Astrance, Paris 3
July 14, 2009
Astrance is one of the most difficult reservations to get in Paris, at least in the evening. It only has 25 places and is open four days a week. But I was able to get a lunch reservation and so Karyn, Linda, Blair and I went on July 2, 2009. Linda and I had been twice before, the first time over four years before and the second two-and-a-half years ago. We were looking forward to a repeat of our fine experiences.
At lunch there are three price levels available; we chose the top one with wine pairings. We do not usually take pairings, but on our two previous visits to Astrance, we had enjoyed seeing what was paired with what, guessing the wines and chatting with the sommelier. There was nothing written; each course was described to us as it was served. I sometimes had trouble hearing and was confused when the French and English versions were somewhat different, so I may not have completely accurate descriptions.
The amuse-gueule was a glass of green pea purée with ginger yoghurt underneath and saffron-cumin foam on top.
This was a bit complicated for such a small dish.
Next came the signature dish of Astrance, the only one which is always served: foie gras, champignons de Paris, green apple, lemon curd, hazelnut oil.
The raw white mushrooms and the green apples had been thinly sliced and stacked with two layers of foie gras marinated in grape juice. The lemon curd and the pool of hazelnut oil on the other side are for dipping, but seem superfluous to me. I did not remember the apple from before. A search of several other blogs does not show apple in either their descriptions or photos of this dish. I think the green apple is a good addition, adding a bit of fresh tartness; maybe that is why I didn’t think the lemon curd was needed. With this course we were finishing the bottle of Champagne which had been opened for us at the start.
Langouste, shellfish consommé
A somewhat chewy piece of spiny lobster was on top of a delicious broth made from shellfish shells. The wine was a Grüner Veltliner, which went well.
Rouget, light curry sauce, mystery vegetable. Papaya and green mango chutney
A perfectly cooked whole red mullet was laid across two pieces of a vegetable that was described to us as a cross between celery and asparagus, which is just what it tasted like. The curry sauce underneath was fine as was the chutney, but none of these good ingredients seemed to have any reason to be served with the others. The wine was a Saint Joseph white.
Mackerel with cracked buckwheat, Japanese turnip, marinated sardine, citron confit;
anchovy purée topped with an angelica purée; oyster leaves.
This course was superb. The mackerel had just the right characteristic flavor with the cracked buckwheat adding needed crunch. The outlying pieces of turnip, sardine and salt-cured lemon were very nice. The waiter made a point of telling us to be sure to eat the skin of the lemon, which had a nice pungent flavor. The bowl had anchovy purée underneath a purée of garden angelica, a fragrant herb, with half a fresh anchovy on top. The oyster leaves are from the Hebrides. A Dutch company now grows them from seeds; they once only supplied Ferran Adrià, but now sell the seeds. The leaves really do have the smell and flavor of oysters. Adrià enjoyed fooling people into thinking that he had created them in his lab. The wine was an old favorite of ours, a white Château Simone, from the Palette, just east of Aix-en-Provence.
Poached egg, girolles, apricots, fresh almonds and summer truffles.
This mélange of early summer produce worked well. Mixing the runny egg with the summer truffles brought out some flavor. The wine was an old Pouilly-Fuissé. I think that this transitional course would have been a good time to transition to a red wine.
Guinea hen, Japanese pepper, sour cherry compote.
This was nice, but not exceptional. The guinea hen was moist, but the skin lacked crispness. The brown sauce had good, flavorful shards of winter truffles. I liked the dab of sour cherry compote (upper right.) A real oppotunity was missed with the Shishito pepper, the end of which you can see protruding on the upper left; it was soggy; if it had been nice and crisp, it would have added a needed textural contrast. The wine was a Corton, which was presented with more hoopla than I thought it deserved.
Zucchini blossom with an apricot glaze filled with white peach and apricot chunks, gorgonzola dolce
Here we have the cheese course and the pre-dessert rolled into one. The glazed and filled flower was a technical tour-de force. The very mild gorgonzola was not the best match. Gorgonzola traditionally goes with cherries, which have a bit of tang to contrast with the sweetness. The completely sweet apricots and peaches needed something with a tang, such as a goat cheese.
Peach ice cream in meringue, a flower jelly;
an iced orange, honey, ricotta cylinder;
rhubarb and pistachios topped with foam (no photo)
and a rice krispies wafer.
These four were all served at the same time. They were all nice, but not unusual except for the flower jelly, which I liked, and the wafer, which really did taste like Rice Krispies. The wine was a Sicilian muscat.
Mignardises: Lait de poule, madeleines, red fruit
The hen’s milk is made by frothing an egg yolk with jasmine flavored milk and putting it back in the shell.
The meal had been very good and we enjoyed it, but only the foie gras and mackerel courses were at the level I expect on the expensive menu at a Michelin three-star restaurant. There were few signs of the culinary genius frequently attributed to the chef, Pascal Barbot. The fact that it was lunch should not have been a factor as we had chosen the “Menu Astrance,” which is what is served in the evening.
As disappointing was the lack of rapport between us and the staff, which we had enjoyed so much on our two previous meals here. This was may have been made more difficult by the fact that we were four and that Blair and Karyn’s French is minimal. The presentation and descriptions of the dishes to us lacked joie de vivre. The wine bottles were simply announced and shown to us after glasses were poured. I thought the wine portions were a bit small.
During our week in Paris this time we also dined at Ledoyen, Arpège, Pierre Gagnaire and La Grande Cascade. This meal at Astrance was not at the same level as the others. It was not the pleasure that our two previous visits to Astrance had been, but I imagine that we will try it again if we can get a reservation.
To see my blogpost on Astrance from January of 2007 click here.
To see my blogpost on Astrance from June of 2005 click here.