Ledoyen (Paris, France) – Regality is not without Faults
My first Ledoyen meal was one of those rare magical moments, even in the rarified circles of Michelin three-star restaurants, where a series of dishes leaves one speechless. The food was the definition of refinement – “soft-spoken but all-commanding” as I said in my last review. Chef Chrisitan Le Squer reminded me of a tempered Pierre Gagnaire with his application of modern techniques in an “organic” fashion 1; however, instead of Gagnaire’s intensity and fireworks, he preferred subtlety and calm.
Despite cooking in a modern fashion, no real 2 tasting menus are offered. In fact, this cuisine is the antithesis of the “less is more” philosophy; his portion sizes are absolutely old-fashioned – they are very large – large enough for a Julot to enjoy 3. Restraint should be exercised during the ordering process, else the appetite will be absolutely defeated. While the waiters speak English, they did not dissuade me from ordering four dishes, and possibly encouraged it. At the least, that is one too many; and probably two too many for most people. Come hungry and order conservatively.
Langoustine & Seaweed Lollipop
Quail egg encased with truffle, Beet & Smoked eel macaroon, Mozzerella “egg”
The pre-dinner treats were fun, whimsical tastes that were slightly daring. They set the stage for the meal ahead instead of wow-ing out of the gate.
Saveurs “terre et riviere”
Land and river – smoked eel, eel tartar, and textures of beet. Smoked eel provided a base for the entire dish, with a light faint smokiness. The cubes of beet gelee sat on top of eel tartar (possibly mixed with diced beets), seen in the alternating flat squares. Le Squer excels at textures, second only to Pierre Gagnaire, and because of this, I suspect eel might be one of his favorite ingredients (there were multiple eel dishes on the menu.) The sweetness of the beets played a nice foil to the eel’s fattiness. Excellent, but the portion size is double what it could be – it does get monotonous by the end.
Foie Gras w/ Passionfruit
The foie was creamy and the passionfruit gelee on top was perfectly proportioned to cut the fat with its acidity. It would have been a very good dish anywhere else but it didn’t reach the highs of the eel or what the langoustine (below) could have been. It is a safe choice but I would prefer a touch more daring. Tack on three healthy servings and one can see where this meal began to get out of control.
Grosses langoustines Bretonnes, croustillantes, emulsion d’agrumes a l’ huile d’olive
This is one of his signatures and it captivated me last time. Brittany langoustines (Le Squer is also Britan), one fried, one a la plancha, covered in a citrus and olive oil emulsion. Unfortunately, the langoustine quality was not up to the spectacular efforts of my previous meal (very soggy); but that foam/emulsion has a beautifully balanced subtlety that is beyond reproach. Despite the langoustine’s quality on this visit, I would not hesitate to order this dish again (and again) – this is truly one of the great dishes in the world. Notice that there are two whole langoustines in the dish – feeling full yet?
Ris de veau en brochette de bois de citronelle, jus d’herbes
Another signature, the one I did not eat during my last meal, where sweetbreads are cooked with lemongrass spears and an herb sauce, served atop salsify. The sweetbreads were sufficiently creamy but this dish was doomed before it reached the table – I did not have the capacity to enjoy it. It lacked any ephemerality that my favorite Le Squer dishes exude, but others might argue with me. Julot feels it did have that complexity but that a generous use of vinegar in the sauce killed it.
Judging from my limited experience (two visits), Ledoyen requires a careful strategy to maximize one’s enjoyment. The best dishes exude an astounding precision and balance of flavor that places them among the best in the world, commensurate with the restaurant’s three-star rating. Strangely, ordering the “Signature” tasting menu (the langoustines above, turbot and truffles, and the sweetbreads above) could largely prevent one from enjoying this near-magical experience.
Order carefully, in both quantity and quality. What would I suggest? Order split dishes (you share one, plated separately) if you’re eating with someone else and then order four to five dishes. Langoustines are a must, eel dishes should get serious consideration, gnocci and uni could be a real winners, and then pick one to two things that sound enticing. When it’s on, Ledoyen is among the very best in Paris, right alongside L’Arpege and Pierre Gagnaire; and the potential even shows through in a sub-par meal.
2 – A tasting menu of the signatures dishes is offered; but it is only comprised of three dishes – langoustines, turbot, and sweetbreads. The turbot is covered in my first review; the other two in this review. I would not suggest this approach.
3 – Julot is not a fan of tasting menus; if the food is good, he would like more.