Europe 1

Spain- Akelarre- ✪✪✪

Pedro Subijana

Pedro Subijana

Pedro Subijana is a Spanish chef-celebrity, and Akelarre is his San Sebastián headquarters. The man has had his own cooking TV show since 1992, and a third Michelin star since 2007; going on almost a decade. He started at the restaurant in 1975, and has maintained an absolutely fantastic mustache throughout. 

Pedro has been instrumental in the re-discovery and re-invigoration of Basque cuisine- he and a group of friends began working a few decades ago to explore the lost art of Basque cuisine, and attempt the following (I'm paraphrasing):

  • learn why older dishes had been lost, and recover the recipes
  • learn to make those recipes in the most authentic way
  • contribute something to the Basque culinary legacy.
Akelarre Entrance From The Coastal Highway

Akelarre Entrance From The Coastal Highway

The drive along the coast from San Sebastián to Akelarre is one of the most beautiful imaginable- you’re on a high mountainside that cascades all the way down to the Cantabrian Sea, and taking this route around sunset leads to some of the most gorgeous views I have ever witnessed. 

Akelarre Exterior

Akelarre Exterior

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

SERVICE: 5.0/10

FOOD: 7.0/10

PRICE PAID: $235 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 5.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 6.0/10

Akelarre Main Entrance

Akelarre Main Entrance

Akelarre Dining Room

Akelarre Dining Room

The restaurant itself has a simple, semi-circular format to emphasize its high clifftop perch and fantastic views. Lots of wood and glass; a gorgeous interior with smart lighting. The space is comfortable, warm, and welcoming.

Akelarre Views

Akelarre Views

As we were seated at the table, the sun was still high enough to show off the ocean’s vastness. Totally stunning. 

Akelarre Centerpiece

Akelarre Centerpiece

A few words on service. Our waiter seemed extremely put-upon in his role— he needed to be a quadrilingual waiter, server, table-clearer, water-pourer, and menu-explainer along with serving many more tables than would seem reasonable (maybe they were short-staffed that evening?) Stretched as he was to the limits, I wasn’t surprised to see him literally toss silverware in front of us, stack dishes that were headed back to the kitchen like an Applebee’s, and forget us for half-hour stretches. As I said, I get the feeling that the restaurant itself was understaffed rather than he himself was a poor performer, but service at Akelarre absolutely did not belong in the 3-star category. It really needs work. 

Akelarre Place Setting

Akelarre Place Setting

Akelarre Menu

Akelarre Menu

The restaurant offers three menus, all for the same price- “Aranori,” and “Bekarki,” which are forward-looking, experimental menus, and the Classics of Akelarre, designed to show off the traditional plates that made the restaurant famous. We chose the Classics menu, in order to (hopefully) best experience the restaurant on our very first visit. 

First Bites: Vodka + Tomato + Mussels, 7/10

First Bites: Vodka + Tomato + Mussels, 7/10

Some lovely first bites are brought out almost immediately- first, a vodka-tomato-mussel combo. A very foamy dish, the tomato comes through well. The olive flavors buried within are very, very subtle. I would go so far as to say this dish is peppery. 7/10.

First Bites: "Cucumber," 9/10

First Bites: "Cucumber," 9/10

First Bites: "Black Beans," 9/10

First Bites: "Black Beans," 9/10

In what would turn out to be the first of several implementations of the idea that “looks can be deceiving,” from left to right- the cucumber-slice-shaped dish is actually potato and shrimp with basil on the outside to make the green skin. Totally excellent, 9/10. Next, black olives with anchovy that looks exactly like black beans. 9/10 super creative and really flavorful.

First Bites: "Chocolate Truffles," 9/10

First Bites: "Chocolate Truffles," 9/10

Those chocolate truffles are actually stuffed mussels- rich, a bit spicy, and also excellent. 9/10. It’s nice to start with such a clear message; a reminder of how subjective our reality is. At least, that was my interpretation, and I'm sure it's open to many more besides that. 

Bread, 7/10 

Bread, 7/10 

The bread was fresh, crunchy, and warm, but also quite plain. 7/10.

Butter, 8/10

Butter, 8/10

Because we were in Spain, the condiment on offer for bread was olive oil. We requested some butter, and a mere three reminders later were presented with this clearly hand-scooped arrangement of butter flowers. I felt a bit like a whiner for having asked, to be honest. 8/10. 

Course 1: Lobster + Mesclun, 8/10

Course 1: Lobster + Mesclun, 8/10

On to the first course- lobster salad with very quotidian mesclun salad plunked in the middle. It's made with San Sebastián classic cider, and the apple flavors come through quite nicely. As a quick sidenote- San Sebastián itself was formed hundreds of years ago as a plantation for growing apples for cider, so it's a Basque culinary touchpoint. The bitter mesclun leaves go well with the dish- they offset the sweetness of the apple and lobster very well. 8/10. 

Course 2: "Ibérico Carpaccio," 9/10

Course 2: "Ibérico Carpaccio," 9/10

Next, another implementation of the looks-are-deceiving idea- a “carpaccio” of Ibérico ham with mushrooms and parmesan that is actually a pasta, and it both looks and tastes exactly like ham. A really incredible effect. The pasta even emulates jamón's characteristic bits of fat and marbling. The effect is playful and interesting, and the strong parmesan flavors balance the dish nicely. 9/10. 

Course 3: "Foie Gras," 10/10

Course 3: "Foie Gras," 10/10

Course 3, Post "Salt and Pepper"

Course 3, Post "Salt and Pepper"

The third course is foie gras, and in an oddly charming gesture of showmanship the server then pours an entire dish of “salt” and “pepper” directly onto the foie. On the surface, it appears that the server is intent on murdering the guest by way of heart attack. Turns out, it’s not real salt and it's not real pepper- the “salt” is sugar, and the pepper corns are puffed rice balls. The sugar has smooth apple flavors, an echo of the previous course's cider roots. Another really interesting course. Trickery abounds. 10/10.

Course 4: Rice + Snails + Tomato + Basil, 8/10

Course 4: Rice + Snails + Tomato + Basil, 8/10

Next, white rice with snails in tomato and basil. Some very strong aromas going on here, but the flavors don't quite line up- the snail bit doesn't taste like snail, it tastes like a rubbery mild mushroom. The overall taste, if I had to label it, is like a bouillabaisse with a bunch of paprika. Hearty, savory, and interesting. 8/10.

Course 5: Red Mullet, 4/10

Course 5: Red Mullet, 4/10

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, the chef chose to cook this red mullet (normally a mild, flavorful fish) with crushed-up heads and scales on the outside, I suppose to add texture. This leads to an extremely fishy flavor that tastes like it was sitting in the fridge for a day-and-a-half too long. We only ate a few bites, and I was quite surprised by the interaction that followed. The server asked us why we didn’t like it, heard our response that approximated the above, and seemed unsurprised, shrugging, “Yes, that’s because we cook it with the heads and scales…” and then just looked at us, as if the problem wasn't that the dish tasted poorly and more that we were too dense to appreciate it. He then made a decidedly half-hearted effort to offer us another course, and immediately dropped the issue when we politely declined. Another strike against service. Overall, truly not good; the fish wasn't fresh, and the fake fusilli doesn’t make sense. 4/10.

Course 6: Beef + Tail Cake, 6/10

Course 6: Beef + Tail Cake, 6/10

Foie Gras "Chocolate Cake"

Foie Gras "Chocolate Cake"

Next, a beef course with a “cake” of foie gras. The beef itself is firm and well-cooked, but nothing terribly special. Alongside, a powder-dry cake of chocolate and foie gras that desiccates the mouth on the first bite. It's yet another continuation of that oh-so-zany trickery formula that's actually getting pretty old by this point; the technique is less interesting when it doesn't taste good. 6/10.

Course 7: "Gin and Tonic on a Plate," 6/10

Course 7: "Gin and Tonic on a Plate," 6/10

And now, on to the desserts. First up, a deconstructed gin and tonic on a plate. There's a super, super tart sorbet in the upper right corner and it's paired off with a jelly tastes like dehydrated gin. The flavors work pretty well together, but the only problem is that the proportions are off- there's way, way too much jelly. Like, a quart of jelly. 6/10.

Course 8: "The Different Apple Tart," 8/10

Course 8: "The Different Apple Tart," 8/10

Next, an apple tart with edible paper that Akelarre has chosen to print their name upon. It's one of the first truly made-for-social-media dishes I have ever come across, and I really like the idea. The paper itself is actually quite flavorful, and underneath the paper is a buttery crust, like a croissant. Lots of apple sauces to round the dish out. 8/10. 

Last Bites: Petit Fours, 8/10

Last Bites: Petit Fours, 8/10

Lastly, a charming group of petit fours. 8/10. 

Germany- Bareiss- ✪✪✪

Virtually a stone's throw from Schwarzwaldstube, another stoic German 3-star, is the hotel-restaurant Bareiss in the idyllic black forest resort town of Baiersbronn. Interesting that, as of mid-2016, this tiny burg (population 14,500) has as many three-star restaurants as London!

Run by Claus-Peter Lumpp since 1992 and winning its third star in 2007, Bareiss' head chef has spent time under the tutelage of European culinary greats like Alain Ducasse and Eckart Witzigmann. He describes his own style as highly technical with a focus on aromatic richness to the point of opulence. Having enjoyed a lunch here, I'd say his self-description is totally on-point.

Bareiss Exterior

Bareiss Exterior

BAIERSBRONN-TONBACH, GERMANY

SERVICE: 7.0/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $110 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Bareiss Main Entrance

Bareiss Main Entrance

Bareiss Lobby

Bareiss Lobby

As I walk up to the host stand a full 15 minutes early, several employees of Bareiss’ restaurant attempt to greet me and sort me out. Two of them, approaching down the hall at the same time, offer me the local South-Germany greeting "Gruss Gott," and then laugh as I struggle they duck into a service door and say to each other, in English and very loudly, “He only speaks English!” Raucous laughter ensues. A bizarre greeting. I'm asked to cool my heels for 15 minutes so we can start exactly on time. How very German of them. 

Bareiss Dining Room

Bareiss Dining Room

As soon as they decide it's okay to open their doors, which happens to be precisely 12:00 noon, the restaurant manager, chef, waiter, and entire wait staff greet me as I walk in. Everything in this hotel is pristine, ornate, polished, painted, marbled, and freshly dusted. The dining room has the feeling of a country club taken to a distant extreme- a gorgeous, enormous centerpiece exploding with tulips is the room’s center of gravity, and with great heft the wait staff haul an aperitif cart around to offer every new entrant. A single, freshly lit candle awaits me at my seat. A beautiful bouquet of cut roses sits at the table's opposite end. This is really a lot to take in. 

First Bites- Kingfish Sushi + Leek Tart + Ham/Bread + Cream Cheese/Fish, 7/10

First Bites- Kingfish Sushi + Leek Tart + Ham/Bread + Cream Cheese/Fish, 7/10

A very small starter arrives on a silver plate with pretty, tiny platforms. Top to bottom- kingfish with tarragon sushi, leek tart, ham and bread, and cream cheese with fish and paprika. The sushi is very cold, which would never fly in Japan, and additionally when you eat finger food in Asia it is always accompanied by a warm napkin to clean your hands with. No such luck here, which seems like a strange miss based on how detailed the rest of their work was. 7/10.

Bread + Butter, 8/10

Bread + Butter, 8/10

Shaped like a sprig of ginger, the bread is trotted out piping hot and super fresh. 9/10.

Unsalted Butter

Unsalted Butter

Salted Butter

Salted Butter

Two varieties of butter; sweet on the right, salty on the left, both "from France." When I press a little further for a farm/locale/region, I am informed, "from France." Thanks guys, that helps. #stoicism. 8/10.

Course 1: "Variation of Carrots," 9/10

Course 1: "Variation of Carrots," 9/10

Like a beautiful Roman laurel, this dish, lovingly titled "Variation of Carrots and yogurt," has some pretty unique touches. The yoghurt has a layer of purple Urcarrot (German for "old carrot)" with delicious beet flavors, and slightly spicy. Interestingly, four hundred years ago all carrots grown in Europe were purple, and only after the orange variety was created in the Netherlands did we get the stereotypical color and appearance that we associate with the root vegetable today. The small flakes on the side add crunchy texture. 9/10.

Course 2: Prawns + Glass Noodles. 8/10

Course 2: Prawns + Glass Noodles. 8/10

Next, a ragu of prawns. The glass noodles are a nice touch. Mushroom and cilantro simplify and add layers. Broth has a coconutty Tom kha gai flavor; it's also pretty spicy. Another appropriation from Asia that works out pretty well. 8/10.

Course 3: Swiss Char + Asparagus Salad, 9/10

Course 3: Swiss Char + Asparagus Salad, 9/10

Next, some Swiss Char tartare with asparagus tip salad. The fish is warm and perfectly cooked in the running for best piece of fish ever, actually the tartare exhibits almost citrus flavors. The white and green asparagus are in an egg yolk cream and are crunchy-fresh, and the roots of radish are a nice flourish. 9/10.

Course 4: Calf, 7/10

Course 4: Calf, 7/10

Course 4: Sauce + Radish, 8/10

Course 4: Sauce + Radish, 8/10

Now onto the main show- milk-fed calf with sweetbreads and morels, along with a sauce of fruits and radish, a side dish of veal ragu with morel foam. The calf is firm and actually a touch on the dry side. It leans heavily on the sauces for flavor, and the sauces lean heavily on salt- I crunched through a particularly large flake. The veal ragu and foam combo is a good re-interpretation of the main dish, but I'm not sure why the same two ideas are presented in totally different ways- one is about as good as the other but there's nothing accretive about presenting both experiences together. It feels like you're getting two mains. 7/10 overall.

Course 4B: Veal Ragu + Morel Foam, 7/10

Course 4B: Veal Ragu + Morel Foam, 7/10

A Fancy Dessert Napkin

A Fancy Dessert Napkin

Though the photo doesn't do it much justice, for the dessert courses I am handed a separate, much more delicately embroidered dessert napkin. A really nice touch. 

Course 5A: Cassis Cream with Apple Ragout, 9/10

Course 5A: Cassis Cream with Apple Ragout, 9/10

A spicy and delicious creation— basically crème de cassis ice cream— with a lovely garnishment of sliced fruit and flowers. A touch over the top sugary, but awesome nonetheless. 9/10. 

Course 5B: Tahitian Vanilla Foam, 9/10

Course 5B: Tahitian Vanilla Foam, 9/10

... Accompanied by some Tahitian vanilla foam, which tastes a lot like vanilla ice cream, which was totally fine by me. 9/10. 

Course 6: Mignardises, 9/10

Course 6: Mignardises, 9/10

As we approach the wrap-up, some mignardises/petits fours— right to left: passion fruit, red currant, and then chocolate with a heavenly molten center. 

Dessert Cart 1, 9/10

Dessert Cart 1, 9/10

And then, out trotted the dessert tray with pralines, macarons, pâte de fruits, fruit pie, etc. 9/10. 

Last Bites: Chocolate, 10/10

Last Bites: Chocolate, 10/10

A selection of gorgeous hand-made German chocolates. Super awesome ending to a super awesome lunch. 10/10.

Warm Rose Water

Warm Rose Water

At the end, I'm given a silvery bowl of warm rose water to wash my hands with. It's a bit confusing and I must admit that this is the only 3-star that gave me a hand-cleanser at the very end of the meal— are they trying to save me a trip to the washroom?—  but it was an okay way to transition to the bill. 

The final bill

The final bill

I wasn't joking about the price- less than 100 Euros for one of the most sumptuous lunches of my lifetime. 

Switzerland- Schauenstein- ✪✪✪

This is it- I found it. The most romantic, epically cool building of any 3-star restaurant in the world. Schloss Schauenstein ("Castle Schauenstein") has portions that were built almost 800 years ago, and the main building itself is a few hundred. It's situated in Fürstenau, which quite confusingly brands itself as the "smallest city in the world." Fürstenau appears to be a small clutch of snowy buildings, which I would deign a village, but no one asked me. 

Another opening comment- service from the moment the door opened to the moment I left was absolutely and totally outstanding. I had driven through a very late-Spring Alpine snowstorm to get there, and perhaps because they were happy someone had braved the weather to join them, proceeded to be the kindest and most attentive group I have ever spent time with. Bar none. 

One more quick word before we really get started- Andreas Caminada really feeds you. There is only one main menu option, and it is totally badass, but holy mother of God will you get full. Arrive hungry. 

I got the chance to meet Andreas at the restaurant, and he is a calm, collected, well-centered soul. He runs something of a cooking and media empire in Switzerland, and he clearly has ambitions for much more beyond his many already successful restaurants. Someone to keep an eye on. 

Schauenstein Exterior

Schauenstein Exterior

FURSTENAU, SWITZERLAND

SERVICE: 9.5/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $285 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Schauenstein Main Entrance

Schauenstein Main Entrance

Lisa the guest services coordinator happily greets me right at the door. She gives me the tour and shows me the gorgeous original 12th-century basement, which today houses a wine cellar, a sauna, and a spa. Modern furniture and fixtures throughout, which is a fun contrast with the absolutely ancient surroundings. 

Spa

Spa

Lobby/Resting Area 1

Lobby/Resting Area 1

Resting Area 2

Resting Area 2

17th-Century Drawing Room/Vodka Bar

17th-Century Drawing Room/Vodka Bar

Roaring Fireplace

Roaring Fireplace

After our brief tour, I’m led upstairs to what was once a nobles’ salon and is now… a Vodka bar. Bright under-lighting gives the room a decidedly Muscovite feel, and on the other side of the room a glorious marble fireplace blazes away. Sweet.

The Card System

The Card System

More than any other 3-Star I’ve visited, Schauenstein is trying hard to make a go of the mobile era. There 2D scan-enabled cards— roughly business-card size— randomly distributed around the castle (in the menu, the parking area, the sauna, etc.) and several members of the staff make mention of the app you can download that lets you take a 3D tour of the castle itself. Scanning the cards unlocks achievements and new features of the app. Sounds hokey, but it’s actually pretty entertaining to be constantly on the lookout. 

First Bites: Bloody Mary Shot + Graham Cracker Pasta/Kohlrabi +  Foie, 8/10

First Bites: Bloody Mary Shot + Graham Cracker Pasta/Kohlrabi +  Foie, 8/10

As I sit lounging by the fire, several helpful people bring me a menu, a glass of Swiss-made sparkling white wine, and a few small starter bites. 

A bloody mary “shot;” tomato and cracker, self-contained in a warm shell that cracks open as soon as you pop it in your mouth. Really delightful sensation.  

Next, graham cracker pasta with kohlrabi and fish eggs- lighter, more flavorful.

Lastly, the liver/foie cracker. A rich little bite with tons of different flavors and aromas. 8/10 overall. 

First Bites: Crunchy Stick, Pasta, 9/10

First Bites: Crunchy Stick, Pasta, 9/10

The bite on the left reminded me of Kylo Ren's ship from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for some reason. Anyways. A light crunchy snack, served alongside more delicate pasta. Really fun. 9/10. 

At this point, I was asked if I'd like to take my seat in the main dining room. I was politely led back downstairs to the main dining area, where I found this fantastic little piece of chiaroscuro:

Schauenstein Dining Room

Schauenstein Dining Room

I cannot help but admire the extremely stark lighting scheme, as well as the flawlessly perfect tabletop surfaces and understated decoration. Every table felt directly spotlighted, which had the effect of keeping all the patrons shrouded in darkness, effectively giving each table a great deal of privacy. It was an admirably thoughtful effect that highlighted the colors of the food while letting the patrons enjoy each others' quiet company. 

Course 1: Beet Soup, 9/10

Course 1: Beet Soup, 9/10

A riff on beet soup with a frozen sphere of beet ice cream and a super-crunchy beet leaf, together with a mustard mousse. The ice cream is rock-hard cold- you have to chip into it with your spoon- the mustard pairs well and all the flavors are zesty and refreshing. A bit salty, but delicious. Really neat idea; frozen instead of hot. 9/10. 

Course 2: Val Lumnezia Chicken, 9/10

Course 2: Val Lumnezia Chicken, 9/10

The next amuse-bouche is a small square of Val Lumnezia chicken presented with smoke! The aroma fills the room in a pretty excellent way. Freeze-dried, smoked corn is also a nice touch and pairs more or less perfectly. Another win. 9/10.

Course 3: "Village on a Lightning Plate," 9/10

Course 3: "Village on a Lightning Plate," 9/10

Maiensäss

Maiensäss

This course is meant to evoke the raw, green beauty of the village where Caminada was born- Maiensäss. Maiensäss is at the top of the mountain where the cows graze, and this dish is a birds-eye view of that three-house village. The artist who makes these "lightning plates" out of iPads lives a few villages away. One house is a Grisons meat parfait (also known as Bündnerfleisch, an air-dried meat that is a specialty of the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland). Another is a tail-of-veal jelly, and the third is a collection of pearl barley, peppermint, and a vinaigrette. 9/10 for creativity, and definitely for flavor. A bit odd to be dining off an iPad, but I’m all for new things. 

Bread + Butter, 10/10

Bread + Butter, 10/10

And now onto the bread, which I have to say was another huge win- piping hot, served in a black cloth, and covered in flour. The butter comes in two versions- sweet and salted with fleur de sel. Tastes oven-fresh and basically perfect. 10/10. 

Course 4: Egg + Truffle + Celeriac Soup, 8/10

Course 4: Egg + Truffle + Celeriac Soup, 8/10

Next, a course of egg, truffle, and celeriac soup with mushrooms. The soup has a vegetable stock base with local truffles from the canton of Grisons. Lots and lots going on here, and it mostly works out well. The celeriac forms a nice starchy base, and the broth ties everything together well. 8/10.

Course 5: Swiss Char + Tartar Sauce, 8/10

Course 5: Swiss Char + Tartar Sauce, 8/10

Course 6: 

Swiss char (who knew?) with a play on tartar sauce. On the side, raw fish under a layer of cream. Parsnips are a good choice, not overwhelming; an easy pairing. The fish is just a touch not-fresh. 8/10. 

Course 6: Langoustine + "Variation of Carrot," 8/10

Course 6: Langoustine + "Variation of Carrot," 8/10

Next, some aggressively-plated langoustine with a "variation of carrot." The broth includes just a touch of dill. The soup is lawsuit-hot, which is a little surprising since temperatures have been relatively mild up to now (makes sense with the late-Spring snowstorm). The carrot has been cut into beautiful red scrollwork, and the flavors and textures are masterful. 8/10. 

Course 7: BBQ Pork Ribs, 7/10

Course 7: BBQ Pork Ribs, 7/10

For a restaurant several thousand miles from the cultural heartland of BBQ, these are the most excellent pork ribs one could possibly expect. They were, once again, served very fucking hot. Lightly glazed with a tomato-and-vinegar based sauce; once again just a touch dry. 7/10.

Course 8: Braised Pork Cheek + Pickled Vegetables, 7/10

Course 8: Braised Pork Cheek + Pickled Vegetables, 7/10

Braised pork cheek with decadently salted, delicious pickled vegetables. One of the prettiest, most intensively-prepped dishes I have ever encountered. 7/10. 

Course 11: Tortellini + Parmesan Foam, 8/10

Course 11: Tortellini + Parmesan Foam, 8/10

Some decadent tortellinis, served with a "foam of Parmesan." The Parmesan heightens the salinity of the dish quite considerably, but quite wisely the chef serves the pasta itself relatively al-dente to downplay the saltiness. 8/10.

Course 12: Cured Pork + Beans + Apple + Cinnamon, 10/10

Course 12: Cured Pork + Beans + Apple + Cinnamon, 10/10

Cured pork with beans- the beans are perfect with the bacon- served alongside a gloriously American-tasting apple and cinnammon compote. The flavors work together to absolute perfection. 10/10. Feels a little bit autumnal and hence out of season but I care not. 

Course 13: "Rocket Salad," 8/10

Course 13: "Rocket Salad," 8/10

Next, a somewhat confusingly titled "rocket salad," wit pumpkin seed oil from Austria, pikeperch fish (also known as Zander) with variation of pumpkin The green sauce is extract of arugula, which might be where the name comes from. The fish is extremely fresh and the starchy vegetables complement it well. 8/10.

Course 14: Lamb, 8/10

Course 14: Lamb, 8/10

The final main savory course- lamb. The curly things are potato-like; the tiny kumquats add a citrus flair and are a great touch. Smoky and spicy, extremely good. 8/10.

Course 15: Cheese, 9/10

Course 15: Cheese, 9/10

The cheese cart was all about showcasing the great diversity of Swiss products (beyond Emmethanl "Swiss cheese" obviously). I was offered a selection of cheeses from Andeer village aged to different degrees- 3 month vs 15 month, etc. 

My favorite was a really incredible cheese called Vacherin Mont d'Or. The product is made only from summer milk, has a lovely dry grass smell, and deep rich flavors that I absolutely loved. 9/10.

Course 16: Cured Meats, 8/10

Course 16: Cured Meats, 8/10

A selection of cured meats from different local producers in Grisons and elsewhere. The meats are presented first, then delicately carved up and served alongside some roasted pear and compote. 8/10.

Malloons

Malloons

On the side, a typically swiss dessert of "Malloons"- potatoes with cream and sugar.

Course 16: First Dessert, 8/10

Course 16: First Dessert, 8/10

And now onto the sweet stuff- first, a quince and apple dessert. The coin-shaped apple mush has the flavor and consistency of really sweet baby food. The soufflé in the upper right is excellent, it's just absurdly fucking hot. Burned my hand on the dish like a damned fool. One small note is I would have liked more heads up about dishes to watch out for. 8/10.

Course 17: Second dessert, 8/10 overall

Course 17: Second dessert, 8/10 overall

A collection of small dessert bites- green apple macaron, raspberry tart, "coffee slice," on closest dish. Next on left- chocolate ganache. Uppermost- a strawberry explosion similar to the Bloody Mary starter. 8/10 overall. 

Walking back out into the snowdrifts, I couldn't help but admire once again how gorgeous this place and its grounds are. If I ever return, I would definitely consider renting one of the handful of guest rooms the Castle offers. This place is a truly incredible gem. 

France- Auberge de L'Ill- Two Stars

Update: in the 2019 Michelin guidebook, Auberge de L’Ill lost their third star after 51 years of enjoying the book’s highest ranking. I expect to see them back on the list soon, but what a blow!

Perched on a Spring-flooded riverbank with massive willows and a gorgeous lighting scheme, it doesn't get more classically French or classically beautiful than this restaurant in this particular Alsace village. The location itself seems pulled from a fairy tale novel about French restaurants.

The Haeberlins

The Haeberlins

This restaurant in particular is one of two or three that I had been most looking forward to out of the entire tranche of global 3-star restaurants, alongside Osteria Francescana in Italy and Sukiyabashi Jiro in Japan. The Haeberlin clan, Alsatian culinary masters, have run a restaurant on this site for over 150 years. For most of that history, it was called L'Arbre Vert (the Green Tree), but after it was destroyed near the end of World War 2, the family renamed it Auberge de L'Ill, short for Illhausern. It won its first Michelin star in 1952, its second in 1957, and its third in 1967. So, long story short, it has held 3 stars for almost 50 years. Reasonably, I expected a lot. 

For many reasons, this place didn't live up to my high expectations, but foremost among them was the clueless, cold, and often incompetent service. For example, to celebrate my joy at attending this most prized restaurant I ordered two glasses of wine. They brought the wrong selection not once, but twice in a row. I've never had that happen at any restaurant I've ever been to, to say nothing of a 3-star restaurant. They recognized their mistake and gave me the initial glass on the house, but the sommelier made a comment in French that implied I had maybe somehow purposefully bamboozled them out of a glass of wine ("Et très heureusement on peut maintenant les comparer." Wasn't quite sure what to say to that one. Ha, I hypnotized you into fucking up your one job? 

Auberge de L'Ill Exterior

Auberge de L'Ill Exterior

ILLHAUSERN (ALSACE WINE COUNTRY), FRANCE

SERVICE: 6.5/10

FOOD: 7.0/10

PRICE PAID: $259PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 6.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10

Illhausern, France

Illhausern, France

Illhausern itself, perched at the Northern end of Alsace wine country, is a gorgeous ancient gem of a town. I only had a few hours to explore both this and nearby Ribeauville, but I could have spent a week. 

Auberge de L'Ill Lobby

Auberge de L'Ill Lobby

Walking into the main entryway, they had trotted out their Springtime panorama complete with lambs, eggs, and a whole bunch of other nonsense. I got the feeling the place was trying to convey that it didn't take itself too seriously, but upon later reflection it does indeed take itself way too seriously, so this decorating choice is strange and inconsistent.

Auberge de L'Ill Dining Room Entryway

Auberge de L'Ill Dining Room Entryway

See what I mean? This is a dead-serious dining room, complete with gorgeous hand-cut flower centerpieces, strong lighting, and a whisper-quiet romantic noise level. 

Table Setting

Table Setting

Centerpiece

Centerpiece

First Bites: Rice Cracker + Butter/Balsamic + Just Butter Cracker, 8/10

First Bites: Rice Cracker + Butter/Balsamic + Just Butter Cracker, 8/10

First, a few bites to start. From left to right, Asian herbs on a rice cracker. The middle one was oilier and had a balsamic middle. The one on the right was a butter cracker filled with butter and a butter glaze with roasted nuts. Decadent but delicious. 8/10.

Bread + Butter, 6/10

Bread + Butter, 6/10

Right around when this bread and butter landed 10 minutes had already gone by, my order had been taken, but I had't been offered water. Odd but not entirely out of bounds.

The puck of salted butter was from St. Malo, a part of Bretagne famous for its awesome buttermakers. The bread had a hard and extremely crunchy outer shell- I felt like I was deafening my co-diners around me by biting into it. 6/10. 

Course 1: Lobster + Almonds + Pistachios, 7/10

Course 1: Lobster + Almonds + Pistachios, 7/10

An interesting dish- a unique combination of almonds, pistachios, and langoustine all in one plate. The langoustine was incredibly fresh and well-cooked but extremely soft; the nuts were thrown into the dish at the last second and so they were still very crunchy. I understood the objective of playing off the textures and creating a neat flavor interplay, but it felt pretty disjointed- the crunchiness of the tree nuts overwhelmed the experience. 7/10. 

20 mins, still no water. Getting thirsty.

Course 2: Foie Gras "with Japanese Inspiration," + Sake, 8/10

Course 2: Foie Gras "with Japanese Inspiration," + Sake, 8/10

Junmai Sake

Junmai Sake

This next dish was a really cool idea- a foie gras presented to look like a piece of sushi together with a Junmai sake. Ten minutes before the foie arrives, the server pours the sake to give it a chance to breathe. From a sake house founded in 1505 and famous for samurais' preference for this brand on the eve of battles, this Kenbishi Junmai exhibits an extremely interesting nose- very expressive- with notes of fresh chocolate. Appropriately, the foie is plated "with Japanese inspiration," including a border of seaweed, making the foie look like sushi. Some pineapple on the right for a nice tropical fruit kick. The foie itself just melts, and pairs fantastically with sake. 8/10. 

Course 3: Sea Bass + Rice + Coriander Emulsion, 8/10

Course 3: Sea Bass + Rice + Coriander Emulsion, 8/10

Sea bass served on a bed of coriander and dashi. The fish itself flakes apart easily, and is fresh and totally excellent. The triangular dumpling is made of rice noodles; another subtle Asian reference. It tastes almost exactly like fish sticks, and has a bizarre texture that makes your teeth click. Carrots and cucumbers inside the dumpling are a nice touch. 8/10.

Course 4: Lobster + Morels + Asparagus

Course 4: Lobster + Morels + Asparagus

I can't think of a more classically French combo than lobster, morel mushrooms, and asparagus. The lobster is perfectly cooked and not too buttery. Morels add a bit- another dish that can describe as buttery, fatty, and overly rich but good. 8/10.

Course 5: Pigeon + Tortellini + Truffles, 7/10

Course 5: Pigeon + Tortellini + Truffles, 7/10

Check out the color on that pigeon flank. The bird itself is is earthy and rich as hell, you can taste the farm it comes from. Surprisingly, the lentils that accompany are cooked unevenly- some are soft and overdone, some are firm and just right. The tortellini is bread-y and mushroom-y. 7/10.

Course 6: Cheese Cart, 9/10

Course 6: Cheese Cart, 9/10

If I was expecting any restaurant to knock the cheese cart concept out of the park, it would have been these guys. And, I'll say they mostly nailed it. A wonderful and diverse collection of soft, hard, goat's, and blue cheeses from across France but with a focus on Alsace-regional producers. I selected a handful of Monk's and Pont L'Eveque-style cheeses, and regretted 0% of said choices. 9/10.

Course 7: Mignardises, 8/10

Course 7: Mignardises, 8/10

A delightful small tray of mignadises- lemon marshmallow, Kiwi tart, madeline, and a rose-flavored macaron. Awesome. 8/10.

Course 8: "Crispy" of Red Fruits, 9/10

Course 8: "Crispy" of Red Fruits, 9/10

This dish is, quite charmingly, titled a "crispy" of red fruits. It's actually a zabaglione (an Italian-style dessert of whipped egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine) with some insanely awesome rhubarb and raspberry flavors. 9/10. 

Course 9: Banana Sorbet, 10/10

Course 9: Banana Sorbet, 10/10

A truly incredibly banana sorbet with citrus and kalamansi. The two fruit flavors paired off perfectly. Definitely the high point of the meal. 10/10.

Course 10: Petit Fours, 8/10

Course 10: Petit Fours, 8/10

A variety of small final dessert set to finish things out- pâte de fruits, noisettes, and chocolate. 8/10.

As I reflect on my final thoughts about these restaurants, I'm trying to consider why my service experiences in these French 3-stars have been so uneven. Some restaurants, like Guy Savoy or Pavilion Ledoyen, the service was warm and approachable, friendly and thoughtful even. It's not the US-Style chef-handshakes and kitchen tours, but the attitude was at a minimum kind and courteous. Both this place and L'Ambroisie were both rude disasters- self-important, careless, cold. Others who have visited at least one of those restaurants point to a high-end restaurant culture in France that is made to cater to regulars, not visitors, but I doubt that actually captures the full extent of it. Nor would I fall back to ugly stereotypes about high French culture being conceited or arrogant. It felt more like a rational response to incentives- their three stars are unlikely to ever get taken away (and in any case, I obviously wasn't a Michelin inspector), they're always going to have a backlog of people willing to cough up to try their restaurant. To them, perhaps, providing a high-end service experience is simply not something they invest in or train for because it has no impact on their ability to create their art or get customers. I'd love to hear what others think on this topic. 

Switzerland- Le Cheval Blanc- ✪✪✪

Peter Knogl

Peter Knogl

On a drizzly, early-Spring midday I arrived at the exterior of the Hotel Les Trois Rois, a luxurious but somewhat sad-looking building on the river in the center of Basel, Switzerland. If you’ve seen the film Grand Budapest Hotel, you’re getting the picture. This is a new entrant to the three-star category; they just got their third star as of the 2016 book, and, seeming to feel the need to prove their mettle, they did not disappoint. Peter Knogl leads an exceptionally professional staff for one of the most satisfying and least expensive meals of my entire adventure. This place is a must-visit. 

Le Cheval Blanc Exterior (Hotel Les Trois Rois)

Le Cheval Blanc Exterior (Hotel Les Trois Rois)

BASEL, SWITZERLAND

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $112 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 9.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Le Cheval Blanc Interior

Le Cheval Blanc Interior

Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo Clock

I’m walked into a large, European-Royalty-Drawing-Room style space quite similar to L’Astrance or Le Meurice. Gorgeous oil paintings with a Renaissance look are hung on the walls, and an ancient golden cuckoo clock incorrectly keeps time above. 

I’m seated at a corner table with a beautiful view of the river. Incongruously lime-green buses crisscross the low, grey European skyline every minute or two, and four freshly-made candles adorn a silver candlestick at my table. The space could not be more quirkily elegant.

Le Cheval Blanc Interior Wall

Le Cheval Blanc Interior Wall

On weekdays, the restaurant offers a “business lunch” menu for around $100 that is an absolutely killer deal. It came out to about $10 a plate, and I left absolutely stuffed. Their regular menu is well over $200, and there was some visible disappointment from the wait staff when I didn’t order either that menu or wine, but them’s the brakes. 

Bread + Butter, 7/10

Bread + Butter, 7/10

Bread and butter service are just okay- the bread is crunchy, and the server charmingly admonishes me to only take one piece at a time so I can enjoy the smell of each loaf more before they get cold. An oddly European piece of advice. 7/10.

Course 1: Red Prawn + Jalapeno Mousse, 10/10

Course 1: Red Prawn + Jalapeno Mousse, 10/10

Next, some Carabineros (a red prawn from the Mediterranean) with jalapeño mousse. One must dig down and get a whole vertical slice for all the correct flavors to be present. Small chunks of shellfish are throughout, almost indistinguishable from the surrounding mousse they're so soft. Rich, and slightly sweet- almost an avocado mousse flavor. Everything is super fresh and goes together perfectly, a stupendous start. 10/10.

Course 2: Tapioca Chip + Beef, 7/10

Course 2: Tapioca Chip + Beef, 7/10

Next, a tapioca chip with a tiny wrap of beef, served on a napkin. The rich sauces are a little overwhelming, and taste almost exactly like Arby's horsey sauce. 7/10.

Course 3A: Razor Clam, 10/10

Course 3A: Razor Clam, 10/10

Course 3B: Mushroom Chip, 10/10

Course 3B: Mushroom Chip, 10/10

This is easily one of my favorite dishes of all time. A dill-forward collection of clams presented in the shell of a razor clam (on the left) alongside mushroom slices and a mushroom sauce on a chip that tastes like Wheaties cereal (on the right). The flavors all (somehow) work together perfectly- 10/10. 

Course 4: Kingfish + Miso + Avocado, 7/10

Course 4: Kingfish + Miso + Avocado, 7/10

Kingfish, miso, and avocados. The fish is very bright and fresh, but I suppose that Knogl and crew can't help themselves but to install dabs of extraordinarily rich sauce that taste much like mayonnaise. Nothing wrong with that, but it ends up being a lot of goddamn mayo. 7/10.

Course 5: Angelfish + Black Truffles, 8/10

Course 5: Angelfish + Black Truffles, 8/10

Check out this beautifully constructed dish of angelfish and Perigord black truffles. The truffles are excellent and the fish is fresh. Once again, the sauce is unspeakably and unnecessarily rich. 8/10.

Course 6A: Granny Apple Granite + Coconut + Ginger, 8/10

Course 6A: Granny Apple Granite + Coconut + Ginger, 8/10

Course 6B: Granny Apple Shot

Course 6B: Granny Apple Shot

Next, a completely awesome Granny Smith apple granita with coconut and ginger. The sugary softness of the yogurt is balanced perfectly by the spicy ginger. And on the side, a Granny Smith shot! Sweet and fresh. 8/10

Course 7: Passion Fruit + Cheese, 9/10

Course 7: Passion Fruit + Cheese, 9/10

As we wrap up, a tiny, perfectly-balanced spoonful of tropical fruit and cheese. 9/10.

Course 8: Mignardises, 9/10

Course 8: Mignardises, 9/10

Some absolutely awesome mignardises; including a hazelnut triple stack, Lemon, and carrot. 9/10.

Last Sip: Coffee, 8/10

Last Sip: Coffee, 8/10

Course 9: Swiss Chocolate, 9/10

Course 9: Swiss Chocolate, 9/10

What would a visit to Switzerland 3-star be without some Swiss chocolate? This enormous tray of hand-made confectionary is brought to my table with a great flourish. I'm told to select as many as I want, and of course the temptation is to scoop them all up and put them in my backpack, but that strikes me as a potentially gauche gesture. 

Course 9: Swiss Chocolate, 9/10

Course 9: Swiss Chocolate, 9/10

From 12'o'clock, and moving clockwise- salty caramel, pure dark chocolate, piña colada, Mint, yuzu, and Szechuan spice. Piña colada is liquid centered and tastes like an alcohol-coconut drink blended with white chocolate, so they nailed it. Mint is spearmint and very strong. 9/10.

Though I won't often get explicit about the financial piece on this website, Le Cheval Blanc made it easy for me to hit my $100 target by setting their fixed menu lunch at an unbelievably reasonably price for one of the top ~100 restaurants in the world. As I said, this place has it all. 

UK- The Waterside Inn- ✪✪✪

Nestled in picturesque Bray, an ancient exurb on the distant Western end of Greater London, the Waterside Inn is a culinary icon. Albert Roux runs the place, taking over for his dad Michel Roux who had the reins from 1977-2010. The family is basically gastronomical legend; the restaurant has held 3 stars for 31 years, and it was the first restaurant outside of France to hold its 3-star rating for a quarter-century. That was in 2010... :)

Waterside Inn Main Entrance

Waterside Inn Main Entrance

BRAY, UK (NEAR LONDON)

SERVICE: 7.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $280PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

The Waiting Room/Grandma's House

The Waiting Room/Grandma's House

After a quiet, windy walk down a cobbled street from pre-dinner drinks at the Hinds Head (the Fat Duck's bar), we walked into the main entrance of the Waterside Inn. It appears to be targeting the famed British "cozy" aesthetic, and man are they nailing it. I felt like I needed to take off my shoes. We walked through this anteroom into the main dining room, where sadly I couldn't snap a photo because the space was too tightly packed and awkward to have that make sense.

Butter, 7/10

Butter, 7/10

Bread, 7/10

Bread, 7/10

In the great and massive tome I will someday write about bread and butter, this place is solidly middle of the pack. But nothing special. A hockey puck of salted, local butter and some handmade baguettes are extremely good but also nothing terribly special. 7/10.

First Bites: Foie Gras + Anchovy- 7/10

First Bites: Foie Gras + Anchovy- 7/10

First bites: setting up the themes for the evening of extremely precise and refined knifework and a huge focus on the aesthetics of color, juxtaposition, and careful crafting, we received a share-plate of heavy, creamy foie gras on toast, raisins on salmon, and anchovy. Very salty, it got my attention with the gorgeous colors and flavors, but kind of a heavy start with the large portion and liberal use of cream sauces. 7/10.

Course 1: Butternut Squash Soup- 7/10

Course 1: Butternut Squash Soup- 7/10

Served shockingly cold, this butternut squash soup with cracker has a thick, almost paste-like texture. Beautiful, precisely-cut vegetables and mushrooms. Some interesting peanut butter flavors going on as well. 7/10.

Course 2: Lobster Salad, 6/10. 

Course 2: Lobster Salad, 6/10. 

Man, would you just look at all of those individual components the cold line had to build?! Lobster, caviar, several types of gelatin, carefully-dolloped sauces... While visually gorgeous, the Lobster lacks umph- it was clammy and thin. Caviar, lobster, and gelatin do not match up well, and the beet flavors end up winning out. Maybe that was intentional but it's unclear. 6/10.

Course 3: Fois Gras + Potato Soup, 9/10

Course 3: Fois Gras + Potato Soup, 9/10

Interestingly, the moment we move away from the fancy fireworks of the bright colors and knifework, the flavors start to speak for themselves more strongly. This foie gras and potato soup is incredible- it feels almost like the first time you have French onion soup on a cold Winter's day. The tarragon flavors are nice; shame there isn't more of it. 9/10, great dish. 

Course 4: Breaded Monkfish + Coq Au Vin, 9/10

Course 4: Breaded Monkfish + Coq Au Vin, 9/10

A crazy-creative combination of breaded monkfish with chorizo and coq Au vin... Almost pizza flavored. The combination of flavors and textures from the three proteins- monkfish, chorizo, and chicken- would never go together in any cooking textbook, yet here we are. This is the kind of creativity that keeps this place famous. 9/10.

Course 5: Duck + Pear, 7/10

Course 5: Duck + Pear, 7/10

A super-classic French dish- duck with pear. Everything goes well together, but the overall effect is quite salty. 7/10. 

Course 6: Basil + Passion Fruit Sorbet, 8/10

Course 6: Basil + Passion Fruit Sorbet, 8/10

A lovely palate-cleanser- basil and passion fruit sorbet, with extremely bright tropical flavors enhanced by the gentle mint. 8/10.

Course 7: Yogurt + Raspberry + Marshmellow, 8/10

Course 7: Yogurt + Raspberry + Marshmellow, 8/10

With lovely flourishes of raspberry sauce, (though no dessert is quite as flourish-y as Alinea's) this made for a kingly dessert. 8/10. 

Course 8: Mirabelle Soufflé, 10/10.

Course 8: Mirabelle Soufflé, 10/10.

Made using Mirabelle plums, noted for their soft, tender flesh, and distinctly perfumed flavors, this was in every way, shape, and form, a perfect French dessert. 10/10.

Course 9: Cheese Cart, 9/10

Course 9: Cheese Cart, 9/10

Course 9: Cheese, 9/10

Course 9: Cheese, 9/10

What would any good French meal worth its salt be without an enormous, fragrant cheese cart? I love the selections here (the Stinking Bishop is a must-have), and grabbed a sampling of their soft cheeses. They were, without exception, excellent. 9/10.

Last Bites: Mignarises, Petit Fours, 8/10

Last Bites: Mignarises, Petit Fours, 8/10

A delicious last few bites served on a beautiful tray- great way to end the evening! 8/10. 

France- La Maison Lameloise- ✪✪✪

Seated in the heart of Burgundy wine country, La Maison Lameloise has been 3-star rated since 1979, and has been run by the Lameloise family for three generations (Pierre, Jean, and then Jacques). Éric Pras took over the kitchen in 2008, and has maintained the hotel/restaurant's 3-star status ever since.

La Maison Lameloise Exterior

La Maison Lameloise Exterior

CHAGNY, FRANCE (BURGUNDY WINE COUNTRY)

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $255PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

Éric Pras is something of a French culinary badass. His career has put him working alongside Bernard Loiseau, Pierre Gagnaire, Antoine Westermann, and many other A-level players. At 36, he took over Lameloise, and has put his own unique stamp on the place- his personal motto, translated somewhat awkwardly, is: "nothing is more difficult than simplicity." 

First Bites: Snail + Foie Gras + Tomatoes, 8/10

First Bites: Snail + Foie Gras + Tomatoes, 8/10

A strong amuse to start, with several small, entertaining little dishes. 

Clockwise from the top right, tomatoes with a thin crusting of snail is adventuresome and a cool take on a classic dish- and served warm. 

The foie gras is simply great. No other way to say it. 

The circular canapés are all right, a light potato-y dish. 

The second set of spoons is a jumble of fruity and mashed starch textures- it's just okay.

Micro sandwiches with preserved meat are totally delicious. 8/10 overall.

Course 1: Melon Soup, 9/10

Course 1: Melon Soup, 9/10

What an awesome idea- melon with melon water and goat's cheese in the center. Dashes of olive oil and spices make this thing really sing together. Clever, creative, and the chèvre is quite strong and pairs nicely with the melon. 9/10.

Course 2: Lobster Ravioli, 10/10.

Course 2: Lobster Ravioli, 10/10.

Lobster Tempura Claw

Lobster Tempura Claw

I loved this dish. Ravioli with lobster and tempura claw. The claw is piping hot, eaten first on a separate dish, and totally delicious. The strawberries are frozen-cold, which is a fun contrast. Strawberry-tomato sauce ties it together. 10/10.

Course 3: Turbot + Rhubarb + Pasta, 7/10

Course 3: Turbot + Rhubarb + Pasta, 7/10

Turbot with rhubarb in small pastas. Fish stands out but the small mushrooms and spinach don't match it. Neutral, buttery taste accentuated by the buttery-ass sauce. 7/10.

Course 4: Rouget + Foie Gras + Haricot, 6/10

Course 4: Rouget + Foie Gras + Haricot, 6/10

Foie gras with coquilettes and haricot. Small hard squares of rouget are good. Foie is unremarkable and heavy. 6/10.

Course 5: Lamb + Zucchini, 9/10

Course 5: Lamb + Zucchini, 9/10

Lamb with zucchini, and a cracker with yet more zucchini. Deep, smoky flavor, super complex. 9/10.

Course 6: Cheese, 9/10

Course 6: Cheese, 9/10

The Cheese

The Cheese

You'd expect a cheese course from a 3-star restaurant in Burgundy to be pretty outstanding. This was pretty outstanding. 9/10.

 

Course 7: Desserts, 8/10

Course 7: Desserts, 8/10

Lemon ice, small petit fours... Apricot is lovely and bright, chocolate guy tastes just like a s'more. Raspberry tartelette has a nice spice on it. 8/10

Crêpes Suzette- 9/10

Crêpes Suzette- 9/10

Prepping the Crêpe Suzette tableside

Prepping the Crêpe Suzette tableside

This next course was super cool- Crêpes Suzette with sorbet and small petit fours prepared tableside. Grand Marnier flavor comes through loud and clear- thanks to the actual bottle of Grand Marnier that is liberally used to flavor the crêpe. Orange flavors play off nicely. 9/10 and great presentation. Sorbet had a marshmallow- shaped ice cream underneath.

Sorbet

Sorbet

Passion fruit hard/soft candy is awesome. 9/10

Final bites- 9/10

Final bites- 9/10

Overall, a pretty excellent meal that lives up to its name. 

France- L'Ambroisie- ✪✪✪

Beautiful in location and décor with (occasionally) friendly service notwithstanding, this place was an unmitigated, ludicrously overpriced disaster.

L'Ambroisie Main Entrance

L'Ambroisie Main Entrance

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 4.0/10

FOOD: 3.0/10

PRICE PAID: $480 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 1.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 2.0/10

L'Ambroisie Dining Room

L'Ambroisie Dining Room

Set in fine French-Aristocracy style, the main dining room is a gorgeous jewel of a space. I felt like I was hanging out with Louis XIV.

First Bites: Oil-Bread, 4/10

First Bites: Oil-Bread, 4/10

I was pretty sure that the first bites were some kind of a joke- 1/8th of a slice of oily bread that looks like it came from a Ponderosa. In a bizarre and unwelcome gesture, the server bear-paws one of these tiny slices onto my tiny plate. Crumbs lazily disperse upon landing. The bread stares at me awkwardly. 4/10.

Course 1: Butternut Squash Soup + Goose Liver, 9/10

Course 1: Butternut Squash Soup + Goose Liver, 9/10

The first course was probably the only high point of the meal- some butternut squash soup, with a delicious goose liver buried therein. 9/10. 

Bread; stale

Bread; stale

Can't believe I'm saying this, but the bread was actually a touch stale.

Course 2: White Truffles + White Truffles + White Truffles + Egg, 0/10

Course 2: White Truffles + White Truffles + White Truffles + Egg, 0/10

The Egg

The Egg

An absurd clump of white truffles showed up next. Under the truffles, a bright-yellow egg and thinly-sliced mushrooms, all surrounded by a deeply rich butter cream sauce. 

I know how awful what I'll say next sounds, especially in light of the fact that:

  • some person spent, like, two afternoons in the woods collecting all those truffles
  • some other person carefully shaved those truffles into the ribbon-like pattern that you see
  • yet some third person carefully arranged those truffles and mushroom slices into the configuration dreamed up by their boss

... but all that being said, this cannot be called fine dining. This is richness piled on top of richness piled on top of fat. It wasn't good. It felt like an enormous, egotistical waste. It made me question whether this entire project was a good idea, not only for my health but for what this kind of consumption represents. It made me think about people who were hungry and how selfish the person who created this concept must be. It made me want to go home. 0/10.

Course 3: Lobster + Garlic, 8/10

Course 3: Lobster + Garlic, 8/10

What's that, you say? How could a single slice of lobster, two fingerling potatoes, and a clove of roasted garlic cost 142 euros? Who in their right mind would charge such a price, and what even bigger fool would pay it? That's a damn fine question, for which there is no answer.

Fricasse d'hommard: 142 Euros

Fricasse d'hommard: 142 Euros

In the politest way possible, I tried to ask in my stumbling French if there was another plate that formed a part of this course. The response, predictably, was similar to if I had asked if they were allowing guests to commit arson after the cheese course. "MAIS BIEN SUR QUE NON" or some similarly negative response.

I'm not joking about the price- look at the menu near "hommard." And this was ALL YOU GOT. You can buy a ticket to an entire dinner at Alinea that grants you 15 amazing courses for about $20 more. Totally, toweringly, insultingly crazy. 

I"ll have to admit I was more or less checked out at this point.  

Course 4: Lamb, 5/10

Course 4: Lamb, 5/10

Way overspiced, undercooked, uninteresting. And, by the way, those mushrooms are sliced from the same goddamn fungus that we saw in the White Truffle course. You have to reuse the same cold prep ingredients? Is that a joke? 5/10.

Course 5: Mignardises, 5/10

Course 5: Mignardises, 5/10

Some sloppily-assembled mignardises. I don't care anymore. I'm still hungry. 5/10. 

Exit Colonnade

Exit Colonnade

At least the walk home was pretty. Avoid this place at all costs.  

Belgium- De Karmeliet

UPDATE: De Karmeliet, sadly, is now closed after the owners decided it was time to scale back.

De Karmeliet (the Carmelite) has held three Michelin stars since 1996, longer than either of its Belgian competitors Hof Van Cleve (2005) and Hertog Jan (2011). Set in historic downtown Bruges, De Karmeliet lacks some of the gorgeous views of either its three-star compatriots, but sports a grand and gorgeous facade and dining rooms in high European style. 

De Karmeliet Exterior

De Karmeliet Exterior

BRUGES, BELGIUM

SERVICE: 7.0/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $160 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

Geert van Hecke

Geert van Hecke

Geert van Hecke established the original De Karmeliet in Bruges with his wife Mireille in 1983, and they've been refining their style ever since. They won their first star in 1985, their second in '89, and finally the third in 1996. Geert himself has had some pretty world-class training at places like La Villa Loraine in Brussels (3-star at the time), and was taught by Alain Chapel alongside other current big-wigs like Alain Ducasse and Michel Roux. 

De Karmeliet's Anteroom

De Karmeliet's Anteroom

De Karmeliet's Main Dining Room

De Karmeliet's Main Dining Room

The interior spaces are open and airy, and have big, strong lighting statements in warm tones. The modern chandelier is a nice offset to the drawing-room style of the rest of the interior. In the main dining room, gorgeous original oil paintings adorn the walls, and tables are politely set apart. Interestingly, only a handful were occupied on a Saturday lunch, and the place was empty when I arrived at 12:30PM.

First BItes: Local Potatoes + Paprika, 9/10

First BItes: Local Potatoes + Paprika, 9/10

An awesome basket of chips, made from local starches with shaved gouda cheese, to kick things off. A delicious salty welcome snack. 9/10.

Course 1A: Almond + Black Olive Cake + Scottish Salmon + Zucchini, 9/10

Course 1A: Almond + Black Olive Cake + Scottish Salmon + Zucchini, 9/10

Course 1B: Curry Sauce + Fried Seafood Bites, 9/10

Course 1B: Curry Sauce + Fried Seafood Bites, 9/10

The first course was a lovely medley of small bites- going from left to right, spiced almonds, then a cake of black olives with tapenade of anchovy and cherry tomatoes. Perfect texture playoff between the crunchy almonds and the cake. 9/10.

Next, a curry-based dippin' sauce with fried balls of seafood- mussels, vegetables, you name it. A really interesting dish, not terribly healthy, but delicious all the same. 9/10- this was the high point of the meal for me. 

Course 1C: Chip + Shrimp, 7/10

Course 1C: Chip + Shrimp, 7/10

Inside 1C

Inside 1C

Meanwhile in the third bowl, a delicious crunchy chip that reveals a collection of tiny shrimps and greens. The shrimps are just okay in texture and flavor; they're well-cooked but they've been in the fridge a day too long. 7/10.

The Bread

The Bread

The Butter

The Butter

Anybody who follows my travels knows that I'm a huge sucker for good bread and butter. This place did not set any world records for me. 

Course 2: Scallops + Black Truffle Sauce, 7/10

Course 2: Scallops + Black Truffle Sauce, 7/10

The next course was at least beautifully presented- roasted French scallops with a black truffle vinaigrette. The truffle is from the famous French market in Richerenches, I am told. In the middle is a remoulade of celeriac (a vegetable that looks a bit like an alien), and mousse of chestnut with almonds, speaking to the previous course. 7/10- well cooked and just fine, but Nothing Terribly Special.

Course 3: Langoustine + Goose Liver + Eggplant, 8/10

Course 3: Langoustine + Goose Liver + Eggplant, 8/10

Langoustines with mushroom, goose liver, and eggplant chunks. The pairing with liver is too rich, but the eggplant is perfect. 8/10

Course 4: Pheasant + Cabbage + Red Apple, 8/10

Course 4: Pheasant + Cabbage + Red Apple, 8/10

4B: Sauce made from the pheasant bones

4B: Sauce made from the pheasant bones

The last main course was baked pheasant inside green cabbage with roasted red apple in the middle. Mushrooms, cream of butternut, carmelized red apple flavors, and Brussel sprouts. Cream of celeriac as well, to pair up with the ideas from two courses ago. 

On the side, fin de champagne sauce. Beneath the surface, the bones from the legs of the pheasant with goose liver. Delicious. 8/10.

Course 5A: Apple + Caramel, 8/10

Course 5A: Apple + Caramel, 8/10

A shaved apple, presented with light caramel sauce, a handful of delicately-placed greens, and candied fruits. Delightful and refreshing, 8/10. 

Course 5B: Chocolate + Orange, 8/10

Course 5B: Chocolate + Orange, 8/10

Chocolate from Guatemala, zest of orange, ice cream of orange, vanilla of Tahiti. A handful of tasty, small desserts followed.

Course 5C: Marshmellows, 7/10

Course 5C: Marshmellows, 7/10

Course 5D: Chocolate Orange Peel, 7/10

Course 5D: Chocolate Orange Peel, 7/10

Course 5E: Hot Chocolate, 8/10

Course 5E: Hot Chocolate, 8/10

Passion fruit-flavored mushrooms, a chocolate-dusted orange peel, and cups of hot chocolate. 7/10 overall. 

Final Bites: Petit Fours, 8/10

Final Bites: Petit Fours, 8/10

A few final bites on the way out- nothing 0utstanding, but a pleasant finish to the meal. 8/10.

Italy- Da Vittorio- ✪✪✪

Da Vittorio's Beautiful Patio

Da Vittorio's Beautiful Patio

BRUSAPORTO, ITALY

SERVICE: 9.0/10

FOOD: 9.0/10

PRICE PAID: $328 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10

I want to start off by saying that Da Vittorio was an extremely special experience; absolutely one of the best evenings I have had in Europe and perhaps in my global adventures.

The hotel and restaurant are run by the Cereas, and various family members are responsible for different branches of the property- one brother (Enrico) runs the restaurant, another (Francesco) runs the hotel, a sister runs hospitality (Rossella); you get the picture.

Without exception, every member of the family operating this property are joyfully and completely committed to ensuring their guests have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let me convince you with examples:

Chef Enrico and I

Chef Enrico and I

  • Every single member of the staff, bar none, came out and introduced themselves to me before the meal even got rolling.
  • Even though it was well past midnight, the sommelier offered me a personal tour of their world-class wine cellars, showing off what is likely one of the best collections of Italian wine in Europe.
  • The Chef and Hotel Manager personally checked in with me throughout the evening to ensure everything was meeting expectations.
  • Omar running service is fantastic- informed and friendly.

Beyond the personal touches, the property itself is incredibly dramatic and grand. You approach their enormous, gated property that looks every bit the hillside Italian villa of yore. Beautiful lighting and enormous gates give it an exclusive and almost untouchable feel. 

The only slightly strange bit- every ten minutes, a plane roars into flight at the very-nearby airport. A bit unsettling at first.

Now, for the meal itself. I chose the Carta Biaca (Carte Blanche) menu, which was the longest on offer. 

First Bites: Squid, 9/10

First Bites: Squid, 9/10

First out,  a single large chunk of squid with a big, creamy ricotta. Tomato base, and Porcini mushrooms round things out nicely with a sliced celery topping. A subtle and herby gazpacho. 9/10. Great cleanser/starter.

1st Course: Taleggio Ice Cream, 8/10

1st Course: Taleggio Ice Cream, 8/10

Next, a Taleggio cheese "ice cream" served hot- textures are squishy and awesome. Bell peppers bring it all together. 8/10.

2nd Course: Cherry + Foie Gras, 9/10

2nd Course: Cherry + Foie Gras, 9/10

Cherry and foie gras pair up absolutely perfectly. The cherries are deadly sweet, and the foie is rich as sin. 9/10. 

3rd Course: False Apple + Caviar, 9/10

3rd Course: False Apple + Caviar, 9/10

Next up, a "False Apple" with Beluga caviar. Sweet presentation! Altogether this dish is an awesome idea- the flavors of the caviar and apple work well but the textures aren't a perfect match; you end up with a salty-fruity mash that tastes like good fruity oatmeal. Not entirely a bad thing. 8/10

4th Course: Foie Gras + Cherry

4th Course: Foie Gras + Cherry

Another creative idea to bring the foie gras and cherry combo back- cool presentation and extremely rich! This time, the foie isn't fried and the cherries are fresh, presented with their leaves. Is Cerea winding back the clock? 9/10.

5th Course: Raw Prawn Soup, 9/10

5th Course: Raw Prawn Soup, 9/10

Getting into the seafood dishes- "Caccia al caciucco" with prawns. The prawn is soft and almost buttery. A hearty but refreshing course. 9/10.

Outstanding Outdoor Seating- Visit in Summertime

Outstanding Outdoor Seating- Visit in Summertime

6th Course: Sea Bass Carpaccio, 10/10

6th Course: Sea Bass Carpaccio, 10/10

The next seafood course was absolutely outstanding- sea bass carpaccio. Not too salty, great textures, and the clams add a nice touch. 10/10.

7th Course: Prawns + Burrata + BBQ Tomato Cream, 9/10

7th Course: Prawns + Burrata + BBQ Tomato Cream, 9/10

This next dish was super summery- prawns from Sicily, enclosed while cooking to release their smoky notes. The prawn has a taste quality I can't quite put finger on- almost a delicious hot dog taste. Paired up with Burrata cheese, a close cousin to Mozzarella. 9/10.

8th Course: Shrimp Tartare + Rice + Curry Sauce, 9/10

8th Course: Shrimp Tartare + Rice + Curry Sauce, 9/10

Beautiful saffron accents in the presentation is pretty. I like that the rice is sculpted into a small circle, with herbs on top. This dish has a nice comfort-food feel that I really appreciate. 9/10.

9th Course: Sea Bass, 10/10

9th Course: Sea Bass, 10/10

9) Sea Bass cooked in a cocoon of sugar. The sugar-cooking method brings out all kinds of flavors that I never imagined existed in seafood like this. Once again, bringing back the Sea Bass ideas from the fifth course and reflecting them nicely. 10/10.

10th Course: Raw + Cooked Scorpion Fish, 8/10

10th Course: Raw + Cooked Scorpion Fish, 8/10

Raw Scorpion Fish

Raw Scorpion Fish

Cooked Scorpion fish cheeks and neck with raw fish. Scorpion fish are extremely poisonous, by the way. Raw fish is in separate broth and is considerably tastier than cooked. 8/10.

11th Course: Cheese, 8/10

11th Course: Cheese, 8/10

A nice cheese plate, including robiola and red onion sauce, partially melted. Excellent pre-red meat cleanser. 8/10

12th Course: Duck Raviolis, 9/10

12th Course: Duck Raviolis, 9/10

These homemade raviolis were beautiful, and possessed an unexpectedly sweet flavor, most likely from the extremely rare Strachitunt cheese, which is only produced in this region of Italy by a single producer.  9/10. Duck sauce sets it off nicely.

13th Course: Duck Breast, 10/10

13th Course: Duck Breast, 10/10

Fatty and delicious duck breast with coffee and Guanaja chocolate sauce. Guanaja, by the way, is one of the small Caribbean-side islands belonging to Honduras that Christopher Columbus discovered in 1502, becoming likely the first westerner to taste Cacao on that very voyage.

Anyway, the polenta is an excellent textural contrast, and they go together fantastically. 10/10, an excellent main!

14th Course: Beignet + Cookie, 6/10

14th Course: Beignet + Cookie, 6/10

The only even mild disappointment of the evening- beignet with cookie, prepped table side. It was, unfortunately, burnt. 6/10.

15th Course: Strawberry Sorbet + Mint, 10/10

15th Course: Strawberry Sorbet + Mint, 10/10

Not much to say about this strawberry sorbet and mint except that it was perfect. A classic pairing, executed without flaw. 10/10

16th Course: Millefeuille of Apple, 9/10

16th Course: Millefeuille of Apple, 9/10

This Millefeuille of apple had a delicious, crumbly texture and bright green apple flavors. 9/10.

17th Course: Amaretto, 9/10

17th Course: Amaretto, 9/10

Next, some amaretto. A bit like a pain au chocolate. 9/10

18th Course: Chocolate + Mint, 9/10

18th Course: Chocolate + Mint, 9/10

Next, a fluffy cotton cloud arrived with chocolates and mint. The idea, of course, is that you should be floating on a cloud by now, and these desserts are coming up to join you. 9/10.

19th Course: Cookies, 9/10

19th Course: Cookies, 9/10

Last, parting gifts- a small batch of hand-made cookies. I love this place. 9/10. 

The Menu- Signed by the Chef

The Menu- Signed by the Chef

A last, charming gesture- a copy of the menu, signed by Chef Cerea himself. What an outstanding level of service. 

Late-night Departure View

Late-night Departure View

Germany- Überfahrt- ✪✪✪

Überfahrt Exterior

Überfahrt Exterior

ROTTACH-EGERN, GERMANY (ALPS NEAR THE AUSTRIAN BORDER)

SERVICE: 8.5/10

FOOD: 7.0/10

PRICE PAID: $282 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

Christian Jürgens

Christian Jürgens

Sitting right next to the near-Caribbean-colored waters of the Tegernsee (a large mountain lake in the German alpine foothills), Christian Jürgens has crafted a beautifully-executed menu that tries to share the riches of his adopted Bavarian home and show off the richness of the Tegernsee region. 

Just outside the restaurant- the Tegernsee

Just outside the restaurant- the Tegernsee

The hotel actually has three different restaurants, and from casual observation I could conclude that Überfahrt has the lion's share of marketing talent, interior decoration skill, and general thought put into it. The interior is entirely referential to nature- every drink stand, bread tray, or other mobile object seems to be fashioned from some sort of log. I get that Jürgens is putting together a panorama of the beautifully forested natural setting, but he really hits you over the head with it. 

First course: Cheese + "Moss," 8/10

First course: Cheese + "Moss," 8/10

The rock sitting underneath this fern-y cheese dish was served cold and slick with condensation. On top, you can see the "trees" and the watercress "moss." Have you gotten that this is a nature panorama yet? Like I said, a bit over the top. 

Texture was not bad and the dish is exceptionally creamy (as to be expected). Though the wet rock makes for an odd experience, the cheese is excellent and goes perfectly with the accompanying bread crisps, which tasted precisely like Wheat Thins. 8/10. 

2nd Course: Quail Egg, 7/10

2nd Course: Quail Egg, 7/10

On an elevated pylon of a dish, quail egg, milk bread, and house made butter came next. The butter is highly aromatic; you can smell it across the table. Looming in the center of the plate is an enormous truffle, wet and fresh on top of the egg. Super rich sauce. A nice start but nothing too crazy. 8/10. The house-made butter is heavenly good.

3rd Course: Caviar, 8/10

3rd Course: Caviar, 8/10

Cod-on-a-Stick

Cod-on-a-Stick

Another cool serving platform- this one almost like a mini-champage bucket. The caviar is served very cold with olive oil, a nice tomato and bell pepper salsa underneath gives vegetable flavors but not much spice. Serving in the caviar dish was a nice touch. Cod on a stick came on the side- it was tasty but tough to eat without spilling fish particles. 8/10.

4th Course: Artichoke + Egg, 9/10

4th Course: Artichoke + Egg, 9/10

Next came artichoke with egg and herbs. An almost pastalike texture with bold flavors. The artichoke itself is fresh and perfect. An adventuresome dish with simple ingredients. 9/10.

5th Course: "Spring Roll" with Langoustine, 8/10

5th Course: "Spring Roll" with Langoustine, 8/10

This deconstructed spring roll dish came with deep fried langoustine. Basically, just imagine chicken McNugget langoustines. 8/10. 

6th Course: "Firebird," Pigeon + Salsify + Green Pepper Sauce, 9/10

6th Course: "Firebird," Pigeon + Salsify + Green Pepper Sauce, 9/10

Delicious chanterelle mushrooms, pleasingly adhered to the top of the bird. The pigeon is softly cooked, giving it an absolutely supreme tenderness. Beautifully spiced, goes great with salsify. A near-perfect main course. 9/10

7th Course: Cheese, 8/10

7th Course: Cheese, 8/10

A creative, pretty half-moon presentation of sheep and goat cheese. Super thin goat cheese with apricots underneath. Uncomfortably hard bits. Hearty for a cheese dish. Great mix of textures. A Shitload of cheese. 8/10

8th Course: Zuppa Romana, 9/10

8th Course: Zuppa Romana, 9/10

The next dessert was fantastic- Zuppa Romana made of mascarpone- was both creamy and cakey on the inside. Some super cold bits gave it a fun contrasting experience, with lots of fun crunchy textures. 9/10. 

9th Course: Winter Garden Patisseries, 7/10

9th Course: Winter Garden Patisseries, 7/10

Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake

A charming little cabinet with a selection of pick-your-own cake. I chose a small flower pot of Black Forest cherry cake. Good but not great. 7/10.

Bill + Chef's Hat

Bill + Chef's Hat

I thought that this was adorable. You get a little tiny chef's hat, served on a teeny-tiny Le Creuset-style cooking pot. A charming end to the meal that made me laugh. 

UK- Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road- ✪✪✪

Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road Main Entrance

Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road Main Entrance

LONDON, UK

SERVICE: 9.5/10

FOOD: 9.5/10

PRICE PAID: $428 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10

Clare Smythe, Chef Patron

Clare Smythe, Chef Patron

Flagship of the enormous Gordon Ramsay empire is his Royal Hospital road restaurant. Led by Chef Patron Clare Smythe, this restaurant has held its 3-star rating for almost 14 years; appointed in 2007, Clare is the only female chef to hold this title in the Michelin-star world. 

The restaurant itself is small and straightforward- a square room with capacity for around 40 guests on no-messing around plain white tablecloths. 

The first thing I'd like to say about the restaurant is that service was across the board top-notch. Attentive, friendly, sincere. This is the place to go for a seriously important life milestone, because at every moment of the meal someone was paying unbelievably close attention to our experience and making sure we were having the time of our lives. 

Butter in a beehive

Butter in a beehive

First Bites: Ricotta + Mint, 10/10

First Bites: Ricotta + Mint, 10/10

First bites are some pretty delectable ricotta cheese and mint. Small sliced tomatoes. Fiery radishes and flower petals. Summery and fun. Tastes like a garden, in a good way. This is how the world's most decadent rabbit feels. Delicious. 10/10.

1st Course: Foie + Duck, 9/10

1st Course: Foie + Duck, 9/10

1B: Brioche

1B: Brioche

This beautiful little rectangle is foie with duck. The duck is rich and amazing. The foie is very good, but doesn't outshine the duck itself. Both pair excellently with included brioche. There's a strong Pepper Madeira, flavor buried somewhere underneath, which creates a cool effect.  9/10. So far, I'm getting excited because this is the best start I've had so far.

2nd Course: Lobster Ravioli, 9/10

2nd Course: Lobster Ravioli, 9/10

I was told by our server that this is the restaurant's signature dish- lobster ravioli- and has been offered since they opened. Green sauce really brings out the lobster flavor. Just look at those colors, for God's sake. 9/10.

3rd Course: Halibut + Rose Water Broth, 10/10

3rd Course: Halibut + Rose Water Broth, 10/10

Next arrived a delicate rose water broth saddled with some so-fresh-its-falling-apart-I'm-not-kidding halibut. This is Absolutely Perfect. 10/10.

4th Course: Pigeon + Cherry, 10/10

4th Course: Pigeon + Cherry, 10/10

Next, a perfect, rich pairing of pigeon and cherries. The pillow-soft and tender pigeon is likely the best bird I've ever tasted. 10/10. 

5th Course: Cheese, 8/10

5th Course: Cheese, 8/10

Soft Cheeses

Soft Cheeses

An excellent but not overwhelming cheese tray, with plenty of great soft cheese selections from all over France and the UK. I asked the waiter for his recommendations, and he was able to knowledgeably recite data about each selection from heart. I was impressed. 8/10.

6th Course: Mint Palate Cleanser, 9/10

6th Course: Mint Palate Cleanser, 9/10

Post-Pestle-ing

Post-Pestle-ing

Next, a mint palate cleanser that comes with a pestle and mortar you grind yourself. I love, love creative dishes like this that get you involved in the course, even if your involvement is totally ceremonial (and, it always is). 9/10.

7th Course- Lemonade Sorbert + Spun Honey, 10/10

7th Course- Lemonade Sorbert + Spun Honey, 10/10

Hard to believe, but another total stunner came across the transom next. The jelly reflects bubbles in the expertly-chosen plate. Lemonade sorbet with the spun honey forming a bridge over the top. I'm told that this is Claire Smythe's work, and I believe it. 10/10

elderflower Turkish delight, frozen lemon balls, and some peanut brittle with salt served as our final statement for the meal. An absolutely exquisite finale to a near-perfect meal. 10/10.

I'm comfortable saying that this is the finest restaurant experience I have had on my adventure so far. 

Caramel, 9/10

France- L'Astrance- Two Stars

Update: in the 2019 Michelin guidebook, L’Astrance lost their third star after 11 years on top. Three 3-stars lost their coveted third in the 2019 book, causing quite a stir. I expect L’Astrance will be back!

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $184 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Pascal Barbot

Pascal Barbot

Pascal Barbot is an up-and-coming culinary all-star. His tiny 25-seat restaurant, tucked under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is a beautiful statement in modern French style. Service was almost coffee-bar casual at certain points, which was actually a hugely welcome change from some of the more formal Parisian 3-star neighbors. 


First Bites- Vegetable Tart 10/10

First Bites- Vegetable Tart 10/10

A tart with layers of foie gras and mushroom appeared first, with cirtus and fruit creme dollops flanking it. A great start. 10/10.

1st Course: Apple + Mushroom, 8/10

1st Course: Apple + Mushroom, 8/10

Layers of Mushroom Underneath

Layers of Mushroom Underneath

Next came thinly sliced apple and mushroom tart. Lots of work! Layers of soft mushroom and crunchier apple work well together. Enjoyable and interesting course. 8/10.

2nd Course: Oyster + Flower Salad, 10/10

2nd Course: Oyster + Flower Salad, 10/10

Oysters with a salad that brimming with bright flowers. A stunningly beautiful presentation. Small leaves have an almost coconutty, tropical flavor. Amazing dish. I can't quite place the taste of the small round baked guy; doesn't matter, it's delicious. 10/10.

3rd Course: Mackerel + Dipping Sauce, 10/10

3rd Course: Mackerel + Dipping Sauce, 10/10

The Dippin' Sauce

The Dippin' Sauce

Mackerel with a big ol' dipping sauce. This is easily the best mackerel grillé I've ever had. Underneath is a base of extremely soft material- tastes like mozzarella. Flavor is woody and smoky, the seeds on top have a great crunch. Love this dish. 10/10.

4th Course: Veal + Black Truffle, 10/10

4th Course: Veal + Black Truffle, 10/10

The main act is this dish of veal and black truffle. Super soft and delicious. A deep, dark, forest floor-y dish, in a good way. 10/10.

5th Course: Duck + Oregano + Cherry, 10/10

5th Course: Duck + Oregano + Cherry, 10/10

As a follow-up main, duck with oregano and cherries. Oregano sets the Cherries and duck off perfectly. A hint of salt. Duck-and-cherry pairings are traditional and a bit predictable in French cuisine, but this one sets a new, high bar. 10/10. Inside the cherries is an almond oregano mixture.

6th Course: Cheese Course 8/10

6th Course: Cheese Course 8/10

First cheese course is a beautifully presented flower with melon leaf and red fruit. A ton of goat cheese on the inside. 8/10

6A: Melon Leaf

6A: Melon Leaf

6B: Nectarine Cracker

6B: Nectarine Cracker

Next, a "cracker" and nectarine dish. Cracker is fun and full of fruit. Delicious. Nectarine has a sorbet richness. Simple and peachy. 9/10.

Course 7: Fruit + Sorbet + Egg + Madeleine's, 9/10

Course 7: Fruit + Sorbet + Egg + Madeleine's, 9/10

Final round of dessert is fruit, sorbet, egg custard, and Madeleine's. The fruit is fresh and delicious. I haven't seen stuff this fresh anywhere in Paris.

7B: Sorbet

7B: Sorbet

7C: Egg Custard

7C: Egg Custard

7D: Madeleine's

7D: Madeleine's

UK- Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester- ✪✪✪

The Dorchester Hotel Lobby

The Dorchester Hotel Lobby

LONDON, UK

SERVICE: 7.5/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $280 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.5/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Jocelyn Herland

Jocelyn Herland

Located in London Mayfair right near the Marble Arch in the beautiful (if a bit overdone) Hotel D0rchester is Alain Ducasse's UK flagship restaurant. Headed up by chef Jocelyn Herland, this is only one of 27 restaurants in the Ducasse empire. It has held its third star since 2010; an impressive record after opening only in 2007. 

Herland previously ran La Plaza Athénée in Paris, and was hand-picked to run Ducasse's London headquarters.  

A few quick notes about the interior- sited in the already gorgeous Dorchester hotel, the restaurant itself is full of natural, understated colors and a few design flairs. A fiber-optic-lit machination called La Table Lumière sits in the corner (I happened to be seated right next to it) for those wishing for a more secluded experience. During my meal, a toweringly obnoxious couple from California dined with their little girl who kept throwing her caviar and seafood whilst requesting chicken nuggets. At certain points, I couldn't blame her.

 

La Table Lumière

La Table Lumière


The Dorchester Lobby- just stunning

The Dorchester Lobby- just stunning

First Bites: Cheese snacks, 7/10

First Bites: Cheese snacks, 7/10

Our first bites were an enormous pile of cheese snacks. Hollow spheres of breaded cheese- what an interesting start to a meal- and I'm not kidding when I say it was, like, two pounds of snacks. 7/10.

Salted + Unsalted Butters

Salted + Unsalted Butters

1st Course: Lobster + Asparagus, 8/10

1st Course: Lobster + Asparagus, 8/10

First course is a beautiful, thoughtful presentation of lobster with raw and cooked asparagus. Sauce is awesome. Lobster is perfectly cooked and fresh. 8/10.

2nd Course: Foie Gras + Peach, 9/10

2nd Course: Foie Gras + Peach, 9/10

Next, we had some duck foie gras stuffed with peach. Foie is almost refreshingly light. 9/10.

3rd Course: Langoustine + Ravioli, 10/10

3rd Course: Langoustine + Ravioli, 10/10

Thirdly, some Scottish langoustine served with squid ink ravioli. Soft and rich. The broth ties things together perfectly with flavors of green mango and lemongrass, what an exceptional and memorable dish. 10/10. 

4th Course: Turbot + Clams, 8/10

4th Course: Turbot + Clams, 8/10

Next, a generous cube of turbot with clams and beans. The beans are a nice textural partner to both. 8/10.

5th Course: Beef, 7/10

5th Course: Beef, 7/10

The only mild disappointment of the evening was, unfortunately, the main. This beef was overcooked and not well matched in its black olive jus. 7/10.

6th Course: Cheese, 9/10

6th Course: Cheese, 9/10

Some excellent Comté Garde Exceptionnelle from 2012. 9/10.

7th Course: Macarons, 9/10

7th Course: Macarons, 9/10

Ducasse must enjoy the looks on his patrons' faces when staff members come by and dump enormous quantities of baked goods on their table. These macarons and chocolate are excellent, but once again: there are a shitload of them. 9/10

8th Course: Chocolate + Ganache, 8/10

8th Course: Chocolate + Ganache, 8/10

Surprisingly similar to Milky Way bars; the chocolate and ganache dessert is another pleasing contribution to the finish. 8/10.

9th Course: Mignardises + Gourmandises

9th Course: Mignardises + Gourmandises

France- Pierre Gagnaire- ✪✪✪

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $154 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Tucked into the tiny Hotel Balzac right off the Champs-Élysées in Paris is Pierre Gagnaire's eponymous establishment. 

The restaurant itself reminds me a bit of the Simpson's episode where Moe attempts to turn his bar into a family-dining restaurant. 

"If you like good food, good fun, and a whole lot of…crazy crap on the walls, then come on down to Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag." I mostly thought that because there are a ton of newspaper clippings, old medical journal pages, and what one may generally term as crazy crap on the walls of this iconoclast chef. It's actually pretty tasteful and fun to look at.

 

First Bites: Cherries, Watermelon, Grape, + Herbs, 9/10

First Bites: Cherries, Watermelon, Grape, + Herbs, 9/10

To kick things off, a black squid ink ball, Uzu lemon tart with black olives in small shot glass, and a big glass with cherries, watermelon, grape, herbs. Zingy and super tasty. 9/10.

First Bites: Paprika breadsticks, 9/10

First Bites: Paprika breadsticks, 9/10

Hand-rolled breadsticks with paprika came next.. The small balls with dots are pumpernickel and Parmesan. Simple but delicious. At the bottom of the sticks' bowl is a delicious red meat sauce. Fun, complex, interesting, engaging. 9/10.

Breads + Butter

Breads + Butter

Log-shaped butter

Log-shaped butter

Delicious, delicous bread and butter. I have to say that the log-shaped butter is a clever and interesting presentation.

Just-baked breads

Just-baked breads

1st Course: The Smorgasbord, 8/10

1st Course: The Smorgasbord, 8/10

There's a lot going on in this course, so like a dork I'll break it down into constituent parts and discuss each. Overall rating is 8/10.

Course 1A: Skate wing, White Fish, Seaweed, 9/10

Course 1A: Skate wing, White Fish, Seaweed, 9/10

This skate wing is soft, tender, served in a fork and presented on top of seaweed and "pillars" of white fish... Delicate sea flavor with strong salinity. Great balance of textures. 9/10.

Course 1B: Red Currant Soup, 8/10

Course 1B: Red Currant Soup, 8/10

Next was some red currant soup- flavorful and sweet. 8/10.

Course 1C: Cuttlefish & Green Apple, 9/10

Course 1C: Cuttlefish & Green Apple, 9/10

Cuttlefish and green apple- almost potato-like starchy flavors... 9/10.

Course 1D: Crab & Bone Marrow Bisque, 9/10

Course 1D: Crab & Bone Marrow Bisque, 9/10

Green crab with bone marrow bisque was next- ungodly rich, with a big umami flavor. Such an interesting statement in contrast to the lighter dishes served next to it. 9/10.

Course 1E: Anchovy, 8/10

Course 1E: Anchovy, 8/10

Though normally not the biggest fan of complete, raw fish (my first experience at Hyotei was certainly mixed) this anchovy is crisp and crunchy. Check out the beautiful presentation on the folded leaf- 8/10. 

2nd Course: Liver Mousseline + Veggies, 7/10

2nd Course: Liver Mousseline + Veggies, 7/10

As a layup to the final savory courses, this liver mousseline with green veggies and flat beans arrived. A dense, rich presentation that played decently well together but not perfectly. A big heavy dish that made me feel full right before the big courses. 7/10.

3rd Course: Duck + Potatoes, 9/10

3rd Course: Duck + Potatoes, 9/10

Duck and potatoes are outstanding and rich. Look at those colors! 9/10.

4th Course: White fish, Potatoes + Greens, 9/10

4th Course: White fish, Potatoes + Greens, 9/10

A touch greasy, but an overall refreshing seafood dish to round things out before dessert.

5th Course: Petits Fours and small desserts, 8/10

5th Course: Petits Fours and small desserts, 8/10

Fun, lavishly presented Petit Fours and hand-made desserts. 8/10.

6th Course: Strawberry Everything Dessert

6th Course: Strawberry Everything Dessert

Dessert part one was three version of strawberry desserts- the thin pasty to the right cracked with the gentlest touch of the spoon; some were served hot and some were served cold. Reminded me of one of my favorite desserts of all time from Ryugin. 9/10.

7th Course: Dessert part deux, 8/10

7th Course: Dessert part deux, 8/10

A lovely assortment of cheesecake, cherries, and currants... Fruity and light; 8/10

Beautiful, hand-carved presentation

Beautiful, hand-carved presentation

Last Bites: Handmade fruit and nut bricks, 9/10

Last Bites: Handmade fruit and nut bricks, 9/10

What struck me most about this meal was the sheer creativity of the front- and back- of the house working together. Every dish was set down with a synchronized flourish from the very well-trained staff, and the kitchen is obviously willing to try new things. A fantastic restaurant, and well worth the visit. 

France- Le Pre Catelan- ✪✪✪

Le Pre Catelan Exterior

Le Pre Catelan Exterior

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 8.0/10

FOOD: 6.5/10

PRICE PAID: $316 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10

Frédéric Anton

Frédéric Anton

Nestled in a very pretty corner of the very sad, prostitute-laden Bois de Boulogne sits the castle-like Pre Catelan. 

Frédéric Anton has run the place since 1997; prior to that, he was a head chef in the Robuchon empire. Le Pre Catelan has held two stars since 2000 and got their third in 2007, putting them on the youngish end of the spectrum for French restaurants that hold three stars. 

With an exterior I can only call "Lordly," and "Indifferent to its Surroundings," the restaurant hulks silently in the extremely drab woods to the West of Paris known primarily for its criminal activity. As the Uber vehicle took me down the driveway, a hooker with broken heels and hole-filled stockings stood at the end and stared listlessly ahead. I have never been to a more surreal and dislikable space, but was willing to be open-minded about the meal. 


Can you guess where this butter was served?

Can you guess where this butter was served?

Uh oh, it looks like someone has discovered the joys of branding their butter. I haven't seen a move quite this hokey yet, but I suppose there's a first time for everything. I'd love to have been in the staff meeting where someone floated this idea:

"Guests will see the butter, and they'll be like, 'Holy shit, I'm at the Pre Catelan right now.' And we'll be all, 'Your mind is blown right now, right brah?" And then, profit."

First Bites: Vegetable Soup, 6/10

First Bites: Vegetable Soup, 6/10

First out of the gates- a surprisingly bland-looking vegetable soup. It was light and fairly refreshing, but not much of a start. The culinary equivalent of a limp-spaghetti handshake. 6/10.

1st Course: Crab Soup + Caviar,  9/10

1st Course: Crab Soup + Caviar,  9/10

French Caviar

French Caviar

Laced with some pretty attractive curry tones, this crab soup was a much stronger opening statement. What can only be described as an enormous quantity of caviar flanked the dish, and offset the creaminess with a zingy salinity that was more than welcome. Unlike most caviar, this comes from France; an interesting statement about the precedence of things French. 9/10.

2nd Course: Lobster Ravioli, 9/10

2nd Course: Lobster Ravioli, 9/10

Served with a foie gras cream and a pretty ludicrous number of gold flakes, this lobster ravioli was as decadent as it was pretty. 9/10.

3rd Course:  Cod + Algae, 10/10

3rd Course:  Cod + Algae, 10/10

A really impressive and colorful presentation of cod with algae. Came with a side of some of the best mashed potatoes I've ever had. The fish almost pops open. This was a really outstanding seafood dish. 10/10.

4th Course: Veal + Sweetbreads, 5/10

4th Course: Veal + Sweetbreads, 5/10

Course 4A: Onion Rings

Course 4A: Onion Rings

If you've ever dined in Cajun Country, most Louisiana restaurants worth their salt will offer some kind of plate called a "heart attack special." This was Le Pre Catelan's Heart Attack special. I literally could not believe how much of this course was fried in heavy oil, and most of it is some heavy-duty stuff to begin with. Veal, sweetbreads, fried onions... While fairly tasty, I have to be honest: I didn't want to finish. 5/10.

5th Course: Cheese, 9/10

5th Course: Cheese, 9/10

Some pretty excellent cheeses came next- to the left is a "Pays Basque," which is neutral but pleasant, exhibiting some decent Gouda flavors. To the right- a cheese called "La Langue"- has a rose flavor to it. It is made from cows milk from Champagne and Burgundy, and has a wonderful spectrum of flavor. 9/10.

6th Course: Balsalmic Cream, 8/10

6th Course: Balsalmic Cream, 8/10

This white fluffy guy has surprisingly strong balsamic flavors, with what is essentially ice cream on the inside. Charming. 8/10.

7th Course: Petit Fours, 8/10

7th Course: Petit Fours, 8/10

Finally, three small desserts on a plate. The one all the way on the left is super nutty; the second has strong coconut flavors, and the third is awesome and extremely strawberry-y. I notice that Anton can't help but spread a bit more gold leaf on the last one. 8/10.

Le Pre Catalan (15 of 15).jpg

An uneven meal, with some pretty fantastic wins (the cod) and some pretty memorable overreaches (the veal). 

France- Epicure- ✪✪✪

Epicure Breakfast Table

Epicure Breakfast Table

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9.5/10

FOOD: 7.5/10

PRICE PAID: $90 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Located in the gorgeous Hotel Bristol and overlooking a lush interior garden, Epicure keeps all the beauty of French cuisine without making it intimidating or snooty.  Service was casual but friendly, and this was some of the best breakfast food I have ever enjoyed. Period.

1st Course: Salmon & Flatbread, 9/10

1st Course: Salmon & Flatbread, 9/10

First out was some gloriously simple salmon and flatbreads. The salmon is smoky and super fresh. The bread is fluffy and soft. The cream is super dense and rich. This is true breakfast. 9/10.

2nd Course: Jambon, 8/10

2nd Course: Jambon, 8/10

Presentation was a touch messy, but this ham with cream sauce was salty and delicious. Good balance of textures.  8/10.

3rd Course: Golden Eggs, 10/10

3rd Course: Golden Eggs, 10/10

Beyond being unspeakably decadent (gold and all...) this egg custard with caviar served perfectly in a dark-colored shell was an explosion of flavor and textures. A really well thought-out dish; and the yolk was on the bottom.

4th Course: Fruit & Yogurt, 6/10

4th Course: Fruit & Yogurt, 6/10

Branded Fruit Plate

Branded Fruit Plate

Ended on a bit of a disappointing note, sadly- not particularly fresh fruit or good yogurt- 6/10- also, as an American I'm accustomed to Greek yogurt, so this "real" yogurt tastes like water. I like that they took the opportunity t0 brand the dish, though.

France- L'Assiette Champenoise- ✪✪✪

TINQUEUX (REIMS), FRANCE

SERVICE: 6.0/10

FOOD: 7.5/10

PRICE PAID: $233 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10

In a beautiful, hilly neighborhood near Reims called Tinqueux you can find this gorgeous Champagne Country hotel/restaurant . I joined them for dinner and a night's stay courtesy of my hotels.com tactics, and selected their middle-of-the-road menu called "Savor." 

Hate to be a jerk, but service here was average at very best. Not only were the people working there totally disinterested in explaining anything in English (I know, a very American expectation) they were hard-pressed to say anything at all in French, either. In addition, even though this was a relatively small number of courses, we managed to hit close to five hours. Mostly by being ignored for forty minutes at a stretch. Absurdly long.

1st Course: Tomato & Spinach Croquettes, 7/10

1st Course: Tomato & Spinach Croquettes, 7/10

First out were two filling courses of vegetable pie- tomato and spinach- that were an interestingly heavy introduction to the menu. 7/10.

2nd Course: Veggie Ensemble, 7/10

2nd Course: Veggie Ensemble, 7/10

A pretty grouping of vegetables in a light broth emerged next. I liked the panache of the carved carrot inserted on top- pretty to look at, but rather bland to eat. 7/10.

3rd Course: Tomatos & Vegetables, 10/10

3rd Course: Tomatos & Vegetables, 10/10

This course was, without a doubt, the rockstar of the evening. I couldn't believe how much fine knifework went into this extensive, summery vegetable presentation. Insanely creative and crispy-fresh to boot. 10/10.

4th Course: Ginger in Vegetable broth, 8/10

4th Course: Ginger in Vegetable broth, 8/10

Another gorgeous dish served with the perfect plating: ginger and a light vegetable broth to round out the salad courses. 8/10.

5th Course: Brittany Mullet with Scales, 8/10

5th Course: Brittany Mullet with Scales, 8/10

A fascinatingly spiny Brittany Mullet was served next- cauliflower and broccoli served as an interesting textural contrast to the fresh fish. 8/10.

6th Course: Hen & Potato, 8/10

6th Course: Hen & Potato, 8/10

A very traditional, simple presentation of hen and potato. The standalone leaf is a pretty but merely decorative addition. 8/10.

7th Course: Chocolates, Served in Silver-Chocolate Dish, 8/10

7th Course: Chocolates, Served in Silver-Chocolate Dish, 8/10

I think it's pretty cool that the restaurant bothered to have cocoa bean-shaped serving dishes made custom for serving their first chocolate dessert. The chocolates themselves were delicious but a bit too creamy. 8/10.

8th Course: Tons of small baked goods, 7/10

8th Course: Tons of small baked goods, 7/10

This next dessert could only be described as a shitload of sweet baked goods. Eating one was a delicious treat; eating seven was work. 7/10.

9th Course: Chocolate Tarte, 9/10

9th Course: Chocolate Tarte, 9/10

I like how the shape of the curl of chocolate on the tart recalled the first vegetable course. A creative, pretty finish to some pretty stellar food. 9/10.

France- Pavilion Ledoyen- ✪✪✪

Pavilion Ledoyen exterior

Pavilion Ledoyen exterior

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9.0/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $375 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10


About two hundred yards to the West of the Petit Palais along the river Seine in Paris sits Yannick Alleno's gorgeous Pavilion Ledoyen. 

Built as a garden mansion for Napoleon III more than 150 years ago, the pavillion was taken over in 2014 by the Alleno group and serves as a restaurant, event space, and bar. From the walking tour I took after the meal, it was clear that they were still growing into their space- much of it was built out and restored, but some parts were very much untouched since the Second Empire. 

The gilded entrance, like most of the rest of the structure, is beautifully restored. 

Pavilion Ledoyen Main Entrance

Pavilion Ledoyen Main Entrance

Let's kick things right off. To start, you're brought a small panorama of nature that happens to include small bites to eat. 

The ravioli is creamy and cumin-y, with a tropical dairy texture. The hibiscus and sweet onion is crunchy and the flavors reminds me of Hawaii- coconut oil, pineapple, etc. There are some pretty amazing dim sum and soy flavors at work too- a strong start. 9/10. I also really like the spongy platform that the course is served upon. 

1st Course: Ravioli & Hibiscus, 9/10

1st Course: Ravioli & Hibiscus, 9/10

A colorful offering of salted and unsalted butters, along with some pretty awesome breads.

Salted and unsalted butters

Salted and unsalted butters

Awesome, awesome breads

Awesome, awesome breads

Next up, Iberico ham with a rich sauce. The ham is well-salted, and the fermented gelee is a heavy idea so early on in this menu's story. 6/10. Good but mouth-burningly salty. 

2nd Course- Iberico ham with Fermented Gelee, 6/10

2nd Course- Iberico ham with Fermented Gelee, 6/10

"Twice-marinated anchovy" - Wonderful, crunchy texture, but the fried components (that tasted a lot like fried onions) layered another portion of butter and fat on an already rich start. 7/10. 

3rd Course: Twice-Marinated Anchovy, 7/10

3rd Course: Twice-Marinated Anchovy, 7/10

The pasta in this next dish is poured right on top of the remains of the previous- an interesting statement about refreshment and renewal. The sole has an almost sushi-fresh quality- cool and clean. 9/10. 

4th Course: Sole and Pasta, 9/10

4th Course: Sole and Pasta, 9/10

4A: Pasta in the renewed sauce  

4A: Pasta in the renewed sauce  

The fifth course was a lovely dish of panko and sauce- we were encouraged to dip the bread in the sauce for the maximum experience. 9/10. 

5th Course: Panko, 9/10

5th Course: Panko, 9/10

The lettuce serves as a gentle "border" and the sauce delivery is beautiful to watch. Check it out:

Next up: caviar with delicious, tiny, crunchy squares. As good as caviar gets. 10/10.

6th Course: Caviar and Crunchy Squares

6th Course: Caviar and Crunchy Squares

Next up was sole with green tomato sauce. The sole pairs with green peas fantastically well. Chanterelle mushrooms make this guy sing. 10/10.

7th Course: Sole and Green Tomato Sauce, 10/10

7th Course: Sole and Green Tomato Sauce, 10/10

Peas, mint, and langoustine next. An absurdly colorful dish with tons of flavor. 9/10.

8th Course: Peas & Langoustine, 9/10

8th Course: Peas & Langoustine, 9/10

I'm not sure if this is the official title, but the server described this as "lobster and cabbage bones." A beautiful design that looks like sculpture, bright and spongy lobster pairs well with crispy, crunchy cabbage. 8/10. 

9th Course: Lobster with "Cabbage Bones", 8/10

9th Course: Lobster with "Cabbage Bones", 8/10

During the course of this project, I've experienced a relatively wide array of Wagyu beef on a few continents. This was, hands-down, the absolute best. I want you to imagine beef the consistency of actual butter, but with pure grassfed flavors that give it an otherwordly aura. You can taste hay, the farm, fresh oats... It was quasi-religious. 10/10.

10th Course- Wagyu Beef, 10/10

10th Course- Wagyu Beef, 10/10

These dessert bites were served "on the beach," a nice, if confusing, statement in the narrative of the meal. He's wishing us a good vacation? We need a beach trip after all the food? Not quite sure what he's after here, but still delicious and gorgeous to look at, 9/10.

11th Course: Dessert on a Beach, 9/10

11th Course: Dessert on a Beach, 9/10

This was pitched as Calvados apple pie without the pie, which I'll admit I sort of understood. It was just simply-presented, awesome pie as far as I was concerned. You can see someone took the time to gently cut small lines into the surface before laying down some vanilla ice cream. 9/10.

12th Course: Calvados Apple Pie, 9/10

12th Course: Calvados Apple Pie, 9/10

Going tropical again, this time with a coconut and white biscuit dessert. Really strong coconut flavors speak nicely to some of the earlier courses. 9/10.

13th Course: Coconut with White Biscuit,  9/10

13th Course: Coconut with White Biscuit,  9/10

I was offensively stuffed at this point, but they managed to get me involved in this final round- beer pie and truffles, a classic and spectacular ending. Loved every part of it. Man was this thing a marathon. 10/10.

14th Course : Beer Pie with Guinness and Chocolate Truffles, 10/10

14th Course: Beer Pie with Guinness and Chocolate Truffles, 10/10

And, a final goodnight to this beautiful structure. Amazing meal, amazing service, truly worth the journey. 

France- Guy Savoy- ✪✪✪

Entering the French Mint, en route to Guy Savoy

Entering the French Mint, en route to Guy Savoy

PARIS, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9/10

FOOD: 8.5/10

PRICE PAID: $425 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 7.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Set in unreal surroundings- the French national mint- Guy Savoy's European branch puts on a hell of a show on the plate. The US version, by the way, is in Vegas. 

Come early, because you 1) have to get past a handful of guards with guns, and 2) you have to take a lot of steps to get there. Luckily, they left a lot of signs:

The restaurant is located in what used to be the office of the Mint's President. How subtle.

Guy Savoy (2 of 21).jpg

Guy Savoy offers two, similarly-priced menus: The Product Menu, and the Colors, Textures, and Savors menu, which is slightly larger. I opted for the CTS; a four-hour experience that was paced in a leisurely fashion. Service from Denis and Michel was extremely attentive and formal- to my far left in the dining room were some important elected officials, and the rest of the crowd glanced at their watches with a certain the-private-jet-is-idling-at-Charles-de-Gaulle-goddammit look to them. 

First bites were a torchon of foie gras with cold courgette soup. The torchon is extremely rich and meant to pair with the intro champagne- the culinary equivalent of a warm handshake. The soup is zesty and refreshing on a hot day, the culinary equivalent of nice air conditioning to accompany said handshake. Tiny crisp under the plate is playful and delicious. 8/10, good opener dish.