Alain Passard explores the heights of vegetable-driven haute cuisine, and more or less nails it. Desserts got off to a rough start.
Inside the stunningly opulent Four Seasons George V hotel is its semi-eponymous restaurant, Le Cinq. Helmed by Christian Le Squer, a native of Brittany with a passion for seafood, the restaurant stands out for its extraordinary dining room, the light, creative touches of its courses (especially compared to other Parisian 3-stars), and a very friendly service (most definitely in contrast to other Parisian restaurants, specifically the disaster that is L'Ambroisie).
Christian himself has had a fascinating and extremely Parisian culinary career. At age 14, believing he wanted to be a fisherman, he began work on his uncle's fishing trawler. He realized quickly that he preferred preparing and cooking the fish to actually catching them, and began to study the culinary arts. He went on to train at a professional high school in Vannes before working in Parisian haute cuisine establishments like Le Ritz, Le Divellec, Pavilion Ledoyen, etc. He took up his post at Le Cinq in 2014, earning two stars in the 2015 book and this third star in 2016.
In an interview, Christian makes an interesting analogy for how he views his work: "I like to think of cooking as perfumery. Like a perfumer selecting his notes for a particular scent, we pick our raw materials and transform them into works of culinary arts that boast elegance and refinement. By that analogy, I am a creator of flavors."
PRICE PAID: $450PP (INCL. WATER, TAX, TIP- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
The hotel was fully decked-out in holiday regalia when I attended, complete with enormous mirror-finish polar bear and reindeers, wreaths, and twinkling lights galore.
Le Cinq is found off the main lobby and next to a gorgeous interior courtyard, itself adorned in ice-blue colored lights. By 3-star restaurant standards, the place felt cavernous, yet only holds 65 covers a night. A gorgeous central chandelier provides most of the room's illumination, and the ambiance this place is able to achieve is just about perfect. Though certainly gifted with many stylish restaurants in our own right, I can't think of a single American restaurant that nails "classy" this well.
Service was warm, even amiable, and throughout the evening several helpful people with tremendous English skills provided an incredible experience. This might not seem noteworthy until you consider that this is truly rare at Parisian restaurants in general. French restaurants are geared towards their regulars, and normally do not give a shit about how they treat first-timers or tourists in general. This might seem arrogant and self-harming, and that's because it is.
As a first set of greeting bites, we are offered a "bubble" of orange campari (on the left) and a slice of pizza on the right. The bubble has strong ginger flavors, and we are encouraged to eat the liquidy gel in a single bite. The pizza, complete with mozzarella, mushroom, and truffle, has a very thin crust and thus tastes like a pizza-flavored nacho chip but is delicious nonetheless. 8/10 overall.
Bread service arrived next; obviously I had to go with the baguette, which was rich, warm, and fresh. 9/10.
A strong start as we get into the menu; sea scallops imbued with lychee flavors (those small dollops on the upper-right portion of the plate were made from lychee as well) and served with frosty-cold sea urchin. The earthy sea urchin flavors pair perfectly with the acidity and sweetness in the lychee fruit; the scallops have that neutral taste commonly found when they are extremely fresh. Nice flavor contrasts as well. 9/10.
Next, in a confusing jumble of place names, some Dublin Bay Prawn (also known as Norway Lobster) from Brittany, France. Catch all that?
Anyways, the prawn is buttery, soft, and incredibly fresh. It is greatly enhanced by the addition of a crunchy buckwheat pancake, which adds texture, and less so by a hearty dose of warm aioli. My complaint here is that the dish loses a significant amount of its lightness with the aioli (some might call it just mayonnaise), and it hampers the delicate shellfish pretty significantly. 6/10.
Next, what the menu describes as: "Gratinated Onions, Contemporary Parisian style" is basically a deconstructed French Onion soup; or maybe French Onion Soup à la Mode. Warm, rich, and constructed with beef broth and a variety of cheeses, this is a very creative and delicious take on a staid French tradition. 8/10.
Next, some turbot with watercress (the green elements) and pear. The watercress adds a nice dash of color and zest to the incredibly fresh, flaky fish. The sauce is made with Japanese miso and butter, enhancing the savory richness even further. The deliciously light texture paired with the hearty flavor were memorable, and almost perfect. 9/10.
From a region in Australia called Ranger's Valley, this "Black Market" beef is made from Black Angus cattle but has a similar marbling to that found in A5 wagyu. The filet is grilled, sliced, and covered with truffle, mozzarella, and mushrooms, forming a pretty white shell. The interior colors are gorgeous as well. Rich, soft mouthfeel and a flavor profile that is balanced nicely by the mushrooms. 9/10.
With delicate white leaves that looked and felt like plastic, this "Iced Dairy" dessert comes with three biscuits on the side; vanilla and raspberry cheesecake, pecan nut and caramel pie, and a crispy caramel tart made with mango, passionfruit, and tarragon jellies.
The "plastic" is actually caramel with painted-on silver, and has the strong flavor of yeast. Under the white shell you have an ice cream of yeast and a mousse of yeast. The taste of both are slightly sour, serving as a nice and refreshing but non-sweet dessert. The idea you're left with is the taste of cake dough or cookie batter right before you place it in the oven. Kind of a complex idea to convey with a dessert, but it works. 8/10.
Described as "Crunchy Grapefruit, Preserved and Raw," a crystallized layer of sugar protects a group of delicious, burstingly fresh grapefruits. The caramelized layer breaks easily with the spoon, and the relatively sour grapefruit pairs perfectly with the decadent sugariness. A simple but lovely dessert. 8/10.
And finally, the last menu dessert: chocolate ganache with caramel on the side and whipped cream on the right. A “Peau de lait,” or skin of cooked milk is included in the sauce and it's described as "a chili made of milk." Interestingly, it's the same exact plate as the langoustine/prawn plate with its multi-layered surface. 8/10.
Next, a set of candied croissants with almonds. Flaky, crunchy, and warm. 8/10.
Lastly, a series of wrapped candies and petit fours for the final bites. Chocolatey and rich. 9/10.
And, a charming little gift box full of other snacks to take home. A nice parting gestures.
PRICE PAID: $154 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
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.
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.
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.
Delicious, delicous bread and butter. I have to say that the log-shaped butter is a clever and interesting presentation.
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.
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.
Next was some red currant soup- flavorful and sweet. 8/10.
Cuttlefish and green apple- almost potato-like starchy flavors... 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.
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.
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.
Duck and potatoes are outstanding and rich. Look at those colors! 9/10.
A touch greasy, but an overall refreshing seafood dish to round things out before dessert.
Fun, lavishly presented Petit Fours and hand-made desserts. 8/10.
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.
A lovely assortment of cheesecake, cherries, and currants... Fruity and light; 8/10
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.
PRICE PAID: $90 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
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.
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.
Presentation was a touch messy, but this ham with cream sauce was salty and delicious. Good balance of textures. 8/10.
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.
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.
PRICE PAID: $375 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
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.
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.
A colorful offering of salted and unsalted butters, along with some pretty 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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
Next up was sole with green tomato sauce. The sole pairs with green peas fantastically well. Chanterelle mushrooms make this guy sing. 10/10.
Peas, mint, and langoustine next. An absurdly colorful dish with tons of flavor. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, a final goodnight to this beautiful structure. Amazing meal, amazing service, truly worth the journey.
PRICE PAID: $425 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
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 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.
Another small intro bite- the small crisp under the main plate.
The first dish is cucumbers- soft, with an almost waxy consistency. The tiny, delicately placed crumbs are soldered-on with a rich sauce that lends structure. Fun dish. 8/10.
This second dish really amped things up by a few notches. Caviar with courgette leaf crisps and egg custard. Cucumbers beneath followed by a larger ring of cucumber.
Each egg was explosively fresh. This dish is totally transcendent- three different types of caviar that each work well together or alone. Outstanding presentation- 10/10. The crisps don't add much and represent the wrong season but I don't care.
For the third course, we switch gears into vegetables with peas & egg. Those two ingredients work terrifically, but this is a heavy dish. The egg had a jelly-fish-like appearance, and check out those colors! 8/10.
After an already filling setup into the main dishes, I have to be honest when I say that an enormous half-lobster was not what I expected next. And yet.
Chanterelles in the main body are a nice touch. The onions are soft and French-onion-soup-like in character and texture.
Have you ever bought a fresh-boiled lobster from a roadside stand, and tried to consume it standing up? It's messy. So was this, which was a weird experience in such a nice place. 7/10. I'm not saying I stood up while I ate it.
This mussels dish was announced as the chef's specialty. As seafoody and ocean-y as it gets, like a delicious rich mud. 8/10.
Here's where we reach the height of richness- mushrooms, huge slices of black truffles, and Parmesan cheese gathered together in one soup. It comes with a mushroom brioche to go with- truly decadent; 9/10.
Here come the Laguiole steak knives. This next course- a veal cutlet- is brought by the table so you can see it before they serve it. Cutlet, liver, and sweetbreads are a massive, filling finale of the main courses. 8/10
As a nice wind-down, some warm Burgundian cheese with an almost almond and chocolate flavor. The sandwich is crunchy and has a light flavor of watercress. 9/10.
An extremely awesome marshmallow and meringue. Nothing to say but 10/10.
This dessert totally blew me away: dried, frozen, and fresh strawberries all together in a tart. Great combo of temps, flavors, textures. Super amazing dessert dish. 10/10.
"All-Black" chocolate dessert. With cardamom. 9/10.
Lastly, a choose your own adventure dessert cart. Cheesecake, melon sorbet, chocolate mousse. 9/10, great cart.
Update- as of the 2017 book, Le Meurice Alain Ducasse is now 2-stars :( :(
PRICE PAID: $80 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Situated in the gorgeous Meurice hotel on Rue de Rivoli, Alain Ducasse's hotel restaurant has one of the most palatial surroundings imaginable. The restaurant serves breakfast out of what could only be described as a gold-leafed ballroom, complete with tall white marble fireplace, mirrors, paintings, chandeliers, and the whole nine yards. If an ensemble had leapt from the curtains and sang, "Be Our Guest," I wouldn't have even registered surprise.
As with your traditional carb-heavy French breakfasts, we began with a tower-plate of bread. Pain au chocolat, croissants rolls, all paired up with just-made jams and confitures. Nicely presented and with beautiful flavors. 8/10.
Is this a beautiful, tropical fruit plate that appears to have been precisely and delicately cut by a trained hand? Yes, it is. Is it exceptionally different from a fruit plate one might get from, say, room service at a Hyatt Regency in Dallas? No, it is not. Still pretty good, though. 8/10.
If you, for any reason at all, are trying to inflict a heart attack on yourself or a loved one, please by all means try this dish out. I'm not kidding when I infer that an entire stick of butter had to die to make this egg benedict. The truffle on top was just icing on the cake (haha get it? But yeah more butter). Truly, magnificently decadent, but please don't try this at home. This is a butter hurricane wrapped inside a fat tornado. I shall name it, "the ButterCane." 9/10.
A small pile of crepes with chocolate and sugar. Simple and pleasurable. 8/10.