See my trip report for an overview:
I saved Lucas Carton for my last meal of the trip because my last meal there about 6 months ago was so extraordinary. It may have been a mistake. This meant eating on a Monday which is a slow night so the atmosphere was not at it top. But it is still the only 3 star I know where you ALWAYS see tables of strangers talking to each other and discussing their meals. I had several discussion with the couple next to me from Florida on their first trip to Paris. They were so happy the husband ordered an extra main course just in order to taste some more food from this kitchen. I was also on my third big dinner in three days. So my stomach and taste buds were tired, especially after the 15 coursemarathon at Gagnaire the night before. And I had burnt the roof of my mouth on a hot soup at Guy Savoy. And my expectations were high, maybe too high. The amuse busche was a shellfish I did not recognize but looked like a very long and thin clam. It was served with a creamy chive sauce and did the job of getting my mouth watering and asking for more.
I had two half course appetizers and a main course but not served in that order as we saved the foie gras till last, a tradition from French dining about 100 years ago according to the waiter. The first half course was lobster in a sauce of its own roe topped with ginger, oven dried tomatoes and basil. The matching wine was a Condrieu Coteau de Vernon 1999 by Georges Vernay. Something I love about Lucas Carton is that they have a special wine chosen for each dish that they serve by the glass. This allows a single diner to have wines matching each course and a table to order different dishes for different diners and not end up with a person drinking a red Bordeaux with lobster (as I saw a Chinese group of 4 do this evening because they refused to listen to the waiter and get some white wine by the glass, I guess you can lead an unknowledgeable diner to water but you cannot make them drink it). While the lobster was of top quality (I grew up in Boston and dont remember many lobsters with this much flavor) and the sauce was very rich and creamy the spices like the ginger did not come through as much as I expected. Again, I feel this could have been a case of tired taste buds that needed food with in your face flavors rather than subtle spices. But the exotic flowers of the Condrieu fit the dish perfectly especially with the ginger. The second time in three nights I was enjoying the wonders of Condrieu with seafood/fish and ginger. I highly recommend this matching to anyone that loves cooking at home.
The next course which was the main course was the star of the evening and one of the top 10 courses I have eaten. It was exceedingly simple in its preparation. And extraordinarily good. This was a Bresse chicken with cepes risotto and wonderful, rich creamy sauce. The earthly flavors of the sauce and wild cepes matched the almost gamelike taste of the chicken. This was truly classical cooking and a symbol of the philosophy at Lucas Carton where 2 or 3 absolutely perfect ingredients are matched together to highlight their pure flavors with no distractions. Classic techniques like roasting are used to ensure that the ingredients are damaged as little as possible while giving them a texture that is like a massage on your teeth and tongue. And finally all this is matched with a great wine chosen just for the dish. Or in this case, a dish that was created just for the wine. After a visit to Domaine Leroy in Bourgogne, the team at Lucas Carton has recently come home with 200 bottles of a Meursualt premier cru from 1969!!!. They are serving this by the GLASS to the Bresse chicken. It is not cheap, over 50$ a glass (I dont have the exact price) but the wine is amazing. And they will fill your glass several times (I got three glasses) without charging you extra. The wine had a depth and richness that was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me with a white wine. It seemed like the oak had just mellowed (I could not imagine drinking this wine when it was only 10-15 years old). The wine was very earthy and rich and simply lifted the earthy and rich chicken and cream sauce another 2 or 3 levels up to the stars. This was a case where I was very happy I was not eating small little courses like at Gagnaire. There was a LOT of chicken and sauce on the plate and as I said before the glass of wine kept getting refilled. I spent close to an hour ingesting this food fit for the gods. And it seemed that the flavors just kept development and finding new nuances throughout that time. The fact that Lucas Carton gave me 3 different courses at this level the last time I was there still amazes me. I talked quite a bit with the sommelier about the wine (another pleasure of eating a Lucas Carton is that they have enough staff to spend time discussing with diners and guiding them through the menu if you wish). He said Madame Leroy it still making her wines in this style which amazes me. It is hard to find a wine maker that does a red Bordeaux today that needs at least 15 years to become drinkable. That someone is doing this with white Burgundy is extraordinary. Say what you want about California Chards but few will last 15 years and I do not think a single one takes that long just to start becoming drinkable. And after 32 years I do not think any will be enjoyable. But Madame Leroy probably does not worry much about making a profit, she worries about continuing a family tradition.
The next course was a foie gras served with fresh figs and almonds. The serving was supposed to be a half serving but it was a huge piece of liver, about the size of a half chicken breast! This was more like a full main course than a half appetizer. I had also thought the first course also seemed like a full portion. Now I was worried they missed the order and would charge me for full courses. But I did not say anything and when the check came both were charged at exactly 50% of a full course. Not even a 10% add-on for the extra work. This generosity summarizes the service at Lucas Carton for me. Wine by the glass that gets refilled multiple times with no extra charge, even if the wine is a 50$ a glass wine. Yes the price are extraordinary at this restaurant but they are anything but cheap when it comes to delivering value for the money. The dish itself was perfectly done with perfect ingredients but I think I was just done in after the chicken and did not enjoy this dish as much as the last time I had foie gras at Lucas Carton (that preparation had been taken off the menu because the matching wine had run out and no other wine from that produced from several different years was considered to be at the same level). The wine with this dish was sweet Rivesaltes Ambré 1991 from Domaine Cazes. A very good wine, but again not at the level as my last visit.
Then came the cheese course. The sommelier wanted to test me and brought out three cheeses with three wines and asked me to identify all 6. Of course each had its own bread. I got two of the cheeses. Comte and Fourme dAmbert and missed the last one (a washed rind cow milk that I cannot remember the name of). I only got one wine right, a white Burgundy (again Mersault) with the washed rind cheese I missed. So I got none of the three combos complete right. The Comte was served with an Arbois, which I had never drunk before and confused with a sherry, because it has a nutty flavor, a sweet slightly burnt nose even though it was completely dry. It matched the nutty, salty Comte perfectly. The wine with the Fourme dAmbert was a Banyuls that a confused with a Port. Again a great match, but not as great as the Grahams Vintage 1983 that they normally serve with the Fourme dAmbert. But what could I ask for. The whole cheese course with 3 wines cost less than one glass of the Grahams Port. This kind of eating and drinking is heaven for someone that loves combining with food and wine and a big reason why Lucas Carton is at the top of my list of the worlds best restaurants.
The dessert was licorice ice served on a peppermint flavor shaved ice with a peppermint meringue. I wonderful light dish that was very refreshing after all the heavy eating I had just done. All three parts of the dish were as light as air, fresh in their almost childlike candy flavors. A different Rivesaltes, Aime Cazes 1976 was served with this. It was much sweeter than the Rivesaltes served with the foie gras (which needed an acidity to match it) and a great match to this candy like dessert.
Everything ended with a coffee to accompany the chocolates and petit fours. And a long talk with the sommelier Jerome Moreau who noted that they had been hurt bad by the September 11th incident. Many cancellations and a lot of no shows (for which they did not charge anyone even though they had credit cards with the reservations and ended up with an empty table for the night every time this happens). I think this business slow down even affected the atmosphere in the restaurant a bit. Lucas Carton has been there many years. It is not the hot new place to go to, and therefore relies a lot on returning customers (where as Gagnaire is still the new place for everyone to try and therefore it is hard to get a table and the restaurant is still full every night). I hope that things turn around quickly for Lucas Carton because it is a great restaurant and the only 3 star I have dined at in France with such a friendly approach to wine and food combinations. And many of the dishes are true classics that I could always eat again (langoustines with egg sauce and a glass of Chablis) and will always be on the menu. I would hate to see them disappear due to a lack of customers.