I had a superb lunch at Pierre Gagnaire. They had 3 menus: a lunch menu of 4 courses at 110 euros, a much larger tasting menu at 265 euros, and a non-printed menu of 3 courses at 88 euros. They immediately serve you several amuses, making me decide in favor of the 110 euro menu, since that opening salvo was already copious. I had a discussion with the maitre d'hotel about which direction to go in. He thought that the 265 menu would be too extensive. He also suggested ordering from the carte, saying that you actually got more choice from the carte. When I indicated that the menu was better priced, he suggested ordering just a main course, because I would get all of the first courses that come with the menu (they refer to them as amuses, rather than entrees, and seem to see them as not full-fledged starters) when I ordered a main course. And then, he said, I could decide whether or not I wanted a dessert. I very much appreciated his concern for my budget and his complete openness to my ordering a single dish. Most of the main courses, and most of the starters, were between 100-130 euros. He also indicated that they would consider a substitution in the menu. I have rarely seen a restaurant go so much out of its way to please a client. From what I could see, they were equally solicitous with everyone else, including people who do not speak French (I do), which was most of the dining room.
This meal put both Guy Savoy and Le Cinq to shame both at the level of the food and at the level of the service. At another table that had ordered the same menu that I had the woman was not happy with the main course. They whisked it away and later brought her something different. Service is excellent at all three restaurants but it really shone at Pierre Gagnaire. And the food was consistently both inventive and excellent. At Guy Savoy the food was inconsistent, reaching the heights on occasion but not staying there. At Le Cinq, the heights were reached only with the amuses.
There were 4 breads and 2 butters. I am so tired of seeing butter with algae, and think that it overpowers whatever bread you have with it, so I was happy to see that PG did something different and much better - butter with fresh herbs, of which chive was the most noticeable. It's impossible to escape algae altogether: here it appeared in one of the breads, a good idea, and different types of algae were in some of the dishes. But it was never overpowering. I imagine that in 2-3 years algae will have run its course and we'll never see it again. Ditto foam.
In general, the main ingredients and most of the side ingredients passed the closed-eyes test. I think one should be able to tell what one is eating with one's eyes closed. Only a few main ingredients failed this test.
Here's the menu I had, taken directly from the website, along with notes about the dishes:
Cocktail de poche: these are served at the same time and you are requested to eat them in the clockwise order that they are presented, starting with the crab
-Salpicon de tourteau, amandes coquillages et jus glacé de concombre.
I'd never had amandes de mer before, and I can't say it's my favorite shellfish, but it was a nice contrast to the crab. The iced cucumber jus was fantastic. There may also have been a touch of horseradish in this dish.
-Pain soufflé farci d’une mousseline d’ortie, jeune brocoli du jardin et feuille de moutarde.
This was an amazing little creation. It looked at first like a button mushroom. It was a crispy little orb of pastry sitting on top of a little slice of cucumber (perhaps zucchini, not sure). When you cut into the pastry, the black ortie mousseline oozed out - a delightful surprise. Alongside were tiny broccoli florets in a light mustardy sauce.
-Déclinaison de sardines de Méditerranée.
My least favorite among the dishes, because sardines are not my favorite fish, but served interestingly in a little cup with a magnet on the underneath that allowed it to sit at an angle to the saucer it was on. The sardine gelee in which were pieces of sardines was very good.
-Huître d’été raidie à la salamandre, melon et petits pois à la nantaise, arroche rouge.
A heavenly, perfect dish. The melon, the peas, the oyster, the light creamy sauce - unctuous, each item beautifully tasting of itself and the whole harmonizing.
-Chiffonnade de mortadelle, crémeux de burrata et oreille de cochon.
Fabulous mortadella and great burrata (but it's hard not to have great burrata); the pig's ear was good for contrast, being very chewy.
Velouté onctueux d’aubergine, foie gras; tapenade, persil simple et cœurs de tomate.
Sketch-up aux pignons.
A beautifully presented dish, in which they themselves use the word unctuous, and properly, to describe the eggplant veloute. I was surprised by how well it went with the foie gras, which was at the bottom of the dish. On top were the 4 tomato "hearts", one of which was yellow. Unlike those at Guy Savoy, these tasted of tomato. They were, however, slightly mushy. Along the edge of the plate was a smear of tomato paste with 4 groseilles sitting on top and 9 toasted pine nuts sprinkled on it. This dish was altogether a surprise, since although tomatoes and eggplant naturally go together, one wouldn't ordinarily think that foie gras could be part of the mix. I thought that it worked.
Biscuit de rouget de roche, bouillabaisse de coco de Paimpol et râpée de chou-fleur.
Galette croustillante : fenouil en aïoli, lisette grillée et salicornes.
In my opinion the least successful dish, though very good. The "biscuit" was a light pinnk mousse with striations of rouget and leaves of, I think, green algae. Very pretty. It sat on top of white beans (the cocos) and shaved cauliflower. The beans were slightly undercooked (presumably deliberately) and the cauliflower had no taste. The crispy galette was delicious and samphire (also known as pousse-pierre and sea asparagus) is my favorite sea plant; these salicornes were very thin and tender. The lisette was also delicious. I would have preferred a larger arrangement of this accompaniment.
Les desserts de Pierre Gagnaire
There was a narrow plate with 8 little mouthfuls, including an amazing chewy white square folded on itself to be a triangle, tasty of ginger; a wonderful mouthful of liquid caramel inside a tiny chocolate cup, an apple puree with a tiny cookie-like stem, a little square of cucumber. This was a great little selection.
The first dessert was a glass with shaved pieces of melon that were slightly crunchy, pieces of peach, and a citron sorbet with a little mint. This was very refreshing.
The second dessert was a little cup of strawberry syrup with fresh almonds and a freshly made marzipan with apricot preserves. This was a little too sweet and I didn't think the apricot added anything.
The third dessert was a coupe of fraises des bois, in beautiful condition, with little bits of sweet red pepper - interesting! - and a mousse; there was a caramelized biscuit on top. The combination was inventive. Again, I thought it was somewhat too sweet.
The fourth dessert (served at the same time as the third) was a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache in the middle. On top there was a very thin and narrow carmelized strip of sugar with little crystallized sugar bits on top of it. There were 3 little sugar-glazed groseilles and half a blackberry with bitter chocolate. That blackberry-chocolate combination was a failure and I think that groseilles are distinctive enough that one can only use them once in a meal. The cake itself was very good, not challenging at all, again no doubt a deliberate choice.
The coffee, I regret to say, was a ridiculous 8 euros and terrible.
The 265 menu that I didn't have is here: http://www.pierre-gagnaire.com/franca...
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