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Mao and Vivin in Paris (5): Le Grand Vefour

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Mao and Vivin in Paris (5): Le Grand Vefour

Mao | Feb 25, 2002 01:20 PM

Just as I was coming to think that Ducasse would be the greatest meal of the trip, we ran head into Guy Martin and Le Grand Vefour. Smack, bang, pow! Let’s be up front and say that as a total dinning experience, it was not comparable to AD, which wraps you up in some kind of cocoon of pleasure. The service wasn’t as good—our server looked perpetually bemused by us. The wine, which was excellent, couldn’t really compete with the Montrachet at Ducasse, though it was the second best wine of the trip.

OK, now that the few negatives are out of the way, let me say that what we ate was simply a tour de force of excellence, subtlety, balance and texture. I have never eaten like this. Almost every dish contained 3-5 flavors, each preserved and distinct from the others but working in harmony with the others to bring the absolute essence of whatever the focus item of the dish was into clarity. Each dish was also multitextured in the way the very best Japanese food us. Yes, I have had occasional dishes like this, where all the flavors and textures work together to create a greater whole and yet each voice is still unique. But what really impressed was that this excellence was so sustained. It was one of those fantasy meals where each dish keeps getting better and better, until the desserts, which floored the entire table. It was like a Mozartian opera. Emotive, mental, clever, soulful, and infinitely yummy.

Thanks to our balding sommelier’s advise, we ordered a superb Chateauneuf de Pape 1996 Chateau de la Gardine, which was probably the greatest bargain we found the entire trip.

We selected a la carte from a slightly deceptive menu. Looking back its clear that the description of each dish on the menu are sort of the tip of the iceberg. Yeah, they describe the 3 basic ingredients of the dish, but then there are 2 other things which perfect dish that aren’t mentioned.

Oh, and your meal happens to be in one of the most beautiful rooms in all of Paris. You eat at lunch in a room speckled with the light of the Palais Royal.

Onto the food:

Two of us started with a salad of potatoes with black truffle shavings and sea salt. Each small potato was cut into 1/8th inch slices and served at room temperature in a slight balsamic vinegrette—seemingly intended as much for color as for flavor, and then the whole thing was umbrella-ed in the thinnest black truffle slices and sea salt. This was totally different from the similar dish at Ducasse, but I thought equally as good, and if not as hearty, then in some ways more complex texturally with sea salt bite, crispy truffles and the warmth of the potatoes and the aroma of the truffles occurring all at once in a way Ducasse did not pull off.

Vivin had Ravioli with Foie Gras served with foamed egg whites, foamed sweet butter, black truffle bits and some pepper. Again simply a stunning dish of texture and flavor might. The egg white foam and foamed butter dropped off your tongue like silk, while the black truffles rose into your breath and you break the papery lip of the ravioli and bite into rich Foie Gras.

Next came Languostines with 2 lightly encrusted and fried eggplants with a small portion of greed salad in basilic vinaigrette. Again this was brilliant combo of vineger, basil, crunch, softness and sweetness of eggplant and buttery, lobster-like Langoustines. Ten feet high and rising, dude.

Scallops in mushroom sauce and parsley root. The one dish that didn’t knock me to the floor with pleasure. After Arpege all scallops were doomed.

Anyway, onward and upward. Next came main courses. Vivin’s wife and I both had Filet of Brittany sole in caviar and cream sauce. This may be the best non Japanese fish preparation I have ever had. Who knew that sole was not ordained to be eaten with 16-20 caviar per square inch of bite? Again a textural and taste masterpiece. Firm sole, cream and squishy softness of salty caviar rising together into your mouth.

I only had 2 bites of Vivin’s main course—which was the famed lamb in chocolate and coffee with fresh goat cheese and garlic—but was astounded. This perhaps more than other dishes showcased his ability to combine 4-5 tastes and textures simultaneously into one dish and have them all work together and all being distinct. Again simply operatic cooking.

Vivin also had a turbot half portion, which I will let him write up.

I had what I thought was the best cheese course of the entire trip next, along with a 1986 port that was well matched.

And then the desserts of devastation. In case every part of your being were over stimulated in this point, it was necessary to do one last dance. And so let’s put lot’s of veggies in dessert. Passard gets some kudos for the tomato dessert thing. But put an artichoke and celery in my dessert AND make it one of the greatest dishes I have ever eaten, and you begin to win over my soul. Ok, so here’s what for dessert tonight honey—artichokes trapped in a torte surrounded by a sweet celery reduction and a sorbet of almonds. Brilliant or foolish in conception, you decide, brilliant in execution, you bet. Absolutely astounding dish. Lmost equally good was Vivin’s wife’s dessert—a fresh goat cheese gateau with coriander, lychee sorbet and cracked red pepper. Must eat, must try.

Masterpiece, Devastating. Floored. Life is and can be an absolute pleasure—when you gaze out across the Palais Royal and eat the greatest food of your life, you do wonder if the angel’s don’t get just a little jealous.

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