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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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My pursuit of 2-star Michelin continues – but this one was unexpected / ‘wrong’. When I reserved a couple of months before (circa Nov ‘18), Astrance was still a 3-star place. However, about a week before my lunch, I found out in the news that the restaurant had been demoted. It’s not a ‘new’ restaurant for me. I know what to expect and still somewhat believed that it should at least perform at the level of my previous visit in ’16. I read somewhere that the demotion of Astrance seemed to be ‘celebrated’ by a few foodies who probably suffered from bad or below par meals in the past while some other people were surprised with the lost. They accused Michelin of making “controversial” decisions (including the demotion of Auberge de I’ll) to sell the guides. Anyway, enough for the gossip

 

Business-wise at that time, Astrance did quite well. The restaurant was nearly full with a couple of big groups from Japan and Korea during my visit. Half of the guests spoke French, so they’re likely to be locals. Among Parisian 3-star restaurants … this place was the least extravagant one. The dining room was not big; it could accommodate no more than 30 people (25 was more ideal). The kitchen was relatively small too. In short, compared to the other elite restaurants in the French capital, Astrance operated with “minimal / tight” staffs in both the front and back end. Hence, Pascal Barbot was always hands-on; not much privilege to simply wait, stand and check as the quality controller. With spontaneous concept cooking, things became even more complicated and challenging. For instance, guests had certain dietary restrictions; they prefer to drink red wine only; or sometimes Chef Barbot might not know what ingredients coming to his place until several hours before the service begins – he’s known to be supportive of his suppliers and often willing to take “whatever” items sent and somehow magically still he managed to incorporate those produce in his dishes. As far as I know, Christophe Pele (Le Clarence) was another head chef performing at 2-star level or higher in France applying the carte-blanche only menu for the guests, but Le Clarence’s resources looked to be much more than here

 

I ordered menu Astrance. Some things never changed such as (arguably) one of the most famous / often-photographed dishes … the millefuille of foie gras and white button mushrooms – it’s always good. Then, there were potato mousse with vanilla ice cream and white cheese, jasmine eggnog, honey chestnut madeleine. The new dishes I liked this time,

 

-buttery croque monsieur filled with melting st. nectaire cheese and cooked pungent truffle; every byte was heavenly. Hands down, it’s my best croque monsieur and it’s (much) better than Rostang’s truffle sandwich

-the pie of colvert and duck liver. The meat was meticulously cooked with the right texture and taste; it was dense & rich yet not heavy and flavorful & deep yet not cloying. It was rightfully accompanied by sauce containing duck jus and some black truffle. The salad with light dressing + generous Perigord truffle shavings would add some complexity as well as tamper any intense flavor. Pascal Barbot’s cooking often perceived to be (very) international but here we could see that he’s capable of preparing a traditional French dish. If Pacaud’s tourte du canard during the game season was 9.5-10 (out of 10 pts), then this one was at least 9

-Inspired by Japanese cuisine, the kitchen prepared a dish of steamed mild John dory having flaky texture. It’s served with ‘brown sauce – a mixture of beurre blanc and soy sauce’. The side dish was vinegar-seasoned of fluffy Koshihikari rice with little citrus. Light, refreshing and tasty

You could find out the rest of the dishes from the links’ below

 

Consistent to its casual dining room, the service at Astrance was relaxed. Despite being busy at lunch, once in a while the staff tried to entertain guests. The restaurant manager, Christophe Rohat could recognize some of its repeat guest – me included. If you’re staying nearly 3 PM or so, then it’s almost certain you would see the friendly and gracious Pascal Barbot coming out of the kitchen to greet and talk to as many tables as possible. In the end, he would linger and entertain picture taking requests. Losing a Michelin star was definitely disappointing, but Astrance’s team was committed to work rigorously and hopefully could regain the 3-star. One of the challenges was Astrance’s culture to employ young staffs and give them plenty of freedom to do things – sometimes mistakes can happen and we all could learn from them but … Michelin’s highest standard demands ‘perfection’ all the times

 

In addition to Pascal Barbot’s cooking talent, Astrance was known to be strong in the wine pairing. The wine preparation: whether the sommelier would open a bottle in advance, decant the wine, the glassware quality (Astrance used Zalto) etc. was carefully done. The ‘alcohol-matching’ was reasonably priced here because sometimes the restaurant likes using less-famous producer yet its quality to beautifully match with the dishes was never compromised. Something funny about my experiences here … every time I have a meal at Astrance, somehow, I always encountered a new sommelier – Alexandre Jean, Alejandro Chavarro, and Alexandre Ceret. There you go; these indicated how many times I’ve been to this place but it’s the first time (see below) I wrote a proper review about my meal at Astrance. It’s a 2-star now but I think I like the food here better than the one served at Pre Catelan or Guy Savoy

 

Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157709019999907

More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/06/lastrance-pascal-barbot.html

 

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