Archive for March, 2008



Georges Blanc

Georges Blanc is a restaurant and hotel that we have been to many times, but not so in recent years. Our plan was to have a light lunch and and a special ordered Bresse chicken dinner.

We had requested the same room [# 27] that we have enjoyed at Georges Blanc on several other visits.  It was nice to see that it is just as we remembered.

Lunch:

Of course, who can resist starting the day with a coupe de champagne.

Amuse:

1. Spicy tomato soup with paprika and 1/8” dice of cucumber at the bottom.

2.  A slice of foie gras pate on a spoon.

3.  A frog’s leg done tempura style, on a spoon.

Mains:

John—Vonnas Pancakes—Crepe Parmentiere with wild salmon, caviar, and lemon-shallot butter sauce. This is a classic recipe from Georges Blanc’s grandmother and a favorite of my husband.  It has been some time since John has had this dish.  His response “Wow!  No wonder I like it!  Perfect!”

For the cooks in the crowd—the recipe:

http://home.discovery.com/fansites/greatchefs/recipes/appetizer/wopanbla.html

 

Me: Frog’s legs sautéed in a traditional parsley butter, garlic sauce “comme en dombes”.  The frog’s legs are served in 2 servings so the second serving does not get cold.

 

The first time I had this dish at Georges Blanc as a very naïve American I insisted that they must have made a mistake when they brought the second serving…the answer “Non Madame, this is your required second serving” and of course I devoured every bite as I did on this day 15 years later.

 

Dinner at Georges Blanc:

Initially, we were presented with the same amuse that we received at lunch.   But, almost before we recognized that the amuses were identical, the maitre d’ noticed and quickly took the plates away.   No way would he have us served the same thing twice!

Amuse:

Foie gras on toast with a smoked salmon “rose”—delicious.

1st course:

Frog’s leg meat [no bones] with ¼” dice of artichoke hearts in a basil/parsley sauce.  4 tender inner artichoke leaves surrounded the plate and some crispy basil covered the mound of frog’s leg meat and artichoke.   Who would have ever thought that artichoke would marry so well with frog’s legs?   Delicious and different!

Close-up

2nd course:

We had pre-ordered the Poularde de Bresse cuitre en croute.   It can only be had as a pre-ordered dish at least 48 hours in advance.  Most people don’t know of this dish and order the classic Bresse Chicken G-7 that is on the regular menu. Personally, I thinks it is a horrible dish—a beautiful breast of Bresse chicken drowned in a cream sauce.

The Bresse Chicken we ordered is cooked in a pastry shell and it is wonderful.   It is first presented whole, the crust itself is a work of art that would make any pastry chef proud.

The chicken is not returned to the kitchen.  Instead the Maitre d’ [probably the only one who remembers how to do it, since it is served so seldom] prepares the dish table side.

 

First the top of the pastry case is cut and removed.

Then the chicken is picked up by a prong, tail end down, and all of the juices from the chicken run into the removed top crust.

 

Next the chicken is carved tableside – another work of art.

The chicken breast is plated with vegetables [asparagus, broccoli, potatoes and a couple of slices of black truffles].

 

Then there is the second service—the legs are served with a salad sauced with the jus from the chicken that also include the sautéed chicken giblets..

 

Absolutely delicious and classic Burgundian cuisine.

No fromage, no mignardises – this is a very filling dish.

 

Wines:

Lunch—2002 G. Muscovack, Pernand-Vergelesses—held up very well to both the frog’s legs and the pancakes.

Dinner—350 ml, 2004 Michel Forest, Pouilly fuisse “Les Crays”

1997 Vosne Romanee Beaux Monts, D. Grizot—excellent with the Chicken—full bodied and still young.

 

Summary:

Sometimes you can go home again…

We were worried that Georges Blanc would let us down as it had been so many years since we had been back.  We visited with Georges Blanc who looks great at around 66.  We seem to remember discussing birthdays when he and John were both in their 40s. His son is running things along with a daughter in law.

Bottom line – This is not cutting edge cuisine and you have to “know” what to order. But it is excellent food, representative of the region with attentive and gracious service.

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Cote St. Jacques

Sometimes you can’t go home again.  Unfortunately, this is the case with Cote St. Jacques.  We had not been in years [about 15].  We were interested to see what had gone on here because they originally had 3 stars when we visited, then lost one star and now are back to 3 stars.

There used to be a tunnel under the road connecting the then main building and restaurant with the rooms overlooking the river. Now there is a fancy spa and the restaurant is over on the room side.

The rooms are a lovely as ever with a beautiful view of the Yonne River.  No. 21 our favorite from the past is large and very comfortable.

We were shown to the lounge for our coupe de champagne and amuses.  This is a good system in France where you order food and wine while having an apertif.   It gives them time to get your meal organized.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well…read on.

Amuse:

1. jambonette of frog’s legs

2. quail egg [hard boiled] with [not sure?]sometimes the servers rattle things off too fast and we miss it.

3. smoked salmon stuffed with a small shrimp [crevette grise] mousse.

4.  a triangular shape mound of cream of Roquefort.

Some of these descriptions leave a lot to be desired. The service was quick and perfunctory.  It only got worse.

The usual procedure is to order both your menu and wine in the lounge.  We ordered our menu, but no sommelier showed up.   We finally asked to be escorted to our table.

Then we waited! No sommelier, no wine list for at least 10 minutes.  Finally a wine list and another 15 minute wait to place our wine order.  Then another 15 minute wait to finally get the wine to the table.  45 minutes of nothing – no food, no wine, no nothing.

The Meal:

Everything was ordered 1 for 2.  The a la carte portions that we saw on other tables were huge with huge euro price tags.

1st course:

Coquillage-razor clams—tiny pieces of razor clams [about 1/8” slices] done in a sea foam broth with bits of chives. Excellent!

2nd course:

Oyster terrine encased in a shallot red wine gelee, served with julienne of endive, broccoli flower with a touch of fleur de sel and chicory.  I thought the gelee was a bit too hardened into a crust on the edges and “fought” with the oysters.  John liked this dish more than I did.

3rd course:

Lightly smoked sea bass with oscetra caviar crème sauce—this is a Cote St. Jacques classic.  It shows its age—very rich, very dated.  It should be retired to the great recipe book in the sky.  Classics like Oysters and Pearls [French Laundry], Arpege Egg, Bra’s Gargouillou, Marcon’s lentil ragout, Jean George’s Foie Gras Brulee deserve to be long- lasting, but the sea bass at Cote St. Jacques doesn’t make the cut in 2008.

4th course:

Quail egg in Uni shells. The uni was from the Atlantic, the quail eggs were either poached or lightly boiled. The yolk was runny [no help with description from the server, this was “dump and run” 3 star service] and there was some type of foam [mystery foam].  The dish was quite delicious.

5th course:

Hereford Beef Ribsteak with Macaroni with foie gras and truffle stuffing, confit of baby turnips.

The beef was presented whole in the pan and returned to the kitchen for plating.  The biggest disappointment was the macaroni.  We had visions of L’Ambroisie’s macaroni that stand like little soldiers on the plate.  Cote St. Jacque presented a gluey mess of congealed noodles with zero taste of truffles and the foie was “missing in action”.  The beef itself was good.  The red wine reduction a classic done well.  Looking at our photo of the dish the baby turnips don’t seem to be apparent, but I could be wrong.  There is a mound of some sort of veggies.  .

 

 

The service was so horrible and perfunctory that we could have been eating at a truck stop.

Wines:

2002 Chablis Chappelot, Raveneau—classic flavor, bright, flinty, excellent finish.  A good companion to the early dishes.

2006 Bertange Vougeot Le Village—not real big, but enjoyable.  It is really hard picking at these exchange rates.  A 50 Euro bottle is $ 80.00—bad news!!!

Summary:

Our rating was that Cote St. Jacques should have remained a 2 star or been reduced to a 1 star.  A very over priced, badly presented meal with a few good tastes, but not even in the same world with the 3 stars we had just experienced in Paris. Listing the “truck stop” with Arpege, Guy Savoy or Ledoyen is neither right nor fair to the diner who is relying on Michelin for guidance.

 

We were very disappointed.

L’Ambroisie

Madame Pacaud, the chef’s wife, who sort of knows us by sight, but who had never interacted with us, made a real fuss.  We became fast friends, talking a mixture of French and English–girl stuff–purses, shoes, clothes, etc.  We even set up a plan to help each other’s language skills by telephoning each other and then talking 5 minutes of French and 5 minutes of English.  What a way to make a friend and learn a language.

Amuse:

1.  Gougeres–

2.  Smoked salmon with crème fraiche with dill and a lattice of shoestring potatoes on top. Sounds simple, but the quality of the salmon was superb.  This was an incredible piece of marinated, lightly smoked Scottish salmon.

1st course:

1 for 2–duck foie gras with a coating of aspic.  A log of celeriac remoulade topped with a black truffle was at the 12 o’clock position.  At 9:00 o’clock a terrine of black truffles and as best as I can read my notes, a marmalade of celeriac.  The foie was ethereal, luscious, and just perfect.

 

 

2nd course:

The feuillete de truffe fraiche “bel humeur”  was on the menu. I really wanted to try it, but after a long discussion with Madame Pacaud and much vacillation, I decided to order the Poulette de Bresse rotie au beurre de truffe, charlotte de pomme de terre.  The chicken is presented whole with glistening skin in a shiny copper pan.  It is then taken back to the kitchen for plating.

A gorgeous breast with black truffle butter underneath the skin is presented with rich chicken jus.  In addition, a part of the drumstick plus a vegetable [ignored in the notes–all focus was on the chicken!!] with bits of black truffle.

 

 

On the side a layered charlotte of potatoes studded with black truffles and surrounded by black truffle slices.   The truffles were full of flavor and bouquet…wow!! Double wow!!!  Decadent, delicious and disastrously expensive…the most costly individual dish of the trip–and somehow we could rationalize a “worth it”–no possible way but you only live once…could not afford to live twice at these prices.

 

After you consume the first service a second serving of the thigh and a small salad just rounds things out and makes you appreciate the quality of the dish all the more.  You could really eat this dish as leftovers for a week and love it.

Wine:

We had two glasses each of the Roderer non-vintage champagne to accompany the amuse and first dish…nice but nothing special.

 

2002 Echezeaux Pierre Andre–good but not great and very expensive for what it was. Burgundy was the best choice with the chicken, no question, but this one was only a fair representative of our favorite wine.   Too bad, but even when I extended the Euro level it was hard to find really excellent wine that we could afford…too bad, but thank goodness we still have some really good wines in our cellar.

Summary:

You would think with only two real dishes and 2 amuses that I would really devour everything. But, my stomach was still not 100%. John devoured everything on his plate.

 

But, I was not about to be cheated out of 100% value for all those Euros and besides we had gone to Hediard [the high end “deli”] to see if we could pack a lunch for the plane–it was so expensive even for good ham that we walked out.   So in spite of the French tradition and prejudice against “Doggie Bags”  I did the “no-no” and got the remaining breast of chicken to have on the plane in lieu of Continental’s airline poison.

We knew we had 12 hours to Houston with the torture chamber seats and then a layover of 2+ hours and 3.5 hours in coach on the way to LAX.  Why not plan for a really good meal???? I found fresh baguettes in the President’s Club at CDG  and then made the most delicious chicken and truffle sandwiches you can imagine –a real delight on the way home after a great trip.

 

Troisgros

We determined that the 1 for 2 shared courses was a good approach and so I devised a “tasting” menu from the a la carte menu. I had hoped to repeat a wonderful dish with “koshi-i-kari rice” from two years ago, but it wasn’t on the menu. Also, for some reason, there was a very limited choice re the meat/poultry course i.e. no duck, only 2 meat choices

 

Amuse with our champagne in the lounge:

I don’t have a clue because we were involved with major chatter with our new friends that we met the night

before at Georges Blanc.

 

 

Amuse at the table:

Razor clams, thinly sliced, served with a julienne of apple and gelee of basil and apple.  Light , perfectly prepared – a gentle nod to spring.


1st Course:

Thin slices of raw scallops interspersed with wakame and topped with a bit of Atlantic Sea Urchin which were artfully arranged on some type of melba toast.   We both wished there was more sea urchin, but that is a nit-pick. This tasted of the sea and for someone who is not a true lover of fish they would be very disappointed.  We loved it!


2nd Course:

A Roanne classic created in 1981  “Fines de Claire” Oysters a la Julia— 4 plump oysters (remember that is considered a half portion!) in a light broth with leeks, carrots and chives.


3rd Course:

Mezaluna of potatoes, artichoke and black truffle.  This was the dish of the night—absolutely off the charts perfect.  The potato was very thinly sliced, encasing a black truffle…think of potato ravioli.  It floated in a vinegar and boullion broth made from onions and artichokes with a touch of hazelnut  oil. A++++

4th Course:

We decided to play it very safe with rump steak of beef in a red wine sauce and marrow “gratin forezien” [1960].  Good, classical and definitely dated to the ‘60s, but we enjoyed it.   Too big a portion even with each getting 50% [1 for 2].

5th Course:

Cheese, excellent, but I get a F for note-taking.

Wine:

2000 Sancerre Mellot Alphonse—quite nice, full bodied with nice bite.  Excellent with the scallop dish and the oysters.

2001 St. Joseph les Gisieres Perret—good.  It held up to the big sauce on the meat and worked fine with the cheese.

Please note, with the punishing 1.6x pricing my husband is forced to shop the list from the right hand side.  The sommeliers have been very nice about helping him when he says, “Tres Cher!!” For example the wines this particular night were 45 E for the Sancerre and 55 E for the St. Joseph.

Summary:

Troisgros definitely lived up to our expectations.

Ledoyen

Thanks to friends of mine, I was able to construct a sensational meal at Ledoyen. I decided not to have the turbot, but knew that the langoustines, sea urchin and sweetbreads were absolute musts.

My notes are not great and really do a disservice to this excellent meal. I blame it on jet lag. We again constructed our own tasting menu of shared plates – one for two.

Amuse:
1. Some sort of fish lollipop—it looked exactly like a lollipop with the stick in a square glass holder. Good.
2. A beetroot macaroon filled with liquid smoked eel… also good
3. Mozzarella cheese formed to look like an egg.

4. A black truffle encasing a small [my guess here] poached quail egg—fabulous—I am a sucker for eggie stuff.

5. Potato leaves-polenta and chicken—no clue what I meant, but it was excellent

Captain Frederick and server Patrick were very nice with pretty good English and an attitude that took great pleasure in our love of cuisine and appreciation for what they were doing.

1st course:
Potato soufflé gnocchi served cold. There is no way to describe how good this was. The Gnocchi were as light as air. The dish was served with olive oil, basil and tomatoes. In December, Patrick told us, the chef served them with white truffles. Patrick also said they only got good white truffles for 3 weeks. We told him that we got good white truffles for 0 weeks in the USA.

2nd course:
Saveurs “terre et riviere” land and river—Pressed eel. When they listed it on the menu as Pressed Eel no one ordered it. When they changed the name, it became a big seller. You can tell that Patrick was doing a good job adding local color to our meal.

On the left side—beetroot gelee covered the pressed eel and on the right side eel tartare with a small line of crème fraiche. We enjoyed the beetroot version more than the straight tartare. The beet root cut the saltiness of the eel.

3rd course:
Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, croustillantes, emulsion d’agrumes a l’ huile d’olive—Brittany langoustines, one fried in a light batter [looked almost like a baseball and the other cooked a la plancha with an emulsion of citrus and olive oil. Excellent!

4th course:
Oursins de roche au gout, iode/vegetal—sea urchin served in the shell, one cold the other hot. The cold preparation was a sea urchin mousse on top of an avocado puree. The hot preparation included tongues of the urchin with an urchin sabayon and some urchin foam. Absolutely wonderful!!

Up Close:

5th course:
Feuillete brioche de truffes noires en gros morceaux. Encased in brioche “flaky pastry” were huge pieces of black truffles. This was seriously dangerous dining—exquisite. I was so taken with this dish I totally forgot to write down the sauce—but it was fabulous!!

6th course:
Ris de veau en brochette de bois de citronelle, jus d’herbes—a beautiful piece of sweetbread served en brochette, sitting on batons of salsify with a sauce of herbs and citronelle. Another absolute winner.

Dessert:
Coffee, mignardises, canneles, chocolate rounded out the evening.

Wines:
1996 Champagne Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne—never had this one before…very nice, should be for 31 Euro [1.6x remember] per glass

2004 Saint-Joseph Blanc”Les Olivers” Domaine Gonon—excellent choice by the sommelier. Perfect with the early dishes…straight forward Rhone flavors, big enough to match up well.

2005 Savigny-les-Beaune “Serpentieres” Domaine Boisset—excellent, full bodied, bright and very flavorful some raspberry flavor and a nice long finish.

Summary:
At this point we were really appreciating the quality and “personality” of Michelin 3 Star restaurants. There really is nothing to compare these restaurants with. They have a very small number of seats. The staff are all career people with long and deep knowledge.

At both Guy Savoy and Ledoyen there was a clear demonstration of appreciation for the sophisticated diner who wants to see what the restaurant does and why it does it. As already mentioned, Frederick and Patrick went out of their way to orchestrate a superb meal doing the 1 for 2 dishes to keep us from being overwhelmed by quantity and give us the pleasure of quality.

Citrus Etoile

Thank goodness after a trying time getting on the TGV at Strasbourg, Citrus Etoile, our lunch reservation, was less than 2 blocks from the Balzac. We were definitely ready for our 2 coupe de champagne.

Some history re Citrus Etoile and the chef, Gilles Epie and his wife co-owner Elizabeth Epie. We have had the pleasure of enjoying Gilles Epie’s cuisine first when he was executive chef at L’Orangerie in Los Angeles and then when he opened his own restaurant Chez Gilles on Beverly Blvd in Beverly Hills. We were very frequent diners at Chez Gilles. We loved his cuisine, his contemporary and light touch using the freshest and best ingredients. We loved his decadent renditions i.e. his foie gras beignet. We also loved his traditional French cuisine. We loved his approach and his insistence on product and quality.

Chef Epie is not a flash in the pan. At age 22 he earned his first Michelin star. He was one of the first major chefs to go to Japan. He then migrated to the States. In 1996, he was named one of America’s best new chefs by Food and Wine magazine. To say we were saddened when Gilles Epie sold Chez Gilles is a massive understatement.

When we learned that Gilles had opened Citrus Etoile in Paris, we were thrilled. His delightful American wife, Elizabeth  is charming and responsible for the décor and managing the restaurant. She is also gorgeous, an ex-supermodel with Elite.

I had checked out Citrus Etoile’s web site and happened to listen to an interview Gilles did for KTLA, an LA television station. At the end of the interview, Gilles was asked if he named Citrus Etoile after L’Orangerie, highlighting the citrus component. No, Gilles replied. He named Citrus Etoile to honor his friend, Michel Richard and Michel’s LA restaurant Citrus. What a small world.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3ls08_gilles-epie-citrus-etoile-ktla-usa_creation

Lunch

The room is beautiful – light and airy with bright orange fabric-covered chairs. On every table is a goldfish bowl with a swimming goldfish. Every other table had very active fish – swimming energetically. Ours, we named him Charlie, stayed at the bottom of the bowl and slept.

 


Room pictured here:

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.linternaute.com/sortir/sorties/resto/interview-reportage/citrus-etoile/image/image1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.linternaute.com/sortir/sorties/resto/interview-reportage/citrus-etoile/1.shtml&h=360&w=540&sz=150&hl=en&start=36&tbnid=qPRKFBR5jIJ7GM:&tbnh=88&tbnw=132&prev=/images%3Fq%3DCitrus%2BEtoile,%2Brestaurant%26start%3D21%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D21%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN

We went for the lunch menu for 39 euros. In retrospect, we wish we had done the complete tasting menu.

Amuse – Zucchini soup with tiny croquettes – light and delicious.

First course – Foie Gras Tempura with caramelized Port Wine sauce – this is what used to be labeled at Chez Gilles as Foie Gras Beignet. It is a decadent dish. We could have eaten 2 more.

 

Main:

Me – Grilled Snapper, Brittany crispy sausage and mashed potatoes “Oriental Style.” As lousy as the fish was at Pont aux Chats in Strasbourg, this was in a word delicious. The crispy sausage was a perfect compliment to both the fish and the potatoes.


 

John- Provencal Beef Stew cooked with Black Olives and Grilled Polenta. John was close to picking up the plate and licking it.


 

Dessert – we opted for cheese instead of a sweet.  Didn’t catch the name of each cheese, but it was served with a delicious tomato marmalade.


 

Mignardises


 

Wines:

We had a modest Santenay Rouge [still expensive due to the 1.6x].  Very nice with both dishes.

Summary:

This is a terrific restaurant.  Elizabeth is a great hostess.  She is to be lauded for her effort to run a business in Paris starting with little French and limited restaurant experience.  She has done a sensational job.  The food and atmosphere are top rate.  It is super convenient and appears to be very, very popular.  Gilles Epie is a wonderful chef and selfishly, we wish he would open a restaurant in Los Angeles.

This success could not come to nicer or more deserving people. We hope to be back very soon and to enjoy Citrus Etoile often.

Jean Georges

Before our trip to France, we decided to have lunch at Jean Georges – a great antidote to bad airplane food. A friend of ours joined us and contributed a Raveneau Chablis Monte de Tonneau 2001 to the festivities.

We opened the festivities with NV Pierre Gimonnet Champagne.  Always nice.

Amuse—miso bacon soup, slow cooked quail egg with asparagus and a dehydrated grapefruit with pecorino cheese.  The gapefruit was basically tateless, but the other two amuse tastes were ok…the soup was best.

1st course—Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, toasted black bread topped with a slice of jalapeno pepper and a dab of yuzu “sauce”.   Absolute perfect—the jalapeno added an incredible punch and the uni was A+++ quality.

2nd course—my friend and I — Peekytoe Crab Fritters Honey crisp apples, pink peppercorn vinaigrette—excellent balance of flavors.

John—young garlic soup with thyme, sautéed frog legs.  A Jean Georges signature dish and deservedly so—delicious.

3rd course— my friend and I—foie gras brulee, dried sour cherries, candied pistachios and white port gelee—another Jean Georges signature dish and again a winner.

John—shrimp and smoked bacon, papaya mustard, avocado—John said “fair”.

4th course—

Friend—smoked squab a l’orange, Asian pear,candied tamarind—He must have loved it as the plate was cleaned quickly.

John—parmesan crusted confit of leg of chicken, salsify, basil and lemon butter—plate licked clean—superb!

Me —skate with Chateau Chalon Sauce—as soon as this was served warning bells sounded.  The sauce is normally a sunny bright yellow.  This day the sauce was muddy brown.  It was so acidic that it was inedible.  I sent the dish back and in the interest of time I ordered a repeat of the Uni dish that was so wonderful.  It was.

Chef’s re-do—Jean Georges was in his kitchen.  He re-made the sauce and sent out “his batch” to have me taste.  Much better.

Dessert—A  gift from the house—

Chocolate Poppy seed Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Halva Powder, Kaffir lime, infused Jicama Noodles. Tangerine, Limoncello granite

 


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