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 an account.

Sign in to follow this  
stephen wall

L'Ambroisie

Recommended Posts

I have been to L'ambrosie twice. The food can be extremely good, even compared to other 3 stars. The best single course I have had in my life was a sweetbread with a crunchy orange crust. The languostine is also extremely good. A chocolate dessert my wife had with several variation on chocolate was also extremely good. And the food is generous. Huge pieces of languostine, a course my wife had with morels came with about 40 whole morels!!! But there are down sides. The service seems somewhat "funeral" like as a previous writer described the surroundings. The wine service and recommendations are not inspired (Burgundy and Bordeaux with no extra though or effort in my opinion).

But Pacaud has been quoted as saying it takes several visits for customers to learn his restaurant and for the restaurant to get to know the customers. He is obviously a perfectionist. So I can say I would like to go back a few more times, but I hope that he gets some better staff in the room, particularly the sommerlier.

But if you go and see sweetbreads with orange do not hesitate a millisecond to order if if you like sweetbreads. It was simple magnificent

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I too enjoyed the dish very much, although I'm sure I'd enjoy a non-curry variant as well. Has it ever been established that Pacaud uses curry powder? I wouldn't be surprised if he roasts and grinds his own spices.

Ambroisie is one of the greatest restaurants I've ever had the pleasure to experience. It was not without its faults, but overall I'd rather return there than to almost any other three-star I've visited, so I think I understand Moby's reaction. There is tremendous power in Pacaud's approach to cuisine, enough to overshadow the occasional flaw.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
this was the most expensive meal I've ever had. It was so much, I'm embarassed to write it here. It made a dinner at Ducasse seem like a bargain.

oh go on - you show me yours & I'll show you mine

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was probably the one who alluded to a funeral parlor. Of course I meant it in the best way. :biggrin: That was a few years back and I've been assured the mood has lightened up. My visit was also a Saturday lunch which is almost guaranteed to be all tourists. It's easy to see how Ambroisie would impress some people greatly and bore others. It is also the kind of cuisine that when nearly perfect, will seem more flawed than most other cooking no matter how sloppy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They sent enough mignardises for two, and so I finished them bravely.

this is why i love moby. so frugal even when faced with a bill of monumental proportions.

do you think i'd like it mobes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is what I can only describe as an absolute modesty to the food. The absence of fireworks is so apparent, one realises what they've been covering up all this time. I might be over reacting - I'd just finished reading a book which described all of those Careme center pieces.

I imagine many of us have seen pictures of the Troisgros salmon with sorrel - a not particularly clean cut piece of salmon, pan seared and sitting centre plate, surrounded by a rich looking cream sauce mottled by sorrel leaves. By today's standards, it looks ridiculously under-presented. And yet it sent, I am told, shock waves through the industry. There's something of that simplicity in this food.

This restaurant would be a corner bistro for Louis XVI. Possibly a greasy spoon for Siva. But the food runs deep here - so Suzi, you of grand palate, of course you would enjoy it. Just make sure you give them Jack's credit card!

Oh, I forgot to mention, the charming sommelier (grey haired gentleman in his 50's) actually walked through our room cracking his knuckles when he thought he wasn't being observed.

[Edit to add] The traditional methods with spices in most sub-continent and Asian cuisine is to fry them in oil/ghee with a soffrito of garlic, ginger, onion etc., prior to adding the other ingredients. This gives the spices a roasted flavour, similar to caramelizing sugars. In the langoustine dish, the curry powder actually tasted slightly raw, as if it were added towards to end rather than the beginning.


Edited by MobyP (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is also the kind of cuisine that when nearly perfect, will seem more flawed than most other cooking no matter how sloppy.

hmm, sounds like emperor's new clothes to me

if something is perfect & you can't tell that its perfect what's the point and does it matter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is also the kind of cuisine that when nearly perfect, will seem more flawed than most other cooking no matter how sloppy.

hmm, sounds like emperor's new clothes to me

if something is perfect & you can't tell that its perfect what's the point and does it matter.

I never said you couldn't tell when it's perfect. What I said was that when nearly perfect the flaws are more obvious by comparison. An analogy might be made to climbing a tall mountain whose steepness is more evident at the pinnacle. After climbing 98% of the mountain, one might be most discouraged and more aware of how hard it is to complete the climb, or how much higher the mountain top appears as you near it, but when one reached the top, it would be obvious. For all that, the climb almost to the top, would still be an accomplishment and the near perfect, but obviously flawed dish may still be far more impressive than a perfect dish cooks to less exacting standards. As in figure skating and gymnastics, one gets points for difficulty as well as execution. On a more philosophical level, there's no doubt that much that is considered an accomplishment by cognoscenti, is seen as the emperor's new clothes by others even when perfect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My notes on Ambroisie from, I don't know, maybe 1997 or 1998? I'm not proud of the writing -- this is a very early effort by me -- but the substance still feels right to me:

+++

One of the most painful things I ever had to do in my life was cancel my reservations at l'Arpege and Taillevent in Paris. Unfortunately, last-minute itinerary changes and idiosyncratic French hours of operation made it impossible for me to try either restaurant. After lunch at l'Ambroisie, however, I felt much better. It was one of the best meals of my entire life.

I cannot count how many times I have been told, enthusiastically, that various chefs at various restaurants "let the ingredients speak for themselves." I have invariably been disappointed by the resultant meals. My meal at l'Ambroisie was therefore a complete surprise: This is some of the most minimalist, yet finest, cuisine I have ever experienced. Each ingredient tastes as though a stubborn little old lady went to the market that morning and fought for the best produce available. Combined with a cozy (38 seats in two rooms), beautiful (tapestries and tile floors) dining area and perfect service, this meal was hard to beat.

Even the china is understated. All over France, the plates scream with multi-colored patterns. Here, there is nothing but a silver band around the edge. Silver and white are the only colors on your table against which to view the food and wine. Napkins are so heavily starched you have to be careful not to poke your eye out.

There is no tasting menu, just a one-page list of a la carte items and a couple of daily specials.

We begin with a single lobster raviole, compliments of the house. It is simply lobster in a pasta shell with a drizzle of cream and a few drops of lobster stock. It does not look like much, but the flavors are incredible. Due to eating dozens of mediocre and overcooked examples over the years, I had forgotten how good a plain old piece of lobster can be.

Next, I get a plate of tender langoustines served between two sesame wafers on a bed of spinach, surrounded by a mild curry sauce. Again, the dish shocks me with the inherent flavor of the ingredients, which are perfectly offset by the modest curry and spinach. To call the dish "light" would be a misnomer. It is, rather, ethereal. Ellen has three filets of rouget served with paper-thin slices of cumin-scented baby carrots and an herbal oil emulsion. Again, the perfection of the fish is just slightly enhanced by the low-key accompaniments.

For the main event, we switch gears and see what the chef can do with beef. A two-inch thick T-bone is carved for two people: A triangular wedge of the tenderloin and a rectangular slab of bloody sirloin with a simple sauce of the juices from the meat. Also on the plate: A cylindrical bone (reminiscent of Yellowstone's geological formations) filled with marrow and black truffle puree. On the side, little discs of potato arranged in a spiral and sauteed, with a few slices of black truffle thrown in for good measure. The steak is meaty and full of beef flavor. This is not a cut-with-your-fork tender steak. It is a real, firm, authoritative steak, the only one we tried in all of France that would be worthy of Peter Luger (one of the only restaurants that can claim to be more minimalist than l'Ambroisie--I would love to take the chef to Brooklyn some day to get his reaction).

We bid farewell to our steak and receive tiny bowls of sweet strawberries served in a little mango juice. Each bite is invigorating and, again, we remember just how great these simple ingredients can be.

Desserts live up to all our expectations: They are impossibly delicate and fluffy, but not at all precious. The bittersweet chocolate tart is a fleeting bit of creamy, dark chocolate, while the Napoleon is the vanilla mirror-image.

Even the petit fours are special, with a generous portion of gumball-sized pure chocolate truffles. We finish the first ten and the waiter brings us more.

The wine list is excellent, with many, many bottles from the great years of the 1980s. Although the wine list is expensive at the bottom of the range, it evens out in the middle and the top. Whereas most restaurants offer cheap selections from the past couple of years and become unreasonable with the pre-1990 bottles, l'Ambroisie has, for example, Louis Latour Corton Grancey 1982 in half-bottles for about $50. Although not cheap, this turns out to be the perfect wine for our steak and is even more appropriate in light of our visit to Corton Grancey a week before (demonstrating the importance of intangibles in the enjoyment of wine). A solid 1990 Chassagne-Montrachet is equally priced. The sommelier is the consummate professional, although his job is made easier by such a good cellar. The restaurant engages in the quaint practice of having the sommelier nose each bottle for you before pouring (i.e., he pours a little bit in a glass for himself and sniffs repeatedly to make sure it is ok). I doubt anybody gets a corked bottle at l'Ambroisie.

Service is the best we have seen in France. Nothing escapes the watchful eyes of the staff, although they are not the slightest bit intrusive. No glass, bread plate or butter dish ever goes empty. Waiters unconsciously straighten things on the table even while conversing with you--a sure sign of greatness in restaurant service. And you do not need to know a single word of French to eat here. The average waiter at l'Ambroisie speaks better English than the average waiter in New York. Although a bit more formal and less engaging than the waiters in the countryside, these guys are very nice, as are the sommelier, the maitre d' and the hostess who, I believe, is the chef's wife.

Just when we thought there was no room for improvement, we learned that during our meal we had entirely missed a torrential downpour (there are no windows at the restaurant).

l'Ambroisie is not cheap. The aforementioned meal cost around $350, but an examination of three-star Paris restaurant prices will show that this is the industry standard. At least at l'Ambroisie you get what you pay for. And did I mention Sharon Stone at the next table?

+++

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had that langoustine dish in January of '97. Steven's description brings it to mind very well. He called the curry flavor mild and modest. In this thread I posted that it "added a sublimely rich flavor." By that, I meant a certain subtle complexity. There's no contradiction if one understands that "ethereal" was the operative word apparently, for what we both experienced. I recall saying something to Mrs. B at the time about having the feeling the entire preparation was floating just above the plate. For me the curry flavor was a distinct one in spite of its mildness, but absolutely a background and supporting flavor. It was an essentially French dish and reminded me nothing of Indian food I'd had or have had since.

It was seven years ago, but even then I felt this was an old fashioned dish in concept. It was a dish that incorporated much of the best of nouvelle cuisine with none of its excesses, but was essentially the updating and perfection of classic French cooking. Our other significant meal in Paris that trip was at Pierre Gagnaire just recently installed in Paris after going bankrupt in St. Etienne. I could not have imagined two more opposite styles of cooking. I could easily have imagined some people being bored by l'Ambroisie and shocked and dismayed by Gagnaire. We loved them both. Perhaps we loved Gagnaire a bit more, but that single langoustine dish remains one of my favorites. It's interesting to know that it's still on the menu. I can only hope that it's still being prepared with the same care and that what tasted uncooked to Moby was the result of different expectations and backgrounds, although one has to suspect either an off day, or some loss of attention to detail.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been googling Bernard Pacaud, but have found it hard to find out much information about his past, where he trained, who his chef was etc. Unfortunately my French, other than menu, is non existent. Does anyone know where I might find this kind of history?

Thanks chaps.

[Edit: forgive stupid typo in title]


Edited by MobyP (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

l'Ambroisie (in French)

More, also in French.

As far as my French will take me it appears that his career took form at Eugénie Brazier (La Mère Brazier) in Lyon. He was later chef de partie at La Méditerranée in Paris and then second in command at La Coquille. He worked with Claude Peyrot at Vivarois before finally opening the first l'Ambroisie, on rue de Bièvre, in 1981. The stars came in '82, '83 & '86.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Bux. I should have fun running those through the google translator.

Do we know anything, contextually, about those three restaurants: La Mère Brazier, La Méditerranée and Vivarois, their chefs, their styles of cuisine, their history?


Edited by MobyP (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ok, I'm learning as I go. General info so far...

I'd forgotten about the famous 6 star Eugénie Brazier. I wonder if she was still cooking/teaching when Pacaud was there, or whether her son was in charge.

I hadn't heard before about Peyrot, described (here) as one of the founders of Nouvelle cuisine. Apparently he also had 3 stars, and I found a listing for the restaurant still being open. Has anyone been there recently?


Edited by MobyP (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good memories of Claude Peyrot at Vivarois. Especially vivid was the modern, daring brown and white minimalist feel of the dining room. His cooking was superb at its best. Best dining was in the late 70's or the early '80's. Later visits to the restaurant seemed less inspired and uneven. My food memories of Vivarois have faded. I haven't heard a thing about it in years.

Pacaud was chef de cuisine at one point? Bux or Robert Brown, help me out, please. Pacaud's Place des Vosges location is ideal as was his food. I have not eaten there in the last 8 years, so I cannot attest to his current culinary efforts. Judith Gebhart

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Good memories of Claude Peyrot at Vivarois.

Pacaud was chef de cuisine at one point?

Claude Peyrot was indeed and a wonderful place it was. But he closed it several years ago.

For me, though, the image I recall is the Chirac's escorting the Clintons into l'Ambrosie from the Place des Voges.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent," wrote Wittgenstein. He wasn't speaking about food, but his comment applies to the lunch that Moby and I had at L'Ambroisie. There were a number of moments when we simply fell silent, not because the food was bizarre or elaborate or in any way surprising, but simply because there was nothing to be said.

Moby had called ahead to check that Bresse chicken "demi deuil" (with truffles) would be available, and the restaurant had remembered this. "Since you're having chicken with truffles, we would suggest beginning with scallops with truffles and a puree of Jerusalem artichokes." At this point, we realised that our best course was simply to hand the remaining choices back to the staff.

The resulting procession of courses almost defies description; everything was simple, everything virtually perfect. We had a terrine of foie gras with black truffles and celery root "to thank you for placing your confidence in us". It was served with a tiny salad of mache. Then the scallops described above, covered with discs of sliced truffle; fillets of salmon with asparagus tips and a black truffle "tapenade". This came with a truffled sauce that was a marvel of lightness. "There's not a drop of cream in it," said the waiter; "M. Pacaud uses nothing but olive oil and the yolk of an egg". And then the chicken, a "poulette" from Bresse; it had a truffle butter under the skin, not the usual slices of black truffle, and there as a separate dish of salsify, and several beautifully done sauces, including a perigourdine (brown sauce, chopped truffles) on the salsify. We had cheeses, a pre-dessert of a scoop of exotic fruit sorbet and a rum baba, and then, again following the waiter's suggestion, the restaurant's chocolate tart, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. "We use 6 vanilla pods for every litre of ice cream", said the waiter with pride, and brought us a glass of 1980 Rivesaltes to go along with it.

Finally, there were mignardises and coffee, and we walked out into the Place des Vosges. "One doesn't have the sense of having eaten", said one of the waiters, commenting on the lightness of the chocolate tart. But I certainly had that sense. I had made the mistake of eating the gougeres offered at the very start, and too many of the crisp bread rolls that silently appeared at my place. The problem was that the butter on the table was good enough to eat on its own, and the sauces so wonderful that it was inconceivable to leave them on the dish. Next time, bread in moderation.

The usual adjectives don't quite work for this experience, either in the setting, the service or the cookery. "Three stars" doesn't help much either. The service was friendly without being overly familiar, and there were no "tests" of our gourmandise or gastronomic knowledge. Whether they truly felt it or not, the staff conveyed the sense that bringing us such a meal gave them as much pleasure as we experienced in eating it.

This place is very expensive, especially considering that one course was complimentary: 710 euros for the two of us, with a 98 euro bottle of Pouilly Fuisse, two glasses of Rivesaltes, mineral water and coffee. Again, cost seemed irrelevant. I will unquestionably return to L'Ambroisie, but I, at least, feel no need to do so for a long time. The lunch that M. Pacaud and his staff prepared for us was perfect, complete, sufficient in itself.

Oliver Wendell Holmes's aphorism seems right for L'Ambroisie: "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." On that estimation, 710 euros is cheap.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read somewhere that reservations are accepted no earlier than two months ahead. True? Also, the Michelin Guide says the restaurant is closed for the "February holidays." Does that mean all of February? Thanks in advance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I read somewhere that reservations are accepted no earlier than two months ahead. True?  Also, the Michelin Guide says the restaurant is closed for the "February holidays." Does that mean all of February?  Thanks in advance.

Should not mean all of February but just the "february school holiday in Paris" which is from February 19th to March 7th. Though I'm surprised it's not mentioned in the Guide...

So, I might be wrong...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I read somewhere that reservations are accepted no earlier than two months ahead. True?  Also, the Michelin Guide says the restaurant is closed for the "February holidays." Does that mean all of February?  Thanks in advance.

Pudlo 2005 says all Feb; Lebey 2005 says 15 days (probably now since Paris schools are on holiday). Ah ha, Gault Millau 2005 and Michelin 2004 both confirm it's only during the school holidays.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I read somewhere that reservations are accepted no earlier than two months ahead. True?  Also, the Michelin Guide says the restaurant is closed for the "February holidays." Does that mean all of February?  Thanks in advance.

Should not mean all of February but just the "february school holiday in Paris" which is from February 19th to March 7th. Though I'm surprised it's not mentioned in the Guide...

So, I might be wrong...

Nope you're right - repondeur says "Open again March 7th."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe the dinner reservations are 1 month in advance - and they're extremely unlikely to give you a reservation as a tourist unless you've been there a few times before and they know you, or unless you have a Parisian local make the booking.

Lunch reservations on Saturday's are do-able though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I believe the dinner reservations are 1 month in advance - and they're extremely unlikely to give you a reservation as a tourist unless you've been there a few times before and they know you, or unless you have a Parisian local make the booking.

Lunch reservations on Saturday's are do-able though.

That's disappointing -- especially since we won't be in Pais on a Saturday. You mean you have to eat lunch there before you can eat dinner ? :unsure:

Oh, well...if we can't reserve there, I still have a reservation at Le Meurice.

Thanks.

Mike

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×