Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

L'Astrance


StuDudley
 Share

Recommended Posts

Even though I am, among my many serious, well-traveled gastronomic friends, a minority of one, it's hard for me to see why none of them can recognize that L'Astrance is about the most abusive, manipulative restaurant one can find. How the Guide Michelin can give three stars to a restaurant at which there is no autonomy for a client is beyond comprehension. A fixed menu is bad enough, but not to tell anyone what one is going to have is a license to cheat. The man Christophe preys on people who offer no resistance and are frightened to complain. He stole wine from us, sequestering it away in the bar in front and giving it back only if we told him we had some left; removed one of my dessert plates before I touched it, and when I called him on it, he said it was all a joke; and when we told our waiter who was taking our order (as little as there is of one) that we were anticipating one of Barbot's renown veal dishes. we received instead duck, and when we asked Christophe why, his answer was an unapologetic "next time". All this happened to my wife and me a few months ago during the same meal. While the bill was half of what we paid the day before at L'Ambroisie, I would nonetheless return again and again to what is a great restaurant in the tradition of great French gastronomy. We gave L'Astrance a second chance after three years, and I'm not enough of an idiot to ever let there be a "next time".

Edited by robert brown (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry for your bad experience Robert

I've never been there before ... could one actually only drink 1-2 glasses of wine or it has to be the complete wine pairing? Did they still manage to charge the tasting menu below EUR 200? Did they give you the menu of what you eat at the end of the meal? Thanks

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since I was part of the meal, I can answer as well. Of course you can asl for only a couple of glasses, and they will probably charge you a little something on top of the surprise menu but less than the menu with pairing. You can see menu prices on my Picasa web album there: http://picasaweb.google.com/jultort/LAstra...192035034183282

That said, the wine pairing is one of the best features of l'Astrance, and while I would recommend drinking water at l'Ambroisie or l'Arpège, don't at l'Astrance. Alexandre does an extraordinary job, as he learnt with Senderens and Jérôme Moreau.

They don't give you the menu at the end of the meal. But you can try asking.

Edited by julot-les-pinceaux (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

They don't give you the menu at the end of the meal. But you can try asking.

I always ask for a copy of the menu at the end of my meals in two and three star restaurants in France and have never been refused, including my January, 2007 lunch at l'astrance, Often, as at Le Cinq and Ledoyen I received a printed, customized menu.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is no menu, which accounts for much of what's wrong with the place. They love it when you order wine pairings. Then they can mix cheap wines with better ones. It's the same conception with the food; they had the audacity to serve us a dish of chorizo among several other cost-effective courses. Look, the endearing idea behind a bottle of wine is that it changes character with each dish you eat. Red Burgundy goes with more dishes than any other type of wine I know of, so I always order one at these autocratic restaurants. And why would you let someone tell you what to drink? Sure, it's an opportunity to taste several wines which is worth something. But you can do that better and cheaper at home with a group of friends.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to disagree with that. Wine pairing the way Alexandre makes them, or the way Senderens does, brings a new dimension to both wine and dish that you can't reproduce at home. To me, it even is the most exciting feature about l'Astrance. Now you may not like their offer, and then you just shouldn't go to the restaurant.

I don't think that your criticizing their very concept is very convincing.

Actually, a food lover could easily take the opposite view: why should cooks pretend that they can maintain the highest quality on every menu of the item. On the opposite, a honest chef knows that only some ingredients are at their best on that day. He also knows what he feels like cooking and what he doesn't. Therefore, the menu surprise is, in its concept, the best way to have the best possible food on every day.

Now I am not a l'Astrance fan, but I don't think that your criticism goes much beyond the fact that this is not what you expect from a restaurant and you are opposed to the concept of menu surprise and wine pairing. In addition, I should add that the surprise menu concept is a way to keep costs low -- 290 for a high quality meal including beverage is quite competitive among Paris three star restaurants.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's just precisely the heart of my contention: I don't want to spend my money in a low-cost or budget-conscious operation. I don't think you know or recognize that great gastronomy is built on the concept that chefs exist for those they feed; that one goes to the best restaurants and pays the most money to indulge oneself, not to be putty in the hands of chef-restaurateurs or to be manipulated by them. This deep, wide, drastic and no-brainer paradigm shift between restaurants owners and their customers has ruined, if not destroyed, gastronomic connoisseurship. All these gimmicks such as no-choice (or almost no-choice) meals and wine pairings are meant to fleece people. Keller and the partners of L'Astrance know how to play this to the hilt, which is why I will never go to any of their restaurants again. It's why I prefer eating in Italy more than any other country. There they know what culinary altruism is and how to impart a notion of "joie de vivre" for the time and money spent in their restaurants. I like the guy at Per Se who said that eating Keller's way avoids palate fatigue. Great dishes, even gargantuan ones (whole birds, whole fish), never wear out their welcome. It's these little morsel plates that create instead palate vertigo, inability to recall most of them and having waiters in your face throughout the entire meal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's just precisely the heart of my contention: I don't want to spend my money in a low-cost or budget-conscious operation. I don't think you know or recognize that great gastronomy is built on the concept that chefs exist for those they feed; that one goes to the best restaurants and pays the most money to indulge oneself, not to be putty in the hands of chef-restaurateurs or to be manipulated by them. This deep, wide, drastic and no-brainer paradigm shift between restaurants owners and their customers has ruined, if not destroyed, gastronomic connoisseurship. All these gimmicks such as no-choice (or almost no-choice) meals and wine pairings are meant to fleece people. Keller and the partners of L'Astrance know how to play this to the hilt, which is why I will never go to any of their restaurants again. It's why I prefer eating in Italy more than any other country. There they know what culinary altruism is and how to impart a notion of "joie de vivre" for the time and money spent in their restaurants. I like the guy at Per Se who said that eating Keller's way avoids palate fatigue. Great dishes, even gargantuan ones (whole birds, whole fish), never wear out their welcome. It's these little morsel plates that create instead palate vertigo, inability to recall most of them and having waiters in your face throughout the entire meal.

I agree that one goes to the best restaurants to indulge oneself. That, however, means different things to different people.

This discussion has cropped up repeatedly and really has only subjective responses. For some people, such as Robert, control of and active participation with the menu is a key component to the meal. To many others, letting the chef determine what he puts in front of the diner adds an element of intrigue and creativity to the meal with the idea that the chef has the best idea of what is best that day in the kitchen and knows how to give the best representation of his skills. For some, expensive, luxury ingredients are the be-all and end-all element that comprises a great meal. For others, it is simply top quality ingredients regardless of their rarity or expense. It goes without saying that in either case the great chef and restaurant does their utmost to bring out the best of either set of ingredients. Though I enjoy luxury and unusual ingredients, I value what the chef brings to the table whether or not the ingredients are luxe so long as they are well chosen, well prepared and well presented. The same goes for wines. L'Astrance fit into that mold for me. The good news is that both approaches can still be widely found in this world.

Regardless of the approach, the diner places at least some trust in the skills of the chef or else probably wouldn't be at that restaurant in the first place. Robert, it would appear that your trust only goes so far - at least with L'Astrance and tasting menus in general.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John, I can't criticize you on your post. You raise the matter, intentionally or not, of the integrity of a chef or, in the case of L'Astrance, chef and front-of-the-house partner, I don't universally condemn no-choice-or limited-choice restaurants. In fact, during the two days after we visited l'Astrance, we had two meals in Honfleur at Sa Qua Na with Vedat Milor, who I think heard about it from the Julian referred to above (Tort or Torte) or their friend Lydia in London. The chef is a disciple of Michel Bras who ran Bras' restaurant kitchen in Hokaido. Although we exhausted his current repetoire in two days by taking the small menu one day and the large the next, I found our meals there (enjoying the smaller meal more) extremely interesting and worthwhile, made more so by the chef's attractive, well-bred, sophisticated wife. There was no flim-flammery as I described in my previous posts here, but rather an all-out effort to be accomodating. Unfortunately the number of restaurants that offer a blow-out visit is decreasing rapidly, probably still existing more in Spain and Switzerland than in France. Still, I raise the point that restaurants that display their hand and offer relatively numerous options are more transparent than ones like L'Astrance or the French Laundry. To put it another way, slowly but inexorably the clients for fine dining have evolved from exercising autonomy and experience into becoming supplicants.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did not lead Vedat to SaQuaNa -- it's one of the places that online foodies talk most about, and he did not need me to hear about it. I think Degusto is a more likely source.

I'm glad to hear that you don't oppose no choice restaurant systematically. It did not sound that way in your initial post about l'Astrance.

To me the ideal restaurant is a limited choice one because, as I said, a good chef knows what is best that day, and that absolutely no chef can guarantee the highest quality every day on every course of an extensive menu. So people who are serious about excellent food have to rely on the chef one way or another.

As far as wine pairing goes, Senderens demonstrated that, when it is extraordinary well made, an exact pairing is a unique experience that you cannot do by yourself. Of course there's no point when it does not achieve something exceptional.

As far as the cost-effectiveness goes, I am personally happy to pay less for the best possible food, as opposed to paying half of the cost of my meal in order to subsidy a large menu. I want the best but I don't care about paying the most.

Now I am 100% in agreement about your more general point that restaurants should be turned towards the pleasure of diners before chefs. I even was one of the first to raise this issue about l'Astrance: that it is a place more about those who make it than about those who dine there. Barbot even felt the need to respond to that in an interview. I entirely share your view about not going to l'Astrance, or Keller again. But I think it has nothing to do with the limited choice concept, only with the fact that those chefs forgot the elementary truth that you mention, namely that the point of their job is to please clients. In a word, their fundamental lack of generosity.

In passing, Keller's and Barbot's connection are not the only ones to which that reproach applies. What should we say about Bras, or Gagnaire and their egotism?

Last point, I am extremely tempted to make fun of a concept of autonomy that includes 30 persons working on your meal. I agree that there is an art to compose a meal, but I don't think that we usually have enough informations, as diners, to exert it. Unless we are very familiar with the restaurant where we are, we are very often likely to combine names rather than actual flavours.

I'd like to hear more about restaurants that offer a blow-out visit in your view.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am baffled by the assumption that those chefs that offer a limited or surprise menu are doing so to please their own ego. I have no doubt there may be some but am extremely doubtful it is a majority. Like those diners who believe the best option for a memorable meal is to leave it in the hands of the chef. The same theory holds true for those chefs who who practice that policy.

Robert R

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't understand your post. Whose assumption is this? What about diners who believe what you say? What is the theory you mention? What policy? Were you in a hurry when you wrote that post?

it's hard for me to see why none of them can recognize that L'Astrance is about the most abusive, manipulative restaurant one can find.

I could be wrong but I got the impression from a few above post that some diners are not fans of relinquishing choice in menu options in restaurant's like L'Astrance.

My point is that I believe chefs who are doing this practice are doing so to offer the best of the day and not doing so to satisfy their own egos.

Truth is not all diners that frequent restaurants are as knowledgeable as those reading these food boards.

Example. I am willing to bet that there will be diners visiting Ubuntu in Napa this winter looking to try the dishes Jeremy Fox served at his James Beard House appearance this past spring. That may be a extreme analogy but just trying to express my view.

Edited by robert40 (log)

Robert R

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Limiting the choice actually serves both purposes: focusing on the day's best amd making the chef's life easier. Now we can't know what the motivations of people are deep inside, but we can have an opinion about the result. To me, places like l'Astrance of Spring are exemplar of the later option (making chefs' life easier) taking precedence. I say that because I think that the food could be better but their specific process is being favoured over the research of the best possible result.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Limiting the choice actually serves both purposes: focusing on the day's best amd making the chef's life easier. Now we can't know what the motivations of people are deep inside, but we can have an opinion about the result. To me, places like l'Astrance of Spring are exemplar of the later option (making chefs' life easier) taking precedence. I say that because I think that the food could be better but their specific process is being favoured over the research of the best possible result.

I see your point but may think the word practical fits more then easier. I'm sure chef Barbot knows his limits in a restaurant kitchen the size of the one at L'Astrance and the capabilities of serving the best possible product under those conditions.

With those limitations offering a menu with options comparable to other 3 star restaurants would most certainly end in failure.

Robert R

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have only ever tasted Barbot's cooking once; not at L'Astrance but when he and Christophe Rohat visited Singapore to cook for a few days at the Raffles Grill in November 2007.

From this limited experience, I have to respectfully disagree with what Robert and Julien have been saying about Barbot's lack of generosity. I booked a lunch for 4, and when I tried to change the booking to a table for 8, they told me they couldn't do it; they were solidly booked. This got me a little worried, because the Raffles Grill is quite a large restaurant and I was a little concerned about how that may affect the quality of the food.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived and there were only about eight other tables there. The restaurant was more than half-empty, and the tables were very well-spaced. I did a quick headcount of diners - no more than 30 people, our goodselves included. I can only imagine Barbot had insisted that the capacity be kept down to L'Astrance-like numbers so that he could maintain the quality of his cooking. After all, the Raffles Grill has a very large brigade in a very large kitchen and has been known to serve far greater numbers of people at a single sitting, so practicality and ease would have not been relevant considerations.

As for the food, we kicked off with toasted brioche and white truffle creme. We had two choices per course - langoustine a la nage or house-smoked Scottish wild salmon, Bresse chicken with parmesan fondant and miso eggplant and some other main course that I can't remember as no one ordered it; hot pepper sorbet, a lovely chocolate dessert and the jasmine-infused lait de poule with lovely chestnut honey madeleines to finish. The bill per person came to around S$110 including service and tax, or 53 Euros.

The meal was very, very good, both in gradually building up the flavours and throwing in the odd creative surprise such as the chilli and lemongrass sorbet. The fact that we were dining in the restored colonial comfort of the Raffles Grill was an added bonus, as was Rohat controlling the front-of-house; Singaporean service, especially at the Raffles Grill, is not renowned for anything in particular.

Was it the best meal I've had? No. Could Barbot cook any better? I don't know. And I'm also unsure if he was putting his best foot forward on an overseas jaunt. What I do know is that I had an excellent meal and excellent service for which I would have gladly paid more. As Julien said, we may not know people's motivations but we can judge the result.

Julian's Eating - Tales of Food and Drink
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have only ever tasted Barbot's cooking once; not at L'Astrance but when he and Christophe Rohat visited Singapore to cook for a few days at the Raffles Grill in November 2007.

From this limited experience, I have to respectfully disagree with what Robert and Julien have been saying about Barbot's lack of generosity.  I booked a lunch for 4, and when I tried to change the booking to a table for 8, they told me they couldn't do it; they were solidly booked.  This got me a little worried, because the Raffles Grill is quite a large restaurant and I was a little concerned about how that may affect the quality of the food. 

Imagine my surprise when I arrived and there were only about eight other tables there.  The restaurant was more than half-empty, and the tables were very well-spaced.  I did a quick headcount of diners - no more than 30 people, our goodselves included.  I can only imagine Barbot had insisted that the capacity be kept down to L'Astrance-like numbers so that he could maintain the quality of his cooking.  After all, the Raffles Grill has a very large brigade in a very large kitchen and has been known to serve far greater numbers of people at a single sitting, so practicality and ease would have not been relevant considerations.

As for the food, we kicked off with toasted brioche and white truffle creme.  We had two choices per course - langoustine a la nage or house-smoked Scottish wild salmon, Bresse chicken with parmesan fondant and miso eggplant and some other main course that I can't remember as no one ordered it; hot pepper sorbet, a lovely chocolate dessert and the jasmine-infused lait de poule with lovely chestnut honey madeleines to finish.  The bill per person came to around S$110 including service and tax, or 53 Euros.

The meal was very, very good, both in gradually building up the flavours and throwing in the odd creative surprise such as the chilli and lemongrass sorbet.  The fact that we were dining in the restored colonial comfort of the Raffles Grill was an added bonus, as was Rohat controlling the front-of-house; Singaporean service, especially at the Raffles Grill, is not renowned for anything in particular. 

Was it the best meal I've had?  No.  Could Barbot cook any better?  I don't know.  And I'm also unsure if he was putting his best foot forward on an overseas jaunt.  What I do know is that I had an excellent meal and excellent service for which I would have gladly paid more.  As Julien said, we may not know people's motivations but we can judge the result.

I think it is a good occasion to remind that l'Astrance is objectively admirable by the skills deployed, the quality of ingredients, the precision of cooking and seasoning. The rest is indeed a matter of personal preference (and maybe luck as well). Robert and I are not l'Astrance fans, but I would not argue that those guys don't deserve their third star or that what they do is not special and talented.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Julien, I wasn't accusing you of saying that L'Astrance wasn't worthy of three stars. What I had more in mind was your assertion that

"But I think it has nothing to do with the limited choice concept, only with the fact that those chefs forgot the elementary truth that you mention, namely that the point of their job is to please clients. In a word, their fundamental lack of generosity."

I've witnessed (and also heard stories of) guest chefs visiting Singapore who appeared at large events and ended up melting down due to the unusual stress of serving a large group (80+ people) in a single sitting - poor quality food, poor finishing, taking highly visible short cuts, etc. Let us not restrict our scope to Singapore - have a look at Taillevent, previously hailed for its magnificent service, and which seems to have now reduced itself to a glorified cash register. The service was clearly run off its feet catering to a huge crowd and the food, beyond being "boring" or "conservative" (not necessarily a fault), ranged from ordinary to poor.

But out of the various Michelin-starred guest chefs who have visited Singapore, Barbot seems to have been the first to cap numbers to such a severe extent; he could have easily crammed in an extra 60 people in there. I think that says a lot about the lengths to which Barbot and Rohat went to please their guests. That is what I disagree with.

I am not alleging that your or Robert Brown's (sorry, Robert40, my bad) criticism was insincere, merely that your experience does not gel with mine.

Julian's Eating - Tales of Food and Drink
Link to comment
Share on other sites

But out of the various Michelin-starred guest chefs who have visited Singapore, Barbot seems to have been the first to cap numbers to such a severe extent; he could have easily crammed in an extra 60 people in there.  I think that says a lot about the lengths to which Barbot and Rohat went to please their guests.  That is what I disagree with.

I can confirm this through a similar experience I had at the 2007 Forum Gastronomic in Girona. The grand dîner was a "four-hands" provided by Andoni Luis Aduriz and Pascal Barbot. Although Aduriz, in my opinion (but pretty much everyone at our table agreed with that), flopped regrettably, Barbot did extremely well for such a large-scale dinner. Everything was spot-on, flawless and as precisely executed as if Pascal had been working in his own small kitchen.

I too am not an enthusiastic fan of L'Astrance (rather a moderate fan) but I do appreciate that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

After failing to get the reservation last summer, I'm glad that I manage to secure a table at Astrance this time. The restaurant is indeed very small (25-30 people at most). To get the most out of it, I ordered their biggest menu - menu Astrance. The meal here has "certain" pattern after reading others review ... that are - it always start with a glass of mousse/puree of something, 3 fishes/seafoods and in dessert including the sorbet of something as well as some fresh fruits.

Food (and wine) - 96/100

The cooking style is indeed very similar to Barbot's mentor - Passard. I really like a simple and good home-style cooking ... nothing is very erratic or funny here. The famous raw mushrooms with marinated foie gras is still there - technically great and amazing (many people discuss about this already, so I will not elaborate further), but somehow I was not blown away, it's still good though. To me, Pascal cooks the main ingredients very2 well ... for instance the langoustine is sweet and tender, john dory is buttery and tasty and the duck meat is probably the best duck I've ever had. However, I don't find the side dish(es) accompanying the main star get along that well with the main ingredient, i.e. the new cabbages at the john dory is nice by itself, but as you eat them together with the fish, neither enhance the experience of the other. Also, the eggplant and black curry puree in the duck ... while giving some contrast, it will not hurt anything should these 2 items are not there. Oh ... the poached egg with cepe mushrooms and porcini powder on top is also one of my fav.

The mashed potato with cheese and vanilla ice cream as pre-dessert is well done - sweet and creamy. The desserts are light (not that filling) and not mediocre at all. I love the "meringue" with green tea ice cream inside then followed by the citron and mango in the middle. Talking about lemon ... I notice that almost in all Barbot's cooking, one can taste some citron flavor in it. I think he really loves citron the way Passard like cooking with onion. I no longer drink too much wine at the fine dining restaurant anymore ... luckily the restaurant allowed me to have "half" wine pairing for the full degustatin menu. I agreed with most people that the wine-pairing here is incredible. Not much big names in the list, but the sommelier Jean did a great job. For instance, the 97 Reichsgraf Riesling work well with the foie gras, or the 00 L'Insolite Saumur add a little spicy flavor to the langoustine, and the round and smooth 04 Saint Joseph enhance the salmon dish. I really recommend the gourmand to have wine pairing at Astrance. In my book, the food here is worth 96 pts (aka 2 3/4*) about the level of Ledoyen and Oud Sluis

Service (and ambiance) - 91/100

Unfortunately the great food and wine are not supported by good services. I was quite surprised that while the restaurant atmosphere is relaxed and informal, the service is kinda cold (including from Mr. Rohat, well he got better once the meal begins). Many of the staffs served without smile and at times give some condescending look as if they don't need me or I'm like a "rookie" in the world of gastronomy. This is about as uncomfortable as the formal service a Ambroisie (when you go there for the 1st time). However, the chef is really friendly. He went out of the kitchen at the end of the meal and patiently greet and entertain guests. No doubt the restaurant still is red hot ... during the weekday lunch, the place was fully occupied. The food here can be said very good, but the overall experience did not reflect a solid 3-star meal I had at the other establishments. So, the overall grade for the meal here will be 94/100 (aka 2 1/2*). Here are the pictures, Astrance 08

Edited by Bu Pun Su (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Service (and ambiance) - 91/100

Unfortunately the great food and wine are supported by good services.

Am I reading this correctly?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Service (and ambiance) - 91/100

Unfortunately the great food and wine are supported by good services.

Am I reading this correctly?

Thank you for the correction. I just edit the post

BPS, i must respectfully disagree with you on the service at L'astrance. I was treated extremely well at my lunch there in January, 2007. I thought the service was exemplary, pleasant,engaging, and worthy of a three star restaurant. Where else are you eating in Paris? I hope you are returning to L'arpege.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was also surprised that the service was quite cold and unpleasant ... I could not imagine Mr. Rohat ran Arpege this way. The character/personality of chef Barbot reflects the casual and relaxed style of Arpege (in fact the restaurant is similar in many ways) except in service. Anyway, perhaps they're not in really good mood.

L'Astrance is probably the "cheapest" among the current 3-star in Paris, so it's still worth the money. Other places I went ... be patient please :raz: yes, I did return to Arpege

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...