It seems like I write about fine dining experiences on this blog more than anything else these days. You must have a picture of me, sitting in some gourmet restaurant, eating foie gras and black truffles. Well, at least in January, February, and March, you wouldn’t be far off. I don’t know how it all came together either, but I do know it involved, on the one hand, being smitten with a chef who fed me well, and, on the other, heavy use of my MasterCard.
The result: black truffles and foie gras and an embarrassment of gorgeous red wine.
After my trip to New York in January, I thought I’d overdosed on red wine and black truffles. After my trip to the French Laundry, I was actually sick of foie (and more red wine…it was Yountville, after all). Thank goodness I’m over that now, because I’m writing this from Paris, where I’ve already eaten foie, oh, three times…and I’ve been here four nights. It’s on every menu, at every brasserie, in every nook and cranny of my arteries. (I am in France to speak to the lovely SCBWI France chapter before the Bologna book rights fair.)
The foie gras gorging reached epic proportions during yesterday’s gift to self, my “Michelunch.” (I decided to splurge on one Michelin-star meal while in Paris.) I clicked around to several resto websites because I wanted to book a reservation in advance. That’s when I discovered something strange. Most starred establishments are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. The majority also cluster along the Seine in the 1st to 8th arrondissements, which is where I was staying…on Saturday and Sunday.
That left me with the rather unglamorous option of finding a Monday lunch, and, since my next two nights were in Montmartre, I wanted something within walking distance, in the 17th or 18th arrondissement. It turns out this was a lucky break in and of itself, because a weekday lunch is actually a great way to get bang for your buck with higher end restaurants, which often have a cheaper set menu during the day. With all this in mind, the one-star Agapé in the 17th immediately caught my eye.
I ate there yesterday and then walked back to my hotel at the base of Montmartre, dazed. It was a stellar meal overall, with only a few missteps. I happily noticed that the standards for stars in the states and here in France (the Michelin motherland) are somewhat different. I’ve eaten at one-, two-, and three-stars in California and New York, but this Parisian one-star ranked way above the US one-stars that I’ve experienced. If it was in the US, I think it’d be a two, easily.
But let’s quickly talk misses. The first entrée was a crab ravioli in watercress and ginger soup. The soup had a dark, peppery complexity but the crab ravioli fell completely flat and the two did not go together well. All I wanted for the dish was more acid, and so I started the meal a bit worried. Next up was a lovely veal carpaccio with caperberries, pickled red onion, shaved radish, microgreens and…a lemon-vanilla sauce. Everything was great except that sauce.
Maybe I like straight-up bitter and acidic with my carpaccio, the salty/savory side of the spectrum. Maybe vanilla and lemon together just taste…off-putting to me. Whatever it was, it clashed with the more traditional carpaccio fare on the plate. The only nice thing was that it played very well with another surprising ingredient: roasted macadamia nuts. Overall, I was sad that the dish had ended but distinctly happy that I would never have to taste that odd vanilla/lemon combination again.
So after two misses, I was over the moon to get a plate of foie poached in red wine, with medjool date inside a crispy beet chip cylinder, aged balsamic, Maldon salt, and microgreens. I’ve had a lot of foie lately (including foie gras sorbet at the French Laundry). This was one of the best. (Although I have to say that the generous seared foie on brioche French toast with rhubarb compote at Commonwealth in San Francisco a few weeks ago blew me away…) The Agapé foie was savory because of the red wine but still a sweet preparation with the sugars from the beets and dates. The crunch of the beet chip provided refreshing contrast.
Then we moved on to a plate that seemed custom-made for me: seared scallops (very raw inside, right to my wheelhouse), Brussels sprouts, leek mousseline, and yuzu cream. I loved everything about it, especially the scallops and sprouts (which were bright green and still warm when the plate came out). To bridge fish and meat, I got the following beauty (I was so ashamed to take a cell phone picture but I had to):
Two oversized gnocchi so light that they seemed to float off the plate. (The word “won ton” translates in Chinese to “swallowing clouds.” While I love me some won tons, this gnocchi was probably the most truly cloud-like texture I’ve ever eaten outside the pasty and souffle realm.) Grounding them quite nicely was, oh, you know, just a thick slab of black truffle, in black truffle sauce, with salty curls of pecorino romano.
This segued into almost-rare (perfect) venison, smoked beet mousseline, a refreshingly crisp piece of cooked salsify (no mealiness), roasted golden beets, and a house-made BBQ sauce. Agapé had my dirty Commie beet-loving number with this dish. No joke. It’s not every day I get to have venison, or veal, for that matter, so the proteins on the menu today made me extra happy. (What really sold me when I went to Ad Hoc in December is that veal tenderloin was the main course that night, and, as I said, I hardly ever get to eat veal.)
Dessert was seasonal and satisfying–a delicious chestnut puree with pistachios, a candied chestnut lobe, meringue, and yogurt sorbet. God. I love chestnuts. Speaking of my past adventures in foie gras and black truffles, I recently had the great pleasure of eating a foie gras, mushroom, and chestnut soup…with black truffles shaved on top. It was one my favorite soups in the whole wide world. So chestnut in the dessert at Agapé was a complex and earthy end to a marvelous Michelin meal.
Out of left field: One other hit dish that I enjoyed on this trip is the langoustine ravioli and artichoke puree with langoustine broth/foam at Les Cocottes de Constant. The lovely SCBWI France regional adviser, Tioka, took me there after a 12-hour flight on top of a four-hour delay. I could not have been more grateful. As for langoustines and artichokes…what’s not to love?
God. The food here. And I haven’t even gotten to Italy yet! (On my dance card next week: Bologna, Verona, Venice.) If I’ve failed to mention one of my recent indulgences–red wine–it’s because today I’m heading off to Burgundy wine country to do some wine tasting in and around the town of Beaune. Of all the old world styles that I’ve tried, Burgundy wine (unoaked chardonnay and pinot noir) is my favorite. So I’ll have lots more to report on that front soon. For now, it’s time to bid Paris adieu and get to the train station. But maybe after one last pain au chocolat…