L’ Astrance – Paris
For our big splurge in Paris, I booked a table at L’Astrance, the restaurant that earned its third Michelin star in 2007. According to the food forums, obtaining a reservation here requires some amount of strategy and planning. It is through the tips of these generous posters that I was able to secure one, so I’m paying it forward:
1. I called 2 months in advance give or take a few days, waking up at 4:30am EST (10:30am in Paris) on a Tuesday to make the call since they are closed weekends and Monday.
2. I persisted even when I got the dreaded answering machine a few times (i.e. earlier than 10:30am)
3. I confirmed my reservation two days before.
We arrive shortly before our 8pm reservation on the day itself. We’re asked to wait outside even though it is insanely hot because the restaurant is not yet ready. It’s a relatively small place, with 8 tables on the ground floor capable of seating about 20 or so. Ordering is simple since there are only two choices: Le Diner Surprise, a tasting menu where the diner has absolutely no idea what he’ll be eating, or Le Diner Surprise with an equally anonymous wine pairing. We opt for the the latter.
Le Diner Surprise:
The meal starts off with an unassuming amuse bouche of brioche with rosemary butter.
What follows next is slightly better — tart green apples and praline sandwiched between two semi-translucent almond wafers
Maybe the chef is just trying to lull the diner into a state of complacency with the tidbits. Then, BOOM. Shock and awe. This is their signature dish, a wedge of foie gras and granny apple slices placed snugly between shaved raw white mushrooms meticulously arranged in overlapping layers like shingles on a roof. This is accompanied by an invisible pool of hazelnut oil on one side and lemon curd on the other.
I don’t even want to guess how many man-hours it must have taken to prepare this dish. Also amazing is how surgically precise the wedge is, with nary a slice out of place. It’s not only an impressive bit of culinary architecture, it’s very interesting on the palate as well. The rich and unctuous foie gras is offset by the tart crispness of the granny smith and somewhere in between playing referee is the nuttiness and the soft crunch of the mushroom.
Pairing: Emrich-Schonleber Riesling 2008, Germany
A savory parfait with ginger yogurt at the bottom, peas veloute in the middle, cardamom turmeric foam on top
Poached langoustine with edible petals and raw seasonal vegetables (radish, corn, snow peas, cabbage, yellow carrots, shallot) in a ginger garlic soy broth.
Pairing: Weingut Knoll Gruner Veltliner 2008, Austria
Turbot with squid and fennel in a tamarind and grape sauce. This is how I like my fish — barely opaque and very delicate.
Pairing: Josmeyer Geuwrtzraminer 2007, Alsace
Grilled mackerel topped with crunchy buckwheat and accompanied by a lemon confit, japanese radish soaked in beetroot juice, a piece of sardine, and three oyster leaves. In addition to the mushroom foie gras wedge, this is our other favorite dish of the evening. The mackerel has a lovely texture and is surprisingly not fishy, giving off just a hint of miso. Upon inquiring about the preparation, I’m told that it was indeed marinated in miso for about an hour before pan frying. Both mackerel and buckwheat are sourced from Brittany. Apparently, many diners who initially object to mackerel end up liking it a lot when they are served it anyway. As a side note, the oyster leaves do evoke the brine and salinity of oysters.
Pairing: Domaine Gauby Vin de Pays de Cotes Catalanes 2002, a grenache gris from Languedoc Rousillon
A sliver of anchovy sits on a puree of mustard leaves and rocket arugula with a layer of anchovy cream underneath.
Shoulder of beef with chorizo paste and summer truffles studded with summer vegetables like peas and zucchini
Pairing: Cuilleron St Joseph Les Lerines 2005, Rhone Valley
Duck from the Vendee region of France with more summer truffles, japanese egglplant and a jus flavored with lemon verbena. Wild cherry and almond cream on the side.
Glazed zucchini flower over red fruits and creamy gorgonzola.
L’Astrance’s take on the vacherin. The pretty candy stripe meringue log is filled with green tea ice cream on one side and strawberry on the other.
Mascarpone sorbet with black currant coulis.
Hazelnut cream hiding prunes, cherries and genmaicha rice crispies.
Pairing: Domaine Ribiera 2007, an unfortified sweet black grenache with 15% alcohol from Languedoc Rousillon with an interesting label. Notice how the year and the grape name are spelled backward. Maybe this vintner is a fan of Zatanna. A google on the word “fidrat” yields nothing however.
Chestnut madeleines. Jasmine eggnog. Red fruits.
Last but not the least, a word about the service. My initial impression is that the professional but slightly reserved (maybe even haughty) manner of our waiter is typical of any Parisian three-star Michelin restaurant. As the meal progresses, I notice some cracks in his humorless armour as he explains our food. A lift of an eyebrow here, a sweeping hand gesture there — both delivered with a flawless sense of comic timing worthy of Marcel Marceau.
I think what put me over the edge is having my second round of bread delivered with the crust completely cut out. Someone must have been quietly observing how I’d been tearing off and eating only the soft parts inside the crust and decided to save me the trouble the next go around. My husband calls it predictive analytics, I call it freaky.
Overall, it’s certainly a memorable meal with some interesting highlights but is it worth waking up at 4:30 am for?