Someone I met last summer who is friends with Pierre Gagnaire and was kind enough to make reservations for us last night. I wrote to thank him and added that it wasn’t for NYC, I’d live in Paris. I so love Paris.
At this point, being in Paris is almost like being in NYC. I know where I am going and there is always something to explore. Although I took French for too many years that I am willing to admit and still can’t speak the language, I do feel comfortable there. I am seriously considering attempting to learn the language but then there are times when I think I should work at mastering English first.
Last night, Fred and I began our evening at George V for drinks. The hotel is over the top and some might say stuffy but sipping a Campari at the bar was very festive. Afterward we walked over to the Champs d’Elysees and over to Pierre Gagnaire for dinner.
Pierre Gagnaire comparable counterpart in the US is probably David Bouley. Both still have their signature restaurant yet they have opened a variety of others and published a few cookbooks.
The restaurant is beautiful. Attention to every detail from the way the tables sit to the open wine cellar. Service is spectacular. Each plate that come out of the kitchen is designed to delight. Innovative. Other restaurants that come to mind are Per Se, French Laundry, Bouley(as mentioned above) and L’Astrance to name a few. Each have their own flair to stimulate your senses from the eye to the palette.
You can order or just sit back and enjoy the show. The show is an 8 course tasting menu. I am generally not a fan of tasting menus but in places like Gagnaire, it is best to just sit back and let them make the decisions. You can assume they are putting their best foot forward. For the price, they should be.
The show begins the second your tush hits the seat. A glass of champagne and a variety of small tastes from the chef. There were four of them. A small sugar cone that had a creamy foie gras piped inside. This small cone that is about the size of your pinky had some caramelized nuts over a dark fig tasting sauce and 2 small pieces of something that resembled beef jerky. It might have been foie gras that had been put in a drying type oven. The other small dish was a very tiny bowl that had a dried green chip laying in it. It might have been dried lettuce made into a freeze dried chip over small jellied squares that were once vegetables and a mixture of bean sprouts. My favorite one was in a cylinder cup that was filled with a cheese truffle mousse with a cheese wafer on top and a small dot of a sweet jelly. The last was what resembled nuts that had been covered with malted chocolate but it was not. It tasted like crushed ginger bread mixed with some type of consistency that rolled into the shape of a nut.
The first course consisted of 3 different ways to work with sea urchin. We love sea urchin. One dish had the consistency of finely mashed potatoes that had been served over roasted sea urchin. Think English savory pies. Once you break through the top, the bottom comes oozing into the potatoes. The other which was my least favorite looked like a butterfly of food. A large green leaf that laid over thinly sliced cracker made of olives. Under each wing was a wrapped piece of sea urchin. It almost tasted like proscuitto that it was wrapped in but it was a thick mixture of black rice. Very strange. Last was a bowl of thinly sliced cuttlefish and red mullet that looked like gelatin that had been tossed with a sea urchin sauce served cold.
Next course was scallops. 3 scallops that had been lightly pan fried in a turnip sauce. When serving the scallops the wait staff poured a white beet sauce over the top. Interesting combo.
Next was the mushrooms and foie gras. A stew of mushrooms and clams and tiny pieces of fois gras mixed throughout with a foie gras sauce. Rich? Not sure many things could be richer except for a Brie Oyster Soup that my friend served 20 years ago at a dinner party that I will never forget. 3 bites of that and I could have been done for the evening.
Next out was the fish course. This was probably my favorite. Sea bream that had been poached in butter over a mixture of seasonal vegetables in a simple white sauce and smattering of caviar pressed into the top of the fish. Do I continue to just write next?
We continued with seafood. 2 poached shrimps that was served with grapefruit sections and red pepper. This course I definitely did not like. I took one bite and then a small second one to make sure. The combo of the shrimp and grapefruit created a taste that did not agree with my senses. I left it. The staff asked me if I didn’t like it of was I just saving myself. I said I was just saving myself.
When there is fish there is always some type of meat/poultry course too. Tonight was Guinea hen. A small boneless breast of Guinea hen with a crispy skin served with a light sauce.
Cheese course was not typical. Instead of the typical spread of cheese to choose from, Gagnaire created a mixed salad of chopped endive, mache, buratta and rouquefort. Not too tasty and not that interesting.
Last out, dessert central. A beautiful piece of wood shaped like a canoe with 6-7 tiny desserts. Some the size of your fingernail. Honestly I can’t remember them all but they ranged from a jellied square to a chocolate. There were 2 desserts along side. First out appeared to be a lone piece of lasanga that had 4 green lines horizontally across the pasta. Where the lines marked, the pasta had been pushed down so it almost resembled an unfinished uncut ravioli. When you cut into the pasta ( of course it wasn’t pasta but something like that ) there was a sweet mixture of passion fruit underneath. I am not a fan of passion fruit so I didn’t take but a bite or two. I do like that he finished off with chocolate. A round piece of chocolate over a mixture of chocolate mousse. I hit the wall awhile back so when they brought out the truffle box and the white gloves, we both passed.
Detail to each delicacy was impressive but the one thing missing was that “omigod” moment. Everyone section of the meal was thought out down to the sauce and how it is served. Perhaps it was the night, perhaps the flavors that Gagnaire uses just don’t work with my palette. I certainly appreciate the imagination, creativity and culinary expertise that is put into the meal but nothing wowed me. Fred felt the same. Honestly, I felt the same way at Bouley the last time I went. The only 2 places that I have been where I was blown away by the whole thing, taste included was L’Astrance this past summer and French Laundry. Although, French Laundry blows all these restaurants away.
We had a wonderful evening. I am truly amazed by the whole production but I am more about the actual taste vs the theatrics. I said to Fred last night, that a restaurant like Gagnaire can make a simple chef feel inadequate. When I was a kid, I took guitar lessons and even taught them through High School. But, when I came across people who had never taken a lesson and had the ability to do things that I could never do even if I practiced forever, it made me give up the guitar. Not sure if this is relevant here but I’m glad that restaurants like Gagnaire never made me give up cooking. As cooking has become more of a sport for show (Top Chef and Iron Chef) somewhere along the line taste has been given up for pushing the envelope. I think there is a reason that the key to a really good chef is being able to make a simple juicy tasty crispy roast chicken.
Perhaps this too will be an end of an era.