Monday, May 27, 2013


After my adventure in London, I traveled to Paris.  I knew that I when I was going to go to Paris, I wanted to dine in at least one fine dining restaurant that ideally was one of the world's best restaurants.  The restaurant that I chose was L'Arpege, a French restaurant that, while not vegetarian as such, focuses heavily on seasonal vegetables.  It was rated, this year, as the 16th best restaurant in the world.  It is located on the south side of the Seine in the 6th Arondissement on Rue de Varenne  which seems to be embassy row.  The narrow road had high white walls and guarded gates.  I passed four embassies on the way to the restaurant.  Because all of the walls were white and there were no signs, it was a little difficult to find, although the fact that the door was not located on Rue de Varenne didn't help either.  When I found my way into the restaurant, I was seated at what had to be the worst table in the house.  The table was located next to the door from the entry hall.  While the tables were not crowded close together, the glasses, silverware, wine and cheese were located on rolling carts, there was also not a staging area, and it looked like it would be a little difficult to move around sometimes.  While L'Arpege does have an a la carte menu, there is also a tasting menu which I went with so that I could possibly get the greatest idea of what they do.  Before my first course arrived, I was brought my first Amuse Bouche which was served to everyone regardless of what they ordered.  It was very colorful, with a lot of variety, and showed the emphasis that vegetables were going to play in the dinner.  It started with what were essentially three thick sliced potato chips formed into bowls with each filled with something different.  One of the chips was filled with a carrot puree topped with chives, one of the chips was filled with a pea puree topped with a tomato and soy sauce, and the last was filled with a beet puree topped with creme fraiche.  It was very artful, crisp, and really brought out the flavors of the vegetables.
The next dish was also called an Amuse Bouche but it was actually the first course of the tasting menu.  It looked like, and was, a Soft Boiled Egg, but it was more complex than that.  Contained in an egg shell, the egg white was on top and topped with spices.  It was light and creamy and had a sherry vinegar topping.  The egg yolk was in the bottom of the shell and was poached.  This was very flavorful, and fun to eat, and it was a great start to the meal.

My server called my first dish a beet sushi which is exactly what it was.  It was a thin beet slice wrapped around some vinegared rice.  It was very simple but because it was so simple, it had to be done perfectly because there is so little to focus on.  This was very good.  The beet was crisp and tender and was sliced thinly enough that it wrapped around the rice.  The rice was sticky and the slightly flavor reminded me of the vinaigrette that is used on a salad.  It went very well with the beet flavor.
The next dish was called Lanyard Lobster Honey with a Transparent Globe Turnip.  What it was was essentially a lobster ravioli topped with honey and caviar with the turnip used as the ravioli wrapper.  For a long time, I have been unsure as to whether I like lobster or not because they have all been stiff and rubbery.  This was definitely not the case here.  The entire thing was crisp, tender, and flavorful.  It was sweet and slightly briny and was very good.
The next dish actually was called ravioli.  It was actually called Fine Multicolored Vegetable Ravioli with Consumed Amber.  It was ravioli, but it was vegetable ravioli in a vegetable broth.  Each of the raviolis had different vegetable fillings including peas, carrots, beans, and beets.  It had a lot of variety and was done well but despite this, I actually found it kind of boring.
The next dish was another soup although this was richer and had much more substance.  It was a green garlic soup topped with a big dollop of creme fraiche.  I like squash and this was very good.  It was rich and peppery, with a lot of garlic flavor and was obviously very creamy.
The next dish was very simple but again, the simple was very good.  It was a vegetable collection, a carrot puree, sauteed spinach, and grapefruit zest candied in beet syrup.  Every element was was very brightly flavored and actually went together well.  The carrots and spinach go together well obviously but the grapefruit zest candied in beet syrup had both grapefruit and beet flavors which also went together well.

The next course was also a very simple vegetable course but for this course, the main part of the dish was very recognizable.  It was an asparagus stalk served with bay leaves.  It was crisp, buttery, with a good asparagus flavor.

After this, we proceeded past vegetables as the main part of courses.  I was served Turbot with Potatoes, Chives, and Grilled Romaine Lettuce with a Cream Sauce.  It was good and while the vegetables were very good, it was nice to get a little variety.
For whatever reason, there was a hiccup in the service after the turbot and I waited about 40 minutes for my next course.  It was a vegetable cous cous dish with beets, green onions, and garlic.  It was flavorful but it was also a little dry.  This may have been do to the wait, but I would say that this was one of my least favorite dishes.  This was the last savory dish so I would expect a pause after which there was but it wasn't as long.  There was a cheese course next although I forgot to photograph it.
Before dinner started, I was told that I had a choice to make for one of my courses.  I don't remember what my choice was but I do remember that I chose Veal Sweetbreads in a Cream Sauce with Broccoli and Spinach  I have liked sweetbreads in the past and this was really good.
The first dessert course was a lot more complex than it looked and this was actually a little disappointing.  I was served a plate of petit fors which included Macarons, Tarts, Chocolates, Nougats, Marshmallows, and Gelees.  All of the pieces were sweet but they were also more complex than they needed to be.  I don't remember what was used in each of the pieces but I do remember carrots, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, thyme, and pepper and beets.  I might have liked some of this stuff if I had prepared for them but it was too complex.
For the last dish, I was served a Millefeuille, a multi-layered pastry of alternating thin pastry and cream.  This was very good and while it is complex in construction, it was fairly simple in taste.  It was crisp and sweet and had a slight whiskey flavor.  This made up for the overly complex petit fors and made for a fitting ending to the dinner.

While I did enjoy my dinner at L'Arpege overall, I was not happy with my seating, and the flow wasn't perfect.  I enjoyed my dinner here and Alain Passard does amazing things with vegetables but I don't know if I would return.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

St. John

Before I went to London, I had heard about another restaurant that sounded interesting.  It was a little off the beaten path, but it wasn't that heard to get to.  The restaurant, St. John, is located in an old smokehouse and is a truly English restaurant that does seasonal, nose-to-tail cooking.  Located in an old smokehouse near the Smithfield Market, a centuries old meat market, it really reminds me of a farm building despite being located in a very densely populated area.  The front of St, John looks like a small shop that takes (or does) deliveries.  With a large freight door on the left and a smaller door that might be assumed to be the entrance on the right.  It might be assumed to be the entrance but it would be assumed wrongly.  The door on the right is actually for the restaurant offices.  The big freight entrance is actually the proper entrance.  It is not however, a freight entrance.  There are a few tables in the room and as you walk further back, you walk into the bar and bakery which has a large skylight.  All of this area is painted white and has little design.  The main dining area to St. John is actually up a flight of stairs located in the bar and bakery.  It is a circuitous route to get to the host's station but it is right inside the entrance at the top of the stairs and I was seated immediately upon announcing myself.  The main dining area is also very white with wooden chairs and white tablecloth covered tables with white paper on top of that.  The kitchen was in one corner and looked relatively small.  I mentioned that St. John does nose to tail cooking.  Having looked at the menu frequently before I arrived, I saw that the menu changed frequently and it could at times be a little challenging.  Looking at the menu before I ordered, I saw that it was going to be a little challenging simply because there were several things on the menu that I didn't know.  I asked the waiter (who was also in white) to explain a few things and while he did, he was a bit snarky about it.  The waiter actually reminded me a bit of Will Ferrell.  While I did appreciate the help, I didn't appreciate the sarcasm.  After my questions were answered, I made my order and tried to get past the waiter's attitude.

For my appetizer, I ordered the Roast Bone Marrow with Parsley Salad.  I have had marrow before and have really enjoyed it.  In normal circumstances, you are given a small fork to remove the marrow from the bone and it is normally spread on some bread which is frequently toasted.  While I am certain that I would have enjoyed this in the same way, the server was pretty specific as to how I should eat it.  It was similar to how I would have normally eaten it but there were some differences.  I was to spread the marrow onto the the toasted country bread that was served with it.  Sprinkle it with some wet salt that was served on the side, and top it with the parsley salad.  With four bones (with a lot of marrow in each), I actually had more marrow than I had salad to eat it with but it was all good.  The marrow was very smooth and buttery, the salt added salt (obviously), and the salad was fresh, crisp, and very flavorful.  In addition to the parsley, the salad had thinly sliced onions, and was lightly coated with a vinaigrette.  It tasted very good and got me well on my way to getting over my feelings of insult by my waiter.

I don't remember exactly what the dish I ordered for my main course was called but I was surprised when it came out.  It may have been called a Breaded Veal Cutlet with Artichoke and Spinach but I recognized it as a Veal Schnitzel which is a favorite dish of mine at a German Deli near where I work.  A half a lemon came with it to add some acid and to allow it to pair better with the artichokes and spinach (with capers).  It was good as all fried foods are and the lemon provided a needed sour element to the dish.

I had heard of my dessert before I ordered it but I wasn't exactly sure what it was.  I remembered reading or hearing that it was very good so I decided to try it out despite what I thought was a rather non-descriptive name.  I ordered an Eton Mess.  While I say that it was non-descriptive, I found after I got it that it was only non-descriptive in that it was not obvious from the name what it was made of.  It very much looked like a mess, but a very good mess.  It was composed of whipped cream, meringues, and strawberries.  The dessert was apparently created at Eton College and is served during cricket matches between Eton and Winchester.  The mess seemed obvious from the appearance.  This was a very simple dessert (as everything else here was very simple), but like everything else, it is done very well. 

As far as the food was concerned, I really liked what I had.  The restaurant was very English in that the food was very simple but it was prepared very well.  I found the spartan and rustic design of the restaurant rather interesting and even though it was a little disconcerting to wander through the (well lit) building to find where I was to announce myself, it was kind of cool to see the building.  I liked my visit here despite being put off by the waiter but because of the attitude of the waiter, I am not sure that I would visit again.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Ledbury

When I travel, not only do I want to see the sights, I also want to try the cuisine.  I want to dine at the restaurants of note and try the cuisine for which the area I am visiting is known.  I visited London recently and had the opportunity to dine at The Ledbury, a restaurant located in the Notting Hill neighborhood that was rated the 13th best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino and Restaurant Magazine.  Notting Hill is a bit off the beaten path for many London visitors but as the place I was staying was a little off the beaten path as well, it would have been a pretty easy walk if the streets of London were well marked.  I left early which was a good thing because it took the extra time to actually find the place.  In any case, I made it there and was immediately seated by a very friendly host.  The dining room was a large square with high ceilings and hanging lights.  The bar was in the corner near the entrance with a backlit wine rack there were several square pillars in the room that broke up the open space but it still felt very open and the space was very well lit.  The menu is either divided into a three course prix fixe, of which you have several choices for each course, or you can go for the Tasting Menu which lists 10 items.  As I knew that I would not be visiting again soon and i wanted to get the greatest experience that I could, I went with the Tasting Menu.  On the menu, the first item was listed as an Amuse Bouche.  It was actually two amuse bouches.  The first was a Squid Ink Crisp with Whipped Scallop, Caviar, and Apple Caviar.  It was served on a round, flat stone serving plate.  The rest of the meal was also served on stone plates.  The crisp was crisp, briny, and very flavorful with both tart and seafood flavors.  While it did get me excited for the rest of the meal the next item which I actually forgot to take a picture of was even better.  It was a Chestnut Biscuit (cracker) with Foie Gras and Blood Orange.  The flavor was not subtle.  It was sweet and tart from the blood orange, with the richness of the foie gras and the nuttiness of the chestnut.  The amuses did their job and got me excited for the rest of the meal.

For my first course, I had what they called a Cold Courgette Soup With Tomato and Creme Fraiche and garnished with Caviar, I had no idea what a courgette was but I gathered that it was a vegetable because the soup was very green.  It had a very fresh and vegetable flavor and it was pretty rich.  It was good even if I didn't know exactly what it was.  I found later that courgette is also known as zucchini which I know and love very well even if I have never had zucchini soup.

The next dish was a Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Kohlrabi, Seaweed Oil, and Frozen Horseradish.  I would never think of a frozen ceviche and this wasn't completely frozen but it did have a frozen element that provided some extra texture and toned down the burn of the horseradish.  The scallop was very tender, the horseradish did provide some burn, but the ice toned down the burn and it was very good.

The next step in the progression went to fish.  It was a Grilled Mackerel with Pickled Vegetables, Celtic Mustard, and Shiso.  What I remember about this was that the fish was very mild and the vegetable flavors came to the forefront.  I was having the wine pairing with the meal and I remember discussing with the sommelier that I thought that the wine paired better with the vegetables than the fish.

The next dish was actually my favorite.  It was another fish dish.  It was a Grilled Sea Bass with Broccoli, Crab, and Black Quinoa.  The broccoli was very crisp and fresh and the fish was tender and salty.  The quinoa coated the top of the bass and was like a toothsome pasta.  The crab sort of garnished the dish and while it added to the flavor it was subtle.

The next dish was could potentially have been a dish that I didn't care for but it, like everything else was very good.  It consisted of Roast Quail, Cepes (mushrooms), Pears, and Walnuts.  I generally don't care for pears because I find the texture too gritty but they were cooked well and while I could taste the pear, it wasn't terrible.  It did pair well with the quail and the mushrooms and walnuts made for a great dish.

The next course was a pre-dessert cheese course.  I was served 5 different cheeses that went from soft to hard and included a nice blue as well as bread and jams.  I was actually surprised at the size of the course and wondered if I was going to be able to finish my meal.

For the next pre-dessert, I was served a Mango Granita with Meringue and Jellies.  It was tart, cold, sweet, and the meringue melted in my mouth.  It was very good and disappeared very quickly.

For the dessert, I was served a Brown Sugar Tart, with Poached Grapes, and Stem Ginger Ice Cream.  This was very flavorful and every element brought a lot of flavor to it.  It was sweet, spicy, and sharp, and a very enjoyable end to the meal.  If I could have gotten away with licking the plate, I would have.

For the finish, I was brought a small bowl of petit fors with a Strawberry Gelee, a Chocolate Truffle, and a Meringue with Butterscotch.  They were very light, sweet, and left a smile on my face.

The Ledbury was the best restaurant I have ever been to bar none.  The place looked very nice, the service was very friendly and prompt, the flow of the dinner was very smooth, and the food was very, very good.  It was very expensive but it was not the most expensive restaurant that I have ever been to and it was very worth  it.  Given the opportunity, I would easily make the decision to return.