduced langoustine stock but it was nicely balanced out by the slight sweetness imparted from the use of the carob powder. I’ll admit that I didn’t have the slightest clue what this ingredient was at the time, but I do know it offered a nice contrast to the intense gelée. Also, I think the texture that resulted from jellying the consommé had a nice effect, giving it more character and a more lingering flavor than the simple clarified stock might have had in liquid form.

Mousseline of langoustine with soy bean sprouts and baby mustard leaves. This was another highlight. The mousseline was certainly full-flavored, but light and almost frothy in texture. The sprouts and mustard leaves added a slight bitterness that complemented the rich, slightly sweet flavor of the langoustine mousseline really nicely.

Adam was kind enough to share some of the different langoustine preparations with us. But he may not have been so generous if he’d had a chance to try the main course he was getting next:

LE PLAT PRINCIPAL

Gigot d’agneau de lait rôti au colombo, taillé en fines tranches, servi sur une poêlée de blettes aux panoufles.

Caillette de légumes de printemps.

Tarte sablée de gousses d’ail, pâte de pruneaux.

Oh, I know. It sounds innocent enough. Just some thin slices of leg of suckling lamb roasted with colombo spice blend, served with sautéed swiss chard and pieces of lamb sirloin. But Adam took a bite of the meat and didn’t say a word, though a glance my direction said it all — he hated it. Apparently not content to cut his losses and send the dish back, he moved on to the caillette: minced spring vegetables and lamb meat wrapped in caul, the fatty membrane that surrounds the lamb intestines. Another silent reaction from Adam this time, but with a noticeable frown. Then in what I can only assume was an act of retaliation for a previous transgression of mine, he offered me a bite. Or more accurately, he basically shoved the plate my direction, and demanded asked politely that we switch dishes “just for a quick taste”. Sneaky bastard.

I like to think of myself as a equal-opportunity eater, so I tried each part of the dish. The leg meat was tender and juicy but the sirloin was, well, not. I liked the fact that both were powerfully gamy unlike most of the lamb one can eat in the US. I also liked the accompanying crisp roasted garlic tart with prune paste and swiss chard that Adam seemed to have neglected. But the spicing on the meat, the stuffing of the caillette, and really the overall flavor combination just did not do it for me. I pushed the plate silently back Adam’s direction. He knew without me saying a word — I hated it.

Then again I’m never particularly fond of that type of curry, even if it’s supposedly only very subtle. So after the amuse-bouches, I had taken the liberty of asking if they might substitute a different main course of the chef’s choosing for me. That was probably the best decision I ever made, since Santa Claus slid down the chimney with…

LE CANARD

Petit canard Pékin rôti entier à l’étouffée, aux aromatiques :

Les filets sont taillés en petits pavés ; carottes multicolores ; feuille de datte sèche aux mûres.

Scarole, parfait glacé de brebis et sirop de pétales de coquelicot.

Betterave rouge comme un condiment.

The waiter arrived tableside with a heavy black cast iron casserole. He brought it under my nose and lifted the lid to reveal a whole small Pekin duck sizzling away inside. The aroma alone had me smiling ear to ear as they swept the dish back to the kitchen for plating. Moments later, they returned with the breast meat cut into thin slabs and accompanied with multi-colored carrots. There was an almost translucent thin sheet made of dried dates and a scattering of pleasantly tart blackberries to mellow that sweetness. Large tiles of crispy rendered duck skin were strewn here and there, and all of this was generously drizzled with a bitter chocolate sauce. On a small side plate were a few pieces of escarole with frozen blue sheep’s milk cheese parfait and poppy petal syrup (yeah, I hadn’t heard of it either). On another was red beet “as a condiment”, which in this case meant a vibrant combination of beet mousse and beet sorbet.

There’s no sense in me trying to explain why this was so incredible. (But for a clue, please re-read the last paragraph and try to taste it this time.) I would run the risk of spouting off a whole series of food writing clichés like “cooked to perfection” and “melt in your mouth”. See, look what you made me do! What I can say is that this was one of those dishes that are so unbelievably good you want to share a bite with everyone who’s ever smiled at you. I felt like my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Hatch definitely deserved one. Ditto for that neighbor of mine who always waves when I pass by in the mornings. Hell, even my stock broker deserved one, though I have noticed he smiles much bigger when I am handing him money. This course was, in short, a triumph. A magical dish that was the best of the trip, the best of the year so far, and frankly one of the very best things I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

As you can imagine, my head was in the clouds after that phenomenal duck, and what better way to stay there than by eating ten desserts? Yes, you read that correctly. Ten desserts is exactly what we had on the way…

LE GRAND DESSERT DE PIERRE GAGNAIRE

Neuf desserts

Inspirés de la pâtisserie française ; élaborés à partir de fruits de saison, de confiseries peu sucrées & de chocolat.

The mignardises were not counted as part of the nine desserts, but they came first. They included an “acid drop” (thin hard candy shell with dehydrated strawberry powder and citric acid); an almond meringue cookie with marzipan; dark chocolate with kirsch; a “cherry” (actually a black currant wrapped in marzipan and glazed); white chocolate with lemon curd; and a marshmallow rope. The acid drop was great, tingling as it dissolved on the tongue like pop rocks. The others were all enjoyable, too, but this was just the beginning of a long parade of sweets, which also included:

Coconut and vanilla tapioca, toasted coconut, pistachio ice cream and red bell pepper. This one sounded delicious… until the waiter mentioned the bell pepper. But in a sadistic effort to satisfy my curiosity about the flavor combination, I tried it all together. Suffice it to say that it was all quite good and something I’d love to eat again… except for the bell pepper.

Lemon-almond ice cream with almond gelée, red bell pepper stuffed with dried fruit. Now I’m as happy to help the Mexican economy (the world’s biggest exporter of bell peppers) as the next guy, but if I was disappointed with the presence of the bell pepper in the previous dessert, I was perplexed by its recurrence here. Sure, bell peppers have a subtle natural sweetness. We get it already. Once was more than enough. The almond and lemon flavors in this dessert were another winning combination… without the bell pepper.

Vanilla ice cream in a white chocolate shell, white beer foam, strawberry purée. The foam had an almost creamy frothiness (not unlike a pint of beer poured fresh from the tap) and a subtly sweet flavor. Breaking through the white chocolate sphere gave way to the ice cream inside and the purée below. Adam thought that the beer foam was good “because it didn’t taste like beer”, but I thought the foam was actually what kept this dessert from being too sweet. With both good texture and taste, I thought this was a rare instance of foam with a purpose.

Cucumber sorbet, cucumber gelée, arugula. The sorbet and gelée were cool and refreshing, and went well with the peppery arugula. A nice transition for the palate to better enjoy some the more acidic flavors that followed.

Almond cake, lemon confit, caramelized sugar shell, papaya-lime purée. This had a flavor that was bright, sweet, and pleasantly acidic. The crunchy layer of caramelized sugar on top of the buttery moist cake and the lemon confit was really nice for a different texture and the sweet-tart combination of the papaya and lime was a great topping.

Orange and kumquat confit, orange sorbet, orange mousse, orange toast. The wide range of temperatures and textures featured the same flavors again and again in new ways. This added a nice level of depth to a dessert that could have easily been monotonous in the hands of less skilled pastry chef. This was probably my favorite of the bunch.

Lemon sorbet, lemon confit, shaved pineapple. The last in a series of really refreshing citrus-based desserts. We all mistook the veil laid on top of the bowl for dried pineapple, but it was actually a razor-thin slice of the fresh fruit. Hidden beneath it was an second equally thin slice that rested directly on the pleasantly tart sorbet and confit. This was exactly the kind of palate cleanser we needed after the first six desserts. (I dare you to re-read that last sentence and not crack a smile.)

Raspberry meringue, chantilly, raspberry confiture, fresh mango tart. This was sweet, tart, crisp and creamy. And like several other desserts that preceded it, I really enjoyed the range of different textures with this one. Biting through it, each layer had a distinct feel on the tongue. The continued emphasis on such vibrant fresh fruit flavors was making it that much easier to just sit back and keep eating. Not that this has ever been much of a problem for me. But you know what I mean.

Dark chocolate ganache, chocolate straw, praline tuiles. Like I’ve always said, I’m not a chocolate guy. But maybe that’s just because chocolate is usually the last dessert to be served. So there’s always a bit of sadness associated with it. Praline tuiles can help anyone through such tough times, though, especially when they’re so pleasantly salted. This kept the slight sweetness of the chocolate ganache in check. There are worse ways to say goodbye.

And with that, our lunch was done. I had come in to Pierre Gagnaire expecting to be wowed, and I was — both positively and negatively. The duck will be a dish I’ll dream about for years to come. Truly exceptional in every sense of the word. The lamb, on the other hand, I’d like to forget as soon as possible. And I don’t think the presence of bell pepper in a few of the sweets has inspired me to sprinkle little bits of it into my breakfast cereal, either. Even so, I think that when you succeed, you should push yourself to succeed in a big way. And likewise when you fail. Some of Gagnaire’s creations seem to be the product of an inspired genius. Others, the product of psychoactive drug abuse. But all these combinations — the wacky and the tried-and-true — exhibit the soul of a chef who is not content to be like all the others. He wants you walk away from the restaurant having tasted his food, think “Man, that was crazy”, and then question whether or not that’s a compliment or a criticism. Often, I think, it’s both.

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Thanks again Tupac. That echoes our meal there a year and a half ago. Some sublime stuff, and then some really poor stuff. I can't imagine how he could taste some of the things and send them out of the kitchen.

Cool that you saw him. He's quite Gandalf-esque. I reckon he cooks with a wizard's staff.

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I can't imagine how he could taste some of the things and send them out of the kitchen.

agreed

Are you saying that the duck you ate there is even better than Pacaud's truffe bel humeur since you said it's one of the best things you had in your life? When is the Arpege's review coming  :raz: ?

The duck was me; truffe bel humeur was ajg.

Arpege review has been written for well over a month now. It's uploading the pictures to our blog that's giving me trouble. Technically I could just post it here on eG, but that's no fun. :cool:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Last week, we went to Pierre Gagnaire. We had the "Menu de Printemps" since our waiter recommended it. (If someone is interested in the whole menu, contact me and I will send you a copy).

Since this is one of the top restaurants in the world, I was expecting to be wowed. One dish wowed me for its subtle yet unexpected combination. It was divided in three areas. On a big plate, there was a cup covered with a dish that had "Blette en paquet, choux coeur de boeuf, sauce Paulette." Next to the cup, there were "Grenouilles meunière enrobées d'une fine polenta au colombo." And once you uncovered the cup, there was a "Mousseline de Sandre:fèves,petits pois et lard fumé." It was an incredible course.

The rest was just ok. It had a very déjà vu feel for me and my companions. There were some courses I did not even bother to finish (the "Thon Rouge Rouge" was particularly unsavory) or I was shocked by its averageness ("Côte de veau de lait rôtie entière au plat," the "rouget"). The desserts were numerous but, again, just nothing new. I appreciated the playfulness on the cheese course.

The service was ok. I am convinced that our lead waiter did not like me at all. He seemed very angry with the world, but it was not our fault. He never bothered to ask if there was something wrong with the many dishes that I hardly touched, nor did he care. The sommelier, on the other hand, was extremely helpful and attentive.

I wish my experience had been better. I was eagerly anticipating my visit to PG but it did not turn out as we were expecting.

Questions, ask.

L

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Last week, we went to Pierre Gagnaire. We had the "Menu de Printemps" since our waiter recommended it. (If someone is interested in the whole menu, contact me and I will send you a copy).

Since this is one of the top restaurants in the world, I was expecting to be wowed. One dish wowed me for its subtle yet unexpected combination.  It was divided in three areas.  On a big plate, there was a cup covered with a dish that had "Blette en paquet, choux coeur de boeuf, sauce Paulette."  Next to the cup, there were "Grenouilles meunière enrobées d'une fine polenta au colombo."  And once you uncovered the cup, there was a "Mousseline de Sandre:fèves,petits pois et lard fumé."  It was an incredible course.

The rest was just ok. It had a very déjà vu feel for me and my companions. There were some courses I did not even bother to finish (the "Thon Rouge Rouge" was particularly unsavory) or I was shocked by its averageness ("Côte de veau de lait rôtie entière au plat," the "rouget"). The desserts were numerous but, again, just nothing new.  I appreciated the playfulness on the cheese course.

The service was ok.  I am convinced that our lead waiter did not like me at all. He seemed very angry with the world, but it was not our fault.  He never bothered to ask if there was something wrong with the many dishes that I hardly touched, nor did he care. The sommelier, on the other hand, was extremely helpful and attentive.

I wish my experience had been better.  I was eagerly anticipating my visit to PG but it did not turn out as we were expecting.

Questions, ask.

L

And what did this set you back?

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Last week, we went to Pierre Gagnaire. We had the "Menu de Printemps" since our waiter recommended it. (If someone is interested in the whole menu, contact me and I will send you a copy).

Since this is one of the top restaurants in the world, I was expecting to be wowed. One dish wowed me for its subtle yet unexpected combination.  It was divided in three areas.  On a big plate, there was a cup covered with a dish that had "Blette en paquet, choux coeur de boeuf, sauce Paulette."  Next to the cup, there were "Grenouilles meunière enrobées d'une fine polenta au colombo."  And once you uncovered the cup, there was a "Mousseline de Sandre:fèves,petits pois et lard fumé."  It was an incredible course.

Funny you mention this one, because it's one of the course I liked less (except for the sauce Poulette, which was yummy) when we went there a few months ago. Maybe they improved it since April, though.

Sorry you had a bad experience... I understand some people have been disappointed with PG recently. I haven't, but my expectations were probably different from yours.

However I think it's the first time I read about bad service there. It was really good when we went and the maitre d' was particularly delightful.

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It was not as expensive as I feared. However, since the meal was such a disappointing experience, we drastically cut the alcohol consumption (why waste perfectly exquisite wine?) as the meal progressed. Around 300 Euros per person.

About the service, it was professional. However, our main waiter seemed to really not give a damn about the proceedings.

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  • 3 months later...

Went to Pierre Gagnaire thursday night for a meal. I have to say i felt very much like Lenski about the meal - although the food was good, and a couple of dishes amazing, i was overall left dissapointed by the whole affair.

I went for the Autumn tasting menu - it was either that or the a la carte which would have probably come to more and i usually like to try the tasting menu when visiting restaurants for the first time. To start with i had an aperetif - a glass of some nice champagne (i can't remember the producer but i had not heard of them before) and some interesting nibbles - all of which were covered in tupac17616's post further down and they were all very good.

The first course was a tiger prawn in some kind of sweet/sour sauce along with a "prawn juice" sauce/dip. I have to say i really didn't think much of the dish at all - it seemed to lack any flavour and the accompanying sauce only seemed to make it worse.

The next course was pollock served with aubergines, black olives and tomatoes. This was much better than the first and enjoyable, but there was nothing that made me think "wow". Next up was salmon poached "mi-cuit" along with some green veg and frogs legs. This was by far the best dish in my opinion and definately had the wow factor that i was expecting.

The fourth course was red mullet, tete de veau, a red mullet jelly, some clams (i think) and a piece of local grilled cheese. It was all good, although the slice of tete de veau was meant to be "crispy" but it didn't seem like it to me! Up next was a jelly of chicken with squid, squid ink bread and artichoke ice cream. This again was nice but didn't blow me away - and i'm not sure what the purpose of the bread was.

Next was a dish of warm oyster served with various ingredients that i cannot remember and can't seem to translate back from the french menu! It was a good dish though and very interesting. Afterwards there was the duck with sweet pepper and date - this was probably the best dish along with the salmon.

After the duck there was the cheese course - 3 different dishes based around 3 local cheeses. They were all interesting although one, a chantilly of Pont L'eveque with an apple and calvados sorbet was a bit much for me - i think it's one of those dishes you only really want a bite of rather than several spoonfulls.

Lastly there were the desserts. Sadly my memory is a little hazy of these and they are not mentioned in the menu. They were all very good but again, lacking that little bit extra that i had expected.

On another note - the wine was a bit of a dissapointment - they had no kind of matched wines to go with the menu so the waiter chose a selection for me, but they were not particularly well matched in my opinion. I know this is always going to be a problem with a seasonal tasting menu but it was still a shame. Also, i thought the wine list was a little.. small? I wasn't that bothered about it, just a little surprised by the number of wines on offer.

Afterwards the staff asked me what i thought and i commented that i was a little dissapointed and felt it did not live up to my expectations. 2 months ago i had been blown away at the fat duck, even after setting high expectations it truely delivered from start to finish. I had expected a similar experience at Pierre Gagnaire - after all it's regarded by many as being up there with the best, but apart from 2 courses i felt nothing came close to matching that experience. I explained this to the staff, who pointed out that it was a seasonal menu and that it changes every month, and that i probably should have tried some of the dishes on the a la carte instead. I got the impression that the a la carte menu is more of a constant menu that is regularly tweaked, but if that was the case, why was i not offered a tasting menu of the a la carte? Seasonal menus are great for regulars at such restaurants but for someone like me who won't even make it once a year, i just want to experience the best the chef has to offer.

So in summary, I don't think i'll be in a hurry to go back again. Food was 8/10, service was 6/10 (nothing to write home about) and bread was 10/10 (forgot to mention that, but the selection of bread was fantastic!). It is also very expensive (255 euro for the tasting menu and the a la carte would cost even more) but i'm assuming most Parisien 3*'s are. Also - after writing all this i've been reading through Tupac17616's Lunch and i can't help but think he seemed to get a much better deal than i did. I got half as many aperetif's and i can only count 6 dishes for dessert??

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