L’Auberge de L’Ill – Alsace
As soon as we decided on Alsace as a destination, I knew we had to try L’Auberge de L’Ill. Not only does the name appear in almost all the lists featuring the top restaurants of the world, it’s also one of the few establishments that can boast of continuously maintaining three Michelin stars since 1967.
But then, there’s perception, and there’s reality.
We went there for dinner on Christmas Day. After being greeted warmly by the host, a sweet old man who seemed like he’d been a fixture there forever, we were seated beside a curved window looking out to the grounds. Very pretty grounds, if I must say. Whoever was in charge of their holiday decor certainly deserved his Christmas cookie. Strands of lights were painstakingly wound around every branch of every tree, illuminating the garden like a thousand and one fireflies. Inside, the decor was rather understated, seemingly content to let the outdoors grab all the attention. That was, until a visit to the powder room. Wow. Were those really onyx sinks?
As one would expect, the service was impeccable. Attentive but discreet, there was just enough ratio of servers to guests to ensure that one’s water goblet would never be empty.
The food started out promisingly enough.
The amuse bouche was not really explained to us. One of them seemed like a cube of luncheon meat while the other, two layers of mousse-like substance laid on top of a very thin slice of bread. In the middle lay two strips of parmesan tuile.
This was followed by a thick juicy shrimp in a light creamy broth flavored with its own tomalley. Delicious.
Terrine de Foie Gras d’Oie. Three scoops of the house foie gras (made with goose liver no less!) served with aspic. One thing I noticed about Alsace is that almost all of their dining establishments, from the simplest to the grandest, serve some form of foie gras ala maison on their menu.
Langoustines Rotie au Beurre de Citron. This was the biggest disappointment of the evening. The langoustines were flaccid and flavorless, like they had languished in the freezer. We had much fresher ones the night before at L’Alsace A Table, where the cost of a special Christmas Eve three course meal was slightly less than this dish.
Saumon Souffle “Auberge de l’Ill”. Instead of the tasting menu, we opted for the signature dishes that put this restaurant on the Michelin map. I wish I could say that the salmon souffle was phenomenal or that each bite transported me to a higher plane. But I can’t. My feet stayed firmly on the ground.
Homard “Prince Vladimir”. Another L’Auberge classic. But for me, this was like stepping back in time to an era when food was still buried under heavy cream sauces. Unfortunately, I can’t appreciate the nostalgia. One consolation — at least the lobster was fresh.
On the drive back to Strasbourg, my husband and I recounted our experience ruefully. Maybe our expectations were set too high. Perhaps we should have left the past alone and given the younger Haeberlin his chance to shine by going for the more modern tasting menu. Make no mistake, this was not a bad meal at all — far from it. It’s just that for its reputation and expense, we expected so much more from L’Auberge de L’Ill.