I had a very disappointing lunch at Taillevent recently. It was my first meal with Chef Soliveres at the helm, and I left feeling that the change in chefs was not an improvement.
It was the first time I had been seated at the upper level of Taillevent, where it is quieter and which is accessed using the spiral staircase from the principal level. On the upper level, our room only had 4-5 tables and the environment was very nice. We received gracious service from the dining room team, although the sommelier team was at best average for a three-star.
Champagne by the glass was ordered -- Cattier, which was surprisingly nice relative to the reputation of this producer.
Amuses included gougeres. Also, a pumpkin veloute that was unduly salty, slightly too dense in consistency and that could have been at a slightly higher temperature. It had some lardon-type material in it, which should have reduced the salting otherwise includible in the item (more on oversalting later).
(1) Boudin de Homard Breton, Emulsion de Fenouil (38 euros) -- Brittany lobster sausage, fennel emulsion. This is Taillevent's signature dish, and it was about what I remembered. A coral-colored, pinkish inner flesh sausage with a bit of elasticity in the skin. The inner part of the sausage was softer than I remember. A large piece of fennel (cross-section), softened by cooking a bit, adorned the top part of the sausage, which also had lots of sprinklings of chives.
There was a coral-colored emulsion as part of the saucing, based on the coraile of the lobster. Also, a cream-colored emulsion containing butter and likely fennel
Overall, an appropriate dish that my dining companion and I each had a full order of. Went quite nicely with the Raveneau Chablis, of which Taillevent had at least 3-4 different bottles (some at under 100 euros).
(2) 1/2 Bar de ligne aux artichauts, Fenouil et citron confit, Palourdes et roquette 58 (Line-caught sea bass with artichokes, Clams and rocket; pricing is for full portion; each diner had 1/2 portion)
This dish involved bass that was of limited intrinsic quality. Also, it was overcooked. Small artichoke halves were unnecessary, as was the diced mix of clams, cooked rocket and breadcrumbs presented on a clamshell, when butter-based saucing was taken into account. Significantly oversalted. Piece of confit lemon was very harsh and hard. Not satisfactory.
(3) 1/2 Viennoise de sole de "petit bateau", Cébettes et vieux comté 58 (Viennoise of sole caught from small boats, small onions and old Comte cheese)
Unappealing. Like the red mullet dish, this was, at the suggestion of the maitre d' (who was nice to offer this), ordered as a demi (1/2). The sole tasted poor as far as fish preparation, and I ate but a bite of it. It was presented as a rectangle of about 2/3 the height of my pinkie, and with a length of about 1 1/3 times my pinkie. Thank goodness only 1/2 of a dish had been ordered by me, instead of by both of us.
The English version of the Taillevent menu notes that the sole is "lightly breaded" -- well, it might have been lightly breaded but its texture was not at all light. Nor appropriate to the sole. There was a density and a heaviness to the sole that I could not but dislike.
I asked the maitre d' whether the Comte was millisieme (of a particular vintage) and the maitre d's answer suggested he did not know some old Comte do have particular vintages associated with them.
(4) 1/2 Rouget-barbet poêlé à la tapenade, Aïoli safrané 49 (Pan fried red mullet with tapenade, safran aioli)
This was a nicest dish of the meal, and it went to my dining companion who was nice enough to accord me 1/2 of their 1/2 dish. The red mullet was delicately made, and had a non-particularly-garlicky aioli that was appropriate for the dish. The olives were not evident at all, for black olive jus had merely saturated a very thin crispy item on the edge of the dish. Nice presentation as a rectangular, thin item, with a bit of oil surrounding applicable parts :)
(5) Caillette de porcelet aux épices 38 , Recette du Viandier de Guillaume Tirel dit Taillevent, ca 1360
(Suckling pig caillette sausage with spices, recipe from Le Viandier by Guillaume Tirel)
What a disappointing dish, which Taillevent had introduced in October to celebrate the anniversary of teh restaurant. Patterned after a 14th century recipe from the recipe book created by the chef dubbed Taillevent. I had been looking forward to this dish for a while. We were told it is unclear whether the dish will remain on the menu beyond a limited period.
The actual quality of the dish is vastly different from the evocative description of the dish furnished by P Wells: "For his classic touch, Solivérès looked back to Taillevent himself, 14th century chef to French royalty who was the first to codify French cuisine in the form of a manuscript published in 1373, le Viandier. Soliveres offered his rendition of Taillevents roast pork, with a succulent roasted suckling pig, anointed with such rustic ingredients as chestnuts, and lentils, as well as grapes and pears. Spicy, ginger and cinnamon-flecked meatballs or caillettes -- were made of pork liver, hearts, brains and tongue and wrapped in delicate caul fat."
First of all, the dish has a base of poorly cooked oignons doux de cevennes, that had a bit of acidity and that reminded one almost of a slight, slight sauerkraut effect (but with onions, obviously, incl. the slight sweetness of cevenne onions). The white and black grapes included in the saucing are too sweet for the dish, and the dish lacks refinement, almost bringing to mind a dish I would expect at a bouchon in Lyons (not that I have yet been to one, for want of time) than a three-star in Paris. I appreciate that certain older recipes have significant sweet connotations, but this was not appealing in the dish. The saucing was meat stock-based, and of medium robustness.
There were various parts of the piglet's flesh included in the dish, including 2 not-so-small rib sections with bone in. Maybe, leaving aside the meatball portion (caillettes), at least 3-4 different types of cuts from the piglet. Now, that would ordinarily intrigue me, but I asked myself -- was the intrinsic flesh of the piglet appealing? And the answer had to be a resounding negative. The piglet flesh was not poor; it was just not as tender and flavorful as I would have liked (I appreciate the manner of preparation may not have been intended to highlight such qualities, but still I expect them from piglets)
The caillettes -- or more appropriately, the single caillette -- did not remove this dish from its generally mediocre level. Everything (incl. certain offal, incl. liver, which was a dominant taste) had been sort of chopped up and cooked into a dense, insufficiently moist ball that was about the diameter of my pinkie.
This dish is another example -- yet another example -- of how increased expectations lead to sharper disappointment.
(6) Ravioles à l'ananas et aux fruits exotiques (Pineapple and exotic fruits ravioli) 20
Desserts were generally good. A large slice of marinated pinapple was the "skin" for the ravioli, which covered diced mangos, passionfruit, pineapple, etc. Appropriate, and not unduly sweet.
(7)Mille feuille à la vanille Bourbon (Bourbon vanilla mille-feuille) 20
Quite nicely executed, although the millefeuille is not the type with the thinnest of layers and lots of them. Little balls of vanilla-flavored material between the two principal sections of millefeuille.
Total cost about 275 euros per person, with a bottle of Chablis -- Raveneau and a reasonably priced bottle of red Burg. I doubt I would return. I've dined at the restaurant before and not been thrilled, but perhaps this was the worse meal (I've had fewer than five total) received at Taillevent under any chef.
(SD: Apologies I was unable to stop by :()