One our final night in Paris we went to my favorite place that I always return to, Lucas Carton. Though seated at my normal table I quickly noticed there had been some changes. The candles with scenes of Paris were gone. Replaced with glass stones, clear and gray, strewn across the tables in haphazard manner. It was small detail that set the agenda for the evening. Lucas Carton, while holding on to tradition, it trying to develop and improve on their simple concept. Having fun while matching wine and food in perfect combinations. The stones turned out to be a lot of fun for me and my wife. We even stole 2 to take home with us (sorry Pierre ). Games of tic tac toe, pattern making and guess the number of stones were pleasant distractions during courses.
My wife has Champagne Pommery - Cuvée Louise 1995 for her aperitif, which netted her an almond milk cappuccino and gambas dim sum as her amuses. She loved both and I did not get to try them. I chose the Egon Muller Riesling Kabinett 2002. A perfectly mouthwatering Riesling, with a seductive sweet note that was perfect with the tuna tartare with lime and fresh ginger that I had for my first amuse. Nice fatty tuna that played well of the freshness of the spices and wine. My second amuse was a razor clam in the shell with risotto rice on top. The razor clam was the amuse everyone got before LC started matching amuses to aperitifs. But it has been updated now with the risotto. Personally I like the older version better, could just be nostalgia, or being surprised by the risotto not being creamy as I expected, but more fluffy, with each grain sort of existing on its own.
My wife had the langoustines wrapped in crisped vermicelli that is dipped by hand into a seafood cream sauce then roasted almonds. A dish I love but have had so many times and I wanted to try some new dishes. My wife was in ecstasy. And the dish has been updated. The wine being served now is, Beaune "Clos des Mouches" 2000 - J. Drouhin. The LC website describes it as Very expressive nose dominated by smoked, roasted notes and dried fruits. Very fresh and almost salted structure in mouth. New wine means the dish has to be adapted. The adaptation made perfect sense. Some bacon bits with the almonds for dipping. Smoky, salty bacon to play off the wine. Genius. And proof that LC is not just living in the past as the langoustine dish is one of the most popular on the menu and it would be easy to play it safe and make no changes.
But I am not sad I did not choose the langoustines. Because I finally get to try a dish that has been on the menu for years. Rouget cooked in a salty crust, "Iliada Kalamata" olive oil ice cubes with basil. The fish is presented in the crust first, then brought into the kitchen. It returns as two perfectly cooked filets that are mouthwatering moist. You could just eat the fish without all the extras. But the extras are a ticket for instant gastronomic transformation to Provence. Basil, olive oil, roasted red peppers A little of everything on the fork and you are in heaven. The dish itself is simple and rustic in concept and execution. The end result is, however, much more then the sum of its ingredients. No wonder it has been on the menu for years. I cannot wait to have it again. The matched wine was a white Châteauneuf du Pape - Château de Beaucastel 2001. It was the first time I have had a white Châteauneuf du Pape. It reminded me of white Hermitages, rich with minerals and complex flavors layered one on top of the other. It is a great pairing to the layers of flavor provided by the rouget and its comrades on the plate.
Next we got a surprise course. A small plate of cepe mushrooms in two ways. One stuffed and the other the raw stalks in a salad with a light dressing. I have had this course before with the cepes served in 3 ways, and the raw salad was my least favorite. But this night the raw salad stole the show. Could be that we were early in the season and the cepes were in truly pristine condition. But it was like listening to beautiful soft cepe music. A glass of Chablis Mont de Milieu 1994 - La Chablisienne was a soft but full bodied second violin.
For our entrees my wife had wild chicken from Bresse and stuffed cepe mushroom,
served with a creamy cepe mushroom risotto. A great example of Senderens simple cooking. Basically two ingredients, wild chicken and cepes, cooked to perfection (breast slices with crispy skin) with the cepes appearing in several forms, stuffed, in the risotto and in the sauce. A Champagne Dom Ruinart 1988 was a surprising match that seemed to lighten the whole dish and complement with earthy mushroom scents.
I had Crusty calf sweetbreads with carrots and spinach and honey, a rather new dish on the menu. Those that say Senderens is not creating any new classics should try this dish. The sweetbreads are cooked to perfection. Crisp outside, perfectly tender inside. The carrots, spinach, honey, light cream sauce and paprika powder on the edges of the plate reflect the sweetbreads and the wine. Combinations of rich and picant flavors. The wine, an Engelgarten 2000 - Alsace - Marcel Deiss. A blend of riesling, gewurtz and pinot gris. Spicy, rich and just the right acidicy and residual sweetness to match with the honey and yet keep the sweatbreads from becoming overly rich. And the paprika on the edge of the plate, allowing the diner to take as much or as little as they wish with each bite is pure genius, especially with the gewurtz tones in the wine.
Next I made a mistake. I almost never drink dry red wine at LC. First most dishes are matched with white wine. Many reds are sweet or semi sweet. And I usually find the fish or poultry dishes more enticing. But there was a cheese course, Saint-Nectaire with cepe mushroom served with Haut-Médoc 1991 - Château Sociando-Mallet that I decided to order. While each element was fine, I think my taste buds were simply too overwhelmed by all the fantastic food and wine we had already had in order for them to appreciate the course.
The desserts came to the rescue. My wife had the chocolate Samana, shockingly no longer served with marinated cherries. But the new version with a coffee cream poured at the table and spicy caramelized pecans need not take a back seat to the previous version. This version is richer, the pecans add some nice crunch and the wine is also richer, Don PX Reserva 1975 - Toro Albala. Both are classics and if I could choose I would love to had a little of both in one sitting. The cherry version followed by the pecan!
But I did not even eat this, just had a taste. I had roasted white peaches with verbana ice cream. The roasted peaches were simply decadent. More flavor in one bite than all the other peaches I have eaten in my whole life together. I could have just eaten these. But the other elements were there to match the wine, a Condrieu "Ayguets" 2002 - Yves Cuilleron. Yes a sweet Condrieu. It is sweetened by noble rot, like a sauterne. The wine is very low in acidicy which would have made it overly clumsy if not for all the spicey notes of the Viognier. The verbena, cinnamon and fresh peaches on the plate are also appropriate parts of the ensemble.
The story of how the wine got on the list is also interesting. When Philippe, the new chief sommelier suggested it, Mr. Senderens stated that a modern abomination like sweet Condrieu would never get through the door of his restaurant, no matter how good it was. But it turns out that sweet Condrieu is not a modern idea. In fact, in the early 1900s before the whole appellation and grape was almost totally wiped out by wars, depression and extremely difficult growing conditions, it was common to make a sweet Condrieu. But when Condrieu had its rebirth only dry wines were made for many years, and that is all people tend to know about today. But Yves Cuilleron, decided to try to start again producing the lost sweet version as well. When Mr. Senderens heard that the sweet version had strong, but lost, roots in history, he quickly changed his mind and it is now on the menu.
My guess is this dish will become a new classic when peaches are in season, but the supply of sweet Condrieu is definitely very limited. There is probably no where else in the world that serves it by the glass, and very few places that have it at all. So rush to Lucas Carton to try this marvelous wine, dish and piece of history while you can.
After desserts we got presented with another innovation. The small petit fours served with coffee have been significantly updated. Two are actually mini post desserts. I did not take notes and was at this point of the meal in seventh heaven so I am not sure what they were. But I do remember that they were pretty advanced and enjoying them. The chocolates have been updated as well. But the crispy nut and sugar flans are still being served.
In summary I can say it was another perfect evening at LC. The staff is as good as ever and the whole place seems motivated to develop the restaurant without abandoning its history or concept. In fact, two members of the staff said they are keeping what is good while trying to improve anything the can be improved. And I must say I love their concept, which I would call a perfect blend of fun and decadence. Each dish is not expected to push the envelope of gastronomy. It is meant to take pristine ingredients, let them show their true soul, match it with a great, often uncommon wine, and then using accompanying ingredients, herbs and spices, weave everything into a perfectly satisfying whole. You dont have to think about the meal, the techniques or anything else. You just sit back and enjoy the ride and before you cross back over the threshold into the Parisian night air you are dreaming about your next ride.