Sunday, 29 July 2012

Molecular Cuisine à la Française

Birthday dinner at a new two-star restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

A few weeks ago, I invited several friends to celebrate an important birthday with me. One of the first chefs I ever wrote about on this blog, M. Thierry Marx, had moved from Pauillac to wow the Parisians with his own rendition of molecular cuisine at the sparking new restaurant Sur Mesure at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Eric, Gaby, and Adriana accompanied me on this exciting journey to the cutting edge of French cooking.

M. Marx has spent a lot of time in Japan, and this is reflected in his art. His creations are beautifully presented jewels, artfully composed and delicious.

The restaurant itself is stunning and the service impeccable. The space is organized into little alcoves, with the result that each tables feels like it is in its own little quiet restaurant. This is a modified version of the Japanese kai-seki restaurant that provides private rooms for its customers. For this important evening, my friends let me be in charge and so I chose the Menu Degustation 9 Plats (nine dishes tasting menu) for all of us. We each had choices though: in several of the appetizers, the main course and one of the desserts.

There were the lovely Escargots/ravioles végétales/pulpe piperade/pain croustillant: an extemely creative snail dish.

These were little crunchy snail fritters dusted with toast and served with intensely- green raviolis made entirely of vegetables and accompanied with the line of bright red pepper pulp. Sensational!

A signature dish is the heavenly risotto and this evening they served the risotto de soja aux huîtres/truffe noir. This was a dish of a heavenly sauce that was crunchy but not with rice: with soybean sprouts! It was garnished with black truffles and is one of the best dishes any of us had ever had. So inventive, so sublime and so surprising.

For the fish course, there was a choice of Homard aux cerises/vieux Balsamique (which I chose, being the most adventuresome)

or Turbot de Bretagne, gross pièce/couteaux/dentelles d'encre

Couteaux means knife and this dish is a wonderful large piece of turbot (my favorite white fish) served with the couteaux (a long slim shellfish served in its shell) garnished with squid ink lace. This was a very sexy dish.

We all chose different main courses: Canard des immortels/oignons nouveaux/figues--that is, duck with figs and sautèed baby onions

Boeuf charbon/réglisse/laqué de petits pois/lard de Colonnata
: beautifully grilled beef, a subtle licorice flavor, a layer of snow pea coulis, and fine Italian ham

Pluma caramélisée/pomme et ananas acidulés: Caramelized pork with tart apple and pineapple.

These dishes were all gorgeous to view and to eat.

Such a stellar meal begged to be accompanied with stellar wines. Before we left for the restaurant, I served a Bollinger Grand Année 2002 champagne, so we were well "apéritifed" when we arrived. And then, with most of our meal, we had a wonderful Puligny Montrachet, Louis Carillon 2009. For the meat courses, each of us had a different glass of red: Priorat GV5 2007 from Spain for the duck, a wonderful Burgundy Volnay Boillot 2009 with the beef, and a delicious Languedoc Domaine de Montcalmès 2008 with the pork.

Desserts seemed to come without end. First there was a traditionally modern Japanese bento:

with a variety of chocolate tarts, fruit and cream tarts, and ylang ylang (an exotic flower) ice cream....and....

Fraise/litchi (strawberry and litchi with a beautiful interesting tuile with rosemary)

Miroir cassis

Abricot juste poché/crème Madame

These were three different fruit desserts that we had chosen at the start of the meal.

And then there were the little ice cream cones...

For Happy Birthday:

And chocolates....

And the four of us....

None of us will ever forget this beautiful evening. For once (after El Bulli) I found a sampling of molecular cuisine that speaks to me. Not only dramatic in presentation but beautiful and delicious in execution. I had had another excellent molecular meal at the first Thierry Marx, and am glad to see that he is keeping up with such a fine display of his ultra-modern art.

L'Affriolé and Le Comptoir: Two Little Jewels in Paris

Two well known and wonderful Parisian Bistrots where you can get an excellent meal without spending too much

I can always count on my dentist to steer me in the right direction. Affriolé,
on a quiet street in the 7ème arrondissement is a wonderful little bistrot where you can get a delicious meal for about 35 euros (not including beverages). Not only that, but the staff is just lovely and the setting warm and cozy albeit modern.

I met my friend Claude there, and we embarked on a gastronomic journey that ended in total delight. Claude had a beautiful ballotine de rattes et saumon fumé which looked like round, pink tart. (Rattes are small potatoes.) I started with another beautiful dish: Gaspacho de Tomates et Pastèque et un verre de jambon nappé de chantilly. I was presented with two small glasses: one with the heavenly and fresh gaspacho with watermelon, and a second glass with cubes of ham topped with a light serving of whipped cream. A very interesting and successful combination.

For our main courses, I chose grilled daurade (which is a white fish) served with sautéed cèpes. I love sautéed mushrooms of any type and this was the high season for the cèpes. Claude chose the Foie de veau sauté aux carottes et aux betteraves. (Betteraves are beets.) This was another presentation of two glasses--one with beautifully prepared cubes of calves' liver

and the other with the orange and red vegetables.

In the vegetable glass there were also red and green grapes.

We each chose a glass of wine to go with our meal and both of our main courses were delicious.

As this was lunch, we decided against dessert. I could not help but be a bit disappointed. However, I know that I will return and will definitely try one of the many of the desserts offered.

Le Comptoir du Relais is in the 6ème arrondissement at the bustling Place d'Odéon. One must reserve six months in advance for the excellent prix fixe dinner (they save many tables for the hotel guests next door) and have gone on the fly for lunch where the restaurant serves a long list of brasserie items, specializing in meats from the southern provinces of France. Both choices are great. I have already written about the more formal dinner.

At lunch, it is good to get there late because between 11:30-1:30, the place is mobbed and there won't be a table. This time I went after 3 and sat right down at a table in a very crowded restaurant. The menu is comprised of appetizers, salads (ranging from a very expensive lobster salad to a smoked chicken or a vegetable salad), sandwiches (croque monsieur au saumon, for example), and hot dishes. The desserts are superb.

I steered away from the rich patés and beef cheek or pig's feet dishes, and also of the creamy brandade de morue (mixture of mashed potatoes, cream and cod), or the grilled chicken with mashed potatoes, and went straight to the fish.

There is always a just-cooked thick tuna steak and that is a great choice, but this time I saw a new item on the menu: sashimi de thon rouge , pois gourmands et sesame, mousse de wasabi

At first glance, I thought that the waiter had mixed up my order and served me someone's dessert, but upon closer look, I saw that the glistening red tuna was standing on its side and hugging the vegetable stuffing, making it look like a cake under its foam topping.


As you can see, I took a photograph of the dish I was presented and what I found inside. It was light, savory and just perfect with the right balance of wasabi, sesame and soy to marry beautifully with the fresh tuna.

I was glad that I had planned for dessert. I love their panna cotta, which is creamy and always napped with a wonderful compote of fruit. The baba au rhum is spectacular as is their chocolate tart. This time, however, I chose le petit pot au chocolat napped with a crème anglaise. Very rich and perfect for any tried-and-true chocoholic like myself.

With an excellent glass of wine (there is a very long and extensive wine list) and coffee, such a meal comes to 35 euros. You can spend a lot more or a lot less. Next door is a tapas bar that is always full, and there is also a window for phenomenal crèpes to go. That is going to be another stop in my eating itinerary.