July 1, 2014
Gilles Tournadre began his career at 15 as an apprentice at La Couronne in Rouen. After working in several of the grand restaurants of France, he returned to Rouen in 1984 to open his own restaurant. He earned a Michelin star the following year and a second star in 1990, which he has held for the last 24 years. He has three other restaurants in Rouen and one in Japan, between Osaka and Kobe, which replicates the menu in Rouen. Linda and I went to Gill for dinner the evening of June 6, 2014, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day allied landings on the nearby Normandy coast.
The restaurant is located in a drab building in Rouen’s historic commercial waterfront along the Seine, which was completely destroyed shortly before D-Day to demolish the bridges and keep German reinforcements from the beachhead. But the modern interior of the building is quite elegant with muted tones. There are fifty places in three different rooms. We were seated in a corner of the first room. This was the view from my place after we arrived. The room filled up later.
We started with glasses of Pol Roger Champagne. The hors d’œuvres were spoons of tomato and pea purées.
A nice beginning.
We ordered the seven-plate Menu Dégustation, which takes most of its dishes from the à la carte menu. Their titles are shown in italics below. We ordered a bottle of 2002 Volnay – Clos des Chênes from the Domaine des Comtes Lafon. It was excellent.
The first menu course was
LA ROYALE D’ASPERGES,
Gelée de morilles, écrevisses aux herbes,
truffes d’été; mousse de truffes
A single large green asparagus stalk had been topped with crayfish tails, summer truffle slices and greens. It was garnished with swashes of purée of morel mushrooms. Alongside was a bowl with a white mousse strongly flavored with truffles.
The next course was not from the à la carte menu; it was three pieces of Breton lobster in a lemon grass sauce with bok choy and shimeji mushrooms. The light oriental garnishes were just right with the richness of the lobster.
sur une fondue de tomates et lentilles corail aux épices jus au curry-citronnelle
The spicing of the crisp skin of the fish, John Dory, was immediately identifiable as typical of what we think of as tandoori cooking. It was mild and aromatic. Underneath was a broth of tomatoes and red lentils with lemongrass and curry spicing. The flavors were beautifully balanced so as to create aromatic interest and enhance the fish without dominating it.
Rôti à la Rouennaise, ses cuisses confites et laquées,
foie gras de canard poêlé,
mousseline de celery
When we mentioned to Madame Tournadre how disappointed we had been with the Canard Rouennaise at La Couronne the night before, she suggested that we change our planned lamb course for the pigeon, Gill‘s invention using the same technique of pressing out the bird’s marrow and blood to enrich the sauce. In the photo you can see the pink pigeon breast submerged in the sauce. Above are the legs atop a sautéed piece of duck foie gras. Alongside is a creamy purée of celery root. This was a delicious dish; the very rich sauce and foie gras went well with the pigeon, which is not as heavy as duck.
My choices were (clockwise from the left): Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, chèvre cendrée, Epoisses. They were all just ripe and good.
The first dessert was
LE MILLEFEUILLE MINUTE,
A la vanille Bourbon
It is hard to describe how good this was. The pastry was exceptionally fresh and light with real vanilla pastry cream inside. It was a bit sweet, but not too much. Superb.
The cuisine was exceptional for its precision. There was always just enough enhancement to make the dish savory and interesting, but not more than that. It is hard to imagine an American chef, or his clientèle, being able to produce or appreciate such finesse. The appropriate Asian touches were well integrated into traditional French cuisine. It is a tribute to the Michelin Guide that they have kept Gill at two stars for 24 years while it gets almost no other press or recognition. The service and pace were always good and the noise level low. Bravo, Gilles.