L’Astrance (Paris) – Ready for a Surprise?
“Are you ready for your surprise now?” the waiter asks in a quick, broken english; and then it’s off to the tasting menu. It’s the only avaialble menu and it definitely delivers with a surprise or two. L’Astrance is the darling of the Parisian dining scene right now – ask chefs and they will tell you no one is trying hard. To eat here is to see a Michelin 3 star in the making (it is now 2 stars.)
(Pardon my tasting notes – my French is non-existent and while i think i’ve caught most of it, i did miss some stuff.)
1. Brioche w/ butter & Spoon of Parmesan
The brioche was light & quite buttery and the small spoon of parmesan coated your mouth and cut the butter. A decent start but too restrained. Good.
2. Shot Glass of French Peas, yogurt, lemon & mint foam
This was dish was an pure expression of flavor (an amplified pea); earthy with a tangy finish. However, the flavors were not in harmony – a slight mismatch. Pretty good.
3. “Napolean” of Mushrooms & Foie Gras w/ Hazelnut Oil
The title is made up but it’s completely apt. The mushrooms were layered w/ foie gras in the middle of each layer. There was a purity of flavor with a unique texture. The mushrooms were perfect – pure earthiness with a crunch that yielded to the foie and ended with the crunch of the mushroom. The hazelnut oil brought it all together. This could become a signature dish. Very good.
4. Prawns w/ “brittany flower” & garlic flower & “flower” tempura
The prawns were placed in a bowl of peanut butter, ginger, and garlic flower nage. The prawns were excellent – perfectly cooked, perfectly sweet, perfect. The nage was very good w/ the slight ginger bite. The ‘brittany flower’ (whose french name I’ll never know) tasted, surprisingly, like a mushroom. The tempura was a flower that was expertly fried (think Masa NY quality); it was supposed to taste “like a fish” but we didn’t get that. Excellent dish.
5. Cod w/ Spring Vegetables, Carrot/Orange sauce, & Black Olive/Licorice sauce
The fish a quality piece but slightly overcooked for my tastes (just slightly.) It worked well w/ the carrot/orange sauce, and with just a touch of the black olive/licorice sauce. Good.
6. Mackerel w/ “Fruity” Sauce
Excellent fish, perfectly cooked, with the fruity (again, the french is lost) sauce expertly cutting the oiliness of the mackerel. The fruit sauce wasn’t too sweet – more savory. Very good.
7. Morel Soup
The essence of morel, a simple excellent dish. It may have been a tad thick but that’s splitting hairs. Very good.
8. White Veal w/ Asparagus, Cheese Sauce, Morels, & more
And suddenly, the cuisine shifted from purity of expression to everything but the kitchen sink. there were 5-6 other ingredients I failed to remember – it doesn’t matter – they didn’t work. The morrels were *excellent* – a few grits of sand, but bursting w/ flavor. The meat was a tad dry for me, fairly tasteless. Dish – not good. Morels – excellent.
9. The Test
We were served an intermezoo, billed as “the test” – the waiter wouldn’t tell us what it was. It tasted like a yogurt, creamy w/ a touch of tang w/ vanilla ice cream in the middle. There were a slight hint of fruitiness that we couldn’t place.
10. The Test Revealed
What was it? They served us a second helping after revealing it was fromage blanc mashed potatoes w/ lemon-thyme ice cream. Wow – excellent.
11. Pepper Sorbet
Very light, slightly sweet, with a slight burn as it went down. One of the best desserts ever. Excellent.
Overall – a very good meal. The purity of flavors and progression (with repeating themes) is top-notch – they are obviously proud of their ingredients. This isn’t revolutionary cuisine – just a nudge here, and a shift there – it’s subtle cuisine at a very reasonable price point. The surprise is its simplicity. It works best when the ingredients are prime and the cooking restrained.