The night I saw stars


My iphone buzzes, signalling the reception of a new text message.  I was in yet another Parent and Teacher Association (PTA) meeting. I read through the message quickly and was charmed by the content.  The Italian is asking me to book the babysitter because he’s proposing a night out.  A night out!  How can I refuse that?  I type a quick text to manny Ted to make sure that I’ve got him booked.

The night out would involve dinner, I was later told and that it will take place at the Hotel Balzac, a typical Parisian hotel just off the Champs Elysée.  Hidden in the Hotel Balzac is Pierre Gagnaire, a 3 star Michelin French restaurant.

Imagine my excitement, kawan kawan – a 3 star Michelin, let me repeat it, in case the significance of the stars haven’t caught on!  This is the highest accolade a restaurant gets!

We start with un coup de champagne, mais bien sûr.  How can you not, being in Paris, France? This flute of the best house champagne recommended by the sommelier was followed by dishes of amuse bouche so delicately and creatively presented that I actually found them difficult to tuck into.

There were the fairy size macarons with confit de framboise, so light and airy that they practically melted on my tongue upon immediate contact.  The slivers of crunchy bread sticks dunked in rosemary infused olive oil and a celery stick that has been slightly cooked smeared with an anchovy jam – all absolutely too good to be true.

Amuse bouche, ma cherie?

We chose the ménu degustation – the tasting menu.  I think that a tasting menu is the best way to taste a variety of dishes in a restaurant – at least the popular dishes anyway.

La spectacle begun with the lobster accompanied by a truffle sauce with a side of spinach enrobing a chestnut.  Most interesting, I thought but not mind blowing yet.  I awaited in anticipation for the next course.  There were 7 courses in all. Too many to dissect and discuss here.  So I will share with you a few of my personal favourites, in terms of presentation, creativity and taste.

The St Jacques cooked three ways I thought was superb.  If you like scallops, you’ll find this a very interesting choice. The course started with a whole scallop served with gnocchi that looked like mini scallops themselves. This was served with a purée of broccoli. Presumably, the scallop is to form the shell of an escargot with the purée as its body and the broccoli tree for its head.  The little snail is following a trail of gnocchi stones found in the enchanted forest of gastronomie.

St Jacque and scallops of Gnocchi

The next dimension to this course was the scallop sashimi served with a chilled cucumber soup, very much like a  gazpacho.Scallop Gazpacho

Now that my palate has been teased with something hot and something cold. What next?  The third dimension came in a version of thinly sliced St Jacque with a cream of cauliflower sauce that looked like this:Scallops - the third dimension

We were presented with a box of truffles sitting regally on a bed of rice. The Truffles

This had nothing to do with the courses that were to come, but merely part of the show that chez Pierre Gagnaire had put on for its guests.  The Italian told me that this restaurant is usually shut on Saturdays but for the festive season, they have opened their doors for Holiday makers.  He also told me that the tartufo is to accompany some dish on the à la carte menu and just for the hell of it, I asked the price because he had the menu with the listings.  It was a whopping 160€ for this truffle infused dish.  The love birds next to us ordered it and I was witness to an elaborate platter of something (I guess some sort of long pasta) and the waiter coming with the said box of truffle and a grater.  He systematically and officiously gave the dish of long-something-that-looked-like-pasta two very prominent and important shavings of truffle and bade the lady of the table “bon appetit” and swiftly retreated.  For that, the male love bird would have to pay the price.  His female had better return some good favours there!

I must add that I’m not that in favour of truffle.  I actually don’t see what the fuss is about although from a glutton’s, erm, I mean, gastronome’s  point of view, I do understand the taste factor. Truffles are one of those things that one has to be very careful about.  It can be an overkill if there is too much of it and nothing but tasteless if there is too little.  And there’s the price of it too……. no matter how good it is, I just cannot justify paying that much money for two shavings of fungi! But that’s just me!

The next dish has to be something for the gods. It is a turbot delicately cooked served on a soup of black rice.  This dish brought back childhood memories of eating a coconut milk based dessert made with black glutinous rice or bubur pulut hitam.  In Malay, this dish is simply called black rice porridge.  It is served in many Peranakan homes as well as in homes that are predominantly Hokkien speaking.

Turbot in Soup of Black Rice

I loved the textures of this dish, succulent turbot against a palate of semi-crunchy root vegetables.  The soup was exceptionally creamy without the coconut added. It was truly yums!

The most interesting dish by far for me has to be this:

It's all very interesting so far....

Served in a glass dish, it exudes a sense of sang froid.  The reds in the dish lend it a strange aura of monstrosity.  This dish is an abstract piece of creation in itself, a combination of the sea and land.  It is foie gras served with two oysters hidden by the sliced cabbage salad. It’s hard to ascertain the flavours of this dish, both delicate and strong all at once.  This is a very daring dish to create.  Oysters and foie gras are not typical marriage partners but I think that chez Pierre match-made them rather well.

The piéce de la resistancehas to be the venison and cochon.  A silver pan with two bite sized pieces of suckling belly pork was presented.  Then our personal waiter retreats and returns with this:

Game anyone?

The caramelised cochon sits prettily on the side to be eaten with a tender piece of roasted venison accompanied by a sliver of crunchy lotus root and a chestnut paste you see at the far end of the plate.

After copious versions of seafood, it was refreshing to have some meat. Then when I thought that I couldn’t eat anymore, we were served desserts. And let me tell you, there were  quite a few.

I really liked this trail of wild berries and meringue.

Follow that Trail

There was just way too much to eat.  The experience was unforgettable.  The ambiance was intimate and romantic. My companion was extremely charming.

After dropping hints for at least 2 years the Italian’s way, it finally struck him that I would actually like to eat at a proper Michelin star French resto instead of only reading  about them.  Bless his cotton socks, he actually pulled it off.  I have a good husband……

Well, for the grand finale!  The room spun, the fireworks were set off and I swear I could see the stars of the night sky swirl around me! The bill was a booming star spangled banner in 3-digit figures and if I had to round it up, it would be closer to a 4-digit sum.  For the sick of discretion, let’s just say that it would have bought me a very nice Fendi tote that I’ve had my eye on for a while.  This tote comes in various limited editions of city skylines embossed on the bag’s leather and I wanted the one of Roma. I guess this will be a miss for 2011.  But who cares about Fendi when my personal Italian, all naturally tanned and bronzy is the best arm candy of all!

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