Restaurants & Bars 6

L'Ambroisie; Pierre Gagnaire; Guy Savoy

cabrales | Jul 1, 2003 03:14 PM

Below are write-ups I had previously posted on another board (not eG) regarding three Parisian restaurants:


I had lunch at L'Ambroisie recently. It and Le Cinq are the only three-stars that, to my knowledge, are open on Saturdays during lunch in Paris. The meal was perhaps my best meal to date at L'Ambroisie, although the restaurant is not among my favorite in Paris. Very good-minus meal by France standards. Translations are mine.

Amuse was a small portion of the daily, off-menu special -- wild Scottish salmon pan-fried, with a quenelle of chopped black and green olives and an herbed oil emulsion. Appropriate, but not amazing.

(1) Runny chicken eggs, sabayon of watercress saucing with oscetra caviar/ Oeufs de poule cuits mollets, sabayons de cresson au caviar oscietre (85 euros)

A very good dish. Two soft-boiled eggs with very runny, rich, fatty yolks sat in a sea of gentle, non-bitter, medium-green, chlorophylly-tasting watercress sauce. Excellent. White of eggs were also very well executed. Each egg had a cluster of caviar dabbed onto it, and there was separately a quenelle of oscetra adjacent to one of the eggs.

(2) Lacquered pigeonneau with a caramel of onions and green peas/Pigeonneau laque au caramel d'oignons, petits pois a la francaise (75 euros)

A whole small bird, with nicely cooked (i.e., rarely cooked) flesh that really spoke of pigeon tastes. The thin was thicker than most pigeonneau I have encountered, and had a mix of sweet, salty (from coarser grains of fleur de sel, perhaps Camargue??) and peppery (from bits of crushed black pepper visible on certain portions of the skin). Interesting use of sweetness with pigeonneau.

(3) Cheese -- Fourme d'Ambert (28 euros)

(4) Croquant with pistachio ice cream and warm strawberries from the garden/Croquant glace a la pistache, giboulee de fraises du jardin (28 euros)

A nice dessert. The strawberries were enveloped in a medium-consistency light syrup, and the croquant was a rectangular shape with appropriately balanced pistachio ice cream generously included in between two "layers" of the croquant. Top layer was crisp and thin and light; bottom layer was more substantial.

Wines taken in were 1/2 Chablis La Roche 2000 (off-wine list) and 1/2 Gevry Chambertin, Vignes d'Isabelles, P Andre (60 euros -- not good; thin in the mouth). Glass of Louis Roederer champagne (not much selection by the glass here). Dessert was taken in with tequilla specifically made for L'Ambroisie. Total per person before "extra" tip was around 300 euros.

Consistent with other times I have dined at L'Ambroisie, sometimes the appetizer chosen is more expense than the entree and there are no tasting menus.


I have never particularly been impressed by Guy Savoy's cuisine, but for some reason the restaurant provided a very good-minus meal and possibly the best meal I have sampled at the restaurant. I've probably sampled the best meals at each of L'Ambroisie, Guy Savoy and Gagnaire recently, after a number of visits to each facility.

Anyhow, we were seated in the second room when one enters, and I faced the curio cabinet that has an ecletic assortment of African/Asian/other artifacts.

We ordered the Spring 2003 Tasting Menu at somewhere between 175 and 200 euros. There is a considerably longer tasting menu (maybe called Festin) that is more expensive. Since I've never been super-impressed with Guy Savoy's cuisine, I decided against that tasting menu. Prior to arriving at the restaurant, I had reviewed the seasonal menu on the website and it had not contained the oysters in a nage dish. Nor the all-strawberry dessert or lamb in all its states dish I had had my sights set on. However, the Spring 2003 Tasting Menu turned out to have all of the three except for the lamb, and, when I mentioned that I had just had pigeonneau for lunch (see L'Ambroisie write-up; this was the red meat course in the Spring 2003 menu at GS), the restaurant personnel quickly suggested a substitution ... of lamb! Substitutions are relatively easy, if one asks in a "soft" way, in my experience. The dining room team has shown flexibility on other occasions in this regard.

As usual, Guy Savoy was scurrying about the room from time to time. After his first pass to greet us, a dining room team member immediately brought out two beautiful Bernadaud special GS-commissioned bread plates (the ones we saw on the table), nicely packaged in Guy Savoy-patterned boxes. The chef wanted to welcome us and was enthusiastic about cooking for us, the dining room team member said. This is different from the videos and other promo materials I had previously received at the end of certain meals. I can always use Bernadaud plates, which GS does not generally sell at the restaurant. I also have a burgeoning collection of three-star restaurants' plates, but a bread plate size is not ideal relative to my existing plates. Still, a very nice gesture. I though to myself, additional gestures with respect to special dishes would be nice. Unfortunately, no such dishes were to be forthcoming.

I began by drinking 1988 Deutz Blanc de Blancs, which was not as developed as even some early 1990s Deutz Blanc de Blancs I've had. Nonetheless, a good opportunity to sample a champagne I generally tend to like considerably. My dining companion had Billecart Salmon rose. Dom Perignon 1993 or 1995 was alos offered by the glass, as was a smaller champagne producer who made private label bottlings for Guy Savoy.

Amuses were served on a specially commissioned presentation plate with bright colors in modern patterns -- (1) chicken on a bit of celery; (2) tuna, crispy-style, with taragon and vegetables, and (3) carrot and star anise soup (this soup was quite nice).

(1) L'Huitre en Nage Glacee (Oyster in a Nage)

I am becoming increasingly impressed with this dish, following certain earlier less-than-great assessments of it. Since this was a tasting portion, there was a single oyster. I wish there had been a half-dozen. A very subtle base of horseradish cream below the oyster; nice briny oyster; a thin layer of gelee made from the liquid inside the oyster (like Meneau's oysters in seawater dish); a small section of chives and small pattern made from carrots. A very good dish that I enjoyed.

I do not recall the dining room team having used a pepper mill to add a mildish black pepper the last time I sampled this dish. The pepper was useful.

(2) Asperges Vertes, Royale de Foie Gras, Vinaigrette a la Truffe (Green Asparagus at Pertuis, Royale de Foie Gras, Vinaigrette of Truffle)

This is one of the best asparagus dishes I recall having had in recent times. Two green large, but very succulent, stalks of asparagus from Pertuis were cooked with much technique to a very nice state. There were three small half-spheres of foie gras that added visual appeal, and nice flavor to the composition to the plate. The spheres of foie gras (duck) were nicely intense-tasting, and yet not fatty tasting. Good combination with the asparagus, somewhat surprisingly.

The acidity of the vinegar and the darkness of the black truffle in the saucing really worked. This was a very good-plus dish.

Very surprisingly, the base of the asparagus was very succulent and tender, while at the same time the tips were nicely crunchy. Of course, the Pertuis asparagus greatly contributed to the quality of this dish.

In a way, this dish is particularly beautiful when one recalls the many dishes of boiled, ugly-tasting asparagus that sometimes are deemed to be salad plates, which also have a vinegar-based saucing. Sometimes, in France, those salad plates have foie as well.

We moved to drinking a bottle of 1999 Mersault "Les Luchets" from Roulot, at between 100 euros and 110 euros. Not particularly impressive, as discussed in the Burgundy section of the wine board, even though I generally like Roulot's wine.

Interesting that GS may be starting to pair breads with certain (not all) courses. The dining room team member brought borth algue (seaweed) bread for the asparagus. Of course, Veyrat had been doing this at Ferme last season (at least).

(3) Homard Etuvee de Coquillages, Le Jus Aux Saveurs Acides (Lobster Stuffed with Clam-Type Items, Jus with Acidic Flavors)

I found this dish to be good-minus. The lobster was of appropriate quality and had been cooked appropriately. The pieces sat in a thin lobster bisque-like-flavor bouillon that was too salty. This was a major defect in the dish. There were spring vegetables in the dish. On the edge of the bowl sat three clam-like shells, with a chopped mixture of bigourneau, coques and praires. This mixture tasted poor, and was not aided by significant amounts of diced lemon peel that had been added in their midst. An unbalanced and poorly-conceived dish.

(4) Un Poisson d'Aujourd'hui (Today's Fish)

This was a very good-plus dish, surprisingly. The fish of the day was tuna, and, contrary to my expectations, it arrived in the form of an elastic-interior, elongated-ball-like shape that was very delicious. This shape was pan-fried very quickly, so that there was some cooking of the interior as well as the exterior. Mixed herbs and fruits were utilized along its exterior, including sage, parsley, chives, apricot, etc. There were snow peas in the dish. The most interesting and delicious part of the dish was a beurre blanc flavored with significant amounts of vinegar and a little bit of ginger. The acidity coupled with the creamy texture of the yellowish sauce really worked to compliment the tuna. This dish was yummy

(5) Soupe d'Artichaut a la Truffe Noire, Brioche Feuilletee aux Champignons et Truffes (Artichoke Soup with Black Truffles, Brioche with Mushrooms and Truffles)

I enjoyed this very much. It seemed better than when I had sampled it with Steve P, which was already the second time I had then sampled it. This soup was still hearty, balanced and rich without being weighed down with cream. It offered strong truffle sensations, and this time I found the parmesan in the soup to be helpful. Nice fairly medium-to-heavy, but not weighed down consistency. A good-plus-plus dish. The brioche is buttered table-side with more butter. It was nice when broken up and placed in the soup, but I didn't think the entire brioche was needed.

A second serving of the soup is offered in the tasting menu, just like for the a la carte option. I did take advantage of the second serving this time.

(6) Agneau de Lait Dans Tous Ses Etats (Milk-fed Lamb in All Its States)

Unfortunately, what had been a very good-plus meal (with the significant exception of the lobster dish already described) fell apart with an average main dish. While sounding very promising and having at least five different preparations of lamb, each preparation was uninspired and some were just simply not appealing-tasting.

I don't recall all of the preparations, or any of the preparations well, for that matter. Three of the five preparations came on a large plate. One was a brochette of gigot (lamb leg) with rosemary; another might have been selle roti farci de roquet (saddle of lamb, roasted and stuffed with rocket? veggie unclear). The third might have been with Esplette peppers. I don't recall with clarity the flavors, and the dish was rather uneventful. A severe disappointment.

Another preparation was collier (collar/neck) that had been deep-fried and placed on top of petits pois (green peas) a la francaise. Served in a separate little silver bowl. Can't be sure about any of this, as the dish was so mediocre in my mind. The final component was a bowl of lamb (??; perhaps not), sort of made confit style with strands of meat that came off relatively readily, in a dark bouillon with various vegetables.

We drank a 1/2 bottle of Les Bahans de Haut-Brion, which was alright and very reasonably priced.

(7) Fromages Affines (Cheese course)

While the cheese selection at GS was good, I chose only one -- Roquefort from a small producer. I asked for green apples to accompany this, and the restaurant made an effort to at least obtain red apples, sliced up in a modern-looking "batonette"-type manner.

We were served an earl grey tea and lemon granite-type item. This has been an item at GS since at least Gordon Ramsay was a lowly commis there. When Ramsay recently revisited, he was particularly intrigued by this earl grey tea-based dish.

Then came a tiny serving (almost candy-size) of raising and chocolate in phyllo (perhaps with pepper in it??).

(8) "Tout-Fraise" (All Strawberry Dessert)

This dessert was alright. It was not as varied texturally or tastewise as its name might connote. There were marinated strawberries as the main component; some dried strawberry thin slices (croustillant); a bit of strawberry gelee; strawberry sorbet; strawberry granite. Quite refreshing and a dessert I liked, but not more than fairly delicious.

(9) Fondant Chocolate au "Pralin-Feuillete" et Creme Chicoree (Fondant of chocolate...)

I declined to sample this item, which was a rectangular concoction with chocolate and other layers.

Newly added is a chariot of various goodies (somewhat like the ADNY one). I confirmed this was new, leading the dining room team member (who was relatively new) to be surprised I was able to figure this out. The items included: marshmallows; fruit sorbet; caramel sorbet; cherries in syrup (the only item I sampled -- I love cherries ); prunes; rice pudding, etc. As a general matter, GS does a good job with the amuses and post-dessert phases of the meal.

Overall, a pleasing meal and not a bad choice for Saturday night in Paris. I still prefer Lucas-Carton to GS, but GS is, for me, better than L'Ambroisie and Le Cinq. A meal at GS that began wtih so much promise, and that ended in a less-than-ideal manner.


(1) Salpicon de tourteau, veloute de granny smith lie de santa tea royale gala aux manges touts (Crab, veloute of Granny Smith apple with tea, Gala apples with sugar snap pea pod)

Quasi-translucent white Gala apple thin slices that had a reddish outer rim (and that looked like radishes) were wrapped around a single sugar snap pea pod (which brought to mind certain haricot vert). Below that, a sheet of quasi-crunchy sheet that liz described as fried tat soy leaf (consider the texture of dried seaweed, but slightly less crunch); then crabmeat, and finally the Granny Smith veloute. A very nice dish, with internally consistent tastes and a sense of freshness. Also, nice play of the slightly more acidic green apple in the veloute against the more neutral Gala apple thin slices. Also appropriate for the beginning of a meal.

(2) Crème prise de foie gras, jus de roquette, persil simple et melisse courgette grille, lentilles du puy et artichauts epineux aux epices chaudes (Creme of foie gras, jus of rocket, parsley and grilled zucchini, lentils and artichokes with "hot" spices)

A very visually appealing dish, for the crunchy, thin slices of artichokes were covered by the green of the rocket saucing in an appealingly intentionally haphazard way. Interestingly, no bitterness to the rocket sauce. There were three tiny sections of zucchini that stood on top of the dish, and that might have been intended to echo the visual effects (but definitely not the taste effects) of the sushi-like amuses. The foie was, as liz mentioned, essentially a sauce, although it conveyed more warmth and comfort than a typical sauce would and was delicious. The foie felt semi-solid, and was in "glob"-like clusters. Light in texture than typical foie, but definitely conveying the taste of foie. The lentils were beneath the foie.

Significantly, this dish was an appropriate dish to follow the first, and the ensuing dish was also appropriate to this progression. This stringing of appropriate dishes together is not an aspect I had previously subjectively perceived in Gagnaire's cuisine.

(3) Gambas fraiches de Mediterranee et saumon sauvage de l'Alaska, bouillon de poule au banyuls, papaye verte et petits pois. Croustade d'asperges pitchounes (Fresh prawns from the Mediterranean and wild salmon from Alaska, bouillon of poultry with banyuls; green papaya and peas; croustade of asparagus)

This was another very good dish, although its name, like certain other Gagnaire dishes, does not quite inform the principal component of the dish (in this case, the salmon). The salmon was in slices, and quite ocean-flavored (in a good way). The small shrimp below were not particularly tasty, but that is not unusual, based on my subjective experience, with small shrimp at Gagnaire. The green-colored saucing was wonderful -- developed and not quite reminiscent of chicken stock or anything else I readily recalled.

The most interesting part of the dish was the crunchiness of the green papaya, which had been shaved. It tasted a lot like cabbage, almost coleslaw cabbage -- but the papaya was crunchier.

I liked that this was the third dish in which a green-colored sauce had been utilized. It was appropriate for spring in Paris.

(4) Rotie d'huitre au chorizo craquant, amande, vernis, murex. Crème d agria et gnocci noir (Roasted oyster with crispy chorizo, amande... Cream of potato and black gnocci)

This was as [lizziee, another poster on the applicable board] described: "A large covered casserole containing 2 large roasted oysters in the shell is opened in front of the customer, the oysters are then placed carefully (1 each) in an earthenware casserole containing shellfish, clams, potato (agria) cream and crispy chorizo"

The oyster utilized was very briny (in a good way) and quite "structured" tasting. The conch-like accompanying clams were wonderful in texture and taste. Very nice. the potato cream had a medium consistency, and might have (?) had smoking connotations independent of the chorizo. The chorizo was a cross-sectioned piece that had been rendered crispy. The gnocchi were 3-4 small bundles, flavored with squid ink.

The only unfortunate aspect of the dish was the inclusion of leeks. I asked myself -- Why leeks? Other than that, the dish was very good.

(5) Rouget de roche et merlan "Birdy" (Red mullet from the rock regions and whiting "Birdy" style)

This dish is named after an Australian chef who first paired red mullet and whiting. This dish was good-minus, with a complex tasting saucing and elements of spinahc, bitter green (mustard green?) and white beans manifesting themselves in the dish. The tuna was raw or almost raw.

(6) Cuir de veau a l'anguille lacquee; brochette de ris d'agneau enrobe d'une polenta a la pistache ("Leather" of veal with lacquered eel; brochette of lamb sweetbread covered with a pistachio-flavored polenta).

This dish was surprisingly good (relative to my extremely low expectations). I had read about it and wondered what the reference to "leather" of veal meant. The dining room team member indicated that it "cuir" of veal referred to the skin along a certain portion of the head of the veal. This portion tasted somewhat gelatinous, like certain pied de cochon that have been deboned.

Anyhow, this cuir of veal and the eel (as liz described, glazed with the sushi-type saucing) were beneath a dried piece of circular beet root slice that was a bright color (i.e., the color of beetroot). On top of that circular slice was a bit of mixed meat that had an almost rilette aspect (probably made of veal as well?). This composition was on the left-hand-side of the plate. liz accurately described the appropriateness (in hindsight) of the pairing of veal cuir with eel.

Then, the cluster of sweetbreads was in the middle of the plate. The coasting of pistachio-flavored polenta was very light, and almost not noticeable. The sweetbreads could have been more melt-in-one's-mouth in their interior, but they were nonetheless nice.

Then, to the right hand side of the sweetbreads was a bit of white garlic (?) and little triangles of cooked beetroot. I liked the repetition of the beetroot in this part of the dish. There may have been beetroot in the saucing, which had been placed on the plate perpendicular to the skewer for the sweetbreads.

My choice of the very nicely priced 1/2 of Chateauneuf du Pape, Beaucastel 1998 was wonderful with this dish. The beetroot was sweet, and that went well with the red-fruitiness in the wine.

(7) Pigeon Gauthier au citron; marmelade d'aubergine, olives noires de Ligurie et suc de syrah; legumes printaniers acidules au pamplemousse (Pigeon with lemon; eggplant marmalade with Lugurian black olives and Syrah jus; vegetables with acidity and grapefruit)
** Why the Grapefruit? **

This dish was a slightly confused dish, although the overall effect was still good-plus. Its components were rather complex-looking. A silver-colored longish teasppon with a yellow emulsion that contained curry. Then, a square of lemon-scented tuile with bits of pigeonneau and lemon underneath the tuile. A nice medium-rare piece of pigeon. Various veggies, including celery. Caramelized pearl onions. I found this component completely unnecessary, but at least it was more a neutral aspect. The worse was were coral-colored segments of grapefruit. I asked myself why this was necesary at all -- I felt it detracted from the dish.

This dish also went very well with the Chateauneuf du Pape, yummy red fruit notes with the very evocative flesh of the pigeon and the darkness of the aubergine marmelade.

On the grapefruit, I was to later ask Gagnaire why the grapefruit had been included in this dish. His answer, which puzzled me, was "why not?" :0 That is part of why I dislike his cuisine as a general matter. Things on a plate should have a reason to be there, in my mind.

(8) Composed Cheese Course: (1) Bleu d'Ecosse with cucumber gelee, (2) a creamy cheese (Columbiers) as almost a veloute-like item with mimolette inside and dates, and (3) tete de moie, which was very beautifully presented in shaved form as almost a flower. There was some yoghurt, radish, and a cucumber gelee together with some of this.

(9) Various things brought to us: A white chocolate piece shaped like a flower, on top of a strawberry disc and a white chocolate disc; a dessert with coffee flavors and presented in a coffee cup with a "perforated" wafer. There were probably various other things I cannot recall at this point.

Non-Chocolate Dessert Flight: (1) mango croquant, with lemon gelee and pineapples and certain little edible flowers; (2) white chocolate, rhubarb, and avocado ice cream, and red currant drink; (3) certain flowers placed on a sugar tuile resembling ice; (4) "panton" flowers with a strawberry mousse and kirsch flavoring; and (5) two large slices of mango with an undulating-shaped sugar crust. This description is very iffy, as the dining room team members described the compositions very quickly. This is the best set of non-chocolate desserts I have ever received at Gagnaire.

Chocolate Dessert Flight: Ignored by me.

On the wine, we began with Dom Perignon 93 or 95 by the glass. The champagne flutes nowadays are much more functional than the ones that the restaurant was using as late as 4Q 2001, which had a greenish metallic base, with the flute itself having to be held by the base and having no ability to stand on its own. Very non-functional. Also very ugly, as the metallic base had an ugly star pattern on them.

We ordered a bottle of Domaine Gauby, 2000 VDP (73 euros), which is a very good VDP I've seen at least at another three-star in Paris. It's a decent white for unpredictable food like Gagnaire's, and it's quite reasonably priced. We had a 1/2 bottle of Chateauneuf de Beaucastel '98 for the veal and pigeonneau dishes that was wonderful.

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