Pierre Gagnaire, Paris 2
March 18, 2008
We used to go to Michelin three star restaurants several times a year, but have been neglecting them recently. We did go to Astrance in January of last year, but that was before it received its third star. The last one before that was in January 2006 when we went back to our favourite restaurant anywhere, Pierre Gagnaire. So on our two night trip to Paris March 11 and 12, 2008, we went to two: Le Meurice, which I have just blogposted separately, and, of course, Pierre Gagnaire, where we had lunch on March 13 before getting on a plane back to Nice.
When I made our first reservation at Pierre Gagnaire in 1993, he had two stars and had just moved into a dramatic building in St. Etienne, his home town in central France. He received his third star just before our meal. We were blown away by the successful imagination of his cuisine, the unexpected ingredients and combinations. This was before we had heard of Ferran Adrià or the other celebrity inventor chefs. Our second visit in St. Etienne was not so successful. The cuisine was still great, but he was overbooked on a holiday Friday evening and the kitchen could not keep up. Gagnaire went bankrupt shortly afterwards.
When he reopened in 1996 in Paris, we went and have been going about every other year since then. He won his third Michelin star back in 1998. The Restaurant Magazine 2007 list of the “100 best in the world” ranks Pierre Gagnaire third. I have now been turned down three times for a reservation at No. 1, El Bulli. No. 2, Fat Duck turned me down even though I was calling at night from Tasmania just after reservations opened for the evening I wanted. So I imagine that I’ll never get higher up the list. That is okay; No. 5, Tetsuya’s was a big disappointment last month. Anyone planning a trip to Paris in advance can easily get a reservation at Pierre Gagnaire by telephone or email.
The cuisine is always great, but occasionally the kitchen is slow. We have always ordered the tasting menu before, but decided to order à la carte this time, partially because the à la carte courses we had seen before looked so extravagent and partially because we only had three hours to enjoy the meal before we had to leave for the airport. The welcome was warm as always. The ambiance and service are elegant without the formalism we found at Le Meurice two days before.
We ordered two flutes of Champagne while we contemplated the menu. There is a weekday fixed small luncheon menu, which featured leg of lamb that day, but we were more ambitious and ordered from the selection of four first courses. Then we both chose the same main course from the bigger lists of fish or meat possibilities. We ordered a bottle of the 2005 Chéry Condrieu, not well known, but one of the best, and a half bottle of 2005 Savigny aux Guettes for the transition to red wine.
The five amuses-gueule arrived. They were explained to us, but I will not try to duplicate that here. They were all interesting and delicious. As you will see, the photography was not easy as there were so many small dishes scattered in front of us for each course. Although everything is beautifully presented, the soupy ones in little cups are not photogenic. I tried to take general shots and then close-ups of highlights. Fortunately, I could clip the French course descriptions from the website.
En tartare à la mangue verte, feuille de nougatine.
Grillées, beurre fondu relevé de poudre de carcasse.
Poêlée à la coriandre fraîche, Sketch up. Bouillon de santé voilé de farine de maïs.
Juste écrasées à la spatule, servies sur un toast chips au lard ibérique.
En consommé glacé cendré de caroube.
Soja frais et pousses de moutarde.
Yes, there were seven different plates all with different versions of langoustine, a small type of lobster, usually from the North Sea.
From top to bottom in the upper left photo:
Langoustine in a mousse (When Linda said how good it was, they brought her another cup;)
With bean sprouts and mustard greens;
Grilled on little skewers with powder made from a reduction of the shells;
A jellied consommé flavored with carob powder;
Raw on a green mango purée with a wafer;
Molded on a piece of toast with a slice of Spanish ham on top;
Roasted and served with cilantro on a tomato base.
My descriptions and the photos do not do justice either to the cuisine, its presentation or the poetry of the menu, but I thought I should try to give my readers who do not know French some idea of what was going on. The langoustine was fresh and flavorful; all seven of the variations were superb.
My first course was:
LES ENTREES ORIENTALE
Aiguillettes et pâté de pigeon : poivron rouge, pâte d’amande au sel, fruits secs en amertume.
Infusion gélifiée de citron vert à l’ortie ; crème glacée d’endive au saké rouge, grosse gambas sauvage de Madagascar au poivre de Sarawak.
Bonite saisie au grill, enrobée de saté frais ; humus au jus de crevette grise.
These were mostly variations on Near Eastern flavors. In the deeper bowl were pieces of pigeon with sweet red peppers, unsweeted dried fruits and almond flavor. In the flat bowl were jellies of lime and of thistles topped by a sort of endive and red sake sorbet; well, you get the idea. Pieces of a sashimi of shrimp were along the top edge. The piece of fish was grilled bonito with a peanut and shrimp essence sauce. Are you following me? Anyway, they were all delicious. These are all ingredients in common use in various oriental countries, enhanced with updated French techniques in uncommon ways. It is not test tube cuisine like some of Gagnaire’s rivals. The gee whiz factor is the flavor.
RIS ET ROGNON DE VEAU
Noix de ris de veau de lait dorée de sucre de canne, agrémentée de gingembre frais ; déglaçage au cidre fermier ; liaison papaye verte & arachides.
Toast Noir de rognon taillé en petits dés, une fondue d’échalote au macvin.
Jus de pomme verte onctueux, burratta.
We both like sweetbreads a lot, although I have never succeded in cooking them well at home. Here you can see them being served with a ginger, green papaya and peanut sauce, which gave a little tang to offset the softness of the sweetbreads.
The veal kidneys have been diced and served under a black wafer with a cream of shallots and macvin, a fortified wine from the Jura.
The green apple jelly is topped with burrata, the cream and mozzarella mix.
We were having a wonderful time.
The cuisine was all fabulous and we still consider Pierre Gagnaire to be our favourite restaurant anywhere.
For other good blogposts see: