Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) – Best Meal of My Life
I never got around to writing my Gagnaire review from my May trip – it was such an extraordinary meal (clearly the best of my young life) that i wanted to give it a proper review rather than trying to squeeze it in during the trip. These are the lost notes to the best dinner of that trip (and my life.)
The meal was a triumph – excellent ingredients, exacting technique, and near flawless flavor. Each dish played with taste combinations, textural differences, and temperature. This is a master chef who is confident in his abilities to source ingredients, pair ingredients, and cook. It was experimental but not in the Moto/El Bulli style; this was a more organic approach to experimentation. There were no nitrogen baths or crazy dining contraptions – just new combinations of food that enlightened and impressed.
1. Beef consommé gelee w/ Tuna, Rabbit Rillette & Pimento Pate
The tuna was not of the best quality (but great for France!) but the beef gelee played an interesting trick – it hydrated the tuna, infused it w/ a faint beef flavor, and seemingly elevated the quality of the tuna. The first of many fish/rich tastes that seemingly shouldn’t be complementing each other. I didn’t care as much for the rabbit but it was still tasty. Good.
2.Blue Lobster w/ Coriander, Cheese Polenta, Wild Mushrooms, & “Chili” of Citrus w/ Blue Lobster Consommé
The dish began a bit acrid for me (something I’ve experienced at other places) but the acidity cools, a brief moment of salty/sweet from the lobster, and then it all yields to the earthiness of the mushrooms. Very interesting taste profile. The consumme was outstanding. Very Good.
3. Cancale Oyster w/ Veloute of Nettle and Lettuce, “Quenelles” of Rye infused with Bacon, Shallots and topped with a cold sorbet of Japanese Sake
The oyster was plump and briny, but the rye/sake intensified the taste; the two flavors slightly canceled each other out, but somehow transformed the oyster into a pure super-oyster. Very Good.
4. Smoked Haddock w/ Roasted Foie Gras in Pan-fried Artichoke Hearts & Celeriac
The meal, to this point, was Very Good but this is where it became a transcendental experience. The fish was *perfectly* cooked, and I mean better than Le Bernardin. That, in itself, is cause for celebration but the smokiness of the fish infused with the richness of the foie – oh boy. The two combined had an awesome texture, and a more remarkable taste. Excellent.
5. Seabass Poached in Butter w/ Codfish Intestine
Ridiculous. Best dish I’ve ever eaten.How could the last dish be topped? The fish was thicker, and cooked even more perfectly; but this was not about ingredients or technique – it was a textural triumph. The texture was similar to Bernardin’s olive-oil poached white tuna, but even softer while still maintaining its structure. The intestine was soft and velvety and your teeth slowly fell into it; the fish gave it a touch more bite but it continued the “falling into” effect.It’s very rare for a tasting menu to actually hit an apex – usually, it’s hit/miss/hit/miss without any real consistency. This was the apex – the meal built and took giant strides w/ each dish. Is it too early for an apex? Not at all – just make sure the rest of the menu makes sense.
6. Squid, Cream of Squid Ink, & Frog Legs Poulette-style in Cabbage Soup
This was our soft landing from the dizzying heights of the previous dish. We were very worried the rest of the meal would suck, but this dish was of extraordinary quality. A yin & yang of earth & water; but flavors that matched each other perfectly. Excellent.
7. Veal Tenderloin w/ Tarragon, Veal Chop Steamed w/ Mace, Cream of Dark Rice, Ricotta w/ Mango, & Jus of Tamarin & Watercress Gelee
Our veal was cooked perfectly, and while nowhere near the levels of the previous dishes, it wasn’t a disappointing dish as so many other tasting menus can be. This was far better than the L’Astrance veal we had the previous night. My notes don’t say much more.
Overall, this meal will be the benchmark for me. Michel Bras came close w/ extraordinary purity of flavors and one could say it was a toss up if I didn’t appreciate the “challenge” of Gagnaire more. No other meal came close to these heights. The meal had a clear “plan” where each dish got better & better, and when that was no longer possible, slowly brought you back to reality.Gagnaire will be a “must” for every Paris trip in my future.