Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Le Chateaubriand: The 9th Best Restaurant in the World: are they kidding?

Le Chateaubriand: A review of an established modern bistrot in Paris that is of world renown.

I was amazed to read in the Herald Tribune that Le Chateaubriand, a restaurant in my neighborhood which I have always thought was a hole in the wall with a "genius" chef won a top mention on the annual San Pellegrino list of Best Restaurants of the World. Inaki Aizpitarte tops Robuchon, Gagnaire, Passard, Keller and many other brilliant chefs who create delicious dishes. His reputation over the past 10 years has soared and he is considered to be the one to watch and one of the best chefs in France.

After he received the award, I knew I had to see for myself, and the occasion of a visit from my LA friends, Joel and Rusty was just the moment to do so. Reservations are taken exactly 14 days in advance between the hours of 3 and 6. After a few busy signals, I was in. This was in contrast to the number one restaurant on the list which apparently receives 26,000 calls on the day reservations open. Destination dining is now the new trend.

We arrived at 8:30 PM which is early by Paris standards and we were surprised to walk into a fully packed house. We were rudely received and the waiter who led us to our seats reprimanded me for leaving my first instead of my last name to reserve.

A set menu consisting of three to four amuse-bouches followed by three courses, two desserts or cheese at 55 euros is offered. At least it wasn't more expensive.

The small appetizers started to arrive, and they made a special ceviche for me, without cilantro but with the fish marinated in blood orange juice. Nothing to write home about. Next came a bit of grilled rouget en tempura--not exactly tempura but rather the fish coated with crunchy puffed rice. The fish was good but the rice detracted from the dish and added an unpleasant texture and burnt flavor. Thin noodles in a parsley coulis on a bed of raw casserons (baby squid) followed. This combination didn't work although the squid was quite tender. An earthy soup followed. It was a duck broth flavored with anise and tarragon with bits of mushrooms floating on top. I liked this very much and thought it was a high point. For my friends, the anise flavor was too pronounced.

Two fish courses followed: raw mackerel marinated in white wine and then sauced with red wine and a variety of red berries (!?) and baby carrots; Bonite de St Jean de Luz (a type of tuna) barely seared with grilled fresh baby asparagus and fresh lima beans along with different types of crunchy seaweed and tiny rolls of cucumber slivers. This dish, although good to eat, was strange in its presentation with an unappetizing film of transparent seaweed on top of everything. It looked like some algae-covered detritus you might find at the beach. The mackerel, on the other hand, was both ugly and inedible. Finally, the savory part of the meal closed with a tough piece of beef that had been seared in tandoori and served with amaranthe leaves, braised Trébon onions and toasted grains. The presentation was quite unpleasant to the eye and likely so to the palate. The amaranthe leaves left a bitter aftertaste.

Desserts were very strange: first strawberries with a fresh pea purée and small fresh peas (the best of the three), and Cerise Sabayon which was a dish of beautiful macerated cherries covered with a sabayon and a few salty olives. The olives really didn't work for me and made it unbearable to eat the whole dish. It was topped with two pink wafers (they looked like pieces of ham) that I could not identify (see photo). The final "sweet" was a cube of repulsive, stringy rhubarb sprinkled with colored bits of Indian spices.

In general the food is extremely poorly presented and unpleasant to the taste. Nothing looked appetizing and it was difficult to find something that was good to eat. I was at first a victim of the hype and left thinking that the food was very interesting and not bad. In retrospect I realized that I had succumbed to the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome. Who rates these restaurants anyway and who really can say what is the BEST restaurant in the WORLD? You would not leave Le Chateaubriand thinking, "I must get that recipe for the raw mackerel-fruit dish" and nothing was truly delicious. My friend Joel thought that the best things were the few grilled vegetables on the tuna plate. Although Le Chateaubriand is considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in the world and therefore the best restaurant in France, I heartily disagree.