Archive for April, 2007

Manresa/L’Arpege (Los Gatos, CA) – Early Spring Garden with Alain Passard

The Manresa/L’Arpege dinner was an instantly sold-out event – possibly the two best chefs on each side of the Atlantic teaming up for a rock-star culinary event. The relationship was sparked a year ago when David Kinch and Alain Passard cooked together. They bonded over their passion for ingredients; a passion so intense that it drove Passard to create his own garden in the 90s. If that sounds familiar, it is undoubtedly the model Kinch followed when he began working with Love Apple Farm 2 years ago. Both would argue, and I would completely agree, great cuisine must start with superior ingredients.

I am very late to the party with this review. Many have commented on the dinner but no one has compared this meal to a typical Manresa or L’Arpege meal. Given that I’ve eaten at Manresa many times last year, and L’Arpege 4x over the past year, I hope my review gives a different perspective.

(Note: I didn’t get my usual “picture taking” seat – my pictures didn’t turn out. Chez Pim and Fine Dining Photos have captured all of the dishes below.)

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Les Ambassadeurs (Paris) – The Best Truffles for Last

One month and eight reviews later, I’ve saved the best for last. This is the final adventure of the eight day truffle trip.

The truffle trip was in danger of becoming a misnomer. Truffles popped up in a few dishes over the past few weeks’ reviews, but their impact or form was not up to our expectations. We came to gorge on truffles – we wanted decadent vulgar displays of gastronomic wealth. We got mostly after-thoughts with but a few truffle-focused dishes.

Les Ambassadeurs was a last-minute tack-on after we learned L’Ambroisie and Le Meurice (hey, I wouldn’t mind meeting Mandy Moore) were closed during our ill-timed visit. The last Les Ambassadeurs meal certainly had potential given the ingredient quality and our 3rd member was very intrigued by the endless parade of desserts. The dining room is not especially conducive to eating but we figured we’d give it a shot (in hopes of finding top-notch truffles.)

Les Ambassadeurs (Paris) - Dining room

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Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – The Sea and the Garden

It was time to celebrate a birthday (mine) and Manresa was the obvious destination of choice. Fresh off the heals of the disappointing Manresa/L’Arpege dinner (review coming), I wanted a Manresa dinner – the deceiving simplicity of flavors, the picked-this-morning vegetables, and the taste of the sea.

As you read over these descriptions, you’ll see a few trends: a) minimal ingredients whose b) flavors are pinpoint and crystal clear and they c) never step on each other. It’s highly choreographed cuisine with a deftness that can only be found in the very top kitchens. Some critics call the food too experimental but while the techniques may be modern, the flavors are respected and restrained.

1. Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche
The tastes of the sea – the salty breeze, its sweet creatures – served in a glass. This was one of the biggest hits at the L’Arpege dinner and, while very good, I don’t think it’s the epitome of Kinch’s cuisine. It’s refined but not quite ephemeral. Very Good.

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche
Manresa (Los Gatos) - Caviar consomme / Seaweed Brioche

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L’Arpege (Paris) – Purity of Flavor

As I’ve written before, L’Arpege can be hit or miss. At its best, it is the pinnacle of modern fine dining – excellent ingredients whose natural qualities are emphasized to unbelievable heights. There is a balance, precision, and purity of flavor – not new taste combinations or culinary technique from the future. When it is performing at this level, it is a contemplative and ephemeral cuisine, like poetry.

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