Sunday 27 July 2014

London and Paris Foodie Adventure: Day 8- Chateaubriand

129 Avenue Parmentier, 75011 Paris, France
+33 1 43 57 45 95

Tastiness Factor: 8/10

Atmosphere: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Locavore Approved? YES- Just like several of the other restaurants that we enjoyed on this European foodie adventure (SeptimeHedone), Chateaubriand surprises its guests with a new menu EVERY SINGLE DAY which is a hallmark of a true locavore restaurant.  Most of the fresh and seasonal ingredients were very simply prepared, albeit often in very unique and unexpected ingredients (samphire, elderberry) and ingredient combinations (capers with sorbet and cherries!).  Our farewell plate was about as simple as it gets- a dish of unaltered freshly picked strawberries.

We first discovered Chateaubriand on Anthony Bourdain's televsion series "No Reservations" and we decided right away that this place had the potential to be one of our favourites.  Its daily-changing menu,  infamous no-nonsense chef Inaki Aizpitarte, "off the beaten path" location and 27th spot on San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants's list had us intrigued from the get-go.

Chateaubriand was a 30 minute walk from where we were staying in Marais.   It was a great to stroll through the hip Republique district which was alive and jumping even on our walk home at 10pm.  The street around Chateaubriand itself is certainly nothing special, but you will know you are almost there when you spy groups of people spilling out onto the sidewalk waiting to get in.  Because Chateaubriand is in such high demand and reservations are only taken for the 1st seating at 7:30, Aizpitarte built a bar next door called Le Dauphin where guests can grab a drink (or, more likely, multiple drinks) while they wait or their table.  When we were leaving just after 9:30 on a Thursday night, Le Dauphin was jam-packed with eager customers so I guess the second seating must go until the wee hours of the morning!

Le Dauphin
The front of the restaurant is completely open to the street, allowing for a refreshing breeze to pass through the room.  If it is a warm summer Paris evening, I would suggest nabbing a table in the front of the restaurant.  We thought it might be more intimate at the back but found it a little stuffy.

The atmosphere is very casual, which goes along with Aizpitarte's revolt against fussy classic French dining..  I quite liked the multi-color tile floors, wood tables and even the tilted lights on the chandeliers.  If I did not know better, I would have thought I was back home in Vancouver at a hip new spot in East Van rather than in Paris!

We arrived just before 7:30 for the reserved early seating (reservations can be made 2 weeks ahead of time).  The service started out well, with a server coming to sit himself at the table next to us, explain the menu and ask about allergies/restrictions.  He kindly agreed to honour my pescatarian request, which on that evening, required only 1 dish to be switched out.  We then had another server recommend us a bottle of wine to go along with the tasting menu.  So far, so good.  But as the evening progressed, the service went downhill.  I actually felt bad for the servers who looked like they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  We would have a dish practically thrown in front of us, described in a few hurried words that we could not understand and then the server would run off to the next stable.  I have never been one to like overly formal service, and did not mind having to pour my own wine or own water, but I would have really appreciated a bit more personality from the waitstaff of a restaurant that has garnered such wide acclaim.

Chateaubriand offers a "degustation" (tasting) menu, which includes several amuse bouche (5 on our visit), 3 mains, and either a cheese course or 2 desserts.  All of this is reasonably priced at 65 euros (125 euros with wine pairings).  There was quite an interesting assortment of cuisines throughout the meal, with a surprising number of Asian-inspired dishes especially in the amuse bouches.  This is about as far away from classical french as it gets!

 Here is a rundown of our meal, with descriptions of our favourites marked with asterisk.

Wine- We opted not to do the wine pairings so one of the servers (not sure if he was sommelier?) assisted us in choosing a wine that would pair nicely with that evening's seafood-heavy menu.  The very nice (and also quite economical) bottle of wine was left on our table on ice for us to pour for ourselves to during the meal.  We were not shown the bottle before it was poured which we found a little odd, but that seems to be the way it works here so we went with it.

Bread- Hubby, the bread lover and connoisseur, felt the bread deserves special mention.  He loved the soft, chewy texture.

Amuse Bouche: 

Cheese buns:

Broth with Thai flavours:

Indian-spiced "straws":

***Crab and carrot salad- This Thai-inspired amuse, with its very forward Thai flavours (a good dose of sesame oil and fish sauce) was really quite special considering how simple it outwardly appeared.

***Chilled pea and tarragon soup- I am not usually a chilled soup fan but I could not help but love this light cream soup that was  bursting with summer flavour.


Squid, almonds and samphire:

Turbot, sesame and elderberry:

***Secreto, salsa verde and onions- Hubby had the dish as is with the secreto (a Spanish ham) , while they kindly substituted cod for me.  Accompanying the pork/cod was a refreshing salsa verde, and then the whole dish was served topped with a generous heap of crunchy fried fennel fronds.  It was unbelievably good and was by far the standout dish of the meal.  Hubby maintains that it was one of the best of the trip for him.


Cherries and capers:

"Tocino de cielo":

Fresh strawberries:

Overall verdict?

Although we appreciated Chef Aizpitarte's departure from classic french cuisine and his use of very unique flavour combinations, we really didn't feel that this place lived up to the hype.  While I totally understand their desire to create a casual, non-pretentious dining experience, I do expect a minimum level of service and they fell short.  While one of mains was admittedly beyond delicious, there were few other dishes that really blew us away.

I really wanted to love you Chateaubriand, but to be honest, you let us down.

Sunday 20 July 2014

London and Paris Foodie Adventure 2014: Day 7- Atelier Joel Robichon

5 Rue Montalembert, 75007 Paris, France
+33 1 42 22 56 56

Tastiness factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore Approved? Not really- Of course, all of the ingredients here were extremely fresh and I am sure that there was local produce used in the creation of our dishes, but the focus here is more on deluxe ingredients than local ones (sometimes these go hand in hand and sometimes they don't).  The dishes on the menu do not seem to change as often as some of the other places we visited in Paris (Septime, Chateaubriand).  

From the time we began planning this trip many months ahead, Atelier Joel Robuchon was the restaurant that Hubby was most looking forward to.  He tends to like going to the culinary mecca's of the big name chefs more than I do (I prefer checking out the less well-known gems) and, having never been to one of Robuchon's restaurants in the past, this was a must for him.

A word of caution- there are actually two Robuchon restaurants in Paris, St. Germain and Etoile.  I am sure they are both very good (both have 2 Michelin stars) but we wanted to dine at the St. Germain location which is the original Atelier.  We also preferred dining in St. Germain over the Champs Elysees where Etoile is located as it was both closer to Marais where we were staying and less touristy.

Upon finding Atelier St. Germain on a chic side street quite close to the Notre Dame cathedral, you will  note its rather non-descript exterior with a simple black awning located adjacent to a hotel.  We were also rather surprised to fine an elegant yet very casual interior which is apparently Robuchon's new style after he came out of retirement in 2003 to open Atelier St. Germain.  Guests have the option of traditional dining at tables in the back, or right in the action around the bar out front.  We chose to sit at the bar so that we could watch all of the action in the semi-open kitchen.  It resembled an upscale sushi bar and was apparently built to replicate just that.  Besides the entertainment of watching the chefs hard at work, the bar also offers the opportunity to chat with other diners throughout the meal.  We were fortunate enough to be seated next to two lovely couples and we chatted away the whole evening.  Although the traditional dining room may be the better choice for a business meeting or romantic soiree,  we felt that our interactive experience at the bar made our evening that much more special and enjoyable.

On previous online reviews, I had read quite a few snarky remarks about "horrible service" and therefore, was a bit leery of us being treated in the stereotypical rude Parisian manner (which, for the record, we certainly have not experienced anywhere in the city).  We had a number of servers who all remained behind the bar for the whole evening and they were all very personable.  By the end of the night, we were joking with them about the FIFA world cup which was on at the time.  They showed great enthusiasm in talking about the food, and were happy to offer dish descriptions in English.  After dinner, they even took one young boy into the kitchen to meet the sous-chef and take pictures.  They could not have been more accommodating.

My only little quibble with the service was that I had called ahead to request a pescatarian menu which they said they would make note of but when I arrived it had not been noted and there was a question of if it could even be done.  In the end though, the chef kindly obliged.  Also, some may not appreciate the fact that they have to show up early and line up for the first seating at 6:30 before they even open (this is the only seating for which they take reservations) and then gradually trickle in when the hostess gets to you but because I knew this ahead of time, this was not really a huge deal for us.

Guests have the choice of dining either a la carte or opting for the multi-course tasting menu.  We absolutely loved the tasting menu and highly recommend going for it.  Having said that, we did see some pretty amazing a la carte options across the bar so that option is likely also a great one for those who do not want to splurge on tasting menu.

Ou tasting menu was spectacular overall, and Hubby maintains that it was his favourite of the trip.  Having said that, we both felt that the meal started off with a bang, took a little dip in the middle with a few "just ok" dishes and then picked up steam again at the end with some great desserts.

Here is the rundown of our menu.  Our favourite dishes have accompanying asterisk and brief description.

***Le Crabe Royale (amuse bouche)- It was amazing that such yumminess could fit into a few bites. The Japanese flavours were a fitting start since we were sitting around the bar.

***La Tomate- I am not at all a gazpacho fan but this was admittedly out of this world. It was creamy and with the freshest of tomato flavour.  What really hit it out of the park was dijon mustard ice cream (yes, you read it correctly) and a few croutons to top it off.  Amazing!!!

***Le Caviar- The delicious lightly cured salmon would have made this a great dish in itself.  And then you add a generous dollop of caviar.  Even better.  But the real surprise of this dish was the half-cooked egg mixed with maple syrup.  It should not have worked, but it so did.  This was the best dish of the night, and even one of the best dishes of our trip.

La Langoustine

Le Foie Gras

Eggplant (pescatarian substitution)

***Gyoza- Hubby swooned over this dish.  He loved the Asian-inspired broth beneath the little dumplings filled with chicken and spices.

Squid (pescatarian substitution)

Le Rouget

***La Caille- This squab dish is said to be one Robichon's signature dishes so Hubby just had to get it (there were 3 options for the entree).  The bird was stuffed with foie gras, served with Robichon's famous mashed potatoes, and then covered (and I mean totally covered) with shaved truffle.  There can be no more decadent a dish and Hubby loved it.

Cod (pescatarian substitution)

Le Parfum Des Iles

***Le Chocolate Tentation- Our servers told us that this dessert has remained on the menu for a while now because of how well received it is, and rightly so, as there is really no way you cannot like it.  It is a bowl of super rich chocolate ganache mixed with oreo.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

Overall verdict?

While some may associate Joel Robuchon with old-school, pretentious fine dining, Atelier Joel Robuchon is really everything but that.  The unique experience of sitting around the bar, talking to fellow foodies and eating dish after dish of spectacular food was unparalleled.  What a unforgettable night it was.

Saturday 19 July 2014

London and Paris Foodie Adventure 2014: Day 6- Septime

80 Rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris, France
+33 1 43 67 38 29

Tastiness Factor: 9.5/10

Atmosphere: 4.5/5

Service: 4.5/5

Locavore approved? YES- Chef Bertrand Grebaut worked under Alain Passard, where he learned the ropes of local-inspired cuisine.  Now at Septime, he is churning out a "mystery menu" that changes every day that he creates based on the freshest ingredients.  This concept is a real locavore pleaser!

Septime was our first restaurant stop in Paris which was an interesting choice since it serves anything but traditional french cuisine.  Instead, with Bertrand Grebaut, Septime has become the avant-gard bistro that everyone is talking about.

Septime is located near Bastille in the 11th arrondissement, in an "up and coming" area with many hip restaurants and bars.  We appreciated that it wasn't in the typical tourist district and that it was a mere 25 minute walk from our apartment in Le Marais.

The outside is plain fairly indiscrete and it would be easy to pass by without a second look if you did not knew what awaited you inside.  Similarly, the inside decor is quite minimalist with wood tables and plain white walls.  Although it was simple, I quite enjoyed the "no frills" vibe which was congruent the restaurant's purpose and its food philosophy.

Contrary to what we had been told about the Paris restaurant experience, Septime offered very friendly and personable service.  The servers wore jeans and sneakers under their blue serving aprons to match their laissez-faire yet attentive style of service.  They offered good descriptions of all of our dishes (in english) and graciously answered all of our food questions.  As was the custom at several of the other places that we visited on our trip, we were told ahead of time that we would be limited to 2 hours at our table, but when we went a bit later, we were still offered coffees and were not rushed out.

We had heard that Septime was one of the hardest tables to get so we were surprised when we arrived for our 7:30 reservation to find the place only a third full.  We then realized that it was the night of the FIFA game between France and Algeria so patrons were occupied elsewhere, but even so, guests began trickling in within the next hour until the space was completely full by the time we left just after 9:30.  So even if you do not manage to snag a reservation, it may be worthwhile to head over later in the evening as a walk-in to try your luck.

The dinner menu is about as straightforward as it gets.  The offering is a "carte blanche" menu of 5 courses for 58 euros that changes almost nightly.  Although some may not like putting themselves totally in the hands of the chef, I welcomed the surprise and really admired the chef's ambition.  Even with the set menu, we were asked about any dietary restrictions/intolerances/dislikes and they very graciously catered to my pescatarian request.  It seemed as though they were even willing to take strong dislikes into account so it is worth speaking up if you have any.

In addition to the "carte blanche", there is also two optional courses, a charcuterie plate to start and a cheese plate for dessert, but for us, the 5 courses was more than enough.

Throughout our entire meal, the food continued to impress us.  It was not only delicious but beautifully presented, expertly prepared and, my favourite part, it was very unique.  I marvelled at the use of many herbs that I had never seen before and the combination of ingredients used.  I am not usually a fan of broths but, when they made their way onto 2 of our 5 dishes, they were admittedly the star component.  I was blown away by the way the dishes could be both simple in their use of seasonal ingredients yet so complex in flavour.

Here is a description of the dishes that we enjoyed on our visit:

Cured white fish, currants, cream- How can something so simple be made to taste so good?  The olive oil and salt on the fish brought out its flavour which was complimented nicely by the sweetness of the currants.

Foie gras, almonds, tomato broth- Between the delicate broth and the sweet pop of the charred tomatoes, the tomato flavour in this dish was blew me away.  The foie was replaced by a poached egg for my pescatarian version, which made the tomato broth that much more delicious.

Octopus, eggplant puree, onion- We had previously never had octopus as the star of a main and I must admit that we were a bit apprehensive at first, but this dish ended up not only being our favourite dish of the meal but also a standout of our whole trip.  The tender, not-at-all chewy piece of octopus was like nothing I had ever tasted, and I just loved the charred flavour.  Everything else on the plate, including the sweetest onion I have ever tasted, knocked this dish right out of the park.

Lamb, greens, goat cheese- This was the only miss of the evening in Hubby's opinion, due to the extremely fatty piece of lamb that he found practically inedible.  This may have been more of a personal taste issue, especially when the meat was combined with goat cheese which is also not his thing.  Having said that, my pescatarian dish had braised lettuce in the place of the lamb and I did enjoy it, although not to the same degree as the others. 

Red berry sorbet, berries, cucumber broth- Cucumber with dessert?  Believe me, it works and it elevated a simple sorbet to something very special.  A perfect, refreshing summer dessert.

Chocolate sorbet, crumble, honey- After such a light, "healthy-tasting" first dessert, it was nice to get a little chocolate treat at the end.  With the honey and crumble, it was a few bites of heaven.

Overall verdict?

Never have I experienced a meal that has left me so bewildered yet so incredibly satisfied.  The flavour combinations that we were offered should not have worked together, but somehow they did, and created some of the best dishes on our trip.  Of all the places that we visited, this place was the restaurant that I am most excited to return to on our next visit to Paris as I yearn to find out what else Chef Grabaut is dreaming up in his genius mind.

If you are searching for a place that will leave you surprised, excited and inspired, Septime is calling your name.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

London and Paris Foodie Adventure 2014: Day 5- Restaurant Story

201 Tooley St, London SE1 2UE, United Kingdom
+44 20 7183 2117

Tastiness Factor: 9/10

Atmosphere: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Locavore approved?  YES- Story uses seasonal British produce wherever possible, which was quite apparent in the dishes we ate.  This was taken to another level when, midway through our meal, we received a passage describing the origins of the wild greens we were eating (local of course, fresh from the ground!).  In addition to their food, they also serve wine from small producers and local ales.  These are some pretty passionate locavores!

Story was one of the first restaurants that I came across when searching for Michelin Star restaurants to visit on our trip to London.  I was immediately intrigued by their philosophy of telling a story through food and also impressed by Chef Tom Sellers receiving his Michelin Star 5 short months after opening.
This, combined with their love of local food, was enough to make me nab a reservation.

Story is located out of the downtown district near London Bridge and, fortunately for us, was a short 5 minute walk from our hotel.  The outside is quite unique as each wall is covered in wood panelling.  Upon entering, I immediately loved the room.  It had large windows on one side, making for a very bright space.  True to its name, it had bookshelves everywhere you turn (including the washroom!) which are full of books.  I also loved the semi-open kitchen along the back wall.  Overall, the space radiated warmth and hospitality

The service was much the same, and was by far the best we experienced in London.  It was very personable and approachable.  I especially liked the sommelier who took the time to speak with us about all of our other restaurant picks in London and who was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic  about food and wine.  It was also a nice touch to have a few dishes served to us by the chefs.

Guests at story have the choice between a 6 and 10 course tasting menu (there is no a la carte menu option).  We decided to splurge on the 10 course menu, which ended up including 20 plates of food!  I appreciated that they agreed to customize my menu to suit my pescatarian request.  All of the dishes were beautifully and whimsically presented which made the whole evening that much more special.

Because there were so many courses, and because the dishes change so regularly, I will not go into detail about each course, but below you will find pictures of (almost) every course with stars and a short description by our favourites.  The dishes that are side by side represent those that were altered/replaced  to suit my pescatarian request.

Amuse bouche- There were SEVEN of these little bites before our meal even started and each one was better than the last!  Hubby’s favourite was the chicken skewer while I loved the “story-o”, a very clever savoury take on the infamous Oreo.

***Bread with drippings- This is one of their signature dishes that you will likely read about in other reviews.  The bread is served with fat (butter in my case, beef drippings for Hubby) that is shaped into candles.  When he candle is lit, the drippings melt into the candle holder, ready for you to dunk your bread into.  How cool is that?  The dish was made even better for me due to the side of the radish “relish” that was put on top of the bread after dunking.

***Onions, apple and old tom- This one was so good that it disappeared before the picture!  We were told that this dish originated from the experiences of one of the chefs as a child when his grandmother would give him sweet onions to eat raw.  The sweet pearl onions were luscious, made sweeter by cooking them slightly.  The gin broth that was poured overtop added a nice kick of alcohol flavour.

***Scallops, cucumber and dill ash- This was amongst the best dishes we were served during our whole visit to  London.  It was composed of thin pieces of scallop with little balls of cucumber (some made black with ash), in a beautiful cucumber sauce.  The perfect summer dish.  We were told that it has been  on the menu since they opened for a long time and hopefully it stays there!

Heritage potato, peas, broad beans and coal

***Wild sea trout, gooseberries and spring vegetables- I loved this dish for its simplicity.  You cannot go wrong with  a piece of perfectly cooked trout and an impressive variety of garden fresh vegetables.

***Raw beef, apple and summer truffle (15 pound supplement)- Hubby figured he would go all out and he was glad he did.  The dish was (perhaps unnecessarily) served with dry ice so it was smoking when it arrived at the table, but it was the flavours inside the apple that stole the show.  The raw beef was very smooth and was made more decadent by the shaved truffles.

Wild stems, langoustine and clam broth (2 part dish)

Lamb, grilled salad and sheep's yogurt (3 part main)

Vegetarian main (kindly substituted for me!)- They could not have chosen better substitutions, since eggplant and mushrooms are amongst my very favourite veggies, especially when they are prepared this well!

 Foie gras, cherry and nasturtium

***Lemon pre-dessert- I just loved lemon, and this light dessert course was nothing short of heavenly.   We loved the main desserts too, but this was truly the standout. 

Bitter chocolate, wild berries and buttermilk

English strawberry, camomile and sweet cicely

 Almond and dill


Overall verdict?

I just love this place for its enthusiasm and its obvious desire to leave guests with an abundance of fond memories.  I sure did!  Sellers is obviously a very talented and very ambitious chef, and this really came through in his food.  Admittedly, there were a few misses throughout the night but with 20 dishes, it would be difficult to achieve perfection with every dish.  Some may argue that quality is better than quantity, and they certainly have a point, but there is no doubt that the seemingly unending procession of dishes played a part in making our night so magical.

Story gives its guests not only a great meal, but a whole night of unprecedented entertainment from start to finish.

Restaurant Story on Urbanspoon