November 12, 2013
L’Ambroisie has been in its 17th century house on the Place des Vosges since 1986. It has had three Michelin stars since 1988. Linda and I dined there about 18 years ago and did not think that it lived up to its reputation or very high prices. But it continues to get ecstatic raves from sophisticated reviewers so we returned for dinner on October 8, 2013.
There are four or five choices for each of: starters, fish, meat and desserts. Only à la carte is offered and the prices are very high. We made our selections and ordered a bottle of 2005 Clos de la Bousse d’Or Volnay 1er Cru.
Good, but I was expecting more at that price.
The warm sabayon of white celery, egg and caviar in the open shell was excellent. Linda was told to start with that and its toast. The chilled part of the duo was a dish of soupy green celery purée with a chaud-froid coated soft-boiled egg in the center. A large spoonful of caviar was scooped from an impressive tin of caviar and Linda was told to cut the egg down the center and place the caviar in the middle. A combination bite of the purée, the egg yolk and caviar yielded a good flavor. The purée itself didn’t have much flavor. This is a very high-priced house speciality that comes highly recommended. Given the expectation, it was disappointing.
My first course was
Feuillantine de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce au curry
Barely cooked, top-quality langoustines were between two light, crisp sesame wafers. There was finely chopped spinach underneath. The sauce used a subtle mix of curry spices. This was an excellent, imaginative combination.
Sorry about the lines through some of the photos. The light was low, which my little Finepix camera can handle, but it was apparently thrown off by the large flickering candle on the table.
A beautiful plate of a generous portion of sliced sweetbreads in a good stock met Linda’s expectations for her main course. A main flavor was black pepper. Slicing seemed to make the sweetbreads more interesting than the usual presentation in their natural nodes. Alongside was a bowl of sautéed girolle mushrooms.
My main course was
Suprêmes de pigeon de Bresse glacés au cumin, cuisses en pastilla
The luscious, pink pigeon breast meat was delicious. The cumin glazing was surprisingly sweet, too much so for my taste. In the back you can see a light pastry package including the braised and shredded thigh meat: very good. The carrots went well.
Linda skipped dessert: mine was
Tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon
The rich dark chocolate tarte was flourless and quite light below the heavier top crust. There was a strong flavor of natural vanilla in the ice cream. This is another house specialty which gets rave reviews, but I did not find it to be so exceptional. With it, at the suggestion of the sommelier, I had a glass of 2005 Ramos Pinto port, which went well.
This meal should have made us feel that we had found perfection. It had all the elements I like. The dishes did not suffer from the over-complexity that I frequently complain about. The ingredients were superb and allowed to shine. The service and ambience were impeccable. The noise level was ideal, just the gentle babble of conversation from the four other well-spaced tables in the room. But we came away feeling unsatisfied and frustrated. The obvious explanation is that with L’Ambroisie‘s reputation and extraordinarily high prices, each dish of the meal should be extraordinary. That they were not was certainly was a big factor, but, beyond that, the cuisine seemed to lack joie de vivre in its perfection. I’m not referring to the ambience, which is our style, but to the lack of flair and elegance in the creations. I’m glad we returned to L’Ambroisie, but we will not be back again.