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StuDudley

L'Astrance

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L’Astrance has be one of the most sought-after tables in Paris ever since it opened in 2000 especially since it only opens 4 days per week. The restaurant was owned by Pascal Barbot (Alain Passard’s prodigy) as well as Christophe Rohat (L’Arpege’s former manager). I visited this place 8 years ago and liked the food a lot, but somehow I have not returned until last month although I had visited Paris more than twice between ’10 and ’14. As far as I can remember, the dining room’s design is still the same: chic and modern with the bright/lemon-yellow chairs and sofa being the most standout items. The spaces between tables may not be too generous but still comfortable. The restaurant is small, seated around 25 pax and it’s a full house. More than half of the guests arrived by 8:30 PM and everyone started nearly at the same time – it should make the kitchen’s job easier this way.

 

Ever since the opening, L’Astrance already followed an unconventional way in terms of French gastronomy. There’s no fixed menu (except for a few signature dishes) and every dish will be a ‘surprised’ and seasonal; during dinner it’s pretty much a one-type “omakase” menu only as black truffle season was over here. This way the chef has more control and freedom to serve the best items daily – a method followed closely by Barbot’s talented apprentice at Quintessence Tokyo. Moreover, Chef Barbot’s dishes don’t often contain any (heavy) sauce using butter or cream; instead he prefers to use Asian (often from the Far East) ingredients to season his food. After a small snack and good bread & butter, the tasting menu started:

 

-Chef Barbot’s most famous dish as it’s always appeared at the beginning: layered of crunchy/woody raw button mushrooms were alternated with creamy/rich foie gras and a little sharp green apple somewhere in the middle. On the sides, there were lemon confit and hazelnut oil for variations (e.g. reduce the liver’s richness)

-Following this, I had a dish that explored strong & deep sea flavors: steamed firm scallop was combined with warm roasted oyster, and pure bone marrow. It was enhanced by intense kombu butter and balanced by spring crisp rolls (inside were apple, ginger & basil) – it was delightful  

-Pascal skillfully prepared caramelized Cod fish resulting in moist and tasty Cod. The fish was accompanied by smoked eel, leeks and Asian-style vegetables generating more salty flavors to the overall experience

 

-The thing I liked about L’Astrance is that, more often than not, Pascal Barbot served 2 meat courses. For the first one, I had tender pork belly (with minimal skin/fat ‘unfortunately’) served on a bed of sautéed morel mushrooms with curry oil and yellow wine sauce. I always loved morel but this one the flavor was not fully developed yet. The sauce was, nevertheless, excellent – deep, earthy and sharp

-Probably my favorite dish for this meal was the ‘still-red’ pigeon’s breast meat - tender, juicy and really delicious. It’s served with turnip, sour cherry paste and the bird’s dark jus. On a small bowl, I also enjoyed the moist pigeon’s leg with its rich liver

-The palate cleanser was the usual sorbet of chili pepper, lemon grass and ginger served in a small glass: refreshing with a punch of spicy flavor

-The main dessert was a citrus fruit tartlet showcasing sweet meringue and sour citrus flavor with some mandarins and grapefruit, surrounded by crunchy biscuit. It was very pleasant. Then come the always-flavorful jasmine eggnog, crisp/fragrant chestnut madeleine and fine fresh fruits

 

I only drank 3 glasses of wine – 2 whites and 1 red (less than half of their wine pairing). Though not from prestige vintages, they worked well with the food. By the way, the current head sommelier is a gentleman named Alejandro, replacing Alexandre Jean. I noticed that only 4-5 staffs served the whole 2-level dining room for the entire evening. Under Chris Rohat’s leadership, he ensured that diners will be taken care of and felt relaxed. The atmosphere was, in fact, quite noisy and people seemed to have a really good time, including myself.   

 

The price here was still very reasonable. For instance, I remembered once upon a time (a decade ago perhaps) the full course tasting menu at L’Astrance was nearly at the same price as the one at Le Bristol (now Epicure). Nowadays, Eric Frechon’s dinner set menu easily cost more than EUR 300 for food only while at L’Astrance it’s at low 200’s. However, as I saw the pictures of my earlier meal, this time I had 2 fewer courses – 1 less fish/seafood dish and 1 less dessert. It’s understandable … When I want to eat excellent food while in Paris but feel lazy/don’t care to choose my dishes, L’Astrance will be my main destination. It might not be among the best meals I’ve ever had in Europe but I’m sure this wouldn’t be the last time I would savor Pascal Barbot’s creations in Paris   

 

You can see the pictures: L'Astrance March 2016

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