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StuDudley

L'Astrance

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Jaybee - Actually I can't think of a recipe we made from any of her books that came out bad. I think she does a good job of testing her recipes which is more than you can say about other cookbook writers. Jaybee it must be you not her!

John W. - I thought that all bistro dishes started at home. What bistro dish was invented in a restaurant? Isn't that what draws the distinction between bistro and restaurant in the first place?

Bux - Do you think her reviews are less accurate than they used to be, or do you think the refining of your palate through eating experiences have made you reassess her talents as a reviewer? The latter is somewhat true for me. I have eaten so many meals in France that were thrilling, I often find that what Well's likes to be somewhat bland and boring. She is exceptional at ferreting out good ingredients and good producers though.

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I think she does a good job of testing her recipes which is more than you can say about other cookbook writers. Jaybee it must be you not her!

Since I was doing the cooking, it must have been me, but my hand was guided by her words. Results since have been superb, thanks to technique learned from Julia Child.

I must admit, I have not utilized PW's books extensively for recipes, having many other, more complete sources of bistro inspiration.

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In regard to jaybee's comments, one might wonder if the recipes in the guides are as well tested as the ones in the cookbooks. Few cookbooks offer more than recipes suited for cooks at one level or another. Julia Child always gave a full lesson in the techniques invovled in every dish. Her early books are the ones we go back to for the information missing in almost every other cookbook. Most cookbooks are written for people who know how to cook. Mastering the Art of French Cooking assumed the reader know nothing of French technique and maybe little about cooking.

Bux - Do you think her reviews are less accurate than they used to be, or do you think the refining of your palate through eating experiences have made you reassess her talents as a reviewer? The latter is somewhat true for me. I have eaten so many meals in France that were thrilling, I often find that what Well's likes to be somewhat bland and boring. She is exceptional at ferreting out good ingredients and good producers though.  
I've not noticed a preference for bland or boring. An increase in one's own standards ican alter how their perception of other opinions. I wouldn't rule it out as a contributing factor. For the most part, I think it has to do with changes in Ms. Wells. I just don't think she's as sharp as before. She's been doing this too long and may have too many prejudices in regard to food. As for changes in the way she sees food, I have to refer to an article about her California physical trainer/guru. I wish I could remember where I read it, but the article along with phtographs of a slimmer Ms. Wells didn't do much to support the contention we still shared similar interests.

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She's been the respected restaurant reviewer for the International Herald Tribune for a long time.

I think it is important to remember that she is not unknown to a restaurant when she dines there. From the time the reservation is made, the kitchen is fully aware of when she will dine. Does she get special treatment? I would think so. Does this effect her reviews? I would think so.

Having done restaurant review, I know that it is very difficut to do for a long time without becoming a bit stale. Maybe she has been doing it too long?

She runs cooking programs from her property in Provence.

But I have heard quite a few negative comments about these programs because they are expensive and Ms. Wells sometimes only makes a short appearance while others do the teaching. [i've heard some good comments also.] It's truly amzing that the courses have a waiting list considering how expensive they are.

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Read her review on les Magnolias in the suburbs of Paris. She can get awfully cranky when things don't go smoothly for her, even when it's her own fault, but there was a time when she was an invaluable source and I've found useful recipes in her cookbooks.

She has a web site and on the site, in addition to her reviews which are available without charge, there is a message board. It was underused the last time I looked. Saddest yet was that of the few who posted, several of them posted thinking that Patricia Wells would answer their questions.

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I find very few things more fun in Paris than comparing her recommendations on bakeries, fromageries, etc. I'll choose a few benchmark cheeses and go to several fromageries, get those and compare. I'll stop by her recommended boulangeries, choclatiers etc. while I"m at it.

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In regard to jaybee's comments, one might wonder if the recipes in the guides are as well tested as the ones in the cookbooks

Bux, I suspect you've hit the nail on the head here.

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I have relied on Wells since she started publishing, but feel that she has become somewhat overextended with all of her endeavors. I agree with Bux on all of his points, and particularly with his comment about her review of Les Magnolias.

Wells, relying on anecdotal information, simply took the wrong RER train, winding up at a station far from her destination, walked for ages, finally took a cab to complete her journey, undoubtedly arrived late, a little bedraggled and more than a little out of sorts. Her review confounds me, since she compares Jean Chauvel's inventiveness with Pierre Gagnaire but concludes that she wouldn't return because the restaurant is too hard to get to.

For information sake, Les Magnolias is reached easily by taking the "E" RER line from its Haussmann-St.Lazare station (located on rue Caumartin, directly behind Au Printemps department store) to the Nogent-Le Perreux station, which is a short couple of blocks from the front door of Les Magnolias.

(In our family, this kind of research is done by "staff", who are fired for making the kind of blunder described above.)

Staff

http://www.lesmagnolias.com/#jx0383

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For information sake, Les Magnolias is reached easily by taking the "E" RER line from its Haussmann-St.Lazare station (located on rue Caumartin, directly behind Au Printemps department store) to the Nogent-Le Perreux station, which is a short couple of blocks from the front door of Les Magnolias.
Now that's the sort of info that's worth an hour's browsing of eGullet. :smile:

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Do members have a view as to whether it is common for P Wells to re-review a restaurant so quickly following a previous write-up? :blink:

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Do members have a view as to whether it is common for P Wells to re-review a restaurant so quickly following a previous write-up?  :blink:

What do you mean by "so quickly?" Was this a second review of l'Astrance? I seem to recall an earlier one, now that I think of it. That one was glowing too,

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Yes, there was an earlier review, entitled "In Paris: A Star is Born" (January 2001). It was one of the earliest reviews of L'Astrance in the English press.

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/iht/2001/2601.htm

I know P Wells likes to write about G Savoy and Gagnaire from time to time, but have not followed her writings on other restaurants to determine whether lead write-ups within the span of 1.5 years are common. :hmmm:

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An interesting aspect about the P Wells website. When one reviews her "World's Top Tables" for France, there is the following indication:

"No.1: Joel Robuchon, 59 Avenue Raymond-Poincare, Paris 16, tel: 47-27-12-27.

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/topta.../europe/fra.htm

Obviously, Robuchon no longer cooks regularly anywhere, and 59 Poincare is a very different restaurant nowadays (even though supervised by Ducasse, not that such supervision provides any positive indications). Also note that the telephone number is dated, without the "1" in front. :hmmm:

Also note that El Bulli is not included in P Wells' top tables for Spain:

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/topta.../europe/spa.htm

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I don't know what her track record is on re-reviews, but considering all the press l'Astrance is garnering and the inevitable price increase for a restaurant that was so under priced when it opened, I think a year and a half is not rushing things.

I'm happy to see reviews of important restaurants that are up to date and there's little that's so stale as restaurant news and opinions that are not up to date. It's a shame when sites are not kept up to date and bigger shame when topical items are not dated. In this case it serves the reader less poorly than it does Ms. Well's reputation to have what are obviously old pages appear as current opinion. In the case of France, it's obvious that we're dealing with old information or will be when one calls for a reservation. In the case of Spain, it's less obvious that the reader is missing all that's happening at the moment. To have these pages appear as current without posting dates is either an oversight, an attempt to have the entire site appear as current to the uninformed reader or just a reflection of the fact that P. Wells doesn't talk to the webmaster and he doesn't understand the material. The first is sloppy, the second two are serious indications of Wells' aloofness to it all and to how her name is being used to make money off her commercial endeavors. I've earlier noted how I feel that people leave messages for her and no one even responds on her behalf to say that she doesn't respnd here. On the other hand, the message board appears active if I access it from my bookmarks, but Idon't see a link on the home page.

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The significantly outdated information in the P Wells list of World Top Tables continues:

-- For the UK, the top restaurant is indicated to be:

No.1: La Tante Claire, 68 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HP, tel: (71) 352-6045.

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/topta...europe/brit.htm

Pierre Koffman's La Tante Claire is no longer at RHR, which has housed Gordon Ramsay's restaurant for several years now. :hmmm:

-- For France, the #4 restaurant is Taillevent. However, Ms Wells notes: "With the kitchen in the hands of Philippe Legendre . . ." The chef now is Michel del Burgo.

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/topta.../europe/fra.htm

-- For Switzerland, the #1 restaurant is described as:

"No.1: Restaurant Fredy Girardet, 1 Route d'Yverdon, 1023 Crissier (5 kilometers west), tel: (21) 634-0505. . . . How rare to find a chef who has reached the age of reason, maturity and experience without having lost his sense of enthusiasm and creativity. That's Fredy Girardet in a snapshot. One of the world's greatest chefs remains in top form after nearly 30 years at the stove. . . ."

As members may know, Girardet has retired and P Rochat has been tending to the stoves at Crissier for at least a few years now. :hmmm:

-------

Separately, I'd appreciate any member input on one-starred Passiflore or on two-starred Les Muses at the Scribe (previously, Patrice provided some input). Here's the P Wells review of Passiflore released in 1Q 2002:

http://www.patriciawells.com/reviews/iht/2002/2903.htm

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Has anyone seen the article on L'Astrance in Australian Vogue written by Laura Calder?

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Lesley -- No, I was not aware of that article. Could members with access to it post relevant excerpts, including of dishes described? :smile:

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Did any members sample Barbot's cuisine while he was the chef at Ampersand in Sydney? If so, where the flavor combinations and general style comparable to those described with respect to L'Astrance? :wink:

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In the recent edition of Food & Wine, Patricia Wells furnished an article entitled "Where To Go Next In Paris". Among the restaurants discussed was L'Astrance: "Baby turnips, fava beans, and begonia flowers -- chef Pascal Berbot's [obviously, a wrong spelling -- it's Barbot] delightful combinations, as in this delicious salad, reflect a poetic sensibility. Just about everything here is a surprise. Bright red tuna comes with a delicate, ginger-flavored yoghurt sauce and a carrot puree; mussels are tinged with cumin and chervil. Th dining room, a gray and white sapce trimmed with gilt-framed mirrors, is a soothing counterpoint." :wink:

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I hear indirectly P Wells' Paris, truffle, etc. courses are expensive. That prompted me to consider how they could be replicated less expensively, if a member wanted to do so. Below is an indicative class schedule from the "Cooking in Paris" class of October 22-26, 2001:

-- Monday: Preparation of Lunch --> Members can instead have three-starred Lucas-Carton or Grand-Vefour, taking advantage of their lunch prix fixes under 80 euros. This is likely less expensive than the allocable cost of the P Wells class. It is the case that wines are included in the classes.

-- Tuesday: Private tour of Alleosse Cheese Aging Caves; Lunch at Pre Catelan --> This can be mimicked very roughly by visiting two cheese stores and having lunch at Pre Catelan.

-- Wednesday: Oil Tasting with Expert Anne LeBlanc; Preparation of Lunch; La Maison du Chocolat's Chocolate Mousse and J-P Hevin's Chocolate Financiers --> This can be mimicked by going to O&Co to sample olive oil; having lunch at two-starred Jamin for less than 50 euros, and then visiting La Maison du Chocolat and J-P Hevin stores.

-- Thursday: Visit to Poilane Bakery; Private Wine Tasting; Visit to Rue Poncelet Market; Lunch at Pierre Gagnaire (P Wells knows him well, but the included lunch consists of only a four-veggie appetizer and a main course) --> This is slightly more difficult to mimic. However, one can buy bread from Poilane Bakery; go to a wine bar; go to the Rue Poncelet market; and purchase a grander version of the P Gagnaire meal.

-- Friday: Chocolate Tasting with expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel; Preparation of Lunch --> This can be replicated in part by going to Pierre Herme's Rue Bonaparte shop or going to the shop in Paris that carries Bernachon and other rare chocolates. Then, instead of paying P Wells, one can purchase lunch at L'Astrance or Flora.

I appreciate P Wells provides a great deal more (including commentary, etc.) that would not be available under the cheaper ways to experience some of her Paris classes. However, the cost savings might be substantial and one might get to sample more restaurants' food. :hmmm:

http://www.patriciawells.com/cooking/paris.htm

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This is always a tricky issue. How much is a guide worth in any situation? You have to account for the value of your time spent in researching information and for the depth of knowledge of your guide as well as his, or her, contacts in the field and the access they might afford. Finally there's the added value of hobnobbing with the personality involved. In this case, I suspect there is a large group of people quite happy to pay for the privilege. If I were inclined to take such a tour, I'd have to consider if I was willing to pay for that privilege and if so, how much, but first I might have to consider if I cared to be with a group of people willing to pay for that privilege.

:biggrin:

In general some people are more than ready and willing to pay others to do their research and in some cases lead them by the hand. Many travelers are excited by the opportunity to plan their own trips, while others are eager to hire a professional consultant to do the work and some manage to find a preplanned tour to their satisfaction. When they get to a foreign city, some travelers are eager to strike out on their own and often prefer the interaction required to deal with getting meals and getting around on public transportation, while others will have a local guide meet them to ensure they get the most out of their visit. Finances have a lot to do with how we travel, but personality differences may be the key.

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I appreciate P Wells provides a great deal more (including commentary, etc.) that would not be available under the cheaper ways to experience some of her Paris classes. However, the cost savings might be substantial and one might get to sample more restaurants' food.

I have heard that Ms. Wells is often not in attendance for part or all of the classes she "teaches" — that assistants do much of the teaching. Although, this may be more of a problem in Provence than in Paris.

For the price, one can do much better with the classes offered by Les Liaisons Délicieuses where you get many full meals in a Michelin-starred restaurant plus lots of face time with the chef. Plus these trips are all-inclusive. With Ms Wells, you still have to provide your room, transportation and evening meals.

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On Bouland's link, note that a two-starred in Carantec that was likely zero stars only two years ago is participating (e.g., September 2002 visit). If the prices have not yet reflected Jeffroy's second star (only one star is mentioned on the cookfrance description), this would appear to be among the more attractive programs. :wink:

http://www.cookfrance.com/site/trips/brittany.html

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I have heard that Ms. Wells is often not in attendance for part or all of the classes she "teaches"

It may well be that some people are quite willing to pay to be in the company of other people who are willing to pay to be in the company of Ms. Wells.

:biggrin:

I suspect there's a brand thing going on here.

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On Bouland's link, note that a two-starred in Carantec that was  likely zero stars only two years ago is participating (e.g., September 2002 visit).  If the prices have not yet reflected Jeffroy's second star (only one star is mentioned on the cookfrance description), this would appear to be among the more attractive programs. :wink:

http://www.cookfrance.com/site/trips/brittany.html

One of Jeffroy's recipes appears elsewhere on this board, posted by Bouland. I think it's in a Roellinger thread. I'll add the link tomorrow, if Bouland doesn't beat me to it.

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