5 Rue de Moutalembert, Paris
Dinner on Oct 24, 2004
The menu I chose was called “Menu Decouverte,” translation: discovery menu. At E98, it was a very eclectic menu with 8 courses, exclusive of wine. The layout was quite contemporary: it was not based on the typical starter-main-dessert plan as a prix fixe menu normally does in Paris. Instead, it was broken down into 8 dishes. First you have an amuse-bouche, as usual, follows by foie gras, chestnut, lobster, scallop, soup, either the pigeon or the pork, rice pudding with caramel and a fruit platter.
The amuse bouche was a grilled clam covered with pesto sauce. The presentation scored almost full marks. The clam was put on top of a bed of sea salt and surrounded by drizzles of red beans. Very appealing to the eyes, and very Japanese inspired. Considering this eatery has a sibling in Tokyo, I was not surprised at all. Still, the taste failed to par with the look: I could neither taste the freshness of the clam nor the fragrant of the pesto.
The first dish was “le foie gras,” duck foie gras and veal terrine with pistachio from Sicily, my favorite island in the world. They say Sicily produces the best pistachio in the world and obviously Mr. Robuchon agrees. The crunchiness of the pistachio matched perfectly with the soothing texture of the foie gras and veal terrine. A perfect match between meat and green. This was the kind of dish I ordered this menu for. Because I knew the best chef always goes with the best ingredients available.
The second one was “la chataigne,” chestnut soup with celery and smoked lard. O la la. I am the most notorious chestnut monster this world has come to know. I eat one chestnut infused food when I see one. And this goodie even got smoked lard, the divine seasoned and smoked lard from Italy. The heady smoked flavor of the lard was very distinctive and tangoed surprisingly well with the sweetness of the chestnut. This was the kind of dish I came here for. Because I knew the best chef always buckles with contrasting materials well.
The third one was “la langoustine.” Prawn in ravioli, covered with truffle jus. Truffle, in season; prawn, from Brittany; what else should I say. The essences of French culinary art were all presented in this plate: eat according to season, cook according to tradition. This was the kind of dish I came Paris for. Because I knew the best chef always stay true to the basics of cooking art.
The fourth one was “la noix de Saint-Jacques.” The scallop was unlike those I tried before. Instead of pan-fried the scallop, this one was grilled together with its shell, with a bit of sea salt and herbs atop. Very perky to the mouth. The plumpness and the freshness of the scallop were easily elevated by the salt and the herbs. This was the kind of dish I came France for. Because I knew the best chef always do great ingredients justice in the simplest way.
The firth one was “le cepe,” a soup of crème legere, which was pastry cream folded into whipped cream (with a little gelatin added, as I later came to know) and mushroom, bathing a poached egg. At first the poached egg was invisible and I was ignorant enough to think this was just another mushroom soup. The soup was very scrumptious and I was very contented. But as I found out later, the real highlight was the egg hidden inside. It was totally surreal. It was as smooth as silk and as soft as cotton. The simple flavor of the egg, mixed up with the piquant flavor of the mushroom, simply explored in my head. The most wonderful thing about a great chef is that he can transform simple material into great masterpiece. Take the egg for example. You know where to buy it, how to cook with it in various ways but you just neglect all along how to make it tastes best. With Robuchon, even an egg can be renewed into something extraordinary. Formidable. The supremacy of the best chef. This was the kind of dish I am living for.
The sixth one was “la Caille.” Pan-fried white pigeon with caramel jus, sided with potato puree. I ordered this because I wanted to try the legendary potato puree of Robuchon. I’d heard so many nice things about this potato puree. Some say nobody does better potato puree than Monsieur Robuchon, that the potatoes were grown in Robuchon’s own garden and zipped to Paris by high-speed train; some say the potato is bathed in milk before it is cooked. I must taste it to see whether it lives up to its reputation. The verdict? Yes. It was sensational. It looked luminous and it tasted insubstantial. With this sublime puree, even the black truffle and the white pigeon suddenly became supporting casts. Even though I knew take-away was not welcomed in Paris, I still wanted to rush in the kitchen and asked for a basket of it so that I could gnaw this delicacy on my way back to Hong Kong. This was the kind of dish I exhausted myself to death in the 14-hour long haul flight for.
The dessert couple finale, however, was the anti-climax to this otherwise splendid dinner. The “le Riz Rond,” vanilla ice cream on top of a rice pudding and the “les fruit exotiques,” fruit platter with kiwi sorbet, were not as stellar as the previous dishes. The vanilla ice cream was only “comsi comca” whereas the rice pudding beneath, though spread with caramel jus, failed to be tasty. The “les fruit exotiques” was not exceptional neither.
The biggest drawback meanwhile, was the service. There is no way for this eatery to clinch more than 2 macaroons if service still means a thing to those inspectors of Michelin. They were friendly and helpful but not as professional as other big names such a Le Cinq or Taillevent. I did see a waitress dropped the fork in front of the guest and the guest had to pick it up for the waitress. And because of the sushi bar design, you sometimes have to grip the plate yourself from the waiter. But overall, for about E100, it is still a bargain for a great dining experience in an establishment of Robuchon, sans great service.