Tuesday, April 30, 2013

La Côte Saint-Jacques (Joigny, FRANCE) ★★★★☆

Following 3 wonderful days in Paris, we packed our bags and embarked on a journey to the Burgundy region best known for its wine and cuisine. After a brief stopover at Auxerre, we began our drive to Joigny in the late afternoon. Our destination is Chef Jean Michel Lorain's 3-star Michelin restaurant La Côte Saint-Jacques.

Jean Michel Lorain is the 3rd generation patron-chef of La Côte Saint-Jacques, a Relais & Chateaux member since 1977. The restaurant started off as an inn back in 1945 and after numerous renovation, it now has more than 30 spacious rooms, some with nice view over River Yonne and the surrounding Burgundy area.

Having trained with some of the best in the world including Pierre, Jean Troisgros, Girardet and Taillevent, Chef Jean Michel Lorain was poised to take La Côte Saint-Jacques to another level when he returned to join his dad in 1983. The father-son team finally made it happen in 1986 capturing the elusive third star. Today, La Côte Saint-Jacques is one of the must-do restaurants in the heart of the Burgundy region.

La Côte Saint-Jacques offers a perfect view of the the Burgundy landscape including River Yonne from the its terrace and dining room.

We arrived at the dining room after taking the private elevator down to the garden level. There were two equal-sized dining rooms to the left and right of the elevator. Both rooms were plainly decorated with around 6-8 tables while boasting the same view as the terrace.

This was probably the first 3-star Michelin restaurant where we have seen small kids dining with their parents. A gentleman was even seen bringing his dog into the dining room at one point. That was really odd.

The first thing (other than kids and dog) that caught my eyes was this beautiful ceramic plate with Chef Jean Michel Lorain's name engraved on it.

After we placed our orders, a salmon roll was presented as our amuse bouche of the night. That was a little bit plain and dull (4/10).

But our starters promised a lot more excitement beginning with this dish called the "Anatomy of a dish on an oyster theme". 

Starting from left to right, a gazpacho of leek and green salad, followed by a gazpacho with whipped cream and oyster bites, then gazpacho with a poached oyster and finally evolving into a gazpacho with crispy fried oysters. 

And the evolution was complete with the oyster cocktail. At the bottom of the cocktail was a nice tartare of sour cream and oysters, topped by a creamy gazpacho of leek and green salad. Resting comfortably on top was a crispy biscuit with 3 juicy oysters. That was quite refreshing and unique (7/10).

Next up was a duck foie gras with sweet and sour preparations around pears, ginger and curcuma. The texture was excellent but the seasoning I thought was a little too overpowering (5/10).

My main course was a pan-fried sea scallops with parsnip and truffle oil custard, eryngii mushrooms and chestnuts in a cardamom emulsion. 

The scallops had great depth but it was a mistake matching it with a super sweet chestnut purée (5/10).

More impressive was the second main course - a roasted pigeon fillet with green asparagus and fresh morel mushrooms. The special coffee sauce was particularly outstanding adding another dimension to the flavorful pigeon fillets (7.5/10).

Dessert started brightly with a brownie, rice pudding, chocolate and hazelnut mousse served with a chocolate ice cream flavoured with cardamom. Yes cardamom again (7/10)!

Our other dessert, blood orange jelly terrine, French toast, gingerbread tile and orange sorbet was another visually striking dish (6.5/10).

Following dinner, we had the pleasure of visiting the kitchen of La Côte Saint-Jacques, courtesy of a private tour by Chef Jean Michel Lorain. That put the exclamation point to our wonderful night in Burgundy!

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: €€€€
Address: 14, Faubourg de Paris, 89300 Joigny, France
Tel: +33 (0)3 8691 4970
Website: www.cotesaintjacques.com/en/

View Larger Map

La Pâtisserie des Rêves (Paris, FRANCE) ★★★★☆

Who says breakfast has to be bacon and egg? It could very well be a piece of French pastry if you are staying in Paris, right? Right.

On the tail end of our stay in Paris, we woke up in the morning craving for more fine French pastries. And what better way to start our morning than La Pâtisserie des Rêves before heading south?

La Pâtisserie des Rêves ("Pastry Shop of Dreams" in French), brainchild of celebrated pastry master Philippe Conticini and visionary hotelier Thierry Teyssier, started back in 2009 with the vision of combining traditional French pastries with a modern twist. Since then the brand has taken the world by storm and is now one of the top pâtisseries in the world. 

The boutique is warmly decorated with the usual white color with a little bit of pink and wood but there was no sign of the patented bell jars on display.

The signature pastries at La Pâtisserie des Rêves include their Paris-Brest, Saint-Honore and mille-feuille. 

Another fan favorite is their Grand Cru vanilla which also comes with a delicate chocolate version. I liked the touch of gold on top of the cake. Very elegant.

I was expecting a bit of chocolate oozing out from the centre there but that was not the case. This was very good if you are a chocolate lover. Rich and flavorful (6/10).

There's a different version of this fruitier de saison in raspberry but mango suited me just fine. I was trying to eat this while driving down to Auxerre and had a little bit of trouble with my plastic cutlery.

But at the end, it all worked out perfectly. Nice combination of white chocolate, bits of fresh mango and what looked like a pistachio cake on the bottom (6/10).

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: €€€
Address: 111 Rue de Longchamp, 75016 Paris, France
Closest Metro Station: Rue de la Pompe
Tel: +33 (0)1 4704-0024
Website: www.lapatisseriedesreves.com

Monday, April 29, 2013

La Cuisine (Paris, FRANCE) ★☆☆☆☆

Michelin-caliber food by Chef de cuisine Gabriel Grapin, glittering interior design by Phillipe Starck and a dessert menu by the "Picasso of pastry" Pierre Hermé were just a few reasons why we decided to spend our last night in Paris at La Cuisine, a new concept in the revamped Le Royal Monceau. Located just steps away from the Arc de Triomphe, La Cuisine opened door to its customers in 2010 following an extensive renovation of the hotel.

Chef Gabriel Grapin is no stranger to haute cuisine, having worked for Alain Ducasse at Spoon, Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London. He’s been in charge of this new French Restaurant since the re-opening of Le Royal Monceau and is instrumental for the successful capturing of its first Michelin star.

La Cuisine is set in a beautiful theatrical atmosphere with the open kitchen directly facing the tables in the dining room.

There are some semi-private dining area for those dining with a small group.

The menu covers quite a wide selection of dishes but it was the "Summer Collection" that caught our attention. For €98, we got to choose 2 starters, 1 main course and 1 dessert. Looks like very good value for money to us.

Confit duck foie gras from Landes, 2/10
But it got off to a rocky start for us. First up, a confit duck foie gras from the famous Landes region was served on a disk of lentils and charred bread jelly. The foie gras which had next to no flavors did not have a strong enough connection with the lentils and bread jelly.

Pan-seared foie gras, fresh raspberries and sherry vinegar, 4.5/10
The other foie gras, which was pan-seared, turned out to be slightly better. It was perhaps the best dish on this dismal night for us.

Light lobster bisque, white asparagus tips with soy cream, marinated sea urchin, yuzu juice emulsion, 2.5/10
I know it's a light lobster bisque but I didn't know it's supposed to be watery like this. There's a lot of flavors going on there, with white asparagus, sea urchin and yuzu but none of them seemed to have any type of success working with the bisque.

Large roasted King prawns, 3/10
What was advertised as two large slices of prawns in the menu was actually two halved slices of prawns tossed in a tomato sauce. Enough said.

Confit Duck breast with braised fennel, 4/10
Confit duck breast was another decent dish coming out of the kitchen.

Rack of veal from Lozére, 2/10
I had the rack of veal with asparagus and morel mushrooms as my main course and it was grossly overcooked. And on top of that super dry texture, the meat was totally bland.

Even the "Picasso of pastry" couldn't save the day for us. From the special dessert menu designed by Pierre Hermé, we first had the Montebello which was a combination of pistachio dacquoise biscuit, pistachio mousse cream and fresh strawberries (5/10).

Slightly better was the cheesecake Mosaic, a layered cake with pate sablee, pistachio cheese, morello cherries and morello compote with cream cheese base (5.5/10).

One last look at the Arc de Triomphe before we leave for Auxerre the next morning.

There were way too many glaring mistakes made by the team here, all of which should never occur in a 1-star Michelin restaurant.
  • Our server probably didn't jot down who was having which dish. Throughout the night, the servers kept asking, "so who's having the <dish name>?" 
  • There was no explanation on each of these dishes. Most servers simply dropped the plates and ran (I am not joking)!
  • Service was very slow especially with the pacing. We waited a whopping 40 minutes for our main courses. 
....and all of these, on top of the very disappointing food.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: €€€
Address: Royal Monceau Hotel G/F, 37 avenue Hoche, Paris, France
Closest Metro Station: Etoile
Tel: +33 1 4299-8816
Website: www.leroyalmonceau.com/restaurants-bar/la-cuisine

View Larger Map

Pavillon Ledoyen (Paris, FRANCE) ★★★★☆

Pavillon Ledoyen is an old institution that has been serving haute cuisine Parisian style for decades. As a customer, we couldn't ask for a better location. Located just off the busy streets in the Eastern part of the Champs Elysées, the two-storey pavilion was comfortably seated in a beautiful garden setting.

As the painting on the wall has indicated, it all started back in 1792. Well August 1791 to be exact. (how I was accidentally caught in the photo below was beyond me).

Like the rest of the restaurant, the dining room still preserves its neo-classical style that could be dated back to the early 1800s. 

The terraced garden could be seen from the second-floor dining room

The amuse bouche was a wonderful collection of nibbles starting with a spoonful of campari in a ginger and orange flavored bubble which was supposed to be eaten in one bite and we did. The wonderfully refreshing taste had us craving for more.

Next up was a plate of smaller nibbles including an interesting foie gras mousse with meringue, followed by a simple crispy biscuit topped with spinach and a fried caper.

It continued with this squid ink / shrimp and radish chip.

And just when we thought we were finished with the amuse bouche, one final nibble showed up in the form of some fresh radish in a creamy sauce.

It was no doubt a very entertaining collection of nibbles designed to get our palates ready (7.5/10).

We had quite a bit of green and white asparagus on this trip. This one, like many others we had was simply prepared - poached and served with a creamy sauce. That's how most people would like it done (5/10).

The next starter was a little bit more sophisticated - poached lobster served in chilled lobster consommé jelly (6/10).

Main course was a difficult choice between chicken breast and dover sole fish. I was never a fish lover to begin with so really had no choice but to go with the chicken breast.

The breaded chicken breast was actually not bad although not something to write home about but matching it with steamed daikon and a toast with chicken parfait was a peculiar choice. The finishing with a sticky chicken stock jelly also left something to be desired (4/10). 

The cheese trolley was next. I was way too full at that point and decided just to have a little bit of goat cheese before calling it quitted.

Dessert turned out to be the highlight of the meal starting with this nicely presented pre-dessert - Pineapple with pina colada mousse, pistachio macaron, passion fruit cream tart and liquid cherry, take your pick (7/10).

A sushi on top of a slice of pan seared foie gras? It certainly looked that way but it was in fact a slice of creme brulee topped with wild strawberries and basil ice cream that finished with a thick layer of strawberry sauce atop. (It was the first time I had basil ice cream and it was surprisingly refreshing).

The presentation was outstanding and so was the taste (7/10).

Our other dessert was a caramel cream topped with crunchy toffee, lemon ice cream and salt which was just average (5/10).

It was great to check Pavillon Ledoyen off our list as it was argueably one of the oldest and most prestigious restaurants in Paris. But apart from that rich history, something seemed to be missing. 

We had lunch at Le Bristol (Epicure) the day before and the creativity and flair that was put on display there was definitely missing here. 

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: €€€€
Address: 1 Avenue Dutuit, 75008 Paris, France
Closest Metro Station: Champs-Elysees Clemenceau
Tel: +33 (0)1 5305-1000
Website: commercial.groupeepicure.com

View Larger Map

Boulangerie Joséphine (Paris, FRANCE) ★★★☆☆

Joséphine, located just a few steps from the Champs-Elysées, is a bakery, patisserie and cafe all under one roof. Housed in a two-storey building, it has a take-away counter on the ground floor and a small café up on the second floor. 

Since we were just staying next door, we decided to pay Joséphine an early visit for breakfast. Looks like the staff here was just getting things started.

I quickly hopped upstairs to the café and grabbed a small cup of hot chocolate to wake myself up first.

then a homemade scone...our server was very attentive in warming the scone for us.

Is it a little early for mille feuille? Obviously not.

I have always wondered about the correct pronunciation of mille feuille so I asked our young and handsome server to teach me say it in French. A little French lesson at breakfast. That was nice.

The moment I walked past Joséphine, I fell in love with the decor so it was nice to be able to spend an enjoyable morning here.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: €€€
Address: 69 Avenue Marceau, 75116 Paris, France
Closest Metro Station: George V
Tel: +33 (0)1 4720-0596
Website: www.josephine-boulangerie.com