Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Guy Savoy, Paris

A lunch at Guy Savoy ranks as one of the finest meals in recent memory. Savoy has a San Franciscan embrace of fresh produce and eschews the egg-and-cream focus of traditional Parisian cuisine. Lucky for Marisa and me, we were there in late March, at the tail end of the traditional black truffle season.

The restaurant has a few dining rooms of varying sizes that have a subdued and clean décor that is livened by colorful modern paintings. After sitting for five hours in Per Se’s arena-cum-boardroom the previous week, it was a relief to be somewhere with a sense of intimacy, style, and comfort.

The kitchen served two amuse bouches. The first, an unofficial amuse, the amuses’s amuse, was a miniature, thinly sliced, triple-decker foie gras sandwich with black truffles and a light truffle and pepper vinaigrette, all held together with a toothpick. The sandwich’s delicacy and those truffles made it a delightful and most propitious start.

The actual amuse was a double espresso shot's worth of fresh carroty, carrot soup. The soup was a textbook example of Joel Robuchon’s postulate that “[a]s chefs, we don't have a right to make a mushroom taste like a carrot. Our job is to make a mushroom taste as much as a mushroom as we possibly can.” Lifting the soup’s cleverly designed demitasse off its ceramic saucer revealed a deliciously sweet spoonful of crab salad.

Savoy’s next preparation or preparations, as it were, was tuna and asparagus served two ways, or “crus-cuits.” He served an impeccably fresh tartare with beetroot, olive oil, and a little black truffle. In his second preparation, the tuna was sliced and seared so slightly that the edges’ resulting fraying was barely detectable. While these two preparations were flawless, these staples of Los Angeles cuisine would have been just that if it were not for the dish’s counter-intuitive emphasis on the raw asparagus which showcased Savoy’s vision and his raw potential as a surgeon. He served three tall razor-thin slices of asparagus, which were cut vertically and appeared as an illusion in light of how asparagus is normally viewed. Savoy’s dexterity with a knife doubtless would have impressed an incarcerated Paul Cicero. More importantly, the raw asparagus’s intrinsic sweetness was so delicious that it rendered the tuna’s two preparations as the playful complements. One day after eating an entire bloody entrecôte and fried potatoes and drinking almost an entire bottle of Bordeaux at the venerable Chef L’Ami Louis, it seemed improbable that a veritable comrade, intentional or not, of Alice Waters was a premier chef in Paris.

More sliced vegetables followed, a mild disappointment in itself. Carrots, celeriac and others were served in concentric circles with the raw slices circumscribed around the roasted ones. The vegetables were dressed in a superfluous light (and slightly malodorous) oyster sauce that concealed the high quality of the vegetables and, frankly, made Marisa gag a little. Basically, Savoy’s dish was redundant.

Savoy’s grilled lobster claw served in two preparations also adhered closely to Robuchon’s postulate. He served it by itself and unadorned, which emphasized the purity of its flavor, and down-home succulence and tenderness. Its texture was critical: it was not so soft as to be flaccid, and allowed us to gleefully sink our teeth in it. The second preparation was with a panure d’herbes, or breadcrumb “dressing,” which was like a slightly spicy, even zesty purée made with tomatoes that had the consistency of a coarse hummus. The lobster was served in its own consommé, which tasted like unvarnished, undiluted lobster. Perhaps Robuchon’s postulate was a lesson learned from Savoy. In the rarefied world of “haute cuisine,” Savoy was not afraid to bring out raw food and was not afraid to provide some spice, in marked contrast to the Per Se scandal, which is as out of place in New York as Gay-rod, pre-April 2007. This grilled lobster was outstanding, as measured by the high and the low, and Marisa offered her first reprimand of the day for smacking in a three-star.

Shaking off the Alice Waters influence, GS now asserted his Gallic authority in the form of his signature item, a robustly flavorful artichoke soup brimming with black truffles and accompanied by a rich and thankfully not-so-light brioche feuilletée with champignons and still more truffles. Truffle season supposedly ends in March, and with this meal taking place on March 30, Savoy did not exactly mask his desperate zeal to cook every last truffle in France. Needless to say, Marisa and I were not going to complain.

The final savory course was a roasted veal so tender that I used to a spoon to cut it. Its complement was tiny cabbage and just enough foie gras not to overwhelm. In keeping with the afternoon’s theme, Savoy also served a demitasse of what was described as a veal consommé, but based on its consistency and flavor was more of a bisque.

The dessert courses were for the most part excellent. Rather than bring multiple separate course, the kitchen brought out a continual array of small desserts, starting light, moving toward the richer end of the spectrum, and then settling back down. Trying to provide symmetry to the meal, we first had a carroty, carrot ice cream that while interesting did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that a dish with a pure carrot taste does not belong exclusively to the savory realm.

A moist twin chocolate fondant with praline feuilleté and chicory crème was presented like corresponding halves of a candy bar, the richer chocolate counteracting the saltier, spicier chicory and praline. The texture had a certain graininess that prevented the fondant’s richness from overwhelming. For any lover of the sweet/salty juxtaposition in desserts, this creation was also textbook.

The desserts then ended with a kaleidoscope of small desserts: small portions of two types of rice puddings, and, inter alia, an absolutely divine chocolate mousse and crème caramel with caramel ice cream.

Guy Savoy made a brief appearance during the meal to greet our neighbors and check on things in the restaurant. After a minute or so, he scurried back to the kitchen. He possessed a jovial physiognomy and good sense of humor, but clearly wanted to be in the kitchen doing his thing. Which was good, because I wanted to be in the dining room doing my thing.

Guy Savoy
18 rue Troyon
Telephone 01 43 80 36 22.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

CHEZ L'Ami Louis....!