Archive for france – paris

La Maison du Chocolat (NY, Paris, London) – Macarons, The New Collection

Many bloggers have been wowed by La Maison du Chocolat’s chocolates (even Salma Hayek) but seemingly few have commented on the macaroons. The macaroon debate, among the informed, seems to be Herme vs Laduree with various regional suggestions (Payard, Jin Patisserie, Boule, Bouchon) if the writer is stuck in America for the moment. La Maison du Chocolat (LMC) has a slightly stuffy Parisian image without the long tradition of, say, Laduree but their macaroons deserve to be included in the debate. In fact, on American soil, there may not be much of an argument – they reign supreme.

There’s no shortage of accolades for their chocolates – and rightfully so. But their macaroons are deserving of the same attention. The chocolate ganache filled centers, a variation on the typical macaroon, is not so much a point of distinction as it is a confidence in their chocolatier experience. It might sound overpowering but the ganache is subtle and balanced; a complement, never a deterrent, from the shell. The flavors aren’t daring ala Pierre Herme; instead, they are more traditionally paired with the chocolate center. One approach is not necessarily better than the other as long as the execution is exemplary.

La Maison du Chocolat has a more corporate feel than Pierre Herme or Laduree. There’s no cult of personality nor a century-long tradition, but expansion does have its benefits – you can buy them in the States. Eat 2 Love says they are shipped from Paris twice a week. Surprisingly, even with this delay, they keep longer than Pierre Herme or Laduree. The macaroons had their best texture on day two but were still going strong on day four – you can bring these back for friends.

So what are the flavors and how do they taste?

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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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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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Pierre Gagnaire (Paris) – Truffles and Value

Pierre Gagnaire has served me the best meal of my life. Along with Mr El Bulli, he is probably acknowledged as the most creative chef on the planet. Unlike the El Bulli derivatives and disciples, he approaches his experimental edge from a more “organic” angle as opposed to the chemicals and scientific laboratory equipment. He probably uses, or has influenced, such techniques but his end result more resembles our traditional notions of food. Unfortunately, the notions can still be challenging or uneven as I found out in my October 2006 meal.

Pierre Gagnaire is my favorite dining room in Paris. It’s formal and proper but spacious and relaxed. The waiters are friendly without being overbearing. It’s a warm experience unlike the austerity of Alain Ducasse or Les Ambassadeurs. We perused the truffle tasting menu, a look of terror swept the table after seeing the price, but ordered it anyways. Pierre Gagnaire has had well-publicized financial troubles in the past and he might have found a solution – one-up L’Arpege for Paris’s most expensive meal. Is that even possible?

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Gaya (Paris) – Beware of Empires

The biggest threat to fine dining may not be opportunistic government officials (or chefs), laboratories posing as restaurants, or global warming (can’t we blame it for anything these days?) – it may be greed and an ill-informed dining public. “Chefs” have discovered a formula – use your popularity, whether from Food Network or an embarrassing display of Michelin stars, and open a lot of restaurants.

What are the problems with this from a fine dining perspective?

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