L’Astrance (Paris) – Second Chances for Three Stars
L’Astrance was somewhat of an enigma from last May’s France/Spain trip. Back then, it was the hot table in town; the young genius who deserved his third Michelin star if only he’d buy into the necessary trappings – lavish rooms, ornate silverware, and more menu choices. It was a very good meal but it did leave me wanting. Nonetheless, the memory was pleasant enough that it warranted a dinner for the truffle trip. We made our reservation for this trip and the big news was announced a week later – three stars!
Unfortunately, I am one of the few that doesn’t get it. It’s a good restaurant that certainly has potential but, in addition to the mistakes, it just leaves me wanting. There’s none of the ephemerality of an (“on”) L’Arpege dinner; nowhere near the finesse of Manresa; and the ingredient quality compared to Les Ambassadeurs is hardly close. Maybe I’m still playing catch-up in these fine dining circles and I don’t have a need for this new “thrill” yet. The new, improved pricing (re: Michelin 3 star pricing) is certainly not as attractive as it was last year.
1. Truffle Brioche
Butter and ok truffles – it is what it is. The trufles did not have a very strong taste, disappointing considering it was truffle season. Ok.
2. Codfish Puree / Yogurt Infusion
Aromatic with a satisfyingly salty finish. It was brightened up quite a bit w/ some lemon. While I’d say it was a very good dish, you just get the feeling it could be taken to the next level. Very Good.
3. Mushroom / Foie Napolean w/ Lemon & Waternut
His signature, total harmony, earthy, creamy foie, textural marvel. Very Good.
4. Seared Scallops / Seasame / Bitter Flower / Yuzu Confit / Bergamot
Firm, sweet, but too little yuzu – it really brightened up the flavor and added a much needed dimension. Good.
5. Pan-Fried Brittany Sole w/ Bok Choy
Slightly overcooked sole with a thai curry sauce that was too much for the fish. This is the sort of dish I just don’t understand – it’s not the elegant spicing of Manresa or L’Arpege – it comes close to being an assault. (We also experienced the same thing last year w/ Trosgrois’s frog legs.) I would be thrilled to have something of this quality in a Thai restaurant but I can’t say I consider this even 1* quality. Ok.
6. Cod Ball / Black Truffle / Shellfish Broth
We venture from Thailand to its Vietnamese (or Chinese) neighbors. The ingredient repetition seems a tad lazy but the textural differences between this dish and dish #2 may have been the point? If so, I’d say it might be more obvious if you served them together? Again, perfectly tasty, but not the refined cuisine of a newly appointed 3-star Michelin restaurant. Truffles didn’t add much – they were on the cardboard side. Ok.
7. Celery Soup w/ Black Truffle & Parmesan Mousse + Hazelnut Oil
Creamy but one-dimensional. The truffle didn’t really shine through; the hazelnut oil gave it most of the taste. Tasty, perfectly satisfying, but…. Good.
8. Duck Breast w/ Eggplant, Olive, & Vanilla
Wild duck was slightly overcooked but it had good flavor. When combined w/ the olive/vanilla, it had a taste that was becoming of their 3rd star. If only that meat wasn’t overcooked. Good.
9. Lemongrass / Pepper Sorbet
As good as last time – an excellent pre-dessert. Excellent.
10. Pineapple / Jasmine Tea
Poor pineapple quality, the jasmine tea and OJ had some potential. (Sorry, no picture and notes are a bit bare.)
11. Chicken Egg w/ Jasmine
A jasmine bomb, but spiced nicely. Very good.
12. “Fresh” Fruit plate
The quotes are mine – an absolutely ghastly and embarrassing fruit platter for *any* sort of restaurant – yuck.
This meal didn’t approach the quality of our previous meal. Others have reviewed it recently with surprisingly different results. The ingredient quality in our meal was not top-notch (some might say it was the season) but conceptually, some of the dishes just didn’t work. L’Astrance is at its best when it approaches the ephemeral and balances the light flavors in a dish with surprising adeptness. When this happens, I can understand the acclaim; it just hasn’t happened with consistency during my two visits.