Archive for March, 2008

Les Fines Gueules

We thought we had a confirmed reservation, but they insisted we didn’t. It didn’t really matter as we were the first ones in the restaurant around noon.

The menu board

1st course:

a plate of charcouterie—nice but nothing to write home about.

Church and State Charcuterie
Church and State
more chucrh and state
This was not just sliced charcuterie, but home-made terrines and pates
Briche for pate
Brioche and Pickled Vegetables with Charcuterie
pork rillettes
Pork Rillettes

2nd course:

We both had their famous steak tartar. According to Adrian Moore, it is made with “top grade beef from Desnoyer mixed with parsley and aged parmesan and served with roasted grenade potatoes.”

The portion size was huge. We could easily have split 1 for 2. The beef was served as thick chunks, not finely chopped. We think the tartar at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville is much better.


Jeanty tartare

Jeanty’s version

I must give credit to the chefs, though. When I went to the toilette on the second floor, they stopped me and asked why we ate so little of the tartar. Obviously, they care. However, I did not want to make a scene and just said we had a huge dinner the night before and were just not that hungry.

The chefs



The tiny kitchen


Another view of kitchen


2006 La Gautrie, Sauvignon, Tauraine, Christian Venier ok, not special. It sort of worked with our dishes.


Les Fines Gueules is a nice neighborhood bistro, but certainly nothing special. The service was fine. The room is an attractive cellar type spot


Fables de la Fontaine

Fables de la Fontaine is one of Constant’s bistros—he really has taken over the entire block—4 restaurants!!! This is his restaurant focusing on fish. It is a tiny place—only 12 tables.

Amuse: mousse of crab with tiny 1/8” dice of tomato on the bottom, piquillo pepper, a layer of 1/8” dice of cucumber and topped with a bit of toasted small croutons—very nice.



1st course:

me—marinade de thon [tuna] rouge et croustillant de parmesan—essentially a tuna carpaccio with shaved parmesan and a parmesan crisp thin cracker – excellent


John: Tartare de gambas aux huitres, sable au parmesan. Tartar of shrimp and oysters with a parmesan cookie [not crisp, abut ¼” thick]. The tartar was delicious and the cookie added great flavor.

2nd course:

Me: Croustillants de langoustines of basilic, vinaigrette d’ agrumes. This had a nod to Robuchon’s langoustine dish. A langoustine wrapped in a [my guess] brik, deep fried, served with a citrus vinaigrette, basil and a small salad. Very good!!


John: Langoustines, cuites a minute, mayonnaise. For those who don’t know it…John will not eat with his hands!

So here we are in Paris and John is presented with three beautiful [according to me) fresh, whole langoustines just cooked in the shell, a shellfish cracker and a thin shellfish “fork”. There is no way to describe the look on John’s face. Of course, I was in hysterics knowing John’s feeling about eating with his hands. He did manage to get some meat out, but he left a lot of meat still in the shell. He said it was good, even great, and the mayonnaise sauce was so terrific that he used up the part that did not go on the fish on some fresh bread.

Wine: 2006 Sancerre Le Chene, Lucien Crochet—perfect with the seafood. Light, but full flavored, clean and crisp.


Fables de la Fontaine is an excellent fish bistro. Ingredients are pristine. It is small and cozy. Service is attentive. And it provided major comic relief for me at John’s expense.


We had a lovely lunch at L’Arome – we went with the cheapest menu of 1 entree and 1 plat.

Amuse: A small plate of sausage—along with a glass of champagne.



1st course:

Me—fine crème d’asperges vertes de Mallemort, chantilly a la truffe blanche d’ Alba…absolutely wonderful asparagus soup with chantilly cream made from white truffles. The truffle taste was intense and delicious.



John—marinier de coque de brest au kumbawa, jeunes poireaux creance—an excellent shell fish “soup” with cockles and leeks


2nd course:

Me – Pave de lieu jaune de ligne dore pommes de terre, ecrasees a l’huile d’ olive, tomatoes Pacchino pistoude riquette – The pollack was delicious and I adored the potatoes made with olive oil.



John—Cromesquis de joue de boeuf brazed, carrots de chez Joel Thiebault, emulsion de wasabi—basically a croquette filled with braised beef cheeks with added punch from the wasabi. Excellent.





Just some stuff in ½ carafe nice but nothing special.


L’Arome was a perfect first taste in Paris—contemporary cuisine and décor with very nice service. It was a very busy restaurant with all tables filled by 12:45…it is fun to feel the Paris action.

Clos des Sens

We had been to Clos des Sens when it was a no star. We were so impressed that I wrote to Michelin telling them how good it was.  Lo and behold, the next year they got 1 star. A few years later they got the second star. We were really looking forward to the culinary experience and staying at their new small hotel.

I had written to Madame Petit, the chef’s wife and co owner.  I corresponded with her about her son who had been at the Waldorf in New York as a pastry chef.   He is now in London, married with one child.

Clos des Sens is somewhat difficult to find and the parking situation, especially in a steady down pour is lousy.

The room was not ready so we opted for lunch.


We ordered their dejeuner menu.

Amuse: Crispy vegetables – a beet chip, a potato chip.


First Course – A series of amuses bouche or what Madame described as a “picnic”

(1) On a rectangular wooden board, a cornet filled with Robluchon cheese and onion, a potato chip and on a cold stone marble square onion ice cream. Our favorite was the cornet.



[2] Beef consommé in a tall shot glass with some 1/8″ dice of carrots infused with a Chartreuse-like spirit.  We were not getting much help with descriptions from our nice but not helpful server.


[3] Boudin noir soup with shellfish ice cream – mismatched flavors – we were both thinking about the gorgeous boudin noir sausage that we had at Auberge Iparla.


[4] Nage of snails with smoked milk and some sort of crispy tuile


[5] Duck foie gras topped with a bit of caramel with dried fruits to the side.


Main courses:

me–a bowl is presented with a lot of ¼” dice “somethings”  Server explanations were “non-existent!”  Then a thick creamy pheasant soup was poured on the top.  I had hoped for a clear bouillon since I was recovering from some intestinal flu. The soup was very rich, heavy and creamy. To be fair to the restaurant, this was executed well, but it was not what I hoped for or expected.



John–Fera [fish] with quinoa, watercress coulis, spinach and hazelnuts–excellent! – not pictured

Dessert–“New” apple tart with apple ice cream, freeze-dried apple on some sort of pastry.


Dessert Discovery- chocolate nougat, pistachio something, a paper hand bag filled with a chocolate disc, a paper cone filled with sugar coated nuts and a square of apple gelee–like a gum drop. Ok but nothing wonderful.


We have very mixed emotions about this meal.   Many service issues reduced the enjoyment  of this meal. Some of the amuses bouche were delicious i.e. the foie and the cheese filled cornet. John did love his fish, but the boudin noir soup was a complete miss.


The room at Clos des Sens is very contemporary. I loved the pot-bellied fireplace in the middle of the room.   With the cold, rainy weather it was a blessing.


We were expecting a very good, very special meal in light of the rapid Michelin promotion to 2 stars…

Amuse # 1:

The same cornet, the same ice-cream, the same chip.   Bad start!


Amuse # 2:

The same beef consommé–remember Georges Blanc would not let us have the “same anything” and at L’Arnsbourg Chef Klein served 7 completely new amuses at dinner.


We were very surprised that no effort was made to serve something different and more interesting. We ordered the large menu called “Sens du Gout”.


1st course:

A huge bowl of “salade de jeunes pousse de fleurs”…in our opinion “a bowl of weeds” There was no finesse, no creativity–just a bunch of baby shoots thrown in a glass bowl…dressing boring, over-all rating a 1/10.


2nd course:

Huitres Speciales, chou vert, caviar d’Aquitaine served with a wasabi Rouchefort sauce.   Essentially this was a green cabbage, oyster, eggplant terrine encased in some sort of gelee.  The dish was completely out of balance–the oysters got lost and all you tasted was cabbage – horrible.


3rd Course:

Gratin d’ecrevisses recuisine or translated as a gratin of crayfish recooked.  There was a crayfish mousse ball enclosing crayfish liquid with cooked crayfish, surrounding the ball.  The ball sat on a square crayfish chip. The crayfish were overcooked and rubbery and the saucing way out of balance.



4th course:

Foie gras poche snacke et fruit de passion…foie gras grilled and poached with a snack of passion fruit.  This was the best dish so far [not saying much].  The passion fruit was actually caramelized on top of the foie.  Unfortuantely, this was served within seconds of their taking the crayfish gratin away — pick it up put it down, rush rush service.

5th course:

Poisson sauvage, 44 degre’s a Coeur “Aglandau” crogenisee…this course was served within 60 seconds of the foie. I am not kidding – one server took our gratin away and another standing beside her, put down the fish.  We made them take it back.


We later learned that neither the chef nor Madame were there that night …

Maybe, this rush rush was sort of a “while the cat’s away approach to service…get ’em in, get ’em out…go play.  There was not one experienced person on the floor, no supervision and no interest in doing it right. By the way, we are not talking about a packed restaurant – in fact there was a total of 10 people – 4 people having the large tasting menu (our menu) and 6 having the mini tasting menu.

Obviously, they were shocked when we made them take the fish back.  Eventually after a decent interval the fish was served. We don’t know what type of wild fish it was (no help from our server).  We think it was slowly cooked–maybe sous vide to an internal temperature of 44 degrees?   It was served with an olive oil emulsion with frozen olive oil spooned on top.  It made smoke like a volcano—in spite of everything it was excellent


6th Course:

Poitrine de Pigeon pochee, cuisse rotie, feuilles a feuilles truffes et cotes de blettes–the breast of pigeon had been poached with some sort of leaf surrounding it.  On the crispy tart was ??? mystery stuff, who knows. This dish was mediocre at best – middle of the road, not exactly exciting or even delicious.


Lunch: 2006 Sancerre F. Cotat, over priced due to Euro, but nice.


2006 Saint Bris “Ste Claire”…very nice wine introduced to us by Mike Bonaccorsi when he was the sommelier at Spago.

2005 St. Joseph, “Ro-Ree” Cheze–excellent, full bodied..if the food had been better it would have been a great match.


We were supposed to have cheese and dessert as a part of the menu, but we couldn’t endure the lousy service and ended up taking the cheese to our room with the rest of our red wine.  Bottom line: this is not a 2 star restaurant – the food was mediocre and the service was horrible. We won’t go back.


With trepidation, we set off to Baerenthal. We remembered from last time that L’Arnsbourg is in the middle of no where, just trees and more trees and a road that barely allows for 2 cars to pass each other. With luck and cunning we arrived 45 minutes early for our lunch reservation.

L’Arnsbourg [the Klein family] has added Hotel K. The chef’s wife, Nicole is responsible for managing it. We hoped our room would be ready.

The lobby is beautiful with contemporary furnishings, very comfortable sofas and chairs and a separate breakfast area. Unfortunately the room was not ready. Nicole Klein was wonderful. Hospitality is at its best here in Baerenthal. She offered us champagne while we waited for the restaurant to open. [When we checked out the champagne was not on the bill–a treat from the owners. A very nice touch.]

45 minutes flew by. We walked down the hill to lunch.

L’Arnsbourg is an inspirational place in a magical setting. The chef, Jean-Georges Klein takes you on a seductive culinary voyage. Cathy, his sister guarantees superlative service. We were in for quite a ride.

The dining room is stunning with large windows over looking meadows and forest. Huge, 6′ high and 5′ wide white vases are spotted around the two dining rooms with real orchids in bloom. The molded wood ceiling is absolutely beautiful. You are suspended in a natural setting.

Our plan was to have just 2 appetizers for lunch and save ourselves for the big menu at dinner. Chef Klein, however, does something called “petits savoureux aperitifs”. These are many small savory bites, before you even get to what you ordered.

1. In a curved handled spoon–veal “mousse” with bitter orange liqueur [picon]. On the side was a small tarte flambé.

2. A martini glass filled with sunflower seeds–salty and sweet. – not pictured

3. 4 macaroons –2 black/2 white. We are asked to guess what is inside. We weren’t even close in our guesses. The white was a mixture of mustard cream and charcroute. The black was smoked eel with octopussy [just repeating the server’s words]. To the left was a pipette filled with mushroom gelee to be sucked out.

4. Croquant of parmesan–think of two crunchy squares perched on each side of a smaller frozen parmesan square.

5. 3 spoons presented on a rectangular plate positioned vertically. Eat North to South, top to bottom.
a. sweet corn bon bon topped with herring roe [salt flavor]
b. sweet corn bon bon sitting in a small pool of olive oil and lemon and topped with tomato [acid flavor]
c. sweet corn bon bon sitting in a small pool of olive oil and vanilla with a light-colored caramel crust [sweet flavor]

Please remember, we haven’t gotten to the menu we have ordered for our “light lunch”.

6. Frozen scrambled egg with truffle oil and small crusty croutons served in an egg shell.

7. Oyster with 3 different kinds of grapefruit–dining instructions–slurp it at once.

The “Light Lunch” Menu:

1st course
Me- langoustine carpaccio with raisins, small cubes of feta cheese and chardonnay vinegar. Light, perfect and delicious.

John–emulsion of pommes de terre et truffes–absolutely decadent, light as air potato emulsion toped with lots of black truffles.

Palate Cleanser – In a martini glass, a bon bon of foie gras is served. Then a hot glacee of tarragon bouillon is poured on top. You wait about 45 seconds and eat the whole thing in one bite.

Back to the “menu”…

2nd course:

John-frog’s legs with tomato and coriander. Superb …

Me -same as John’s first course–the fabulous truffle course.

2003 Riesling Grand Cru Spiegel Dirler–great, solid, Alsacian Riesling…right on with the dishes we had.


A perfect 3 star start. We liked L’Arnsbourg the first time in September 2002. Cathy Klein, the chef’s sister and manager of the restaurant is delightful, charming and very knowledgeable. She orchestrated everything for us. She was well aware of our plans for “the big menu” at dinner. Of course, it is a take no prisoners environment. If you are a food person, you had better measure up!

We really enjoyed our lunch and figured that dinner would be sensational.

Dinner L’Arnsbourg …

Cathy Klein and yes my caviar purse

As we watched the parade of amuses being served to the other tables we noticed they were exactly the same as we had at lunch. Even though we enjoyed them, we did not want a repeat of all 7 dishes. It would be disheartening, just like at Clos des Sens in Annecy. (more on that experience later)

We should have known better. Chef Klein doesn’t repeat himself with anyone any time, ever!

Petits Savoureux Aperitifs:

1. 4 macaroons–2 pink and 2 beige. Our guesses were still way off. Beige was foie gras and the pink was campari and orange.

2. In a spoon with the curved handle, beer mousse…to the side a small pizza tart with pesto and tomato.

3. In a martini glass, pumpkin seeds, sugar and salt.

4. 2 stalks of asparagus coated with crystallized sugar and salt presented in a glass tumbler.

5. 2 cubes of freeze-dried parmesan coated with truffles and hazelnuts.

6. 2 spoons – one with grilled goose foie gras with carob and the other with lobster, white carrot and Asian spices.

7. 3 spoons to eat North to South positioned vertically on the rectangular black plate–
a. corn bon bon in a pool of lemon oil topped with small cubes of sherry brulee
b. cold foie with green apple gelee
c. thin coconut slices encased peanuts. John likened it to a peanut butter sandwich.

8. A spoon containing poached quail egg with ginger

2nd course:
Scallop carpaccio with black sesame seeds, ¼” dice of green apple with eucalyptus cream. It was served with an onion croustillant to be eaten first. Wow!!

3rd course:
Pumpkin gnocchi and truffle oil gnocchi. 2 little white “balls” and 2 bright orange “balls” were presented in a bowl. Then the server poured black rice bouillon into the bowl. The bouillon was very strong and over-powered the gnocchi. We deconstructed the dish by eating the bouillon first and then the gnocchi.

4th course:
Sauteed baby sole topped with chopped hazelnuts served with Jerusalem artichoke puree, parmesan foam and a small dot of balsamic reduction. The sole was absolutely perfect and the Jerusalem artichoke puree marvelous.

5th course:
Spaghetti parmesan “Alfredo”…this was the only complete miss of the night–we are not sure if it was really spaghetti, but whatever it was, it was mushy. The entire dish was bland and watery. The parmesan flakes [freeze dried] to the side were “OK” but nothing special.

6th course:
Blue lobster with “parfums du magrebe”. This was a complicated dish with a number of components. On the bottom, yogurt ice cream, tarragon gelee and bulgar. A generous piece of lobster was placed on top then covered with couscous foam and a bright yellow sauce presumably with perfumes of Magrebe. (No real explanation. We are guessing a Middle Eastern spice.)

7th course:
Grilled duck foie gras covered with Muscat foam. On the left a mushroom and jasmin bouillon and on the right a puree of quince and mustard. Excellent.

Palate cleanser–a red cabbage cornet filled with iced mustard cream.

8th course:
Roasted breast of pigeon with a pigeon jus sauce. At the top of the plate a puree of parsnip plus green cabbage rolled into a cylinder. My notes say something about wakame, parsnip mustard, pumpkin and lemon butter, but by this point I have had quite a bit of wine.

9th course:
Cappuccino of potato and truffles–John loved it and ate every single bite. I was getting very full and Cathy chided me for wasting 25% of an expensive dish. I wonder if I can have my 25% now!

10th course:
“Invitation to Discovery”
The title refers to a succession of desserts.
I admit that the combination of a lot of food and wine left my note taking capability in very poor shape so a complete F for notes.

1. macaroon filled with apricot, coconut mousse and nuts.

2. A jellied something, chocolate filled with something and a tart of something with a cepe thin tuile

3. a spoon filled with passion fruit sorbet [I think] and a green something…

4. pineapple something

After all of this the chef surprised me with a massive birthday cake. It was a masterpiece – a chocolate sculpture with sparklers.

We were so full we begged off eating the cake and told the staff to enjoy.

2002 Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg Saint Landelin Mure–another solid Alsacian Riesling, delicious with all of the “introductory” dishes.

2000 Morey St. Denis “Rue de Verge” Domaine Perrot-Minot–excellent Burgundy. Nice with the later courses. It reminded us why we love to drink Burgundy with almost anything. Perfect bouquet of raspberries and strawberries. Smooth velvet finish.

Claire decanting the Burgundy.

We could not have found a more perfect spot for my birthday celebration. Both lunch and dinner were perfect. The over-all food quality, inventiveness, and flavor came through at all times.

Plus the complete different set of amuses at dinner, the total commitment to making the meal a “discovery” in every possible way, the excellent service and the attitude of “we are excited that you are here and that you are excited about us” comes through loud and clear.

This is an exceptional place and a great family. The 3 family members, Jean-George, Cathy in the dining room, and the Nicole at Hotel K set the tone for everyone.

L’Arnsbourg embodies the true meaning of a 3 star restaurant – a destination restaurant, worth a detour.

This was definitely our best dining experience outside of Paris! Wow!!!


I feel I made a huge mistake in the way I ordered at L’Astrance in that I ordered the dejeuner [lunch] menu instead of the full Surprise menu. Other tables who had ordered the surprise menu were getting the mushroom/foie dish that I loved the last time as a first course. Instead the dejeuner menu started with a scallop dish. Of course, I begged for the foie millefeuille, but they would not do the dish we wanted because they felt it would destroy the balance of the menu. They did have a surprise for us later.

Beautiful flowers on the table set the scene.

Amuse #1 – A thick slice of brioche with butter and Parmesan fondant.

Amuse #2:

Cauliflower mousse with mustard yogurt and spicy milk flavored with a Spanish spice…very nice.

1st course:

Scallops in a vegetable consommé with edible flowers, carrots and herbs. This was a delicious, subtle, balanced and all together a perfect dish.  Even John the hot scallop hater liked the dish once he decided to treat the scallops like matzoh balls and cut them up in tiny pieces.  He fooled himself into liking a hot scallop dish–oh the power of his weak mind!

2nd course:

Caramelized cod, cockles in the shell with green and white asparagus, olive oil, sweet pepper and cumin.  What I love about Chef Barbot’s cuisine is his less is more approach, especially after the Gagnaire mish-mash more is more approach the night before.  Barbot allows each of his ingredients to shine. There are no muddled flavors.

3rd course:

Christophe knew that I was very unhappy that I did not order the larger menu and missed out on the foie millefeuille. He more than made up for it with this dish.  It was created at the moment and supposedly had never been served before…it was delicious.

Pan -fried foie gras with white beans and a deep fried lettuce leaf.  There is no way to convey how perfect a match this was…the beans added perfect accompanying flavor to the perfectly cooked foie…it was spectacular.

4th course:

We were given sharp knives.  We knew meat was coming.   We asked if we should have a couple of glasses of red wine to go with the meat.  They assured us that the very good Chabis we had ordered would go just fine.

Veal with salsify and veal jus.  This was the weakest dish of the meal.  It was just a hunk of meat.  We think if we had ordered red wine, they would have come up with a more significant and more flavorful meat dish.

L’Astrance is big on pairing of wine and food; what you are drinking dictates your menu.


1. lemon grass/pepper sorbet–quite hot and it certainly woke up the palate.

2. coffee sorbet

3. sabayon with a swirl of chocolate

4. molded coffee mousse


2004 Chablis [John can’t find his note on who the wine maker was].

The wine worked very well for the first courses.  We should have ordered at least a ½ bottle of red or better yet have gone with the wine pairing.


The first time we went to L’Astrance some years ago it was a very “hot” 2 star and a very hard reservation because there are very few seats.  It is now 3 stars and even more difficult to get a reservation. The first time all John wanted to do was get out of there.  The food was really idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. We went back in 2006 after they received the 3rd star…I had to push John very hard to have lunch there.  We both loved it. In spite of my misguided ordering, we absolutely enjoyed this lunch.

Auberge de I’ll

The room has been completely redone [Feb. ’06]. The furniture including very well designed custom gueredon’s, new chairs and new fabrics make it a much lighter, more contemporary room.

We know how massive the portion size is at Auberge de I’ll, so we went to the one for 2 plan

Amuse # 1:
a. Smoked salmon on 1″ thick toast
b. Madeline of ????
c. Crisp of ???

On this trip it has been incredibly difficult to pin down the servers to take a minute to clearly explain in either French or English or both what the amuse dish is.

The butter was from Bordier in St. Malo–delicious.

Amuse # 2:
Scallop and leek terrine with a red beet mousse, truffle sauce and a waffle potato chip–absolutely delicious.

1st course:
A mosaic of Goose foie gras–the bottom layer a crisp of some sort, then a layer of terrine, a layer of mousse and topped with Sauterne gelee. Underneath the mosaic was a strip of reduced Arabian coffee [moka] sauce. To the side was a confit of white grapes and in a small rye crisp, shaped like a small bowl, a small salad. A real winner!!

2nd course:
Pan fried European bass in a nage of seaweed. The nage was made much like a traditional Japanese broth using long slimy green seaweed instead of dried nori [seaweed]. Next to the fish was a cut up maki roll with nori, Japanese rice and warm tiny cut up vegetables. The dish was a real surprise. You would never have seen a dish like this in an Alsatian restaurant, particularly Auberge de I’ll, 5 years ago. The skin on the sea bass was crisp and perfect. A total winner!!

3rd course:
A ragout of green asparagus with huge pieces of lobster meat plus an entire lobster claw with fresh morels and “vin jaune”. The sauce was ultra rich and the lobster perfect but it was just “too much.” This was more traditional Alsatian food and very heavy after the other dishes. It was executed perfectly, but my personal preference leans toward lighter dishes.

4th course:
Roasted breast of pigeon from Mieral, confit of Pigeon and pea mousse in a deep fried crust topped with a carrot. The whole thing sat on top of some small green peas flavored with mint. Salmis sauce mirrored the plate.

We decided that France must hibernate during the summer. The goal is to eat huge amounts of food during the winter months in order to survive the summer. The pigeon dish was excellent, but again, very rich.

5th course:
Small plate of cheese

6th course:
Dessert–something in puff pastry with a caramel sauce.

7th course:

Serge Dubs, the head sommelier at Auberge de I’ll is one of the most famous masters of wine in Europe. He has even designed all of the wine glasses at the restaurant. The cellar is massive.

Serge recommended two Alsatian wines.
1999 Riesling Schlumberger Kitterle Grand Cru–excellent, everything that Alsatian Riesling is all about–bright, flinty, astringent in a positive way. Perfect with the early dishes.

2001 Pinot Noir, Hugel Jubilee–Serge was proud of this Pinot from Alsace. John found it lean, thin and certainly not comparable to good Burgundy.

The best way to describe our visit to Auberge de I’ll and Hotel des Berges is tradition meets innovation. The dining room is beautiful. The people, especially Serge Dubs and Marco, are great. The accommodation is excellent. It is a beautiful place that should not be missed, if you are in the area.